Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome
Page: 135Fearing, however, lest the Athenians might entertain a prejudice against him on account of his extermination of their fellow-citizens, the Pallantids, Theseus resolved to perform some signal service for the state, which should gain for him the hearts of the people. He accordingly decided to rid the country of the famous bull of Marathon, which had become a terror to the cultivators of the land. He captured the animal and brought him in chains to Athens, where, after publicly exhibiting him to the astonished multitude, he solemnly sacrificed him to Apollo.
The next enterprise undertaken by Theseus far surpassed all his other feats of heroic daring, and secured to him the universal admiration and gratitude of his fellow-citizens. This was the slaying of the Minotaur, which put an end for ever to the shameful tribute of seven youths and seven maidens which was exacted from the Athenians every nine years.
The origin of this barbarous tribute was as follows: Androgeos, the youthful son of Minos, king of Crete, having been treacherously murdered by the Athenians, his father, anxious to avenge the death of his son, declared war against their king Aegeus, and conquered Athens and the villages in its vicinity. The conqueror henceforth compelled the Athenians to send to him every nine years a tribute of seven youths and seven maidens of the noblest families of the land, who became the prey of the Minotaur, a monster, half-man, half-bull, whose lair was in the wonderful labyrinth, constructed by Dædalus for the Cretan king.
When Theseus informed his father of his heroic determination, he was overwhelmed with grief, and endeavoured, by every means in his power, to shake his son's resolution, but, confident of success, Theseus assured his father that he would slay the Minotaur and return home victorious.
It was customary for the vessel bearing its unhappy freight of human victims to use on this voyage black sails only; but Theseus promised his father that, should he return in safety, he would hoist white ones in their place.
Before leaving Athens Theseus, by the advice of an oracle, chose Aphrodite as his guardian and protectress, and accordingly offered up a sacrifice to her. When he arrived in the presence of king Minos, the goddess of Love inspired Ariadne, the beautiful daughter of the king, with an ardent attachment for the noble young hero. During a secret interview, in which a mutual confession of affection took place, Ariadne furnished him with a sharp sword and a clue of thread, the end of which she desired him to fasten at the entrance to the labyrinth and to continue to unwind it till he reached the lair of the Minotaur. Full of hope as to the successful issue of his undertaking, Theseus took leave of the kind maiden, after expressing his gratitude for her timely aid.
At the head of his companions he was now conducted by Minos to the entrance of the labyrinth. Strictly adhering to the injunctions of the fair Ariadne he succeeded in finding the Minotaur, whom, after a fierce and violent struggle, he defeated and killed; then carefully feeling his way, by means of the clue of thread, he led his companions safely out of the labyrinth. They then fled to their ship, taking with them the lovely maiden to whose affection for their deliverer they owed their safety.