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Ariadne on Naxos

Why did Theseus do it?

Roman Marble Sarcophagus with the Four Season Referenced in Relief (detail: Theseus abandoning Ariadne on Naxos)

After slaying the Minotaur, Theseus and Ariadne, the Cretan princess who loved him and gave him the ball of string to help him find his way out of the Labyrinth, stopped to rest at Náxos on their way to Athens. Yet the next morning, while Ariadne slept, Theseus set sail and abandoned her.

This, even in the eyes of the male chauvinist Athenians, was dishonourable, especially as Theseus had promised to marry Ariadne in return for the assistance she had rendered him in negotiating the Labyrinth.

Did he simply forget her or find a new mistress? Was she shot with arrows by Artemis in the Temple of Dionysos and left for dead, as the Odyssey says? Or did the god Dionysos, who soon found the abandoned Ariadne and married her, somehow warn Theseus off?

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Sidelights and Myths

Text © Dana Facaros

Images by Peter Roan, Wolfgang Sauber