Pasiphae’s Story


The island where the Queen was born is small, and divided by high hills. The steep hills come straight down to the sea like the walls and moat of a castle or a prison. They are shot through with caves, and it was in one of these caves, opening on a tiny beach, that the Queen's grandmother was born, and wherein Pasiphae herself was conceived. Her mother came there while searching out a certain small blue flower for her bridal bouquet. The old god Time, direct descendant of Passageway and Cul-de-sac, came there pursued over the ocean by Zeus, his son. Here he cornered the bride, and fled on. Only a little later Zeus caught up with him, castrated him so he could breed no more sons for history, and threw the remains into the ocean to be washed up as Aphrodite on distant Cyprus. Zeus’ brother Poseidon covered his tracks in the sand.

Pasiphae's mother, filled with Time, suffered, as do all those who are touched by the gods without becoming gods themselves. Carried home by her maids, bleeding and speechless, she aged a lifetime in the nine months of her pregnancy, and died of old age in childbirth. The infant, named The Shining One, was sent to the house of her grandmother. The King, her grandfather, understood her value well, but not what to do with her.

It was a magic world for the little girl. She walked paths upon her great-grandmother when she followed her servants, up to the olive groves. One half-brother held her world within his lapping arms, while another was the endless ruling sky where her nephew rose daily like a burning chariot to bring the people light. Her relatives gave her pause when she went to pick a grape unbidden or to make water in the brush.

She was closest to servants in her childhood, and from habit they treated her for the most part as if she were any petty king's daughter. But when she touched them, they would put their hands over the spot, believing it a charm. Her grandmother was a silent, brooding woman, broken by the frustration of a long life. She did not coddle the child, but slapped her fat bottom without respect or search for charms. The King did not forget her. She was the last of a royal line, one that did not rule over much, that's true, but which was stocked with talismans against the impositions of heaven. The King, her grandfather, prayed to her relatives that the little girl would give his people a passageway through the decrees and prohibitions of history.

In those days the kings at Knossos, called sun-born, were rising in power over the Aegean basin, as their putative ancestor rises daily over all the world. City after city found it best to send golden bowls, marbles, and, then metal workers and architects to adorn the capital. All walls fell before the kings at Knossos; they were proud and demanding. They covered the bows of their ships with bronze so that the sun shone off them from far at sea. The palace grew wider and higher year-by-year, rooms being built on rooms into the Sun's sky. They built an amphitheater where athletes played gymnastic games with untamed bulls, and slaves were sacrificed to satisfy the pride of the animals frustrated by the intricate skill of the professionals. Before Pasiphae was born the dancers had been younger sons of the nobility and the sacrifices servants. More recently the bulls were sent from the mainland and the royal blood of Ilium and Mykenae made tracks on the white sand and were brushed over by the caretakers as if they had never been.

In those ancient, hard times only the reigning aristocrat could afford the luxury of being himself. He alone had the opportunity to make his way through a world, which physically, economically, and metaphysically was just barely manipulable, even for the ruling classes. That was the fascination that the nouveau-riche Cretans exercised over the princes whom they consumed one by one to feed the fires of their self realization.

The King of the small island, Pasiphae's grandfather, had been frustrated all his life, first by his ancestry, by the gods themselves, by the weather and the rocks, and finally by the new social order. Likewise his people were frustrated by the seasons, the storms, the steep hillsides, the ocean, which embraced them. But he felt that the sometimes proud and sometimes childish girl whom his brooding wife kept among the vines might be the key. Might not a queen of Crete keep this small island preserved for herself, and so let it live out quietly its own life?

So some men delude themselves by thinking of the structure of their own lives or of history as they do of objects they can hold in their hands, or as they think of the structures of build they can plan. But history is not like a great house; it has no dusty, lifeless corners, but rather is wholly coextensive with itself and every moment touches everything everywhere. It is like a vase with a cracked glaze. A man may see himself in the cracking, see where he has come from, and what intricacies there are, but he cannot pretend to reach through the crystal-hard surface and rearrange the lines on the vase as if they were his.

So the petty king sent out feelers to the rising court at Knossos, and back came the sun-bowed ships. When the Cretan Prince Minos was seventeen and free to go on the grand tour of the Aegean, he arrived, with a counselor to instruct him and a priest to certify his claim to godhead, at the island where Pasiphae had been spending her childhood. She had been taught a few words of greeting in his language but did not get a chance to speak them. Minos was a tall, awkward, well-scrubbed lad, afraid of everyone there but the little girl, and very anxious about looking great.

