Weekend Reading: Into the Labyrinth

This week I’m thinking about the Minotaur.

Actually it’s gone beyond that. I’ve started dreaming about the Minotaur, thanks to reading lots of Minotaur books before bed. I can’t say that this is a thing that ever happened when I was researching Tacitus or Horace, and it’s not a development I’m particularly enjoying.

This Minotaur thing is… well, it’s ongoing. I’m going to be developing lots of different aspects of it for different purposes. But this week my focus has been on problematising the story of Theseus and the Minotaur as a way of connecting with autistic children.

If I’m honest, it’s a bit frustrating, because there’s so much material and so many paths to go down. (Yes, that is a Labyrinth metaphor. That’s what I do now.) Once you start getting into receptions and representations of this myth in children’s literature, it quickly spirals out of control. Also I put out a call on Twitter for people to send me Minotaurs, and so many Minotaurs came flying at me that I’m still working through them! (Thanks for all the Minotaurs, Twitter people!)

Unfortunately at this point I don’t have time to get lost in the material – I’m doing a Masterclass on this tomorrow! So I’m keeping my focus narrow.

My current interest is in the flippable, reversible nature of the myth. Obviously many myths have different sides to them, because Greek and Roman writers were experts at back-stories and spin-offs. But in the case of Theseus and the Minotaur, this seems particularly distinct. Reversible things have always fascinated me…

Duck or Rabbit?

With the Minotaur myth, we tend to see one side or the other. Theseus is a prince and a hero, is helped by the brave and smart princess Ariadne, and rescues his people from a man-eating monster. Or… the Minotaur is a half-human child who is locked up in a prison, betrayed by his sister and murdered by a deeply flawed ‘hero’ who goes on to abandon one of the Minotaur’s sisters and marry the other (which doesn’t end well for her).

It’s rare for both elements to co-exist in a single representation – at some point the writer or artist has to make a choice. Often the choice is made beforehand, and the other way of looking is entirely excluded, particularly in representations made for children. But these two elements both exist in the ancient sources and can be drawn on to create new versions, and this gives the myth an interesting potential for handling complex viewpoints.

(Any excuse to include everybody’s favourite Baby Minotaur!)

And so my current question is whether one side of the myth is more useful than the other as a way of connecting with, and interpreting, the viewpoint of the autistic child. It’s an interesting issue, because the Labyrinth is used all over the place to represent childhood experiences of autism. Sometimes it stands for the maze of interventions and services; sometimes it stands for the autistic mind; sometimes it stands for the experience of being guided out of a place in which you’re stuck. But often it’s not made explicit whether the autistic child in the scenario is supposed to be Theseus, or the Minotaur – or even one of the Minotaur’s unnamed victims.

All of these identifications can fit. But the one that I find most appealing is the identification with the Minotaur. This is rarely made openly, presumably because of the associations with the monstrous – but an implicit ‘monstering’ of autistic children happens all the time, particularly in medical discourse, and the Minotaur can give us a framework for spotting that and confronting it.

As you can imagine, I have a LOT more to say – but since I still haven’t finished writing my Masterclass for tomorrow, I’d better crack on! Suffice it to say that this week I am firmly on Team Minotaur, and that I have spent my time trawling the internet for cuddly Minotaur toys, because I really need one!

I do have a Lego Minotaur, so at least that’s something…!

This week from around the Classical Internet


Review of the Nero exhibition – Historia

Classics Week in London – City Lit

Prehistoric fingerprints – BBC

Comment and opinion

Greek Myth Chickens – Greek Myth Comix

Loki’s Latin scene – The Mary Sue

Elon Musk and Socrates – Greek City Times

Chronic and Chironic pain – CripAntiquity

An open letter to the SCS – Classics at the Intersections

Encomium of Hellsite – Ancient Alexandra

Human minds and Homer’s Odyssey – Cornell University Press

Fathers and sons and Greek epic – The Conversation

Write for us! – Ancient World Magazine

The romance of ruins – Antigone

The search for Troy – Antigone

Lorem ipsum – Antigone

The pitfalls of Latin translation – Antigone

The women who almost saved Troy – Antigone

Podcasts, video and other media

Edward Gibbon – In Our Time

The Tale of Verginia – The Partial Historians

Livia – Ithaca Bound

Ancient Palmyra – Peopling the Past

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