The tribute paid to Minos, king of Crete,
The fourteen souls upon the ship, replete
With sail all black, and Theseus aboard,
Who bore no weapon, club nor bow nor sword.
He cast himself among the lot to sail,
And fearing not that in his task he’d fail;
His courage kept him, and his mind was steeled
To know what horrors, foul, would be revealed.
His father charged him, that if he returned,
With honour much, and with great glory earned,
That he should hang aloft a sail of white,
To give him news of triumph at the sight.
So Theseus departed. When he came
To Crete, he met a woman by the name
Of Ariadne, who by love was seized,
And Theseus with her was also pleased;
So she besought that Daedalus make known
The labyrinth’s secret, but to her alone;
The which he did, but she helped Theseus,
And so betrayed the trust of Daedalus.
She gave a string to Theseus to take
Into the maze, and unwind as he did make
His way unto the center, where the seed
Of bull and human dwelled from former deed
So wretched that it makes the soul to groan;
And then he went into the maze alone:
Unarmed, in darkness, so he went to face
The bull-headed brute of a half-breed race;
Not wholly human, neither wholly beast,
The creature sought on man to make his feast.
In darkness deep did Theseus descend,
With help of thread, he inwardly did wend,
Until he came into the inmost part,
And faced at last a dread to chill the heart.
The Minotaur arose to meet his foe,
And raised his fist to strike the fatal blow,
But Theseus was quick and strong and steeled:
He did not buckle, neither did he yield.
His fists rained blows like hail upon the beast;
Though wearied sore, he never flagged nor ceased.
Though bruised and battered in that underworld,
Yet all his might against the beast he hurled.
Then bit by bit the Minotaur did flag,
Until he heaved and each breath was a gag;
His arms could not but try to block each blow;
His legs gave out and downward did he go.
But Theseus would not relent, but still
He beat him down, and did with fury kill
The Minotaur. He left the body there,
Then backwards made his way from out the lair.
When he emerged into the light of day,
He met Ariadne who’d kept the way;
She held the string that he might know the route
By which he could from the dark maze get out.
So no more did the Minotaur consume
Fair fruits of Athens, still in their full bloom;
The tribute Minos no more levied. Free
Sailed Theseus back home across the sea;
And Ariadne sailed also with him,
But when he fancied, he left her on a whim:
But others say the son of Zeus desired
That she should be his wife, and was so fired
With love that he took her from Theseus;
So she was taken by Dionysus.
But Theseus forgot to raise the white
Flag; still the black he flew, and at the sight
His father’s heart with grief was seized, and he
Threw himself at once down into the sea;
And ever after men that sea did call
Aegean, since the king in it did fall.
So Theseus, triumphant, reigned as king:
No more tribute to Minos did they bring.