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So: We all know about the Labyrinth and the Minotaur. One is a maze of stone tunnels, and one is a half-man half-bull killing machine.

It's reasonable to assume that the Minotaur requires a decent amount of energy to keep going (Lets assume about 3000 KCal a day), and it's also reasonable to assume that he needs to eat a lot of protein (I mean, what kind of dread guardian doesn't have biceps the size of a normal man's head?).

The issue here is that the Labyrinth this particular minotaur lives in is stone walled (with decent mortaring), subterranean and lit by endless torchlight. The Minotaur can't get to the outside world (stupid small doorways), but he knows the tunnels like the back of his hand. Also: Nobody comes to feed him ever since he ate an acolyte that was irritating him.

How does the Minotaur reliably meet his dietary requirements? What sort of ecosystem will the Labyrinth need in order to support one Minotaur sized Apex predator?

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Have you thought about bringing him sentenced to death prisoners ? – Nico Feb 8 at 13:14
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so, is it an omnivore, herbivore or carnivore? I would vote for the first, because the... part that may contain the guts is human-like; still, he does not own the teeth necessary for eating meat with that bull-head, so maybe... mushrooms? Seriously, do we know what a minotaur should be able to eat at all? Oo – Confused Merlin Feb 8 at 13:26
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Isn't it obvious? Beatiful children. – XandarTheZenon Feb 8 at 13:41
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They eat Theseusses, it's just that they are not particularly good at catching them. – Dan White Feb 8 at 16:14
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Side note: I know plenty of people that need 3,000Kcal a day not to lose weight. A minotaur may be more around the 10,000-20,000Kcal. – Antrim Feb 9 at 11:26

11 Answers 11

up vote 25 down vote accepted

The myth of the Minotaur states that the monster must eat humans for sustenance. It also states that Athens was obliged to provide seven young noblemen and seven noble maidens each one, seven or nine years (sources differ) as a sacrifice to feed to the minotaur.

Assuming that the minotaur requires 3000kcal per day as per the OP's question, and that a 70kg human provides 750 mj, or 179254 kcal. Thus, we have:

179254 * 14 / 3000 = 836.52

Thus, one batch of Athenian sacrifices might feed the OP's Minotaur for 2.29 years.

Given these energetics, the minotaur could either be bigger and require more energy (up to 6870.79 kcal/day) and have yearly sacrifices to feed him, or he would need his diet supplemented by additional human sacrifices sourced from elsewhere.

Given the pragmatics of the situation, I'd go with the more (locally) popular option of feeding the minotaur yearly foreign sacrifices.

So, if we play with the input parameters of this online calculator, based on the presumption of a 21 year old male, the Minotaur could be 300cm tall (if standing fully upright), weighing 250kg, and considering that he would be only lightly active - given the need to run down and kill a sacrifice for a few hours each 26 days - these yearly sacrifices would be entirely sufficient to last him all year.

As an additional factor, the online calculator I used states that at the height and weight I proposed, the Minotaur would be overweight, with a BMI of 27.7. Since the Minotaur would be fed once each 26 days, and may well eat a sacrifice in less than this amount of time, having fat reserves would be useful. His weight would obviously fluctuate

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Answers like this are the reason that I love this site. Thanks for fleshing out this particular world with actual numbers. I would never have thought to look up the calorific content of your average nobleman, and didn't even know that the myth stated numbers of sacrifices! – Joe Bloggs Feb 9 at 9:53
    
Maybe he hibernates between sacrifices? – Tim B Feb 9 at 10:29
    
That minotaur must have a rather surprisingly efficient digestive tract for these numbers to work... (Which, in your linked source, is mentioned right up front.) – The Nate Feb 9 at 16:26
    
@TheNate, Even if the minotaur's digestive system wasn't efficient enough to extract the full 750 MJ from each sacrifice, it would still be able to be far bigger than any human and be able to live all year on those sacrifices. Around 3m tall and at least 200kg would fit the numbers even if reduced for inefficiencies. – Monty Wild Feb 9 at 21:39
    
