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Ariadne and the Minotaur: Psychopathy Runs in Families

by Call Me Les 5 months ago in Classical

There is a reason we imagine the afterlife as an underworld. Descending into the depths of the earth is akin to descending into death. You can arm yourself with the best weapons, supplies, gear— string—and still fall victim to the immutable peril of the number of steps you travel from light and life. Many who enter such spaces vanish without a trace; many more fall prey to what lies within. No truer words were spoken of the monstrous Minotaur's labyrinth. But every coin has two sides. And if descending into the darkness is like dying, then surely ascension to the surface is rebirth.

I didn't need string; I didn't need eyes, and I certainly didn't need a weapon. - Ariadne

There are many ways to die in a labyrinth, but it is a misconception that the greatest danger is the risk of disorientation followed by starvation. Caves often contain food and water—provided you're not picky about what's on the menu. Better still, artificial labyrinths do not shape-shift; they have a set pattern, and if you know their secret, you can thread the correct course easily enough. Neither are traps, pits, accidents, nor monsters the most likely cause of death. No. Be it an artfully devised maze or naturally formed cavern—what you must respect if you want to make it out alive from the underground is distance: Every step you take into the labyrinth is one you'll have to take back out again. Lose track of your steps and you just might lose track of yourself.

Descending into the depths. Author's own photo.

As I had always done whenever I entered the maze, I travelled in total darkness. Light was forbidden. Each time my foot fell on the stones of the cave floor, I counted the steps from the entrance. My fingers traced the familiar crevices as they trailed along the walls; my ears heard the repetitive echo of my breath as I raced through the channels. The hard, echoing slaps of my sandals sliced the stale air with their vibrations. I knew by heart which turns would lead to pits full of spikes and rotting corpses, which paths were laced with traps and which ones were dead-ends. I didn't need string; I didn't need eyes, and I certainly didn't need a weapon.

I had memorized the route to the Minotaur because he is my younger half-brother.

Throughout the past fifteen years, I had brought the Minotaur his meals. I was but six years old when I was first forced to enter his prison; my baby brother was already four the day we met face to face. After that first excursion, I had done my duty with a heart full of love. Each day I travelled to the Minotaur's chamber with food and drink. Back and forth. Once in the morning and once in the evening. Every week, of every month, of every year.

A slave had led me the first few times. Then, when it was clear I could handle the task solo, my father had her murdered. Aside from the architects, no one else knew the route to the inner chamber, and they knew better than to open their mouths—as did everyone else who might have known the truth about the Minotaur's existence, such as the kitchen cooks and the wet nurse. And no, my brother's meals were not crafted from mortal flesh. That was merely another one of my father's many lies.

Above all else, King Minos cared for his image. Maintaining the pretense that the seven young girls and seven young boys, harvested annually from Athens as the ongoing spoils of war, were food for a heinous monster served my father's plans. So long as the people of Crete believed their king was keeping them safe from the wrath of a half-bull, half-human brute imprisoned below their city, King Minos' reign was secure. It didn't hurt his reputation either that his peoples' sense of safety was achieved by feeding the Minotaur victims from a rival group of humans.

And what better way to humiliate your wife for her infidelity than by claiming a snow-white bull, which you had received from Poseidon, had driven her mad with lust? So much so she had coerced a craftsman to fashion her a hollow wooden cow to climb inside of so that she could mate with the beast! The king's rumour spread the word that my mother's sexual depravity was how she had become pregnant with my half-brother.

It wasn't true, of course.

Like most bastards born of women forced into marriage, my mother's son was conceived via a love affair. Her lover had been the handsome captain of the guards who my father had later ordered to be discreetly and mercilessly thrown into the sea. My mother resigned herself to silence in exchange for sparing the life of her child. And so, the story of the birth of the "Minotaur" has stood the test of time. Ultimately it didn't matter what he said. Even if the truth had been spoken, people prefer sensational lies.

As for why my half-brother, Asterion, an innocent child with gray-blue eyes, was locked up and defamed as an evil, flesh-eating monster, the answer was pure and simple: revenge. My poor mother went to an early grave from her grief. My father probably hoped if he mistreated me enough I would follow suit, and he could rid himself of all traces of her spawn without the bad publicity of murdering his kin.

But I am my father's daughter. I can scheme and lie well, too.

And so, when Theseus, the boasting braggart son of the Athenian king, had declared he intended to kill the Minotaur rather than be served as supper, I seized the opportunity to carry out my long-laid plans.

I started by seducing Theseus. It wasn't hard. Or rather it was, but he was unable to make use of the appendage before passing out from the tincture I'd slipped into his wine. When he fell asleep, I laced our sheets with chicken's blood. Upon finding me next to him half-naked and bloody-thighed the following morning, the rapacious youth assumed he'd bedded me—like he had so many others.

