Open Journal of Modern Linguistics
2012. Vol.2, No.2, 51-56
Published Online June 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 51
Waiting for Redemption in The House of Asterion: A Stylistic
Martin Tilney
Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
Received February 20th, 2012; revised March 7th, 2012; accepted March 15th, 2012
The House of Asterion is a short story by Jorge Luis Borges that retells the classical myth of the Cretan
Minotaur from an alternate perspective. The House of Asterion features the Minotaur, aka Asterion, who
waits for “redemption” in his labyrinth. Many literary critics have suggested that the Borgesian labyrinth
is a metaphor for human existence and the universe itself. Others have correctly interpreted Asterion’s
ironic death at the hands of Theseus as his eagerly awaited redemption. Borges’ subversion of the reader’s
expectations becomes the departure point for a systemic functional stylistic analysis of the story in one of
its English translations, revealing how deeper-level meanings in the text are construed through its lexico-
grammatical structure. A systemic functional stylistic reading suggests that on a higher level of reality,
Asterion’s redemption is not only the freedom that death affords, but also a transformation that transcends
his fictional universe. Asterion’s twofold redemption is brought about not only by the archetypal hero
Theseus but also by the reader, who through the process of reading enables Asterion’s emancipation from
the labyrinth.
Keywords: The House of Asterion; Borges; Minotaur; Labyrinth; Systemic Functional; Stylistic
Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) is best
known as an early postmodernist (Frisch, 2004; Nicol, 2009;
Sickels, 2004). Some of his most famous works from the early
1940s including Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius (1940), The Gar-
den of Forking Paths (1941) and Death and the Compass (1942)
have been widely studied as key postmodern texts, yet other
stories such as The House of Asterion (1947) have received
relatively little critical attention. The House of Asterion was
originally published in Spanish in the literary journal Sur in
1947 and was reprinted in Borges’ second collection of stories
The Aleph (1949). The present analysis involves an extract from
The House of Asterion as translated by Andrew Hurley (Borges,
1949) and explores the lexicogrammatical and stylistic charac-
teristics of Hurley’s interpretation. The analysis, therefore, may
not accurately represent the lexical, semantic and stylistic fea-
tures of the original Spanish text. The analysis also overlooks
inconsistencies with other interpretations by the likes of Nor-
man Thomas di Giovanni and James E. Irby. The Aleph was
published in a period of Borges’ life that some biographers
refer to as his “dark days” (Sickels, 2004) due to despair in his
personal life and the onset of hereditary blindness. By 1955
Borges was completely blind (Zamora, 1995) but he continued
writing long after he had lost his sight. Borges wrote his
best-known fiction at a time when Argentina, following the
Great Depression, had become one of the world’s wealthiest
countries (Sullivan, 2002). In the 1930s, Argentina’s fast-paced
industrialisation replaced traditional ways of life with a new set
of values, demands, and social factors (Rincon, 1993). In other
words, it was during this time that the nation went through a
period of modernity, which in turn provided the ideal condi-
tions for the development of modernism and postmodernism in
the latter half of the twentieth century (for a detailed discussion
of the difference between the terms “postmodernity” and
“postmodernism” see Hassan, 2001). These social and eco-
nomic conditions, as well as Borges’ international success,
undoubtedly contributed to the Latin American “boom” of
postmodern and magic realist fiction in the 1960s. The term
“postmodernism” is a notoriously problematic label, and to
attempt a crude summary of all the various and contentious
characteristics of postmodern fiction is well outside of the
scope of this paper. However, the story does involve at least
one important feature of postmodern fiction, which is the “ten-
dency to draw the reader’s attention to his or her own process
of interpretation as s/he reads the text” (Nicol, 2009: p. xvi).
This capacity to raise the reader’s interpretative awareness is
implied by literary critics such as Bell-Villada (1999), Davis
(2004) and Peyronie (1992b), who all describe the story as a
journey from uncertainty to assurance that Asterion, the pro-
tagonist and narrator, is indeed the Minotaur of the legend. The
story enables this process of affirmation by recounting the clas-
sical Cretan myth of the Minotaur from the Minotaur’s perspec-
tive. The narrator’s identity is foreshadowed in the title and
epigraph, but for most readers, the moment of recognition
comes at the end of the story (Bell-Villada, 1999; Davis, 2004;
Peyronie, 1992b) when Theseus remarks, “the Minotaur scarcely
defended itself” (Borges, 1949: p. 222). In this paper I wish to
go a step further and demonstrate through a stylistic analysis of
the text that the protagonist is not only confirmed (and, para-
doxically, challenged) as a familiar archetype, but also elevated
to a higher realm that can only be perceived by the reader.
