THESEUS 2

IV

Theseus was awakened by someone touching him. He arose and saw a dark-faced servant, who beckoned to him. He left the little room where he had been sleeping, and then outside he saw someone wearing the strange dress of the Cretans.

When Theseus saw her he realizes that she was none other than the daughter of King Minos. “I am Ariadne,” she said, “and I have come to save you from the dreaded Minotaur.”

He looked at Ariadne’s strange face with its large, dark eyes, and he wondered how this girl could think that she could save him and save the youths and maidens of Athens from the Minotaur. Her hand rested on his arm, and she led him into the room where Minos had sat. It was lighted now by many little lamps.

“I will show you how to escape,” said Ariadne.

Then Theseus looked around, and he saw that none of the other youths and maidens were there, and he looked at Ariadne again, and he saw that the strange princess wanted to help him, and to help him only.

“Who will show the others how to escape?” asked Theseus.

“Ah,” said the Princess Ariadne, “for the others there is no escape.”

“Then,” said Theseus, “I will not leave the youths and maidens of Athens who came with me to Crete to be devoured by the Minotaur.”

“Oh, Theseus,” said Ariadne, “they cannot escape the Minotaur. One only may escape, and I want you to be that one. I saw you when you wrestled with Deucalion, our great wrestler, and since then I have longed to save you.”

“I have come to kill the Minotaur,” said Theseus, “and I cannot rest until I have killed it.”

Ariadne replied, “If you could see the Minotaur, Theseus, and if you could see how strong it is, you would know that you cannot kill it. I think that only Talos, that bronze giant, could have killed the Minotaur.”

“Princess,” said Theseus, “can you show me the Minotaur so that I can know for certain whether I can kill the monster?”

“I can take you to see the Minotaur,” said Ariadne.

“Then help me, princess,” cried Theseus; “help me to see the Minotaur, and help me, too, to get back the sword that I brought with me to Crete.”

“Your sword will not help you against the Minotaur,” said Ariadne, “When you see the monster you will understand that what you want to do is impossible.”

“Ok, but just bring me my sword, princess,” cried Theseus.

“I will bring you your sword,” she said.

She picked up a little lamp and went through a doorway, leaving Theseus standing by the low throne. Then, after a little while, she came back, bringing with her Theseus’s great ivory-hilted sword.

“It is a great sword,” she said, “but even this great sword will not help you against the Minotaur.”

“Show me the way to the Minotaur, Ariadne,” cried Theseus.

He knew that she did not think that he would believe himself able to defeat the Minotaur, and that when he saw the dreaded monster he would return to her and then take her offer of escape.

She took his hand and led him from the room. She was not tall, but she stood straight and walked steadily, and Theseus saw in her something of the majesty that he had seen in king Minos .

They came to high bronze gates that opened into a large room. “Here,” said Ariadne, “the labyrinth begins. The labyrinth, which was built by Daedalus, is very devious, and without the clue no one could find a way through the passages. But I will give you the clue so that you may see the Minotaur and then come back to me. Theseus, now I put into your hand the thread that will guide you through all the windings of the labyrinth. Outside the place where the Minotaur is you will find another thread to guide you back.”

A cone was on the ground and it had a thread fastened to it. Ariadne gave Theseus the thread and the cone to wind it around. The thread as he held it and wound it around the cone would bring him through all the windings and turnings of the labyrinth.

She left him, and Theseus went on. Winding the thread around the cone he went along a wide passage in the vault. He turned and came into a passage that was very long. He came to a place in this passage where a door seemed to be, but within the frame of the doorway there was only a blank wall. But below that doorway there was a flight of six steps, and the thread led him down these steps. On he went, and he crossed the marks that he himself had made in the dust, and he thought he must have come back to the place where he had parted from Ariadne. He went on, and he saw before him a flight of steps. The thread did not lead up the steps. It led into the most winding of passages.. He was dazed by the turnings of this passage, but still he went on. He went up winding steps and then along a narrow wall. The wall overhung a broad flight of steps, and Theseus had to jump to them. Down the steps he went and into a wide, empty hall that had doorways to the right and the left. Here the thread had its end. It was fastened to a cone that lay on the ground, and beside this cone was another—the clue that was to bring him back.

Now Theseus, knowing he was in the very center of the labyrinth, looked all around for the Minotaur. There was no sight of the monster here. He went to all the doors and pushed at them, and some opened and some remained shut. The middle door opened and as it did Theseus felt a chilling draft of air.

That chilling draft was from the breathing of the monster. Theseus then saw the Minotaur. It lay on the ground, a strange, bull-faced thing.

When Theseus realized that he would have to fight that monster alone and in that hidden and dark place he grew fearful. It seemed to him that he heard the voice of Ariadne calling him back. He could find his way back through the labyrinth and see her. He stepped back, and the door closed on the Minotaur, the dreaded monster of Crete.

