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Escaping the Labyrinth 2
Greek Mythology
Fri 10-31-08
Labyrinth / Minotaur
Mycenaean tablet from Pylos /
Minotaur, John Fred Watts 1885
Crete and the bull
• The insistent bull motif in Cretan myths
reflects the ancient importance of bulls in
Cretan religion
• The sacred / religious importance of bulls
on Crete goes back to Bronze Age
civilization (“Minoan”) 2700-1500 BC
• The preeminence and power of Crete in
Greek myth also no doubt reflects the
early power and importance of Minoan
Minos’ Crete
• Early Greeks called Crete “hundred-citied”
• Believed Minos to be early king, lawgiver,
with great naval power
• Baby Zeus was hidden and nursed in a
cave on Crete’s Mt. Ida
Minoan Crete
• Bronze Age civilization flourished 27001500s B.C.
• Sir Arthur Evans purchased land and
began excavations of palace at Knossos in
• Palace seemed maze-like, so he named
culture after Minos
• Found written tablets : Linear A and B
– Linear B is early form of Greek
– Linear A is still undeciphered
Minoan Crete
• Sea-faring mercantile culture – trade
networks with Greece, Egypt, Syria,
Mesopotamia, Spain
• Minoan culture unique but influenced by
Egypt and other civilizations to east
• Trivia: saffron crocus appears to come
from Crete, cultivated and harvested for
trade by Minoans
Minoan Crete
• Minoans were not Greek
• Spoke and wrote a different, unknown
language (we call it Minoan or Eteocretan)
• Cretan palaces were sacked and
destroyed by Mycenaeans from Greece in
1500s B.C.
• Mycenaean culture dominated thereafter
until its rapid decline in 1200s B.C.
Minoan Crete religion
Mountains and caves were divine cult sites
No temples
Nearly all figurines are feminine
Sacred symbols : double-headed axe
(labrys), bulls, pillars, serpents, sun-disk,
• Bull-jumping for sport / religious ritual (?)
“Snake goddess” of
Knossos 1500 BC
Bronze labrys
Stone Rhyton
(libation vessel)
Knossos 1500
Knossos : Bull leaping (1500 BC)
Bustling Port : Fresco, Thera
Knossos throne room
Minoan ladies
Scene Change : Athens
• Medea fled Corinth to Athens, married
King Aigeus, father of Theseus
• Aigeus was son of Pandion II (an early
king of Athens)
– Erichthonius – Pandion – Erechtheus –
Cecrops – Pandion - Aigeus
– [Pandion II had warred with Labdacus of
• Long before, he had gone to Delphi to find
out how he could have children
• The oracle had said:
– “Don’t untie the mouth of the wineskin
until you reach Athens’ peaks again”
• Baffled by this oracle, Aigeus traveled
• Reaching Troizen he stayed with Pittheus, son of
• Pittheus, a wise man, figured out the oracle (with
it’s blatant sexual meaning)
• Got Aigeus drunk and put him to bed with his
daughter Aithra
• When he left Troizen, he placed his
sandals and a sword under a stone, with
instructions to send him their son when he
could remove the stone and retrieve them
• Aithra has a son, Theseus
• A variant provides Theseus with divine
• Aigeus was too drunk to perform, but that
same night Poseidon slept with Aithra
• Theseus is the hero of Attica and Athens,
just as Jason is hero of Iolcos, and Heracles
of Tiryns and Thebes
• When he is old enough his mother shows
him the rock and tells him to lift it up
• Under it he finds the sword and sandals of
• Then he sets out for Athens on foot
father’s sword
(GrecoRoman gem)
Theseus’ Labors
• On the way to Athens Theseus happens into six
“labor”-like adventures in which he defeats nogoods (then at some point a seventh)
• He “clears the roads, which had been beset by
evildoers” (Apollodorus ACM p. 55)
• 1) Periphetes in Epidaurus
• 2) Sinis at the Corinthian Isthmus
• 3) Crommyon the man-eating sow
• 4) Sciron in Megara
• 5) Cercyon in Eleusis
• 6) Procrustes (or Damastes)
• 7) The Bull of Marathon
Marathon /
Cretan Bull
Sciron /
Eleusis /
Theseus’ Labors
• Periphetes used a club to kill travelers
with; Theseus killed him and took the club
• Sinis was the “Pine-bender” : he made
passers-by bend trees down, then they
would rebound and kill them; Theseus
killed him the same way
• Then there was a sow (that was nasty in
one way or another) and Theseus killed it
Theseus’ Labors
• Sciron would compel travelers to wash his feet
then throw them over the cliff to feed a giant turtle;
Theseus threw him over the cliff
• Cercyon of Eleusis would compel people to
wrestle and kill them; Theseus body-slammed him
• Procrustes (or Damastes) would hammer and saw
his guests to fit in beds that were too small or big
for them; Theseus gave him the same treatment
• Later he also dispatched the annoying
Marathonian (formerly Cretan) Bull
Cercyon / Bull
Sow / Sinis
Sow of Commyon
Bull / Procrustes / Cercyon
Theseus & Procrustes
Theseus & Bull of Marathon
(Jan van Loo, 1732)
Theseus reaches Athens
• Finally Theseus reaches Athens, where his
