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The Murder of the Minotaur

Updated on September 13, 2014

This is a tragic tale, telling of blood and betrayal, of broken trust and cowardly abandonment and it started on the glittering island of Crete, Land of the Labyrinth.

The story of the Minotaur is the story of Ariadne, of her strange and dysfunctional family, of her monstrous brother, and of her suffering mother.

To speak of Ariadne is also to speak of the duplicitous Theseus, and of his obsession to murder the Minotaur.

John William Waterhouse 1849-1917
John William Waterhouse 1849-1917

Ariadne's dysfunctional family

It all started with the infamous philandering ways of Zeus

When the willful and lusty old god spotted the beautiful Europa, he assumed the form of a bull and carried her off from the shores of Carthage, over the seas to Crete.

As a result of this abduction, Europa gave birth to a son, destined to be Minos, King of Crete.

Ariadne was the daughter of Pasiphae, wife to Minos.

Poor Pasiphae, wife to Minos

Poor Pasiphae was cruelly treated in a petty standoff about male vanity between her husband and Poseidon, Lord of the Sea

The sea-god had given Minos a beautiful white bull on the condition that it be sacrificed right back to him, but the king, overcome with greed, kept the animal.

Poseidon took revenge by causing Pasiphae to fall in love with the disputed bull and as a result she bore the Minotaur, a half-human, half-bull creature.

To hide this unfortunate outcome, Daedalus, the gifted engineer of the Bronze Age, built a huge maze of winding passages to house the child.

The white bull

Pasipahe and the white bull
Pasipahe and the white bull | Source
The Minotaur
The Minotaur

Half-man, Half-bull

What was the matter with the son of Pasiphae?

Surely he wasn't a half-man, half-bull, but obviously physically disabled in some way

In any case, he was banished to live in a tunnel complex underground, some type of maze to hide him from the world. Poor little boy!

It's no wonder he grew angry down there, abandoned, confused and alone.

Death in the Bull Run and Ritual Sacrifice

A tragic accident took the life of the youthful Androgeus, only son of Minos. The boy was killed while drunk, by a runaway bull in Athens. It was a sort of precursor to the ‘bull runs’ in Pamplona held today. There have always been foolish young men who indulge themselves with drunkenness and extreme high risk behaviour.

The wrathful king demanded tribute for his loss, tribute in suffering on the same scale, tribute in the form of seven young men and seven young women to be ritually sacrificed to the Minotaur each year.

The same scale? Ah, but the grief of a king is deeper than that of merchant or goatherd, and royal wrath requires great tribute to be appeased.

The Modern Bull Run

The modern bull run
The modern bull run | Source
Ariadne shows Theseus the Labyrinth
Ariadne shows Theseus the Labyrinth

Theseus

Theseus was a king of ancient Athens who made his name by 'heroic' deeds in his youth.

He volunteered to be one of the youths sacrificed to appease the whim of Minos. Was he mad to volunteer? No, he had very good reasons and all of them were to do with his own ambition.

He set out to charm the sheltered Ariadne, and she fell in love with him. Turning her back on her family and the land that had nourished her, she resolved to help the pretty youth.

Down, down into the labyrinth

Down in the labyrinth, the long, winding corridors and half-hidden passages twisted into themselves back into the beginning, looped in and around to the lair of the Minotaur and turned back and around again.

The way out could never be found.

So Ariadne gave Theseus a long strand of thick thread from her weaving loom to unwind on his way in, and then to follow his path back out.

Down he went.

Murder of a Minotaur

Theseus kills the Minotaur
Theseus kills the Minotaur | Source

Theseus the 'Hero'

Theseus killed the creature, this poor pathetic monstrous brother of Ariadne, and returned, in triumph, to the surface.

Ancient Greek Ship
Ancient Greek Ship | Source

Theseus and Ariadne sail away

Theseus had promised to marry Ariadne in exchange for her help, and together they sailed away to Athens.

Along the way, the ship stopped for fresh water on the island of Naxos and Theseus persuaded the very heavily pregnant Ariadne to rest beneath some shade trees.

When she awoke he was gone.

The ship had set sail without her, leaving her alone on the island – broken hearted and far from home.

Theseus returns to Athens

After cruelly abandoning Ariadne, Theseus continued on his way to Athens.

