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And at last they came to Crete, and to Cnossus, beneath the peaks of Ida, and to the palace of Minos the great king, to whom Zeus himself taught laws. So he was the wisest of all mortal kings, and conquered all the aegean isles; and his ships were as many as the sea-gulls, and his palace like a marble hill. And he sat among the pillars of the hall, upon his throne of beaten gold, and around him stood the speaking statues which Daidalos had made by his skill. For Daidalos was the most cunning of all Athenians, and he first invented the plumb-line, and the auger, and glue, and many a tool with which wood is wrought. And he first set up masts in ships, and yards, and his son made sails for them: but Perdix his nephew excelled him; for he first invented the saw and its teeth, copying it from the back-bone of a fish; and invented, too, the chisel, and the compa.s.ses, and the potter's wheel which moulds the clay. Therefore Daidalos envied him, and hurled him headlong from the temple of Athene; but the G.o.ddess pitied him (for she loves the wise), and changed him into a partridge, which flits for ever about the hills. And Daidalos fled to Crete, to Minos, and worked for him many a year, till he did a shameful deed, at which the sun hid his face on high.
Then he fled from the anger of Minos, he and Icaros his son having made themselves wings of feathers, and fixed the feathers with wax. So they flew over the sea toward Sicily; but Icaros flew too near the sun; and the wax of his wings was melted, and he fell into the Icarian Sea. But Daidalos came safe to Sicily, and there wrought many a wondrous work; for he made for King Cocalos a reservoir, from which a great river watered all the land, and a castle and a treasury on a mountain, which the giants themselves could not have stormed; and in Selinos he took the steam which comes up from the fires of aetna, and made of it a warm bath of vapour, to cure the pains of mortal men; and he made a honeycomb of gold, in which the bees came and stored their honey, and in Egypt he made the forecourt of the temple of Hephaistos in Memphis, and a statue of himself within it, and many another wondrous work. And for Minos he made statues which spoke and moved, and the temple of Britomartis, and the dancing-hall of Ariadne, which he carved of fair white stone. And in Sardinia he worked for Iolaos, and in many a land beside, wandering up and down for ever with his cunning, unlovely and accursed by men.
But Theseus stood before Minos, and they looked each other in the face.
And Minos bade take them to prison, and cast them to the monster one by one, that the death of Androgeos might be avenged. Then Theseus cried-
'A boon, O Minos! Let me be thrown first to the beast. For I came hither for that very purpose, of my own will, and not by lot.'
'Who art thou, then, brave youth?'
'I am the son of him whom of all men thou hatest most, aegeus the king of Athens, and I am come here to end this matter.'
And Minos pondered awhile, looking steadfastly at him, and he thought, 'The lad means to atone by his own death for his father's sin;' and he answered at last mildly-
'Go back in peace, my son. It is a pity that one so brave should die.'
But Theseus said, 'I have sworn that I will not go back till I have seen the monster face to face.'
And at that Minos frowned, and said, 'Then thou shalt see him; take the madman away.'
And they led Theseus away into the prison, with the other youths and maids.
But Ariadne, Minos' daughter, saw him, as she came out of her white stone hall; and she loved him for his courage and his majesty, and said, 'Shame that such a youth should die!' And by night she went down to the prison, and told him all her heart; and said-
'Flee down to your ship at once, for I have bribed the guards before the door. Flee, you and all your friends, and go back in peace to Greece; and take me, take me with you! for I dare not stay after you are gone; for my father will kill me miserably, if he knows what I have done.'
And Theseus stood silent awhile; for he was astonished and confounded by her beauty: but at last he said, 'I cannot go home in peace, till I have seen and slain this Minotaur, and avenged the deaths of the youths and maidens, and put an end to the terrors of my land.'
'And will you kill the Minotaur? How, then?'
'I know not, nor do I care: but he must be strong if he be too strong for me.'
Then she loved him all the more, and said, 'But when you have killed him, how will you find your way out of the labyrinth?'
'I know not, neither do I care: but it must be a strange road, if I do not find it out before I have eaten up the monster's carcase.'
Then she loved him all the more, and said-'Fair youth, you are too bold; but I can help you, weak as I am. I will give you a sword, and with that perhaps you may slay the beast; and a clue of thread, and by that, perhaps, you may find your way out again. Only promise me that if you escape safe you will take me home with you to Greece; for my father will surely kill me, if he knows what I have done.'
Then Theseus laughed, and said, 'Am I not safe enough now?' And he hid the sword in his bosom, and rolled up the clue in his hand; and then he swore to Ariadne, and fell down before her, and kissed her hands and her feet; and she wept over him a long while, and then went away; and Theseus lay down and slept sweetly.
And when the evening came, the guards came in and led him away to the labyrinth.
And he went down into that doleful gulf, through winding paths among the rocks, under caverns, and arches, and galleries, and over heaps of fallen stone. And he turned on the left hand, and on the right hand, and went up and down, till his head was dizzy; but all the while he held his clue.
For when he went in he had fastened it to a stone, and left it to unroll out of his hand as he went on; and it lasted him till he met the Minotaur, in a narrow chasm between black cliffs.
