The Origins of the Goddess Ariadne

I. Introduction

The many facets of the Ariadne-figure have long been the subject of classical scholarship. The peculiar cultic customs surrounding the goddess have been assiduously interpreted, in part successfully and in part unsuccessfully. Her relation to the figure of Dionysus has been explored in hopes of proving the Mycenaean origins of the god; as for her own Minoan origins, identification with the early nature goddess of the Aegean area is now a prevalent theory. Although the individual importance of such studies cannot be denied, they seem peripheral to the target of primary concern: the sequential deterioration of Ariadne from the status of Mother goddess to that of heroine.

An outline for this process of degeneration is visible in the patterns of the various accounts of Ariadne’s abduction by Theseus. Moreover, the understanding which this diverse patterning affords is supplemented by the epigraphic and philological evidence of particular locales and of particular literary traditions respectively. The two latter considerations are particularly important in delineating the alternative courses which the goddess may follow in her descent to the status of heroine in the classical era. {1|2}