I know this much Greek. (In case you can’t see, I’m holding my fingers up to the screen and they are very, very close together.) However, the other day I was reading through the Bacchic-Orphic gold lamellae from Southern Italy in the original and I noticed something kind of significant. Well, significant to me though I don’t recall ever seeing it mentioned anywhere else. (And since I had this epiphany I have been doing an insane amount of research on this stuff, and you’ll understand why in a moment.)
After passing the stream of Lethe in the underworld the thirsty soul is advised:
You will find another one, from the Lake of Memory, cold water pouring forth; there are guards before it.
They will ask you, with astute wisdom, what you are seeking in the darkness of murky Hades.
“Who are you? Where are you from?”
You tell them the entire truth.
Say, “I am a child of Earth and starry Sky. My name is Starry.”
It’s that last sentence. What you say to the guard is actually Ἀστέριος ὄνομα. “My name is Asterios.”
As in the bull of Minos.
He built a wooden cow on wheels, skinned a real cow, and sewed the contraption into the skin. And then, after placing Pasiphae inside, set it in a meadow where the bull normally grazed. The bull came up and had intercourse with it, as if with a real cow. Pasiphae gave birth to Asterios, who was called Minotauros. He had the face of a bull, but was otherwise human. Minos, following certain oracular instructions, kept him confined and under guard in the labyrinth. (Apollodoros, Bibliotheka 3.11)
Minos, who is one of the judges in the underworld.
And remember, the whole point of the Orphic lamellae is to circumvent the underworld judges by appealing to a higher authority — Dionysos Lusios, who intervenes directly with Persephone and grants release from the “wearying wheel” or “painful circle of deep sorrow.”
Or in other words, from the labyrinth.
One of the texts from Thurii is particularly evocative:
And I flew out from the hard and deeply-grievous circle, and stepped onto the crown with my swift feet, and slipped into the bosom of the Mistress, the Queen of the Underworld. And I stepped out from the crown with my swift feet.
Especially when you keep in mind the tradition related by Hyginus:
The author of the Cretica says that when Liber came to Minos with the hope of lying with Ariadne he gave her this crown as a present. Delighted with it, she did not refuse the terms. It is said, too, to have been made of gold and Indian gems, and by its aid Theseus is thought to have come from the gloom of the labyrinth to the day, for the gold and gems made a glow of light in the darkness. (Astronomica 2.5)
Do you begin to glimpse what the mystery is?