By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB
The goal of this series is to examine the link between art and classics and why classically-themed art is a great way to introduce young people to the classical world.
The Legend of Theseus and the Minotaur
The painting above depicts a well-known episode from Greek Mythology–the hero Thesus sent to kill a half-man half-bull called the Minotaur. Theseus makes his way through a labyrinth, then after killing the monster, he finds his way back thanks to a thread given to him by his mistress Ariadne. The description of the minotaur by Pseudo-Apollodorus in the Bibliotheca is certainly worth a read:
ἐλθὼν δὲ ὁ ταῦρος ὡς ἀληθινῇ βοῒ συνῆλθεν. ἡ δὲ Ἀστέριον ἐγέννησε τὸν κληθέντα Μινώταυρον. οὗτος εἶχε ταύρου πρόσωπον, τὰ δὲ λοιπὰ ἀνδρός: Μίνως δὲ ἐν τῷ λαβυρίνθῳ κατά τινας χρησμοὺς κατακλείσας αὐτὸν ἐφύλαττεν. ἦν δὲ ὁ λαβύρινθος, ὃν Δαίδαλος κατεσκεύασεν, οἴκημα καμπαῖς πολυπλόκοις πλανῶν τὴν ἔξοδον. τὰ μὲν οὖν περὶ Μινωταύρου καὶ Ἀνδρόγεω καὶ Φαίδρας καὶ Ἀριάδνης ἐν τοῖς περὶ Θησέως ὕστερον ἐροῦμεν.
“And she gave birth to Asterius, who was called the Minotaur. He had the face of a bull, but the rest of him was human; and Minos, in compliance with certain oracles, shut him up and guarded him in the Labyrinth. Now the Labyrinth which Daedalus constructed was a chamber ‘that with its tangled windings perplexed the outward way’.”
(Translated by Sir James George Frazer)
Analysis of the Work
This wall panting was discovered in the house of Gavus Rufus (a.k.a. House of the Seven Skeletons) in Pompeii. This work of art is now located at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.
Theseus is positioned in the center of the painting, his bright sillouette contrasting with the background, which is a little faded. At the corner we can see the dead Minotaur. The children kissing the hero’s hand and foot were probably about to be killed by the monster. At the right we see the Cretan citizens who’ve heard the news of the slaying of the monster. Among them, we see an elder who has just caught sight of the Minotaur’s dead body. Next to him, there is a child wearing a toga, maybe a relative of the two aforementioned children.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Latin (the last of which he learned with Carmenta) and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. Mr. Gurgel is currently studying Old English through Carmenta as well.
Click here to read Mr. Gurgel’s full profile.