Cycladic, Minoan, Mycenaean, and Archaic Greek Mythology

Daedalus, Icarus, and Theseus and the Minotaur

What was the myth of Theseus, the Labyrinth, and the Minotaur?

Theseus was a Greek hero, particularly important to Athens. He had all the characteristics of the archetypal monomythic hero, including a miraculous conception, a search for his father, a quest, and a descent into the Underworld. His connections with Crete and the Minoans are central to his heroic successes. According to some sources he caught and sacrificed the great white bull which had been captured by the hero Herakles and had made its way to Marathon.

A quarrel developed between Theseus’ father Aegeus and Minos, and in a war that ensued Minos triumphed and demanded that every seven (some say nine) years seven Athenian boys and seven girls be sent to Crete as a tribute and, according to many sources, as food for the Minotaur. Theseus volunteered to take the place of one of the boys and determined to kill the Minotaur so as to save his fellow Athenians. While in Crete he attracted the attention of the king’s daughter Ariadne, who fell madly in love with him. Ariadne led Theseus to the Labyrinth. Having been advised by Daedalus, who had no love for Minos and knew the Labyrinth well, because he had designed it, she gave the young hero a ball of thread and instructed him to tie one end to the door post and the other to himself so that a path back out of the Labyrinth would be marked for him if he succeeded in finding and defeating the Minotaur. Theseus did find the Minotaur and, after a terrible struggle, killed him, and followed the string back to the Labyrinth entrance. Soon afterward he escaped Crete with the Athenian boys and girls and with the king’s daughters Ariadne and Phaedra.

Marble sculpture (1862) by Étienne-Jules Ramey depicting Theseus fighting the Minotaur.


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