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Theseus

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HOW THESEUS SLEW THE MINOTAUR

from Types Of Children's Literature - Myths And Legends





And at last they came to Crete, and to Cnossus, beneath the peaks
of Ida, and to the palace of Minos the great king, to whom Zeus
himself taught laws. So he was the wisest of all mortal kings,
and conquered all the Ăgean isles; and his ships were as many
as the sea-gulls, and his palace like a marble hill. And he sat among
the pillars of the hall, upon his throne of beaten gold, and around
him stood the speaking statues which Daidalos had made by his
skill. For Daidalos was the most cunning of all Athenians, and he
first invented the plumb-line, and the auger, and glue, and many a
tool with which wood is wrought. And he first set up masts in
ships, and yards, and his son made sails for them: but Perdix his
nephew excelled him; for he first invented the saw and its teeth,
copying it from the back-bone of a fish; and invented, too, the
chisel, and the compasses, and the potter's wheel which molds the
clay. Therefore Daidalos envied him, and hurled him headlong
from the temple of AthenÚ; but the Goddess pitied him (for she loves
the wise) and changed him into a partridge, which flits forever about
the hills. And Daidalos fled to Crete, to Minos, and worked for
him many a year, till he did a shameful deed, at which the sun hid
his face on high.

Then he fled from the anger of Minos,--he and Icarus, his son,
having made themselves wings of feathers, and fixed the feathers
with wax. So they flew over the sea toward Sicily; but Icarus flew
too near the sun; and the wax of his wings was melted, and he fell
into the Icarian Sea. But Daidalos came safe to Sicily, and there
wrought many a wondrous work: for he made for King Cocalus a
reservoir, from which a great river watered all the land, and a castle
and a treasury on a mountain, which the giants themselves could not
have stormed; and in Selinos he took the steam which comes up from
the fires of AEtna and made of it a warm bath of vapor, to cure the
pains of mortal men; and he made a honeycomb of gold, in which
the bees came and stored their honey; and in Egypt he made the
fore-court of the temple of Hephaistus, in Memphis, and a statue of
himself within it, and many another wondrous work. And for Minos
he made statues which spoke and moved, and the temple of Britomartis,
and the dancing-hall of Ariadne, which he carved of fair
white stone. And in Sardinia he worked for I÷laos; and in many
a land beside, wandering up and down forever with his cunning,
unlovely and accursed by men.

But Theseus stood before Minos, and they looked each other in
the face. And Minos bade take them to prison, and cast them to the
monster one by one, that the death of Androgeos might be avenged.
Then Theseus cried--

"A boon, O Minos! Let me be thrown first to the beast. For
I came hither for that very purpose, of my own will, and not by lot."

"Who art thou, then, brave youth?"

"I am the son of him whom of all men thou hatest most, Ăgeus
the king of Athens, and I am come here to end this matter."

And Minos pondered awhile, looking steadfastly at him, and he
thought, "The lad means to atone by his own death for his father's
sin;" and he answered at last mildly--

"Go back in peace, my son. It is a pity that one so brave should
die."

But Theseus said, "I have sworn that I will not go back till I
have seen the monster face to face."

And at that Minos frowned, and said, "Then thou shalt see
him; take the madman away."

And they led Theseus away into the prison, with the other youths
and maids.

But Ariadne, Minos's daughter, saw him, as she came out of her
white stone hall; and she loved him for his courage and his majesty,
and said, "Shame that such a youth should die!" And by night
she went down to the prison, and told him all her heart, and said,--

"Flee down to your ship at once, for I have bribed the guards
before the door. Flee, you and all your friends, and go back in
peace to Greece; and take me, take me with you! for I dare not stay
after you are gone; for my father will kill me miserably, if he
knows what I have done."

And Theseus stood silent awhile; for he was astonished and confounded
by her beauty: but at last he said, "I cannot go home in
peace, till I have seen and slain this Minotaur, and avenged the
deaths of the youths and maidens, and put an end to the terrors of
my land."

"And will you kill the Minotaur? How, then?"

"I know not, nor do I care: but he must be strong if he be too
strong for me."

Then she loved him all the more, and said, "But when you have
killed him, how will you find your way out of the labyrinth?"

"I know not, neither do I care: but it must be a strange road,
if I do not find it out before I have eaten up the monster's carcase."

Then she loved him all the more, and said,--

"Fair youth, you are too bold; but I can help you, weak as I am.
I will give you a sword, and with that, perhaps, you may slay the
beast; and a clue of thread, and by that, perhaps, you may find your
way out again. Only promise me, that if you escape safe, you will
take me home with you to Greece; for my father will surely kill me,
if he knows what I have done."

Then Theseus laughed, and said, "Am I not safe enough now?"
And he hid the sword in his bosom, and rolled up the clue in his
hand; and then he swore to Ariadne, and fell down before her,
and kissed her hands and her feet; and she wept over him a long
while, and then went away; and Theseus lay down and slept sweetly.

And when the evening came, the guards came in and led him away
to the labyrinth.

And he went down into that doleful gulf, through winding paths
among the rocks, under caverns, and arches, and galleries, and over
heaps of fallen stone. And he turned on the left hand, and on the
right hand, and went up and down till his head was dizzy; but all the
while he held his clue. For when he went in he had fastened it to
a stone, and left it to unroll out of his hand as he went on; and it
lasted him till he met the Minotaur, in a narrow chasm between
black cliffs.

And when he saw him he stopped awhile, for he had never seen
so strange a beast. His body was a man's: but his head was the head
of a bull; and his teeth were the teeth of a lion, and with them he tore
his prey. And when he saw Theseus he roared, and put his head
down, and rushed right at him.

But Theseus stept aside nimbly, and as he passed by, cut him in
the knee; and ere he could turn in the narrow path, he followed
him, and stabbed him again and again from behind, till the monster
fled bellowing wildly; for he never before had felt a wound. And
Theseus followed him at full speed, holding the clue of thread in his
left hand.

Then on, through cavern after cavern, under dark ribs of sounding
stone, and up rough glens and torrent-beds, among the sunless roots
of Ida, and to the edge of the eternal snow, went they, the hunter and
hunted, while the hills bellowed to the monster's bellow.

And at last Theseus came up with him, where he lay panting on
a slab among the snow, and caught him by the horns, and forced
his head back, and drove the keen sword through his throat.

Then he turned, and went back limping and weary, feeling his
way down by the clue of thread, till he came to the mouth of that
doleful place; and saw waiting for him, whom but Ariadne!

And he whispered, "It is done!" and showed her the sword; and
she laid her finger on her lips, and led him to the prison, and opened
the doors, and set all the prisoners free, while the guards lay sleeping
heavily; for she had silenced them with wine.

Then they fled to their ship together, and leapt on board, and
hoisted up the sail; and the night lay dark around them, so that
they past through Minos's ships, and escaped all safe to Naxos; and
there Ariadne became Theseus's wife.





Next: HOW THESEUS FELL BY HIS PRIDE

Previous: HOW THESEUS SLEW THE DEVOURERS OF MEN



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