The petty king was sad when they concluded the agreement and went on around the islands. He was not sad about the life of Pasiphae; some prince would have made his way to her one way or another, and he did not care about her in a personal way. He felt sad, rather, that he had given up his chance to do something other than what he had done.

A wise man was sent from Crete to teach her the language, the astronomy, religion, and history of the empire of Knossos. The wise man was harsh, and demanded that she learn not only to be polite, but the correct way to do it. "Politeness is the language of the heart and of princes," he said.

"But why," she said to her grandmother not long before she had to leave, "must I always be trying to get somewhere in my studies?" She stamped her holy foot on the dirt floor. "Does the Earth want to get somewhere? Doesn't she lie there and let us walk on her? And yet we pray to her in the spring, and beg her to favor us?"

"It is not for us as it is for the gods who live forever," the old woman answered. She was not interested in such questions.

The princess went to Knossos when she was seventeen. She had never been off her island except to go sailing. On the trip and for the first hours there, she was very frightened. The only familiar people around her were the servants, upon whom she could suddenly no longer rely, and the teacher. She rapidly learned to use what he had taught her.

She was led into the amphitheater where she saw Minos for the second time. He was a very different young man. He met her standing straight, his long black hair scented with flowers. He did not look at her when his hand was put on hers, but a moment later she caught him glancing at her out of the side of his face with uncertain speculation.

Seven years later the royal pair were in the stands again. The old king had died, and Minos had found himself less at liberty as monarch. In the bright morning light, the Cretan priests were praying to the Queen's relatives. The sun reflected intensely from the whitewashed walls and many empty scats. The royal couple stood under a canopy, dressed in crimson. The Queen's left hand rested on the cool side of a large, porous water jar. She was a little tired and bored, thinking "I was not born to be part of the gilt on the awning."

The messengers from the mainland came out of the passageways into the arena and bowed. The notes of trumpets answered them, and rang back and forth within the confining walls. The mainlanders carried furniture, oil, and wine. One ambassador had a list of the tribute, another a genealogy of the animals. The first four of these were young enough to be led in by hand, perhaps a full two years. They were liver-spotted brown, black and white, and looked as if they would be strong and brave. The aficionados in the seats applauded a little. One bull jerked at the rope and had to be dragged along, helter-skelter. All rolled their eyes calfishly, sometimes spread their feet, and lowered their heads bawkishly.

The last bull was said to have been fathered by the Sun. He was led with a symbolic golden cord by the most highly-born ambassador, and seemed to understand the symbolism, for he walked sedately between two trained oxen from the stalls. He was very large and white - white as mountain snow in sunlight. He stepped deliberately, his small forelegs and tiny feet looking almost out of proportion under the mass and volume of his humpy neck and shoulders. The hair on his neck bristled faintly with the movement of the thick muscles that held up his heavy head. His horns were wide and white. The Queen squinted against the glare. His walk and figure marked him out as a demi-god among bulls. Why was there nothing, she asked herself, in herself, in her carriage, her features, or her character, to mark her out among men and women as this beast, god-descended, was marked out from the others of its kind?

"Minto," she said, leaning to the King's ear, "I would like to see that animal when he is loose in the fields."

"Ask the priests," the King said.

The day after the viewing, she went to the priest in charge of organizing the festival, and asked to speak with the man who took care of the sacred bull. The priest told her that he was with the animals in the field, and that he could be fetched after lunch. But the Queen declined, saying that she had been cooped up in the palace too long, and that she would enjoy going out.

From the viewpoint of size, the palace did not seem confining. It was a much larger world than the one she had learned as a child. It was the royal residence, temple, national monument, and administrative building for an empire. It had rooms built upon rooms, and rooms built upon them, winding walls, courtyards, causeways, open hallways, interconnecting libraries, gardens walled and whitewashed, shining in the sun. To reach the open fields she had to pass through the palace as through adistrict: from the temple of the Sun, through the southeast garden, along the walls of the treasury, through the gate of the old outer wall, through the outer gardens where they grew their vegetables, along the gymnastic fields of the nobles, and through the great south gate of the new wall.

