December 28, 2021

#08-171: Theseus and the Minotaur

Theseus and the Minotaur

Note: The Hero Theseus was just the man to best the monstrous Minotaur and save the youths and maidens of Athens. But how to find his way out of that labyrinth?

Get Ready: Theseus was both strong and clever. if you could only choose one virtue or the other, which would it be?

The Athenian hero Theseus figures in many myths, but none more compelling than the story of how he rid his countrymen of the curse of the Minotaur.

Athens, like many other continental Greek cities, paid tribute to the much stronger island kingdom of Crete. Every seven (some say nine) years, they were forced to send seven youths and seven maidens to be sacrificed to the Minotaur, a monster with a bull's body and a human head. This strange creature resulted from the mating of Pasiphae, wife of Crete's King Minos, with a white bull sacred to Poseidon.

To the sorrow of Athens, the monster ate human victims. He lived in a labyrinth constructed by Daedalus--whose son Icarus had flown too close to the sun on wings fashioned by his father--a design so clever that no victim who once entered could find a way out.

Enter the semi-divine Theseus, who resolved either to deliver his countrymen from this calamity, or to die trying. He began his campaign by volunteering to be one of the seven youths sent to the beast. When the intended victims were displayed before King Minos, his daughter Ariadne was smitten by the sight of Theseus (who seemed to feel the same about her).

Before Theseus entered the labyrinth, Ariadne gave him a sword and a ball of thread. With the one, he was to slay the monster; with the other--trailed behind him as he entered--he could find his way out.

All went as planned, and when he left Crete, Theseus took Ariadne with him. But claiming that Athena had appeared to him in a dream and instructed him to do so, Theseus abandoned the princess while she was sleeping on the island of Naxos. (The god Dionysus found her sleeping and married her, so all turned out well enough for her.)

Now before Theseus departed Athens, his father, the Athenian King Aegeus, had been extremely worried about his fate. So Theseus said that, although his ship usually had black sails, if he was victorious he would change the sails to white as a signal to Aegeus long before he landed.

Unfortunately, Theseus forgot to change the sails. When Aegeus, watching from a cliff, saw that the sails were still black, he leaped from the height in despair, into the body of water that still bears his name: the Aegean Sea.


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Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. calamity
  2. compelling
  3. despair
  4. fashioned
  5. labyrinth
  6. maidens
  7. mating
  8. sacrificed
  9. slay
  10. smitten

  1. a tragedy; a disaster
  2. lovestruck
  3. killed as an offering
  4. made; crafted
  5. having a powerful effect
  6. a layout of confusing paths; a maze
  7. making a baby (with)
  8. kill
  9. young women
  10. hopelessness

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for December 28, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. a; 2. e; 3. j; 4. d; 5. f; 6. i; 7. g; 8. c; 9. h; 10. b