Author's Note: this is a look at the ancient Greek tale of how the wife of King Minos was struck by the gods with a lust for a magnificent mythical creature in the form of a white bull.
"What a creature," Minos said, rubbing his hands together. His eyes were alight like a child's, in a way I have come to know very well. "What a marvelous, magnificent creature! Do you not agree, my wife?"
"It is as you say, my king and husband," I replied, suddenly feeling myself to be on precarious ground.
That look in his eyes. That bright, merry look.
"The gods," I added, "will be greatly pleased."
At once, Minos' expression changed. His lower lip stuck out, and his nose crinkled, and his eyes went narrow. His was the anger of a petulant boy denied some treat, and it came to me that had he ever looked so in the presence of his rivals or advisors, he would have long since lost his throne.
"It is my bull," he said. "It came to me."
I nodded, knowing that I had gone too far, displeased him. It would not be for me, Pasiphae, to remind the king of Crete of the promise he had made. Minos needed no reminding. He knew. He remembered full well how he had raised his arms to the sea from which the white bull had arisen, and pledged that it would be sacrificed in Poseidon's honor.
"Mine," he repeated.
"Yes, my king and husband," I said, and bowed my head.
The other ladies often told me how fortunate I was. "Oh, Pasiphae," they would cry, "how fortunate you are that Minos keeps only to you, his wife! He never puts you aside in favor of concubines, catamites, mistresses!" And they would go on to bemoan the infidelities of their own husbands, each wringing her hands in the ever-present fear that she might be supplanted, replaced by a younger, more vital, lovelier woman.
If only they knew, I thought, and stole a glance at Minos. If only they knew what it is to be queen of Crete, married to this man. I should rather he kept a horde of concubines, if only he had the lusts to need them.
His faithfulness was due in part to his disinterest. Many a hunger, many an appetite throbbed in Minos. He craved treasure and power the way a starved man might crave bread and meat. He craved accolade, respect, adoration. He was ever surrounded with toadying underlings, and neighboring kings held for Minos a respectful fear.
For the pleasures of the bedroom, alas for me, my husband had only indifference. Not a dozen times in a year would he bother to rouse himself to seek my bed. When he did, the occasion was always over quite swiftly, if indeed it began at all. More often than not, whatever excitement had lured him hither would fade before he had managed to enter me.
I knew that I was not to fault for this. In my girlhood, I had been renowned for my beauty, and the passing years had only granted me a mature woman's glow. My breasts, unsuckled by any child – for neither had Minos ever quickened a babe within my womb – stood high and proud. My stomach was unlined, my thighs smooth, my skin honeyed cream.
I had been told by other suitors that my mouth was as inviting as the portal to Aphrodite's own chamber. My eyes, the light green-blue of the summer sea, were lavishly fringed in dark lashes. My hair was a source of pride, as yet untouched by grey. When unbound, it fell to my hips in a shimmer of gold.
No, it was through no deficit in his wife that Minos rarely felt a man's urge. He did not care for it, that was all. He was also, perhaps, loathe to let it be known by any other that for all his riches and stature, for all the armies at his command, King Minos was barely more than a boy below the waist.
It was a pitiable thing, his phallus, small and usually soft, shrunken as a fig, curled as a shrimp. Where there should have been a virile and hairy sac to contain his testes was a pallid little pouch that might have held a pair of olives. Though he was vain of his thick hair, full beard, and manly chest, the thatch at his groin was sparse and wispy.
Such had I first beheld on our wedding night. I had been left speechless, which was perhaps for the best because I could not imagine what words, in that moment of astonishment, might have come from my lips. The contrast of him – wide shoulders, deep chest, muscular legs, miniscule manhood – was not at all what I had expected when our wrists were bound by a cord at the altar of Hera.
Minos had thought his bride a virgin, entirely untutored in the ways of men, utterly ignorant of what a man's body should look like. He had believed my only prior education had been in the viewing of painted urns and marble statuary.
I suppose that I was, therefore, not what he expected either. But I never let on. I knew that if he ever suspected me of previous knowledge, he would turn me out at once. Or, perhaps, as I had seen his shame, he might feel compelled to be sure that I never spoke of it.
