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Ancient mythology, though during the archaic and classic periods the Greeks themselves were skeptical as to the myth, as fiction, remains an priceless treasure trove of stories and universal meanings.

Labyrinth is one of the most meaningful and universal symbols of the world culture. It attracts attention by its contradiction between corporeality and specificity of Labyrinth-construction and metaphor congestion of its image in a world culture that is associated with the test, destiny, loneliness, nonsense, hopelessness, etc.

Tempted to suspect that all the meanings that so generously endowed to Labyrinth (intellectual aporia, space jump, topos of existential choice, the intersection of realities, the model of the universe) have not really been generated by real or myth construction, but instead created Labyrinth as a convenient means of simple articulation of the universal Cosmologic and existential abstractions.

Multiple semantic reconstruction of myth in art (from «Ariadna’s Letter to Theseus» in «Heroides» by Ovid [2] to artistic intuitions of C. Monteverdi and K.Orff, J.L. Borges, H. Cortazar and P. Picasso and S. Dalí) often appear arbitrary interpretations of the famous outline of the myth encouraging to reconstruct the original version by its «message».

However, Plutarch spoke about different versions of the legend of the Minotaur, firstly, making distinction between rational (historians and philosophers – Filohor, Pherecydes, Hesiod, Aristotle) and artistic (the Athenian tragedians such as Euripides) interpretations; and, secondly, noting the significant differences in versions of the Cretans, Athenians and inhabitants of Naxos, where, according to legend, Theseus abandoned Ariadna [3].

Greek archaeologist G. Tzorakis said a very demonstrating phrase: «Myths and legends, handed down to us, are introduced us to views of the Greeks on Crete, and it means that we have available more or less believable reconstruction of the original version of events, and no more» [5, p.13].

However, it seems to us that in many versions and interpretations of the myth of the Labyrinth you can highlight content, which continues to be involved in thinking about the current reality offering a model of the eternal foundations of world order. It should be noted that the ancient thought didn’t isolate human existence out of cosmic order, presenting it as one of the cosmic phenomena, subordinate to the general laws of the Cosmos. Therefore, it is impossible to divide ancient myth and Cosmology and anthropology, ontological and the existential foundation of the event.

That’s why we believe the myth of the labyrinth is to be considered as a complete cosmological model with the system of universal existential characters inscribed into it.

Next, we will try to justify these two thesis:

  1. The Labyrinth is a model of the cosmos, unfinished, not perfect and properly arranged, but constantly developing.
  2. The event occurs in the Labyrinth, in our view, articulates the specific position of the human in the world that can be expressed by the following thesis: «The existence of a man entered in the world order in two ways – it follows its order and participates in its generation».

The Labyrinth as a cosmological model

How could the idea of the labyrinth-construction in connection with ideas about the universe and the human position in it be born?

First of all, the labyrinth is a man-made cave, which in its turn was associated with the cosmos by early Greek philosophers. The similarity of the labyrinth and the cave is easily seen. The labyrinth-construction is essentially an epiphenomenon of the intricate and heavy-going natural labyrinth (caves, forest trails, mountain gorges). How are cave and space linked?

Modern man, accustomed to perceiving the Cosmos as something infinite, indefinite, could hardly see this link. However, Greeks of archaic and classical periods interpreted Cosmos on plastically-corporal bases.

In addition, some ancient authors (from Homer and Pherecydes to neoplatonists Proclus, Porphyry, Damascus) indicate to the explicit relationship of the cave and the cosmos in ancient mythology. In the «Odyssey» Homer describes the cave at Ithaca (the so-called «Cave of the nymphs»), which is clearly of sacral character and contains elements of the cosmos [1].

Porphyry, in interpreting the above fragment from Homer’s work «On the Cave of the Nymphs», explains the link between cave and the Cosmos: «Not only, however, did the ancients make a cavern, to be a symbol of the world, or of a generated and sensible nature: but they also assumed it as a symbol of all invisible powers; because as the caverns are obscure and dark, so the essence of these powers is occult»[4].

