Abandoned By The One You Love: Ariadne

Imagine being the daughter of a great and powerful king.

A son of Zeus.

Imagine having a half-brother.

Also a son of Zeus.

Only Zeus had visited your mother as a bull, and as a result, your sibling was part bull.

Your father is King Minos, and to protect your island, he has invested great energy in keeping your brother trapped.

One day, the architect of the prison would fly away with his son, but the story of Daedalus and Icarus will have to wait for now. The point is, your brother is kept away in a maze, a labyrinth, and to your horror, your father feeds him sacrifices every seven years.

Human sacrifices.

And to make things worse, he has appointed you as the high priestess of the labyrinth.

Your name is Ariadne, and your job is to feed the beast.

*

Then, during one of these sessions, you see the most beautiful man you’ve ever laid your eyes on.

Beautiful as the morning sun.

His name is Theseus, and your heart has melted.

So what do you do?

You give him thread.

You give him a sword.

And you pray.

*

Weaving has many mythic contexts. In the Greek traditions, we find it in the story of Arachne, who the Goddess Athena turned into a spider for being a better weaver (which is also why spiders are called arachnids). It also plays prominently in the Odyssey, where Odysseus’ faithful wife Penelope uses it to keep her would be suitors at bay.

It’s safe to bet Ariadne was a weaver.

*

With thread, Theseus was able to weave his way into the heart of the labyrinth.

With sword, he slew the Minotaur, Ariadne’s half brother.

With thread, he traced his way back out.

And Ariadne wept with joy.

However, this meant that it was time to run.

But at least she had the beautiful, brave Theseus by her side…

*

This story has many variants; I like the one with the happy ending.

In one, she ends up hanging herself.

Let’s not do that one.

*

The couple fled to the island of Naxos. There she slept, warm, safe, with the love of her life.

She must have dreamed of the days to come with her splendid Theseus.

Those day would not come.

Theseus crept out in the middle of the night, and sailed away for home, leaving Ariadne stranded on a strange and desolate island.

Pretty dickish move, Theseus.

So who could possibly save the day?

*

The Deus Ex Mechina is the ultimate writers cop out; it’s what you use when you’ve written protagonists into an unwinnable situation, a corner they can’t fight their way out of.

Cleverly used, it can totally work. While this may not be one of those examples, at least it gives Ariadne hope.

As she ran around the beach, looking for her departed Theseus, a God saw her plight. He took pity on her, swept down, and carried her away to be his wife. They would have many children, and at least this record says she lived a happy and prosperous life.

And which God, of all the Gods in the Greek pantheon, came to wed the abandoned Ariadne?

The God of Wine.

Dionysus.

*

And finally, as a parting thought: the art work on the header of this page was done by Evelyn De Morgan in 1877. An English painter, she did many, many mythologically themed paintings, and unlike Ariadne, her Theseus, the ceramicist William De Morgan, never abandoned her.

WDM32547
WDM32547 Ariadne at Naxos, 1877; by Morgan, Evelyn De (1855-1919); © The De Morgan Centre, London; English, out of copyright

 

 

2 thoughts on “Abandoned By The One You Love: Ariadne

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