If we were to imagine a living embodiment of Theseus, the ancient legendary Greek hero threading the Labyrinth's path, among the least likely places to search might be thought the South Pacific, on the islands formerly called the New Hebredies, and now known as the nation of Vanuatu. Woven into the texture of cultural life, labyrinth drawing in some communities retains traditional significance as the central, formal expression of the transition between life and death. Furthermore, the process of composing labyrinths has been elevated to a psycho-spiritual, initiatory, artistic, and democratically inventive game, in which the performer, by drawing the labyrinth, may identify with the continuous line in the sand, seeing it it an extension of his own life-line, crossing to a state of bliss in life-after-death.

The early Christian missionaries who assaulted the native culture of Ambrim and Malekula (or, Malakula), central islands in the New Hebredies-Vanuatu group, translated the term tu describing the process of labyrinth-drawing as "writing." The native term also refers to playing string games like cat's cradle, but those are looked down upon by the practitioners of drawing in the sand. Starting from an orientation of abstract coordinates, the lines criss-cross to form interlocking patterns of geometrical figures or fancy scrollwork, symmetrical along at least one axis. The tradition has evolved into an authentic, popular art form, in which design elements may include representations of plants, such as the staple yams or taro, or sea animals. The subjects treated may be mythological, such as the guardian of the land of the dead or marine monsters, but when ritual objects such as masks are depicted, that by itself may render the drawing taboo.

A suitable place in the black sand or the powdery, volcanic soil is cleared and smoothed with the palm of the hand. The draughtsman first sets out the main features of his design by means of isolated dots or parallel lines; or better, and most frequently, he makes a grid consisting of a grid of a double series of parallel lines intersecting at right angles....The object is to achieve a continuous line without removing the finger from the ground and without crossing the grid except at its points of intersection and never in the same direction at the same point. Success for such a test implies a certain capacity for abstraction. These designs seem to be the fruit of a tradition in which neither privilege nor function plays a part; prestige accrues to the most skilful performer, no matter who he is....

Except when performed by people who have already learnt to carry out the designs, the work needs to be accompanied by explanations. This usually takes the form of a game in which the oldest takes the lead in order to instruct the adolescents. Even when a certain design cannot be executed in the presence of a non- initiate, a woman or a child, the ban has nothing to do with the technique; it applies only to the object portrayed.

[Jean Guiart, The Arts of the South Pacific, Thames and Hudson, London (1963), p. 114.]

The democratic aspect, bestowing acclaim upon the most skilful draughtsman without regard for age, wealth, or other conventional index of standing in the community, affords a remarkable example of a society practicing an aesthetic objectivity and applying principles of art appreciation for both performance art and a certain pure form of line drawing. This delightful game, however, only reveals its full archetypal significance in the context of an archaic religious nexus.

Some people on the island of Malekula (until quite recently) still practiced the traditional religion--the principal ritual of which is called Maki and involves a fifteen- to thirty-year ceremonial corresponding to a human generation. Supplanting the practice of human sacrifice and a cannibalistic feast--attested as an "occasional" practice by modern field research--is the identification with sacrificial tusked boars (Sus papuensis), which are roasted and eaten. Exceptional, however, is a sacrificial black "death pig," associated with the moon, and bred especially for the purpose of being cast live into one's grave by relatives. The initial stage in preparing for this momentous event begins when the five or six year-old boy is weaned away from the world of women and children by being guided in the sacrifice of his own pet pig--at once interpreted as a symbol of both the child-devouring mother and the self as a mother-devouring child.

[See, Joseph Campbell, The Mythic Image (Bollingen Series C), Princeton University Press, (1974), pp. 456 ff.]

"The boars bred by the older men have had their upper canines knocked out so that the tusks continue to grow," in the natural form of a logarithmic spiral, around to complete a closed loop--actually a helix--piercing the boar's jowl then reentering the jawbone itself and to emerge once again, sometimes completing two, or even three spirals. The tusks themselves represent two waxing and waning crescents of the moon, the black body of the pig the new moon itself, at the time of its apparent death.