She went on, with six guards and two maids, between the small houses of merchants and craftsmen, past the new great houses of princes, and finally came to the fields of the Sun where the sacred cattle were enclosed. There she found an old priest who, in obeying her, covered the spot where she had touched him with his hands as the servants had done at home. She asked to see the animal itself. They walked out among widely-spaced cypress trees. Coming around a trunk, she suddenly saw the bull across a grassy field, yellow with bobbing flowers. The sacred animal was standing with his nostrils up, sniffing the wind, which blew along his sides and tossed the yellow flower heads in arcs back and forth around his small hooves and calves. He turned towards her party, bellowed once deeply, then turned again and trotted into the wood on the other side of the meadow. In the wood, Philomel complained; the breeze brushed the side of the Queen's face, she could feel the sun on her, on her crimson robes, and the cold of the dew on the shadowed grass around her feet and smell the scent of the yellow flowers borne to her on the wind. Really, she thought to herself, gathering up her robe at the waist, it is the nicest spot in Crete. She sent back to the palace for a picnic lunch, and for Phaedre and Ariadne. The Queen seated herself underneath one of the cypresses, leaned her head back against it, and thought of the long and complicated way she had come since she had arrived on the island.

One of the priests came up to her and informed her respectfully that she was not supposed to wander in the precincts of the sacred animals at all. She had kept herself free in Crete by respecting the wishes of officious people, nor had she ever sought advantage from her religious importance, but now she said, softly, "My father is Time, my grandmother is the Earth, my great-grandparents are Opportunity and Prohibition." The priest, who perhaps had only heard these things, said of the Queen, without the facts really coming home to him, bowed and backed away from her until he was lost among the trees. A little later a more important priest came and said that they meant no disrespect to her or her ancestors, but women were not allowed.

Now she was angry and spoke to him firmly, her accent coming out a little. "What would happen if I were to pray that the trees here should grow old and wither, that the earth should no longer be dark and rich, the stream that flows here should be blocked in its passage from the hills?" She had not the vaguest notion what would happen; she had not done such a thing since she was a little girl. But she thought the priest more powerful than herself, and so bluffed hard. He put his hand to his mouth as if she had touched him there, and backed away.

Sitting there, waiting for the people of the palace to come back to her, she watched the meadow with vague irritation. The wind bent the heads of the yellow flowers in measured arcs, and behind her in the wood the Cretan bird cried out again. Aphrodite was the bird's sister too. After a while, the bull appeared again at the other side of the meadow. Head down, he grazed on the flowers, lopping them down with his great gray tongue. He moved from place to place surely, his weight foursquare on the damp earth. She kept her attention on the heavy folds of skin below his neck, on the play of the small, well-defined muscles of his forelegs, and on his bristly neck as he raised and moved aside his heavy horns. He lifted his head and turned to look at her without expression. He seemed to stand heavily upon all the activity of the place, to slow the swings of the flowers and mute the song of Philomel. He heard the guards, nurses, and children coming before she did, and stalked away into the thicket. Before she turned to them, she prayed in her heart to Time, to Earth, to Passageway and Cul-de-sac, that she might sometime have the opportunity to see the untamed animal again.

Dear Phaedre and Ariadne. She liked Ariadne, the elder, better. She was petulant, and bitterly willful at times, but she had bright eyes, full of life, and a loving, trusting soul. Phaedre was intelligent' and dutiful, but she looked at others sideways. When the Queen came again to the sacred groves, she did not bring her daughters with her.

Across the meadow where the Queen had first seen the bull, and where the slaves practiced with the animals, there was a creek with a grove of cypresses sacred to Aphrodite. Beyond, low hills began to rise, and, two hills over, there was a second creek, which ran in a little arroyo caged among the hills. This arroyo had at bottom gravelly flats, below water level in winter, but grassy and shade speckled in summer. She learned to love to walk among the cypress shadows beside the running water, and to sit in the sunny places trying to plan her week, or letting her mind drift in the past, searching out her meetings with contentment. So she felt her life had been, running along a course marked out by hills that towered above her. Her grandmother, the Earth-born, had been a hill, unmoved in absent thoughtfulness like her own. The King, her grandfather, had been a hill, turning her in his conscientious scheming. Cretan ways were a hill that she struggled to cut through. Her husband's shallow pride and submissiveness, his ingenuity and susceptibility to emotional pressures, were hills she now had to live among. The sacred bull learned to know her, and would come walking beautifully straight through the patches of sun and shade, his sharp hooves making little cutways through the fresh grass of the bankside, sliced blades sticking green to his hooves.

So they became familiar to one another. When she walked to the creek, she would pick for him the yellow flowers, which grew in the fields, but not in the arroyo. Patiently she waited for the animal to trust her, and patiently he waited for her to trusthim. Day by day he came, cutting paths wherever he walked, and ate the blossoms from her hand, trembling flushes of life dancing across the soft flesh of his nostrils. As he stood next to her, hundreds of tiny muscles, the springs of his watch-fine movement, would ripple like water in a sunlit stream. Sometimes he would butt his head gently against one of the maids or the Queen herself, prickling their soft-spun robes with his bristly brow.

