Study Guide

Theseus: The Minotaur and the Labyrinth Summary

How It (Supposedly) Went Down

A Brief Summary:

Because of a past wrong, Athens is forced to ship off young people to Crete every few years. There, boys and girls are devoured by the man-eating Minotaur, a monster with the head of a bull and the body of a man. Theseus, Prince of Athens, decides to put a stop to this and sails off to slay the beast. He promises his father, King Aegeus, that he'll change the black sail of the ship to white on his return journey to show that he survived.

Theseus manages to slay the Minotaur with the help of the beautiful Cretan princess, Ariadne, whom he ends up marooning on an island on the way back to Greece. As Theseus approaches Athens, he's so full of himself that he forgets to change the sail of is ship to white. When Aegeus sees the black-sailed ship approaching, he assumes that Theseus is dead and hurls himself into what is now call the Aegean Sea. Theseus becomes the King of Athens, but loses his father in the process.

A Detailed Summary:

  • There's a ton of bad blood between Athens and the island kingdom of Crete.
  • See, a while ago, the Cretan Prince Androgeos came to Athens and totally rocked out a bunch of Olympic style games.
  • Some Athenians were jealous of how awesome he was and assassinated him.
  • King Minos, ruler of Crete, was beyond ticked off about his son being killed and made war on Athens.
  • Besides that, the gods also unleashed a drought and a plague on Athens to punish them.
  • King Aegeus of Athens begged Minos to let him make it up to him.
  • So, King Minos demanded that every few years Athens send some fresh young Athenians to be sacrificed to the monstrous Minotaur.
  • The Minotaur was a monster with the head of a bull and the body of a man, who is locked in the Labyrinth, a deadly maze on the island of Crete. (To find out where the Minotaur and the Labyrinth came from, click here.)
  • Escape from the Labyrinth is almost impossible, and the Minotaur has a taste for human flesh, so all the young Athenians were doomed from the moment they got on the boat for Crete.
  • Anyway, the time has come once more for the young people of Athens to draw lots to see who has to go be devoured by the Minotaur.
  • Prince Theseus of Athens decides that he's got to do something to stop this.
  • The eager young hero tells his father, King Aegeus, that he'll voluntarily go to Crete and face the Minotaur.
  • Reluctantly, the King agrees, but tells Theseus to change the black sail of the ship to white when he returns. That way, Aegeus will know that his son survived the adventure.
  • Theseus says, "No problem, Pops," and sails away to Crete.
  • Once he reaches the island, the Cretan Princess Ariadne totally flips for Theseus.
  • The beautiful young girl agrees to help Theseus as long as he promises to marry her and take her to Athens.
  • Theseus agrees, so Ariadne brings in Daedalus, the famous architect and inventor who built the Labyrinth. (More on Daedalus and the Labyrinth here.)
  • Daedalus advises that Theseus unwind a spool of string behind him as he creeps through the Labyrinths so that the young hero can find his way out again.
  • Theseus takes this advice and creeps into the Labyrinth, trailing string as he searches for the Minotaur.
  • Eventually, he and the bull-man collide and a fierce battle ensues.
  • Theseus end up kicking the Minotaur's rump and the beast is slain.
  • The hero follows the trail of string out of the Labyrinth, rounds up the other Athenian youths, grabs the Princess Ariadne, and makes a run for his ship.
  • Before he sails off, Theseus knocks holes in the hulls of the Cretan ships, so that they can't follow him. (Nice thinking.)
  • And so Theseus, Ariadne, and the other Athenians set sail.
  • Unfortunately for Ariadne, however, Theseus turns out to be kind of a jerk and ditches her on the island of Naxos (Um, not cool, Theseus.)
  • Ariadne is beyond sad, but eventually she ends up marrying Dionysus, the god of wine.
  • Meanwhile, Theseus is floating on air over his defeat of the Minotaur.
  • He's so happy, in fact, that he totally forgets that he's supposed to change the sail from black to white.
  • When Aegeus sees the ship approaching with a black sail, he thinks his son has been devoured by the Minotaur.
  • The old King Aegeus is so depressed that throws himself into the sea and drowns. (Ever since then that body of water is know as the Aegean.)
  • And so, through triumph and tragedy, Theseus becomes the new king of Athens.