Padraic Colum (18811972). The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived before Achilles. 1921.
Part III. The Heroes of the Quest
Chapter III. Theseus and the Minotaur
THESEUS was awakened by some one touching him. He arose and he saw a dark-faced servant, who beckoned to him. He left the little chamber where he had been sleeping, and then he saw outside one who wore the strange dress of the Cretans.
He looked upon Ariadnes strange face with its long, dark eyes, and he wondered how this girl could think that she could save him and save the youths and maidens of Athens from the Minotaur. Her hand rested upon his arm, and she led him into the chamber where Minos had sat. It was lighted now by many little lamps.
Then Theseus looked around, and he saw that none of the other youths and maidens were near them, and he looked on Ariadne again, and he saw that the strange princess had been won to help him, and to help him only.
Ah, Theseus, said Ariadne, they cannot escape the Minotaur. One only may escape, and I want you to be that one. I saw you when you wrestled with Deucalion, our great wrestler, and since then I have longed to save you.
Said Ariadne, If you could see the Minotaur, Theseus, and if you could measure its power, you would know that you are not the one to slay it. I think that only Talos, that giant who was all of bronze, could have slain the Minotaur.
She took up a little lamp and went through a doorway, leaving Theseus standing by the low throne in the chamber of Minos. Then after a little while she came back, bringing with her Theseuss great ivory-hilted sword.
She took his hand and led him from the chamber of Minos. She was not tall, but she stood straight and walked steadily, and Theseus saw in her something of the strange majesty that he had seen in Minos the king.
They came to high bronze gates that opened into a vault. Here, said Ariadne, the labyrinth begins. Very devious is the labyrinth, built by Dædalus, in which the Minotaur is hidden, and without the clue none could find a way through the passages. But I will give you the clue so that you may look upon the Minotaur and then come back to me. Theseus, now I put into your hand the thread that will guide you through all the windings of the labyrinth. And outside the place where the Minotaur is you will find another thread to guide you back.
A cone was on the ground and it had a thread fastened to it. Ariadne gave Theseus the thread and the cone to wind it around. The thread as he held it and wound it around the cone would bring him through all the windings and turnings of the labyrinth.
She left him, and Theseus went on. Winding the thread around the cone he went along a wide passage in the vault. He turned and came into a passage that was very long. He came to a place in this passage where a door seemed to be, but within the frame of the doorway there was only a blank wall. But below that doorway there was a flight of six steps, and down these steps the thread led him. On he went, and he crossed the marks that he himself had made in the dust, and he thought he must have come back to the place where he had parted from Ariadne. He went on, and he saw before him a flight of steps. The thread did not lead up the steps; it led into the most winding of passages. So sudden were the turnings in it that one could not see three steps before one. He was dazed by the turnings of this passage, but still he went on. He went up winding steps and then along a narrow wall. The wall overhung a broad flight of steps, and Theseus had to jump to them. Down the steps he went and into a wide, empty hall that had doorways to the right hand and to the left hand. Here the thread had its end. It was fastened to a cone that lay on the ground, and beside this cone was anotherthe clue that was to bring him back.
Now Theseus, knowing he was in the very center of the labyrinth, looked all around for sight of the Minotaur. There was no sight of the monster here. He went to all the doors and pushed at them, and some opened and some remained fast. The middle door opened. As it did Theseus felt around him a chilling draft of air.
When the thought came to Theseus that he would have to fight that monster alone and in that hidden and empty place all delight left him; he grew like a stone; he groaned, and it seemed to him that he heard the voice of Ariadne calling him back. He could find his way back through the labyrinth and come to her. He stepped back, and the door closed on the Minotaur, the dread monster of Crete.
In an instant Theseus pushed the door again. He stood within the hall where the Minotaur was, and the heavy door shut behind him. He looked again on that dark, bull-faced thing. It reared up as a horse rears and Theseus saw that it would crash down on him and tear him with its dragon claws. With a great bound he went far away from where the monster crashed down. Then Theseus faced it: he saw its thick lips and its slobbering mouth; he saw that its skin was thick and hard.
He drew near the monster, his sword in his hand. He struck at its eyes, and his sword made a great dint. But no blood came, for the Minotaur was a bloodless monster. From its mouth and nostrils came a draft that covered him with a chilling slime.
Then it rushed upon him and overthrew him, and Theseus felt its terrible weight upon him. But he thrust his sword upward, and it reared up again, screaming with pain. Theseus drew himself away, and then he saw it searching around and around, and he knew he had made it sightless. Then it faced him; all the more fearful it was because from its wounds no blood came.
Anger flowed into Theseus when he saw the monster standing frightfully before him; he thought of all the youths and maidens that this bloodless thing had destroyed, and all the youths and maidens that it would destroy if he did not slay it now. Angrily he rushed upon it with his great sword. It clawed and tore him, and it opened wide its most evil mouth as if to draw him into it. But again he sprang at it; he thrust his great sword through its neck, and he left his sword there.
With the last of his strength he pulled open the heavy door and he went out from the hall where the Minotaur was. He picked up the thread and he began to wind it as he had wound the other thread on his way down. On he went, through passage after passage, through chamber after chamber. His mind was dizzy, and he had little thought for the way he was going. His wounds and the chill that the monster had breathed into him and his horror of the fearful and bloodless thing made his mind almost forsake him. He kept the thread in his hand and he wound it as he went on through the labyrinth. He stumbled and the thread broke. He went on for a few steps and then he went back to find the thread that had fallen out of his hands. In an instant he was in a part of the labyrinth that he had not been in before.
He walked a long way, and then he came on his own footmarks as they crossed themselves in the dust. He pushed open a door and came into the air. He was now by the outside wall of the palace, and he saw birds flying by him. He leant against the wall of the palace, thinking that he would strive no more to find his way through the labyrinth.