king of Crete, had
made war upon Athens. He had come with a great fleet of ships and an
and had burned the merchant vessels in the harbor, and had overrun all
the country and the coast even to Megara, which lies to the west. He
laid waste the fields and gardens round about Athens, had pitched his
close to the walls, and had sent word to the Athenian rulers that on
morrow he would march into their city with fire and sword and would
all their young men and would pull down all their houses, even to the
of Athena, which stood on the great hill above the town. Then Aegeus,
king of Athens, with the twelve elders who were his helpers, went out
see King Minos and to treat with him.
king," they said,
"what have we done that you should wish thus to destroy us from the
men," answered King Minos, "why do you ask this foolish question, since
you can but know the cause of my wrath? I had an only son, Androgeos by
name, and he was dearer to me than the hundred cities of Crete and the
thousand islands of the sea over which I rule. Three years ago he came
hither to take part in the games which you held in honor of Athena,
temple you have built on yonder hilltop. You know how he overcame all
young men in the sports, and how your people honored him with song and
dance and laurel crown. But when your king, this same Aegeus who stands
before me now, saw how everybody ran after him and praised his valor,
was filled with envy and laid plans to kill him. Whether he caused
men to waylay him on the road to Thebes, or whether as some say he sent
him against a certain wild bull of your country to be slain by that
I know not; but you cannot deny that the young man's life was taken
him through the plotting of this Aegeus."
"But we do
deny it-we do
deny it!" cried the elders. "For at that very time our king was
at Troezen on the other side of the Saronic Sea, and he knew nothing of
the young prince's death. We ourselves managed the city's affairs while
he was abroad, and we know whereof we speak. Androgeos was slain, not
the king's orders but by the king's nephews, who hoped to rouse your
against Aegeus so that you would drive him from Athens and leave the
to one of them."
swear that what
you tell me is true?" said Minos.
swear it," they
said Minos, "you
shall hear my decree. Athens has robbed me of my dearest treasure, a
that can never be restored to me; so, in return, I require from Athens,
as tribute, that possession which is the dearest and most precious to
people; and it shall be destroyed cruelly as my son was destroyed."
condition is hard,"
said the elders, "but it is just. What is the tribute which you
king a son?" asked
The face of
King Aegeus lost
all its color and he trembled as he thought of a little child then with
its mother at Troezen, on the other side of the Saronic Sea. But the
knew nothing about that child, and they answered:
"Alas, no! he
has no son;
but he has fifty nephews who are eating up his substance and longing
the time to come when one of them shall be king; and, as we have said,
it was they who slew the young prince, Androgeos."
naught to do with
those fellows," said Minos; "you may deal with them as you like. But
ask what is the tribute that I require, and I will tell you. Every year
when the springtime comes and the roses begin to bloom, you shall
seven of your noblest youths and seven of your fairest maidens, and
send them to me in a ship which your king shall provide. This is the
which you shall pay to me, Minos, king of Crete; and if you fail for a
single time, or delay even a day, my soldiers shall tear down your
and burn your city and put your men to the sword and sell your wives
children as slaves."
to all this, O
King," said the elders; "for it is the least of two evils. But tell us
now, what shall be the fate of the seven youths and the seven maidens?"
"there is a house called the Labyrinth, the like of which you have
seen. In it there are a thousand chambers and winding ways, and
goes even a little way into them can never find his way out again. Into
this house the seven youths and the seven maidens shall be thrust, and
they shall be left there-"
cried the elders.
devoured by a monster
whom men call the Minotaur," said Minos.
Aegeus and the
elders covered their faces and wept and went slowly back into the city
to tell their people of the sad and terrible conditions upon which
could alone be saved.
better that a few
should perish than that the whole city should be destroyed," they said.
II. THE TRIBUTE
passed by. Every spring
when the roses began to bloom seven youths and seven maidens were put
board of a black-sailed ship and sent to Crete to pay the tribute which
King Minos required. In every house in Athens there was sorrow and
and the people lifted up their hands to Athena on the hilltop and cried
out, "How long, O Queen of the Air, how long shall this thing be?"
meanwhile the little
child at Troezen on the other side of the sea had grown to be a man.
name, Theseus, was in everybody's mouth, for he had done great deeds of
daring; and at last he had come to Athens to find his father, King
who had never heard whether he was alive or dead; and when the youth
made himself known, the king had welcomed him to his home and all the
were glad because so noble a prince had come to dwell among them and,
time, to rule over their city.
springtime came again.