But it was when he trotted over the grass with his head high, making all the countryside within eyeshot his own, stopping only to run his head from side to side to sniff the breeze, when his heavy horns seemed alight, when he would see it all his way and go on, then it was that she would see in him his Father. Then it was too that she would ask herself whether politeness were the language of princes, whether turning her home into a naval base was something for a woman to have accomplished, whether her course wore on towards some great event, or whether she floated like a leaf upon a stream that carried her on a progress without will, where time meant nothing because it never changed.

Before his father's death, Minos had looked on his ascension to the throne as an entrance, the beginning of his fulfillment. But gradually he realized that it had been an end, and that ever since he had found himself King, he had been walled in by circumstance. Sometimes he thought that the Queen understood his chafing, and sometimes not.

One day he said to her, "I would like you to stop going so much to the sacred pastures."

"How has it troubled you?" she said.

"It hasn't troubled me," he said, shrugging, "but the priests complain."

"Perhaps," she replied with practiced alacrity, "this is a good opportunity for you to show them who is king - you told me once you were looking for just the right chance to do so."

"No," he said after some hesitation, "this is not the opportunity."

"I wish you were King!" she suddenly burst out.

"I wish I were, too," he said, half sadly, half relieved to say it to someone.

But the moment she had spoken, she felt she had gone down a blind alley, and answered, "The gods' will," in her pious tone.

"I will, the gods thwart," the King said.

"Please be kind enough to let me talk with the priests myself; there is no need for you to be caught in the middle," she replied.

"All right," he said, and shrugged again.

A few days later, she went without her maids or guards to the hill overlooking the arroyo. Through the tangled branches of an olive tree, she saw him white below her, turning his head from side to side in the breeze. She slid out of her crimson robe and threw it against the tangled branches, where it caught and hung. She prayed a moment to her sea-born sister, to Passageway and Cul-de-sac, then ran white over the grass, and threw herself down on her hands and knees before the god-engendered animal.

We have come to a Cul-de-sac in our narrative. Words, like politeness, provide us with a way of slipping a noose on the ideas, forces, and accidents, which are our lives and the life of the world. Physical access to metaphysical phenomena is forbidden mortals, but our obedient and observant servant, language, can reach out and touch - not, however, everything. I will not ask my words to lead us through the cypress branches, to overlook that turn of history. The sun-born had intercourse with the Queen, and she came again and again, every day through the warm summer, falling, we must suppose, among the yellow flowers, or among the little passageways his knife-sharp hooves cut in the grass of the gravelly bank.

The Queen's third pregnancy was more inconvenient and irritating to the King than her first two had been. It had grown every year more important that she have a son, and the priests pressed him as if he could do something about it. The child would be born about the time of the Congress of the Sun and Moon. If the child were born well before the rituals, good, but if the Queen were incapacitated it would throw the burden on him, and would be taken as a bad omen.

She herself had been tense, worrisome, and occasionally even thoughtless to him. He had one of his times of doubting whether she had been a good idea. She was loyal, obedient, and affectionate in her way; she had caused no real trouble with the priests or the native princes, even though she was the first foreign wife of a Cretan king. But still, when he looked back on the course of their life together, he found that she had often had her own way without his even quite knowing they had been opposed.

Early on the morning of the day before the festival, with all these things o~ his mind, the King, inspected the sacred animals. The big white bull was to die that day. Minos looked down at him from a runway above the stalls. The animal was not placidly waiting, but was kicking and digging gouges out of the planks, with patient brutal strength, not like the madness of a frenzied dumb creature, but with the savage patience of the pounding ocean, which blots out all tracks of men in its own time. The King was glad he did not have to try to kill the beast himself.

A messenger came from the women's quarters. He had not been told to say a prince or a princess had been born, but only to urge the King to come. Minos, whose life had been devoted to wardenship of lands he had not chosen and did not understand, was quick to foresee failure in ambiguous messages. He was carried at a trot through the winding streets, though a small gate in the new wall ' through gardens, pillared halls, and libraries. The air grew quieter as he neared the women's quarters, silence hanging from the blue and crimson painted walls like the trophy of defeat in a sacked city. The silence seemed to strip him naked of his royal competency as he drew into it. Coming through the last gate, he heard sobbing and running bare feet. Before the Queen's bed two priests and a midwife were on their knees. The Queen lay white and unconscious, the sheets covered with blood. In the middle of the bed, red, wrinkled, and hairy, lay the infant Minotaur, squalling, lowing, kicking its half-hoofed limbs.

