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Old Greek Stories by James Baldwin

Part 3 out of 3

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running into the house; and she seized the young hero's hands and
blessed and thanked him because he had rid the world of the cruel

"Only a month ago," she said, "my father, a rich merchant of Athens, was
traveling towards Eleusis, and I was with him, happy and care-free as
any bird in the green woods. This robber lured us into his den, for we
had much gold with us. My father, he stretched upon his iron bed; but
me, he made his slave."

Then Theseus called together all the inmates of the house, poor wretches
whom Procrustes had forced to serve him; and he parted the robber's
spoils among them and told them that they were free to go wheresoever
they wished. And on the next day he went on, through the narrow crooked
ways among the mountains and hills, and came at last to the plain of
Athens, and saw the noble city and, in its midst, the rocky height where
the great Temple of Athena stood; and, a little way from the temple, he
saw the white walls of the palace of the king.

When Theseus entered the city and went walking up the street everybody
wondered who the tall, fair youth could be. But the fame of his deeds
had gone before him, and soon it was whispered that this was the hero
who had slain the robbers in the mountains and had wrestled with Cercyon
at Eleusis and had caught Procrustes in his own cunning trap.

"Tell us no such thing!" said some butchers who were driving their
loaded carts to market. "The lad is better suited to sing sweet songs to
the ladies than to fight robbers and wrestle with giants."

"See his silken black hair!" said one.

"And his girlish face!" said another.

"And his long coat dangling about his legs!" said a third.

"And his golden sandals!" said a fourth.

"Ha! ha!" laughed the first; "I wager that he never lifted a ten-pound
weight in his life. Think of such a fellow as he hurling old Sciron from
the cliffs! Nonsense!"

Theseus heard all this talk as he strode along, and it angered him not a
little; but he had not come to Athens to quarrel with butchers. Without
speaking a word he walked straight up to the foremost cart, and, before
its driver had time to think, took hold of the slaughtered ox that was
being hauled to market, and hurled it high over the tops of the houses
into the garden beyond. Then he did likewise with the oxen in the
second, the third, and the fourth wagons, and, turning about, went on
his way, and left the wonder-stricken butchers staring after him,
speechless, in the street.

He climbed the stairway which led to the top of the steep, rocky hill,
and his heart beat fast in his bosom as he stood on the threshold of his
father's palace.

"Where is the king?" he asked of the guard.

"You cannot see the king," was the answer; "but I will take you to his

The man led the way into the feast hall, and there Theseus saw his fifty
cousins sitting about the table, and eating and drinking and making
merry; and there was a great noise of revelry in the hall, the minstrels
singing and playing, and the slave girls dancing, and the half-drunken
princes shouting and cursing. As Theseus stood in the doorway, knitting
his eyebrows and clinching his teeth for the anger which he felt, one of
the feasters saw him, and cried out:

"See the tall fellow in the doorway! What does he want here?"


"Yes, girl-faced stranger," said another, "what do you want here?"

"I am here," said Theseus, "to ask that hospitality which men of our
race never refuse to give."

"Nor do we refuse," cried they. "Come in, and eat and drink and be our

"I will come in," said Theseus, "but I will be the guest of the king.
Where is he?"

"Never mind the king," said one of his cousins. "He is taking his ease,
and we reign in his stead."

But Theseus strode boldly through the feast hall and went about the
palace asking for the king. At last he found AEgeus, lonely and
sorrowful, sitting in an inner chamber. The heart of Theseus was very
sad as he saw the lines of care upon the old man's face, and marked his
trembling, halting ways.

"Great king," he said, "I am a stranger in Athens, and I have come to
you to ask food and shelter and friendship such as I know you never deny
to those of noble rank and of your own race."

"And who are you, young man?" said the king.

"I am Theseus," was the answer.

"What? the Theseus who has rid the world of the mountain robbers, and of
Cercyon the wrestler, and of Procrustes, the pitiless Stretcher?"

"I am he," said Theseus; "and I come from old Troezen, on the other side
of the Saronic Sea."

The king started and turned very pale.

"Troezen! Troezen!" he cried. Then checking himself, he said, "Yes! yes!
You are welcome, brave stranger, to such shelter and food and friendship
as the King of Athens can give."

