Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur intertwine their adventures in a maze of betrayals, bestial appetites and human sacrifices. One of the most debated and investigated myths of all time.
Never make a god angry, especially if powerful as Poseidon: this is the lesson that Minos learned in the most cruel and terrible way when he refused to sacrifice the bull promised to the lord of the sea in exchange for the help received to become king of Crete.
Jean Baptiste Regnault, Ariadne delivers to Theseus Sword and Thread
Image under Creative Commons License
According to the most colorful versions of the myth, it was in revenge for the affront that Poseidon instilled in the wife of the king, Pasiphae, the burning passion for a bull arrived on the island from the sea. To satisfy her bestial desire, Pasiphae had a wooden heifer built by Daedalus and Icarus, the two great architects of the kingdom. That crazy union generated a son, who had human features in the lower half of the body, while in the upper one was in all respects similar to a bull.
The king only needed a glance to understand: his anger turned to his wife's accomplices, Daedalus and Icarus, who became his slaves, while Pasiphae and the creature were spared. The woman took care of her son, whom she named Asterion, and raised him until he grew old enough to start showing his frightening strength and, more importantly, his appetite for human flesh.
Not daring to kill him for not further antagonize Poseidon, Minos established that the Minotaur (so it was called the creature) was locked up in a place from which it was impossible to get out. So, he ordered Daedalus and Icarus to build an intricate labyrinth.
Meanwhile, another tragedy struck Minos, when his son Androgeus was killed. The king blamed the Athenians of the incident, forcing them to pay compensation for the loss suffered: every year (every nine, according to other sources), the city would send to Crete seven boys and seven girls to sacrifice to the appetites of the Minotaur.
Minotaur – Kylix, ca. 515 a.C.
National Archaeological Museum of Spain
Image under Creative Commons License
Twice Athens paid the tribute imposed by Minos, but on the eve of the third time a voice arose at court: it was Theseus, son of King Aegeus, who volunteered to be sent to Crete. His plan was to face and kill the Minotaur, putting an end to that inhuman tradition.
So, he left for the enemy city, where he arrived together with the children destined for sacrifice. Theseus was a young man of extraordinary beauty and the daughters of Minos, Ariadne and Phaedra, fell in love with him as soon as they saw him.
The first one, in particular, not being able to stand the idea that her monstrous half-brother was devouring him, went to Daedalus, begging him to reveal to her the way out of the labyrinth and revealing it immediately to Theseus.
Having entered the maze, the hero tied the end of a ball of wool to the doorpost and began to advance, unwinding the thread so as to easily find the exit.
Once arrived in the presence of the Minotaur, Theseus confronted him: the fight that followed was bitter and violent, but in the end he had the better of it, killing the monster and emerging victorious from the labyrinth.
Despite the victory of the hero, the ending of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur reserves a painful note. It is said, in fact, that after a long journey home, finally in sight of Athens, Theseus was so overwhelmed by the joy of seeing his beloved father Aegeus and eager to introduce him to his wife Phaedra (Ariadne had stopped in Naxos, going to marry Dionysus), to forget that the elderly parent, before leaving, had asked him to hoist the white sails, as a sign of success of the enterprise.
Therefore, when he saw the ship entering the harbor with black sails, thinking that his son was dead, Aegeus, taken by despair, threw himself from a cliff, drowning in the sea that from that day took his name: Aegean Sea.