1A. Philosophy in labyrinths


The intension with my website is to promote the use of the beautiful labyrinths as decorating pavements for squares and places. So maybe you should leave this philosophic page out until after you have made your labyrinth pavement. Back to summary.


Contents for figures:


Fig. ph1: Ariadne Labyrinth 1

Fig. ph2: Ariadne Labyrinth 2

Fig. ph3: Tragliatella wine pitcher

Fig. ph4: Ariadne Pagan Labyrinth

Fig. ph5: Impenetrable and Inextricable Ariadne Labyrinth

Fig. ph6: Contemporary Ariadne Dance Labyrinth



Courage to enter the labyrinth

Ariadne gave Theseus a ball of yarn thread so that he any time could find his way out of the labyrinth, and she also gave him a ball of pitch to throw into the gap of the roaring monster to seal its attacking gap and confuse its attentiveness. Thus prepared with a life line of safe retreat in one hand and a smart sticky attack weapon in the other hand Theseus overcame the monster. Ariadne gave Theseus the security of having the well known world and background to rely on in one hand, and the bravery to encounter the dangerous unknown future world in the other hand, so that he as a bold man could enter the labyrinth with self confidence, instead of letting the mystery of an unknown labyrinth humiliating pacify him and scare him to death. The monster is dreadful, but it is the fear to enter the labyrinth and the fear from around every corner when walking the labyrinth that is killing for the unprepared.


4 classical labyrinths

The classical literature (e.g. Plinius) describes 3 important labyrinths besides the Crete Labyrinth: Lemnos, Etruria, and Egypt.

The Crete Minotauros Labyrinth, destroyed about 1400 BC, was somewhat copied after the 100 times bigger Egyptian Labyrinth.

Herodot visited the big 3 dimensional labyrinth in Egypt about 450 BC and describes it as much more impressive than the pyramids and much more costly than all Greek buildings combined. Greek-Roman visitors about year 0 agree. The labyrinth consisted of highly decorated buildings (12 palaces + 1000 houses) and tunnels below ground. It existed for about 2000 years (partly under construction) and has now been gone for nearly 2000 years. Plinius dates it even back to 3500 BC, so that Hermann Kern has given his big famous book Through the Labyrinth the subtitle Design and Meanings over 5000 years, in English 2000.

Building of the Etruscan Labyrinth (= Italian Labyrinth) “exhausted the resources of a kingdom”.

The Lemnos Labyrinth had 150 columns of extraordinary beautiful and precise construction.

Those 4 labyrinths are maybe more like a myth than exact reality. I have the impression that they were magnificent buildings where you could walk from room to room and forget where you were, and in this way it was named a labyrinth with the meanings of this word of also today.


Labyrinthine literature

The mysterious legend of the Minotauros Labyrinth on Crete is much longer than told here, and it is very interesting. Many of the details of this legend have been the object of intensive treatment and philosophic considerations in the western world literature since.

Vergil (=Virgil) (70 – 19 BC) is the great Roman author of influential labyrinthine literature, with the epos Æneis (=Aeneid) (“human history is an unending series of labyrinths …”).

Boëthius (480 - 524), while in prison with a death penalty wrote Consolation of Philosophy (“Ariadne is an image of the labyrinth and its transcendence …”).

Dante (1265 - 1321), as a refugee in Verona and Ravenna, wrote Divine Comedy an allegoric poem which some writers find labyrinthine. On a manuscript in the Vatican Library 2 labyrinths are shown.

Labyrinthine literature is intensively treated by Doob in his book The Idea of the Labyrinth, 1990.


One lane to the goal or multiple choice lanes

Until about 1500 all labyrinths pictured in art had unbranched lanes, no internal choices or false turnings, just one lane to the goal. At the same time the literature described the labyrinth as a maze with multiple choices and blind lanes, which needed an ariadne thread to penetrate and return from. This seems to be a contradiction and puzzles some writers.

I am not very concerned with this contradiction between visual art and literature. It was difficult for the people of ancient time to make 2-dimensional pictures of 3-dimensional structures so Plinius (=Pliny) did not make like ground plans of the big Egyptian Labyrinth. And when painting or drawing a labyrinth which by nature is cultic I believe that the drawing partly should be understood as a symbol for the labyrinth more than a documentation.

Another point is that a labyrinth of those days should not be perceived with the rational sense we use today, with us having lots of electric light in every corner. When our forefathers with superstition in mind walked a labyrinth with unbranched lanes they felt a lot of mystique: what will happen around the next corner, will they be able to and know how to return? This is like when you as a child walked scarred in a dark attic or dark barn. If you do not dare to return the same way as you entered or in your bewilderment forget what is back and forth then you are lost as much here as in a multiple choice labyrinth (= a maze in modern English).


