Daughter of Minos and Pasiphaë
In Greek mythology , Ariadne (pronounced ar-ee-AD-nee) was the daughter of King Minos (pronounced MYE-nuhs) and Queen Pasiphaë (pronounced pa-SIF-ah-ee) of Crete. She fell in love with the Athenian hero Theseus (pronounced THEE-see-uhs) when he came to Crete. Theseus was one of a group of youths and maidens who were sent from Athens to be fed to the Minotaur. Half bull and half man, the Minotaur was kept in a maze called the Labyrinth. Before Theseus entered it, Ariadne helped him by giving him a ball of yarn. He used the yarn to leave a trail by which he could find his way out. Theseus succeeded in killing the Minotaur and escaping the Labyrinth. Ariadne then fled with Theseus when he sailed back to Athens.
There are different versions of the rest of Ariadne's story. In one, she was abandoned by Theseus on the island of Naxos (pronounced NAK-suhs) while she slept on the shore. Another suggests that Theseus did not abandon her, but was swept out to sea by a storm. Afterward, Dionysus (pronounced dye-uh-NYE-suhs) found Ariadne on the shore and decided to make her his wife. In yet another variation, after arriving on Naxos, Ariadne was killed by Artemis (pronounced AHR-tuh-miss), and then found by Dionysus, who asked Zeus (pronounced ZOOS) to make her immortal (able to live forever), so he could marry her. Dionysus and Ariadne were married on Naxos. Two festivals were held in honor of Ariadne: one celebrating her marriage and one mourning her death. The couple had three sons.
Ariadne in Context
Ariadne's parents were the rulers of Crete, the largest of the Greek islands. The Minoan civilization of Crete flourished from approximately 2600 bce until 1400 bce, making it the oldest known civilization in Europe. Excavations at Knossos have revealed a large, complex building that may have served as a palace or ruling center for Minos and other leaders of Crete. In addition, archaeologists have found some human remains that support the idea that the Minoans may have performed human sacrifices like those mentioned in Ariadne's story. The Athenian Greeks viewed the Minoan culture as older and, in some ways, more powerful than their own. The tale of Ariadne's family and their Minotaur explained why the Minoans were able to secure tribute from Athenian Greeks.
Key Themes and Symbols
One item often associated with Ariadne is a ball of yarn or fleece, like the one she gave to Theseus so he could find his way out of the Labyrinth. In art, Ariadne is often portrayed sleeping near the seashore, as Dionysus is said to have discovered her. She has also been associated with the Corona Borealis constellation of stars.
Ariadne in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life
Ariadne was popularized in many ancient sculptures, usually with her husband Dionysus. The pair also appeared in paintings by artists such as Titian and Guido Reni. More recently, Ariadne has served as the subject for numerous operas, including the 1912 opera Ariadne on Naxos by Richard Strauss. In studies of logic, the term “Ariadne's thread” refers to a method of problem-solving that results in multiple possible solutions, such as one used to determine the correct path through a maze.
Read, Write, Think, Discuss
In the myth of Ariadne, Theseus, and the Minotaur, who do you think is the greater hero, Theseus or Ariadne? Think of at least two reasons that support your choice.