I first read the story of Theseus and the Minotaur in an issue of the children’s weekly comic, ‘Look and Learn’. I must have been about eight years old. I was both fascinated and appalled by it – fascinated by the culture of ancient Crete and appalled by the behaviour of Theseus, who abandons Ariadne on the island of Naxos, having promised to take her back to Athens and make her his wife. I was also dismayed by Theseus’s  carelessness: when he sets sail from Athens to Crete, determined to kill the minotaur, his father Aegus asks him to have the ship’s black sails changed for white ones if he succeeds in his quest. Theseus forgets, so when his father, anxiously looking out for him, sees a black-sailed ship returning, he throws himself off the cliffs in despair. In ‘Look and Learn’, this scene was dramatically illustrated, with the figure of Aegeus, who gave his name to the Aegean Sea, tumbling to his death as the ship approaches the harbour.

Like the best stories, Theseus and the Minotaur has many intertwining threads, all of them evoking a kind of conflict between cultures and between men and women that has a powerful resonance in today’s world. Theseus is of Athens, and the Athenians cannot bear having to send seven of their best young men to feed the monstrous minotaur. Ariadne is a Cretan princess who acts in defiance of her father by helping Theseus, only to be betrayed by him. I am happy to say that in their retelling, Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden complete Ariadne’s story with the arrival on Naxos of the god Dionysus, who falls in love with her (music lovers will know this part of the story from Richard Strauss’s ‘Ariadne auf Naxos’). Hugh and Daniel also skilfully interweave the story of Daedalus, designer of the maze in which the minotaur is confined, and his son Icarus, with whom he escapes from Crete on ingeniously crafted wings. Icarus tries to fly too close to the sun, though…

Courage and resourcefulness; ingenuity and treachery; love and betrayal; death and immortality: this Greek myth has them all. Graced throughout by the exquisite illustrations of Carole Hénaff, it will hold you in its spell from start to finish. And if you are like me, it will make you want to travel back in time to Ancient Crete, to walk among the ruins of Herakleon and to hear the echoes of Ariadne’s laughter on the warm Mediterranean wind.

 

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