This is a chapter of Evergreen Stories by W. M. L. Hutchinson. It includes the following stories: King Midas and His Strange Adventures — Alcestis, the Noble Wife — The Real Helen — Cupid and Psyche — The Vision of Er — Circe, the Island Witch — Bellerophon, the Rider of Pegasus — How Theseus Slew the Minotaur — Odysseus in the Land of Shadows — Heracles and the Poisoned Robe | The Story of Pheidippides — The Story of Solon, Croesus, and Cyrus
How Theseus Slew the Minotaur has the following chapters: 1. The Story of Theseus before His Birth | 2. Theseus Reunites with His Father Aegeus | 3. Theseus Finds Out about the Tributes for King Minos | 4. Ariadna Decides to Help Theseus | 5. Daedalus Helps Ariadna Help Theseus | 6. What Happened Once Theseus Left the Labyrinth | 7. Ariadna’s Destiny | 8. Daedalus and His Son Icarus
“Was it wilfully, or by some strange mischance,” asked Odysseus, the next night, “that Theseus deserted Ariadne in Naxos?”
“That,” replied Circe, with her enigmatic smile, “is a disputed question. Some of the Athenians, willing to acquit their hero of ingratitude, declare that he believed she had returned on board and was among the Athenian maidens when he sailed away from the island, and that a strong gale prevented his putting back when he found out his mistake. But there was nothing to prevent his sending a ship for her after he got safe home to Athens — which he never did. Others, again, say that he was moved to abandon her at that very place and time by heaven-sent prompting.”
“Why do you smile, Circe?” said Odysseus gravely. “Many men are visited by these divine intimations —I have felt them myself in moments of danger— and only impious men disregard them. Who can say that Theseus did not act on one?”
“No one, my friend,” replied Circe, shrugging her white shoulders, “except perhaps… Theseus himself. And he is dead, you know. But, to deal frankly with you, I think he did act on a sudden impulse — only, it came from his own heart. Remember who and what Ariadne was — an alien, child of an evil mother, and of his country’s detested foe. How would the Athenians take his bringing the daughter of Minos home with him as their future queen? Above all, he did not love her… was even a little repelled by her passion for him — perhaps felt that she could hate as fiercely as she loved… Yet marry her he must, for he could see it would be safer for him to enrage a tigress than such a woman. And then —so it seems to me— as he watched her disappear into the Naxian woods, he suddenly saw a way out of his trouble… if only she did not come back too quickly. As luck would have it, Ariadne gave him plenty of time to get clear away.”
“Did the Cretan crew make no trouble about leaving their princess behind?” asked Elpenor.
“If they did,” answered Circe, “Theseus and the Athenian lads soon brought them to reason. They were only slaves, you see, and unarmed. But now for the end of my story…”
Theseus had promised his father that if he returned alive, he would hoist a white sail as his ship neared Athens; and day after day old Aegeus sat on a hill above the harbor, watching anxiously for that signal. At last, a ship of the Cretan build and scarlet color hove in sight, and, as she drew nearer, a great shout went up from the folk on the quays, for they could see a company in Athenian garb standing at the prow. “The children! Joy, joy, it is our children!” was the cry, and the sound of it brought all Athens, men and women, rushing to the harbor. But the old king gave but one look at the ship’s sails and sank back in his chair, death-pale and trembling. “Black!” he gasped out. “Black sails… My Theseus is dead!” And with that word, his spirit fled from earth.
Now black the sails were, for such is the Cretan fashion, and Theseus had forgotten his promise to display a white one. Thus was the bitterness of grief and self-reproach mingled with the gladness of his homecoming.
But not even sorrow for their good old king’s sad end could overcloud the rapturous joy of the Athenians that day. The whole city rang with the sounds of feasting and revelry, with hymns of praise to the gods and songs in honor of Theseus; every altar blazed with sacrifice, every house was decked with garlands, and its door set hospitably open that whoever would might come in and share with its inmates the best fare they could provide. Men, women, and children, all in their best attire, thronged the streets, talking, laughing, and exchanging glad greetings not only with friends but with strangers.
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And ever since then, the Athenians have kept that day of the year as a day of high festival after the same manner, in remembrance of the great deliverance that Theseus wrought for them by slaying the Cretan Minotaur.
So ended the first great adventure of Theseus. Many others befell him afterward, and by valor and good fortune he came safe through all perils and reigned prosperously over Athens for many years. For all that, he did not, in the end, escape punishment for breaking faith with Ariadne — and that punishment, by the strange workings of Fate, came through his taking another Cretan bride. But that story I will tell you some other time…
As for Ariadne, because she had dared so greatly for love’s sake, the gods would not suffer her to pine and perish broken-hearted, but made her happy forever, in wondrous wise.
In those days there was no city in Naxos, and none dwelt there but a few fisher folk, living in huts scattered along the shores. The rest of the isle was solitary woodland, beautiful with groves of stately trees and with sunny glades where the wild vines’ clusters ripened unseen. Now Bacchus, god of the vine, loved to visit Naxos in the time of grape harvest; and that time was come when Theseus put in at the isle…
Ariadne was roused from sleep by a merry din of voices, laughter, and clashing cymbals from the neighboring wood. She rose up, bewildered, and but half awake. “Where am I?” she murmured — then remembering all, and careless what might now betide her, she turned her back on the wood and gazed seaward with yearning eyes.
Standing there, rapt in her grief, she neither saw nor heard the joyous band that came dancing out of the shade of the forest. Wood nymphs tripping hand in hand, shaggy satyrs capering uncouthly — and after them a car drawn by two sleek leopards, whereon stood a youth beautiful exceedingly, with an ivy wreath on his long, dark curls and a fawnskin floating from his white shoulders. A half-tipsy old man, also garlanded with ivy, rode on an ass behind him.
Beholding Ariadne, the whole company halted, amazed. Strange sight indeed, in that desert place, was a lovely lady richly dressed as any queen and crowned with a coronal of sparkling gems. But Bacchus saw only the face which, at his train’s startled cry, she turned toward him. One look — and the young god flung himself from the car and bounded to her side…
Short is ever the wooing, when an Olympian sets his heart on one of the daughters of men. That same day saw the forsaken of Theseus, the friendless castaway, made the blissful bride of a god. And now Ariadne dwells with him forever in the golden court of heaven, for, at the prayer of Bacchus, his father Zeus bestowed immortality and immortal youth upon her. And to honor the wife of his beloved son, Zeus changed the jeweled coronal she wore as a Cretan princess into the glittering constellation that men still call Ariadne’s Crown.