Theseus and the Minotaur

Crete had dominated Athens for a time and had forced a tribute of seven young men and as many virgins every nine years. When the time for the third tribute came, Theseus, son of Aegeus, King of Athens, volunteered to be one of the young men taken to Crete and vowed to destroy the Minotaur, ending the tribute. Aegeus, distraught, could not change Theseus mind. Upon the tribute men and women’s arrival, King Minos’ daughter, Ariadne, fell in love with Theseus. Her knowledge of the labyrinth as it was her dancing ground, and desire to save him from her brother, the Minotaur, led her to gave him a thread and explained its use in unraveling the labyrinth. Having Ariadne’s thread to guide him, Theseus overcomes the Minotaur, saving the Athenian young men and women, and escapes the labyrinth. Ariadne and the tribute party depart Crete in secret, On the way to Athens in a storm, Ariadne is separated from Theseus and lost to him. In memory of her, he dances the geranso, or crane dance, and begins the tradition of the sailor’s labyrinth dance.

By the medieval period, several metaphors had already become commonly associated with the labyrinth, many of which stemmed from the mythology of Theseus and the Minotaur. The path through the labyrinth had come to represent a path between death and rebirth, or alternately of transformation. Theseus had gone into the labyrinth supposedly to his death, but returned a free man, given a new chance at life. The path also represented inevitability, in that Theseus was doomed to face the Minotaur or face death wandering helplessly within the labyrinth. Ariadne’s thread had become a metaphor for divine guidance, especially as various versions of the myth included Ariadne’s inclusion within the Greek pantheon. The Minotaur had become a metaphor for evil, as well as worldly lust. The complexity and ambiguity of the path itself had become metaphor for the twists and turns of life. The labyrinth folk dances also celebrate triumph.