Now it so happened that there was with the king a fair but wicked witch
named Medea, who had so much power over him that he never dared to do
anything without asking her leave. So he turned to her, and said: "Am I
not right, Medea, in bidding this young hero welcome?"

"You are right, King AEgeus," she said; "and let him be shown at once to
your guest chamber, that he may rest himself and afterwards dine with us
at your own table."

Medea had learned by her magic arts who Theseus was, and she was not at
all pleased to have him in Athens; for she feared that when he should
make himself known to the king, her own power would be at an end. So,
while Theseus was resting himself in the guest chamber, she told AEgeus
that the young stranger was no hero at all, but a man whom his nephews
had hired to kill him, for they had grown tired of waiting for him to
die. The poor old king was filled with fear, for he believed her words;
and he asked her what he should do to save his life.

"Let me manage it," she said. "The young man will soon come down to
dine with us. I will drop poison into a glass of wine, and at the end of
the meal I will give it to him. Nothing can be easier."

So, when the hour came, Theseus sat down to dine with the king and
Medea; and while he ate he told of his deeds and of how he had overcome
the robber giants, and Cercyon the wrestler, and Procrustes the
pitiless; and as the king listened, his heart yearned strangely towards
the young man, and he longed to save him from Medea's poisoned cup. Then
Theseus paused in his talk to help himself to a piece of the roasted
meat, and, as was the custom of the time, drew his sword to carve
it--for you must remember that all these things happened long ago,
before people had learned to use knives and forks at the table. As the
sword flashed from its scabbard, AEgeus saw the letters that were
engraved upon it--the initials of his own name. He knew at once that it
was the sword which he had hidden so many years before under the stone
on the mountain side above Troezen.

"My son! my son!" he cried; and he sprang up and dashed the cup of
poisoned wine from the table, and flung his arms around Theseus. It was
indeed a glad meeting for both father and son, and they had many things
to ask and to tell. As for the wicked Medea, she knew that her day of
rule was past. She ran out of the palace, and whistled a loud, shrill
call; and men say that a chariot drawn by dragons came rushing through
the air, and that she leaped into it and was carried away, and no one
ever saw her again.

The very next morning, AEgeus sent out his heralds, to make it known
through all the city that Theseus was his son, and that he would in time
be king in his stead. When the fifty nephews heard this, they were angry
and alarmed.

"Shall this upstart cheat us out of our heritage?" they cried; and they
made a plot to waylay and kill Theseus in a grove close by the city

Right cunningly did the wicked fellows lay their trap to catch the young
hero; and one morning, as he was passing that way alone, several of them
fell suddenly upon him, with swords and lances, and tried to slay him
outright. They were thirty to one, but he faced them boldly and held
them at bay, while he shouted for help. The men of Athens, who had borne
so many wrongs from the hands of the nephews, came running out from the
streets; and in the fight which followed, every one of the plotters, who
had lain in ambush was slain; and the other nephews, when they heard
about it, fled from the city in haste and never came back again.



While Athens was still only a small city there lived within its walls a
man named Daedalus who was the most skillful worker in wood and stone
and metal that had ever been known. It was he who taught the people how
to build better houses and how to hang their doors on hinges and how to
support the roofs with pillars and posts. He was the first to fasten
things together with glue; he invented the plumb-line and the auger; and
he showed seamen how to put up masts in their ships and how to rig the
sails to them with ropes. He built a stone palace for AEgeus, the young
king of Athens, and beautified the Temple of Athena which stood on the
great rocky hill in the middle of the city.

Daedalus had a nephew named Perdix whom he had taken when a boy to teach
the trade of builder. But Perdix was a very apt learner, and soon
surpassed his master in the knowledge of many things. His eyes were ever
open to see what was going on about him, and he learned the lore of the
fields and the woods. Walking one day by the sea, he picked up the
backbone of a great fish, and from it he invented the saw. Seeing how a
certain bird carved holes in the trunks of trees, he learned how to make
and use the chisel. Then he invented the wheel which potters use in
molding clay; and he made of a forked stick the first pair of compasses
for drawing circles; and he studied out many other curious and useful

Daedalus was not pleased when he saw that the lad was so apt and wise,
so ready to learn, and so eager to do.

"If he keeps on in this way," he murmured, "he will be a greater man
than I; his name will be remembered, and mine will be forgotten."