Labyrinths and Mythology
As the title suggests, The House of Asterion is set in the Cre-
tan labyrinth, which is described by a plethora of different au-
thors throughout history. The Theoi Greek Mythology website
(Atsma, 2011) alone lists sixteen sources of the legend under
the entry “Minotauros” ranging from the second to the tenth
century AD. In literature, the labyrinth, as Peyronie (1992a)
points out, has a rich symbolic significance from as early as the
Middle Ages when the myth of the labyrinth was adopted by
Christianity and became a symbol of hell and the Devil (from
which, fortunately, there was redemption by Theseus/Christ). In
the fourteenth century the labyrinth was still a threatening im-
age but pre-Renaissance poets came to believe that just as peo-
ple exist within the labyrinth, the labyrinth also exists inside
people. In the eighteenth century the labyrinth became a phi-
losophical symbol of the finite and the infinite, with the centre
of the labyrinth representing the unattainable meaning of the
universe. This concept became more complicated towards the
twentieth century, which is referred to as the “age of the laby-
rinth” because of the predominance of labyrinths in the litera-
ture of the time. Borges’ work features labyrinths as a common
motif and is often concerned with the various literary meanings
that labyrinths have acquired over the centuries. Some critics
have interpreted the centre of the Borgesian labyrinth as the
centre of human existence (Murillo, 1959; Dauster, 1962) or the
centre of the universe (Frisch, 2004), and virtually all of Bor-
ges’ characters strive to experience a moment of enlightenment
at this centre. In many cases, this enlightenment is a justifica-
tion of life that inevitably ends in death (Dauster, 1962). Some
critics interpret this search for meaning in a chaotic world as a
lost cause, claiming that many of Borges’ characters who
struggle with futile existential questions are only able to find
peace in the awareness of self-limitation (Lyon & Hangrow,
1974: p. 25). Other critics suggest that such characters resign
themselves to death in favour of confronting the terrible nature
of reality. Without specific reference to The House of Asterion,
Dauster points out that:
[t]he narrations contained in El Aleph repeat a predominant
theme: mans hallucinated search for the center of the labyrinth
of his existence. We have also seen a suggestion that at the
center lies something closely akin to the mystics communion
with the infinite, an experience which reveals the fundamental
truths of existence, and which awakens a feeling of resignation
and a willingness to accept death, possibly because the alterna-
tive, once perceived, is too horrible to accept. (Dauster, 1962: p.
In addition to existential meanings, the labyrinth also has a
religious significance. In some ancient civilisations such as
Egypt and Babylon, the labyrinth was sometimes a location for
“actions of divinity” including rebirth (Murillo, 1959). In the
story, Asterion considers his labyrinth as a religious place. He
narrates, “every nine years, nine men come into the house so
that I can free them of all evil” (Borges, 1949: p. 221). This
divine act of redemption, which echoes the Lord’s prayer from
the Christian faith, may just be a euphemism for “killing”
(Bell-Villada, 1999) and indeed, Asterion may not be aware
that his so-called “god-like powers” do not actually exist (Frisch,
2004). In any case, Asterion finds meaning in the events of his
somewhat meaningless existence. This alternate perspective
subverts the “classic” versions of the tale, which despite their
many inconsistencies with specific details, share the common
feature of denying the Minotaur’s purpose. In fact, throughout
history the Minotaur has been portrayed as either the manifesta-
tion of horror, the complexities of monstrosity or the foil of
Theseus, and only since the late 1800s has the beast provided
“systematic food for thought rather than simply firing the
imagination” (Peyronie, 1992b: p. 820). The Minotaur is por-
trayed in this way in George Frederick Watts’ painting The
Minotaur (1885), in which the lonely creature is looking out to
sea with a little bird crushed under his hand. He seems to be
waiting for someone to arrive, and a look of dejection in his
posture suggests that he is as pitiful as he is beastly (Bell-Vil-
lada, 1999; Davis, 2004). The painting inspired Borges, who
conveys the same ambiguity in his story. In this way, Asterion
both challenges and enriches the classic myth. For the sake of
convenience I will reproduce a summary of the Cretan myth
from the Companion to Literary Myths, Heroes and Arche-
Minos asked Poseidon to give a sign to prove to the Cretans
that he was favoured by the gods. The god agreed, on condition
that the bull that he would cause to rise from the sea, would
subsequently be offered to him as a sacrifice. However, the
animal was so beautiful that Minos could not bring himself to
destroy it in this way. Poseidon was furious and decided to take
his revenge by making Queen Pasiphae fall passionately in love
with the white bull. Longing to be united with the animal, the
queen enlisted the help of the ingenious Athenian, Daedalus,
who was at the court of Minos. The artisan used his skill to
create a heifer out of wood and leather. The queen concealed
herself inside the heifer and the white bull, deceived by ap-
pearances, coupled with her. The fruit of this unnatural union
was the Minotaur, also known as Asterion or Asterius, which
had the head of a bull and the body of a man. Furious and
ashamed, Minos had Daedalus construct a sort of huge pal-
ace-prison, the labyrinth, in which to keep the monster. Every
year (or every nine years), seven youths and seven maidens
were fed to the Minotaur, a tribute imposed on the Athenians by
Minos. One day, Theseus suggested that he join the group of