That would not do, not at all. It could not be known beyond the walls of the king's private bedroom that powerful Minos was in any way less than a man. He would not tolerate any such rumor, any such laughter. This, not any romantic ideal of husbandly fidelity, was the reason he kept no concubines.
He would not bathe in the company of others. Even his slaves, once they had attended to their duties, would be sent away that he might not be naked before them. If anyone else but myself in all of Crete knew his secret, it could only have been his aesklepios, his physician.
Wise beyond my years even on the night of my wedding, I had the sense to show neither mirth nor dismay at the sight I beheld. I felt both emotions commingled, for was this not the moment, the purpose for which fair Pasiphae had been groomed? To lie down with her husband, give pleasure to him and be pleasured by him, and bear for him fine sons and beautiful daughters?
There was no pleasure for either of us that night. Minos, flushed by wine, bade me recline before him and open my legs. I did so, and he knelt between them, and to his credit his pale earthworm did poke up in readiness. I had more length and girth in my smallest finger. I could not help but wonder that even if I had been a virgin, whether he would have been able to pierce Hymen's veil at all.
Not once did I worry that he would be able to know his was not the first organ to breach my femininity. He lacked the experience of any women, let alone sufficient comparisons to tell the difference.
I was determined to make the best of it. Was I not queen of Crete? That in itself was to be envied. And I recalled how I had heard my mother's maids giggling and gossiping about their lovers, how they claimed that it was not the size of the oar but the stroke of the oarsman that moved the vessel. As Minos lowered himself upon me, I hoped that this was true.
What I learned that night was that the stroke of the oarsman matters not at all if he cannot even dip the oar in the water. Minos spilled his seed in a dribble on my thigh before he had so much as touched my entrance. Moments later, he was collapsed on the pillows beside me, snoring vast breaths of sour wine.
When he woke, he did apologize and blamed the drink, oh devious vine of Dionysus that was a fire to inflame the senses but melt the bronze. He must have seen my disappointment though I tried to conceal it, for he mustered up another feeble erection after much pulling and tugging of the poor little thing between his fingers, and this time got it successfully into me.
He lasted ten thrusts. Ten. I counted them. Judging more by the slap of his belly against mine than anything I could feel in my loins. And then, sinking onto me, showering me with kisses more befitting a puppy than a man, he told me that I would be a good and true wife to him.
I agreed, consoling myself with the thought that matters had to improve.
How wrong I was. As the years passed, and Minos bothered with my bedchamber less and less frequently, I realized that it would ever be this way. Not once did he stimulate me to the point when sweet crashing waves tossed and spun my body on tides of delight. Not once did he evince any inclination to use another part of him – those same giggling maidens had also said that whoso could not stir the sauce could at least lick the bowl – and the sole time I tried to take his organ into my mouth, he recoiled as though he feared I would snip it off like a boiled stem.
No, other passions boiled in Minos. War and law and treaties, at these he was potent, diligent, thorough. He never was cruel to me, and saw that I had all the finery and jewels and attendants I could wish. In all ways save physical love, and motherhood, I was well satisfied.
Another woman might have taken a lover to make up the lack. I did consider it, oh, many times over the years. But I knew that the risk was too great. I suspected that Minos was as barren as Demeter's winter heart. I dared not become pregnant by another. Yes, there were secret elixirs against this, but they were not foolproof. And could I trust the discretion of a lover?
Ultimately, I decided that I would make do, and tend to my own needs. At first, I found that my own hands, or the fingers and tongues of a succession of agreeable maidservants, sufficed. But I began to yearn for something more. Something of size and substance to fill the emptiness within me. Fruits, candles, and other objects only heightened my desire.
A year previous to the arrival of the white bull that Minos so prized, I resolved to dispatch my most trusted maid on an errand. Ligia went to Daedalus, the genius, the inventor, recently welcomed into Minos' court. She provided him ivory, gold, and gems, and he worked his craftsman's magic to transform them into a phallus.
I could hardly believe my eyes when I beheld it. Dazzling to my vision, the rod of a Titan compared to Minos, it was sculpted with such lifelike attentiveness to detail that I would not have been surprised to feel it pulse and lurch at my touch.
