In Theseus’s defense, knitting material hardly seems a fitting item with which to equip a daring hero in his attempt to slay a deadly man-beast. This is probably all he could come up with on such short notice.
Theseus and the Minotaur is one of the signature stories of Greek mythology and is an important piece in the literature surrounding this mythological founder of Athens, though it is but a fraction of his story.
The most popular version of the tale starts with the famous King Minos of Crete. In this version of the tale, Minos and his brothers compete for the throne after the death of their father. Minos prays to Poseidon, god of the sea for a sign that the deity supports his right to rule. In response, the mighty god sends forth a snow-white bull to his mortal follower which the young Minos was meant to sacrifice as a show of his own faith in Poseidon. However, struck by the majesty of this creature, Minos decides to offer up an inferior specimen in place of the white bull. Furious at this disrespect, Poseidon decides to punish the new King and sends Aphrodite to wreak havoc in Minos’s household. The cunning goddess of love strikes Minos’s wife, queen Pasiphae, with a lustful passion for the white bull that her husband was so fond of. To help her in her quest to lay with the creature, she enlists the help of the inventor, Daedalus, who builds her a wooden cow in which to hide and which allows her to seal the deal, so to speak.
Fast forward several years and Pasiphae has birthed and raised a monster. Half man, half beast, the Minotaur is banished from sight and hidden in a maze from which there is no escape, also constructed by the keen mind of Daedalus. The isle of Crete is a powerful nation that demands tribute from Athens for past misdeeds. The tribute, seven courageous males and seven beautiful females, were sent to Crete every year and fed to the horrific monster held within the Labyrinth. Theseus, being a courageous young man, volunteered to take the place of one of the youths and set sail for the island of Crete. As they stepped upon the shore, and entered Minos’s halls, the lovely and resourceful daughter of Minos, Ariadne, fell in love with Theseus. Before he was sent into the Labyrinth, she met with him in the night and bestowed upon him two gifts: a sword with which to fight the beast and a spool of thread (sometimes a ball of yarn or a ball of string) with which to find his way out. In return she asked for the young hero to take her away from Crete after he had completed his task. Theseus agreed and, being an intelligent man, (unlike in today’s comic hah!) knew right away what to do with her gifts. He entered the labyrinth with courage in his heart and Ariadne waited for his return.
It wasn’t long before the hero found his foe, decapitated it and followed the yarn (or string) he had laid out as he had come in out of the maze. Theseus departed Crete and took Ariadne with him, as he had promised. Unfortunately for her, during one of their stops at an island along the way back to Athens, she fell asleep and Theseus left her behind. His promise was kept, but he was still a douche.
Theseus had many other adventures both before and after this one that have been told and retold all over the world and he has been a source of inspiration for millions trying to find the courage to tackle their own metaphorical monsters, whatever they may be. Luckily, drawing inspiration from figures like Theseus doesn’t mean we have to abandon helpful women on islands as they sleep.
Or does it?