In details of the myth and the rites themselves, these Malekulan practices chillingly reflect the very early Egyptian myth of Osiris, as the dying and resurrected god. The origin of the important Egyptian emblem, the Eye of Horus, relates to the incident during his avenging battle with Seth, slayer of his father Osiris, with the Falcon god's sacrifice of an eye which was burned out when he looked at the virulent, magical form of Seth who had turned into a black pig. Exploring the South Seas, Captain Cook noted the religious awe with which black pigs were sacrificed on the morai, or sacred enclosure. Thus, throughout Melanesia the tusked boar has been recognized as the "principal sacrifice in rites of men's secret societies" relating to mysteries of the afterworld, the principal surrogate for human sacrifice to the guardian goddess of the fiery gate, later identified with the puka or mouth of the volcano, but earlier the Cave as the gateway to the place and occasion of death and rebirth.

[Joseph Campbell cites several texts with elucidating diagrams, and reproduces some early photographs in his section, "The Myth," in The Mythic Image, pp. 450 ff, to which acount we owe a substantial debt.]

The sacrifice of a pig at an advanced grade by a master of the appropriate stature in Maki hierarchy,

confers a degree of authority beyond the touch of any threat whatsoever, either of life or of death. He becomes one who has incorporated in his person not only the powers of all pairs of opposites--male and female, life and death, being and nonbeing, and the rest--but also whatever powers beyond such polarizations a man who had become verily a superman might be imagined to subsume.

Consequently...the tusked boar throughout all Malekula [is] not only food of the ancestral ghosts, but also intimately associated with the Devouring Mother in all her aspects.

Only now the Devouring Mother to be overcome is not the beloved, protecting mother of childhood, but the ultimate, cosmic Mother Night of death, which must be incorporated and transcended.

In order that his spirit may be protected against the Devouring Ghost...for this reason a man will never part with his special boar...which is his spirit's indispensable passport to the Land of the Dead.

[Campbell, The Mythic Image, p. 460. John Layard, "The Malekulan Journey of the Dead," in Spiritual Disciplines, {Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, IV}, edited by Joseph Campbell and translated by Ralph Manheim (1960), p. 124. Layard, cited by Campbell, p. 459 f.]

On the northern islands of the Vanuatu, an older matrilineal tradition has survived, and the sex of the Devouring Ghost is male; while on the southern islands, such as Ambrim and Malekula, this kinship pattern has been replaced by patrilineal forms, and the Devouring Ghost is female. Interestingly, however, on the island of Vao,

which lies in between the two regions, we find a kinship system based almost equally on matrilineal and patrilineal descent, and here the sex of the being is unknown.

[Layard, "Malekulan Journey of the Dead," p. 123.]

As the culminating ritual of the Maki ceremony on Malekula, in the tradition preserved by the community of South West Bay, is the notion of the Journey of the Dead in which the spirit of the deceased must successfully negotiate a particularly challenging encounter with the Female Devouring Ghost, at the entrance to her secret cave.

She has drawn with her finger, in the sand, a geometric figure, and she sits beside it, waiting for the dead man to come....When he...approaches the Devouring Ghost, she rubs out half the design. The dead man must know how to complete it. If he succeeds, he can pass through the lines of the geometric design into the Cave. If he does not succeed, he is devoured by this terrible ghost.

[Layard, "The Malekulan Journey of the Dead," p. 138.]

Among the labyrinth designs seen by uninitiates, including Western visitors, are forms that are both varied and beautiful. Some are drawn with a continuous, "never-ending" line, while in others a definite path is traced, usually from the outside to within, prompting comparisons with labyrinthine passages symbolizing rites of passage, or constructed in order to protect the physical contents of tombs. Dr. John Layard, who studied the funerary mythology on several islands of the Vanuatu group, has found deep similarities in data from his extensive field work and the interpretation of other labyrinths. In an early study, Stone Men of Malekula, Layard linked the Malekulan labyrinth designs, as a way of access to the land of immortal dead, with megalithic, Bronze Age European dolmens and menhirs. Other scholars, have argued the close structural relationship between medieval church labyrinths and the megalithic tombs of pre-Indo-Germanic peoples of the Mediterranean region.

[John Layard, Stone Men of Malekula, London (1942). Campbell, The Mythic Image, p. 456, p. 463. Both Layard and Campbell cite Hermann Gntert, Labyrinth; eine sprachwissenschaftliche Untersuchung, Heidelberg (1932).]

The labyrinth was the center of activities concerned with those greatest of mysteries, Life and Death. There men tried by every means known to them to overcome death and to renew life.