Dynamic and static

A labyrinth is both dynamic and static. It is dynamic from the labyrinth walker’s view whose vision is constricted to the next few steps ahead, and it is static for the onlooker who sees the whole pattern of the labyrinth from above. The labyrinth may be perceived as a circuitous path to a goal or as a pattern of art, and the aim in our design is to make both best possible.


Life is like a labyrinth

Because the labyrinth is viewed so different by the person walking the lane and the person seeing the pattern from above, the labyrinth incorporates both order and disorder, clarity and confusion, artistry and chaos, as Doob says it. A labyrinth is planned chaos. Walking the simple troja 1 labyrinth in a dance is like the life. You first walk in one direction, straight or circular, with its fortune and its misfortune. Then you make a sharp turn to move in the other direction looking for better fortune. Then you change direction again still with new hope.

Life can maybe also be pictured like the small chartres ch5 labyrinth “you cannot catch me” in detail J in fig. ch7, (or the bigger ch8 labyrinth in detail D in fig. ch6). It is important in life never to get squeezed up into a corner as it is said. Or when being pursued in this labyrinth with life taking its winding ways it is important always to try to select the circuitous lanes that keep you moving in the labyrinth, and not at the cross section select the fatal lane that leads to the dead end centre, perhaps with its minotauros.


Walking a labyrinth? Like a quadrille dance?

What fun can it be to walk a simple labyrinth where there is only one unbranched foreseeable lane and where maybe even the 4 quadrants are alike as in the roma labyrinths? This question is sometimes asked by clever minded people that rush through the labyrinth with their logics and forget to enjoy a slow walk with their feelings.

I have had a big interest in folk music and folk dancing, see my website http://lavigne.dk/oldfolkdance/. An enjoyable folk dance could be a Danish quadrille dance (= square dance). 4 couples stand in a square ready to start. Then the musicians with visible great joy play the music 6 times, and the merry dancers enthusiastically dance the dance 6 times with well-known slight variations at one line of the music. When this is all over the 4 couples only stand in the same way as at the start, so apparently nothing has been achieved? ?


Ariadne as labyrinth

Ariadne gave Theseus a ball of yarn for him to find his way in the labyrinth. She got the yarn from unravelling her robe. This yarn thread is special as it can lead you safe through a complicated labyrinth. So Ariadne’s thread of guidance is very important in life (which is a labyrinth), and in philosophy (even more a labyrinth). This very special yarn makes Ariadne’s clothes very special. Her clothes are thus labyrinthine.



Ariadne Labyrinth 1 combined of 4 labyrinths, incl. troja 1 


Fig. ph1: Ariadne Labyrinth 1

A combined chartres, roma, and troja labyrinth. A chartres 5 lane, with a roma 3 lane inside, with a troja 3 lane inside, with a spiral 1 lane inside at the centre.

The labyrinth is combined of a troja 1 with a spiral in the middle from fig. tr5, + an enlarged roma Si11-5rp3-1 from fig. r16 detail U, + a much enlarged multiple choice chartres Si12-2ch5F2-1 from fig. ch7.

The labyrinth in detail D, E, H has had the troja labyrinth stretched for lopsidedness like in fig. tr8, and from an artistic point of view (the static observer from above) I find this labyrinth the more beautiful, more calm and symmetric.

A labyrinth combined of 4 complete labyrinths can hardly be smaller than showed here. The outer chartres ch5 labyrinth could be a ch3 making the total Si21 instead of Si25, but we want the ch5 multiple choice lane for Ariadne’s clothes.



Ariadne is the most important person in labyrinth philosophy. She is the one that can help Theseus, can help you through the labyrinths in your life. She is all through comprised of the idea of the labyrinth, in her conscious and unconscious mind, in her body, and in her clothes. This vague broad metaphoric description in words of Ariadne as a labyrinth in 4 segments is here transposed into direct visual art to the shown confined square labyrinth in fig. ph1:

  1. The outer chartres labyrinth is Ariadne’s clothes.
  2. The next roma labyrinth is Ariadne’s body.
  3. The next troja labyrinth is Ariadne’s conscious mind.
  4. And the final inner spiral, the simple labyrinth, is Ariadne’s unconscious mind, her soul.