Day after day, while at his work, Daedalus pondered over this matter,
and soon his heart was filled with hatred towards young Perdix. One
morning when the two were putting up an ornament on the outer wall of
Athena's temple, Daedalus bade his nephew go out on a narrow scaffold
which hung high over the edge of the rocky cliff whereon the temple
stood. Then, when the lad obeyed, it was easy enough, with a blow of a
hammer, to knock the scaffold from its fastenings.

Poor Perdix fell headlong through the air, and he would have been
dashed in pieces upon the stones at the foot of the cliff had not kind
Athena seen him and taken pity upon him. While he was yet whirling
through mid-air she changed him into a partridge, and he flitted away to
the hills to live forever in the woods and fields which he loved so
well. And to this day, when summer breezes blow and the wild flowers
bloom in meadow and glade, the voice of Perdix may still sometimes be
heard, calling to his mate from among the grass and reeds or amid the
leafy underwoods.


As for Daedalus, when the people of Athens heard of his dastardly deed,
they were filled with grief and rage--grief for young Perdix, whom all
had learned to love; rage towards the wicked uncle, who loved only
himself. At first they were for punishing Daedalus with the death which
he so richly deserved, but when they remembered what he had done to make
their homes pleasanter and their lives easier, they allowed him to live;
and yet they drove him out of Athens and bade him never return.

There was a ship in the harbor just ready to start on a voyage across
the sea, and in it Daedalus embarked with all his precious tools and
his young son Icarus. Day after day the little vessel sailed slowly
southward, keeping the shore of the mainland always upon the right. It
passed Troezen and the rocky coast of Argos, and then struck boldly out
across the sea.

At last the famous Island of Crete was reached, and there Daedalus
landed and made himself known; and the King of Crete, who had already
heard of his wondrous skill, welcomed him to his kingdom, and gave him a
home in his palace, and promised that he should be rewarded with great
riches and honor if he would but stay and practice his craft there as he
had done in Athens.

Now the name of the King of Crete was Minos. His grandfather, whose name
was also Minos, was the son of Europa, a young princess whom a white
bull, it was said, had brought on his back across the sea from distant
Asia. This elder Minos had been accounted the wisest of men--so wise,
indeed, that Jupiter chose him to be one of the judges of the Lower
World. The younger Minos was almost as wise as his grandfather; and he
was brave and far-seeing and skilled as a ruler of men. He had made all
the islands subject to his kingdom, and his ships sailed into every part
of the world and brought back to Crete the riches of foreign lands. So
it was not hard for him to persuade Daedalus to make his home with him
and be the chief of his artisans.

And Daedalus built for King Minos a most wonderful palace with floors of
marble and pillars of granite; and in the palace he set up golden
statues which had tongues and could talk; and for splendor and beauty
there was no other building in all the wide earth that could be compared
with it.

There lived in those days among the hills of Crete a terrible monster
called the Minotaur, the like of which has never been seen from that
time until now. This creature, it was said, had the body of a man, but
the face and head of a wild bull and the fierce nature of a mountain
lion. The people of Crete would not have killed him if they could; for
they thought that the Mighty Folk who lived with Jupiter on the mountain
top had sent him among them, and that these beings would be angry if any
one should take his life. He was the pest and terror of all the land.
Where he was least expected, there he was sure to be; and almost every
day some man, woman, or child was caught and devoured by him.

"You have done so many wonderful things," said the king to Daedalus,
"can you not do something to rid the land of this Minotaur?"

"Shall I kill him?" asked Daedalus.

"Ah, no!" said the king. "That would only bring greater misfortunes upon

"I will build a house for him then," said Daedalus, "and you can keep
him in it as a prisoner."

"But he may pine away and die if he is penned up in prison," said the

"He shall have plenty of room to roam about," said Daedalus; "and if you
will only now and then feed one of your enemies to him, I promise you
that he shall live and thrive."

So the wonderful artisan brought together his workmen, and they built a
marvelous house with so many rooms in it and so many winding ways that
no one who went far into it could ever find his way out again; and
Daedalus called it the Labyrinth, and cunningly persuaded the Minotaur
to go inside of it. The monster soon lost his way among the winding
passages, but the sound of his terrible bellowings could be heard day
and night as he wandered back and forth vainly trying to find some place
to escape.