His desertion of the pregnant girl was just one calculated deed, he had bigger things on his mind, another piece of business to settle.

His father, KIng Aegeus, was desperately awaiting news of his beloved son. He had told Theseus that if the Minotaur had been killed, he was to raise a white sail on his ship upon returning to Athens. However if the Minotaur had triumphed, the ship's crew were to raise a black sail.

Theseus craftily flew a black sail as he returned.

Aegeus, in his grief, threw himself from the cliff at Cape Sounion into the Aegean, making Theseus the new king of Athens and giving the sea its name.

What do you think?

Was Theseus a Hero?

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Theseus comes out triumphant

Heroes are not always heroic but, in the Bronze Age, it was the outcome that mattered, not the deeds that would lead to it.

Theseus achieved his ambition. He slaughtered the Minotaur and became King of Athens.

But what happened to Ariadne?

Sometimes it is said that the god Dionysus heard Ariadne weeping and, taking pity on her youth and beauty, swept her up into the heavens, where the constellation of Corona is her crown.

But others say she died there, alone on the Island of Naxos, fruitlessly calling on her family for forgiveness

A sorrowful story indeed.

A Story from Mythology

The story of the Minotaur and the devious machinations of Theseus are myths. Of course they are.

But myths are not just stories, myths are metaphors. If you read a myth literally you will miss the point. You will miss its higher truth.

Mythological narratives may or may not be based in fact. But that's not really important. Tales of gods and monsters may seem as fairy tale to us, but they shaped the world of our ancestors and they shape the world we live in today.

By looking at these ancient myths and legends, we can walk in the shoes (sandals?) of people long gone, for the stories set out rules for the customs and ideals of ancient societies.

Our Greek Legacy

Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter (Hinges of History)
Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter (Hinges of History)

Double-dealing was a quality admired by the Ancient Greeks, but they left us a lot more than this. Philosophically, artistically, scientifically and politically, the Greeks reached an astonishing level of sophistication. The legacy of their rich mythology endures to the present day.

 

© 2014 Susanna Duffy

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    • Lou165 profile image

      Lou165 3 years ago from Australia

      I had forgotten this myth, my mum brought me up on a lot of these tales so I enjoy revisiting them and you have a great gift for storytelling Susanna.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 3 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      What an interesting story. I know a little girl named Ariadne and hope her fate is nothing like this gal's!

    • Suzanne Day profile image

      Suzanne Day 3 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

      According to a Greek man I know, you can still go to Crete today to visit the labyrinth. It's hard to figure out whether the stories about the minotaur and Ariadne are historical fact or fiction. Thank you for an enjoyable read!

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image

      Melody Lassalle 3 years ago from California

      This came in handy tonight. There was actually a question on Jeopardy pertaining to this story and I knew the answer thanks to this article.

    • SusannaDuffy profile image
      Author

      Susanna Duffy 3 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thanks Melody. The minotaur is widely used in fantasy, but usually as a monster. He's not

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image

      Melody Lassalle 3 years ago from California

      I never really knew much of the minotaur story except they pop up in sci-fi/fantasy tales that I read. This is a tragedy on so many levels and beautifully retold by you.

    • Sarah Switalski profile image

      Sarah Switalski 3 years ago from Iowa

      I have always loved these ancient myths and Ariadne's story is one of my favorites. I always think of it as her story for some reason. I guess I don't want to give credit to Theseus. Well told - I really enjoyed reading this!

    • SusannaDuffy profile image
      Author

      Susanna Duffy 3 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Ladymermaid, thanks to you also for your kind words

    • Ladymermaid profile image

      Ladymermaid 3 years ago from Canada

      Your article looks amazing here Susanna. I think your wonderful historic style of writing is ideally suited to Hubpages.

    • SusannaDuffy profile image
      Author

      Susanna Duffy 3 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thanks Phyllis, I really appreciate your supportive comment. As a newcomer here, I'm a little nervous but you certainly eased my anxiety

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image

      Phyllis Doyle Burns 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      This is a very interesting story, Susanna. I like the way you relate myths to real life. I love mythology and like to look deeper into the meaning of them. Your hub is very well-written and flows nicely. Voted Up A I and H+