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Pasiphae sits on a throne, mosaic from Zeugma, Gaziantep Museum .
Pasiphae sits on a throne, mosaic from Zeugma, Gaziantep Museum .

In Greek mythology, Pasiphaë (/pəˈsɪfii/;[1] Greek: Πασιφάη Pasipháē, "wide-shining" derived from pas "all, for all, of all" and phaos "light")[2] was a queen of Crete.


Pasiphae was the daughter of Helios, the Sun, and Perse,[3] of the Oceanids. [4] Like her doublet Europa, her origins were in the East, in her case at Colchis; she was the sister of Circe, Aeëtes and Perses, and she was given in marriage to King Minos of Crete. With Minos, she was the mother of Acacallis, Ariadne, Androgeus, Glaucus, Deucalion, Phaedra, Xenodice, and Catreus. She was also the mother of "starlike" Asterion, called by the Greeks the Minotaur.

Daedalus presents the artificial cow to Pasiphaë: Roman fresco in the House of the Vettii, Pompeii, 1st century CE.
Daedalus presents the artificial cow to Pasiphaë: Roman fresco in the House of the Vettii, Pompeii, 1st century CE.



After a curse from Poseidon, Pasiphae experienced lust for and mated with a white bull sent by Poseidon.[5] Ruck and Staples remarked that "the Bull was the old pre-Olympian Poseidon." [6]

In the Greek literalistic understanding of a Minoan myth,[7] in order to actually copulate with the bull, she had the Athenian artificer Daedalus[8] construct a portable wooden cow with a cowhide covering, within which she was able to satisfy her strong desire.[9] The effect of the Greek interpretation was to reduce a more-than-human female, daughter of the Sun itself, to a stereotyped emblem of grotesque bestiality and the shocking excesses of female sensuality and deceit.[10] Pasiphaë appeared in Virgil's Eclogue VI (45–60), in Silenus' list of suitable mythological subjects, on which Virgil lingers in such detail that he gives the sixteen-line episode the weight of a brief inset myth.[11] In Ovid's Ars Amatoria Pasiphaë is reduced to unflattering human terms: Pasiphae fieri gaudebat adultera tauri—"Pasiphaë took pleasure in becoming an adulteress with a bull."

Curse of Pasiphae

In other aspects, Pasiphaë, like her niece Medea, was a mistress of magical herbal arts in the Greek imagination. The author of Bibliotheke (3.197-198) records the fidelity charm she placed upon Minos, who would ejaculate serpents, scorpions, and centipedes killing any unlawful concubine; but Procris, with a protective herb, lay with Minos with impunity.[12]

On divination

In mainland Greece, Pasiphaë was worshipped as an oracular goddess at Thalamae, one of the original koine of Sparta. The geographer Pausanias describes the shrine as small, situated near a clear stream, and flanked by bronze statues of Helios and Pasiphaë. His account also equates Pasiphaë with Ino and the lunar goddess Selene.

Cicero writes in De Divinatione 1.96 that the Spartan ephors would sleep at the shrine of Pasiphaë, seeking prophetic dreams to aid them in governance. According to Plutarch,[13] Spartan society twice underwent major upheavals sparked by ephors' dreams at the shrine during the Hellenistic era. In one case, an ephor dreamed that some of his colleagues' chairs were removed from the agora, and that a voice called out "this is better for Sparta"; inspired by this, King Cleomenes acted to consolidate royal power. Again during the reign of King Agis, several ephors brought the people into revolt with oracles from Pasiphaë's shrine promising remission of debts and redistribution of land.

Possible celestial deity

In Description of Greece, Pausanias equates Pasiphaë with Selene, implying that the figure was worshipped as a lunar deity.[14] However, further studies on Minoan religion indicate that the sun was a female figure, suggesting instead that Pasiphaë was originally a solar goddess, an interpretation consistent with her depiction as Helios' daughter.[15] Poseidon's bull may in turn be vestigial of the lunar bull prevalent in Middle Eastern religions.[16]

In popular culture

  • Pasiphae appears in the BBC One fantasy drama series Atlantis. Here she seems to be the main antagonist. As Ariadne's domineering stepmother, she disapproves of her attraction to Jason and tries to kill the hero several times. Her sister, Circe, seems to hold a grudge against her and asks Jason to help kill her. The last episode of season 1 (Touched by the Gods part 2) revealed that she is the mother of Jason. She thought he died after she cursed her husband and they fled to our world. She is portrayed by Sarah Parish.
  • Pasiphaë is a major antagonist in Rick Riordan's 2013 fantasy novel The House of Hades. In this novel, she is portrayed as an immortal sorceress and former wife of the late King Minos. Having grown bitter towards the gods after the events of the Minoan myth, Pasiphaë allies with the goddess Gaea and her giant army to overthrow the Olympian gods. She is confronted and defeated by Hazel Levesque, a demigod daughter of Pluto, who had been trained in sorcery by the goddess Hecate. In this novel, it is revealed that the Labyrinth is tied to her life force as much as Daedalus's, thereby rendering the infamous inventor's sacrifice in the previous series useless.


  1. ^ Wells, John C. (2009). "Pasiphae, Pasiphaë". Longman Pronunciation Dictionary. London: Pearson Longman. ISBN 978-1-4058-8118-0.
  2. ^ An attribute of the Moon, as Pausanias remarked in passing (i.43.96): compare Euryphaessa; if Pasipháē is an ancient conventional Minoan epithet translated into Greek, it would be a "loan translation", or calque.
  3. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 346.
  4. ^ Pasiphaë was thus the half-sister of Aeëtes and of Circe. Diodorus Siculus (4.60.4) made the mother of Pasiphaë the island-nymph Crete herself.
  5. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke 3.1.4
  6. ^ Ruck and Staples 1994:213.
  7. ^ Specific astrological or calendrical interpretations of the mystic mating of the "wide-shining" daughter of the Sun with a mythological bull, transformed into an unnatural curse in Hellene myth, are prone to variability and debate.
  8. ^ Daedalus was of the line of the chthonic king at Athens Erechtheus.
  9. ^ Greek myth characteristically emphasizes the accursed unnaturalness of a mystical marriage conceived literally as merely carnal: a fragment of Bacchylides alludes to "her unspeakable sickness" and Hyginus (Fabulae 40) to "an unnatural love for a bull."
  10. ^ This was the commonplace of brief notices of Pasiphaë among Latin poets, too, Rebecca Armstrong notes, in Cretan Women: Pasiphae, Ariadne, and Phaedra in Latin Poetry (Oxford University Press) 2006:169. Armstrong falls into the trap of literalness: in discussing the list of candidates for children of Pasiphaë and Minos, she remarks, "It seems unlikely that Pasiphaë gave birth to these human children after her liaison with the bull." (172 note 9); but there is no chronologically coherent narrative before and after in myth or dream, the aspect of myth that Ruck and Staples (1994:9) call "the suspension of linear chronology", a feature which is remarked upon in all introductions to Greek myth.
  11. ^ Armstrong 2006:171.
  12. ^ See also the Metamorphoses of Antoninus Liberalis, 41.
  13. ^ Plutarch, Lives of Agis and Cleomenes.
  14. ^ Pasiphae on
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-12-08. Retrieved 2015-11-30.


This page was last edited on 8 January 2019, at 20:09
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