Exploring the History of Medicine, Part 42: Florence, Part 22

April 1, 2024


Uffizi Gallery

6. Ariadne

In Greek mythology, there is a story as follows.

Minos, the son of the all-powerful god Zeus, desired to become the king of Crete.

To demonstrate that becoming king was the will of the gods, Minos asked the sea god Poseidon for a favor.

In exchange for a promise to later return the gift, Poseidon gave Minos a magnificent bull born from the sea.

Minos showed the bull given by the sea god to the people, claiming that he had been recognized as king by the gods.

Then, he became the king of Crete and seized control of it, suppressing political opponents.

However, Minos became enamored with the beauty of the bull and, reluctant to return it to Poseidon, hid it.

Angry at Minos's breach of promise, Poseidon, as a punishment, caused Minos's queen, Pasiphae, to fall madly in love with the bull.

Queen Pasiphae, infatuated with the bull, mated with it, giving birth to the monster Minotaur ("Minos's bull"), a creature with the head of a bull and the body of a human ("bull-headed, human-bodied").

As the Minotaur grew, it became unruly and uncontrollable.

In response, Minos imprisoned the monster in the Labyrinth (Labyrinthos) at the Knossos Palace and fed it with young boys and girls sent from the vassal state of Athens.

This Labyrinth was said to be inescapable once entered.

The Athenian hero Theseus volunteered and entered the Labyrinth as the sacrificial prey for the Minotaur.

Guiding Theseus on this venture was King Minos's daughter, Ariadne.

Ariadne, in love with Theseus, handed him a ball of thread, and he tied one end to the door of the Labyrinth.

Theseus, unwinding the thread as he progressed through the maze, successfully defeated the Minotaur and retraced his steps by following the thread.

Derived from this myth, the labyrinth symbolizes the "journey of hardships," and the method of solving difficult problems is referred to as the "Ariadne's thread."

The term "lost in the labyrinth" for unresolved mysteries is also based on this myth.

Additionally, in ancient Crete, there was reportedly a ritual involving the actual union (?) of humans and bulls.

Having escaped the Labyrinth, Theseus, accompanied by Ariadne, set sail for Athens.

During their journey, the party made a stop at the island of Naxos.

However, on this island, the god of wine, Dionysus (Bacchus), abducted  Ariadne while she was sleeping.

Dionysus bestowed a golden crown upon her, which later became the constellation "Corona Borealis" (Northern Crown).

Devastated by the loss of Ariadne, Theseus forgot the promise he made to his father Aegeus, the king of Athens, before departing for Crete.

Aegeus had instructed him to change the ship's sail from black to white upon his safe return.

Unfortunately, the sail of Theseus’s ship remained black.

Aegeus, awaiting his son's return, saw the black sail, believed Theseus to be dead, and in despair, threw himself into the sea.

The sea was thereafter named the "Aegean Sea."

The inner ear, responsible for both hearing and balance, is a vital and anatomically complex organ, referred to as the "labyrinth" due to its intricate structure. 

This name is inspired by the Labyrinth of Greek mythology.




















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