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Ariadne (from a Cretan-Greek form for arihagne, "utterly pure" ) was a fertility goddess of Crete, "the first divine personage of Greek mythology to be immediately recognized in Crete" (Kerenyi 1993, p 89), once archaeology had begun. Her name is merely an epithet, for she was originally the "Mistress of the Labyrinth", both a prison with the dreaded Minotaur at its centre and a winding dance-ground. She was especially worshipped on Naxos, Delos, Cyprus, and in Athens.

For Homer and in later Greek mythology, Ariadne's divine origins were submerged. In an Attic bowl by the painter Aison ((c. 440–c. 420 BC; Madrid:Museo Arqueologico Nacional), Theseus drags the Minotaur from a temple-like labyrinth; but the goddess who attends him is Athena. For Athenian mythographers the mentor of the founder of Athens is Pallas Athena and Ariadne merely the prize. Thus for the Greeks, Ariadne became known as the daughter of King Minos of Crete, who conquered Athens after his son was murdered there. The Athenians were required the sacrifice of seven young men and seven maidens each year to the Minotaur. One year, the sacrificial party included Theseus, a young man who volunteered to come and kill the Minotaur. Ariadne fell in love at the first sight of him, and, like other female figures who helped bring about the new order — in a mytheme that is characterized as the "turncoats" by Ruck and Staples — helped him by giving him a magic sword and a ball of the thread she was spinning, so that he could find his way out of the Minotaur's labyrinth. She ran away with Theseus after he achieved his goal, and according to Homer "he got no joy from her; Artemis killed her first, on wave-washed Dia's shores, accused by Dionysus" (Robert Fagles' translation of Odyssey XI, 364–8)). Homer does not enlarge on the nature of Dionysus' accusation: apparently the god had a role that connected him with the Lady of the Labyrinth, who had abandoned her place.

In Hesiod and most other accounts, Theseus abandoned Ariadne sleeping on Naxos, and Dionysus rediscovered and wedded her.

With Dionysus, she was the mother of Oenopion, the personification of wine, and was set in the heavens as the constellation Corona.

She remained faithful to Dionysus, but was later killed by Perseus at Argos. In other myths Ariadne hanged herself from a tree, like Erigone and the hanging Artemis — a Mesopotamian theme.

Dionysus however descended into Hades and brought her and his mother Semele back. They then join the gods in Olympus.


  • Kerenyi, Karl 1976. Dionysos: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life, especially part I.iii "The Cretan core of the Dionysos myth" (Princeton:Princeton University Press)
  • Ruck, Carl A.P., and Danny Staples, 1994. The World of Classical Myth. (Durham:Carolina Academic Press)

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