Theseus and Ariadne --
or, Ariadne and Theseus, let’s be honest here --
I wander through memories, my own collection of mazes --
endless passageways to who-knows-where, steeped in darkness, far away from any light --
I take note of the minotaur’s lair, now inside a giant pyramid, the center of the labyrinth
morphing into a church’s apse, the unholiest of unholies --
vast, cavernous --
the central lair rising high into blank space --
except for the pinnacle of the structure, it holds an eye, fashioned like a brooch on a sweater --
glowing, seeing constantly, knowing perpetually --
in the myth, there’s the loss of a child every week, or once a month, the tragedy depends on
who’s telling the tale, who’s able to sew the threads together --
but it’s always gruesome and unpleasant --
how to make this story safe for bedtime reading? --
turnips? yes, the sacrifice to the minotaur was a monthly yield of turnips, wheelbarrows full of
it’s the least the good people of this fair kingdom could do to appease the beast --
dump them all at his feet and be gone --
Theseus finds the center of the labyrinth, gazes at the bull’s head, laughs, shouts, where are
your gods now? and ends him. That eye from above watches over. If it weren’t
disembodied, it would have leaned back, reached for popcorn, ate to its heart’s content.
Yes, I foresaw all of this! it bellows. I just couldn’t do a goddamn thing, stuck up here, unable
to move. How horrific! How convenient. We all wait the allotted time. For the beast to
Ariadne had proffered a ball of twine
like she would to a cat, anticipating
a night of endless amusement, knowing
he’d bat the twine down the stairs,
throughout the house, chasing, chasing, chasing
forever chasing, chasing chasing,
the twine unravels in a tenuous line
of colors until fully unwoven.
Make sure you hang on to that string
the entire way out
don’t let go…
Don’t let go! is similar to Don’t look back!
or, don’t turn around…
and so the temptation to do just that
I think of Lot and his wife. God forbids them
to turn around. But she does. She yearns
to look back. To see her city once more.
Incinerated by fire. And she turns
into a statue, a pillar of salt,
rubble like the city
If Theseus lets go of that string
even for one second, he’ll be lost,
he’ll be wandering the labyrinth’s corridors for eternity
without that thinnest of lifelines any longer.
Losing contact creates an instant abyss. A tomb.
Ariadne no longer is the crafty one, not after Theseus has emerged victorious from slaying the
oh no, it’s all about him now, Theseus --
all about his bravery, his valor, his might --
without that string, Theseus wouldn’t have stood a chance in hell --
Hades in this case --
he’d have been lost the instant he wandered off without guidance --
even with her help, he needed to listen to her, listen with all his might to her directive: don’t let
go of that string after you’ve unraveled it --
without the route demarcated, without her idea, he would not have been able to leave, even after
killing the minotaur --
no, he’d have had to ask for directions --
and we know how well that typically turns out --
The monster lies there
The tiniest insect.
The walls stare back
eyes dotting everywhere.
The hybrid creature, a giant
mass of muscle and bone
a lump of nothing
Off Theseus goes
through the tunnels.
The torches flicker
in and out, in and out,
to be lit again.
The same holds true
for stories, stories that shouldn’t be told
stories of incest
of bestiality, of violence
endless gobs of violence
of spurned gods and other beasts
of vengeance, dripping fluids
of the triangular relationships
between gods, men, other living things.
Is fifth grade too soon for us to know
about these characters? To learn
about this shit? To fully understand
the scope and the outlandishness
of these tales?
To comprehend the audacity of warnings…
of how things are? why things are? simply why?
Theseus should have been eternally grateful for Ariadne and her string. He should’ve taken
another ball, wrapped themselves together, kept a piece of the thread in a box as a memento of
the occasion. After leaving the island where the pyramid stood, they both careen through the
pages of a shitty romance novel: Theseus shakes away the idea of them together forever and
drops Ariadne off on the steps somewhere.
Here you go, doll. Here’s the string and some change. Gotta be someplace. Maybe find another
giant maze, another beast to slay. More cities to save. You understand?
Other stories say it was Dionysus who’s all, hey Theseus, Ariadne needs to hang out with me, put
away a few bottles of wine. So scram! Before I make you scram.
This is my preferred storyline:
Ariadne’s waiting to escape. Here’s the hero, leaping onto the scene. Theseus, the perfect pawn.
Upon reaching Naxos, though, there needed to be a change in scenery. For Ariadne, that is. So
why not gallivant with a god for a while instead of some pea brain tough guy with a sword,
and only a sword?
Here’s the outcome for her:
Go with Dionysus and then decide what to do when the wine’s dried up and there’s nothing left
NO NO NO NO NOO
I’m done with this narrative!
It’s all wrong.
It’s this: Theseus destroys the minotaur, but he’s lost on his way out. Let’s be honest: he lets
go of the string like Lot’s wife. He’s done for. Falls into a bottomless pit.
That one super important rule: broken.
Ariadne pulls the string out of the pyramid.
No Theseus on the other end!
Just the end.
Ariadne sighs, shrugs, exclaims, well, what can I do? Men never listen to me. Fuck ’em all.
She’s got a date tonight with Dionysus, anyway! At least until the wine runs out. And then the
paths she can take are limitless.
Kevin A. Risner is a product of Ohio. His forthcoming chapbook, Do Us a Favor, was published this August by Variant Literature.
Uncovered logs from the distant past and the future beyond.