The cave is not just space, as already finished, properly arranged entire but  a beginning, place and condition of its formation because it symbolizes not only Cosmos, but also its opposite that is chaos. Although as any other antique antinomy this one was not absolute. Many ancient philosophers (Anaximander, Heraclitus, and Empedocles) pointed to the periodic appearance of Cosmos out of chaos, and the death of the Cosmos in chaos.

The chaos appeared as not just unstructured, uncontrolled substance, as opposed to ordered space but it was the entire from which the world subsequently unfolded. Everything is linked in the world, even the most heterogeneous, because of common inclination is chaos as potential being that contains everything.

Description of the main characteristics of the Labyrinth is quite consistent with ancient ideas of Chaos. In the Labyrinth-cave is reigned by darkness and humidity – sources of life, its complexity and confusion are seen as unobvious or only forming structure. An important feature of the Labyrinth is its peculiar position of intersection, meeting place of three worlds – Heaven (the abode of Olympian gods), Earth (space of human) and Underground world.

The link of the Labyrinth (man-made cave) with the Heaven is confirmed by the fact that Zeus was born in a cave. The Minotaur dwelling in the Labyrinth is named Asterius, that is a star (as also Zeus on Crete was called and in some rituals). The Minotaur is related on the one hand to Zeus, and on the other to Helios as Pasiphae is the daughter of Helios. However, the Minotaur is a resident and patron of the beyond world. The Labyrinth is also connected with the earthly world, because of taking people who can not only enter it (as the Kingdom of Hades), and but come back.

The mythical labyrinth embodies ancient ideas about forming cosmos, as this combines all the elements of the cosmos: firstly, all the space (Heaven, Earth, Underworld) and, secondly, all the time – this is the beginning of the world (original chaos and the birth of Zeus) and its end (death of the Minotaur). In addition, it combines order and disorder: Chaos-Cosmos relationship is dialectically manifested it in their indestructible interrelationship, cyclical alternation, and mutual generation.

A man is involved in this action because it is a cosmic phenomenon. The question is, who is he- a witness, a partner, a victim?

Depending on it the myth events can be seen either as a myth, a place of personalities’ existence, with all the inherent drama of the existential choice and responsibility, either as space of the impersonal blind external forces, in which a man is merely a tool for the implementation of this external will (destiny) and its victim. Events of myth, regardless of treatment may be considered in the context of the universal ancient Antinomies η ανάγκη – ο αγώνας (fate – fighting), the only question is in the priority of one or the other part of it.

The labyrinth as a topos of human existence

All the diversity of interpretations of the labyrinth can be reduced to three major ones: parole Labyrinth-sanctuary, Labyrinth-aporia, Labyrinth-ryzome.

The version of Labyrinth-sanctuary is the most antique, and probably more in accordance with Minoan beliefs. On Cretan coins and seals the pictures of a labyrinth can be seen which scheme is clear and logical with a path leading to the center marked by solar sign that is a sign of divinity, mastering the universe.

That is, the Labyrinth-sanctuary is a construction, for something which has a sacral, cosmological sense. It implements the fate of all participants of the event, realizes the event scripts. There’s nowhere to get lost, there’s nothing to choose. In the labyrinth-sanctuary there will be nothing unexpected, since this is a place of implementation of eternality generating the cosmic order.

The Labyrinth a spatial aporia is represented in the classical Athens version of the myth.

It is a closed space with a large, but limited number of intricate passages, which means a limited number of options. In this version there is a cosmological perfection (the event has a beginning and an end, the labyrinth has entrance and exit). However, there is no event script before the event itself, it is unfolding in the process of characters’ actions. Meeting with Minotaur, embodiment of death, is possible but not inevitable. The outcome is influenced by three factors: fate, case, and characters’ actions.