And when he saw him he stopped awhile, for he had never seen so strange a beast. His body was a man's: but his head was the head of a bull; and his teeth were the teeth of a lion, and with them he tore his prey. And when he saw Theseus he roared, and put his head down, and rushed right at him.
But Theseus stept aside nimbly, and as he pa.s.sed by, cut him in the knee; and ere he could turn in the narrow path, he followed him, and stabbed him again and again from behind, till the monster fled bellowing wildly; for he never before had felt a wound. And Theseus followed him at full speed, holding the clue of thread in his left hand.
Then on, through cavern after cavern, under dark ribs of sounding stone, and up rough glens and torrent-beds, among the sunless roots of Ida, and to the edge of the eternal snow, went they, the hunter and the hunted, while the hills bellowed to the monster's bellow.
[Picture: Theseus and Minotaur]
And at last Theseus came up with him, where he lay panting on a slab among the snow, and caught him by the horns, and forced his head back, and drove the keen sword through his throat.
Then he turned, and went back limping and weary, feeling his way down by the clue of thread, till he came to the mouth of that doleful place and saw waiting for him, whom but Ariadne!
And he whispered 'It is done!' and showed her the sword; and she laid her finger on her lips, and led him to the prison, and opened the doors, and set all the prisoners free, while the guards lay sleeping heavily; for she had silenced them with wine.
Then they fled to their ship together, and leapt on board, and hoisted up the sail; and the night lay dark around them, so that they pa.s.sed through Minos' ships, and escaped all safe to Naxos; and there Ariadne became Theseus' wife.
PART IV HOW THESEUS FELL BY HIS PRIDE
But that fair Ariadne never came to Athens with her husband. Some say that Theseus left her sleeping on Naxos among the Cyclades; and that Dionusos the wine-king found her, and took her up into the sky, as you shall see some day in a painting of old t.i.tian's-one of the most glorious pictures upon earth. And some say that Dionusos drove away Theseus, and took Ariadne from him by force: but however that may be, in his haste or in his grief, Theseus forgot to put up the white sail. Now aegeus his father sat and watched on Sunium day after day, and strained his old eyes across the sea to see the ship afar. And when he saw the black sail, and not the white one, he gave up Theseus for dead, and in his grief he fell into the sea, and died; so it is called the aegean to this day.
And now Theseus was king of Athens, and he guarded it and ruled it well.
For he killed the bull of Marathon, which had killed Androgeos, Minos'
son; and he drove back the famous Amazons, the warlike women of the East, when they came from Asia, and conquered all h.e.l.las, and broke into Athens itself. But Theseus stopped them there, and conquered them, and took Hippolute their queen to be his wife. Then he went out to fight against the Lapithai, and Peirithoos their famous king: but when the two heroes came face to face they loved each other, and embraced, and became n.o.ble friends; so that the friendship of Theseus and Peirithoos is a proverb even now. And he gathered (so the Athenians say) all the boroughs of the land together, and knit them into one strong people, while before they were all parted and weak: and many another wise thing he did, so that his people honoured him after he was dead, for many a hundred years, as the father of their freedom and their laws. And six hundred years after his death, in the famous fight at Marathon, men said that they saw the ghost of Theseus, with his mighty brazen club, fighting in the van of battle against the invading Persians, for the country which he loved. And twenty years after Marathon his bones (they say) were found in Scuros, an isle beyond the sea; and they were bigger than the bones of mortal man.
So the Athenians brought them home in triumph; and all the people came out to welcome them; and they built over them a n.o.ble temple, and adorned it with sculptures and paintings in which we are told all the n.o.ble deeds of Theseus, and the Centaurs, and the Lapithai, and the Amazons; and the ruins of it are standing still.
But why did they find his bones in Scuros? Why did he not die in peace at Athens, and sleep by his father's side? Because after his triumph he grew proud, and broke the laws of G.o.d and man. And one thing worst of all he did, which brought him to his grave with sorrow. For he went down (they say beneath the earth) with that bold Peirithoos his friend to help him to carry off Persephone, the queen of the world below. But Peirithoos was killed miserably, in the dark fire-kingdoms under ground; and Theseus was chained to a rock in everlasting pain. And there he sat for years, till Heracles the mighty came down to bring up the three-headed dog who sits at Pluto's gate. So Heracles loosed him from his chain, and brought him up to the light once more.
But when he came back his people had forgotten him, and Castor and Polydeuces, the sons of the wondrous Swan, had invaded his land, and carried off his mother Aithra for a slave, in revenge for a grievous wrong.
[Picture: Warriors fighting]
So the fair land of Athens was wasted, and another king ruled it, who drove out Theseus shamefully, and he fled across the sea to Scuros. And there he lived in sadness, in the house of Lucomedes the king, till Lucomedes killed him by treachery, and there was an end of all his labours.
So it is still, my children, and so it will be to the end. In those old Greeks, and in us also, all strength and virtue come from G.o.d. But if men grow proud and self-willed, and misuse G.o.d's fair gifts, He lets them go their own ways, and fall pitifully, that the glory may be His alone.
G.o.d help us all, and give us wisdom, and courage to do n.o.ble deeds! but G.o.d keep pride from us when we have done them, lest we fall, and come to shame!