The ivory was polished smooth, inlaid with veins of gold, decorated with jewels. I could not encircle the base of it with one hand. Though its substance was cool, it warmed quickly when handled. By the time I fell back and inserted it, easing it slowly in, the ivory phallus might have belonged to a living man.
Closing my eyes made the illusion more complete. I pushed the phallus deeper, moaning with joy. At first, I maintained the slow pace, but as the gathering storm built within me, I surrendered with abandon.
With this new device, I was happy and content for some time. I sent Ligia with a reward of silver and gold to Daedalus, not daring to thank the master inventor personally. He was another prize of Minos, brought out at feasts to display his latest creations, while Minos puffed and preened as though he had designed them himself.
"… Daedalus," Minos said.
I gasped, startled from my reverie and blushing to realize that my loins were tingling. I ached to be away from Minos, to be in my room again and taking the ivory phallus from its hiding place and …
"Pardon, my king and husband?"
"I will not sacrifice the bull," Minos said. "I will speak to Daedalus."
"Not … but you … Poseidon …"
"Do you not see, Pasiphae?" His eyes were bright again, fevered. "This bull is a gift to me from the gods. I would be insulting them to return it by way of an offering. Surely, a bull so fine and magnificent should be kept alive. Think of the divine herd it could sire upon my best cows!"
He pointed into the pasture, of which we had an unobstructed view. The bull was impossible to miss. Among the dun-brown and black of the other animals, against the green of the field, its pure white hide glowed like the moon.
It stood much taller than any other in the herd, with widespread golden horns. I had never seen such a creature. No one in Crete had.
A curious feeling arose in me as I studied the bull. It was perfection. Strength and virility, kingly pride, majesty. As if … why, as if it were no mere mortal beast but touched by the gods. Perhaps even a god itself … had not Zeus disguised himself as a bull to carry away Europa?
Could Minos be unknowingly right? He only wanted the bull for himself, and spoke of gifts from the gods to allay his guilt over what he knew was a breaking of his vow. Yet suppose that it was so? Suppose that a god, even mighty Zeus himself, had for the purpose of some test or trial come to Crete in the guise of a bull?
For surely, if ever any creature had the aspect of a god, it was that white bull. It was raw masculinity, potency, power. As I watched, spellbound, I saw the bull nose at a cow. The cow stood docile, not even making a token effort to escape, as the bull heaved its forelegs onto her back and prepared to mount.
The bull's massive organ slid into view, and my knees went strangely weak. Beside me, Minos was going on about how he would sacrifice the first calf of the next generation, that should please the gods, proof that he valued their gift. I barely heeded him. My gaze was fixed on the bull, and the cow.
"Our herds will be the envy of all Greece," Minos said.
I wanted to shriek at him to be silent, wanted to fling myself into his arms. I wanted him to bend me roughly over the sill, and enter me in the same way that the bull did the cow. Minos only rubbed his hands again, and grinned.
"I've thought it all through, you see," he said to me. "I did say that I would make an offering of the white bull to the gods."
"Yes," I said faintly.
"But did I say that bull?"
"You have no other white bull."
"Not yet." He turned me to face him, his grin wider than ever. "Daedalus. I will have him make a … a costume. A costume of a white bull, which I'll have put on one of the other bulls. This bull, disguised, I will then sacrifice to the gods. Thus will the letter and spirit of my oath be kept, while at the same time, that bull will be spared. It is clever, is it not? Tell me it is clever, my wife."
"Clever, oh husband," I said. Inside, where I had been warm and slippery, I now felt cold and hollow. "But … to trick the gods? Minos, my lord, do remember Prometheus! He thought to trick Zeus, presenting him choice meats wrapped in offal and bones wrapped in hide –"
"That was very long ago, Pasiphae," Minos said.
"And when Zeus chose the offering that seemed best, and found it contained only bones, he punished Prometheus. I would not wish to see my dear Minos chained to a rock with an eagle tearing out his liver."
"Prometheus stole fire from the sun. It was for that he was punished."
The tone of Minos' voice told me that he was near the end of his patience for my objections. So, I did not argue further.
He was as good as his word. News reached me by way of Ligia the very next day that Daedalus was at work on a makeshift mock-up of a white bull.
