Knossos was the court of the legendary King Minos, whose wife Pasiphae, cursed by Poseidon, bore the Minotaur, half-bull, half-man. The labyrinth was constructed by Daedalus to contain the monster, and every nine years seven youths and seven maidens were brought from Athens as human sacrifice. Hearing of this, the Greek hero Theseus arrived on Crete vowing to venture into the labyrinth and slay the beast. Ariadne, daughter of the king, promptly fell in love with him and, as every cub scout knows, showed Theseus how to find his way back using a simple ball of thread. The legend has inspired writers from Homer to Dante, who famously depicts the best in his vision of Hell:
Dante, Inferno, Canto XII
Into the chasm was that descent: and there
At point of the disparted ridge lay stretch’d
The infamy of Crete, detested brood
Of the feign’d heifer: and at sight of us
It gnaw’d itself, as one with rage distract.