The Myth of Theseus, the Minotaur, and the Labyrinth Notes by Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein Parts of the story of Theseus appeared in the Hellenic period, and parts of it were elaborated by both Ovid and the Roman writer Apollodorus; Hamilton uses principally the latter writer in her retelling of the myth. However, the story is set in the timeframe of the much earlier Minoan civilization. Theseus was the son of King Aegeus, king of Athens, who didn’t meet his father until he came of age. Years before, Minos (whom we met as one of the judges of the underworld in The Aeneid) had lost his son Androgeus, who had been visiting Athens and had died while hunting a dangerous bull for King Aegeus. Minos had invaded Athens and said he would raze it unless every nine years he received seven maidens and seven youths as sacrifices to the Minotaur. The Minotaur was a half man-half bull, son of Minos’s wife Pasiphae and a beautiful bull, sent to Minos by Poseidon, to whom Minos was to sacrifice it. He didn’t do the sacrifice, so Poseidon made Pasiphae fall in love with it. The Minotaur was the result.  Minos confined it in a Labyrinth built by the architect Daedalus. As the story begins, Theseus volunteers to be one of the 14 sacrificial victims on this round of Minos’s demand; having heard the story, he decides to kill the Minotaur. So he tells his father he’ll have the sail of the ship changed from black to white to alert him of his safety after he kills the monster. Ariadne, Minos’s daughter, falls in love with Theseus. She gets Daedalus to give her a clue as to how to escape from the Labyrinth—Daedalus says to use a ball of thread, tied to the door as he enters and unwound as he goes along, to help him return safely.  She says she’ll tell Theseus this trick if he’ll promise to take her to Athens with him and marry her. Theseus uses the thread;  and when he finds the Minotaur, he batters it to death with his bare hands. Then the 14 youths and maidens escape and sail for Athens, with Ariadne. Two versions of the story exist from this point on: either he deserts Ariadne on the island of Naxos, or she gets sick and he puts her ashore and then gets blown out to sea, and when he returns she has died. In either case, he forgets to change the color of the sail, and Aegeus, thinking he is dead, kills himself by flinging himself off a cliff into the sea, later called the Aegean. Interpreting the Myth It has been suggested that Ariadne, with her thread, is another name for Arachne, the spider goddess (also associated with the Celtic goddess Arianrhod); and that once there was a 13th sign of the Zodiac, in between Taurus and Gemini (a combining of which gives us the name “mino-taur”), but that as the cult of the Great Goddess, which we’ve touched on before, was destroyed by patriarchy and forced to go underground, and as we went from a 13- month lunar calendar to a 12-month solar calendar, the 13th sign was eradicated from the Zodiac.  This story may have dated from that time and carry some of the symbols in it.  Ariadne-Arachne could overcome the bull (Taurus), but ultimately she was eradicated/eliminated herself.  (There are many myths about the power of the spider goddess, most notably the Native American ones in which Spider Woman wove the world on golden strands of love.) One thing that did survive from this tale is the labyrinth, found all over the ancient world, from Spain and Britain in the West to Belgrade and Warsaw in the East to Tunis and Egypt in Africa. Furthermore, builders placed the pattern of labyrinths in the floors of cathedrals and churches during the Middle Ages, most notably Chartres Cathedral in France.  It is said that initiates in ancient mystery cults had to walk a labyrinth (or some similar kind of maze) and face their worst fears in the dark (possibly having been given hallucinogenic drugs and suggestions in order to stimulate the appearance of their worst fears). It is also another example of “ego death”—through giving up everything and facing one’s fear in the dark, one comes through the experience stronger and more empowered. The labyrinths on the floors of Medieval churches cause the walker to move from left to right in a walking meditation; this is another means of balancing the right and left brain hemispheres and simulates the earlier “ego death” initiations in a ritualistic way. Religious persons were said to walk the labyrinths on their knees in an effort to express penance or to have altered state experiences. Outdoor labyrinths have become popular in the past 15 years or so; there are two in New Harmony, Indiana, should you desire to see what it feels like to walk one; one is a hedgerow maze, and the other, in the middle of town, is the same dimensions as the one in Chartres Cathedral. Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily