While wandering the winding stone streets of the nearly deserted medieval town of Zucarello looking for a quiet place to paint, a startling sight made my blood run cold. Built into a niche was a locked cell of iron bars that held a very lifelike creature with bulging muscles and black skin, with the body of a man and the head of a bull. The white teeth glowed in the shadows as it cowered, angrily glaring out of its stark prison. I had come across a very skilled artist’s rendition of the Minotaur, with his left horn apparently removed by a vandal.
I had stopped in Zucarello to explore and paint, and did not expect to encounter a frightening mythological creature in a deserted alley. I paused for several minutes trying to figure this out. There was no nearby gallery or label with explanation, neither was there an artist’s signature. In the vast historical glory of the Italian Riviera, the town of Zucarello merited barely a footnote and the Minotaur was certainly not mentioned.
According to Greek mythology, the Minotaur was the offspring of bestiality between the Cretan Queen Pasiphae and a bull that was a gift from Poseidon. His mother tried to nurse him, but as time passed he grew ferocious. The combination of man and beast began to devour humans as his only source of food. To keep the monster confined, King Minos built a subterranean labyrinth and fed the Minotaur children from neighboring Athens that were offered as sacrifices. He was eventually killed by the hero Theseus with a sword thrusted down his throat.
I did a quick watercolor sketch of the beast crouching in the corner, his muscles and tendons bulging with anatomical accuracy, expecting him to pop to life in the silence of the city. The artist created the fearsome face with real animal teeth that were sharp and yellowed, and an expression of rage, resentment, and helplessness from being caged. What unknown artist created this startling work?
This is why I rarely take guided tours or follow predetermined routes when I travel. The experience of surprise when you turn a corner and discover something unexpected and out of context expands the mind, opening new worlds and forcing one to see the world differently. Deep within the labyrinthine streets of an ancient stone city without people, this Minotaur reminded me of the monster that lives deep within all of humanity that needs to remain caged.
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