Not long after this it happened that Daedalus was guilty of a deed which
angered the king very greatly; and had not Minos wished him to build
other buildings for him, he would have put him to death and no doubt
have served him right.

"Hitherto," said the king, "I have honored you for your skill and
rewarded you for your labor. But now you shall be my slave and shall
serve me without hire and without any word of praise."

Then he gave orders to the guards at the city gates that they should not
let Daedalus pass out at any time, and he set soldiers to watch the
ships that were in port so that he could not escape by sea. But although
the wonderful artisan was thus held as a prisoner, he did not build any
more buildings for King Minos; he spent his time in planning how he
might regain his freedom.

"All my inventions," he said to his son Icarus, "have hitherto been made
to please other people; now I will invent something to please myself."

So, all through the day he pretended to be planning some great work for
the king, but every night he locked himself up in his chamber and
wrought secretly by candle light. By and by he had made for himself a
pair of strong wings, and for Icarus another pair of smaller ones; and
then, one midnight, when everybody was asleep, the two went out to see
if they could fly. They fastened the wings to their shoulders with wax,
and then sprang up into the air. They could not fly very far at first,
but they did so well that they felt sure of doing much better in time.

The next night Daedalus made some changes in the wings. He put on an
extra strap or two; he took out a feather from one wing, and put a new
feather into another; and then he and Icarus went out in the moonlight
to try them again. They did finely this time. They flew up to the top of
the king's palace, and then they sailed away over the walls of the city
and alighted on the top of a hill. But they were not ready to undertake
a long journey yet; and so, just before daybreak, they flew back home.
Every fair night after that they practiced with their wings, and at the
end of a month they felt as safe in the air as on the ground, and could
skim over the hilltops like birds.

Early one morning; before King Minos had risen from his bed, they
fastened on their wings, sprang into the air, and flew out of the city.
Once fairly away from the island, they turned towards the west, for
Daedalus had heard of an island named Sicily, which lay hundreds of
miles away, and he had made up his mind to seek a new home there.


All went well for a time, and the two bold flyers sped swiftly over the
sea, skimming along only a little above the waves, and helped on their
way by the brisk east wind. Towards noon the sun shone very warm, and
Daedalus called out to the boy who was a little behind and told him to
keep his wings cool and not fly too high. But the boy was proud of his
skill in flying, and as he looked up at the sun he thought how nice it
would be to soar like it high above the clouds in the blue depths of the

"At any rate," said he to himself, "I will go up a little higher.
Perhaps I can see the horses which draw the sun car, and perhaps I shall
catch sight of their driver, the mighty sun master himself."

So he flew up higher and higher, but his father who was in front did not
see him. Pretty soon, however, the heat of the sun began to melt the wax
with which the boy's wings were fastened. He felt himself sinking
through the air; the wings had become loosened from his shoulders. He
screamed to his father, but it was too late. Daedalus turned just in
time to see Icarus fall headlong into the waves. The water was very deep
there, and the skill of the wonderful artisan could not save his child.
He could only look with sorrowing eyes at the unpitying sea, and fly on
alone to distant Sicily. There, men say, he lived for many years, but he
never did any great work, nor built anything half so marvelous as the
Labyrinth of Crete. And the sea in which poor Icarus was drowned was
called forever afterward by his name, the Icarian Sea.




Minos, king of Crete, had made war upon Athens. He had come with a great
fleet of ships and an army, and had burned the merchant vessels in the
harbor, and had overrun all the country and the coast even to Megara,
which lies to the west. He had laid waste the fields and gardens round
about Athens, had pitched his camp close to the walls, and had sent word
to the Athenian rulers that on the morrow he would march into their city
with fire and sword and would slay all their young men and would pull
down all their houses, even to the Temple of Athena, which stood on the
great hill above the town. Then AEgeus, the king of Athens, with the
twelve elders who were his helpers, went out to see King Minos and to
treat with him.

"O mighty king," they said, "what have we done that you should wish thus
to destroy us from the earth?"

"O cowardly and shameless men," answered King Minos, "why do you ask
this foolish question, since you can but know the cause of my wrath? I
had an only son, Androgeos by name, and he was dearer to me than the
hundred cities of Crete and the thousand islands of the sea over which I
rule. Three years ago he came hither to take part in the games which you
held in honor of Athena, whose temple you have built on yonder hilltop.
You know how he overcame all your young men in the sports, and how your
people honored him with song and dance and laurel crown. But when your
king, this same AEgeus who stands before me now, saw how everybody ran
after him and praised his valor, he was filled with envy and laid plans
to kill him. Whether he caused armed men to waylay him on the road to
Thebes, or whether as some say he sent him against a certain wild bull
of your country to be slain by that beast, I know not; but you cannot
deny that the young man's life was taken from him through the plotting
of this AEgeus."

