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Of Monsters and String

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.
Eccl. 9:10

Standing at the altar of heroes and amid shouts of joy, Theseus felt unworthy. How easily he might have failed! No wise person should have taken this on without knowing the ending.

But how could anyone know?

In the sweltering black night, short of breath from running, he had arrived at the door. Against the sky, the palace reared like a mountain of haggard ornaments. In the morning, he and six others would be led to the high altar, sacrificed, and fed to the Minotaur. It was not a dream.

Now, the night before, he jiggled the cellar door quietly until it unlatched. Pushing the heavy wood, chilled, fetid air crossed his face. He crawled forward on sloping ground; his palms pressing the earth floor. Grimacing against the stench, he held the ball of string firmly. Far away a bellow sounded.

In this dark labyrinth roamed the Minotaur, so hideous that it was illegal to speak of his black lips and appetite. Since Theseus’s father, King Aegeus, lost the war twenty years ago, the Greeks were required to send young men from Greece to Minos to feed the endless appetite of this Minotaur.

The goodbyes at the docks in Greece, the unspeakable sadness on parents’ faces as their children sailed to bloody, humiliating deaths, Theseus saw these and felt a vow grow within him. He must stop the sacrifice.

But how? The Greeks could not win a war against Minos.

The only course was to kill the legendary Minotaur, who hung like poisonous smoke in the hearts of his people. But who? Someone brave. Someone with a plan. Someone chosen for sacrifice. Who else could venture close to the Minotaur?

Two years passed since Theseus understood it was his task to kill the Minotaur and the time he could bring himself to go. Month by month the ominous duty appeared to him more clearly, like a ghost growing into a body. By night it hovered above his sleeping form. It taunted him: He would never have enough courage to kill the Minotaur. He was a failure because he hadn’t gone already. He was a coward because he saw the need but could not perform the task.

The day Theseus climbed aboard the boat for Minos, his father shook his head and tears flung into the gray-blue sea. Ahead was the Minotaur.

Not until later, when he stood at the Altar of Heroes amid cries of triumph did Theseus understand that the string had saved him. The night before he opened the cellar door to kill the Minotaur, Minos’s beautiful daughter, Ariadne, stepped out of the shadows like an answer to prayer. In her hands she cradled a ball of string. She told him to fasten one end to the door of the labyrinth and unravel it as he crawled toward the Minotaur.

String . . . not map or directions for killing the creature of death. Only string to help Theseus find his way out. But that was enough to give him heart— it was a promise that one thing would lead to another, and faith that he would, yes, be alive to need a way back.
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