It all started with the infamous philandering ways of Zeus.
When the wilful and lusty god spotted the beautiful Europa, he assumed the form of a bull and carried her off from the Phoenician shores and over the seas to Crete. As a result of this abduction, Europa gave birth to a son, destined to be Minos, King of Crete.
Ariadne was the daughter of Pasiphae, wife to King Minos. Poor Pasiphae was cruelly treated in a petty puerile standoff about male vanity between her husband and Poseidon.
The sea-god had given Minos a beautiful white bull on the condition that it be sacrificed right back to him, but the king, overcome with greed, kept the animal. Poseidon took revenge by causing Pasiphae to fall in love with the disputed bull and as a result she bore the Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull creature. To hide this unfortunate outcome, Daedalus, the gifted engineer of the Bronze Age, built a huge maze of winding passages to house the monster.
A tragic accident took the life of the youthful Androgeus, only son of Minos. (He was killed by a runaway bull while drunk in Athens.) The wrathful king demanded tribute for his loss, tribute in suffering on the same scale, tribute in the form of seven young men and seven young women to be ritually sacrificed to the Minotaur each year. For the grief of a king is deeper than that of merchant or goatherd, and royal wrath requires great tribute to be appeased.
The hero Theseus was sent to Crete to be one of the sacrifices. Ariadne fell in love with him and, turning her back on her family and the land that had nourished her, she resolved to help the pretty youth.
Down in the labyrinth, the winding corridors and half-hidden passages twisted into the centre, looped in and around to the lair of the Minotaur and turned back and around again. The way out could never be found. So Ariadne gave Theseus a long strand of thick thread from her loom to unwind on his way in, and then to follow his path back out.
Theseus killed the creature, this poor pathetic monstrous brother of Ariadne, and returned to the surface triumphant. He had promised to make Ariadne his bride in exchange for her help and together they sailed away to Athens. Along the way, the ship stopped for fresh water on the island of Naxos and Theseus persuaded the very heavily pregnant Ariadne to rest beneath some shade trees.
When she awoke, he was gone. The ship had set sail without her, leaving her alone on the island – broken hearted and far from home.
Sometimes it is said that the god Dionysus heard her weeping and, taking pity on her youth and beauty, swept her up into the heavens, where the constellation of Corona is her crown.
But others say she died there, fruitlessly calling for forgiveness.