The King did not know if the gods had made some great gift to him, or a curse carried out, or whether he should take this as a king or as a man. He was like a child shown a snake for the first time. He grabbed the two priests and, without saying anything, shoved them into a dressing room, bolted the door, and sank down where they had been kneeling. "Oh wife, devious in your wisdom," he said aloud, sunken on his knees before his unconscious helpmate, "have you been wise in your deviation?" The little beast squalled. On, forbidding in its helplessness.

Someone pounded on the outside door. Without rising, he shouted for them to go away. Certainly he did not want anyone to see what had happened until he could think of an explanation. Turning back, he saw that the Queen's eyes were open and that she was smiling at him.

"Whose is it?" the King asked, not rising.

"Mine," the Queen answered, not ceasing to smile.

"It is not yours alone."

"It is born of the Sun God."

He felt for one lovely moment as if he were about to escape all the limitations of mortality. "It is mine, then?"

"No, it is mine," she said again.

He stood up quickly, grabbed her by the front of her open cloak, and drew her face close to his own: "I will make you crawl the gutters of the most twisting streets of Knossos if you are not straight with me now and tell me what has happened"

"Suppose," she asked, "I lie?"

He pushed her back against the bed and sank himself at its foot, beginning to cry in his helplessness and frustration. She took up the squalling creature, and put it to her snow-white breasts.

"Be gentle with me, Minto, and I will be gentle with you."

Finally he said, "I'm sorry," not because he loved her, or even cared, but because the nation had to go on. Nevertheless, he was sincere, and his sincerity should have earned him some escape.

"His father is the sacred bull."

The King sank down at the foot of the bed; he lowered himself from her sight. The priests in the closet were knocking on the door. The forgotten maid was crying silently on the other side of the bed. The King lay on the floor with his face against the cast-off bedclothes, his legs curled against him to hide himself. After a long time, when the young had been filled for the first time and was sleeping, the King stood up and asked her calmly who had seen. Only the priests and the maid. He ordered the maid to, look after the Queen, and left the priests where they were.

He went outside to the scarlet and ochre piazza, which faced on a small garden. By the door some soldiers and high priests stood. He gave orders that none should come or go, and that those outside should not speak with those inside. He could do no more. He walked at random, without goal, through the brightly-plastered passageways of the palace. They seemed gray to him. He came at last to the treasury, and opened a door that only he was allowed to open. Inside lay heaps of gold and silver. He closed behind him the door, which no man but he might open, and lay down on the bright cool floor. On the tile they had painted a design of leaping dolphins, those flying children of the boundless sea who never seem frustrated or ashamed. He pressed his forehead against a bar of gold, a significant portion of the national treasury. It cooled him. He thought about how happy he would be if this had not happened.

The Queen lay in her bed, at first in a warm, weak contentment, her dissatisfactions expelled from her for the moment and cradled with unashamed love in her arms. He was all her battles. But he would be no lasting peace; she foresaw that she would have to begin anew to scheme and twist. She knew that the net she held around the King was made of weak line, that he was a man who was accustomed to condemn to death men he had never seen, and that he might break everything in some desperate gesture.

Two priests, if you recall, had by chance been present, and were still locked away in the closet. She got up and let them out.

"It is a sacrilege, let us kill it?" they said, using a very respectful form of address. "Then we will let it out that you had a miscarriage. It will not be a good omen, but we must find the best way we can." Then they nodded their heads at the maid, meaning to kill her too.

She had found that priests were always best handled by means of politicians. "Send," she commanded, "for the Supreme Admiral."

"But the King has ordered no one to come in or go out."

"My father is Time," she said, almost chanting, almost sinking again into the wan stupor of exhaustion and fulfillment, "my grandparents Passageway and Cul-de-sac, my grandmother the Earth. Hermes, the god of thieves whom you serve, is my cousin too. What sort of omens do you think you will have if I pray against you?"

"The King . . ." they said.

"The King is but a man," she said. They went to the door and one way or another put the fear of the gods into the guards.

The Admiral was an old man whose face, mazed with wrinkles, mirrored in its lines the furrows his ships made in the quiet sea, weaving his fierce, flexible peace. When he saw the infant she held in her arms an expression utterly unreadable danced across his face.

"He is savage to look at," she said, "but he is a valuable piece of property, and the priests want to kill him."

"And the King?" he said.

"The King is somewhere trying to find his way back to himself," she said.

"What will he do then?"

"He will follow as I lead," the Queen said, bluffing again.

"Let us pray," the two resentful priests declared, and began to invoke the Sun, which did not penetrate that far into the greatest building in the world.

