Greek mythology


Usually I like to pretend to be super clever by using big long words here, which ‘clue’ obviously isn’t. But I’ve picked it because it has really interesting etymology. It actually comes from Greek myth. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. (This is a long one, sorry.)

Minos, king of Crete, was married to Pasiphae. She had sex with a bull (because, Zeus), and gave birth to a hideous beast called the minotaur (I don’t know why it was named after Minos as he didn’t have anything to do with it, but I digress). Minos was a bit embarrassed by this, but decided to put his bovine stepson to work rather than just killing it (again, I don’t know why, as he was a bit of a git – he must have been feeling uncharacteristically charitable that day). So he imprisoned it in a huge labyrinth, then stuck anyone who pissed him off in there. They then couldn’t find a way out and were eventually eaten by the minotaur. Which saved on the Ocado bills.

Cut to Athens, where Minos’ actual son gets killed by the same bull that boffed his mum (what are the chances!). Minos is understandably miffed about this, and demands that Athens send him human sacrifices every year to make up for it. I told you he was a bastard. This goes on for a few years, until an Athenian named Theseus thinks ‘f*ck this, my people shouldn’t be ending up as hors-d’oeuvres for a cow-man’, and decides to kill the minotaur. So he sails to Crete, where he meets another of Minos’ offspring, Ariadne. They fall madly in love, and she gives him a ball of wool (he’s a cheap date). He then heads off into the labyrinth, kills the minotaur and uses the wool to find his way back out. Then he pops Ariadne on his ship and takes her back to Athens where they live happily ever after.* What does this have to do with ‘clue’, I hear you shouting? Well, the old word for a ball of wool was ‘clew’ (sorry it took so long to get there). Because of the way Theseus used it, i.e. as a clue to get him out of the maze, it slowly took on the meaning it has today.

Bonus fact: I’ve used the word maze above, because I didn’t want to write labyrinth again. But in fact they’re different things. A maze has choices of paths and directions, and can have different entrances and exits, and dead ends. A labyrinth only has one single path which leads to the middle, and only one way in and out. And David Bowie lives in one.

Well done for making it to the end BTW.

*Due to a mix up over some sails, Theseus’ dad thought his son had been killed by the minotaur and, in his grief, chucked himself off a cliff. So it wasn’t an entirely happy ending, sorry.

(Like what you just read? Check out the other words of the week. There’s loads.)