Mythology and legend has bestowed on the Greek island of Crete the privilege of being the birthplace of Zeus , father of the gods. Rhea, his mother, fearing the wrath of Cronos, Zeus' father, who "swallowed" his children in order that they might not usurp his power, came to the island, with the help of Gaia and Uranus, and gave birth to her son in a cave. He was reared by Nymphs and, when he grew to manhood, he engaged his father in a fight, emerged victorious, and became king of the heavens.

From the union of Zeus with the princess Europa - whom, according to mythology, Zeus, assuming the form of a bull, had abducted from Phoenicia and brought to Crete - three sons, worthy of their father-god and of their noble mother, were born. They were Minos, Rhadamanthys and Sarpidon. Minos, the better known and most honoured of the three, became the powerful, just and wise king of Crete, ruling from his palace in Knossos, and from the important centres of Phaestos and Kydonia. During his reign, Crete developed into a rich sea power, flourished culturally and artistically, and her people lived in peace and justice. Minos' brother, Rhadamanthys, helped him administer his kingdom, while the third brother, Sarpidon, founded his own kingdom in Lycia.

Other well-known legends are linked with king Minos. One of these, telling of the Minotaur and of the feat of the daring prince of Athens, Theseus, is among the most popular and colourful, and has been handed down for thousands of years from generation to generation. According to the legend, Minos' wife, the queen Pasiphae, prompted by the god Poseidon, who wished to punish her husband, fell in love with a bull. From this unnatural union was born a hideous monster, with the head of a bull on a supernatural, human body the Minotaur.

Minos confined the bull in the Labyrinth, a maze-like prison under the palace, built by Daedalus. At that time, the city-state of Athens was paying Minos a tribute of seven young men and seven lovely maidens of noble birth, to feed to the Minotaur. It was from this humiliating and horrible tax that the brave Theseus, son of Aegeus, king of Athens, resolved to deliver his city.

He set off with the pitiable shipment of doomed young men and maidens forMinos' Crete, and put into action his plan, which was to kill the terrible beast, to manage to find his way out of the labyrinth and to escape from Crete together with the fourteen young Athenians. He succeded thanks to the help of Ariadne, daughter of Minos and Pasiphae, who fell in love with him and offered to help him, after he had promised to marry her and take her away to Athens. Theseus entered the labyrinth and, unrolling the ball of thread which Ariadne had given him, he made his way to the place where the Minotaur was, killed the beast and then, rolling up the ball again, he was able to find his way back out of the labarinth. Theseus, with the young people and Ariadne, set off again, on an Athenian ship for the journey home. They were so overwhelmed with joy by their deliverance from the Minotaur, however, that they forgot to lower the black sail of mourning from their mast and to hoist the joyful one, as had been agreed with Aegeus before they left. The king, sat on a rock at cape Sounion, agonisingly waiting to see his son's ship return. When he saw the black sail from a distance, he believed that the young people together with his beloved son, had all been lost. He bowed his sad head and threw himself into the sea and drowned. Since then, this sea has been named after him: the Aegean Sea. Neither did Ariadne's love for Theseus have a happy end. According to another myth, the princess was abandoned by Theseus on the island of Dia on the very night of the consummation of their marriage, while another myth has it that the god Dionysos fell in love with Ariadne and carried her off with him. The story of Daedalus and Icarus is also linked with Crete at the time when the great king Minos reigned.

Daedalus, a skillful craftsman of the palace and builder of the labyrinth, incurred the wrath of Minos because he had helped the queen in her unlawful affair with the bull. Wishing to escape from the island together with his son, Icarus, and knowing that king Minos controlled all the sea routes, the idea came to him that only if they could fly like birds would they be able to escape. So, he made two pairs of wings glued them together with wax and attached them to his son's back and to his own. During their flight, however, his son was so elated by the height and speed, that he flew ever higher, nearer to the sun. His wings melted in the heat and he fell and drowned in the sea, which thereafter bore the name of Icarian sea. Daedalus, flying carefully, was able to reach Sicily. Minos, however, had an inglorious end. He was murdered by the daughters of king Kokalos, while he was in Sicily searching for Daedalus in order to punish him. These, and many other myths and tales related to them, speak of Crete and lend the island the other-worldly and mysterious aura, which has surrounded it through the millenia of its long history, and which is still felt today.