"In my country," the Queen said, "when we are cornered, we pray to Passageway and Cul-de-sac."

The wrinkles on the old man's face shifted again, like dancers to the music's calling. "Let us -then build -them a temple here," he said.

Time obscures all wounds, and it obscured the wound that the bestial child of the gods had made in the national pride and the pride of the King. He had the satisfaction of standing in embarrassed solitude to watch the beast, as white as mountain snow, stagger first to its knees, blood spouting from its mouth and nostrils, staining the white throat red, then fall on its side, spraying the sand crimson. The Sun shone brightly on its gaudy death.

For the priests, and the craftsmen, and the unemployed, there was the maze: the largest outside of fable Egypt of, a kind of monument from all human power to all reality. The poets wrote odes to it as they wrote odes to successful athletes.

For Pasiphae there was the secret feeling that it was to her. She felt, without quite telling herself so, that the plans of her grandfather for her homeland, her desire for blatant godhead, that the very desire of history itself to be, had met in her passionate summer afternoons, and turned themselves into this mighty building, which flooded across the place where the sacred fields had been, like a spring river carrying logs and bits of household goods and wild-eyed men upon its swelling face.

In his savage nature, the Minotaur grew as quickly and with as little discipline as his future home. At the end of his first year, he could run like the wind on his human legs, even hearing the weight of his heavy, awkward bull head and budding horns. At four years, just before the maze was far enough along to let him in, he raped and killed one of his sister Phaedra's serving women. He spoke no human tongue, and, once weaned, respected no man, but carved splinters out of the wooden doors set up to keep him in.

Ariadne grew in womanliness and stubbornness. She was sweet and loving to her father, sensing the embarrassment between her parents, and choosing the man's side as a good woman should. Phaedre grew in wiliness and manners, treating all alike and each man justly, but gaining her ends by art even more than her mother. When each went to the new temple, Ariadne prayed to Prohibition for the strength to maintain herself, while Phaedre prayed to Opportunity to grant her this or that. Yet her mother felt that there was something turning and pacing within Phaedre as in a corner, while she felt that Ariadne was waiting to spring and run to some consummation.

Time obscures all wounds, and the pressure upon the King and Queen to obscure their wound was great. The men and gold taken to build the maze had to be replaced by wiliness and diplomacy. The edges of the empire began to curl back as if to warm themselves at the central heat. The empire needed sons, and two were born. Minos worked long hours to keep out the savage people of the North, while the Queen worked to keep in the beast at the center.

Six years after his birth, the Minotaur appeared for the first and last time in the streets of Knossos. No public statement of his nature had ever been made, though the rumor had been let out that he was the child of the Sun God. He was carried by broad-shouldered soldiers on a golden platform in the center of which rose a gilded pole. A tunic had been chained to him, and he chained to the pole. He began bellowing when he was first wrestled to the pole, and bellowed on and on until he was loosed in the small garden at the center of the maze. Crowds, attracted by the noise, dissolved quickly when the soldiers had passed. Each man sought what to him meant shelter or solace, having seen the deep-throated, savage thing that had sprung from the foreign queen.

The heart of the maze was a pasture of perhaps half an acre. It comprised the same meadows where the Queen's lover had walked, and the yellow flowers that had danced around his calves still tossed their heads like adoring Muses. But the Minotaur had man's feet, callused hard and twisted on their sides from supporting his bull's head, and he only trampled the yellow flowers down. With him it was all or nothing. One could imagine him running free on some prairie, some Asian plain larger by ten times than the island of his birth. In a month he could have run the length of Minos' empire, if that empire had not been sea and mountains. But this half acre was the largest open space he was to know, and, caught here, savage, brutal, heartless resentment was his only freedom.

Eight archways led out from the half acre; seven of the passages led only back to themselves. The eighth opened to the outside world, if you knew its dead ends. The maze was partly roofed and partly not. Beside a wall around the central half acre stood a ladder, which the Minotaur could not use because he had no hands. A priest would descend it and toss melons and grapes to him, which he would muzzle against the wall and gobble down. Sometimes the Queen would stand on the walland watch him. He could not know that she asked the universal forces that had borne her, and which, long and short, bear us all, why they should have chosen this way to mark her out from non-being, half it seemed to praise and half to shame. She herself only half knew that she loved him for the burning savagery of his longing to escape.

When he was moved into the temple, she was required by the priests to go the next day and throw herself down before the figures of Opportunity and Prohibition at the entranceway, and pray that her bearing would never find his way between them. This she did with a serious heart, and so he also was locked away into her inner heart of love and hate.

