Unraveling Ariadne’s Thread: Works by Elaine Reichek
Catullus, Poem 64
A wonderfully embroidered cloth sets forth the mythic deeds of various men
of old. It illustrates the wave-loud coast of Naxos, where Theseus and his
swift ship vanish from sight, and Ariadne, in most grave distress, awakes deserted
on the lonely shore, and gazes after her uncaring lover. The graceful band
is gone from her golden hair, her light dress hangs, her girdle slips from her
breasts—all scatter, falling from her in the waves. Indifferent, the lost girl
gazes after Theseus.
This warlike man had earlier gone to Crete, where Princess Ariadne, seeing him,
had felt a flame burn down into her bones. And when bold Theseus went to fight
the Minotaur, conquering the beast, and laying its body low, it was her wander-
ing thread that showed to him the exit from the devious labyrinth. Then, when
Ariadne chose the love of Theseus, he carried her by ship to Naxos’s shore, only
to abandon the princess while she slept.
Now in her grief she climbs the sudden cliffs, to view the vast ocean, calling out
her plaint: “Theseus, in return for saving you from death, you leave me prey for
angry beasts and birds. No shelter, no escape from the encircling waves, no means
of flight, no hope.”
But as these words pour from Ariadne’s breast, and as she gazes after Theseus’s
ship, the cloth elsewhere portrays the young god Bacchus racing amid a riot of
spirits and satyrs, burning with love to give the Cretan girl.