[C. N. Deedes, "The Labyrinth," in S. H. Hooke, The Labyrinth, London and New York, (1935). Quoted by Layard, "The Malekulan Journey of the Dead," p. 142; and, Campbell, The Mythic Image, p. 463.]

One possible connecting link for similarities with the maze concepts in Egyptian or Mesopotamian mortuary temples may be found in South India in the patterns of body-tattoos and the labyrinthine threshold designs "almost identical with those made in Malekula."

The sibyls of classical and medieval lore may well be compared with the Malekulan Female Devouring Ghost sitting beside her cave guarding the labyrinth. Through caves or clefts guarded by these mythical figures mighty heroes of antiquity started on their journeys to the underworld to visit the shades of their ancestors.

Virgil describes such a descent in the sixth book of the Aeneid, in which Aeneas goes into the underworld. Hitherto scholars have, very understandably, failed to appreciate why, in his introduction to this book, the Latin poet interrupts his otherwise consecutive tale with a till now apparently unintelligible interpolation concerning a labyrinth. Aeneas, who has finally landed at Cumae on Latin soil, approaches a cave, guarded by the sibyl, through which he wishes to descend to Hades. But here Virgil, in a passage often criticized as having apparently nothing to do with the story, breaks off to describe a representation of the Cretan labyrinth, depicted on the rock beside the entrance to the cave. Judging from the Malekulan material, it now appears not only that this labyrinth depicted at the entrance to the Cumaean cave is in its right symbolic place, but also that for the Roman reader the scene would have been charged with all the emotion connected with the initiation rites and the journey into the land of the dead.

[Layard, "The Malekulan Journey of the Dead," p. 149. See also John Layard, "Labyrinth Ritual in South India: Threshold and Tattoo Designs," Folk-Lore, Volume 48 (1937), pp. 115 ff. Layard also cites W. F Jackson Knight, Cumaean Gates: a Reference of the Sixth Aeneid to the Iniation Pattern, Oxford (1936).]


In Greek mythology it was Theseus, like Daedalus a type of solar hero, who sailed from of the human sacrifices offered to the Minotaur as part of a yearly tribute. In the light of recent evidence for human sacrifice discovered on Crete, not all scholars are inclined to take for granted the rosy view of Minoan life once projected by Sir Arthur Evans. Human sacrifices and the ritual involved with it, as Joseph Campbell has repeatedly shown, are all connected with traditions of Neolithic grain agriculture, since in rituals related to the hunt, the death of the game, the animal quarry itself, constitutes the sacrifice. Professor Campbell retells in a chilling account, originally recorded by the Swiss ethnologist Paul Wirz, the details of one such ritual that survived down to modern times only because of the extreme remoteness of its practitioners, the Marind-anim tribe of the former Dutch New Guinea, now called Irian Jaya.

[A]t the conclusion of one of the boys' puberty rites, which terminates in a sexual orgy of several days and nights, during which everyone in the village except the initiates makes free with everybody else, amid the tumult of the mythological chants, drums, and the bull-roarers--until the final night, when a fine young girl, painted, oiled, and ceremonially costumed, is led into the dancing ground and made to lie beneath a platform of very heavy logs. With her, in open view of the festival, the initiates cohabit, one after another; and while the youth chosen to be the last is embracing her the supports of the logs above are jerked away and the platform drops, to a prodigious boom of drums. A hideous howl goes up and the dead girl and boy are dragged from the logs, cut up, roasted, and eaten....

What is the background of such rites, which are not frequent merely, but typical among the cannibal gardners of the widely dispersed, equatorial villages?

As Professor Adolf Jensen of Frankfurt has pointed out, developing the broadly reaching cross-cultural theory first announced by Leo Frobenius in 1895-97, these rites are but the renditions in act of a mythology inspired by the model of life and death in the plant world. And they are the basal sacrament of a precisely definable prehistoric culture stratum still represented in tropical Africa and America, as well as in India, Indonesia, and Oceania....The cultural life of the area stands, indeed, as an enduring though vanishing counterpoise to the more durably registered stone and metal ages of the temperate north. It is a culture world in which the forms endure but not the materials in which they are rendered, whereas in the world of stone tools and metal it is the materials that last.

[Campbell, Primitive Mythology, p. 170 f.]

