In Greek mythology, Asterion ("starry", "ruler of the stars") denotes two sacred kings of Crete. The first Asterion (Ancient Greek: Ἀστερίων) or Asterius (Ἀστέριος),[1] the son of Tectamus son of Dorus called by the Greeks "king" of Crete, was the consort of Europa and stepfather of her sons by Zeus,[2] who had to assume the form of the Cretan bull of the sun to accomplish his role. The sons were Minos, the just king in Crete who judged the Underworld; Rhadamanthus, presiding over the Garden of the Hesperides or in the Underworld; and Sarpedon, likewise a judge in the Afterlife. When he died, Asterion gave his kingdom to Minos, who promptly "banished" his brothers after quarrelling with them. Crete, daughter of Asterion, was a possible wife of Minos.

According to Karl Kerenyi[3] and other scholars, the second Asterion, the star at the center of the labyrinth on Cretan coins, was in fact the Minotaur, as the compiler of Bibliotheca (III.1.4) asserts:'

Pasiphaë gave birth to Asterius, who was called the Minotaur. He had the face of a bull, but the rest of him was human; and Minos, in compliance with certain oracles, shut him up and guarded him in the Labyrinth.
"Minotaur" is simply a name of Hellene coining to describe his Cretan iconic bull-man image: see Minotaur. Coins minted at Cnossus from the fifth century showed the kneeling bull or the head of a goddess crowned with a wreath of grain[4] and on the reverse—the "underside"—a scheme of four meander patterns joined at the centre windmill fashion, sometimes with sickle moons or with a star-rosette at the center: "it is a small view of the nocturnal world on the face of the coin that lay downward in the printing process, and is, as it were, oriented downward".

A Greek myth[5] introduced Asterion as one of three river gods who judged between Poseidon and Hera, who should rule Argos. The River Asterion in Argos[6] is mentioned in the Dionysiaca (47.493) of Nonnus, who couples the reference with a rite in which young men dedicate locks of their hair.

As long as it is recalled that the myth of Asterion, who appears in no anecdotal Hellenic context, is Minoan, it will be perceived that the figure of Zeus is an interloper, and that rather than the "stepfather" role to which he has been displaced, Asterion is originally the father of the Underworld progeny.

Asterion in the herbal of Dioscurides, is Silene|Silene linifolia.[7] Of this herb, found near the Heraion of the Argolid, Pausanias noted "On its banks grows a plant, which also is called asterion. They offer the plant itself to Hera, and from its leaves weave her garlands."[8]


  1. Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca III.1.2–4, and Diodorus Siculus, IV.60.3, give Asterius; Pausanias, Description of Greece II.31.1, gives Asterion.
  2. Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca III.1.2; Asterius "having died childless" III.1.3; scholiast on Iliad XII.292.
  3. Kerenyi (1951), p. 111; Kerenyi (1976), p. 105.
  4. Compare Carme.
  5. Mentioned by Pausanias, 2.17.1–2. (on-line English text).
  6. Theoi Project: Asterion, river-god of Argos
  7. Charles Singer, "The Herbal in Antiquity and Its Transmission to Later Ages", The Journal of Hellenic Studies 47.1 (1927):1–52), illus. p. 16, fig. 12, naturalistic drawing of the first or second century CE, redrawn for the Vienna Dioscurides made for Julia Anicia.
  8. Pausanias, 2.17.2.


  • A.B. Cook, Zeus, i.543ff.
  • Karl Kerenyi. The Gods of the Greeks. London: Thames & Hudson, 1951.
  • Karl Kerenyi. Dionysus: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life, 1976.
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Asterion. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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