A major area where Theseus comes under criticism is in his dealings with women. In particular, his relationship and abandonment of Ariadne, and later, the question of his relationship with the Amazon Queen he may or may not have abducted but certainly carried on some kind of affair with. Today I'm going to focus on Ariadne and Plutarch's history of Theseus!
|Ariadne and Dionysus/Bacchus|
photo by me, iirc, of this work, by Foggini
And he isn't wrong. In Plutarch's Theseus, he gives us a fair rundown of the differing accounts, and I'll summarize them for you here, because quoting will make this the longest entry of all eternity. Generally, these stories fall into three camps:
- Theseus abandons Ariadne on Naxos purposely and with no regret and sails off.
- Theseus and his fellows spend the night on Naxos, and for reasons beyond Theseus's control he is forced to leave her behind (usually this means she married a priest of Dionysus, or Theseus's ship was blown back out to sea and by the time he got back Ariadne was dead.)
- Theseus never took Ariadne at all, nor did she help him, but merely admired him from a distance.
The third is by far the least well known today, but you can see that these are the same contradictions that accompany the stories of Helen's abduction by Paris. No one really agrees, and different places and different poets had their own interpretations of what happened and who in the party was wronged.
Plutarch doesn't relate the stories which are commonly known in his time in any depth. (At which choice, I shake my fist in outrage from 2000 years in the future!) He does, however, mention two things I find interesting: firstly, that Ariadne may or may not have born Theseus sons (evidently whilst they were voyaging back from Crete, which is wow pretty fast gestation) who went off to found other cities/places, and secondly, he NEVER states that Ariadne asked for anything in return from Theseus in exchange for her help, only that Theseus takes her with him when he leaves.
What does this mean for Theseus's character and his relationship with Ariadne? Well, we'll discuss the context of all of this in the next post!