It is said that Ariadne provided Theseus with two secret, sacred instruments with which he was able to solve the magical riddle of the Labyrinth and prevail over the Minotaur. Most traditions omit even mentioning the parentage of Icarus, and explain the imprisonment of Daedalus in the tower as punishment for his first having suggested to Ariadne the use of the ball of twine (the clew) in order to penetrate the Labyrinth and be able to find one's way out again. Ariadne would have had no poetic right to the clew, unless it had been twined from her own hair, or from that of her mother, Pasiphaë. Unwinding a clew of twine is a reasonable procedure when exploring the dark spaces of caves, but there would have been no need for such a ploy inside the traditional Labyrinth because there was only one path, and no options.

Yet, for such a venture, some light would surely come in handy. The second magical device given Theseus by Ariadne was said to have been her bejewelled crown which radiated light. On the way to his adventure in Crete--or according to others, at the dockside upon making landfall--Theseus established his heroic credentials by diving into the sea to retrieve a golden ring thrown overboard as a test to see if he were blessed by the god Poseidon. Some traditions say the Nereids, Poseidon's sea-nymphs, and the dolphins helped him retrieve the golden ring, and also provided him with the magical crown that featured light-emitting gems. Such gems or jewels in mythology are frequently glosses for stars, as with the "gem-like horns" of Europa's Taurus bull. Still, if we were to seek prosaic explanations for the golden rays of light, one is suggested by the beeswax from which Daedalus was also to fashion the wonderous wings for himself and Icarus. A source of light coming from the sea would suggest a whale-oil lamp--and we know that some sort of oil or tallow wick lamps were already used in the Late Paleolithic caves. The case for beeswax is supported by the superbly refined representations of bees in the gold jewelery of archaic Crete, such as the pendant from a Middle Minoan grave at Mallia with appliqu and minute granulated gold ornamentation. In any event, the gods afterwards set this crown in the Okeanos, the night sky, as the constellation Corona Borealis.

The Cretan princess, Ariadne ("most pure" or "high fruitful mother of the barley"), fell in love with Theseus at first sight. In exchange for his promise of marriage she agreed to help him accomplish his heroic deed: to penetrate the Labyrinth and kill its denizen, thus eliminating the obligation for the pride of Athenian youth to serve supposedly as the Minotaur's meal. However, both Ariadnee and her mother Pasiphaë were two aspects of the grain goddess, for whom, we suspect, the sacrifice really--always--had been intended. Similarly, on Malekula, the sacrifice of black boars with crescent or full-moon tusks will have been to the Vegetable goddess of yams and taro.


Ariadne, the virginal maiden, was an archetypal incarnation of the White Goddess, in her first aspect of the three-fold, female, lunar deity whom the Greeks called Kore. The Queen Pasiphaë, as the full moon, was the Red Goddess: the goddess of grain in her fertile, child-bearing, maternal phase on Crete: her counterpart on the Greek mainland, several centuries later, was called Demeter. But there is a third aspect, the dark new moon that can eclipse the sun: the terrible aspect of the White Goddess, the Wicked Queen of Snow White, the Ice Queen who rules in Caer Arianrhod or the Spiral Castle, identified as Corona Borealis in the sky, the Crown of the Hyperboreans, Beyond the North Wind. The White Goddess can thus switch, in an instant (whether occasioned by an eclipse or only by the new moon's transit of the sun) to her other guise as the Black Goddess, the Hag, the Wicked Witch of both Oz and the brothers Grimm, Kali, brought to Earth as Her cannibal maw, "the thirsty entrance of this soil [that] daub[s] her lips with her own children's blood" in the King's words at the opening of Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part I. She is also known in Welsh tradition:

Ariadne, on whom [the Welsh] 'Arianrhod' seems to be modelled, was an orgiastic goddess, and it is evident from the legends of Lemnos, Chios, the Chersonese and the Crimea, that male human sacrifice was an integral part of her worship, as it was among the pre-Roman devotees of the White Goddess in Britain. Orpheus himself...was the sacred victim of her fury. He was torn in pieces by a pack of delirious women intoxicated by ivy and also, it seems, by the toadstool sacred to Dionysus....But the head of Orpheus continued to sing and prophesy, like that of the God Bran...."Orpheus," like "Erebus," the name of the Underworld over which the White Goddess ruled, is derived by the grammarians from the root erph, which means "to cover or conceal." It was the Moon-goddess, not the Sun-god, who originally inspired Orpheus.

