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Reply To: To the The Female God of the Labyrinth,” with Joanna Gardner, Ph.D.”


This isn’t a question so much as a passing comment on the figure of Ariadne.

Roughly a decade ago I presented a lecture at the Gaia festival on the love of Dionysus and Ariadne. The deeper I delved into that imagery, the more I found their myth to be a bottomless well; I did my best to capture and convey a bit of the magic, but nothing I shared about Ariadne came close to Florentine author Roberto Calasso, whom I discovered the following year. He elegantly draws together so many conflicting accounts to embrace the paradox contained in her image:

Mythical figures live many lives, die many deaths, and in this they differ from the characters we find in novels, who can never go beyond the single gesture. But in each of these lives and deaths all the others are present, and we can hear their echo. Only when we become aware of a sudden consistency between incompatibles can we say we have crossed the threshold of myth. Abandoned in Naxos, Ariadne was shot dead by Artemis’s arrow; Dionysus ordered the killing and stood watching, motionless. Or: Ariadne hung herself in Naxos, after being left by Theseus. Or: pregnant by Theseus and shipwrecked on Naxos, she died there in childbirth. Or: Dionysus came to Ariadne in Naxos, together with his band of followers; they celebrated a divine marriage, after which she rose into the sky, where we still see her today amid the northern constellations. Or: Dionysus came to Ariadne in Naxos, after which she followed him around on his adventures, sharing his bed and fighting with his soldiers; when Dionysus attacked Perseus in the country near Argos, Ariadne went with him, armed to fight amid the ranks of the crazed Bacchants, until Perseus shook the deadly face of Medusa in front of her and Ariadne was turned to stone. And there she stayed, a stone in the field.

No other woman, or goddess, had so many deaths as Ariadne. That stone in Argos, that constellation in the sky, that hanging corpse, that death by childbirth, that girl with an arrow through her breast: Ariadne was all this.

Roberto Calasso, The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony

This passage resonates on so many levels. The Female God of the Labyrinth is more than just a silly, lovestruck princess, to be abandoned on the beach once one’s monster is slain. Theseus may have completed his task, sparing Athens its human tribute, but he missed the boat (pun intended) when he let Ariadne miss the boat . . .