Ancient Greek Mythology
Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur
Ancient Aegean, Crete, eastern Mediterranean.
Theseus killed the Minotaur and retraced his way back to Ariadne by rolling the thread up on its spindle.
The Minotaur’s father emerged from the sea around Crete, a huge white bull swimming ashore like the water kelpies of Scottish folklore that come from a land like our own that lies deep beneath the ocean, or a loch. Pasiphaë, the wife of king Minos of Crete, fell in love with this handsome beast and persuaded the ingenious engineer Daedalus to construct a means of letting it father upon her the Minotaur.
Theseus was brought up in Troezen, on the Greek mainland. His true origins were concealed from him as he grew up. Then, as a youth, he demonstrated his true identity, like King Arthur, by recovering a sword from a stone.
Following this affirmation of his real identity and after a succession of marvellous feats of strength and combat, Theseus arrives in Athens, where he soon arranges to be sent with a contingent of youths and maidens to be fed to the Minotaur, this grotesque offspring of Pasiphaë who is now kept in seclusion in the Labyrinth, on Crete.
When he arrives in Crete, the daughter of King Minos, Ariadne, falls in love with Theseus. When his turn comes to be fed to the Minotaur she gives him a magic thread. It will guide him to the beast's inner lair, the very heart of the Labyrinth that Daedalus built. Theseus secures one end of the thread and lets the other guide him to the creature, kills the Minotaur and retraces his way back to Ariadne by rolling the thread up on its spindle. They escape together from Crete in a boat. Theseus promises to marry Ariadne when they get back to Athens.
For some inexplicable reason that is never quite explained by any classical author, Theseus abandons Ariadne on the island of Naxos, and she marries Dionysus instead, bearing many children to him; Dionysus, of course, who could take on, as Euripides shows us, the form of a bull.