The black-sailed ship was rigged for another voyage. The rude Cretan
paraded the streets; and the herald of King Minos stood at the gates
days, O Athenians,
and your tribute will be due and must be paid!"
every street the
doors of the houses were shut and no man went in or out, but every one
sat silent with pale cheeks, and wondered whose lot it would be to be
this year. But the young prince, Theseus, did not understand; for he
not been told about the tribute.
the meaning of all
this?" he cried. "What right has a Cretan to demand tribute in Athens?
and what is this tribute of which he speaks?"
led him aside
and with tears told him of the sad war with King Minos, and of the
terms of peace. "Now, say no more," sobbed Aegeus, "it is better that a
few should die even thus than that all should be destroyed."
"But I will
say more," cried
Theseus. "Athens shall not pay tribute to Crete. I myself will go with
these youths and maidens, and I will slay the monster Minotaur, and
King Minos himself upon his throne."
"Oh, do not
be so rash!"
said the king; "for no one who is thrust into the den of the Minotaur
comes out again. Remember that you are the hope of Athens, and do not
this great risk upon yourself."
that I am the hope
of Athens?" said Theseus. "Then how can I do otherwise than go?" And he
began at once to make himself ready.
third day all the
youths and maidens of the city were brought together in the market
so that lots might be cast for those who were to be taken. Then two
of brass were brought and set before King Aegeus and the herald who had
come from Crete. Into one vessel they placed as many balls as there
noble youths in the city, and into the other as many as there were
and all the balls were white save only seven in each vessel, and those
were black as ebony.
looking, reached her hand into one of the vessels and drew forth a
and those who took the black balls were borne away to the black ship,
lay in waiting by the shore. The young men also drew lots in like
but when six black balls had been drawn Theseus came quickly forward
no more balls
be drawn. I will be the seventh youth to pay this tribute. Now let us
aboard the black ship and be off."
people, and King
Aegeus himself, went down to the shore to take leave of the young men
maidens, whom they had no hope of seeing again; and all but Theseus
and were brokenhearted.
come again, father,"
hope that you may,"
said the old king. "If when this ship returns, I see a white sail
above the black one, then I shall know that you are alive and well; but
if I see only the black one, it will tell me that you have perished."
And now the
vessel was loosed
from its moorings, the north wind filled the sail, and the seven youths
and seven maidens were borne away over the sea, towards the dreadful
which awaited them in far distant Crete.
III. THE PRINCESS
At last the
black ship reached
the end of its voyage. The young people were set ashore, and a party of
soldiers led them through the streets towards the prison, where they
to stay until the morrow. They did not weep nor cry out now, for they
outgrown their fears. But with paler faces and firm-set lips, they
between the rows of Cretan houses, and looked neither to the right nor
to the left. The windows and doors were full of people who were eager
pity that such brave
young men should be food for the Minotaur," said some.
maidens so beautiful
should meet a fate so sad!" said others.
they passed close
by the palace gate, and in it stood King Minos himself, and his
Ariadne, the fairest of the women of Crete.
those are noble
young fellows!" said the king.
noble to feed the
vile Minotaur," said Ariadne.
nobler, the better,"
said the king; "and yet none of them can compare with your lost brother
said no more; and
yet she thought that she had never seen any one who looked so much like
a hero as young Theseus. How tall he was, and how handsome! How proud
eye, and how firm his step! Surely there had never been his like in
that night Ariadne
lay awake and thought of the matchless hero, and grieved that he should
be doomed to perish; and then she began to lay plans for setting him
At the earliest peep of day she arose, and while everybody else was
she ran out of the palace and hurried to the prison. As she was the
daughter, the jailer opened the door at her bidding and allowed her to
go in. There sat the seven youths and the seven maidens on the ground,
but they had not lost hope. She took Theseus aside and whispered to
She told him of a plan which she had made to save him; and Theseus
her that, when he had slain the Minotaur, he would carry her away with
him to Athens where she should live with him always. Then she gave him
a sharp sword, and hid it underneath his cloak, telling him that with
alone could he hope to slay the Minotaur.
is a ball of silken
thread," she said. "As soon as you go into the Labyrinth where the
is kept, fasten one end of the thread to the stone doorpost, and then
it as you go along. When you have slain the Minotaur, you have only to
follow the thread and it will lead you back to the door. In the
I will see that your ship, is ready to sail, and then I will wait for
at the door of the Labyrinth."
