Study Guide

Theseus: The Minotaur and the Labyrinth Themes

  • Strength and Skill

    To the ancient Greeks, nothing said strength and skill like a little monster slaying. It seems like it was a requirement that a hero prove himself by slaughtering some monster or another. Perseus beheaded Medusa, Heracles hacked up the Hydra, Odysseus blinded a Cyclopes... the list goes on and on. Even though Theseus defeated a bunch of bad guys in his early adventures, none of his earlier enemies compared to the bull-headed, man-eating Minotaur. So, when Theseus slays the terrible creature, his reputation for strength and skill truly reaches mythic proportions.

    Questions About Strength and Skill

    1. What makes Theseus stronger than normal men?
    2. Would Theseus have been able to complete his quest without Ariadne? Did he have the skills necessary? Why, or why not?
    3. Compare Theseus to another Greek hero like Heracles, Jason, or Perseus. How does he measure up in terms of strength and skill?
    4. What do you think is Theseus's greatest strength? His greatest skill? Why do you think so?
    5. In what ways is Theseus weak?
  • Betrayal

    When Theseus abandons Princess Ariadne, we see that he's not the squeaky clean hero that we might have thought he was. Even though Ariadne's help was essential for him to complete his quest, he breaks his promise of marriage and ditches her on a random island.

    Heroes treating their women badly is actually a pretty common theme in Greek mythology. For example, Jason abandons his wife, Medea, and Heracles plans on abandoning his wife Deinara. In both of these examples, these betrayals end up ruining the hero's life (in the case of Heracles, it actually causes his death).

    Some see the suicide of Aegeus, Theseus's father, as a punishment for Theseus's betrayal. Over the years some mythographers cleaned up Theseus's image by saying that love-struck Dionysus demanded that Theseus give up Ariadne. Others said that a storm blew Theseus's ship away. However, the most popular story still seems to be that Theseus was guilty of betrayal.

    Questions About Betrayal

    1. Why do you think Theseus betrayed Ariadne? Explain your answer.
    2. Why do you think the Greeks made their heroes flawed? What does that say about their perception of greatness?
    3. The Minotaur was Ariadne's half-brother and King Minos was her father. Could it be that by helping Theseus she was also guilty of betraying her own family? Why, or why not?