Notes for

Ovid, Heroides X


Aegeus:  King of Athens; son of Pandion and Pylia; father of Theseus (some accounts make Theseus the son of the god Neptune).  Aegeus was childless and consulted the oracle at Delphi, which told him, rather enigmatically, not to open the wineskin until he reached Athens.  On the way home he stopped at Troezen. There King Pittheus, who seems to have understood the oracle, arranged for Aegeus to sleep with his daughter, Aethra, who became pregnant with Theseus (another version of the story says that the god Neptune slept with Aethra on the same night, and that Theseus was actually his son).  Aegeus left a sword and sandals under a large boulder, and told Aethra that, if she bore a son, he should come to Athens as soon as he was old enough to move the boulder and retrieve what was under it.  When Theseus reached young manhood, he took the sword and sandals and made his way across the Isthmus of Corinth to Athens, clearing the area of its dangerous bandits along the way.  In Athens, Aegeus had married Medea, one of the most famous sorceresses of the ancient world, and someone who had a bloody and unscrupulous past.  When Theseus arrived in Athens, Aegeus did not recognize him, but Medea did.  She saw him as a threat to the inheritance of her own son, Molossus, and convinced Aegeus that Theseus was dangerous.  She prepared a cup of poisoned wine for Aegeus to give to the stranger, but just as Theseus was about to drink it, Aegeus recognized the sword he was carrying and struck the cup from his lips.  Medea was banished and Theseus was accepted as Aegeus' son and heir.  Some time earlier, Androgeos, the son of King Minos of Crete, had been killed in Athens, and Minos had waged a successful war against Athens in retaliation.  As part of the peace settlement, Athens had to send seven young men and seven young women to Crete each year, to be sent into the Cretan Labyrinth as food for the Minotaur.  Theseus volunteered to be one of the seven men, vowing to kill the Minotaur and end Minos' demands.  Aegeus instructed him to raise a white sail on his ship on the return voyage if he had been successful.  Theseus did succeed, but forgot to raise the white sail.  Aegeus, thinking his son was dead, threw himself from a cliff into the sea as the ship neared harbor.  Theseus became king, and the sea became known as the "Aegean" Sea thereafter.

Aeolus:  Ruler of the winds, either a favored mortal or a minor god.  He lived on the floating island of Aeolia, and was able to restrain or dispatch the winds as he wished.

Aethra:  Daughter of King Pittheus of Troezen; mother of Theseus.  For more details, see the note on Aegeus.  

Androgeos:  Son of King Minos of Crete and his wife, Pasiphae; brother of Ariadne.  As a young man, Androgeos competed in the Panathenean games at Athens and vanquished all his opponents.  The Athenian citizens murdered him.  In revenge, Minos waged a successful war against Athens.  As part of the peace settlement, Minos required a yearly tribute of seven young men and seven young women to be sent from Athens to Crete.  These captives were then sent into the Labyrinth as food for the Minotaur.

Ariadne:  Daughter of King Minos of Crete and his wife, Pasiphae; granddaughter of Jove, king of the gods, on her father's side, and of Apollo, the sun-god, on her mother's side (in some accounts, the sun-god Helios is her maternal grandfather).  Her family history is a strange one.  Jove took on the form of a bull and abducted the human woman Europa; he took her to Crete, where she had several children, including Minos.  Minos in turn married Pasiphae, and they had several children, including two daughters, Ariadne and Phaedra, and a son, Androgeos.  As an adult, Minos prayed to the god Neptune to send a sign that he should be king.  Neptune sent a beautiful bull from the sea, with the understanding that Minos would sacrifice it to him; Minos refused to sacrifice the bull and kept it instead.  In revenge, Neptune inflamed Minos' wife, Pasiphae, with an unnatural passion for the bull, and she had a son by it--the half-human, half-bull Minotaur.  This Minotaur was confined in an impenetrable Labyrinth, where it could wander freely but from which it could never escape.  Sometime around this time Androgeos, Minos' son and Ariadne's brother, was killed in Athens, and Minos made war against the Athenians to avenge his death.  As part of the peace settlement, Athens was required to send a yearly tribute of seven young men and seven young women to Crete; these captives were sent into the Labyrinth as food for the Minotaur.  Theseus, the son of the Athenian king, came to Crete as one of these captives, having vowed to kill the Minotaur and end the tribute.  Ariadne fell in love with Theseus, and she helped him to slay the Minotaur, giving him a thread to guide him safely out of the Labyrinth.  In return, she got him to promise to marry her.  She fled with him from Crete, intending to return to Athens with him as his wife.  Along the way, their ship stopped at the island of Naxos, and when it departed Ariadne was left behind.  Various reasons are given for Theseus' abandonment of Ariadne, including a sort of magical fit of forgetfulness sent by the gods, a request by the god Bacchus, and simple cold-hearted desertion.  In any case, Ariadne remained alone on Naxos, where the god Bacchus ultimately wooed her and made her his wife.

