One of the wonderful things about Greek mythology is how so many stories intertwine and lead to one another – it’s a veritable labyrinth in itself! While I was researching Ariadne, I came across so many fascinating snippets and while I couldn’t include them all in the novel, here are some of my favourites:
- Retellings of myths from the perspective of previously sidelined female characters seem like a modern phenomenon. However, the Roman poet, Ovid, got there first with his Heroides. Probably composed in the late first century BCE, the Heroides is a collection of letters written by the heroines of Greek myth, mostly to the men who wronged them. It features letters from both Ariadne and her sister Phaedra and their passionate and often furious epistles were a major influence on my novel.
- We all know the Minotaur as a monster – a half man, half bull with a ravenous appetite for human flesh that is only satiated by the regular sacrifice of fourteen unfortunate Athenians delivered into the nightmarish Labyrinth. The creature, however, was born to Ariadne’s mother and some stories suggest that she had a sisterly affection for it. I was eager to explore how this conflict in her feelings would have made it all the more difficult for her to face the decision to help Theseus to slay the beast.
- Dionysus, who plays an important role in Ariadne’s story, is well known as the carousing god of wine. He’s the kind of deity who definitely knows how to have a good time, which might explain his enduring popularity! But Dionysus wasn’t one of the original twelve Olympian gods. He was a later addition to this elite group of immortals, taking the place of Hestia, the goddess of hearth and home. As a quiet and more domestic goddess, albeit an extremely important part of ancient worship, it seems like Hestia got tired of the petty squabbles and power struggles of Mount Olympus and willingly stepped aside for Dionysus.
- As well as being famous for killing the Minotaur, Theseus was also regarded by the ancient Greeks as a highly significant hero of Athens and his legend is closely interwoven with the prominence of the city. But before Theseus arrived in the city, it was the subject of a bitter dispute between Athene and Poseidon. Both immortals fought to be the patron of Athens; Athene offering an olive tree and Poseidon a salt spring in exchange for supremacy. It was Athene who won the contest and consequently, the city was named in her honour. Poseidon, however, stil had a stake in the city’s fame – myths suggest that perhaps he, rather than King Aegeus, was actually the father of Theseus.
Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
- There are a lot of stories about the cruelty of the gods and the ruthless and often unfair punishments that they mete out to mortals in Ariadne, but I did find one story with a smidgen of light – even if it does involve Zeus wiping out most of humanity! An elderly couple called Baucis and Philemon were the only people to offer a disguised Zeus and Hermes hospitality, even preparing to slaughter their beloved goose to feed the strangers. Zeus sent a terrible flood to drown everyone else but spared Baucis, Philemon - and the goose. It’s a very dark tale, but I found it a little touching that the ruler of the gods showed a soft spot for their pet.
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