The labyrinth combined of 4 labyrinths shows Ariadne as a total individual:

  1. The outer chartres labyrinth is Ariadne’s clothes made of Ariadne yarn, this unique labyrinthine thread that can lead you as a Theseus safe through the labyrinth of difficulties in life. Ariadne’s body is given to her by birth, but her clothes are decided by Ariadne. So the chartres labyrinth segment is with multiple choice lanes. She has made her clothes intricate: it is not straight forward to pass her clothes, to unroll them, to unravel the unique yarn thread. When one lane is passed, i.e. when one part is unravelled, she is still dressed with another part, does not expose her complete body to just anyone but Theseus, still has much of the thread.
  2. The body of Ariadne, the nature given material personality, is a simple roma labyrinth. With the 4 radial lanes in the quadrant lines the labyrinth wanderer each time believes that he is right away penetrating this labyrinth segment, only to find that he in waving form is led towards the outside again. It is laborious to get to the mind of Ariadne and perseverance is a necessary character to succeed.
  3. The inner labyrinth (leading to the spiral) is Ariadne’s mind, the immaterial personality, and this labyrinth segment is a troja labyrinth, the worldwide ancient labyrinth that dates back to the time when humanity evolved to get a philosophic mind and started to think of the structures of the universe. The labyrinthine movement here is first one way around and then the other way all around, so that the subject in consideration in Ariadne’s mind is thoroughly contemplated.
  4. At the centre of the labyrinth there is a small simple spiral, the metaphor for Ariadne’s clean honest unconscious mind, her soul, with her young true genuine love to Theseus, (until he later abandoned her on Sicily and her spiral labyrinth got its first bend, her soul its first sore).



Many more Ariadne labyrinths can be designed, and I shall here show an example, with the legendary troja 2 labyrinth for Ariadne’s clever mind:




Ariadne Labyrinth 2 combined of 4 labyrinths, incl. troja 2

Fig. ph2: Ariadne Labyrinth 2

A combined chartres, roma, and troja labyrinth. A chartres 5 lane, with a roma 4 lane inside, with a troja 7 lane inside, with a spiral 1 lane inside at the centre.

The labyrinth is combined of a troja 2 with a spiral in the middle like it is done for troja 1 in fig. tr5, + an enlarged roma Si11-3rp5-1 from fig. r16 detail S, + a much enlarged multiple choice chartres Si12-2ch5F2-1 from fig. ch7.

The round form is with circular outer chartres and roma labyrinths, so the troja 2 labyrinth is modified a little to comply with concentric circles and at the same time keep its characteristic design starting cross (here shown as a white cross between brown lanes).

For the use as a pavement this is getting to be a rather big labyrinth: with 1 meter wide lanes the total length of labyrinth lanes to walk exceeds 1 kilometre, depending on your luck with the outer multiple choice chartres labyrinth.




Clever Ariadne, who was ready to offer her clothes to give Theseus the important guiding thread, ready to help mankind find its way through the inextricable labyrinth of life, and overcome the minotauros, subdue the dangers, she is admirable.  But this undressing young lady of dubious heritage does not get this admiration in Christianity. So it was not female Ariadne but male Theseus that got to be the labyrinthine person in Christianity.

The conception that life is a labyrinth is found already in Roman writing (Seneca ca. 50 AD) and is part of early Christianity and medieval Christianity (Gregorius of Nyssa ca. 350). A labyrinth is impenetrable and inextricable, i.e. without guidance it is very difficult to penetrate to the centre where you find the divine blessing in one type of labyrinth in life, and it is very difficult to find your way out in e.g. the labyrinth you have to pass in death from life to Paradise. Only Jesus as Christ-Theseus can lead you the right way through the complicated circuitous labyrinth of life, a labyrinth filled with false turnings at multiple choices and blind lanes (a multicursal labyrinth). Only by following the path of baptism can one escape the labyrinth of death, of erring life, and of human ignorance. So labyrinths are found on baptismal fonts and as frescos in medieval churches. These labyrinths of visual art are all unicursal (with no false choices), because they are (in my opinion) meant to show only the right single lane as lead by Christ-Theseus as harrower of hell and charter of a safe path to salvation.



Tragiatelle wine pitcher with the name troja in a troja 2 labyrinth


Fig. ph3: Tragliatella wine pitcher

Troja 2 labyrinth on an Etruscan jug or wine pitcher from 630 BC; part of the decoration. In the labyrinth there is written the name Troja (TRVIA mirrored). In front of the horsemen there are many marching soldiers (not shown here).

The picture is usually interpreted as showing the game of Troja as later performed and described by the Romans. Or it is described as the Cretan Labyrinth with Theseus’s successful journey, see Kern’s book with the whole depiction and description. The couples to the right (often not included in reproductions) are then explained as Theseus and Ariadne after Theseus was extricated from the labyrinth using Ariadnes yarn thread from her unravelled robe.