The Goddess is a lovely, slender woman with a hooked nose, deathly pale face, lips red as rowan berries, startlingly blue eyes and long fair hair; she will suddenly transform herself into a sow, mare, bitch, vixen, she-ass, weasel, serpent, owl, she-wolf, tigress, mermaid or loathsome hag. Her names and titles are innumerable....The reason why the hairs stand on end, the eyes water, the throat is constricted, the skin crawls and a shiver runs down the spine when one writes or reads a true poem is that a true poem is necessarily an invocation of the White Goddess, or Muse, the Mother of All Living, the ancient power of fright and lust--the female spider or the queen-bee whose embrace is death.

[Graves, The White Goddess, pp. 106, 99, 24. For evidence of human sacrifice on Crete, in addition to J. A. Sakellerakis and E. Sapouna-Sakelleraki,National Geographic, (February, 1981) already cited, see P. M. Warren, "Minoan Crete and ecstatic religion: preliminary observations of the 1979 excavations at Knossos," Sanctuaries and Cults in the Aegean Bronze Age: Proceedings of the First International Sympo-sium at the Swedish Institute at Athens, 12-13 May 1980, Stockholm (1981); J. L. Bintliff, "Structuralism and Myth in Minoan Studies," Antiquity, Vol. 58 (1984) pp. 33-38 argues that Evans' upper-class British bias led him to suppose romantically that life on Crete was blissful and peace-loving; cited by Bernal, Black Athena, II, p. 161.]


In some versions of the myth, Theseus was to subdue the Minotaur without using weapons, bare-handed or, as the say in Japan, kara te. In that rescension he is shown grasping the forelock of the monster's head, just where that black streak is said to have been, between the gem-like horns of the divine white bull that appeared to King Minos. In other, equally ancient and authentic representations on Greek vases, he is shown armed with a sword. The Dorian Greeks who attacked Crete from around 1250 BC on, apparently did have swords of iron.

The rationale behind the sacrificial tribute is given by the story of Androgeus, another problem child of King Minos who had been killed when visiting Greece to collect tribute. Thus the concept of private property based on the forced submission of others and their material exploitation is woven in with the tale of a troubled line of descent. In some versions, lots are cast to determine the victims destined for sacrifice; in others Theseus is specifically chosen. In still others he is portrayed as a volunteer; perhaps this confidence was the product of possessing a secret weapon: a sword that may have been made of iron. Bernal says the sword was first introduced into Crete together with the chariot in the Late Bronze Age, between 1730 and 1675 BC, during the archaeological subperiod known as Middle Minoan III. But by this time, the Homeric Age in Greece, iron had already been used for swords, and perhaps also for ploughshares. Meteoric iron, of course, has a far, far more ancient history.

It is not at all improbable that iron was produced as early as copper or bronze. The evidence available suggests that in Egypt iron was known as early as copper or bronze. Beads made from meteoric iron, believed to date as early as 4000 BC, have been found at Gerzeh in Egypt. But we must be reminded that employment of stray pieces of iron as jewelery does not constitute a distinct stage of a metal culture. The oldest Egyptian texts extant, ca. 3500 BC, refer to iron, which at this early period was reduced from ores by smelting. Our failure to find iron relics that were produced as early as copper and bronze is apparently due to the relatively rapid rate at which iron disintegrates.

[Stephen V. Grancsay, "Introduction," Made of Iron, University of St. Thomas Art Department, Houston, (1966), p. 19. See also, Bernal, Black Athena, II, p. 42.]

We learn from a passage at the opening of the Eighteenth Book of the Iliad that Antilochos feared Achilles might cut his throat with an iron blade, upon hearing of the death of Patroklos. Pseudo-Hesiod describes the process of tempering iron by plunging it into water in The Shield of Herakles. This latter text was a work of about 600 BCE, spuriously attributed to Hesiod, but it does emphasize the crucial importance of the technological process for producing steel--the only form of iron really stronger and harder than cold-worked bronze.

The earliest man-made iron we now know of dates from about 2800 BCE. Iron did not, however, become important until methods of relatively large-scale production had been developed, supposedly by the Hittites, and it did not challenge the superiority of bronze (save in the important economic aspect of its availability) until smiths had found how to convert soft iron into that magnificent material, steel, which can be relatively easily worked to shape and metamorphosized by a final heat treatment into a material of unsurpassed strength and hardness almost unsurpassed....The structure and the resulting properties depend greatly upon cooling rate, and great hardness results only after quenching or other very rapid cooling....(All early steel hardening involved the direct quenching of the steel in a manner to give the desired final hardness as it came from the quenching bath, It was a difficult and precarious operation. This is what used to be meant by "tempered" steel. The modern process of a full quench and a tempering {reheating} operation to soften to the desired degree is not mentioned in the literature prior to the sixteenth century AD, and the date of its intrduction is unknown.)

