Mary Reid Kelley and the Myth of the Minotaur
Reid Kelley sets up her version of the myth in Priapus Agonistes (2013), in which athletes from rival churches play indoor volleyball to determine the annual sacrifice to the Minotaur, a cow-woman hybrid who lives in the labyrinth beneath the gym. She is the product of the union between her mother, Queen Pasiphae, and a bull. In the traditional version of the myth the god Poseidon placed a curse on Pasiphae to punish Minos for not sacrificing the beautiful bull to him, but in Reid Kelly’s female-centered retelling, the offended deity is Venus. The goddess of love and beauty punished the queen in part out of jealousy and in part out of displeasure with her conceited attitude. Priapus, the Greek demigod of fertility, worshipped by fishermen and farmers, replaces Theseus as the hero who will face the monster. Reid Kelley’s Priapus is a man-fish hybrid, which makes him an unconventional hero, but like many heroes, he is self-assured and egotistical, confident that he will thwart the perceived villain.
But it’s your joy, not mine, that matters now.
Express it freely! Wanton praise endows
My limbs with fearsome strength, which I’ll need
To kill the Minotaur!
In response to Priapus’s plan to kill the beast, Pasiphae cries for the child that she bore, showing not remorse for her offenses but guilt and sympathy for the Minotaur. She is too painfully aware that her offspring will continue to pay for her perceived indiscretions.
In Reid Kelley’s interpretation of the myth, the Minotaur is a creature to be pitied, not a vicious monster. She continues to become lost in the hallways of the labyrinth even though it is the only home she has ever known. Her life is one of isolation. She sees the human sacrifices as visitors sent to her for company and play but inevitably kills and eats them and then finds herself alone again. She knows of her royal family but is not allowed to live with them in the palace for reasons she does not understand. She cannot read the prisoners’ graffiti defaming the royal family. The Minotaur deludes herself that she is exceptional, not the evidence of her mother’s curse-driven transgressions against humanity. By the end of the first video, this illusion begins to crack as the Minotaur faces her desperate loneliness.