The question is how free are the participants of the event in their actions? On the one hand, and in the classic version of the myth the labyrinth is a place of existence of personalities, with all the inherent drama of the existential choice and responsibility. However, none of the heroes is neither powerful Minos and his wife, Pasiphae, victims of retaliation or game of gods, nor the hero Theseus, acting according to the predictions of the Oracle, nor fallen in love Ariadne, nor Minotaur, doomed to eternal prison – no one is free from the power of fate. Events of myth embody antimony traditional for antique culture η ανάγκη – ο αγώνας (fate-fighting).

The Cosmos fate unfolds through personal hero’s actions. He is seemed to act in accordance with his own ideas about moral, reasonable, but eventually takes part in the cosmic event. Following the fate the hero is not a simple tool of blind forces: by his existence, all the risks and choices he is attached to cosmos order, as his co-creator. In this Labyrinth a man as the epitome of spontaneous activity and the Minotaur, as the incarnation of fate, are equally essential.

In the philosophical and artistic interpretations of the 20th and 21st centuries the Labyrinth most often appears as a ryzome, having no spatial boundaries, no Center, no beginning and no end, no code. Frightening are features like non-linearity, lack of rhythm, predictability, the proportionality of the trajectories to each other and the proportionality of the Labyrinth to a man. There is no way out because of its absence. The meaning of the path is not in search of way out, but in the path itself.

This movement has no outlined purpose, route and rules. In the process of movement a unique existential figure is created, a unique path of individual existence. The Labyrinth is created by one’s movement on it. In this Labyrinth there is no the Minotaur. Monster that waits for the hero is he himself. There is no Ariadne, because her thread is powerless.

The path, everyone passes, couldn’t be shared with someone. Out of all the versions for the interpretation of the Labyrinth-Cosmos, this one treats a man as the most removed, alienated from the Whole. The Labyrinth hostile to person, but without the man it would be meaningless. A man is looking for a way out of the Labyrinth, but it’s the only a place of his dwelling. And so the existential loneliness of the Labyrinth’s captive of the maze is not absolute. Though of everyone passes through the Labyrinth’s trajectory by his own, Labyrinth has a certain structure, order, even if it is incomprehensible. It means that wandering through the Labyrinth in involved into this order, involved into the Whole of the Labyrinth.

During all its life in culture the archaic myth of the Labyrinth is seen to undergo transformation, acquiring additional meanings, losing its physical certainty and becoming a game of the mind. The reason for these transformations is not that oral tradition could not save it in the original form, and in the individualization and demythologizing the consciousness of its speakers, storytellers and editors. Does it mean that new meanings have no relationship to the original? No, it doesn’t. In the myth, as a universal body, they all contained in minimized form, and unfolded with the mature of mankind. In the course of its long life in culture as demythologizing of consciousness, a person ceasing to live inside the myth engaged in dialogue with it as text with the text, continuing to find the articulation of important meanings in this dialogue and transforming it.


  1. Odyssey. Translated by A T. Murray (1919). Loeb Classical Library Volumes. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. Available at http://www.theoi.com/Text/HomerOdyssey1.html.
  2. Metamorphoses. Translated by Brookes More, Boston, Cornhill Publishing Co. (1922). Available at http://www.theoi.com/Text/OvidMetamorphoses1.html
  3. Life of Theseus // Plutarch. Lives. Vol. I. Translated by Perrin, Bernadotte (1914). Loeb Classical Library Volume 46. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. London. William Heinemann Ltd. Available at: http://www.theoi.com/Text/PlutarchTheseus.html
  4. On the Cave of the Nymphs. Translated by Thomas Taylor (1917) London. John M. Watkins .21 Cecil Court, Charing Cross Road. Available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/pearse/morefathers/files/porphyry_cave_of_nymphs_02_translation.htm
  5. Tzorakis, Knossos. A New Guide to the Palace of Knossos. Athens: Esperos. – 2008. – 120 p.
    Written by: Денисова Татьяна Юрьевна
    Date Published: 02/01/2017
    Edition: ЕВРАЗИЙСКИЙ СОЮЗ УЧЕНЫХ_31.10.15_10(19)
    Available in: Ebook