Unquenched iron, or even steel, is no better as a tool or weapon than cold-worked bronze, and it is somewhat more difficult to fabricate. The importance of the first introduction of iron was primarily an economic one, for iron ores are widely available. Quenched steel, however, is spectacularly harder than bronze, and after quenching was introduced to harden the steel in a control-led way man could do previously impossible things with metal.

[Cyril Stanley Smith, A Search for Structure: Selected Essays on Science, Art, and History, MIT Press, Cambridge (1982), p. 33 and note 2 on p. 50, p. 94 f. See also, Richmond Lattimore, tr., The Iliad of Homer, University of Chicago {Phoenix Books}, Chicago (1951), Book XVIII, line 34. For Hesiod see, Albin Lesky, A History of Greek Literature, Methuen, London (1966), p. 104.]

Pragmatically, a properly quenched or "tempered" iron (or steel) sword can virtually cut a bronze sword in two-- for we know that this was literally the deciding edge enjoyed by the Roman legions when (much later, of course) they engaged the Goths. The warriors who wielded such weapons had, by about 1200 BC, put an end to the glories of Bronze Age Crete, together with their palaces and pottery, dances and flowers, and whatever sacrifices were believed essential for maintaining the system that had worked there for a thousand years.

A generation after the fall of Troy, [an] Indo-European horde passed down into Asia Minor and Europe--among them the Dorians who invaded Greece, killing, sacking and burning--and a great tide of fugitives was let loose in all directions.

[Graves, The White Goddess, p. 64.]

Following the confrontation between Theseus and the Minotaur, the hero victorious and Ariadne leave Crete ostensibly planning to return to Athens. However, Theseus "inexplicably" leaves his eloping bride at their first stop which some say was on the island of Dia, just off the northern coast of Crete, and others say was on Naxos, still others that it was Delos. Here we may finally see some point in remembering that the exploits of Theseus are part of Greek myth set in Crete, and that they are only in a very limited sense about Crete, at all. Rather they are about the sources of Greek culture, and so--from such a perspective--of course, the hero (a Greek) must return home.

Theseus, therefore, could not marry Ariadne and live happily ever after in Crete--for Ariadne and Pasiphaë her mother, both being females, were identified with the particular locus, the land itself, and so could not venture further from Crete than to one of the offshore islands probably under the control of the Cretan navy. To have wed Ariadne would have been tantamount to becoming her victim--which in this story would have meant defeat by her "half-brother" the Minotaur. Even so, since Theseus represents an Attic version of the dying and reborn solar hero, patterned after the Egyptian Osiris, he would have enjoyed the miraculous experience of a cosmic rebirth. Possibly alluding to this relationship, the Greek hero is aid to have belonged to the Athenian House of Erechtheus, which had as its emblem a coiled serpent. Because the snake sloughs its skin, it was widely believed to symbolize renewal or rebirth, and was one of the calendrical animals frequently chosen to symbolize the yearly round. And in fact, a Bronze Age terracotta piece found at Mycaenae--except for the actual presence of the snake's head--looks much like the spiraling ammonites of Whitby or talismans of the Egyptian god Min.

[Ward, Quest for Theseus, p. 51 (Ill. 50, photo courtesy of Lord William Taylour). See also, Jill Purce, The Mystic Spiral: Journey of the Soul {Art and Cosmos series}, Avon (1974) for many comparisons.]