Ariadne’s mother, maybe somewhat like in the lower depicted position, had to partly hide her body in cowhides to lure the holy bull to mate her when she conceived the Minotauros. The meeting of the Holy Spirit in Christianity with Virgin Maria getting divine pregnant is much different.

The horsemen have birds on their shields to show that they can escape this labyrinth as easy as Daidalos and his son Icaros did by making wings and fly out. On the first horse a deformed being or person is sitting behind the horseman, a monstrosity, a monster or minotauros removed from its refuge in the labyrinth, (my opinion).



Pregnant with gods.

The female with the highest position in Christianity is Virgin Maria (Mary), mother of Christ. Her moderate position was later much reduced in Protestantism. When Virgin Maria had given birth to her child in Bethlehem she could tell her fiancé Joseph that the child was not his, but as conveyed her at a meeting she had had with the Holy Spirit the child’s father was God in Heaven.

In one family out of 1000 there is an abnormality given by birth, and in one out of 100,000 there is a very serious abnormality, a monstrosity. The Danish hymn writer Brorson (ca. 1750) had such a family member living locked up in a cottage behind his house, from where Brorson often for instance at night could hear the person yell strange sounds. Today such abnormal persons are locked away in institutions. Ariadne had such an abnormal monstrous brother: the minotauros in the labyrinth.

At that time on Crete, almost 2000 years before Christ was born, the bull was holy, had god like position. Ariadne’s mother Pasiphae had with special help of Daidalos mated with such a bull while her husband King Minos was away to punish Athens. So the child she gave birth to was a monstrosity with a head like a bull, the Minotauros. With this story told, King Minos was free of being the responsible father and he had Minotauros put away in this labyrinth build for the purpose by Daidalos, this genius master builder from Athens. After Ariadne’s extrication of Theseus from the labyrinth King Minos imprisoned Daidalos and his son Icaros in the labyrinth and they could only find their way out by making wings and fly away, by which Icaros despite the warnings of his father flew too close to the sun so that the wax holding his feathers melted and he fell into the sea.



Ariadne Labyrinth with mind of troja 2 multiple choice lane

Fig. ph4: Ariadne Pagan Labyrinth

A combined chartres, roma, and troja labyrinth. A chartres 5 lane, with a roma 5 lane inside, with a troja 9 lane inside, with a spiral 1 lane inside at the centre.

The labyrinth is combined of a troja 2 multiple choice from fig. tr4 with a spiral in the middle like it is done for troja 1 in fig. tr5, + an enlarged and hollowed roma Si17-1rp9-1 from fig. r5, + a much enlarged multiple choice chartres Si12-2ch5F2-1 from fig. ch7.

Ariadne’s mind is here the mind of a pagan because the labyrinth showing her mind is a multiple choice labyrinth (= multicursal). A Christian labyrinth is unicursal (no false choices) showing only the right lane, the lane led by Jesus as Christ-Theseus.



Impenetrable and inextricable labyrinth – also in visual art

In philosophy and in religion with early and medieval Christianity an important issue is the impenetrable labyrinth that you cannot enter or penetrate to the centre and the labyrinth that you cannot find your way out of, cannot extricate. The labyrinth of death is such a labyrinth you have to pass from life to paradise, a labyrinth that can only be passed with the right guidance. As pointed out above this labyrinth should be understood in a no stringent logic manner, but you have to “play along with the game” and consider a labyrinth philosophically as very difficult and impenetrable and inextricable despite its simple form when shown in visual art.

For a multicursal labyrinth, i.e. a labyrinth with multiple choice lanes and blind lanes, an old rule is, that you can always get through the labyrinth (penetrate it and extricate it) by continuously having a wall on your left side (or alternatively your right side). Enter the blind lane by having the wall to the left and you will soon exit it again and continue your correct journey on the main lane. Using this rule on the troja 2B multicursal labyrinth shown in fig. e3 detail A and described in fig. tr4 detail B you see it works fine both in and out whether you use your left or your right hand. So this labyrinth is in this way not so impenetrable after all. The labyrinth is also shown in brown colour here above as Ariadne’s mind in fig. ph4.

But this simple rule does not work for the simple multicursal chartres labyrinth ch5F of fig. ch7 details F, H, J (“you cannot catch me labyrinth”). This labyrinth is used as the outer labyrinth, for Ariadne’s clothes in e.g. fig. ph4 here above. Use your left hand and have a walk in the outer lanes 360° around and you are tossed out again. It is the same way using your right hand. The labyrinth is impenetrable. Then start from the centre to find your way out using either your left or your right hand and you will walk the whole labyrinth without getting out. The labyrinth is inextricable.