Bacchante:  Female devotee of Bacchus, the god of wine, fertility and song.  During religious rites, Bacchantes were said to behave in wild, uncontrolled, and sometimes violent fashions.  Ariadne was said to have married Bacchus after Theseus abandoned her on Naxos.

betrothed to you:  Theseus had promised to marry Ariadne in return for her help in killing the Minotaur and escaping from the Labyrinth.  For more details, see the notes on Theseus and on Ariadne.

country ruled by my just parent:  Crete, which was ruled by Ariadne's father, Minos.

Crete, Cretan:  Island in the Mediterranean, south of the Aegean Sea, between Greece and Turkey.  It was ruled by Minos, father of Ariadne.  Crete was famous for its "hundred cities," the chief of which was Knossus.  According to one myth, the god Jove spent his childhood there.

funerals:  Funeral rites for the seven young men and seven young women who were sent as tribute to Crete as a result of the murder of Androgeos.

Jove:  King of the gods; father of Minos and grandfather of Ariadne.  Jove's father, Saturn, swallowed all of his children as soon as they were born, in order to ensure that none of them supplanted him.  Saturn's wife, Rhea, hid Jove away and gave Saturn a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes to swallow in his place.  According to one myth, the young Jove was then raised on the island of Crete.  When he reached adulthood, Jove overthrew his father and forced him to disgorge all the other children, who then became the elder generation of the Olympian gods and goddesses:  Neptune, Pluto, Juno, Vesta, and Ceres.

Land of Cecrops, port of Cecrops:  Athens.  Cecrops was the legendary first king of Athens.

Minos:  Son of the god Jove and the human woman Europa; husband of Pasiphae and father of Phaedra, Ariadne, and Androgeos.  When Minos was in a dispute with his brothers over who should become king of Crete, he prayed to Neptune to send him a sign; Neptune sent a beautiful bull from the sea.  But Minos then refused to sacrifice the bull to Neptune, substituting an ordinary bull instead.  As punishment, Neptune made Minos' wife, Pasiphae, conceive an unnatural sexual desire for the bull.  Pasiphae got the master craftsman, Daedalus, to build a hollow image of a cow; she climbed inside it, the bull mounted it, and Pasiphae bore a son that was half human and half bull--the Minotaur.  The Minotaur proved to be savage and uncontrollable, and so Minos called Daedalus back and had him build the Labyrinth, a complex maze of winding passages through which the Minotaur could wander but from which it could not escape.  Minos also went to war against Athens over the murder of his son, Androgeos, and, as a condition of peace, demanded that Athens send seven young men and seven young women to Crete each year; these captives were sent into the Labyrinth as food for the Minotaur.  Theseus, the son of King Aegeus of Athens, volunteered to be one of the seven men.  When he arrived in Crete, Minos' daughter, Ariadne, fell in love with him and promised to help him slay the Minotaur and find his way out of the Labyrinth.  She gave him a ball of string that he could unwind as he traveled.  He killed the Minotaur, and then followed the string back out of the Labyrinth.  He and Ariadne fled from Crete, but Ariadne was abandoned on the island of Naxos.  

mother:  Pasiphae, wife of Minos and mother of Ariadne.  Pasiphae's father was the sun-god, Apollo (also known as Phoebus).  In other versions of the myth, the sun-god Helios was her father.

my brother:  The Minotaur, offspring of Ariadne's mother, Pasiphae, and the sacred bull of Neptune, was Ariadne's half-brother.  He was slain by Theseus in the Labyrinth of Crete.  For more details, see the notes on Minos and Ariadne.

my father:  Minos.

