Ariadne (Ἀριάδνη, Αριάδνη) ("utterly pure," from a Cretan-Greek form for arihagne) was a fertility goddess of Crete. Her name is merely an epithet, for she was originally the "Mistress of the Labyrinth", both a prison with the dreaded Minotaur at its center and a winding dance-ground. She was especially worshipped on Naxos, Delos, Cyprus, and in Athens. (The Romans called their comparable goddess Libera and their poets associated her with Minoan-Greek Ariadne.)
In later Greek mythology, Ariadne's divine origins were submerged and she became known as the daughter of King Minos of Crete, who conquered Athens after his son was murdered there. The Athenians were required to sacrifice seven young men and seven maidens each year to the Minotaur. One year, the sacrificial party included Theseus, a young man who volunteered to come and kill the Minotaur. Ariadne fell in love at the first sight of him, and helped him by giving him a magic sword and a ball of thread so that he could find his way out the Minotaur's labyrinth. She ran away with Theseus after he achieved his goal, and according to Homer was punished by Artemis with death, but in Hesiod and most others accounts, he left her sleeping on Naxos, and Dionysus wedded her. With Dionysus, she was the mother of Oenopion.
At Athens in the autumn they held a joyous festival to her and Dionysus, which Theseus was supposed to have founded on his return from Crete. In Italy, where they identified Dionysus with their wine-god Liber, they also took Ariadne for the wine-goddess The story of Ariadne has been a favourite subject for artists and poets in all ages.
Ariadne is also the name of a play by A.A. Milne.
Ariadne auf Naxos furnished the subject for an opera by Richard Strauss.
L'abandon d'Ariane (opera)
- Rebecca Armstrong, Cretan Women. Pasiphae, Ariadne, and Phaedra in Latin Poetry. Oxford Classical Monographs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-19-928403-2
Theseus and Ariadne sculptures of the west pediment of the Archaic temple of Apollo Daphnephoros at Eretria