Theseus and Ariadne

Theseus and Ariadne, with Athena calling Theseus away. A small winged figure, the god of Sleep, sits on Ariadne’s head, keeping her unaware of the betrayal.

In which I play games with mythology:

The usual story is that Ariadne fell in love with Theseus and told him how to find his way back out of the Labyrinth when he set off to kill the Minotaur. Theseus took Ariadne with him when he set sail back to Athens, but then he abandoned her on the island of Naxos (or Dia). Dionysos saw her there, fell in love with her, and whisked her away and married her.

In one Attic red-figure vase painting depicting the story, Athena appears to call Theseus away, as if telling him of some destiny that he must fulfill that doesn’t—and can’t—include Ariadne. Theseus seems to protest the demand. On another vase, it’s Hermes who arrives to take Theseus away, who pauses to pick up his sandals, dutiful to the gods as he abandons his love.

Theseus and Ariadne, with Hermes

Here it is Hermes, at left, who leads Theseus away. A winged figure attends to Ariadne—perhaps Eros, a hint at her upcoming marriage to Dionysos.

But Homer says that Odysseus saw Ariadne among the dead in the Underworld (Odyssey 11.321-25, Lattimore’s translation):

I saw . . . . . . . . . .  Ariadne, the beautiful
daughter of malignant Minos. Theseus at one time
was bringing her home from Crete to the high ground of sacred Athens,
but got no joy of her, since before that Artemis killed her
in sea-washed Dia, when Dionysos bore witness against her.

But if she had died, and if such an authority as Homer had attested to it, why did all later writers, from Hesiod on, insist that she lived. Hesiod even said that Zeus granted her immortality and eternal youth.

The fact is that no one knew what happened to Ariadne.

What I suspect happened is that, as she slept next to the handsome young Theseus on Naxos (or Dia), as the gods argued amongst themselves about her fate, the stormwinds carried her off . . .

As once the stormwinds carried away the daughters
of Pandareos. The gods had killed their parents, and they were left there
orphaned in the palace. Radiant Aphrodite
tended them and fed them with cheese and sweet honey and pleasant
wine; and Hera granted them, beyond all women,
beauty and good sense; and chaste Artemis gave them stature;
and Athena instructed them in glorious handiwork.
But when bright Aphrodite had gone up to tall Olympos
to request for these girls the achievement of blossoming marriage
from Zeus who rejoices in thunder . . .
meanwhile the seizing stormwinds carried away these maidens
and gave them over to the care of the hateful Furies.
(Homer, Odyssey 20.66-78, Lattimore’s translation, adapted)

* * *

The Furies were surprised that Ariadne looked at them with no fear in her eyes. She just smiled, and they realized that she was as sick as they were with the incessant meddling of the gods. They took her to a small, windy island, where she lived happily, quietly, near the coast, unseen by the prying eyes of mythology, until the end of her days.

In the rest of the world, stories flew: of Theseus cruelly abandoning Ariadne, of the gods cruelly pulling Theseus away, of Dionysos testifying against her or marrying her, of her dead or immortal. With Ariadne gone, the story could not be established firmly.

But Ariadne tended her garden happily, and when she went into the village to buy cheese and bread and lentils and olives, children would beg her to tell stories. After she left the realm of mythology, she found that stories constantly filled in her mind. Under the plane tree at the edge of the plaka, she’d sit with the village children and spin tales of monsters, mortals, and divinities. Over the years, these stories became elaborate, fantastic tales of adventure, deceit, betrayal, and escape.

Every week, the children would flock back to hear the stories again, and years later, those children’s children clustered at her feet to hear them.

At her funeral, the villagers wept. But halfway through the ceremony, they realized that no one remembered her name. Unnerved, they buried her quickly in a brief, quiet ceremony. Soon afterward, no one could remember her stories. Sometimes someone would remember a name or an image—of a bull with bronze hooves, of a woman on the deck of a ship lashed by a storm, of a monstrous eagle carrying a child (or was it a goat?) in its talons—but as much as they tried, they could not piece together the stories they’d been hearing for generations.

Ariadne escaped from mythology. But with her being free of its grips, her stories did not have its power of endurance.


About eteokretan

Interests include: books, art, movies, history, mythology, wandering around, people watching, being a bit weird, running, soccer.
This entry was posted in flash fiction, mythology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Ariadne

  1. Mythology – the women rarely come out of it unscathed. I’ve been enjoying Dar Williams’ latest folk album “In the Time of Gods”. She wrote several songs based on mythology, so it has reignited my interest in the stories. I enjoyed this post. Thanks.

  2. Jo says:

    Wow, I love this! I’ve just finished translating book four of the Aeneid at uni, I’d love to find out what happens to Anna, Dido’s sister, and also write my own re-imagining of what would have happened if Dido had managed to escape the Gods’ clutches.

    I have a feeling I will like this blog. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Exams and Linkspams « A life unexamined

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