father Aegeus is married to Medea
• Aegeus doesn’t know him (but knows his
reputation from his recent exploits) but
Medea does know who he is
• She convinces Aegeus that he is a threat
and that he should poison his guest
• In the nick of time Aegeus recognizes his
sword in Theseus’ possession
• Medea flees with her son Medon to the east
Aigeus & war with Minos
• From Troizen Aigeus had returned to
Athens, and held Panathenaic Games
• Minos’ son Androgeos was the hero of the
games, beating everyone
• Aigeus sent him against the Marathonian
Bull and it defeated him
• Formerly the Cretan Bull, but it wandered
to Marathon and ravaged the countryside
after Heracles had brought it from Crete
Aigeus & war with Minos
• Minos waged war on Athens, and a plague
broke out
• Beleaguered by war and plague the
Athenians settle
• Minos imposes a tribute on them: send
seven young men and seven young
women every year to feed to the Minotaur
in the labyrinth
Theseus & Minotaur
• Aegeus accepts Theseus as his son and
• Theseus learns of the recent war with
Minos—on account of the death of
Androgeos—and about the 7 boy / 7 girl
tribute to feed the Minotaur
• Theseus agrees to go as one of the
offered children, with the plan of defeating
the Minotaur
Theseus / Ariadne / Minotaur
• They arrange a sign : if he defeats the
Minotaur the ship will fly white sails as it
returns; if Theseus dies, black sails
• When he gets to Crete, Ariadne daughter
of Minos falls in love with Theseus
• She decides to help him defeat the
Minotaur in the labyrinth
• She gives him a thread by which to find his
way out
Theseus / Minotaur / Ariadne
• He kills Minotaur, escapes the labyrinth
thanks to the thread, and leaves taking
Ariadne with him
• Then, landing at the island Naxos, Theseus
abandons Ariadne on the shore
• Why!? (Who knows: either he “forgot” her; or
he thought she wasn’t a “good” wife)
Ariadne & Dionysos
• She is distraught and distressed, but
Dionysos sees her, falls in love, and
carries her off into the heavens to be his
• She shines as constellation Corona
• Ovid’s Heroides 10 : Ariadne writes
complaint to Theseus when abandoned on
Naxos (ACM p. 318-22)
Theseus afterwards
• Theseus returns to Athens, but forgets to
change the sails to white (he is a bit dimwitted)
• Aigeus despairs and kills himself before
the ship comes in
• He throws himself off a cliff into the sea:
thus the sea is named “Aegean”
Theseus afterwards
• Theseus continues to make bad choices in
• He abducts and marries Antiope the
Amazonian princess (or Hippolyta, accounts
• (Accounts also vary about his encounter
with the Amazons; some say he went with
Heracles; others say on a different
independent campaign)
Theseus afterwards
• He had a son Hippolytus with Antiope
• He was staunchly celibate—devoted to
• Amazons attacked Athens; during this war
Antiope was killed
• Theseus then married Phaedra, other
daughter of Minos (and Ariadne’s sister!)
Theseus, Hippolytus, Phaedra
• His strict devotion to Artemis and neglect
of Aphrodite roused the love-goddess’
• She decided to punish Hippolytus by
making Phaedra fall in love with him
• [Euripides’ Hippolytus] Phaedra eventually
reveals her love to Hippolytus, and when
he violently rejects her, she kills herself,
but leaves a letter saying that he had tried
to rape her
Theseus, Hippolytus, Phaedra
• Theseus reads the letter and prays to
Poseidon to curse his son
• Driving his chariot along the road,
Poseidon caused his horses to bolt,
chariot overturns and he dies
• (Italian continuation of the story: Artemis
takes him away, Asclepius heals him and
transforms him into the god Virbius: Ovid
Met. Book 15)
Theseus odds and ends
• Theseus & Pirithous abduct Helen
• Theseus & Pirithous go to underworld to
abduct Persephone, get trapped there
• Heracles saves Theseus from underworld
(when he goes there for Cerberos)
[Heracles was his cousin]
Labyrinth, Roman mosaic (3rd cent. AD, Salzburg)
Theseus & Minotaur (~ 550 BC)
Theseus &
Minotaur (~
540 BC)
(6th cent. BC)
Theseus & Minotaur (~ 510 BC)
Theseus &
(~ 500-450
Theseus & the Amazons
1st cent.
Theseus &
Labyrinth /
Mosaic, 4th
cent. AD
Roman villa mosaic (3rd cent. AD)
Tunisia mosaic, closeup
Minotaur (Jan Parker, b. 1941)
Theseus dreams of
the Minotaur
(Picasso 1961)
Minotauromachia, Picasso 1935
Dionysos & Ariadne
Ariadne & Dionysos (Pompeii)
& Ariadne
Ariadne & Bacchus (cameo, early empire, Pompeii
Dionysos & Ariadne
(Annibale Carracci, 16th cent. Palazzo Farnese, Rome)
Bacchus &
Bacchus &
Nicolas Bertin
late 18th
Northern Crown
Ariadne &
Aime JulesDalou
(19th cent.)
Ariadne on Naxos (Evelyn de Morgan, 1877)
(J.W. Waterhouse, 1898)
Ariadne (Giorgio di Cirico, 1913)
Ariadne’s Dream (Andre Masson, 1938)
Ariadne & Dionysos (artist?)
Phaedra (Alexandre Canabel 1880)