Theseus - and the Minotaur

  The story is familiar enough - the tribute of seven young men and seven young women paid by Athens as a tribute to Minos, their fate at the hands (did he have hands?) of the Minotaur, Theseus's journey to Crete as the 'seventh Athenian', determined to do away with the creature, and Ariadne's infatuation with him that provided him with the means to defeat the Minotaur, or at least find his way out of the labyrinth. 
  Labyrinths are not easy to paint, so all credit to  Maître des Cassoni Campana for his attempt. In one picture he tells the complete story from Theseus's arrival in Crete, to his dispatch of the Minotaur in that not terribly convincing labyrinth.


   
This master did an equally splendid picture of the events on Naxos, and I can't resist including it. Ariadne is abandoned, has a pleasant sleep in a comfortable bed that just happens to be around, (Ovid makes quite a thing of it)  then meets up with Bacchus.  Both paintings are in the delightful Petit Palais art gallery in Avignon.



  Of course, Minos himself may be just as mythical a figure as Darth Vader, but The battle between Theseus and the Minotaur was a popular theme in Greek and Roman art. Less so in later Western art, though it did feature occasionally in sculpture. Greek ceramics often featured the scene; a Google search will bring up plenty of superb examples. I'll just settle for two, plus a couple of interesting Roman images.



British Museum


The Louvre



Mosaic, Rhaetia, Switzerland


Theseus freeing children from the Minotaur, from the House of Gavius Rufus, Pompeii


  I did my best to tie the Titian image to its real location. Is there any reality in the setting or events of the first part of the story on Crete? The human/bull hybrid story is not a myth that can be taken seriously, but what about the labyrinth? The image of the labyrinth goes back a long way. Could it be real? 
   Sadly, Knossos has been thoroughly excavated over a hundred years, and no trace of one has been found.
  All myth then? Not quite. Bull fighting was clearly a hot-ticket event for the Minoans. This wall painting, now in the Archaeological Museum at Heraklion (another wonderful place!) shows bull fighting - or rather bull leaping - in action. The two side figures are female. 



   So, maybe no labyrinths or Minotaurs, but wonderful art nevertheless. I'll have a look at some Minoan art on . . .

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