labyrinths and minotaurs

Looking back, a recurring theme in these pages (and other places) is labyrinths and the minotaurs that inhabit them. I’m not sure exactly why, but I have always found it a captivating image. A piece of homework not yet done is to go back and reread (in translation) the original tale of Theseus and the Minotaur, since it’s been a while and I’m sure there are details that I’ve missed.

A labyrinth (according to the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary) is a place constructed or full of intricate passageways and blind alleys. In the original, Theseus laid out a thread as he searched the original labyrinth for the Minotaur, so that he would be able to find his way back.

But intricate passageways and blind alleys are a reasonable characterization of many of the aspects of the lives we lead. A research question is a labyrinth, and one we don’t know how to navigate. What seem to be exits turn out to be the blind alleys of an argument we can’t successfully articulate or perhaps even the beautiful idea slain by the facts of the world.

I’m currently exploring a question that arose only recently, while I was thinking about something significantly different, and while I’m enjoying my time in this particular labyrinth, I can’t help but wonder what the minotaur in this labyrinth will be. Will it be that, as might happen, the question is much easier than I expect it to be, more of a hallway than a labyrinth proper, or will it be that the question is much harder than I expect it to be, from what I’ve done so far, requiring everything I know and perhaps a bit more. I don’t know yet, as I haven’t yet faced that labyrinth’s minotaur.

And it is the minotaur that I find more interesting than the labyrinth itself. The minotaur is the beast trapped in the labyrinth, not able to leave, attacking those who dare enter. This is why I need to go back and read the original. What agency was granted to the Minotaur, for instance, and to what extent did they inhabit the labyrinth by choice.

Though this may well drift very far from the original myth, to what extent is the minotaur the soul of the labyrinth? If we view the labyrinth as the question we’re trying to answer, or the situation we’re trying to work our way through, be it large (climate change) or small (my math question from above), then perhaps the minotaur is that which keeps us focused on the question or situation, and provides some incentive for us to keep moving, to keep developing our understanding, to keep working towards a solution.

I suspect I have drifted too far from the original, but then again, perhaps the time has come to revisit the labyrinth and the minotaur, and how in particular I use that image. Perhaps some labyrinths will have the one minotaur, angry and wielding its ax to terrible effect. Perhaps some labyrinths will be inhabited by groups of smaller minotaurs, each of which we can handle on its own but potentially overwhelming when they swarm.

And there are the other aspects of the myth that I haven’t considered here. What of Theseus and his role, and what of the golden thread. And what of Daedalus, he who constructed the labyrinth as well as the wings for young Icarus. There is perhaps even some historical context and with so much to explore, I’m sure this is a topic I’ll come back to, and more than once.

~ by Jim Anderson on 27 June 2021.

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