Philip Womack’s Double Axe and the myth of the Minotaur
THE DOUBLE AXE
Philip Womack’s The Double Axe re-imagines ancient mythology for young readers today, showing how these venerable stories can help young people understand the world they live in. To coincide with the release of his book in February, Philip will be sharing his take on some of the Greek myths on this site, explaining how they have endured for so long and how he has reimagined them in his novel.
The myth of the minotaur is one of the most powerful and well known of those that have come down to us from ancient times.
The most common version is that King Minos of Crete’s son, Androgeos, is killed by the Athenians. In revenge, he takes a tribute from Athens every seven years – seven young men, and seven maidens – to feed the Minotaur, a half man half bull that lives inside the labyrinth, a maze built by Daedalus. The Minotaur was meant to be the son of the queen, Pasiphae, and a bull.
Theseus, a Prince of Athens, asks his father King Aegeus if he can go; he does, in a ship with black sails, in mourning for the deaths of the Athenians, promising his father to change to a white sail if he is successful.
He arrives in Athens, where Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, falls in love with him and gives him a ball of twine to help him out of the labyrinth. He kills the Minotaur and then escapes with Ariadne back to Athens; but abandons her on the way at Naxos; when he returns to Athens, his father sees the black sails of his ship, and kills himself.
Many have discussed the origins of the myth, and there are many versions. A myth is not set in stone: in some versions, the Athenians send tribute to avoid a plague; in others, the minotaur’s bottom half is a bull, like a centaur. In Homer’s epic poem, The Iliad, the labyrinth is simply thought of as a dancing floor. Centuries of story-telling have evolved the version that we have now – but that does not mean that it is the “right” one, or that there is even such a thing.
THE MINOTAUR – a half man, half bull, deadly, living at the heart of the labyrinth. In The Double Axe, it is a mysterious creature said to be the son of Pasiphae and a bull. But something strange is going on….
THESEUS – the Prince of Athens. Arrives as part of the tribute to Crete, and with the help of Ariadne, defeats the Minotaur. Theseus has much the same role in The Double Axe.
MINOS – the King of Crete. In the myth, he takes revenge on Athens by asking for tribute for the death of his son, Androgeos; in The Double Axe he is more cautious.
PASIPHAE – The Queen of Crete. People have found the story of the bull and Pasiphae very difficult. Some see it as a mystical union of the queen with a bull. In The Double Axe, it is represented as a slander.
DAEDALUS – the master craftsman who in the myth and in The Double Axe builds the labyrinth. His son, Icarus, has a role in a later myth when they escape Crete.
ARIADNE – the daughter of King Minos, famous for helping Theseus defeat the Minotaur, and then being abandoned on the island of Naxos. In The Double Axe she is young, bold and bright, taking things into her own hands.
DEUCALION STEPHANOS – In myth, Minos had a son called Deucalion, but he doesn’t feature in the Minotaur story; he is added here so that the reader can see things from a new perspective.