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
All went merrily at Athens during the weeks of late summer that followed the coming of Theseus. The old king grew daily fonder of his new-found heir and never wearied of giving feasts to the citizens in his honor. Yet before these halcyon days ended, Theseus grew aware that some hidden grief or dread oppressed the Athenians. To all his inquiries, they would only answer, with a shudder, that the time was at hand for paying the Cretan tribute. Theseus then questioned his father, who at first desired him to hold his peace and not pry into matters which did not concern him, but, when he saw the youth resolute to be informed either by himself or by others, he spoke thus:
“You probably know, my son, that the great island of Crete is ruled by the most powerful of monarchs, whose name is Minos, and whose father —though a mortal mother bore him— is none other than the king of gods and men. I had not long occupied my throne when the son of Minos, Androgeos by name, came to compete in the athletic games I had newly founded. Easily, I confess, he overcame our best athletes, but this I solemnly affirm: it was without my consent or knowledge that he was waylaid and murdered by certain jealous rivals on his journey hence to the Isthmian Games, where doubtless fresh triumphs awaited him. Yet nothing would convince King Minos of my innocence. He declared war upon me and forthwith set sail for our coast with all his navy.
“But by mistake, he laid siege to our neighbor city, Megara. There he achieved a most inglorious conquest, for, finding means to come at the king’s daughter and making pretense of love, he persuaded the wretched girl to betray her father and her country. (She, you must know, was called Scylla; her father’s name was Nisus.) Now, by divine dispensation, Nisus had on his head a lock unlike the rest of his hair, for it was purple; this lock was enchanted, and, so long as he wore it, Nisus could never be conquered in war. No one but Nisus himself knew the virtue of the lock, except his daughter, whom he dearly loved and trusted with the secret.
“And Scylla, thinking to win her lover’s heart, first told Minos the secret; and then, at his bidding, cut off the lock while Nisus slept, and fled with it to the Cretan ships. Truly, she reaped her just reward, for Minos no sooner saw what she had brought him than he had her bound to an anchor, and flung, shrieking, over his galley’s side. That same day, he carried Megara by storm and slew Nisus with his own hand.
“Our turn came next — we were in no case to resist, for the gods had visited us that year with dearth and pestilence. What could we do but accept the terms Minos offered as by mouth of herald — namely, that he would spare Athens if we swore to pay him a tribute of seven youths and seven maidens every ninth year? We did accept — and tomorrow, alas! the tribute falls due, and a Cretan warship will be here to receive it. The lots will be drawn at daybreak, in Athena’s temple. A register is kept there of the youth of both sexes between the ages of fifteen and twenty, and the name of each inscribed on a tablet; these tablets will be placed in two urns, one for either sex, and Athena’s priestess will draw seven names from each urn.
“You may now understand, my son, why the natural gaiety of our folk is so dismally eclipsed; rich or poor, high or low, every man is haunted by the fear that his own son or daughter may be one of the Cretan captives, whose dreadful fate they too well know.”
“Why, does Minos make slaves of them?” asked Theseus indignantly.
“Worse, far worse than that,” replied his father, shuddering. “Those hapless ones are given as prey to a strange and fearful creature called the Minotaur, whose food is human flesh. This portent has the body of a man, but the head and hoofs of a bull, and has his lair in a dungeon within the royal palace. ‘Tis said he is the offspring of Minos’s queen, Pasiphaë, whom for some great sin the gods caused to give birth to a monster; wherefore Minos durst not destroy the prodigy, from superstitious awe, but concealed him from the light of day… You look pale, my Theseus, and no wonder; but fear not — being so newly come, your name is not yet enrolled upon our register, so your lot will not be cast with the others.”
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But the old king little knew his son’s mettle. When the lots were about to be drawn for the youths, Theseus stepped forward in sight of all and bade the priestess draw six lots only from the urn, for he, as the king’s son, had the right to share the dangers of his folk, and claimed place among the doomed seven. The people broke forth into tears and blessings, but the king was almost distraught with grief. But in vain he pleaded with Theseus to give up his rash resolve. He comforted the old man as best he could, bidding him take heart and remember how Jason and brave Perseus, while still young as he, had come safe through even greater perils than this, by divine aid.
“I, too,” he said, “will put my trust in the gods, and by their help I shall destroy the monster and rid Athens of this hateful tribute. But if I fail, I cannot die in a nobler cause.”
That same day, the war galley sent by King Minos appeared in the harbor of Athens; and the seven youths and seven maidens embarked and sailed away amid the weeping and lamentation of the whole city.