That’s what most people think of when they hear the name. Good old Theseus slaying the dastardly Minotaur in the labyrinth of Knossos. But how much of this actually squares up with history itself?
The people of the Bronze Age who inhabited Knossos are called the Minoans, at least by us. Did they have magical half-human creatures in underground mazes, kept there to terrorise anyone unlucky enough to be thrown to them? No. The reality is actually much more interesting.
And see, that’s the problem. Every fictional account of that time considers the Greek legend to be the cornerstone of any tale told about the Minoans. People think that there has to be a skerrick of historical truth in the myth, why else would they have made it?
We need to take a quick look at the period following the Bronze Age: the Greek Dark Age. This period, roughly between the fall of Troy and the rise of Athens and Sparta, was marked by the widespread collapse of civilisation, particularly in the Greek world. They lost their form of writing (Classical Greek being derived from a later, foreign script), people fled the palaces for the countryside and art went from wall paintings of intricate detail to pots covered with little more than stick figures and geometric patterns. Everything points to a massive loss, not only of technology but of culture as well. And the kicker—we don’t even really know why.
So bear that in mind as you read the Greek myths and compare them with what we can understand from archaeology. The well-known British archaeologist Arthur Evans, for all his faults, did wonders for the Greek Bronze Age and Spyridon and Nanno Marinatos, to name but two less well-known greats, did arguably even more. We still can’t read the writing of the Minoans but their frescoes, buildings and everyday items have given us plenty of clues as to how they really lived. And it’s nothing like the myth of Theseus (and Ariadne) and the Minotaur.
And so, in the end, the situation becomes deeply ironic. The more you rely on Greek myth, the less you are representing the historical time period it purports to represent. But it goes further than that. See, the more you rely on archaeology, the freer you become to actually write an original story. If you base the story off the myth then your plot and characters are already laid out; you’ve already been given the building blocks and everyone’s seen them before. If you rely on archaeology, your inspiration is something few people have experienced before and, moreover, there’s still so much up for debate about the Minoan world. We still have so many questions. And in the world of little known facts and lots of questions, there’s plenty of room to be both authentic to the historical time period, and original with a unique story of your own.
Or that’s my take on it anyway. That’s what I’ve done. Why call it “Ariadne” then? Well there’s no point re-inventing how we imagine the past if I’m not, at least somewhere, letting you know that that’s what I’m doing. To me “Ariadne” is the perfect title for something which conjures up your understanding of the Ancient Greek world—meeting you wherever you’re at—and then breaking your expectations to inform and entertain you. That is my goal; the challenge I’ve set myself. Will I succeed? We’ll see. I guess you’ll be the judge…
(photo: well-known Minoan “bull-leaping” fresco. Source Wikimedia Commons)