@TimB, These numbers presuppose a human-style pattern of activity, which is to say that the minotaur lazes around, chewing the flesh off bones and cracking them open for the marrow for around 20 or so in every 26 days, but doesn't hibernate. On the 26th day, when a new sacrifice is dropped into the labyrinth, the minotaur has some entertainment as he chases his food around for a while, perhaps for as much as a few days, and then has a feast. – Monty Wild Feb 9 at 21:48

Insects

Tasty tasty insects. If insects aren't plentiful enough in the Labyrinth, he can supplement his diet with spiders.

enter image description here

The Minotaur needs food which is calorically dense, but doesn't require sharp, meat eating teeth. Insects, specifically cooked ones, are the perfect solution. They can be crunched up and eaten, providing a high protein high calorie diet, but aren't too chewy, like red meat can be. They're also abundant and can be efficiently farmed in confined areas, like the dark twisting passageways of a maze.

Insects are also far less likely to carry parasites that can be passed on to the Minotaur than mammalian food would be, so if he doesn't have access to cooking facilities, they could fairly safely be eaten raw, especially if he mostly stocks his insect farms with fungus or vegetable matter.

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Gross. And good answer. – James Feb 8 at 15:04
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I don't think insect tacos and lichen would be enough to sustain such a large beast. – AndreiROM Feb 8 at 15:10
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Ridiculous! Where would he find tortillas?! (Great answer, +1) – Samuel Feb 8 at 17:56
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@AndreiROM tell that to whales who eat plankton. – sgroves Feb 8 at 20:46
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Why wouldn't the spend all day farming/gathering insects to eat? It isn't like he has a mall to go to, or friends to hang out with. Or maybe he does, which would conk the players' expectations nicely. – slashingweapon Feb 8 at 22:27

It's going to be very difficult for the Minotaur to be self-reliant. As you state, this maze is not a very good place to grow food.

So here's how you do it:

Jurassic Park Style

Have a narrow, vertical shaft leading down into the heart of the maze (its existence can be a closely guarded secret). Lower chunks of meat in for the Minotaur to feed on.

Only One Entrance

Alternatively, if you really want a single way in/out simply lead animals such as sheep or cows into the labyrinth a little way, and run out.

If you don't want to risk even stepping foot inside then rig up a pulley system (anchored inside the labyrinth) and pull the animals in from the outside.

All you'd need is a long loop of chain and a ring firmly affixed in the wall of the labyrinth. You tie the animal to the chain and pull, leading it inside. Once the Minotaur rips the animal off the chain you can cycle it through the ring and pull in the next one. (you could potentially have to fix the ring/chain every once in a while, but the Minotaur would probably let you, or even help you do it)

Alternate Food Source

Another way to provide the Minotaur with food is to have animals stumble into the labyrinth through some sort of natural cave system. It would make the food source unreliable/hit and miss, but it would be a lot more realistic than having your fearsome murder-pet lick lichen off the walls.

Rat Burgers

Realistically the Minotaur won't be able to sustain itself unless it's quite intelligent and resourceful. However, assuming that you really want a hands-off approach then it would probably set up traps for the many pests roaming the underground tunnels.

Eventually it can even start breeding rats or other pests for a food source.

You Should Feed It

If you are the one feeding this thing then you have leverage over it. It has a reason to at least pretend to obey you.

You also have some very real power over it. If it becomes too rebellious you cut its food rations and discipline it. If it tries to attack you, or goes berserk simply withhold all food and watch it slowly starve to death.

A self reliant Minotaur is not stuck inside the maze - it's in charge of a maze you can't get it out of.

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The last section of this answer is fantastic. – recognizer Feb 8 at 16:30
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@Recognizer - thank you! The phrase "I'm not locked in here with you, you're locked in here with me!" was going through my head as I wrote that. – AndreiROM Feb 8 at 16:35
    
Why do we assume the Minotaur eats meat? His upper body is that of a bull. Bulls are vegetarian (unless being fed things they shouldn't be, leading to potential mad cow disease). He probably can subsist on just grass and water, but a good supply of grains can help him keep bulked up. These can easily be poured through a small hole in the top. – Darrel Hoffman Feb 8 at 22:21
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@ryan The same reason they'd be terrified of a bull. They're big and mean and territorial. Bulls won't eat you, but they'll still kick, trample, or gore you to death given half the opportunity. – Darrel Hoffman Feb 8 at 22:55
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@DarrelHoffman - in mythology the Minotaur eats human sacrifices, so I would say that the debate over it being a herbivore was settled about 2000 years ago. – AndreiROM Feb 9 at 15:43

The maze isn't place to keep the Minotaur trapped. The maze is a Minotaur nest.

