This is one in a series of posts about finding the MMP gods and goddesses in Minoan art. Find the full list of blog posts in this series here

Today we're looking for the bull-god Zagreus in Minoan art. In MMP, we consider Zagreus to be an aspect of our god Tauros Asterion. So obviously, we're going to look for images of bulls. But what kinds of images? When we go looking for Tauros Asterion in Minoan art, we seek out naturalistic/realistic images of bulls. When we're in search of the Minotaur (another aspect of Tauros Asterion), we look for shape-shifting depictions of half-man, half-bull creatures. So how do we know when we've found Zagreus?

Zagreus is the bull who comes wreathed in flowers in the spring - which happens to be the time of the grain harvest in the Mediterranean and the associated ancestor and Underworld work. Zagreus is a shamanic god, a psychopomp who descends to the World Below to safeguard the spirits of the dead. It's likely that bulls or bull calves were sacrificed in his honor in Minoan Crete.

We find him in Minoan art in the form of friendly bulls: bulls that are used to being handled by humans, who show up on the seals being admired - like the lovely bull and his human companion on the seal impression from Knossos at the top of this post (public domain image from Sir Arthur Evans' Palace of Minos series). Sometimes we find them being led on a rope, like a dog on a leash. And sometimes we find them wearing fancy decorative blankets, like on this bull-shaped rhyton from Pseira:

Bull rhyton from Pseira, Crete
Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Or this one from Akrotiri:

Ceramic bull rhyton from Akrotiri
Image CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Though some commentary still includes the outdated idea that the blankets these cattle are wearing are nets used to capture wild bulls, anyone who has ever seen photos of blanketed horses or cattle at a livestock show will recognize that these aren't nets, but blankets with clear neck openings and lower hems. Besides, the whole wild-cattle-hunting thing appears to be a bit of Mycenaean mythos (check the Vapheio cup, for instance) and probably not Minoan. And it turns out, the cattle blankets come in designs other than the one that looks so net-like. Here's an illustration from Evans' Palace of Minos series that shows the bull rhyton from Pseira (photo above) on the right and another, much more decorative one from Mochlos on the left:

Bull rhyton from Knossos

 

I have to wonder if the one on the left isn't meant to represent an animal with a sacred design painted on it. If the Minoans had trained cattle that were as docile as the Apis and Mnevis bulls in Egypt, I can imagine that the animals would be patient enough to allow a little painted decoration for festival time.

So when you're looking for Zagreus in Minoan art, seek out the friendly bulls!

In the name of the bee,
And of the butterfly,
And of the breeze, amen.