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Madeleine Bellard

Greek Mythology

Professor R. Ziomkowski

May 9, 2018

Theseus

Throughout Greek mythology, it is evident that there is a type of social hierarchy: first

gods, then heroes, and finally, mortals. Though this hierarchy is in place, it is the divinity that

separates them, not necessarily their actions or nature. The king of the gods, Zeus, and a mere

mortal will feel the same anger, express rage, act irrationally, behave impulsively- no one is free

of imperfection regardless of their rank. This truth and these negative qualities can be seen in

Theseus on his journey to slay the minotaur. When analyzing The Storyteller: Theseus and the

Minotaur and Jeanette Winterson’s ideas on the hero, it is evident that while he commits heroic

acts, his nature does not allow him to conform to the stereo typical hero.

In The Storyteller: Theseus and the Minotaur, it is Theseus’s pride and desire for the

recognition that will come with killing the minotaur that drives him to kill. Despite Ariadne’s

pleas to allow the minotaur to live, Theseus plunges his sword into the creature, delivering the

final blow. As the narrator says, “Theseus saw only the beast, saw only the moment when he

could hold the horns aloft on the quay at Athens. His father’s face, the pride, the hero’s

welcome,” and this desire for pride won out over Ariadne’s pleas (18:10-18:20). His actions

grow more and more troublesome and while he ultimately becomes king, he loses his father in

the process and goes mad with visions of the monsters face and the dreams of killing his loved

ones. Though Theseus had a quest to complete, it is tainted by his lust for glory, that in the end

would be unfulfilled, that negates its heroic nature.


Jeanette Winterson explains that the hero is neither good nor bad, but somewhere in the

middle. Winterson states, “[the heroes] are double-faced. It is though they are hinged in the

center and the good are folded back, touching each other in each person…” (16:22-16:30). This

can be seen with many heroes: they commit heroic deeds but have overwhelming character

deficits. The difference between Theseus and other heroes, such as Hercules, Jason and Perseus,

seems to be that while he may have committed a heroic act, it was not done in a heroic spirit. He

kills the minotaur not to lift the curse and misfortune it brought but to lift his standing, elevate

his pride and gain recognition. This makes the task less than heroic.

While each hero seeks some form of pride and recognition, the tasks of heroes other than

Theseus are done with more pure intention. Perseus slays the gorgon to marry Danae, Jason

fetches the golden fleece to restore the throne that is rightfully his, Hercules completes his labors

to be absolved of guilt and achieve immortality; with each action, there is some personal gain but

the overwhelming intent of their quests is the desire to right a wrong. The depiction of Theseus

in The Storyteller: Theseus and the Minotaur is that of a self-interested individual who, despite

Jeanette Winterson’s assessment that all heroes have good and bad in them, is far too corrupt in

nature for the good to be commended.