"But we do deny it--we do deny it!" cried the elders. "For at that very
time our king was sojourning at Troezen on the other side of the Saronic
Sea, and he knew nothing of the young prince's death. We ourselves
managed the city's affairs while he was abroad, and we know whereof we
speak. Androgeos was slain, not through the king's orders but by the
king's nephews, who hoped to rouse your anger against AEgeus so that you
would drive him from Athens and leave the kingdom to one of them."

"Will you swear that what you tell me is true?" said Minos.

"We will swear it," they said.

"Now then," said Minos, "you shall hear my decree. Athens has robbed me
of my dearest treasure, a treasure that can never be restored to me; so,
in return, I require from Athens, as tribute, that possession which is
the dearest and most precious to her people; and it shall be destroyed
cruelly as my son was destroyed."

"The condition is hard," said the elders, "but it is just. What is the
tribute which you require?"

"Has the king a son?" asked Minos.

The face of King AEgeus lost all its color and he trembled as he thought
of a little child then with its mother at Troezen, on the other side of
the Saronic Sea. But the elders knew nothing about that child, and they

"Alas, no! he has no son; but he has fifty nephews who are eating up his
substance and longing for the time to come when one of them shall be
king; and, as we have said, it was they who slew the young prince,

"I have naught to do with those fellows," said Minos; "you may deal
with them as you like. But you ask what is the tribute that I require,
and I will tell you. Every year when the springtime comes and the roses
begin to bloom, you shall choose seven of your noblest youths and seven
of your fairest maidens, and shall send them to me in a ship which your
king shall provide. This is the tribute which you shall pay to me,
Minos, king of Crete; and if you fail for a single time, or delay even a
day, my soldiers shall tear down your walls and burn your city and put
your men to the sword and sell your wives and children as slaves."

"We agree to all this, O King," said the elders; "for it is the least of
two evils. But tell us now, what shall be the fate of the seven youths
and the seven maidens?"

"In Crete," answered Minos, "there is a house called the Labyrinth, the
like of which you have never seen. In it there are a thousand chambers
and winding ways, and whosoever goes even a little way into them can
never find his way out again. Into this house the seven youths and the
seven maidens shall be thrust, and they shall be left there--"

"To perish with hunger?" cried the elders.

"To be devoured by a monster whom men call the Minotaur," said Minos.

Then King AEgeus and the elders covered their faces and wept and went
slowly back into the city to tell their people of the sad and terrible
conditions upon which Athens could alone be saved.

"It is better that a few should perish than that the whole city should
be destroyed," they said.


Years passed by. Every spring when the roses began to bloom seven youths
and seven maidens were put on board of a black-sailed ship and sent to
Crete to pay the tribute which King Minos required. In every house in
Athens there was sorrow and dread, and the people lifted up their hands
to Athena on the hilltop and cried out, "How long, O Queen of the Air,
how long shall this thing be?"

In the meanwhile the little child at Troezen on the other side of the
sea had grown to be a man. His name, Theseus, was in everybody's mouth,
for he had done great deeds of daring; and at last he had come to Athens
to find his father, King AEgeus, who had never heard whether he was alive
or dead; and when the youth had made himself known, the king had
welcomed him to his home and all the people were glad because so noble a
prince had come to dwell among them and, in time, to rule over their

The springtime came again. The black-sailed ship was rigged for another
voyage. The rude Cretan soldiers paraded the streets; and the herald of
King Minos stood at the gates and shouted:

"Yet three days, O Athenians, and your tribute will be due and must be

Then in every street the doors of the houses were shut and no man went
in or out, but every one sat silent with pale cheeks, and wondered whose
lot it would be to be chosen this year. But the young prince, Theseus,
did not understand; for he had not been told about the tribute.

"What is the meaning of all this?" he cried. "What right has a Cretan to
demand tribute in Athens? and what is this tribute of which he speaks?"

