Ariadne features in the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur.  The fierce, man-eating Minotaur was the half brother of Ariadne, the offspring of her mother, Pasiphae, and a bull.  Every year, seven young men and seven maidens were sacrificed to the Minotaur.  The Athenian Theseus came to Crete, where the Minotaur lived in a labyrinth, with intentions of stopping the gruesome practice for good.  Ariadne saw the Athenian, and was smitten immediately.  Theseus succeeds in killing the beast, with the tip from Ariadne to leave a trail of twine through the labyrinth so as to find his way back.  He flees Crete with Ariadne, and they land on the island of Naxos.

        Theseus then abandons the sleeping Ariadne on Naxos.  The reasons behind why Ariadne gets abandoned are varied.  Many accounts involve Dionysus finding the woman, and taking her for his own bride.  In the novel The King Must Die, Mary Renault suggests that Ariadne took part in a bacchanalia, helped to rip apart an aging king, and passed out in a drunken stupor with the king’s genitals still in her hands.  Theseus finds her this way, and immediately sets sail, disgusted.
Again, the greatest similarity between the Dido and Ariadne involves abandonment.  And yet again, we see that the male hero comes to a foreign land and finds a foreign lover, only to leave her, secretly, deceitfully.

        The similarities between the two women extend beyond their abandonment.  The poet Catallus writes Ariadne’s lament to Theseus, and the language of her address echoes that of Dido’s address to Aeneas.  Both women call the men perfide in the first line of their speeches, and then again sixty lines later.  Wills talks about the features of this type of allusion when he writes, “I have learnt something rather sophisticated in the grammar of allusion: it is possible for two passages to complement one another in making a single allusion” (The Formal Features of Allusion).  He goes on to discuss other, more technical ways in which Catallus and Vergil create a complex web of allusion in their representations of Dido and Ariadne.

For Chaucer's version of the Ariadne myth in his The Legend of Good Women, click here.  For his version of the Dido story, click here.

For a brief biography of Ariadne, click here.

For a translation of Catullus' poem number 64, click here.