A small labyrinth as ch5F will of course not cause problems for the lane-walker when placed as the entrance labyrinth as above in fig. ph4. For showing Ariadne as a labyrinth I have chosen the historic oldest labyrinths in the middle and the youngest as her clothes. But if we place the multicursal ch5F labyrinth inside the roma labyrinth as shown below in fig. ph5 then the right way to the goal may be considered more confusing when the lane-walker is sent back the way he passed earlier.



Impenetrable and inextricable ariadne labyrinth

Fig. ph5: Impenetrable and Inextricable Ariadne Labyrinth

A combined roma, chartres, and troja labyrinth. A roma 3 lane, with a chartres 5 lane inside, with a troja 9 lane inside, with a spiral 1 lane inside at the centre.

The labyrinth is combined of a troja 2 with a spiral in the middle like it is done for troja 1 in fig. tr5, + an enlarged and multiple choice chartres Si12-2ch5F2-1 from fig. ch7, + a much enlarged hollowed roma Si11-5rp3-1 from fig. r16 detail U.

Ariadne’s body labyrinth (in green in detail A) is here impenetrable from the outside and inextricable from within using the simple rule for multicursal labyrinths (= mazes) telling you to follow your left hand all the way (or your right hand).



No access - even with Christ-Theseus guidance

The last figure of this section (fig. ph6) will be a dance labyrinth, because originally labyrinth = dance. I have chosen a labyrinth of the special troja type that can be designed with just 1 angle (or 2 or 3) instead of 4 angles as in troja 2. This labyrinth, troja 1¼N, has a closed loop lane without access. I do not know if it is described in literature. But if I now should continue the line of medieval religious characterized philosophy I could say that here we have a labyrinth so impenetrable that you can no way get access to part of the labyrinth lane even with the superior guidance of Christ-Theseus. So there is a part of the world so sacred that no man can ever get access to it.


Fig. ph6: Contemporary Ariadne Dance Labyrinth

A special “troja labyrinth”, a troja 1 with 1 extra angle “7 minutes past North” on the drawing, so I call it troja 1¼N.

Note: this is not a labyrinth of Ariadne like above in fig. ph1 - 5, but a labyrinth for Ariadne to dance in. And note: the scale of the drawing here in troja is twice that of e.g. fig ph5.

Part of the labyrinth has a closed loop lane without access. So the figure cannot be called a labyrinth according to how a labyrinth is defined by many specialists.

This “labyrinth” is a proposal for performing a dance in a labyrinth for folk dancers of today in the groups where the (several) musicians usually stand in the middle of the ballroom, (like at the Technical University in Copenhagen, see photos on my website http://lavigne.dk/oldfolkdance/ dance 19 and 15). The musicians should then stand in the blue not accessible lanes of this “labyrinth”, and the dancers dance the green outer lanes in a long chain heading for the goal in the centre. This “labyrinth” here is one of the more than 50 troja labyrinth like figures that can be made “in between” troja 1 and troja 3. It is a small labyrinth fit for groups that in between other dances plan to dance (slow moving) labyrinthine for about 5 minutes. There are bigger “troja labyrinths” of this type, for a bigger all evening labyrinth dance or for faster (running) dances.

In our type of old folk dances for pleasure adapted for today I feel that it is not always necessary to let the chain dance all the way back out of the circuitous labyrinth, but after reaching the goal in the centre the chain can “break out” to the periphery to form a closed circle ready for the next folk dance of a different type. Except for the emphasis here of reaching the goal in the centre a dance figure somewhat like this has often been danced in many groups in Denmark of today. But it will be in accordance with a historic Nordic tradition of jungfru dance to have an Ariadne (or Theseus) in the centre waiting to be rescued out of the labyrinth. In the situation here the dancers could select and invite one of the musicians along (to be no. 2 in the chain) to dance as Ariadne all the way out of the labyrinth. A long dancing chain both in and out in the same lane demands a lane width of 1.5 to 2 meters. This gives also a long lane, so the labyrinth cannot always be selected much bigger than here.



Labyrinth = dance

For the Roman historians a labyrinth could be a big complicated building, as well as the small Roman floor mosaic labyrinths near the entrance of a villa. But the very old word labyrinth (labyrinthos) originally denoted a dance whose path was determined by a special graphic pattern (that of a labyrinth). Homer writes (in his Iliad) that Daidalos made a dance place for Ariadne with the dance path inlaid (e.g. like the green lane in fig. ph6, or more probably troja 2).



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