Ariadne, the Cretan Princess

Ariadne did not respond to my Facebook friend request. In fact, none of the usual methods of introduction worked, not the hopeful offerings left in the orchard, not the poring over source material and internet links, not standing under the starlight and chanting her name.

Finally, after several fruitless weeks, I tried something different. I carried raw milk and a chocolate truffle into the almost-full moonlight, poured out the libation onto the roots of the Dionysos pine tree and began to dance.

Her story ran through my mind like brilliant threads on a loom. You know it. The Cretan princess who fell in love with the dashing hero, Theseus, defying her father to help him. The one who devised the ingenious method of bringing her lover safely back through the labyrinth by giving him a ball of yarn, which he unrolled, then followed back out after killing the Minotaur.

What sort of relationship did she have with her monstrous half-brother, with his man’s body and bull’s head and carnivorous appetite? How about her bloodthirsty father, Minos, who had the labyrinth built to contain his stepson, then demanded an annual tribute from Athens of boys and girls to feed the beast? And what of her sexually adventurous mother, Pasiphae, who slaked her lust for Minos’ prize bull by donning a cow suit? Was Theseus a real love for her or just a girlish infatuation with a famous hero?

Most importantly—did he abandon her, did she die, or did she really become the cherished bride of Dionysos? Accounts vary wildly. Some say Theseus absentmindedly sailed off, leaving her sleeping on the beach. Others insist that she was pregnant and her lover wasn’t interested in becoming a daddy. There are accounts that claim she died in childbirth, others that Artemis took her down with her deadly arrows. But how then did she end up with her own constellation?

Unanswered questions spun in my mind, then whirled off into the night sky as I danced. All conscious thought slipped away, bit by bit, as the spiral dance took possession of me. The dog and cats kept pace with me for a while, then dropped out and went about their individual night journeys as I danced and danced, in front of the shrines, between the trees, a complex pattern through the orchard, around the house, down the driveway, up onto the deck with the early mosquitoes buzzing in my ears.

Eventually, I realized I was not alone; Ariadne whirled beside me, spun circles around me, pirouetted past me, casting a silvery shadow on the cold grass.

The dance took all my breath, leaving none for speech. We danced together, the Cretan princess and I, the wild wind blowing our hair across our faces, Orion’s Belt pointing to the pure radiance of Venus, the moon tossed amid the branches of the orchard trees who danced along with us.

The princess, the bride, the goddess is forever young, but I am old and heavy-limbed. Finally I could dance no more, and collapsed on the bench at the Demeter shrine to catch my breath. Eyes glinting, Ariadne prowled around me, her hair in tangled ringlets, dangling past her hips. She was so heart-stoppingly innocent, a lamb, a kitten, so unaware and at risk in the windswept night. I wanted to cradle and protect her, take her inside, keep her safe, wall her away from wild things and spirits who would prey upon her heedless gaiety.

But a glimpse of those wide topaz eyes held me back. For all her innocence, she is supremely dangerous. A young tigress, to be admired and even adored, but never approached without the full understanding that she might kill you. It could be deliberate, or absent-minded, or even affectionate, an annoyed swat with razor claws. She might be sad when she wanted to dance or play with you again, but there would never be remorse, for there would be no malice. She might dance ecstatically with you, exuberant and mesmerizing, then become over-excited and take a bite out of you. She would dance away, laughing, with crimson lips and bright eyes, then return and prod your bleeding corpse, baffled at your limpness.

But so sweet. So compellingly, irresistibly sweet.

No wonder Theseus fled from her in terror when he realized that the amoral feral nymph he had mistaken for a mere princess might kill him in his bed. No wonder Dionysos fell in love with her and crowned her his bride. She’s the epitome of a maenad.

My cats prowled with her, wary but intrigued. The dog pressed tightly against my legs, trembling slightly.

The princess did not speak to me. She pulled my hair, tugged at my hand, tried to entice me into dancing with her again, but the fire had drained from my limbs, and all I could do was watch her in wonder. She bared her teeth at me, and for a long, chilling moment I thought she might go for my throat, but she turned away and wandered disconsolately between the cherry trees, a silver-white blossom drifting down to catch in her hair. The cats followed her, and for a while the four of them danced together, leaving dark prints in the silvered dew.

The dog whined, looking up at me pleadingly. I looked down at her and rubbed her ears, scratching under her collar.

When I looked up, Ariadne was gone. The cats were making their way back to us with delicate steps.

I looked up at the moon-bright sky, finding the Big Dipper’s handle and following it down toward the north-east horizon, where Ariadne’s constellation, the celestial crown, was just starting to blaze.

3 thoughts

  1. Thank you for sharing that Suz. As usual, I found your writing both wonderfully enlightening and completely entertaining.

    I do remember reading quite a bit about Ariadne almost exactly 30 years ago as Ariadne was one of the names I considered for my at the time, brand new TB mare. Her registered name was “Dancing Din” and her barn name “Moose”. I narrowed it down to Ariadne and Daphne, but just before choosing one of those she told me she didn’t like those “girly” names and wanted to be called “Devon”.

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