THE JAILER OPENED THE DOOR
AT HER BIDDING
thanked the beautiful
princess and promised her again that if he should live to go back to
she should go with him and be his wife. Then with a prayer to Athena,
IV. THE LABYRINTH
As soon as the
sun was up
the guards came to lead the young prisoners to the Labyrinth. They did
not see the sword which Theseus had under his cloak, nor the tiny ball
of silk which he held in his closed hand. They led the youths and
a long way into the Labyrinth, turning here and there, back and forth,
a thousand different times, until it seemed certain that they could
find their way out again. Then the guards, by a secret passage which
alone knew, went out and left them, as they had left many others
to wander about until they should be found by the terrible Minotaur.
by me," said
Theseus to his companions, "and with the help of Athena who dwells in
temple home in our own fair city, I will save you."
drew his sword and
stood in the narrow way before them; and they all lifted up their hands
and prayed to Athena.
they stood there,
hearing no sound, and seeing nothing but the smooth, high walls on
side of the passage and the calm blue sky so high above them. Then the
maidens sat down upon the ground and covered their faces and sobbed,
he would come and
put an end to our misery and our lives."
late in the day,
they heard a bellowing, low and faint as though far away. They listened
and soon heard it again, a little louder and very fierce and dreadful.
"It is he!
it is he!" cried
Theseus; "and now for the fight!"
shouted, so loudly
that the walls of the Labyrinth answered back, and the sound was
upward to the sky and outward to the rocks and cliffs of the mountains.
The Minotaur heard him, and his bellowings grew louder and fiercer
coming!" cried Theseus,
and he ran forward to meet the beast. The seven maidens shrieked, but
to stand up bravely and face their fate; and the six young men stood
with firm-set teeth and clinched fists, ready to fight to the last.
Minotaur came into
view, rushing down the passage towards Theseus, and roaring most
He was twice as tall as a man, and his head was like that of a bull
huge sharp horns and fiery eyes and a mouth as large as a lion's; but
young men could not see the lower part of his body for the cloud of
which he raised in running. When he saw Theseus with the sword in his
coming to meet him, he paused, for no one had ever faced him in that
before. Then he put his head down, and rushed forward, bellowing. But
leaped quickly aside, and made a sharp thrust with his sword as he
and hewed off one of the monster's legs above the knee.
Minotaur fell upon the
ground, roaring and groaning and beating wildly about with his horned
and his hoof-like fists; but Theseus nimbly ran up to him and thrust
sword into his heart, and was away again before the beast could harm
A great stream of blood gushed from the wound, and soon the Minotaur
his face towards the sky and was dead.
youths and maidens
ran to Theseus and kissed his hands and feet, and thanked him for his
deed; and, as it was already growing dark, Theseus bade them follow him
while he wound up the silken thread which was to lead them out of the
Through a thousand rooms and courts and winding ways they went, and at
midnight they came to the outer door and saw the city lying in the
before them; and, only a little way off, was the seashore where the
ship was moored which had brought them to Crete. The door was wide
and beside it stood Ariadne waiting for them.
is fair, the sea
is smooth, and the sailors are ready," she whispered; and she took the
arm of Theseus, and all went together through the silent streets to the
morning dawned they
were far out to sea, and, looking back from the deck of the little
only the white tops of the Cretan mountains were in sight.
he arose from
sleep, did not know that the youths and maidens had gotten safe out of
the Labyrinth. But when Ariadne could not be found, he thought that
had carried her away. He sent soldiers out to search for her among the
hills and mountains, never dreaming that she was now well on the way
passed, and at
last the searchers returned and said that the princess could nowhere be
found. Then the king covered his head and wept, and said:
indeed, I am bereft
of all my treasures!"
meanwhile, King Aegeus
of Athens had sat day after day on a rock by the shore, looking and
if by chance he might see a ship coming from the south. At last the
with Theseus and his companions hove in sight, but it still carried
the black sail, for in their joy the young men had forgotten to raise
alas! my son has perished!"
moaned Aegeus; and he fainted and fell forward into the sea and was
And that sea, from then until now, has been called by his name, the