Padraic Colum (18811972). The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived before Achilles. 1921.
Part III. The Heroes of the Quest
Chapter III. Theseus and the Minotaur
AND now the black-sailed ship had come to Crete, and the youths and maidens of Athens looked from its deck on Knossos, the marvelous city that Dædalus the builder had built for King Minos. And they saw the palace of the king, the red and black palace in which was the labyrinth, made also by Dædalus, where the dread Minotaur was hidden.
In fear they looked upon the city and the palace. But not in fear did Theseus look, but in wonder at the magnificence of it allthe harbor with its great steps leading up into the city, the far-spreading palace all red and black, and the crowds of ships with their white and red sails. They were brought through the city of Knossos to the palace of the king. And there Theseus looked upon Minos. In a great red chamber on which was painted the sign of the axe, King Minos sat.
On a low throne he sat, holding in his hand a scepter on which a bird was perched. Not in fear, but steadily, did Theseus look upon the king. And he saw that Minos had the face of one who has thought long upon troublesome things, and that his eyes were strangely dark and deep. The king noted that the eyes of Theseus were upon him, and he made a sign with his head to an attendant and the attendant laid his hand upon him and brought Theseus to stand beside the king. Minos questioned him as to who he was and what lands he had been in, and when he learned that Theseus was the son of Ægeus, the King of Athens, he said the name of his son who had been slain, Androgeus, Androgeus, over and over again, and then spoke no more.
While he stood there beside the king there came into the chamber three maidens; one of them, Theseus knew, was the daughter of Minos. Not like the maidens of Greece were the princess and her two attendants: instead of having on flowing garments and sandals and wearing their hair bound, they had on dresses of gleaming material that were tight at the waists and bell-shaped; the hair that streamed on their shoulders was made wavy; they had on high shoes of a substance that shone like glass. Never had Theseus looked upon maidens who were so strange.
They spoke to the king in the strange Cretan language; then Minoss daughter made reverence to her father, and they went from the chamber. Theseus watched them as they went through a long passage, walking slowly on their high-heeled shoes.
Through the same passage the youths and maidens of Athens were afterward brought. They came into a great hall. The walls were red and on them were paintings in blackpictures of great bulls with girls and slender youths struggling with them. It was a place for games and shows, and Theseus stood with the youths and maidens of Athens and with the people of the palace and watched what was happening.
They saw women charming snakes; then they saw a boxing match, and afterward they all looked on a bout of wrestling. Theseus looked past the wrestlers and he saw, at the other end of the hall, the daughter of King Minos and her two attendant maidens.
One broad-shouldered and bearded man overthrew all the wrestlers who came to grips with him. He stood there boastfully, and Theseus was made angry by the mans arrogance. Then, when no other wrestler would come against him, he turned to leave the arena.
But Theseus stood in his way and pushed him back. The boastful man laid hands upon him and pulled him into the arena. He strove to throw Theseus as he had thrown the others; but he soon found that the youth from Greece was a wrestler, too, and that he would have to strive hard to overthrow him.
More eagerly than they had watched anything else the people of the palace and the youths and maidens of Athens watched the bout between Theseus and the lordly wrestler. Those from Athens who looked upon him now thought that they had never seen Theseus look so tall and so conquering before; beside the slender, dark-haired people of Crete he looked like a statue of one of the gods.
Very adroit was the Cretan wrestler, and Theseus had to use all his strength to keep upon his feet; but soon he mastered the tricks that the wrestler was using against him. Then the Cretan left aside his tricks and began to use all his strength to throw Theseus.
Steadily Theseus stood and the Cretan wrestler was spent and gasping in the effort to throw him. Then Theseus made him feel his grip. He bent him backward, and then, using all his strength suddenly, forced him to the ground. All were filled with wonder at the strength and power of this youth from overseas.
Food and wine were given the youths and maidens of Athens, and they with Theseus were let wander through the grounds of the palace. But they could make no escape, for guards followed them and the way to the ships was filled with strangers who would not let them pass. They talked to each other about the Minotaur, and there was fear in every word they said. But Theseus went from one to the other, telling them that perhaps there was a way by which he could come to the monster and destroy it. And the youths and maidens, remembering how he had overthrown the lordly wrestler, were comforted a little, thinking that Theseus might indeed be able to destroy the Minotaur and so save all of them.