The non-material form of cultural preservation perhaps can best be seen in the traditions of the ritual dance, and of the grand theater--with mythological roots very much older than the settling of Crete--in which it is set. One of the principal features of the great palace at Knossos uncovered by Evans was interpreted as Ariadne's dance floor. Upon this was performed the labyrinthine Geranos, or Crane Dance as it was called on Delos...still a popular folk dance throughout Greece. To be sure, some versions of the myth say the shipload of reprieved victims stopped by Delos on the way home where they performed this dance before an altar constructed by Apollo him-self from the horns of she-goats taken only from one side of the animal's head, reminiscent of the one horn grasped by Europa, and of the one horn clasped by the much earlier female figure in the Paleo-lithic cave at Laussel. The Geranos is a circle-dance in which the performers with joined hands weave in and out, over and under, tying themselves as it were, into a knot and then untying themselves without letting go of hands. It may be related to the circle dances said to have been conducted by Jesus in the Apocryphal Gospel of Thomas. The equinoctial timing of the celebration also suggests affinities with the old Troy Town, Maze, and Morris Dancing of the British Isles, and the Sword Dances of the Highlands. Robert Graves relates this Cretan tradition to the mating ritual of the cock partridge which it carries out on a regular dance floor. Partridges were hunted by hiding a lamed a decoy cock in the center of a brushwood maze, the sound of its cries attracting other birds: the hens to mate, the other cocks to challenge, and both to feed. Therefore, literally at the center of this labrynthine myth, we find an extraordinary correspondence with Duchamp's sculpture With Hidden Noise, for the Labyrinth itself may be based ultimately on a construction "with hidden noise." Moreover, some ancient traditions attribute to the call of the concealed decoy a miraculous generative or procreative power, capable (in effect) of transforming the Virgin into the Bride, for,

according to Aristotle, Pliny and Aelian the hen partridge can be impregnated by the sound of the cock partridge's voice....

[Graves, The White Goddess, p. 328.]

The dance floor at Knossos could also have served--without con-tradiction--as a threshing floor for grain, such as that of Atad mentioned in Genesis, 50: 11. The partridge is related to a limping dance performed at Carmel during Pesach, the Passover Feast, that

appears to have been a Canaanite Spring festival which the tribe of Joseph adopted and transformed into a commemoration of their escape from Egypt under Moses....The proverb quoted by Jeremiah: "The partridge gathers young she has not brought forth," means that Jewish men and women were attracted to these alien orgiastic rites. So also the understanding Titian gives us a glimpse of a partridge through the window of the room in which his naked Love-goddess is lasciviously meditating fresh conquests.

[Graves, The White Goddess, p. 327 f.]

The painting by Titian described by Graves is one of a series of works very closely related to the Venus of Urbino, probably painted "with some assistance from the workshop" between 1545 and 1548, and presently in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. A partridge is perched on a window sill, the object of interested sniffs from a little dog who is on the pillows, with some of Cupid's arrows, at the feet of Venus. The pose is certainly more open, for the hand no longer forms the gesture of a Venus Pudica (in the style of Giorgione) as in Titian's earlier Venus of Urbino, and the goddess's legs are uncrossed. Titian, however, also incorporated a red- legged partridge (alectorus rufa) in another earlier painting (done in the late 1530s and belonging to the Scuola di San Rocco), an Annunciation in which the Virgin Mary was intended as the new Eve who extinguishes the sins or transgressions of the old (origo peccati per Genitricem Christi extincta est). Since, for such a subject, there could be no question of "lasciviousness," this context underscores the iconographical ambivalence of the partridge, both as a symbol of sexual potency and as a token of divine miracle:

the partridge, its mostly negative connotations notwithstanding, could symbolize the Incarnation itself: the female was believed to be so full of sexual desire that it was able to conceive by a wind that had passed a male, or even by the latter's mating call. But this very fact was susceptible of a positive interpretation: a partridge bearing the motto AFFLATU FECUNDA ("fruitful by a breath of air") could illustrate the fact that the Virgin conceived by the Holy Spirit; and since the Virgin Mary, through the angelic salutation, "conceived through the ear" (quae per aurem concepisti), the partridge could visualize the phrase AVDITA VOCE FECUNDA ("fruitful by hearing a voice").

[Erwin Panofsky, Problems in Titian, Mostly Iconographic, New York University Press, New York (1969), pp. 29 f., 121, and pls. 34, 134. Professor Panofsky, thanking Millard Meiss, cites Filippo Picinelli, Mundus symbolicus, IV, 53, No. 553. "For the whole subject" see, E. Jones, "The Madonna's Conception through the Ear," in Essays in Applied Psychoanalysis, London and Vienna (1923), pp. 261 ff.]