When the Minotaur had lived in the maze for ten years, he was sixteen, the Queen forty, and the King forty-eight. The King had both the stooped shoulders and the inner strength of a man who has worked hard all his life. He did exercises in the morning, and left younger men tired in the afternoon. But at banquets after drinking, he nodded and lost the train of argument. The Queen's worries were more within herself, and so she had aged more. Together they looked as if they had been born on the same day. The creature in the maze had half a beast's half a man's span; the hair on his jaw was thinner and whiter. His half sisters, four and six years his elder, might have been his daughters.

For prestige and out of the crowd's growing thirst for blood, the victims now were thrown into the maze. The dismembered remains were brought out afterwards. The Minotaur had acquired a taste for blood. He had learned to wait until his victims were weak from searching and starvation. For Minos' third calendar celebration, the king of Athens sent, instead of the most trivial victim acceptable, his own son, a young man, handsome, clever, and above all a merciless opportunist.

The Queen stood beside her husband in the stands of the arena when the victims were introduced. It was a cold spring day, the sun hidden by the ocean fog. With her hand the Queen leaned her weight upon the shoulder of her older daughter Ariadne, her mind wandering pointlessly. As each new young man or woman came in, the crowd washed itself with bloodthirsty excitement. They all looked alike to the Queen. Theseus came in last. He was dressed in crimson and purple, more like Jason outfitted in the armor of love going to Medea, than like a man dressed in the armor of humility to go to meet Death. Ariadne turned back to her mother and asked, "Who is he?"

"A prince from Athens; he is to go to the maze," her mother replied without marking the question.

Her daughter turned back and watched the procession in her own stillness and dignity. She did not move or smile, but below on the sand, Theseus marked the tall girl upon whom Pasiphae leaned. Just before he disappeared into the passageways below, she leaned across to her father and said, "I would like to talk to the prince from Athens."

"Ask the priests," the King said.

The ceremonies lasted four days. On the morning of the first day, the Athenians were thrust naked through the massive doors of the temple of Opportunity and Prohibition. The crowd helped to thrust the doors shut after them, shouting for destruction. On the fourth day, the priests were to go in to drag out what was left. The Minotaur's mouth, shaped for grazing, could not pick the bones clean.

But that night Theseus and his band came running from the exit by the icons. They killed the guards there saving one, to whom Theseus handed the bloody genitals of the monster, instructing him to take them to the King. Carrying the great bull head, the savage eyes now closed, they ran on still naked but unashamed through the night streets of the city to the alerted ship. They were in the bay before the alarm was well ringing through the passageways of the palace. After dawn, at sea out of sight of land, they speared the heavy head to the spike of the mast for its almighty relatives to see. There the cruel Minotaur's brains were heated by his grandfather, the Sun, there he swam through his grandfather Time without either marking the passage, there whatever humble gods administer the burrowing of maggots began their task.

When a frightened guard wakened the King and held the bloody object up in front of him, the King asked, "What in god's name is it?" Being told, he sat for a time among his heaped-up bedclothes, then sent out the alarm. When the Queen came into his chambers, her hair hanging tangled behind her, he said he did not know exactly what was going on, but that something had happened in the maze. She said she would go herself. For a moment he considered forbidding her, but gave himself up to an urge to see her suffer.

A half hour later, the King stood in armor in one of tile courtyards, surrounded by soldiers and officials giving and taking orders. The moon had set, and the sun was just turning the sky with gray and crimson, the edge of its disc not yet visible. TheQueen and her party came back through the winding streets, through the gates and corridors of the palace. They were directed to the courtyard of the guardsmen, where she found the King, with Ariadne looking silent and angry on his right, and Phaedre looking enraged on his left. The grass in the inner garden had been stained with blood in a great swath in front of the severed neck. The Queen had rolled in it, covering her white robes with crimson. Coming through the crowd, she raised her rather short arms to make her way and shouted out, "Who has done this?"

"Ariadne," Phaedre answered before anyone else had a chance to speak, "the King's eldest daughter, she has done this thing."

The King felt as if he were in a stage performance. Preserving his dignity, he said, "We will get to the bottom of this."

The Queen reached him: "Do you see me, do you see this blood? It is the blood of the gods, which has been spilled onto your hands."

"May I speak?" Phaedre asked, her intonation dropping across the phrase.

"Go ahead," said the King.

Turning to a guardsman who had been standing beside her, she said, "Tell him what has happened."

