Theseus and the Minotaur

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.

The Transformations of Dionysus

Dionysus, free son of Zeus,
From every shackle was cut loose.
The unhinged fury of the god
Brought down on Pentheus the rod;
The mortal soul who tried to peep
Was found and Maenads, then, did leap
On him and tore him limb from limb,
With fury putting end to him:
Thus Pentheus fulfilled his course,
And was destroyed with violent force;
The god also of drunken fits,
He too was torn to little bits.
His body lost, Zeus took his heart,
And in a drink, he gave this part
To Semele, who pleased the king
Of heaven, but did Juno bring
Her wrath on her; she gained her trust,
Encouraging the mortal’s lust,
She caused Semele to beseech
The king of heaven with her speech,
To know his full divinity,
She asked in her simplicity.
But she could not withstand the king,
So she was slain by his lightning.
But Bacchus bore she in her womb;
The drink Zeus gave her made her bloom:
The former heart had formed the child,
A second time to birth the wild.
So Zeus sowed Bacchus in his thigh,
That his own son would not then die;
He carried him, till he was born,
That god whom Pentheus would scorn.
He rendered what he underwent,
But he, divine, could not be rent
Asunder wholly, for his soul
Was ever living, ever whole.


Dionysus Agrios, truly wild,
Forgoing restraint, forsaking the mild,
This god of the vine taught men to make wine,
Some thought it madness, but it was divine.
Outsiders who peep, beholding his rites,
He swiftly o’erthrows; with fury he spites.
What wisdom, unleashed from thought, can reveal,
No cunning magician, no thief can steal;
There logic and learning have no recourse,
Only the fury of Bacchus has force.
When Pentheus went and hid in the grove,
The Maenads to madness the wild god drove;
They ripped him to pieces, and carried his head
To Cadmus, who mourned to see he was dead.
The boundaries men had set with their hands,
Ignored he; he traveled to far-away lands,
Even to India, he made his way,
And there by his art, he also held sway;
For once they were drunken, then were they bound:
Though spared of their lives, his subjects were they found.
So, they that deny his godhood are slain,
While his devotees follow in his train.

Lycurgus Drives Out Bacchus

Lycurgus, king of Thrace, son of Oak,
From peaceful sleep to frantic cries awoke,
And straight inquired the meaning of the uproar.
“Sire, Bacchus’ ship has landed on our shore.
To him have all the women resorted,
And without license has he exhorted
That they abandon home and run about
And in the woods and mountains statutes flout;
To drink till they are drunken from the wine,
Which they have seasoned with extract of pine:
But they have not diluted it with snow;
With unmixed wine their giant cups o’erflow.
These drunken revels overthrow their sense:
Thus Bacchus’ has his rites at our expense.”
Lycurgus swelled with rage and was aghast:
“I’ll seize th’ invader and he’ll feel the blast
Of fury and of rage and martial skill;
He’ll flee or on the ground his blood I’ll spill.”
He seized an ox-goad then and hunted down
The rebel who with wine had tried to drown
All sense and reason for to overthrow
The kingdom, which by riot is brought low.
He found the Maenad followers and drove
Them into prison, cursing them by Jove:
But Bacchus to the border did he hound
And thought his tearful cries a joyful sound;
Though Bacchus claimed himself to be a god,
Yet flew he thence before Lycurgus’ rod.