THE ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA

A DICTIONARY OF ARTS, SCIENCES, LITERATURE AND GENERAL INFORMATION

ELEVENTH EDITION 1911

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ARIADNE (in Greek mythology), was the daughter of Minos, king of Crete, and Pasiphae, the daughter of Helios the Sun-god. When Theseus landed on the island to slay the Minotaur (q.v.), Ariadne fell in love with him, and gave him a clue of thread to guide him through the mazes of the labyrinth. After he had slain the monster, Theseus carried her off, but, according to Homer (Odyssey, xi. 322) she was slain by Artemis at the request of Dionysus in the island of Dia near Cnossus, before she could reach Athens with Theseus. In the later legend, she was abandoned, while asleep on the island of Naxos, by Theseus, who had fallen a victim to the charms of Aegle (Plutarch, Theseus, 20; Diodorus, iv. 60, 61). Her abandonment and awakening are celebrated in the beautiful Epithalamium of Catullus. On Naxos she is discovered by Dionysus on his return from India, who is enchanted with her beauty, and marries her when she awakes. She receives a crown as a bridal gift, which is placed amongst the stars, while she herself is honoured as a goddess (Ovid, Metam. viii. 152, Fasti, iii. 459).

The name probably means “very holy” = ἀρι-αγνη; another (Cretan) form Άριδήλα (= φανερά)indicates the return to a “bright” season of nature. Ariadne is the personification of spring. In keeping with this, her festivals at Naxos present a double character; the one, full of mourning and sadness, represents her death or abandonment by Theseus, the other, full of joy and revelry, celebrates her awakening from sleep and marriage with Dionysus. Thus nature sleeps and dies during winter, to awake in springtime to a life of renewed luxuriance. With this may be compared the festivals of Adonis and Osiris and the myth of Persephone. Theseus himself was said to have founded a festival at Athens in honour of Ariadne and Dionysus after his return from Crete. The story of Dionysus and Ariadne was a favourite subject for reliefs and wall-paintings. Most commonly Ariadne is represented asleep on the shore at Naxos, while Dionysus, attended by satyrs and bacchanals, gazes admiringly upon her; sometimes they are seated side by side under a spreading vine. The scene where she is holding the clue to Theseus occurs on a very early vase in the British Museum. There is a statue of the sleeping Ariadne in the Vatican Museum.

Kanter, De Ariadne (1879); Pallat, De Fabula Ariadnea (1891).


Transcriber's note: A few typographical errors have been corrected. They appear in the text like this, and the explanation will appear when the mouse pointer is moved over the marked passage. Sections in Greek will yield a transliteration when the pointer is moved over them, and words using diacritic characters in the Latin Extended Additional block, which may not display in some fonts or browsers, will display an unaccented version.

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