When it was finished, Minos bade the entire kingdom turn out. He had hidden the true white bull away in a stable, and had the false one brought forth. I had to admit that Daedalus' deception was convincing. It seemed even to fool the other cows.
"It is impressive, my mistress," Ligia said as we watched from my window. "Why, I do believe that Daedalus himself could be in that costume, and no one would be the wiser."
"I should hope that Daedalus would be the wiser," I said dryly. "That bull is about to feel the slash of the knife."
The disguised bull was then duly sacrificed. Minos made much of it in his speech, thanking benevolent Poseidon and all the gods of Olympus. I was braced for my husband to be smote into cinders by a thunderbolt, as had been the fate of Phaeton, my brother, son of bright Helios. Or for the angry sea to rise up and devour him. But Minos remained unharmed. Had the gods in fact been fooled?
It seemed that they had. The dead bull was thrown, disguise and all, onto the fire. Smoke rose in a dark billow, snatched apart by the winds. And no sudden roiling of black clouds, no ear-splitting crack of thunder, no searing bolt from above, no monstrous tidal wave.
Minos had succeeded, and I realized that I was quite overwhelmingly relieved. Not so much for him, but for the true white bull. It would have been a great shame for such an animal to die, while still young and strong and in his prime. That was no ordinary bull. No, it was a thing of the gods. It had to be.
My husband celebrated by making one of his rare visits to my room. As he undressed, and I waited with long-since dimmed hopes, I thought of turning myself over onto hands and knees, and bidding him take me in that fashion. But I could not bring myself to do it.
Instead, I let him do as he usually did, and soon thereafter he was snoring beside me. Sleeping so soundly, in fact, that he never so much as twitched when I fetched out my ivory plaything and used it to good effect.
It should have sated me, should have allowed me to follow Minos into the arms of Morpheus. Yet I could not rest. My limbs could not seem to arrange themselves comfortably. Whenever I did manage to close my eyes, I was beset by fractured images.
The white bull. Minos' mere fingerling of an erection. The cow, mounted, being serviced. The disguise that Daedalus had crafted. So real … even the other cattle hadn't been able to tell. A disembodied phallus, cool ivory glinting with gems. The greedy little boy's eyes of my husband as he gloated over his prize. The white bull's enormous member glistening slick in the sunlight as he mounted the cow. The smoldering hide, Daedalus' creation going up in smoke. The white bull. Pawing, snorting, tossing his golden horns. The cow, making no move to get away. The white bull.
When at last I found a thin and uneasy sleep, I dreamed of Europa, clinging desperately to the horns of a great black bull as it galloped over the sea. Europa, whose brother had lost his grip and fallen to death in the unforgiving waves. But the girl had survived. Carried to safety by Zeus, and gladly submitting to that divine embrace.
I dreamed, too, of Io. Turned into a heifer by Zeus, lest she be discovered by the jealous eye of Hera. And Leda, enfolded in the soft white wings of the swan. And Callisto, who became a bear and was lifted into the night sky along with her son. And Danae, in her lonely prison, witnessing golden light streaming around her to take on a godly form.
Europa. The black bull. The white bull.
I groaned, half-wakeful, and rolled to my belly. My hand found the ivory phallus. Drawing my knees up under my chest, and reaching around until I thought my arm was about to snap, I was able to slip the device deep, and work it in and out while my mind was tantalized by memories of how the bull had loomed over the cow, how it had plunged and withdrawn its length.
Panting, gasping, I moved the implement faster and faster. My loins pulsed and pounded. I trembled on the edge of climax, so close, so agonizingly close, and yet could not reach it. Frantic now, I threw myself to my back and rubbed myself with the fingertips of one hand while the other continued guiding the ivory.
Fevered desire suddenly became frustration. I whined through clenched teeth, knowing that the harder I strove for it, the further from it I would fall. With heaving breaths almost like sobs, I removed the ivory phallus.
Miserable and unfulfilled, I lay staring into the darkness beside Minos. The stars gradually became lost in the rosy dawn. I had not found sleep again by the time Ligia came in with a basin and cloth.
I was in a wretched mood all that day, speaking viciously to servants, berating the slaves for even the least of mistakes. Minos seemed unaware, so pleased with himself was he. Thrice that day, he made reasons to visit the stable, there to smirk over his prized white bull.