Ariadne and Theseus in Greek Mythology

In Greek mythology, Ariadne was a significant figure, best known as the daughter of King Minos of Crete. She played a crucial role in the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, and her story involves themes of love, betrayal, and divine intervention.

Depiction of Ariadne. Image: The Vatican Sleeping Ariadne

Who is Theseus?

Theseus was a legendary hero in Greek mythology, known for his bravery and various heroic exploits. He was the son of Aegeus, the king of Athens, and Aethra, the daughter of King Pittheus of Troezen. Theseus’ birth and upbringing were intertwined with myth and divine parentage.

One of the most famous stories involving Theseus is his journey to Crete to confront the Minotaur, a monstrous half-man, half-bull creature. As part of the tribute to King Minos of Crete, Athens was forced to send seven young men and seven young women every nine years to be sacrificed to the Minotaur in the Labyrinth, a complex maze built by the master craftsman Daedalus.

Theseus volunteered to be one of the tributes in order to end the grisly tradition.

Why did Ariadne decide to help Theseus?

Ariadne and she fell in love with Theseus when he arrived in Crete. Touched by Athenian youth’s bravery and charm, Ariadne decided to help him.

A monstrous creature with the body of a man and the head of a bull, the Minotaur resided in a labyrinth built by the architect Daedalus. Image: The Minotaur, tondo of an Attic bilingual kylix.

What did Ariadne give to Theseus?

She provided him with a ball of thread, known as the “Thread of Ariadne,” which he could use to find his way back out of the labyrinth after defeating the Minotaur.

With Ariadne’s guidance, Theseus managed to slay the Minotaur and safely navigate his way out of the labyrinth, saving both himself and the other Athenian youths.

When Theseus, the prince of Athens, was chosen as one of the tributes to be sacrificed to the Minotaur, Ariadne fell in love with him. Theseus was the son of King Aegeus of Athens, and he learned about the gruesome tradition of sending young Athenians as tributes to King Minos of Crete to be sacrificed to the Minotaur.

Why did Theseus abandon Ariadne on the island of Naxos?

In some versions of the myth, the ending of the story of Ariadne and Theseus is indeed different from the typical narrative of abandonment by Theseus. Instead, Theseus leaves Ariadne by choice, which can be perceived as a callous and egoistic act.

In other myths, Theseus was more interested in pursuing further heroic quests rather than maintaining a relationship with her.

In what is perhaps the commonest version, the god Dionysus, who was in love with Ariadne, appeared and convinced Theseus to leave her on Naxos. Dionysus was the god of wine, revelry, and theater, and he wanted Ariadne to become his divine bride. Therefore, he may have influenced Theseus’s decision to abandon her.

Bacchus and Ariadne, Italian painter Guido Reni, c.1620

What does the story of Ariadne and Theseus symbolize?

The myth of Ariadne and Theseus exemplifies themes of love, bravery, and the power of assistance in Greek mythology. Ariadne’s act of providing the thread to Theseus allowed him to overcome the monstrous Minotaur and escape the treacherous maze.

The story also explores the complexities of family relationships, as the Minotaur was Ariadne’s half-brother, born from her mother’s union with a sacred bull sent by Poseidon.

READ MORE: The Myth of Medusa and Poseidon

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