MÜNCHEN-PARIS

On the history of Ariadne and Theseus

 

Once upon a time, a monster called Minotaur lived on the island of Crete, and this monster was half the shape of a bull and half the shape of a human being.  Minotaur dwelled in the maze of Crete where ever again, people had to be sacrificed to him.  

Athens was among those obliged to send seven each noble young men and women to Crete at regular intervals where they were thrown to Minotaur as his fodder.  Theseus, son of the king of Athens, wanted to put an end to this scourge.   Together with the fourteen young Athenians he went by ship to Crete on his mission to defeat Minotaur.  His father Aegeus let Theseus depart only with a heavy heart, and he asked him to set sails in a colour agreed between them upon his successful return, so that the happy completion of the venture would be visible from the shore.

Upon arrival on Crete, Theseus meets Ariadne, the daughter of the king of Crete.  They fall in love with each other.  Ariadne draws Theseus' attention to the fact that in the maze, he would not only have to find his way to Minotaur and to defeat him, but also to find a way back out to the entrance.  Therefore, he is to tie a thread to the entrance of the maze and to roll it out on his way in and through.  Thus, the thread could then show him the way back.  Theseus follows Ariadne's advice, and on his way into the maze, he rolls out a thread from a ball of wool.  He defeats Minotaur, who now cannot demand human sacrifices any more, and, thanks to Ariadne's thread, he finds his way out of the maze.  Together with Ariadne he rushes back to his ship, which departs to Athens immediately - after all, he has promised Ariadne to make her his wife and thus, queen of Athens.

During a stopover on the island of Dia, today's Naxos, the two of them go ashore.  There are various versions on what happened on Naxos, but we stick to the original version: by disclosing her advice to Theseus, Ariadne has incurred god Dionysos' wrath.  On his order, goddess Artemis kills Ariadne on the island.  We deem a second version less credible, according to which Dionysos robs Ariadne and abducts her from Naxos - why should he rob and take for himself someone who has provoked his entire wrath ?   What we find downright incredible is the following version, of later origin, even though it has been set to music, inter alia, by Joseph Haydn and Richard Strauss:  Theseus has abandoned Ariadne on Naxos.  This is quite unlikely as Theseus would hardly have taken her with him on the ship just to dump her soon after.

Irrespective of the amount of truth in any of these versions, Theseus is forced to sail back to Athens without Ariadne.  Full of grief over this loss he forgets to set sails in the agreed colour.  His father looks out for him on the Attic shore on a high cliff, and from afar, he can see his son's ship approach, but with sails in a colour not agreed upon.  Therefore, he assumes that he has lost Theseus and, full of grief, he hurls himself into the sea which, since then, has borne the name Aegean Sea after him.

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