The Minotaur is a mythical beast. It is an infovore: it eats information, and excretes mazes (information waste).

It is attracted to civilization because civilization generates tasty highly abstract information: lists of goods, taxes, areas, names of citizens, salaries, calendars, etc.

If not careful, the Minotaur gorges itself on the information content of a civilization, leading to the civilization collapsing in bureaucracy, corruption and disorganization. Minotaurs that adapt to their prey build a nest -- a maze of digested waste information (and emergency rations) and a distance buffer to keep their appetite in check -- and only eat enough to keep themselves healthy.

Highly organized structures, like humans, provide a tasty dessert like snack on top of the ambient abstract information of the civilization itself. Humans who have complex plans have a better fragrance.

The Minotaur isn't trapped in the maze: the civilization is a domesticated information factory owned by the Minotaur.

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That's a little too abstract – AndreiROM Feb 8 at 16:07
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I think it's perfect. Was this originally a C. Stross idea? – Samuel Feb 8 at 18:00
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@Samuel Not that I know of, but C Stross has a Mythology/Cthulu/Information Theory/Cold-War Spy/Office-Humor series of novels where this is the kind of thing you'd run into (The Laundry Files). – Yakk Feb 8 at 18:08
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+1 purely for 'excretes mazes', though unlikely to be the accepted answer. :D – Joe Bloggs Feb 8 at 18:11
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So what happens to the information the minotaur "eats"? Does it go missing? Do words on paper become random? Does this explain why my tax records from 2003 no longer make any sense to me whatsoever? – slashingweapon Feb 8 at 22:32

The top half of a Minotaur, including his digestive system, is bull, so one would assume that the natural diet of a Minotaur is very similar to that of a cow: approximately 2% of their body weight in foliage a day. Gorillas are another example of highly muscular animals that achieve their physique despite a pure vegetarian diet, disproving the need for high protein.

That said, the subterranean nature of the labyrinth is problematic- that may limit things to fungi and roots from larger plants growing above. Maybe the Minotaur has found a way to sustainably tap into the rich sap of trees above.

Apart from that, burrowing animals and insects are your alternative potential food sources. Given the static location of a maze, it would really have to serve as a less-dangerous location compared to predators above ground. If the Minotaur's hunting ground is too small, he will starve himself by over-feeding or scaring off potential prey in that regards.

The third alternative is domestication of animals that could fetch food on his behalf. Maybe the Minotaur is an avid bee keeper (if we're going to stick to the supernatural, perhaps he blows smoke out from his nostrils for just this reason) or looks after honey-making ants. Perhaps he keeps cats that bring him kills and keep him fed. Well-trained monkeys that steal from the populace? There's a lot of potential there.

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What's worse than a labyrinth? A labyrinth filled with bees... – Joe Bloggs Feb 9 at 16:43
    
Perhaps there are shoots or some other mechanism that they can slide a load of fruit and grain into the labyrinth. – Jay Feb 10 at 15:04
    
I think the question prohibited that because they've given up on feeding him over the acolyte-eating incident. – Danikov Feb 10 at 16:20

I thought the whole point of the story was that the Minotaur ate people, the various condemned prisoners sent to die in the Maze.

If you want to get all sciency-y and realistic about it, you could speculate that when there aren't enough prisoners to sustain him, they force some animals into the Maze. Presumably they'd be trapped there as easily as people, and the Minotaur could find and eat them.

Of course the Minotaur is supposed to be half man and half bull, and in real life neither men nor bulls are carnivores. But I don't think the writer of the original worried overly match about that. He's a fictional monster: giving him inconsistent eating habits is the least of the unreality about him.

