The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games The story of Theseus and the Minotaur

In several interviews, Suzanne Collins cites the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur as a significant influence on the world of Panem. It is worth considering the story since the similarities and differences can prove illuminating.

As related by Edith Hamilton in her classic volume Mythology, the story is one of a hero rescuing an oppressed society from brutal strictures. Minos, the king of Crete, once sent his only son on a visit to Athens, and the boy was sent by the Athenian king to fight a dangerous bull. When the boy died on the expedition, the angry Minos captured Athens and declared that he would destroy it unless they acquiesced to his bizarre demand: once every nine years, the Athenians had to send a tribute of seven maidens and seven youths, who would then be forced to confront the Minotaur, who would devour them.

The Minotaur was a hall-bull and half-human creature. Minos had trapped the creature in a specially constructed labyrinth, and he would cruelly put the 14 Athenian tributes into the labyrinth so that they were not only killed by the creature, but forced to attempt escape from an inevitable end, thus prolonging their agony.

Theseus, a Greek hero with a great destiny, arrived in Athens one year shortly before the tributes were due, and he volunteered to serve as a male tribute. The citizens were touched by his bravery, not knowing he also intended to slay the beast. When removed to Crete and paraded before the citizens there, he caught the eye of Minos's daughter, who fell in love with him and offered him a boon towards survival – she gave him a ball of yarn that he could unravel as he explored the labyrinth, so that should he kill the creature, he could find his way out. He succeeded both in killing the creature and escaping, and ultimately was named King of Athens after other adventures.

This story resonates in several ways with The Hunger Games. Though the citizens of Athens were suitably horrified by their plight (whereas Panem is distracted by the spectacle of the television program), Katniss has an awareness of injustice and a stoic strength that recalls Theseus. Likewise, she succeeds not only through her personal strength, but through love, in her case with Peeta, in Theseus's case with Minos's daughter. Lastly, the unnecessary cruelty involved with both games – the arena is, after all, just another type of unbeatable labyrinth – suggests the depths of evil that humans can reach, even when separated by thousands of years. It is key to themes of the trilogy that the brutality of Panem's regime is not unique. Victorious powers have long demanded tributes from their conquests that crippled the conquered people and, sometimes, these tributes were in the form of people. Although historically human tributes were more likely kept alive as slaves rather than fed to angry hybrids, the Greek myth shows that such brutality has long been part of the human imagination.