Taking the bull by the horns

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2011, 12:00am


Aegeus, the King of Athens, drew another tile out of the silver box. The old man's face was lined in despair, and a single tear ran down his cheek. A servant read out the name scratched on the tile.

'That is the final one, Your Majesty. The selection is over.'

The King sat down and began to weep. Prince Theseus put his arm firmly around his father's shoulder.

'I have an idea, father. Listen to me, and you will never have to do this terrible thing again.'

For many years, King Minos of Crete had been threatening Athens with war if the city did not send him seven teenage boys and seven teenage girls whenever he made the demand. Each time, the king picked the names at random out of a silver box. And this time, his own son had been selected.

King Minos had problems of his own. In the cellars under his palace, lived a hideous monster called the Minotaur. This foul creature lived on a diet of human flesh, and Minos used the regular supply of Athenian teens to feed its appetite.

Theseus promised his father he would kill the Minotaur. He set sail for Crete with the 13 frightened teens whose names had been selected. When their ship arrived in Crete, they were all bundled into a dungeon. A victim was due to be fed to the Minotaur the next day. Theseus volunteered to be the first to go to his death.

The Prince of Athens paced up and down all night in his cell thinking of how he could slay the Minotaur. He knew that it was a gigantic beast, half-man, half-bull, but killing it was not the only problem. The Minotaur lived in a maze of dark corridors and tunnels called the labyrinth, and he didn't know how he could find his way out if he did manage to kill the monster.

Suddenly Theseus heard a knock on the door of the cell. Looking through the tiny barred window, he saw a beautiful girl standing in the half-light. 'I am Ariadne, King Minos' daughter,' she whispered. 'I will help you kill the Minotaur if you promise to take me with you when you escape.'

Theseus nodded.

'Take this dagger and this ball of string,' Ariadne continued. 'Tie one end of the string to one of the hooks in the wall when you enter the maze. Fix the other end to your belt, and the string will unwind as you walk towards the centre. Kill the monster with the dagger, and then follow the string back. I'll be waiting for you.'

As dawn broke, soldiers dragged Theseus into the maze, and slammed the door shut. Immediately, a fearful roar filled the air.

Following the princess' instructions, Theseus crept through the twisting corridors, the string unfurling behind him. All of a sudden, the slavering Minotaur burst out of the darkness, but Theseus was ready. He jumped up and, grabbing the monster's horns, somersaulted onto the beast's back. He plunged the dagger time and time again into the monster's neck until it fell dead to the floor.

Then Theseus followed the string back to the entrance of the maze. He banged loudly on the door, and after a few moments it creaked open.

Ariadne grabbed hold of Theseus, and pulled him up the steps and out into early morning sunshine. Without looking back, the two of them ran from the palace towards the harbour. Thirteen excited teenagers dragged Theseus and Ariadne on board the waiting ship, which set sail to Athens.


1 Why was the King of Athens so distressed at the start of the story?

2 How were the 14 teenagers selected?

3 Why did the King of Crete need a regular supply of Athenian teens?

4 What was Theseus' plan as he arrived on the island of Crete?

5 Where did the Minotaur live?

6 How did Theseus find his away out of the maze?


1 Because he had to choose a group of teens and send them to their deaths.

2 The King drew 14 names out of a silver box.

3 He used the teens as food for the Minotaur.

4 He didn't have one.

5 The creature lived in a maze under the royal palace.

6 He followed a line of string that he had unrolled back to the entrance of the maze.