Immediately Theseus pushed the door again. He stood within the hall where the Minotaur was, and the heavy door shut behind him. He looked again at that dark, bull-faced thing. It reared up like a horse and Theseus saw that it would crash down on him and tear him with its dragon claws. He leaped out of the way. Then Theseus faced it. He saw its thick lips and its slobbering mouth and that its skin was thick and hard.

He drew near the monster, his sword in his hand. He struck hard at its eyes, but it did not bleed, for the Minotaur was a bloodless monster. From its mouth and nostrils came a draft that covered him with a chilling slime.

Then it charged at him and knocked him down. Theseus felt its terrible weight on him but he thrust his sword upward, and it reared up again, screaming with pain. Theseus drew away, and then he saw it searching around, and he knew he had blinded it. Then it faced him, all the more fearful because no blood came from its wounds.

Anger flowed into Theseus when he saw the monster standing frightfully before him. He thought of all the youths and maidens that this bloodless thing had destroyed, and all the youths and maidens that it would destroy if he did not kill it now. Angrily he rushed at it with his great sword. It clawed and tore at him, and it opened wide its evil mouth as if to draw him into it. But again he sprang at it. He thrust his great sword through its neck, and left it there.

With the last of his strength he pulled open the heavy door and left the hall where the Minotaur was. He picked up the thread and he began to wind it as he had wound the other thread on his way down. On he went, through passage after passage, through chamber after chamber. His mind was dizzy, and didn’t think about the way he was going. His wounds and the chill that the monster had breathed into him and his horror of the fearful and bloodless thing almost drove him crazy. He kept the thread in his hand and he wound it as he went on through the labyrinth. He stumbled and the thread broke. He went on for a few steps and then he went back to find the thread that had fallen out of his hands. In an instant he was in a part of the labyrinth that he had not been in before.

He walked a long way, and then he came on his own footmarks as they crossed themselves in the dust. He pushed open a door and came into the air. He was now by the outside wall of the palace, and he saw birds flying by him. He leant against the wall of the palace, thinking that he would give up trying to find his way through the labyrinth.

 

V

That day the youths and maidens of Athens were brought through the labyrinth and to the hall where the Minotaur was. They went through the passages weeping and crying. Some cried out for Theseus, and some said that Theseus had deserted them. The heavy door was opened. Then those who were with the youths and maidens saw the Minotaur lying dead with Theseus’s sword through its neck. They shouted and blew trumpets and the noise of their trumpets filled the labyrinth. Then they turned back, bringing the youths and maidens with them, and a whisper went through the whole palace that the Minotaur had been killed. The youths and maidens were kept in the room where Minos gave his judgments.

 

VI

Theseus, exhausted, fell into a deep sleep by the wall of the palace. He awakened with a feeling that the claw of the Minotaur was on him. There were stars in the sky above the high palace wall, and he saw a dark-robed and ancient man standing beside him. Theseus knew that this was Daedalus, the builder of the palace and the labyrinth. Daedalus called and a slim youth came, Icarus, the son of Daedalus. Minos had set father and son apart from the rest of the palace, and Theseus had come to the place where they were kept. Icarus came and brought him to a winding stairway and showed him which way to go.

A dark faced servant met him. Then, he led him into a little room where there were three maidens. One started up and came to him quickly .It was Ariadne.

She hid him in the room of the palace where her singing birds were, and she would come and sit beside him, asking about his own country and telling him that she would go there with him. “I showed you how to find the Minotaur,” she said, “and you went and killed the monster, and now I cannot stay in my father’s palace.”

Theseus thought all the time of his return, and of how he might bring the youths and maidens of Athens back to their own people. However Theseus did not love Ariadne, that strange princess, as Jason loved Medea, or young Meleagrus loved Atalanta the Huntress .

One sunset she led him to a roof of the palace and she showed him the harbor with the ships, and the ship with the black sail that had brought him to Knossos. She told him she would take him aboard that ship, and that the youths and maidens of Athens could go with them. She would bring to the master of the ship the seal of King Minos, and the master, seeing it, would set sail for whatever place Theseus wanted to go.

Then Theseus felt great affection for her because of her great kindness, and he kissed her eyes and swore that he would not go from the palace unless she would come with him to his own country. The strange princess smiled and wept as if she doubted what he said. Nevertheless, she led him from the roof and down into one of the palace gardens. He waited there, and the youths and maidens of Athens were led into the garden, all wearing cloaks that hid their faces. Young Icarus led them from the grounds of the palace and down to the ships. Ariadne went with them, bringing with her the seal of her father, King Minos.

When they came on board the black-sailed ship they showed the seal to the master, Nausitheus, and he let the sail take the breeze of the evening, and so Theseus sailed away from Crete.

