The Helmholtz, the doctor, the Minotaur, and the labyrinth

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Author: Buket Akcun
Date: Spring-Summer 2016
From: Mythlore(Vol. 34, Issue 2)
Publisher: Mythopoeic Society
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 7,860 words

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JUST LIKE THE EVER-DYING AND EVER-LIVING MOON-BULL, the classical myth of the Minotaur and the labyrinth of Crete is reborn with its every retelling, reception, and appropriation. Victor Pelevin's novel The Helmet of Horror (2006) and Toby Whithouse's Doctor Who episode "The God Complex" (2011) draw on the classical myth to display how the consumerist culture, along with art, appropriates myths. Each retelling serves as a labyrinth in itself. Both retellings question the possibility of progress and civilization. Both claim that Theseus and the Minotaur, the hero and the monster, might as well be the one and the same depending on the reception of the same myth.

To start with a brief summary of the classical myth, Minos prays to Poseidon to send a bull as a sign to prove that the throne of Crete is his by divine right. Upon ascending the throne, Minos does not sacrifice the bull to Poseidon as promised. For this reason, Poseidon punishes him by making his wife Pasiphae fall in love with the bull. Pasiphae copulates with the bull, hiding inside a wooden cow built by Daedalus. She has a son, nicknamed the Minotaur, with the upper body of a bull and the lower body of a man. Minos keeps his wife's son from the bull hidden and locked up in an underground labyrinth yet again built by Daedalus. After a while a war breaks out between Crete and Athens, which the latter loses. As a tribute, every nine years, seven young male and seven young female Athenians are sent to Crete to be devoured by the Minotaur. Theseus, the son of the Athenian King Aegeus, volunteers to be one of the sacrifices so that he can slaughter the Minotaur and make an end to this tribunal sacrifice. Ariadne, the daughter of Minos and Pasiphae and the half-sister of the Minotaur, falls in love with Theseus. She helps him to find his way out of the labyrinth by giving him a ball of thread. She tells Theseus to tie one end of the thread to the only entrance and exit of the labyrinth, to unravel it as he walks through the labyrinth, and to follow its trail on his way out of the labyrinth. After killing the Minotaur, Theseus escapes with Ariadne. He promises to marry her in return for her help. However, on his journey back to Athens, Theseus abandons Ariadne sleeping on an island. He eventually marries her sister Phaedra.


The Helmet of Horror is a contemporary reception of the classical myth. In the novel eight kidnapped characters, while trying to escape from their rooms and labyrinths, replace the tribunal sacrifice just as a virtual reality game replaces the actual sacrifice. The entire novel is written in the form of a cyber chat on an internet thread. Ariadne, one of the characters, has started the thread, typing the question that a dwarf asked her in her dream before locking her in a room: "I shall construct a...

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Source Citation
Akcun, Buket. "The Helmholtz, the doctor, the Minotaur, and the labyrinth." Mythlore, vol. 34, no. 2, 2016, p. 95+. Accessed 23 Apr. 2021.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A453915637