I played into his self-gratifying glory, fawning over him as though he were a God. Later, when I confided that I was the only one who knew the secret way in and out of the labyrinth, the coward begged for my help. I lied and told him I loved him, and as long as he promised to marry me, I would mark his route to the Minotaur with string. The foolish prince hastily promised me happiness and took off to follow my thread to victory. He flew to my web like a fly to a spider, only this time it was he who was ravished by bloodlust.

His corpse is rotting on the spikes in that pit I mentioned earlier.

I slipped through a tiny sliver of a doorway that exited into the only area of the maze with an open ceiling. I supposed even my father thought it was too cruel to imprison his stepson without any sunlight. Or! Perhaps, he thought it would be crueller if Asterion was permitted to see the sky but never walk freely under it. Who knows. My father's mind was as twisted as the labyrinth itself.

It was grassy here, and the air was sweet with the smell of pear blossoms. The scent wafted from a lone pear tree growing in the center of the chamber, resplendent alongside a spring-fed fountain and a few pieces of furniture. Asterion and I had planted the pear tree, as well as the other plants and herbs. Unbeknownst to anyone but us, this little chamber, in the heart of a prison built by my psychopathic father, was our playroom.

But all prisoners hate their prisons—no matter how golden the bars—and it was time for my brother to be set free.

I scanned the area but could not see him. "Asterion! It is done. Theseus is dead! Come out!"

Asterion stepped from the shadows and ran his hands through his sand-coloured hair.

"This won't work, Ariadne. I look nothing like Theseus. The guards will never allow me to pass! I know nothing of the outside world except what you've shown me on scrolls, and I can't sail."

I shook my head.

"The guards are expecting me to exit with Theseus! They await his victory. If I tell them that I witnessed you slay the Minotaur, but in punishment for killing the offspring of his prized bull, Poseidon stole your memories and transformed your appearance, no one will question me. They will not dare to risk their lives by challenging your identity, let alone enter the labyrinth to investigate, and if they do enter here, the underground will swallow them the same as it has everyone else who has descended before. Come with me, little brother! Freedom awaits!"

Asterion hesitated,

"And father?"

"Father has no memory of you. For once it's a blessing his heart is made of stone."

Satisfied with my rationale, he nodded. Together, Asterion and I left without looking back, each of us taking but a single pear so that we might plant a tree with its seeds in the soil of our new homelands. Hand in hand, we emerged onto the surface and into the light, whereupon we were reborn.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Epilogue:

"Theseus" (aka Asterion) returned to his hometown of Athens. During our brief pillow talk, the actual Theseus had confided to me that his father, the King of Athens, expected his son's crew to hoist white sails as he hailed from Crete if his son was victorious and black if he had met his end. I instructed Asterion to do the opposite. Upon seeing the black sails, the grieving king promptly drowned himself as I had anticipated; thereby placing my brother directly onto the throne the moment his feet touched Athenian soil. Which, by the way, is where he planted his pear tree.

When questioned about his error, Asterion—now and forever assumed to be Theseus—explained that he had forgotten to fly the white sails because of his memory loss. The matter was dropped immediately: people were too busy celebrating the end of turning over their children to King Minos. Plus, it made perfect sense to Greeks that a God would let a conquering male hero off with a stern warning.

The moment I heard the news that the final phase of my scheme was a success, I felt something in me change. The hardness that had seen me through all those days in Crete while watching my mother succumb to her grief and my brother languish underground softened. It made my heart soar to know that Asterion—who was a blood-born prince—had, at last, regained his rightful place in the world's pecking order!

As for my ending, the historians have it mostly right. Theseus did drop me off on the deserted island of Naxos partway through his return voyage—but not because he abandoned me. On the contrary, I had requested the stop; I was in dire need of some peace and sunshine.

He left me with a couple of sturdy servants who built me a comfortable home, and I planted my pear tree. One day, while sipping on some delicious homemade pear wine, I was discovered by Dionysus, the God of Wine, who fell madly in love with me on the spot. I bore him five children, and we lived a hell of a good life. What woman wouldn't if they married the God of Wine?

Now that you've heard the other side of the coin, please, let the record show that I was not some misused, seduced and beguiled young waif, prey to the first rogue who conquered her virginity.

In reality, I, Ariadne, was a daring murderess, every bit as ingenious and cunning as her psychopathic father. But, hey! Sometimes, 'you gotta be cruel to be kind.'

~~~

Cover photo from Shutterstock. Cave photo from author's spelunking expedition in Kentucky. Story photos from Pexels and Pinterest.

For More Myth retellings, check out these two alternate, women centered twists!

Poseidon Encounter Support Group by: Deanna Cassidy

& Ariadne Untold by: Natasja Rose

Classical

About the author

Call Me Les

Founding admin at the Vocal Social Society. Editor/Founder of the Vocal Creators Chronicle.

~&~

No words left unspoken. For Tom.

#bettertogether

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