This constellation is generally associated with Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos of Crete. His wife had borne a hideous monster, half-man and half-bull, and Minos had it shut up in a labyrinth designed by the famous architect Daedalus. The maze was so complex and confusing that Daedalus "was himself scarcely able to find his way back to the entrance" (Metamorphoses VIII 166-167).
Periodically, the Minotaur needed to be fed, and a number of Athenians would be put into the labyrinth for it to eat. This happened twice; on the third feeding, the hero Theseus was one of those chosen as a sacrifice. Ariadne fell in love with him, and offered to help if he would take her away with him when he escaped. He agreed, and she gave him a thread to unwind behind him to mark his passage. He killed the Minotaur, followed the thread out of the labyrinth, and sailed from Crete with Ariadne:
Immediately he set sail for Dia, carrying with him the daughter of Minos; but on the shore of that island he cruelly abandoned his companion. Ariadne, left all alone, was sadly lamenting her fate, when Bacchus put his arms around her, and brought her his aid. He took the crown from her forehead, and set it as a constellation in the sky, to bring her eternal glory. Up through the thin air it soared and, as it flew, its jewels were changed into shining fires. They settled in position, still keeping the appearance of a crown, midway between the kneeling Hercules and Ophiucus, who grasps the snake. (Metamorphoses VIII 174-182).
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These pages are the work of Cathy Bell
cmbell (at) comfychair (dot) org
originally for the Princeton University course CLA 212.