 

VII

They sailed to the Island of Naxos and when they reached that place the master of the ship, began to suspect that King Minos hadn’t agreed to letting them go, so he kept the ship there. He waited until other ships came from Knossos. When they came they brought word that Minos would not kill nor demand Theseus nor the youths and maidens of Athens return. However he wanted his daughter Ariadne back, to reign with him over Crete.

Then Ariadne left the black-sailed ship, and went back to Crete from Naxos. Theseus let the princess go, although he might have struggled to hold her. Theseus was grateful to her but did not love her.

All this time his father, Ægeus, stayed in the tower of his palace, watching for the return of the ship that had sailed for Knossos. The king  had wasted away since the departure of Theseus, and now he was frail indeed. Every day he watched for the return of the ship, hoping against hope that Theseus would return alive to him. Then a ship came into the harbor. It had black sails. Ægeus did not know that Theseus was aboard it, and that Theseus in such a hurry to escape and in the sadness of his parting from Ariadne had not remembered to hoist the white sail that his father had given to Nausitheus.

Joyfully Theseus sailed into the harbor, having killed the Minotaur and lifted forever the tribute Athens paid. Joyfully he sailed into the harbor, bringing back to their parents the youths and maidens of Athens. But the king, his father, saw the black sails on his ship, and straightway the thread of his life broke, and he died in the tower which he had built to look out on the sea.

Theseus landed on the shore of his own country. He had the ship drawn up on the beach and he made sacrifices of thanksgiving to the gods. Then he sent messengers to the city to announce his return. These joyful messengers went toward the city, but when they came to the gate they heard the sounds of mourning. The mourning was for the death of the king, Theseus’s father. They hurried back to where Theseus stood on the beach. They brought a wreath of victory for him, but as they put it into his hand they told him of the death of his father. Then Theseus let the wreath fall to the ground, and he wept for the death of Ægeus—of Ægeus, the hero, who had left the sword under the stone for him before he was born.

The men and women who came to the beach wept and laughed as they clasped in their arms the children brought back to them. Theseus stood there, silent and bowed; the memory of his last moments with his father, of his fight with the Minotaur, of his parting with Ariadne—all flooded over him. He stood there with head bowed, the man who could not put on his head the wreath of victory that had been brought to him.

 

VIII

There had come into the city a brave young man named Peirithous. He had come from a far country, to meet Theseus, whose fame had reached him. The youth was in Athens at the time Theseus returned. He went down to the beach with the townsfolk, and he saw Theseus standing alone with his head bowed down. He went to him and he spoke, and Theseus lifted his head and he saw before him a young man of strength and beauty. He looked at him, and the thought of courageous deeds came into his mind again. He wanted this young man to be his companion in danger and on quests. Peirithous looked at Theseus, and he felt that he was greater and nobler than he had thought. They became friends and sworn brothers, and together they travelled to far countries.

Now in Epirus there was a savage king who had a very fair daughter. He had named this daughter Persephone, naming her to show that she was held as fast by him as that other Persephone was held in the Underworld. No man could see her, and no man could marry her. However, Peirithous had seen the daughter of this king, and he desired more than anything else to take her from her father and make her his wife. He begged Theseus to help him enter that king’s palace and carry off the maiden.

So Theseus and Peirithous came to Epirus  and they entered the king’s palace where they heard the howl of the dreaded hound that was there to let no one out who had come within the walls. Suddenly the guards of the savage king discovered them, and they dragged Theseus and Peirithous down into dark dungeons.

Theseus and Peirithous were left seated in two great chairs of stone. The magic powers that were in the chairs of stone were such that the heroes could not lift themselves out of them. There they stayed, held in the great stone chairs in the dungeons of that savage king.

Then it happened that Hercules came to the palace of the king. The harsh king feasted Hercules and hid his savagery in front of him. But he could not stop himself from boasting of how he had trapped the heroes who had come to carry off Persephone. He told how they could not get out of the stone chairs and how they were held captive in his dark dungeon. Hercules listened, his heart full of pity for the heroes from Greece who had met with such a harsh fate. When the king mentioned that one of the heroes was Theseus, Hercules would not feast with him until he had promised that the one who had been his companion on the Argo would be let go.

The king said he would give Theseus his liberty if Hercules could carry the stone chair on which he was seated out of the dungeon and into the outer world. Then Hercules went down into the dungeon. He found the two heroes in the great chairs of stone. But one of them, Peirithous, had already died. Hercules took the great chair of stone that Theseus was seated in, and he carried it up, up, from the dungeon and out into the world. It was a heavy task even for Hercules. He broke the chair in pieces, and Theseus stood up, released.

After this, Theseus accompanied Hercules on all his quests and these two heroes share many adventures together.