Theseus and the Minotaur


Once upon a time, a long time ago, there lived a king named Minos. King Minos lived on a lovely island in the Mediterranean Sea called the island of Crete. King Minos had everything a king could possibly want. Just the same, now and then, King Minos sent his navy across the sea to attack the tiny village of Athens. Each time, Athens had to load King Minos' warships with gifts of Athenian art and tapestry and other beautiful things so that King Minos' men would stop attacking Athen and go away.

The king of Athens did not know what to do. He had tried to build a strong navy to defend Athens, but there was never enough time between attacks to do so. In desperation, the king of Athens offered King Minos a deal. (The Greeks were very fond of deals.) If King Minos would not attack Athens for 9 years, Athens would send 7 boys and 7 girls to the island of Crete to be eaten by the awful monster that King Minos kept as a pet.

The Minotaur was half man and half beast. It lived in the heart of a maze on the lovely island of Crete. Everyone was terrified of the monster, everyone that is except for King Minos. King Minos loved that old beast. The truth was, King Minos only attacked Athens when he was bored. He really didn't want anything. This way, his beloved monster could look forward to a special treat every 9 years. After thinking it over, King Minos happily took the deal.

For nine years, King Minos kept his word. Now it was time for Athens to keep theirs. Everyone in Athens was crying.

Prince Theseus of Athens knew the importance of keeping your word. He knew that a deal was a deal. But he was also quite sure that it was wrong to send small children to be eaten by a monster. Prince Theseus told his father (the king) that he was going to Crete as the seventh son of Athens. He was going to kill the Minotaur and end the terror.

"The Minotaur is a terrible monster! What makes you think you can kill it?" cried his father.

"I'll find a way," Theseus replied gently. "The gods will help me."

His father begged him not to go. But the prince took his place as the seventh Athenian boy. Along with six other Athenian boys and seven Athenian girls, Prince Theseus sailed towards Crete.

When the prince and the children arrived on the island of Crete, King Minos and his daughter, the Princess Ariadne, came out to greet them. The Princess Ariadne did not say anything. But her eyes narrowed thoughtfully. Late that night, she wrote Prince Theseus a note and slipped it under his bedroom door.

Dear Theseus (Ariadne wrote)

I am a beautiful princess as you probably noticed the minute you saw me. I am also a very bored princess. Without my help, the Minotaur will surely gobble you up. I know a trick or two that will save your life. If I help you kill the monster, you must promise to take me away from this tiny island so that others can admire my beauty. If interested in this deal, meet me by the gate to the Labyrinth in one hour.

Yours very truly,
Princess Ariadne

Prince Theseus slipped out of the palace and waited patiently by the gate. Princess Ariadne finally showed up. In her hands, she carried a sword and a ball of string.

Ariadne gave the sword and the ball of string to Prince Theseus. "Hide these inside the entrance to the maze. Tomorrow, when you and the other children from Athens enter the Labyrinth, wait until the gate is closed, then tie the string to the door. Unroll it as you move through the maze. That way, you can find your way back again. The sword, well, you know what to do with the sword," she laughed.

Theseus thanked the princess for her kindness.

"Don't forget, now," she cautioned Theseus. "You must take me with you so that all the people can marvel at my beauty."

The next morning, the Athenian children surrounded the ball of string to hide it. Theseus hid the sword underneath his clothes. The children, including Prince Theseus, were pushed into the maze. The door was locked firmly behind them. Following Ariadne's directions, Theseus tied one end of the string to the door. He told the children to stay by the door and to make sure the string stayed tied so the prince could find his way back again. The children hung on to the string tightly, as Theseus entered the maze alone.

Using the sword Ariadne had given him, Theseus killed the monstrous beast. Feeling very glad to be alive, Theseus followed the string back to the children and knocked on the door.

Princess Ariadne was waiting. She opened the door. Without anyone noticing, Prince Theseus and the children of Athens ran to their ship and sailed quietly away. Princess Ariadne sailed away with them.

On the way home, they stopped for supplies on the tiny Greek island of Naxos, an island in the heart of the Aegean Sea. Princess Ariadne insisted on coming ashore. There was nothing much to do on the island. Soon, she fell asleep. All the people of Naxos gathered to marvel at her beauty. Theseus sailed quietly away with the children of Athens and left her there, sleeping.