Ariadne by Jennifer Saint – A Story of Women long silenced by male mythology

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

Ariadne is a character in one of the Greek myths. Along with her sister Phaedra they are daughters of King Minos, and they play their part in the story of the Minotaur, their brother, the beast that consumes the sacrifices of Athens in the horror of a Labyrinth under their feet. This is a story told over decades, hundreds of years. Reduced to bit players, their contributions are seen as nothing compared to the might, strength and courage of Theseus in the traditional version. Jennifer Saint’s novel seeks to change that, to draw attention to the bond of the two sisters in the face of everything against them, the “inexhaustible strength” of women who suffer the whims of men, even gods.

 This is a story of the women who can only call on their own courage, cunning and cleverness to survive, do their best for others and perhaps change the fate of women. A tale told with quiet intensity and power, this is the story of  women who have to pay the price for the unreasonableness of men, for their ambition and their dissatisfaction, while not condemning them. Saint writes from a deep knowledge of myths that are widely recorded, but not for the role of mortal women. Ariadne’s story could have ended before it began, as she manages her terror and the vestiges of feeling for a creature inflicted on her mother, but she is a warrior of the quiet sort, determined yet afflicted by so many trials. This is a book that rejoices in the strength of women, the bond of sisterhood of blood and more, the realization that men, and gods, can be affected by the determination of something other than physical strength. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this memorable book of female realization.  

The book begins with Ariadne’s childhood in the court of her terrifying father, King Minos. A story of a young woman brutally killed for the ‘crime’ of falling in love typifies the careless cruelty of a man willing to wage war on a plague struck Athens, to inflict terror and loss on others merely to prove his power. When Ariadne’s mother is affected by a strange madness and gives birth to a horrendous monster, there is still the maternal love, the sister’s attempts to improve the impossible. When Minos’ pride and ambition combine with his discovery of the brute force of the Minotaur, he causes the genius of Daedalus to construct a Labyrinth to contain him. Minos and the others do not reckon with the tenacity and courage of Ariadne and the stubborn bravery of Phaedra to take the initiative to give vital assistance to the hero Theseus in his quest to destroy the Minotaur. In doing so they know that they are casting aside everything they have ever known, risking the ultimate betrayal of their family for a hero of whom they know so little. As Ariadne and Phaedra will discover, the affections of men and gods can be fickle in the face of ambition, pride and so much else.

Ariadne is a memorable character, quietly powerful and determined, human and yet superhuman in her strength. Her voice is a constant, accepting yet also denying, knowing the dangers yet eager to grasp at possibilities. This is a book that could only come from a deep knowledge and understanding of the myths that have entertained and warned generations. It succeeds in giving a voice to women who were seemingly on the sidelines, yet really had so much influence on the men that they loved and sometimes hated. Just as Ariadne and Phaedra wove the tapestries and clothes at the heart of the stories, Saint has woven a story of women with voices of their own, and tremendous tales in their own right.