Theseus and the Minotaur
There was once a great kingdom called Athens. The people were well-fed, prosperous and happy… most of the time. But once a year, a terrible thing happened. Fourteen children were chosen: seven girls and seven boys. They were put on a ship and sent to the neighbouring Kingdom, Crete. Those children never returned.
“What happens to them?” Prince Theseus asked his father, the King, one day.
The King, wouldn’t meet his son’s eye. “I’ll tell you when you’re older, son,” he said, then quickly changed the subject.
Prince Theseus knew something was not right. He waited until he was older, then asked again, “What happens to the fourteen children, father?”
The King of Athens sat Prince Theseus down.
“A terrible thing,” the King explained. In the Kingdom of Crete there lived a monster, called a Minotaur: a beast with the body of a man and the head of a bull. It lived in a huge maze. Every year the seven girls and seven boys were sent into the maze and they never came out.
Prince Theseus thought about this for a moment. “Does the Minotaur... kill the children, father?” he asked.
The King nodded sadly.
Prince Theseus didn’t understand. “But why do we send them to their death, father?”
The King of Athens shrugged. “Because the Minotaur must be satisfied. If not it will turn mad and kill everyone in Crete. The King of Crete - King Minos - doesn’t want to kill his own children, so he sends for ours.”
This didn’t seem fair to Prince Theseus. Why should they send their children to die for a monster in Crete? The King of Athens bowed his head. He had asked himself the same question many times.
“I have no choice,” the King of Athens explained. “If I do not send the children, King Minos will send his army to destroy us.”
Theseus was outraged. “So, let him!” he cried.
But the King shook his head. King Minos’ army was ten times the size of there’s. “If he sends his army, we will all die.” the King told Theseus. “Those children sacrifice themselves each year, to save the rest of us.”
Theseus could not accept this. “No one should have to die.”
But his father shrugged. “What can I do? King Minos demands I send him children to feed the monster. I cannot fight him… and win.”
Theseus stood up. He had an idea. “Send me, father,” he said. “I will kill the Minotaur.”
At first his father laughed at him. “Don’t be silly, Theseus.”
Then he dismissed him.
“You’re just a child. You wouldn’t stand a chance.”
But when Theseus said the same thing every day, for a year and a day, his father finally gave in.
“Very well, Theseus,” the King said. “I will send you with the other children.”
All too soon, the day came when the girls and boys were chosen. Seven girls, six boys and Prince Theseus waited in the harbour for the boat to arrive. The King stood with his son, hoping Theseus might change his mind.
But Theseus did not change his mind.
The boat arrived. The King gave his son a big hug.
“Good luck, son,” he said, trying not to cry.
Theseus promised he would return victorious. He would end the terrible killing of the children of Athens. His father, the King, hoped he was right.
The ship set sail. It took a day and a night to get to Crete. When they arrived, King Minos greeted them.
“Welcome!” King Minos smiled and ushered them into his palace. “Tomorrow, children, you will meet your terrible fate. But tonight, you are my guests. You will eat, you will drink, you will be treated like royalty.”
Thirteen of the children were excited to hear this. They would stay in a palace. They would dine with the king. They felt like the luckiest children alive. Only Theseus was unimpressed. He decided to stay in his rooms and dine alone. He needed all his energy to kill the Minotaur.
King Minos had a daughter, Princess Ariadne. She noticed Theseus and, that night, as the other children dined with her father, she visited him in his rooms.
“You’re not like the others,” she said to him. “You’re not scared.”
Prince Theseus was surprised she had noticed. But she was right. He wasn’t scared. And because he didn’t have anyone else to talk to, and she seemed nice, Theseus told her his plan to kill the Minotaur.
Princess Ariadne was impressed. She had been waiting her whole life for hero to come along and kill the monster. She decided to give Theseus some gifts: a sword and a ball of thread.
“Thank you,” Theseus said. He was grateful for the sword. But he was confused how the ball of thread would help him. Did she want him to knit the monster a jumper?
Princess Ariadne saw his confusion and explained, the maze where the Minotaur lived was pitch black and easy to get lost in. A person could starve to death looking for the way out. She told Theseus to tie one end of the thread to his wrist and to leave the rest at the door. When he killed the Minotaur he would be able to follow the thread back to the start of the maze.
It was a brilliant idea. Theseus grinned and thanked Princess Ariadne. “How can I repay you?” he asked.
