My Name Is Daedalus
by Danko Antolovic
Chapter 3: Labyrinth
Only one other member of the royal house gave more than passing attention to the labyrinth. Ariadne, the daughter of the royal couple, came quite often and observed everything very closely. I had known Ariadne for some time, since I had helped set up a sacred dancing ground in Knossos, the place at which she presided over harvest rites as priestess and royal daughter. She danced beautifully, and I had seen her and her retinue perform intricate dances that followed winding patterns on the floor, patterns which were visible apparently only to them. Perhaps it was this dancing form that gave rise to Ariadne’s fascination with the labyrinth as an intricate dance frozen in stone.
I liked Ariadne. She was somewhat small and light for a Cretan woman, cutting a lithe figure of a dancer. Wavy brown hair fell freely to her shoulders in a playful defiance of the formality that was expected of her status. The features of her face were expressive and prominent but finely drawn, and she had a ready, cheerful smile full of pearly teeth.
Yes, I liked Ariadne. I had a dear son with Naucrate, a good and reliable woman, but I have no doubt that I would have forsaken my family for Ariadne, had I ever had that choice. But Ariadne was the King’s daughter, and I knew Minos would never give her to the court’s artisan. No, she was a royal asset, to be invested in acquiring or strengthening some strategic alliance, to be given in marriage to an allied ruler. I was not quite so important to Minos.
All the same, Ariadne and I were always on good and friendly terms. As the work on the labyrinth progressed, I began to think that someone beside me should know what there was to know about it, that I should have a pupil. Ariadne looked like a good choice. She had a bright mind: she did not believe any of the stories about divination, and I am sure that she discerned all on her own what I was really doing with those pebbles.
With a mischievous, clever smile, she pointed out that one could always return safely from any place in the labyrinth, by tying a thread somewhere near the entrance and unwinding it on the way in. I surely did not have to give her any magical ball of thread to master the labyrinth, as Minos later claimed. Still, I imparted to her, with all the strength of my unspoken feelings, not to take the accursed edifice lightly. The labyrinth was every bit as deadly as it was meaningless, and she was never, but never, to go inside without the thread tied to the door’s post. “I will not win you for myself,” I thought, “but I will sooner die than lose you to your father’s stone monster.”
Little by little, I explained to Ariadne how I was building Minos’ labyrinth. I told her that the building had no hidden chamber, no sanctuary, and no secret path leading to it: every place in it was like every other, save for differing turns of the corridors, each leading only to more corridors. There was nothing to be discovered at the heart of the labyrinth, for there was no heart.
There was, however, something else, a subtle and unexpected insight that came to me late one evening, after a long, tiring day of building the accursed corridors. I saw that there was a way to walk through the entire maze and come out unharmed, a way to rescue someone from the labyrinth, or at least retrieve the body.
Turning my discovery around in my mind, and excited like a youngster, I could hardly wait for the morning to come, so I could convey it to Ariadne. “Look,” I said to her, “this is all too easy: you just have to go on making the same turn. The chaos is not in the dark maze, but in the fears and confusion that grip us when we step inside it!”
Indeed, all that Ariadne — or anyone — had to do was take the leftmost passage, stubbornly, at every fork in the path, until she had reached a dead end; then she would turn around, follow her thread back to the last fork, and again take the first passage to her left — nothing more. When she saw the thread running through a fork in front of her, she would have to turn back from it, as if it were a wall. This would assure an orderly walk through the whole labyrinth and keep her from going around in endless circles.
Ariadne was delighted at the simplicity of it all, and she saw at once that she could exchange left with right and walk through the maze just as well. We spent much time together, drawing ever more intricate paths on the dusty ground and arguing whether they would lead safely out of the labyrinth or not. It appeared as if the meaningless maze was refusing to be meaningless; possessed of a strange life of its own, it clung to discernible order, calling out to our minds and drawing them in. The labyrinth wanted to be understood despite all my effort to shroud it in the darkness of disorder and blind chance.
These studies that we held together were good and happy times in the course of a task that was mostly tedious and of whose merit I was far from convinced. Before long, Ariadne understood the labyrinth as well as I. It pains me even now to remember that she bartered that knowledge in a bargain that brought her only betrayal and sorrow.
* * *
Many months after its beginning, the enormous building had at last reached the size beyond which it could no longer grow because of uneven ground. The King agreed that we had done enough, and I told my weary crew not to build any more corridors. Fresh crews came and sealed the entire perimeter with a heavy fortified wall, closing off all entrances but one. This they fitted with a massive wooden door, and the labyrinth was finished.
The King came with his retinue, and the soldiers brought the Minotaur. He was raging, bound with ropes held by ten strong men, a massive creature, bipedal, but more bull-like than ever with his large torso and heavy head. Some people later claimed that he had horns like an ox, but I am quite sure I did not see any. Soldiers pushed him into the labyrinth with the points of their spears, eliciting a few enraged howls, and slammed the heavy door shut. The Minotaur skulked away into the dark maze in which he would spend the rest of his days.
From then on, a crew of armed men would carefully open the door every now and then, and drive a few boars and oxen into the labyrinth; those the Minotaur would track down and devour. It seems that the labyrinth was not as fatal a trap to him as it was to ordinary humans. His keen animal-like senses, mostly perhaps his sense of smell, enabled him to somehow find his way and stay alive in the dismal place.
I admit that I pitied the Minotaur. He was a mindless, hopeless brute, dangerous to all around him, but still I pitied him, pitied the bawling child that was born only to be a divine retribution. On quiet nights, one could sometimes hear his deep, plaintive lowing emanating from the labyrinth; at other times, it was a bone-chilling roar of animal rage.
Not long after these things had come to pass, armed guards appeared at my home and, on King’s orders, took me and my son Icarus to prison. Minos had gone mad.
Copyright © 2018 by Danko Antolovic