Ariadne Biography

Ariadne (Greek Αριάδνη), in Greek mythology (Latin Ariana), was daughter of King Minos of Crete and his queen, Pasiphaë, daughter of Helios, the Sun-titan. She aided Theseus in overcoming the Minotaur (actually her half-brother) but was equally the bride of the god Dionysus.

Since ancient Greek myths were passed down through oral tradition, many variations of this and other myths exist. According to an Athenian version of the legend, Minos attacked Athens after his son was killed there. The Athenians asked for terms, and were required to sacrifice seven young men and seven maidens every nine years to the Minotaur. One year, the sacrificial party included Theseus, a young man who volunteered to come and kill the Minotaur. Ariadne fell in love at first sight, and helped him by giving him a sword and a ball of red fleece thread that she was spinning, so that he could find his way out of the Minotaur's labyrinth.

She eloped with Theseus after he achieved his goal, but according to Homer "he had no joy of her, for ere that Artemis slew her in seagirt Dia because of the witness of Dionysus" (Odyssey XI, 321-5). Homer does not expand on the nature of Dionysus' accusation, but the Oxford Classical Dictionary speculates that she was already married to Dionysus when Theseus ran away with her.

In Hesiod and most other accounts, Theseus abandoned Ariadne sleeping on Naxos, and Dionysus rediscovered and wedded her.

In a few versions of the myth, Dionysus appeared to Theseus as they sailed away from Crete, saying that he had chosen Ariadne as his wife, and demanded that Theseus leave her on Naxos for him; this has the effect of absolving the Athenian culture-hero of desertion. The vase-painters of Athens often showed Athena leading Theseus from the sleeping Ariadne to his ship.

With Dionysus, she was the mother of Oenopion, the personification of wine, Staphylus (related to grapes), Latramys and Tauropolus. Her wedding diadem was set in the heavens as the constellation Corona.

She remained faithful to Dionysus, but was later killed by Perseus at Argos. In other myths Ariadne hanged herself from a tree, like Erigone and the hanging Artemis, a Mesopotamian theme. Some scholars think, due to her thread-spinning and winding associations, that she was a weaving goddess such as Arachne, and they support the assertion with the mytheme of the Hanged Nymph (see weaving in mythology).

Dionysus however descended into Hades and brought her and his mother Semele back. They then joined the gods in Olympus.

Karl Kerenyi (and Robert Graves) theorizes that Ariadne (whose name they derive from Hesychius' listing of Άδνον, a Cretan-Greek form for arihagne, "utterly pure") was a Great Goddess of Crete, "the first divine personage of Greek mythology to be immediately recognized in Crete", once archaeology had begun. Kerenyi observes that her name is merely an epithet and claims that she was originally the "Mistress of the Labyrinth", both a winding dance-ground and in the Greek view a prison with the dreaded Minotaur at its centre. Kerenyi notes a Linear B inscription from Knossos, "to all the gods, honey... to the mistress of the labyrinth honey" in equal amounts, suggesting to him that the Mistress of the Labyrinth was a Great Goddess in her own right. Professor Barry Powell has suggested she was Minoan Crete's Snake Goddess.

Plutarch, in his vita of Theseus, which treats him as a historical individual, reports that in the Naxos of his day, an earthly Ariadne was separate from a celestial one:

"Some of the Naxians also have a story of their own, that there were two Minoses and two Ariadnes, one of whom, they say, was married to Dionysos in Naxos and bore him Staphylos and his brother, and the other, of a later time, having been carried off by Theseus and then abandoned by him, came to Naxos, accompanied by a nurse named Korkyne, whose tomb they show; and that this Ariadne also died there."

In a kylix by the painter Aison (c. 425–c. 410 BCE)[10] Theseus drags the Minotaur from a temple-like labyrinth, but the goddess who attends him, in this Attic representation, is Athena.

An ancient cult of Aphrodite-Ariadne was observed at Amathus, Cyprus, according to the obscure Hellenistic mythographer Paeon of Amathus; Paeon's works are lost, but his narrative is among the sources cited by Plutarch in his vita of Theseus (20.3-.5). According to the myth that was current at Amathus, the second most important Cypriote cult centre of Aphrodite, Theseus' ship was swept off-course and the pregnant and suffering Ariadne put ashore in the storm. Theseus, attempting to secure the ship, was inadvertently swept out to sea, thus being absolved of abandonment. The Cypriote women cared for Ariadne, who died in childbirth and was memorialized in a shrine. Theseus, returning, overcome with grief, left money for sacrifices to Ariadne and ordered two cult images, one of silver and one of bronze, set up. At the observation in her honour on the second day of the month Gorpiaeus, one of the young men lay on the ground vicariously experiencing the throes of labour. The sacred grove in which the shrine was located was called the grove of Aphrodite Ariadne.

In reading the account, the primitive aspect of the cult at Amathus would appear to be much older than the Athenian-sanctioned shrine of Aphrodite, who has assumed Ariadne (hagne, "sacred") as an epithet at Amathus.

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