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This is the labyrinth built by Dedalus of Crete
all who entered therein were lost
save Theseus, thanks to Ariadne's thread

--Labyrinth carved on a pillar of the portico of Lucca Cathedral, Tuscany, Italy

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A legendary Ancient Greek hero most famous for defeating the minotaur in the labyrinth of Crete.


The myth of Theseus and the Minotaur

Pasiphae, wife of King Minos of Crete, had several children before the Minotaur. The eldest of these, Androgeus, set sail for Athens to take part in the Pan-Athenian games, which were held there every four years. Being strong and skillful, he did very well, winning some events outright. He soon became a crowd favorite, much to the resentment of the Pallantides, and they assassinated him, incurring the wrath of Minos.

When King Minos had heard of what befell his son, he ordered the Cretan fleet to set sail for Athens. Minos asked Aegeus for his son's assassins, and if they were to be handed to him, the town would be spared. However, not knowing who the assassins were, King Aegeus surrendered the whole town to Minos' mercy. His retribution was that, at the end of every Great Year (seven solar years), the seven most courageous youths and the seven most beautiful maidens were to board a boat and be sent as tribute to Crete, never to be seen again.

In another version, King Minos of Crete had waged war with the Athenians and was successful. He then demanded that, at nine-year intervals, seven Athenian boys and seven Athenian girls were to be sent to Crete to be devoured by the Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull monster that lived in the Labyrinth created by Daedalus.

On the third occasion, Theseus volunteered to slay the monster. He took the place of one of the youths and set off with a black sail, promising to his father, Aegeus, that if successful he would return with a white sail. Like the others, Theseus was stripped of his weapons when they sailed. On his arrival in Crete, Ariadne, King Minos' daughter, fell in love with Theseus and, on the advice of Daedalus, gave him a ball of thread or clue, so he could find his way out of the Labyrinth. That night, Ariadne escorted Theseus to the Labyrinth, and Theseus promised that if he returned from the Labyrinth he would take Ariadne with him. As soon as Theseus entered the Labyrinth, he tied one end of the ball of string to the door post and brandished his sword which he had kept hidden from the guards inside his tunic. Theseus followed Daedalus' instructions given to Ariadne; go forwards, always down and never left or right. Theseus came to the heart of the Labyrinth and also upon the sleeping Minotaur. The beast awoke and a tremendous fight then occurred. Theseus overpowered the Minotaur with his strength and stabbed the beast in the throat with his sword (according to one scholium on Pindar's Fifth Nemean Ode, Theseus strangled it).

After decapitating the beast, Theseus used the string to escape the Labyrinth and managed to escape with all of the young Athenians and Ariadne as well as her younger sister Phaedra. Then he and the rest of the crew fell asleep on the beach. Athena woke Theseus and told him to leave early that morning. Athena told Theseus to leave Ariadne and Phaedra on the beach. Stricken with distress, Theseus forgot to put up the white sails instead of the black ones, so the king committed suicide, in some versions throwing himself off a cliff and into the sea. Dionysus later saw Ariadne crying out for Theseus and took pity on her and married her.

Adaptations of the myth


Racine's Phèdre (1677) features Theseus as well as Hippolytus and the title character.

Theseus is a prominent character as the Duke of Athens in William Shakespeare's plays, A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Two Noble Kinsmen. Hippolyta also appears in both plays. Theseus likewise appears as a major character in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Knight's Tale.

F. L. Lucas's poem Ariadne (1932) is an epic reworking of the Labyrinth myth: Aegle, one of the sacrificial maidens who accompany Theseus to Crete, is Theseus's sweetheart, the Minotaur is Minos himself in a bull-mask, and Ariadne, learning on Naxos of Theseus’s earlier love for Aegle, decides to leave him for the Ideal [Dionysus]. [1]

Mary Renault's The King Must Die (1958) is a dramatic retelling of the Theseus legend from his childhood in Troizen until the return from Crete to Athens. While fictional, it is generally faithful to the spirit and flavor of the best-known variations of the original story. The sequel is The Bull from the Sea (1962), about the hero's later career.

Stephen Dobyns, wrote the poem Theseus within the Labyrinth (1986) which provides a retelling of the myth of Ariadne, Theseus and the minotaur, in particular the feelings of Ariadne.

Kir Bulychov's 1993 book An Attempt on Theseus' Life (Покушение на Тезея) is about a plot to assassinate a man during a virtual reality tour in which he lives through Theseus' life.

John Dempsey's Ariadne's Brother: A Novel on the Fall of Bronze Age Crete (1996, ISBN 960-219-062-0) tells the Minoan Cretan version of these events based on both archaeology and myth.

Troy Denning's 1996 novel Pages of Pain features an amnesic Theseus fighting to recover his past while interacting with some of the more colorful beings of the Planescape universe.

Steven Pressfield's 2002 novel Last of the Amazons attempts to situate Theseus's meeting and subsequent marriage to Antiope, as well as the ensuing war, in a historically plausible setting.

Jorge Luis Borges presents an interesting variation of the myth in a short story, "La Casa de Asterión" ("The House of Asterion").

British comedian Tony Robinson wrote a version of the Theseus story entitled Theseus: Super Hero.

Author Tracy Barrett wrote a novel titled Dark of the Moon, published in 2011, which is a re-write of the Theseus myth.

Author Suzanne Collins was inspired by Theseus to write The Hunger Games trilogy, which was published from 2008–2010.

Film and television

Theseus is played by Bob Mathias in the 1960 film Minotaur, the Wild Beast of Crete, and by Tom Hardy in the 2006 film Minotaur.

A 1971 Soviet cartoon, "The Labyrinth", covers the titular adventure as well as Theseus's encounters with the Crommyonian sow and Procrustes.

In 1990, the television show "The StoryTeller: Greek Myths" featured a story about Theseus and the Minotaur in its first episode Theseus and the Minotaur.

The first episode of the 2001 kids' TV Series MythQuest, entitled "Minotaur," features a story in which the modern day teen-aged protagonist finds himself unexpectedly thrust into Theseus' role and must follow through with the events of the existing myth, including slaying the Minotaur with the help of Ariadne and Daedalus. The storyline was also adapted into a novelization.

In the 2003 miniseries Helen of Troy, Theseus, played by Stellan Skarsgård, kidnaps Helen with Pirithous and waits for her to reach marriageable age; however, he is slain by Pollux and she is returned to Sparta.

In the 2011 Tarsem Singh film, Immortals, Theseus (played by Henry Cavill) leads a war against the mortal king Hyperion (played by Mickey Rourke) of Heraklion.

The Hunger Games Trilogy was greatly influenced by the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur.

The Indian film "Ship of Theseus(2012)" directed by Anand Gandhi, is an exploration of the philosophical idea underlying the myth.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Theseus" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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