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In real life, men can actually survive being carnivores and cows do eat things like mice from time to time. I, nevertheless, agree with your point: diet is clearly not the strangest thing here. Obviously that had to be the CO2 clearing rate, right? Vitamin D deficiency? – The Nate Feb 9 at 16:36

The answers provided above are excellent - serious debates about calorie per sacrifice breakdowns and positing that the Minotaur is probably running the labyrinth while keeping bees, are reasons why I love human logic.

However, I think the answer is already in the question:

"and lit by endless torchlight."

Torches need maintenance - new ones need lighting, burnt out ones need replacing, piles of old torches to be cleared away. This, given the era, means low-level servants. Quite possibly slaves, even. Disposable.

...lunch.

Depending on how rapacious the Minotaur is when he eats the torch-bearers, this also explains the smoke he breathes out. Nothing more than literal heartburn.

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There are other minotaurs than the classic Greek one.

Consider the Dr. Who versions.

They eat different things: time lords, victims, electricity, worship.

enter image description here

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/profiles/447FRsQ0z5StssHllhppp4R/minotaur

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I would suggest giving more information about the different kinds of minotaurs and how their particular diets work to provide a better answer, especially for people who don't watch Doctor Who. :) – Jerenda Feb 10 at 20:00

It would be very, very difficult for a large creature to survive on a diet of periodically sacrificed humans if it was regularly active.

My guess is that the Minotaur's lifestyle would probably be a lot like a spider - it would spend most of its time dormant, saving energy for the rare occasions when a victim enters the labyrinth.

It would need to have excellent hearing, both to know when there is a victim to be caught and to locate the victim quickly and efficiently.

If it had a means of attracting small prey like insects or rodents in order to eat them while expending very little energy (producing a smell, perhaps) that would be helpful as well in staving off hunger.

Alternatively, since the sacrifices were regular, perhaps the Minotaur spends most of its time in hibernation, and the sacrifices are coordinated to occur when it wakes up.

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Do the stories say just how often he was sent sacrifices? Yes, they only fed him Athenians, once a year was it? But maybe they had a rotating schedule: sacrifices from Athens this month, Sparta next month, ,Corinth the following month, maybe pick some up from Cyprus or Phoenecia, etc. Plus maybe local condemned criminals. You want to have variety in your diet, and not Greek food every day. – Jay Feb 10 at 15:02

First, i think you forgot that labyrinth wasn't made from natural cave systems, but according to Homer (not Simpson) was designed and build by Daedalus. As it was designed by one of the greatest mind who lived in that period, we can assume there was safe way to provide food for Minotaur.

When I was child, I got comic book about Daedalus. In that comic book, in labyrinth there was some kind of "dinning room" with large hole in ceiling. Through that hole, servants were dropping baskets with food for Minotaur. Later obviously he got yummy Athenians, but that was different story.

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'stone walled (with decent mortaring)' I don't know many natural caves systems with mortared stone walls... ;D – Joe Bloggs Feb 11 at 12:52

Not sure this is a good answer, but myths don't really stack up to modern realities.

Remember that the Minotaur was born because a woman got hot for a bull, and built a cow-shaped frame she could tie herself inside so that the bull would have sex with her. Then she got pregnant and gave birth to a half-human half-bull creature. (Yes, this particular bit of Greek myth tends not to get published as much!) My point is that the genetics of that simply don't work, because the two species aren't compatible that way to produce viable offspring.

So if we discount all that, we're left with "because it's magic". And really that's as much detail as Homer and his mates would ever have gone into.

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This is worldbuilding. We come to this site understanding that these are fictional worlds, with varying degrees of reality. I suggest, in future responses, you accept premises (even if they're not really based on reality), and deliver an answer based off of that. If you really object to the premises, state your objections, but then make a good faith effort to get close to some answer you think they're looking for. A way to improve this answer would to say "A minotaur-like creature could exist if x or y wasn't so" or "if z changed, then ..." – PipperChip Feb 10 at 23:24
    
@PipperChip That's fine, and I sign up to that (as a wideranging reader of fantasy and SF!). But "it isn't possible except by magic" is an equally valid response, especially if that's the only depth the original author considered. Its existence comes from narrative imperative, not from ecology. :) I do take your point though that there would be better ways of expressing that. – Graham Feb 12 at 12:11

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