Princess Ariadne smiled. “When you leave, promise to take me with you. I want to see the world.”
Theseus promised. After he killed the Minotaur and found his way out of the maze, he would take Princess Aridane with him, so she could see the world. They even shook hands to make the agreement official. Then Theseus hid the sword and thread in his clothes and waited for morning.
The next morning came quicker than the children wanted. They were taken to doors of the maze. They were pushed in and the gate was locked behind them. The children could hear the roar of the Minotaur deep within. They quivered and quaked and shook with fear. But Theseus was not scared. He told the others to stay by the door and wait for his return. He gave one of the children the ball of thread and tied the other end to his wrist. Then he pulled out his sword and headed into the maze, towards the sound of the Minotaur’s roar.
The maze twisted and turned. The light faded to darkness. Theseus walked and walked and walked, for what seemed like days. But no matter how far Theseus travelled into the maze, the Minotaur’s roar did not get closer.
“Oh Minotaur!” he called. “Where are you? Come and get me!”
The roaring stopped. Silence engulfed him. Prince Theseus was so far into the maze, he could see nothing but black. The only sounds were his footsteps on the stone floor and his heavy, quick breath.
Then he heard a scratch behind him.
Prince Theseus turned. The smell was disgusting. He could hear a rasping breath that was not his own. He reached out and felt… a huge, smooth horn.
It was the Minotaur.
With an almighty roar, it attacked. Theseus was flung back against the maze wall. He dropped his sword, which clattered on the stone floor. The Minotaur roared a second time and charged. His humongous horns pinned the prince to the wall.
Theseus could smell the monster’s rancid breath. He saw its sharp teeth and bull’s snout through the darkness. The Minotaur snorted, hungrily.
Any second now, the Minotaur was going to eat him. Theseus had to do something. He pulled up his two legs and kicked the Minotaur as hard as he could in the belly. The Minotaur staggered backwards. The Prince took his chance. He threw himself onto the ground and began to search for his sword. The Minotaur put his head down, pawed at the stone floor and charged again. Theseus’ hand found the hilt of his sword, just in time. He struck the Minotaur right between the eyes. The Minotaur lurched backwards, rearing this way and that, until finally he fell on the ground with a loud thump.
No rasping breath. He reached out and felt the body. No movement. The Minotaur was dead. Theseus leant against the wall and allowed himself a moment of triumph.
Then he felt for the thread. But his wrist was bare. He checked his pocket… Empty. He checked all over his body. The thread was gone. Oh dear. How was he going to find his way out of the maze? Theseus put down his sword. There was only one thing for it. He was going to have to hunt in the darkness until he found the thread.
Theseus searched and searched until…
“Ah-ha!” he cried. He’d found something. It was thin like thread. It was soft like thread. It tugged like thread. Prince Theseus followed it to its end and found... a big, hairy body. Eurgh! The Minotaur! He wasn’t holding thread. He had a lock of the Minotaur’s hair. Theseus continued his search.
“Ah-ha!” he cried. He’d found something. It was thin like thread. It was soft like thread. It tugged like thread. Prince Theseus followed it to its end and found... a piece of rag that smelled awful. It wasn’t thread he had hold of. It was a piece of clothing from a previous victim.
Theseus continued his search, determined to find the thread and escape. He searched for hours and hours in the darkness of the maze. Until, finally, “Ah-ha!” He found something. It was thin like thread. It was soft like thread. It tugged like thread. And this time it went on and on and on. Theseus followed the thread this way and that. Twisting and turning through the dark pathways of the maze, until…
He saw a light, the doorway and thirteen children all very happy to see him.
He’d found his way out.
King Minos let the children out of the maze with a big smile.
“Well done, Theseus,” he said. “You’ve saved us all from the Minotaur.”
He held out his hand for Theseus to shake.
Prince Theseus hesitated. This King had wanted to kill him. Did he want to be his friend?
“I’m sorry,” King Minos said. “I was doing what I thought was best.”
Theseus knew the King had just been trying to protect his own people. He shook the King’s hand. Then boarded the boat home.
Theseus kept his promise to Princess Ariadne. The children set sail for home and Princess Ariadne went with them. When they arrived back at the Kingdom of Athens, Theseus was welcomed as a hero. They had a huge party and everyone was very happy.
From that day on, the Kingdom of Athens prospered and thrived. They no longer sent their children across the sea. Then one day Prince Theseus became King Theseus and he the greatest King the Kingdom of Athens had ever known.