Then AEgeus led him aside and with tears told him of the sad war with
King Minos, and of the dreadful terms of peace. "Now, say no more,"
sobbed AEgeus, "it is better that a few should die even thus than that
all should be destroyed."

"But I will say more," cried Theseus. "Athens shall not pay tribute to
Crete. I myself will go with these youths and maidens, and I will slay
the monster Minotaur, and defy King Minos himself upon his throne."

"Oh, do not be so rash!" said the king; "for no one who is thrust into
the den of the Minotaur ever comes out again. Remember that you are the
hope of Athens, and do not take this great risk upon yourself."

"Say you that I am the hope of Athens?" said Theseus. "Then how can I do
otherwise than go?" And he began at once to make himself ready.

On the third day all the youths and maidens of the city were brought
together in the market place, so that lots might be cast for those who
were to be taken. Then two vessels of brass were brought and set before
King AEgeus and the herald who had come from Crete. Into one vessel they
placed as many balls as there were noble youths in the city, and into
the other as many as there were maidens; and all the balls were white
save only seven in each vessel, and those were black as ebony.

Then every maiden, without looking, reached her hand into one of the
vessels and drew forth a ball, and those who took the black balls were
borne away to the black ship, which lay in waiting by the shore. The
young men also drew lots in like manner, but when six black balls had
been drawn Theseus came quickly forward and said:

"Hold! Let no more balls be drawn. I will be the seventh youth to pay
this tribute. Now let us go aboard the black ship and be off."

Then the people, and King AEgeus himself, went down to the shore to take
leave of the young men and maidens, whom they had no hope of seeing
again; and all but Theseus wept and were brokenhearted.

"I will come again, father," he said.

"I will hope that you may," said the old king. "If when this ship
returns, I see a white sail spread above the black one, then I shall
know that you are alive and well; but if I see only the black one, it
will tell me that you have perished."

And now the vessel was loosed from its moorings, the north wind filled
the sail, and the seven youths and seven maidens were borne away over
the sea, towards the dreadful death which awaited them in far distant


At last the black ship reached the end of its voyage. The young people
were set ashore, and a party of soldiers led them through the streets
towards the prison, where they were to stay until the morrow. They did
not weep nor cry out now, for they had outgrown their fears. But with
paler faces and firm-set lips, they walked between the rows of Cretan
houses, and looked neither to the right nor to the left. The windows and
doors were full of people who were eager to see them.

"What a pity that such brave young men should be food for the Minotaur,"
said some.

"Ah, that maidens so beautiful should meet a fate so sad!" said others.

And now they passed close by the palace gate, and in it stood King Minos
himself, and his daughter Ariadne, the fairest of the women of Crete.

"Indeed, those are noble young fellows!" said the king.

"Yes, too noble to feed the vile Minotaur," said Ariadne.

"The nobler, the better," said the king; "and yet none of them can
compare with your lost brother Androgeos."

Ariadne said no more; and yet she thought that she had never seen any
one who looked so much like a hero as young Theseus. How tall he was,
and how handsome! How proud his eye, and how firm his step! Surely there
had never been his like in Crete.

All through that night Ariadne lay awake and thought of the matchless
hero, and grieved that he should be doomed to perish; and then she began
to lay plans for setting him free. At the earliest peep of day she
arose, and while everybody else was asleep, she ran out of the palace
and hurried to the prison. As she was the king's daughter, the jailer
opened the door at her bidding and allowed her to go in. There sat the
seven youths and the seven maidens on the ground, but they had not lost
hope. She took Theseus aside and whispered to him. She told him of a
plan which she had made to save him; and Theseus promised her that, when
he had slain the Minotaur, he would carry her away with him to Athens
where she should live with him always. Then she gave him a sharp sword,
and hid it underneath his cloak, telling him that with it alone could he
hope to slay the Minotaur.

"And here is a ball of silken thread," she said. "As soon as you go into
the Labyrinth where the monster is kept, fasten one end of the thread to
the stone doorpost, and then unwind it as you go along. When you have
slain the Minotaur, you have only to follow the thread and it will lead
you back to the door. In the meanwhile I will see that your ship, is
ready to sail, and then I will wait for you at the door of the


Theseus thanked the beautiful princess and promised her again that if he
should live to go back to Athens she should go with him and be his
wife. Then with a prayer to Athena, Ariadne hastened away.