"Night before last, Ariadne of the bright eyes came to me and asked me to go with her to the quarters of the victims. I did so, and there she made love with the prince of Athens, there before me, and before his slaves who pretended to be asleep. When we were coming back, she bought my sword from me for this gold ring." He held up his left hand where there was a plain, heavy gold ring. The guard bowed his head, and said, facing the ground, "I have told you all the truth I know, because you are my King. Protect me, sire, from the anger of the youngest princess."

"What is this man talking about?" asked the Queen, still shouting. "I can discover no sense in what he is saying!"

The King turned to some other guards, some perhaps who had helped drain a measure of wine with him, and said, "Cut off this man's ring finger, and get him out of my sight."

"Damn it," Ariadne said, "will somebody now tell me where he is and what has happened to him?"

"He's dead," her mother said.

"Aren't you going to do something to her?" Phaedre said to her father. "Aren't you going to do something horrible to her?"

"Damn it," Ariadne said. "What has happened to him; why hasn't he come back?"

The guardsman being led away turned to Ariadne. "He has fled to his ship, and the ship has drawn its ropes from our shores, and now he is at sea with the wind sailing him away from us, and may worse never happen to you."

"He's gone?" Ariadne asked.

"He's gone," some official said.

"God, I hate you all," she declared. "Gods, if I am born of you, stop all the heart's desires of these people who have stopped mine." She turned and ran towards the streets. Some men started after her, but the King, beginning to see his way out, said, "Let her go as she will."

"Look what a horrible, unnatural thing she has done," Phaedre screamed, tears running down her cheeks. "Aren't you going to do something to her?"

The Queen came up close to the King and asked, "What has he failed to do?" She took her bloody hand and smeared it across the sun design on the King's armor, highlighted in the scarlet dawn. "Or what horrible thing that he might have done has he left undone?"

"I have had enough of you," the King said to the Queen. "I have had enough of your acts and your gods and your seeking and grasping, enough of your ways and stoppings. I have done with you. Since you have come to my island, life has gotten worse and worse, the borders of the kingdom are failing, the lines that run out to them have grown slack and twisted; the heart is eaten out of the city. Get out. Go. Go back to that island you came from. Go back and hobnob with your omnipotent relatives in the place where they squeezed you out"

Pasiphae felt restless when she first reached home, as if she had nothing to do. She would wake up early in the gray dawn and lie in her bed trying to find a way to fill up the day. When she went to bed in the evening, she turned about in her covers trying to find a way to end it. But after a while, she settled into a routine.

She would arise with the sun and wash herself, in the stream in warm weather, in water brought in and heated by servants in winter. In the bright morning light, she wove tapestries dealing with the history of her home island; with the union of her grandfather with the Earth, which she depicted as a plump matron carrying a cornucopia; the union of her grandmother with Time, whom she depicted as an impossibly old man; her own birth, where she depicted herself as a perfect, shining little woman; and all the naval battles that had been fought in the area. The great and painful passages of her own life she avoided. With the noon meal she drank watered wine. In the afternoon, she would walk over the island, as she remembered its own king had done when she was a little girl. In the fall, she would walk in the purple grape arbors; in the winter she would watch over the black, leafless trees in the thin snow on the tops of the hills; in the spring she would walk in the olive groves and vegetable patches, looking for the first golden green of growth; in the summer she would make her tracks on the golden, hot beaches, watching silently the shipwrights and fishermen, looking off to sea at the ships passing, and at the endless volume of Time and space beyond.

The guard from whom Ariadne had bought the sword had come to her island. At first, Pasiphae pretended not to notice him, but in the end she found an excuse for having him killed. News seldom came from court. When it did, she would not go down to meet the ship, but would ask the travelers to dinner. Once there, she would let them talk to her stewards while she pretended not to listen.

Before her evening meal, she always set aside a half hour to think about the figures of her tapestries. She felt that she should take great care how she lined out gods and demi-gods. Often she forgot the time of dinner as she sat gazing at the purple veins in her hands.

When she was quite old, her eyes hazy and red veined with time, she set everyone to searching for the cave in which she had been conceived. She herself went about on a stick, her wrinkled face pursed up with anxiety. They were never sure whether they found the right cave, but they showed her one that satisfied, and she asked to be buried there.

For some years after her death, many people came to her tomb to touch it and to pray. Their footprints trampled down the sand outside the mouth of the cave. But inside, it was just another tomb, other legends grew up to account for the Minotaur, and the prayers made there were never unequivocally granted. Later the paths in the sand became few and distinct in their crossing. Finally the sea could keep the beach washed smooth.



Copyright © 1964 by Dirk van Nouhuys:

 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author

revised 9/30/04.