Ogygian god:  Bacchus, god of wine, fertility and song.  Ogyges was the legendary first ruler of Thebes, a city strongly associated with Bacchus, and its people were sometimes called "Ogygian."  Ariadne was said to have married Bacchus after Theseus abandoned her on Naxos.

part man, part bull; man-bull:  The Minotaur, offspring of Ariadne's mother, Pasiphae, and the sacred bull of Neptune.  Theseus killed the Minotaur in the Labyrinth of Crete.  For more details, see the notes on Minos and Ariadne.

Phoebus:  Apollo, the sun-god (as well as a god of healing, music and poetry).  In Ovid's version of the myth, Apollo is Pasiphae's father, and hence Ariadne's grandfather.

Pittheus:  King of Troezen; father of Aethra and grandfather of Theseus.  For more details, see the note on Aegeus.

promise:  In return for helping Theseus kill the Minotaur and escape the Labyrinth, Ariadne asked that he promise to marry her.  For more details, see the notes on Theseus and on Ariadne.

right hand:  The hand of Theseus, who killed Ariadne's half-brother, the Minotaur.

Theseus: Son of Aegeus and Aethra.  Theseus was one of the great legendary heroes of the ancient world.  He was conceived when Aegeus, the king of Athens, stopped at Troezen and slept with King Pittheus' daughter, Aethra.  (For more details on his conception, see the note on Aegeus.)   Aegeus left a sword and sandals under a boulder, with the understanding that, as soon as their son was old enough to lift the rock, he should take them and journey to Athens.  When the time came, Theseus decided to journey to Athens by land instead of taking the safer and easier sea route.  This meant traveling through the Isthmus of Corinth, an area infested with robbers and bandits.  On his journey, Theseus earned a reputation as a great hero by clearing the region of its worst perils.  When Theseus arrived in Athens, Aegeus was married to Medea, one of the most famous sorceresses of antiquity.  Aegeus did not recognize him, but Medea did.  She persuaded Aegeus that this stranger was a danger to him, and so Theseus was sent to deal with the dangerous bull of Marathon, which had been ravaging the countryside.  When Theseus proved himself as a hero once more  in this venture, Medea prepared a cup of poison which Aegeus presented to Theseus at a feast.  At the last moment, Aegeus recognized Theseus' sword, and knocked the cup from his lips.  He accepted Theseus as his son, and Medea was banished.  Later, Theseus determined to end the tribute that King Minos of Crete demanded of the Athenians--seven young men and seven young women who were sent into the Cretan Labyrinth as food for the Minotaur.  (See the notes on Ariadne, Minos, and Androgeos for more details here.)  He volunteered to be part of the tribute; Aegeus told him that he should raise a white sail on his ship as he returned to Athens, in order to indicate that he had been successful in his quest.  When he arrived in Crete, Minos' daughter, Ariadne, fell in love with him, and she offered to help him if he would marry her.  She gave him a ball of string, one end of which he tied to the entrance of the Labyrinth.  He then proceeded in, unwinding the string as he went.  He killed the Minotaur and followed the string back out.  He and Ariadne fled from Crete, but Ariadne was left behind when they stopped at the island of Naxos; there are various stories about how she came to be abandoned, including a sort of magical fit of forgetfulness on Theseus' part or a request by the god Bacchus.  In any case, Ariadne married Bacchus after Theseus' departure.  When Theseus approached Athens, he forgot to hoist the white sail that his father had given him.  Aegeus, thinking that his son was dead, threw himself into the sea from a cliff.  Theseus then became king of Athens.  Theseus was involved in numerous other heroic exploits after his return from Crete.  He also later married Ariadne's sister, Phaedra. 

threads:  To assist Theseus in finding his way back out of the Labyrinth, Ariadne gave him a ball of string, which he unwound as he proceeded inwards.  After he killed the Minotaur, he was able to follow the string back out again.

winding edifice, building of rock cut in uncertain paths:  The Labyrinth on Crete, where the Minotaur was kept, was a complex maze of winding passages from which escape was supposed to be impossible.  For more details, see the note on Minos.

 

 

 

This page created and maintained by James M. Hunter

Comments and suggestions welcome:  hunter@edgewood.edu

Last updated 06/23/2013