HOW THESEUS SLEW THE MINOTAUR





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 Ægean 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 Athené; 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 Iölaos; 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, Ægeus

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.





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