Thursday, 12 March 2009


Reader, let me recall a tale, 
A tale you'll think you've heard before
Of joy and sadness, love and loss,
The ever-changing whims of fate,
How the thread that binds can set us free
And love be rapt in its reflection.

I think of princess Ariadne
And how she helped young Theseus
To slay the Minotaur and flee
With her from the shores of Knossos,
Where youths and maidens both alike
Lost their lives in the labyrinth.

But stopping at Naxos she slept
And there he left her and went home,
Confused and weary, sad and lost,
The black sail bore a tale of grief.
Aegeus jumped into the sea
And Athens thronged to crown him king.

But how had love's sweet grapes turned sour?
And what of stranded Ariadne?
Could one forget a girl so fair?
We can but trace back through the maze
And smell the vines of ancient Crete
And dream of how it might have been.


J. W. Waterhouse, "Ariadne" (1898)

I think a dolphin long ago
Swam into Amnissos Cave
When the seas swept higher than now
(but gently like the beat of women dancing),
Swinging him to the hidden place
Where Ariadne kept her secret snake.

Libation from that ancient intercourse
Seeped from the island cave
Throughout the labyrinth of time and space
Threading the rigid world of Then and Now

So that whenever we may live or where,
A pathway may be dimly sensed
Or followed in the lightning flash of dream
Back to that source and spring of certainty,
Giving unspoken knowledge of each other
    And ourselves.

—Mary Reid (1953-2003)


  1. Ariadne, such a sad story. Good thing Dionysus met her and they got married later. But did you know there were two versions to the story? Some said that Ariadne was already married to Dionysus when Theseus ran away with her.

  2. How i love sad love stories like this one... I guess, sad love stories touch the heart more... because they sting the eyes?
    And princess Ariadne ? I'd love to rescue her... if only i could... (i'm sorry, did that spoil the sweet love story?)

  3. You know your Greek mythology better than I do! I just had this inspiration to write a poem about Ariadne, so I re-read the story and wrote the above. It was initially meant to be my own version of the tale, but now finding out how many different versions there are it was best that I left it pretty vague, more like a prologue to an imaginary tale that the reader tells for himself.

    But I had some interesting thoughts. Maybe Dionysus was promised in marriage to Ariadne which gave her extra incentive to run away. But then the match with Theseus was not a realistic one, she a princess of Crete which was the most advanced civilization of the time, she would have been used to a very luxurious life so a ship journey must have been very hard on her, which was maybe why they stopped on Naxos to rest and life in Athens would have been hard too. Dionysus as god of festivities could look after her much better. But also Theseus has just gone on this mission to save the Athenians from draconian sanctions that they suffer after losing in war to Crete so kidnapping the princess of Crete even though it was with her consent would risk starting another war and causing more suffering to the Athenians. So my belief is that Theseus was very much in love with Ariadne, but reflects and realizes that it cannot be. Both Theseus and Ariadne suffer a death of themselves in parting, symbolized by the black sail . Ariadne is abandoned and her love is not returned, a fate she has inflicted on many of her previous suitors including Theseus himself, so there is an ironic sense that Theseus who is living in an age of "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" without moral bearings is inflicting the same on her. And suffers the same fate of losing a close relative in return, Theseus his father and Ariadne her Minotaur step-brother.

  4. Wow !!! such a well thought out poem .....sounds like a experience of reality it could be ....a love or even two at the wrong time .......I can't help but wonder were they really inflicting a hurt on purpose or was there something that forced them to not be together ........a fantastic poem .....

  5. I like the way you tell the story of Ariadne. It is an unfair and tragic fate that befalls her.

    The Greek story is rather curious, in the sense that Theseus not only leaves Ariadne behind, but he forgets to change the sail on his boat to white. This is the guy who is said to have been, as king of Athens, a man possessed of considerable wisdom. Hmmm. Kinda makes you wonder.

  6. I was thinking that Ariadne's thread represented memory in some way...

    I just came across that the phrase is used today in puzzle solving to mean a kind of trial and error where if a choice goes wrong, you backtrack to the point where you made that choice and try something else.

  7. That idea would seem to make perfect sense, as the thread allows Theseus to 'remember' how to get back out again.

  8. Apparently, Leibniz in search for the "Ariadnean thread" that would extricate himself from the labyrinth of the problem of the nature of matter determined that it was the power of calculation together with the metaphysical principle that the total effect must always be equal to its full cause (1689).

    which sounds a lot like my jocular the purpose of life, the universe and everything is the creation of life, the universe and everything on the grounds of simplicity because the two complete unknowables are the beginning and the end, the creation and the purpose, but I'm sure he meant something completely different... this is going way over my head, lol.

    Also on that site is the following cool quote about the relativity of motion:
    "...every single substance is a certain force of acting, or an endeavor to change itself with respect to all the others according to certain laws of its own nature. Whence any substance whatever expresses the whole universe, according to its own point of view" (Leibniz, 1686)

    Edit: Apparently, this was in fact Leibniz's second labyrinth, the first being the problem of the existence of evil and free will!

  9. Mine too! lol. I haven't read any Leibniz in quite a while, so I've forgotten most of it now. But maybe I'll have to dig it back out again. No doubt in any case that philosophy does get us into a labyrinth of thought, from which, hopefully, we emerge with greater wisdom.

  10. Very well put!! Lol. A labyrinth of thought from which we emerge with greater wisdom.......hopefully anyway. :^)

    Edit: So the key is to find our way out again.... with the help of the thread and perseverance. So what's the thread? The paradigm of human endeavour says it's memory! (see version in comments)

    Woohooo!! Lol

    But then what else could the thread be? Maybe religion or Faith to help us navigate the other labyrinth of free will? It's like the rock we hold on to that guides us, so it could also be Love. And of course we need something like concentration to not let go of the thread and also perseverance to keep going and not lose heart. (None of which matches up with the paradigm very well, but no matter. It probably just means the paradigm needs more improving one day.)