Ariadne in Greek Mythology

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The tale of the Greek mythological heroine Ariadne is a favorite for artists and poets. Ariadne’s legend has inspired poetic interpretations, such as the version found in the Roman poet Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, which in turn have influenced painters such as Titian to create masterpieces that celebrate the beauty of this story.

Why is the myth of Ariadne so important to artists? One reason is that Ariadne’s story is so powerful. It has dramatic scenes of tragedy and triumph, of love lost and found again. Ariadne truly is a heroine in the most dignified and exalted sense of the word.

In mythology, Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos of Crete and his wife Pasiphae. And her story begins with a chance encounter with a handsome stranger. As fate would have it, Ariadne fell in love with the dashing Greek hero Theseus. They met in Crete, where Theseus was sent to kill the deadly Minotaur. According to the myth, it was Ariadne who helped Theseus to escape the Labyrinth (which was the Minotaur’s lair) by supplying the hero with thread used to navigate the tangled passages. In appreciation for her assistance, Theseus promised to make Ariadne his bride, and he brought her with him when he left Crete and sailed for his home in Athens.

But something happened on the way to Athens. During their journey, Theseus stopped to rest on the island of Naxos (also known as Dia). However, when he again set sail, the Greek adventurer did not have Ariadne on board - he simply left her alone on the island. Ariadne was devastated. Her love had abandoned her. As she was crying and lamenting her cruel fate, a miraculous event took place. The god Dionysos appeared, in all his divine glory, and rescued the forsaken heroine. In some versions of the myth, Dionysos then married Ariadne. So in Greek mythology, sometimes there really is a happy - and beautiful - ending.

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