There are several cities in Crete, but the greatest and most famous
are three: Cnossus, Gortyna and Cydonia. The praises of Cnossus are hymned above
the rest both by Homer, who calls it "great" and "the kingdom of Minos," and by
the later poets. Furthermore, it continued for a long time to win the first honors;
then it was humbled and deprived of many of its prerogatives, and its superior
rank passed over to Gortyna and Lyctus; but later it again recovered its olden
dignity as the metropolis. Cnossus is situated in a plain, its original circuit
being thirty stadia, between the Lyctian and Gortynian territories, being two
hundred stadia distant from Gortyna, and a hundred and twenty from Lyttus, which
the poet named Lyctus. Cnossus is twenty-five stadia from the northern sea, Gortyna
is ninety from the Libyan Sea, and Lyctus itself is eighty from the Libyan. And
Cnossus has Heracleium as its seaport.
But Minos is said to have used as seaport Amnisus, where is the temple of Eileithuia. In earlier times Cnossus was called Caeratus, bearing the same name as the river which flows past it. According to history, Minos was an excellent law-giver, and also the first to gain the mastery of the sea; and he divided the island into three parts and founded a city in each part, Cnossus in the . . .(Comm. 1) And it (Cydonia), too, lies to the north. As Ephorus states, Minos was an emulator of a certain Rhadamanthys of early times, a man most just and bearing the same name as Minos's brother, who is reputed to have been the first to civilize the island by establishing laws and by uniting cities under one city as metropolis and by setting up constitutions, alleging that he brought from Zeus the several decrees which he promulgated. So, in imitation of Rhadamanthys, Minos would go up every nine years, as it appears, to the cave of Zeus, tarry there, and come back with commandments drawn up in writing, which he alleged were ordinances of Zeus; and it was for this reason that the poet says, "there Minos reigned as king, who held converse with great Zeus every ninth year (Hom.Od. 19.178) (Comm. 2)
Such is the statement of Ephorus; but again the early writers have given a different account of Minos, which is contrary to that of Ephorus, saying that he was tyrannical, harsh, and an exactor of tribute, representing in tragedy the story of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth, and the adventures of Theseus and Daedalus.
Now, as for these two accounts, it is hard to say which is true; and there is another subject that is not agreed upon by all, some saying that Minos was a foreigner, but others that he was a native of the island. The poet, however, seems rather to advocate the second view when he says, " Zeus first begot Minos, guardian o'er Crete (Hom.Il 13.450).
In regard to Crete, writers agree that in ancient times it had good laws, and rendered the best of the Greeks its emulators, and in particular the Lacedaemonians, as is shown, for instance, by Plato and also by Ephorus, who in his Europe has described its constitution. But later it changed very much for the worse; for after the Tyrrhenians, who more than any other people ravaged Our Sea, the Cretans succeeded to the business of piracy; their piracy was later destroyed by the Cilicians; but all piracy was broken up by the Romans, who reduced Crete by war and also the piratical strongholds of the Cilicians. And at the present time Cnossus has even a colony of Romans.
So much for Cnossus, a city to which I myself am not alien, although, on account of man's fortune and of the changes and issues therein, the bonds which at first connected me with the city have disappeared: Dorylaus was a military expert and one of the friends of Mithridates Euergetes. He, because of his experience in military affairs, was appointed to enlist mercenaries, and often visited not only Greece and Thrace, but also the mercenaries of Crete, that is, before the Romans were yet in possession of the island and while the number of mercenary soldiers in the island, from whom the piratical bands were also wont to be recruited, was large. Now when Dorylaus was sojourning there war happened to break out between the Cnossians and the Gortynians, and he was appointed general, finished the war successfully, and speedily won the greatest honors. But when, a little later, he learned that Euergetes, as the result of a plot, had been treacherously slain in Sinope by his closest associates, and heard that the succession had passed to his wife and young children, he despaired of the situation there and stayed on at Cnossus. There, by a Macetan woman, Sterope by name, he begot two sons, Lagetas and Stratarchas (the latter of whom l myself saw when he was an extremely old man), and also one daughter. Now Euergetes had two sons, one of whom, Mithridates, surnamed Eupator, succeeded to the rule when he was eleven years old. Dorylaus, the son of Philetaerus, was his foster brother; and Philotaerus was a brother of Dorylaus the military expert. And when the king Mithridates reached manhood, he was so infatuated with the companionship of his foster brother Dorylaus that he not only conferred upon him the greatest honors, but also cared for his kinsmen and summoned those who lived at Cnossus. These were the household of Lagetas and his brother, their father having already died, and they themselves having reached manhood; and they quit Cnossus and went home. My mother's mother was the sister of Lagetas. Now when Lagetas prospered, these others shared in his prosperity, but when he was ruined (for he was caught in the act of trying to cause the kingdom to revolt to the Romans, on the understanding that he was to be established at the head of the government), their fortunes were also ruined at the same time, and they were reduced to humility; and the bonds which connected them with the Cnossians, who themselves had undergone countless changes, fell into neglect. But enough for my account of Cnossus.
1. The thought, if not the actual Greek words, of the passage here omitted from the Greek MSS. can be supplied from Diod. Sic. 5.78, who, like Strabo, depends much upon Ephorus for historical material: "(Cnossus in the) part of the island which inclines towards Asia, Phaestus on the sea, turned towards the south, and Cydonia in the region which lies towards the west, opposite the Peloponnesus".
2. Five different interpretations of this passage have been set forth, dependent on the meaning and syntax of enneoros: that Minos (1) reigned as king for nine years, (2) was nine years old when he became king, (3) for nine years held converse with Zeus, (4) every nine years held converse with Zeus, and (5) reigned as king when he had come to mature age. (Paus. 3.2.4 adopts the first. Heracleides of Pontus On the Cretan Constitutions seems to have adopted the third, saying that Minos spent nine years formulating his laws. But Plat. Minos 319c and Plat. Laws 624d says that Minos visited the cave of his father "every ninth year"; and Strabo (as 16. 2. 38 shows) expressly follows Plato. Hence the above rendering of the Homeric passage. Apart from the above interpretations, Eustathius (note on Odyssey 10.19, on a different passage) suggests that enneoros might pertain to "nine seasons, that is, two years and one month" (the "one month," however, instead of "one season," seems incongruous). This suggests that the present passage might mean that Minos held converse with Zeus during a period of one season every other year.
Receive our daily Newsletter with all the latest updates on the Greek Travel industry.Subscribe now!