The sad story of the Minotaur begins on the Isle of Crete. After the death of King Asterius, a feud broke out between his sons over who was best suited to inherit the throne. Minos boasted that he was the only logical choice, for he was so loved by the gods, that none of his wishes could ever be refused. Praying to Poseidon, he asked that a bull be brought forth from the sea so that in return he could offer it up in sacrifice to the god. Poseidon heard his pleas, and just as Minos requested a beautiful white bull suddenly appeared upon the frothy waves. Minos was so captivated by it's splendor that he could not bring himself to kill it. Instead he hid the handsome creature away and offered another in its place. Poseidon was not fooled, and decided to make Minos pay for the insult through the scandalous actions of his wife Pasiphae.
The angry god caused Pasiphae to fall so madly in love with the beast that she could not think of anything else. So filled with passion was the queen, that she paid a visit to the artist Daedalus , who because of his exile from Athens was living in Crete.
Eager to help Pasiphae, Daedalus fashioned a piece of wood into the shape of a hollow cow. The queen then crawled inside through a door that was made in the hind quarters, where she waited until the bull of Minos entered into the meadow. Unaware of the disguise, the lustful bull mounted the wooden structure and sired a half bull-half man creature that would be known throughout the ancient world as the Minotaur. In order to hide this abomination, Minos petitioned Daedalus to construct the Labyrinth, a giant maze-like prison and confined the Minotaur to it's center.
Unfortunately for Minos, his hardships did not end with the behavior of Pasiphae, for at this time his son Androgeus was living in Athens and participating in the Panathenaic Games.
Though he was very successful, winning all of the honors for himself, the young man was accidently killed shortly thereafter. Suspecting that King Aegeus of Athens was responsible for his death, Minos prayed to the gods and a plague soon fell upon Attica.
As the situation grew desperate, Aegeus sent messengers to question the Delphic Oracle. The words of the priestess were grim. In order to make up for the death of Androgeus, Aegeus was to grant Minos anything he desired. Minos declared that every nine years Aegeus was to send him seven youths and seven maidens to be offered to the Minotuar. Sadly, Aegeus had no other choice but to comply, for he knew he could not defy the will of the gods. When the time came for the third tribute to be sent to Crete, Theseus, the son of Aegeus was among the chosen. Like in many of the old stories, there are a few different versions of how this event came to be. Some say that Minos himself journeyed to Athens and personally chose Theseus because of his strength and courage. There are others that say lots were drawn and Theseus was among the losers. The most popular story is that Theseus volunteered to go along with the understanding that if he should slay the Minotaur, King Minos would forever relinquish Athens from her debt.
Aegeus begged his son not to go, but Theseus would have it no other way. As was the custom, the Athenian ships always left for Crete bearing the black sails of death.
Theseus carried with him on board a set of white sails. Before leaving, he made a solemn promise to his father that if his mission was successful, he would fly them on the voyage home as a signal of his well being. When the ship arrived in Crete, unbeknownst to Theseus Aphrodite had come along for the ride.
The goddess worked her magic causing Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos to fall madly in love with Theseus. Going to him in secret, Ariadne promised to help him slay the Minotuar if he swore to marry her and bring her back to Athens.
Theseus readily agreed, and with that Ariadne handed him a ball of magic thread which she had received from the artisan Daedalus . She then told Theseus to tie one end of the string to the entrance gate of the maze. He was to allow the rest of the twine to unwind behind him as he made his way into the center of the Labyrinth. After killing the Minotuar, he would be able to retrace his steps by following the magic thread back to the foyer and escape from the prison of stone.
Later that same night, Theseus along with the other Athenian captives quietly entered into the dark passages of the labyrinth. Following the instructions of Ariadne, he carefully unwound the ball of twine as he and the other intended victims made their way through the narrow and twisted corridors. As Theseus entered into the center of the maze, he found the creature to be fast asleep. It is disputed whether he slew the beast with his sword, his club or his bare hands, but whichever method was used the final result ended in death for the Minotuar. Using the magic twine, Theseus retraced his steps back to the entrance where he was met and embraced by Ariadne. She then led Theseus and the other prisoners to the harbor, where their ship lay waiting in the mist.
Though the Athenians made it safely on board, they were soon met by Cretan vessels dispatched to capture and return them back to the Knossos.
It was there in the darkness that Theseus found himself forced to engage in a sea battle with the armies of Minos. The gods looked favorably upon the children of Athens, and after some brief fighting the lot were able to sail away without any casualties.
During their journey home, Theseus chose to stop over on the Isle of Naxos. What happened there is a mystery. Ariadne was left behind on the island but there are many versions as to the reason why. One tale tells us that Theseus deserted her because he had fallen in love with another woman. Another story tells us that after landing on Naxos, Theseus had time to think about his situation.
Realizing that bringing a daughter of Minos back to Athens would surely cause a scandal he chose to leave her behind.
A third version tells us that Ariadne, being extremely tired from the sea voyage, fell fast asleep on the island. An unexpected wind arose and pushed the ship out to sea before anyone had a chance to wake her.
One of the more well known endings to this tale has to do with the god Dionysus . After falling in love with Ariadne himself, Dionysus appeared to Theseus in a dream and warned him to leave the maiden behind. Afraid to disobey the wishes of the god, Theseus gathered up his crew and quickly departed from the island. All agree it was the priests of Dionysus who found the maiden frantic and alone upon the shores of Naxos. Feeling betrayed, she prayed to the gods for revenge and her words soon reached the ears of Zeus. To make Theseus pay for his transgression against Ariadne, Zeus caused the young man to forget the promise he made to his father before leaving for Crete. In all the excitement neither Theseus nor any of his attendants bothered to hoist the white sails of victory, but instead proceeded towards Athens displaying the black sails of death. Aegeus, who was watching for the ship from atop of the Acropolis saw it approaching the shore bearing the ominous black sails.
Believing this to be a sign that his son was dead, the grieving king threw himself into the water below, which to this day is still called the Aegean Sea after him. Dionysus then married Ariadne, and it is said that she went on to bear him many children on the Isle of Naxos.
Medea's Lair Of Greek Mythology © 1999-2012.