It seems, then, that the pesach bull cult had been superimposed on a partridge cult; and that the Minotaur to whom youths and maidens from Athens and elsewhere) were sacrificed had once represented the decoy partridge of a brushwood maze, towards which the others were lured for their death dance. He was, in fact, the center of a ritual performance, originally honoring the Moon-goddess, the lascivious hen-partridge, who at Athens and in parts of Crete was the mother and lover of the Sun-hero Talus. (In Athenian legend Talus was thrown down by Daedalus from a height and transformed into a partridge while in the air by the Goddess Athene). But the dance of the hobbling cock-partridge was later transformed into one honoring the Moon-goddess Pasiphaë, the cow in heat, mother and lover of the Sun-hero, the bull-headed Minos. Thus the spirally danced Troy-game (called the "Crane Dance" in Delos because it was adapted there to the cult of the Moon-goddess as Crane) had the same origin as the pesach. The case is proved by Homer who wrote [or sang!]:

[Graves, The White Goddess, p. 329. The Homeric verse "the scholiast explains as referring to the Labyrinth dance, and...Lucian in his Concerning the Dance, a mine of mythological tradition, gives as the subjects of Cretan dances: 'the myths of Europ, Pasiphaë, the two Bulls, the Labyrinth, Ariadne, Phaedra (daughter of Pasipha), Androgeous (son of Minos), Icarus, Glaucus (raised by Aesculapius from the dead), the magic of Polydius (probably the shape-shifting dance of Zagreus at the Cretan Lenaea), and of Talus the bronze man (virgin-born of Perdix the partridge hen) who did his sentry round in Crete.'"]


Hitherto, the ships carrying the tribute victims destined to feed the Minotaur, out of respect for the solemnity of the voyage, hoisted black sails. In fact, another meaning of the word CLEW is the foot of a sail, in English; although in Greek the word for sail was either cognate with or a pun on the Pleidaes. Theseus promised his father Aegeus, the Athenian King, that if successful in slaying the Minotaur he would change the sails, hoisting white ones for his return. On his homeward voyage Theseus still had his ship rigged with black sails, and he "forgot" his promise about changing them to white. In a terrible and ironic twist of the theme illustrating the central idea about continuity of consciousness, his father Aegeus, upon seeing the ship enter the harbor and disconsolate in thinking his son dead, committed suicide. Somewhat in the spirit of R. H. van Gulik's "Parallel Cases," we await the report of others more qualified to scrutinize the niceties of drawing careful distinctions between killing and murder (which we have noted were set forth by the 3rd century BC text of the Chhun Chhiu--in the tradition known as the "rectification of names" associated with the school of Hsn Tzu--in a famous chapter called "The Correct Use of Terminology," distinguishing thirty-six different acts of regicide), in order to determine the appropriate category into which we might put the act of Theseus.

[Needham, Science and Civilisation in China, II, p. 9 f. See, van Gulik's edition and translation of the Thang Yin Pi Shih, Parallel Cases from under the Pear-Tree: a 13th-century Manual of Jurisprudence and Detection, (Sinica Leidensia No. 10), Brill, Leyden (1956).]

This sad event, however, did have the effect of passing the crown to Theseus. Instead of Ariadne for a bride, he persuaded her sister Phaedra to accompany him, whom he married, inheriting the consequences that attend his establishing a sexually repressive patriarchy, namely, a severely dysfunctional domestic life, made no less complicated by his marriage to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, and the tragic relationship between their son and Phaedra as related by Euripides in his play, the Hippolytus. That Ariadne was, indeed, Queen of the Underworld was proven when, having been stranded by Theseus in mid-elope, as it were, she was miraculously rescued, honored, and married instead by Dionysus in one of his fearsomely mysterious manifestations betraying many attributes of Pluto, Lord of Wealth and Ruler of Hades.

Over three thousand years after the events surrounding the collapse of Minoan civilization, a tradition of highly ritualized, public bull sacrifice that almost certainly shares the same historical roots as those of the Cretan Minotauromachy, survives as the corrida de toros in Spain and Latin America. So does an apparently gentler tradition in southern France, in which the chosen bull is not, in fact, killed as a part of the public spectacle. But where the bull IS killed, the matador de toros, wielding the sword, attempts to approach at a very exact angle, over the bull's lowered head and between its horns, so the sword's tip enters between the bull's shoulder blades. When addressed thusly--passing precisely over where the requisite blaze would have been on that sacred bull which appeared to Minos, and also on the one sacrificed in Mesopotamia--the slightly downward-curved sword blade can the penetrate the body of the bull so as to reach the heart, thereby swiftly causing the animal to die.