A sampling of comments on Pausanias: 1.19.1–1.20.3

2018.02.01 | By Gregory Nagy

I continue from where I left off in Classical Inquiries 2018.01.25. I focus here on another Athenian myth, as mentioned by Pausanias at 1.20.3, about the abandonment of Ariadne by her lover Theseus and about her seduction or—in terms of the mention made by Pausanias—her abduction by the god Dionysus. Pausanias at 1.20.3 mentions the myth as he sees it represented on a wall painting located inside the sacred precinct of the god Dionysus. According to the myth, Ariadne had slept with Theseus and is still asleep as Theseus quietly leaves her and sails off to Athens. Now Dionysus approaches from afar, preparing to seduce or abduct Ariadne. In the close-up from a modern painting of this myth, we see Ariadne asleep in the foreground, while Theseus is already sailing off in the background.

Here I show not only the close-up but also the full picture of the modern painting. And I also show an ancient version, further below. I will have more to say about this myth about the abandonment of Ariadne by Theseus and about her seduction by Dionysus when I get to my comment on the translation for Pausanias 1.20.3.




Waterhouse (English, 1849–1917).
Ariadne (1888), by John William Waterhouse (English, 1849–1917). Image via Flickr, under a CC BY 2.0 license.


Ariadne. Fresco (1st c. CE), from the House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii.
Dionysus discovering the sleeping Ariadne. Fresco (1st c. CE), from the House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

{1.20.3} translation by Jones 1918, modified by GN 2018.02.01:

The oldest sanctuary [hieron] of Dionysus is near the theater. Within the enclosure [peribolos] are two temples [nāoi] and two statues of Dionysus, the Eleuthereus [‘Deliverer’] and the one that Alkamenes made of ivory and gold. There are paintings [graphai] here. One of them shows Dionysus bringing up [an-agein] Hephaistos to the sky [ouranos]. And the following things are also said about this by the Greeks [Hellēnes]: Hephaistos, when he was born, was thrown down by Hērā. In revenge, he sent to her as a gift a golden throne [thronos] with invisible bonds [desmoi]. When Hērā sat down she was held bound, and Hephaistos refused to listen to any other of the gods except for Dionysus—in him he placed the fullest trust—and after making him drunk Dionysus brought him to the sky [ouranos]. Also painted [on the wall painting] are Pentheus and Lycurgus (Lukourgos) paying the penalty [dikē] for having committed-outrage [hubrizein] against Dionysus; also Ariadne, asleep; Theseus, departing by sea; and Dionysus, arriving to abduct [harpazein] Ariadne.

{1.20.3} subject heading(s): Theseus; Ariadne; Dionysus

The myth about the abandonment of Ariadne by Theseus while she is asleep is illustrated most strikingly in this vase painting.


Painting on a lekythos attributed to the Pan Painter, dated around 470 BCE.
Painting on a lekythos attributed to the Pan Painter, dated around 470 BCE (Taranto IG 4545). The line drawing, presented in rollout mode, is by Tina Ross.


The themes in this painting are analyzed at length in Nagy 2013b, as listed in the Bibliography. Also listed in the Bibliography is another relevant article: Nagy, G. 2017.06.10. “Diachronic Homer and a Cretan Odyssey.” I epitomize what I have to say about this painting there at 5§§7–10:

{5§7.} This picture captures the moment when Athena appears to Theseus after he has made love with Ariadne. The couple has fallen asleep after the lovemaking, but Athena awakens Theseus, gently gesturing for him to be quiet and not to awaken Ariadne, who is held fast in her sleep by a little figure of Hypnos perched on top of her head. The details have been described this way (Oakley and Sinos 1993:37):

Here we see the couple at the moment of separation. Athena has just wakened Theseus, and as she bends over him he begins to rise, bending one leg and sitting up from the pillow on which he has lain next to Ariadne. Athena tries to quiet him as he stretches out his arm, a gesture of remonstration or inquiry. In the upper left hand corner is a small female figure flying into the night.

{5§8.} I note that the small female figure who is “flying into the night” is disheveled, with her hair flying in the wind and with her clothing in disarray. I interpret this figure as a prefiguring of Ariadne herself at a later moment, the morning after, when she wakes up to find that she has been abandoned by Theseus. I recall here the verse in Catullus 64.63 where the headdress that had held the hair of Ariadne together has now come undone, and she looks like a bacchant, a frenzied devotee of Bacchus, that is, of the god Dionysus. And it is this same Bacchic frenzy, signaled by her disheveled hair, that will now attract Dionysus to her.

{5§9.} In contrast to the morning after, when Ariadne in her Bacchic frenzy will come undone, the picture of Ariadne in the present is eerily peaceful (Nagy 2013b:161–162):

Ariadne faces us directly, an unusual pose that points to her oblivion to what is happening behind her as well as allowing us a clear view of the peaceful contentment registered on her face. Her eyes are closed tight, and she will not awaken as Theseus departs, for the figure of Hypnos, Sleep, sits on her head with legs drawn up as he sleeps.

{5§10.} Continuing to look at the picture painted on the lekythos, I draw attention to another figure. Besides the sleeping Ariadne and the little sleeping Hypnos perched on top of her head, we see also the figure of a wakeful boy reclining on the farther side of the bed, to our left, whose head is positioned directly below the miniature figure of the hovering girl with the disheveled hair. In my interpretation, this boy is Eros, who had instigated a night of intense lovemaking between Ariadne and Theseus.



See the dynamic Bibliography for APRIP.


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