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Theseus and the Minotaur


Minos, having overcome the Athenians, obliges them to pay a tribute of youths and virgins of the best families, to be exposed to the Minotaur. The lot falls on Theseus, who, by the assistance of Ariadne, kills the monster, escapes from the labyrinth, which Dædalus made, and carries Ariadne to the island of Naxos, where he abandons her. Bacchus wooes her, and, to immortalize her name, he transforms the crown which he has given her into a Constellation.

Theseus Slaying Minotaur by Antoine-Louis Barye. In this statue, Theseus holds a sword to the minotaur's head as they wrestle.Theseus Slaying Minotaur by Antoine-Louis Barye, 1843

Minos paid, as a vow to Jupiter, the bodies of a hundred bulls, as soon as, disembarking from his ships, he reached the land of the Curetes; and his palace was decorated with the spoils there hung up. The reproach of his family had now grown up, and the shameful adultery of his mother was notorious, from the unnatural shape of the two-formed monster. Minos resolves to remove the disgrace from his abode, and to enclose it in a habitation of many divisions, and an abode full of mazes. Dædalus, a man very famed for his skill in architecture, plans the work, and confounds the marks of distinction, and leads the eyes into mazy wanderings, by the intricacy of its various passages. No otherwise than as the limpid Mæander sports in the Phrygian fields, and flows backwards and forwards with its varying course, and, meeting itself, beholds its waters that are to follow, and fatigues its wandering current, now pointing to its source, and now to the open sea. Just so, Dædalus fills innumerable paths with windings; and scarcely can he himself return to the entrance, so great are the intricacies of the place. After he has shut up here the double figure of a bull and of a youth; and the third supply, chosen by lot each nine years, has subdued the monster twice before gorged with Athenian blood; and when the difficult entrance, retraced by none of those who have entered it before, has been found by the aid of the maiden, by means of the thread gathered up again; immediately, the son of Ægeus, carrying away the daughter of Minos, sets sail for Dia, and barbarously deserts his companion on those shores.

Her, thus deserted and greatly lamenting, Liber embraces and aids; and, that she may be famed by a lasting Constellation, he places in the heavens the crown taken from off her head. It flies through the yielding air, and, as it flies, its jewels are suddenly changed into fires, and they settle in their places, the shape of the crown still remaining; which is in the middle, between the Constellation resting on his knee, and that which holds the serpents.

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