As soon as the sun was up the guards came to lead the young prisoners to
the Labyrinth. They did not see the sword which Theseus had under his
cloak, nor the tiny ball of silk which he held in his closed hand. They
led the youths and maidens a long way into the Labyrinth, turning here
and there, back and forth, a thousand different times, until it seemed
certain that they could never find their way out again. Then the guards,
by a secret passage which they alone knew, went out and left them, as
they had left many others before, to wander about until they should be
found by the terrible Minotaur.

"Stay close by me," said Theseus to his companions, "and with the help
of Athena who dwells in her temple home in our own fair city, I will
save you."

Then he drew his sword and stood in the narrow way before them; and they
all lifted up their hands and prayed to Athena.

For hours they stood there, hearing no sound, and seeing nothing but the
smooth, high walls on either side of the passage and the calm blue sky
so high above them. Then the maidens sat down upon the ground and
covered their faces and sobbed, and said:

"Oh, that he would come and put an end to our misery and our lives."

At last, late in the day, they heard a bellowing, low and faint as
though far away. They listened and soon heard it again, a little louder
and very fierce and dreadful.

"It is he! it is he!" cried Theseus; "and now for the fight!"

Then he shouted, so loudly that the walls of the Labyrinth answered
back, and the sound was carried upward to the sky and outward to the
rocks and cliffs of the mountains. The Minotaur heard him, and his
bellowings grew louder and fiercer every moment.

"He is coming!" cried Theseus, and he ran forward to meet the beast. The
seven maidens shrieked, but tried to stand up bravely and face their
fate; and the six young men stood together with firm-set teeth and
clinched fists, ready to fight to the last.

Soon the Minotaur came into view, rushing down the passage towards
Theseus, and roaring most terribly. He was twice as tall as a man, and
his head was like that of a bull with huge sharp horns and fiery eyes
and a mouth as large as a lion's; but the young men could not see the
lower part of his body for the cloud of dust which he raised in running.
When he saw Theseus with the sword in his hand coming to meet him, he
paused, for no one had ever faced him in that way before. Then he put
his head down, and rushed forward, bellowing. But Theseus leaped quickly
aside, and made a sharp thrust with his sword as he passed, and hewed
off one of the monster's legs above the knee.

The Minotaur fell upon the ground, roaring and groaning and beating
wildly about with his horned head and his hoof-like fists; but Theseus
nimbly ran up to him and thrust the sword into his heart, and was away
again before the beast could harm him. A great stream of blood gushed
from the wound, and soon the Minotaur turned his face towards the sky
and was dead.

Then the youths and maidens ran to Theseus and kissed his hands and
feet, and thanked him for his great deed; and, as it was already growing
dark, Theseus bade them follow him while he wound up the silken thread
which was to lead them out of the Labyrinth. Through a thousand rooms
and courts and winding ways they went, and at midnight they came to the
outer door and saw the city lying in the moonlight before them; and,
only a little way off, was the seashore where the black ship was moored
which had brought them to Crete. The door was wide open, and beside it
stood Ariadne waiting for them.

"The wind is fair, the sea is smooth, and the sailors are ready," she
whispered; and she took the arm of Theseus, and all went together
through the silent streets to the ship.

When the morning dawned they were far out to sea, and, looking back from
the deck of the little vessel, only the white tops of the Cretan
mountains were in sight.

Minos, when he arose from sleep, did not know that the youths and
maidens had gotten safe out of the Labyrinth. But when Ariadne could not
be found, he thought that robbers had carried her away. He sent soldiers
out to search for her among the hills and mountains, never dreaming that
she was now well on the way towards distant Athens.

Many days passed, and at last the searchers returned and said that the
princess could nowhere be found. Then the king covered his head and
wept, and said:

"Now, indeed, I am bereft of all my treasures!"

In the meanwhile, King AEgeus of Athens had sat day after day on a rock
by the shore, looking and watching if by chance he might see a ship
coming from the south. At last the vessel with Theseus and his
companions hove in sight, but it still carried only the black sail, for
in their joy the young men had forgotten to raise the white one.

"Alas! alas! my son has perished!" moaned AEgeus; and he fainted and fell
forward into the sea and was drowned. And that sea, from then until now,
has been called by his name, the Aegean Sea.

Thus Theseus became king of Athens.


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