youths and, with the help of the thread given to him by Ariadne,
he found the Minotaur, killed it and emerged, triumphant, from
the labyrinth. (Peyronie, 1992b: p. 814)
The legend, as described above, exists in many different
variations, but each version generally tells the same story with a
focus on the sequence of events rather than character develop-
ment. Borges’ story, on the other hand, retells the myth from
the Minotaur’s own point of view. Locked away for no appar-
ent reason, Asterion lives all alone in his house and spends
most of his time playing games and pretending. Though he has
an imaginary friend—a projection of himself, it is only with
outsiders, unfortunate youths chosen to be sacrificed, that Aste-
rion experiences real interaction. It is ambiguous from Aste-
rion’s narrative whether he actually kills the victims or not, but
evidence suggests that he does so with the belief that killing
them is an acceptable, even morally positive deed. Some critics
assume that Asterion is unaware of committing murder, but as
will be discussed later, it seems that he genuinely believes he is
capable of freeing people from evil. One day, during a human
sacrifice ritual, a dying man prophesises that Asterion’s re-
deemer will come, and although the need for redemption is
never explicated, Asterion is obsessed with the idea of his sav-
iour. In the end, Asterion finds his redemption, ironically, in
death. He is killed by the “hero” Theseus and is thus “re-
deemed” from his incarceration. These events are all narrated
by Asterion in the first person. The recount takes the form of an
interior monologue containing no quotation marks that would
imply actual communication with other characters. Rather, the
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
reader accesses his thoughts directly, which effectively helps to
give a voice to a “marginal character” (Davis, 2004: p. 141) and
provides the Minotaur with a “developed consciousness and a
human share of existential anxieties” (Bell-Villada, 1999: p.
150). In this way, Borges turns the legend upside-down, rede-
fining the Minotaur who is then reabsorbed into the mythical
canon, thus confirming the labyrinth as a place of transforma-
tion and rebirth. Although critics have already discussed the
transformation of the Minotaur in The House of Asterion, none
have read the story from a systemic functional perspective. A
systemic functional stylistic approach reveals empirical evi-
dence to support or challenge existing literary interpretations as
well as enabling new readings. The systemic functional model
of grammar (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004) is particularly
relevant to the present analysis because it sheds light on the
Process types involved in the representation of outer and inner
worlds, which play a significant part in construing deeper-level
meaningsin the story (for discussions on how systemic func-
tional stylistics reveals deeper-level meanings, see Butt, 1983;
Halliday & Webster, 2002; Hasan, 1985).
In the traditional version of the myth, the shameful Minotaur
is hidden from the public eye; however, it is never suggested
that the Minotaur himself is aware of his punishment, let alone
conscious of anything. The present analysis focuses on a selec-
tion of 31 clauses (see Appendix 1) that reveal interesting in-
sights into Asterion’s consciousness, particularly his thoughts
and feelings that convey the depth and complexity of his char-
acter. In systemic functional linguistics, the Mood system of a
text is the series of informational exchanges between speaker/
listener or reader/writer. The Mood consists of the Subject (a
nominal group) and the Finite (part of a verbal group) (Halliday
& Matthiessen, 2004: p. 111). The selection of Mood gives a
text or dialogue its “characteristic flavour” and in this case,
gives Asterion his voice. In the extract almost all clauses (26/31)
are declarative statements, conveying information from the
narrator to the reader. The statements describe Asterion’s real-
ity, which is defined by the unaccountable human sacrifice
ritual, followed by a distinct shift in Mood whereby interroga-
tive questions conclude the text:
(27) What will my redeemer be like?
(28) I wonder.
(29) Will he be bull or man?
(30) Could he possibly be a bull with the face of a man?
(31) Or will he be like me?
This shift in Mood starting at clause 27 foregrounds Aste-
rion’s obsession with his prophesised redeemer. The interroga-
tive questions could have been written as declarative statements
with a different effect:
(i) What will my redeemer be like, I wonder?
(ii) I wonder what my redeemer will be like.
In the text, the interrogative question form is used, as in (i)
above, rather than a declarative statement, which would look
like (ii). The effect is a more direct connection to Asterion’s
thoughts, without the mediation of a narrator. Through this
foregrounding of Mood, Hurley emphasises Asterion’s obses-
sion with his redeemer. Without the authority of an omniscient
narrator, there is no proof that the redeemer really exists, but
for Asterion there is no doubt.
The Wait
Asterion’s obsessive faith in his redeemer is reinforced by
the Thematic structure of the text. According to systemic func-
tional linguistics, Theme is the departure point of the clause,
which gives the clause its “character as a message” (Halliday &
Matthiessen, 2004: p. 64). Examining the Theme structure of a
text provides an insight into the way the text unfolds. In the
following analysis, I will only examine Experiential Themes
(for a description of other Theme types see Thompson, 2004)
since Experiential Themes are predominant in this text. The
most frequently occurring Theme is “I” (10/28), which is to be
expected in monologic first person narrations. The next most
frequently occurring Theme is the human sacrifice “ceremony”
(from this point on “ceremony” and “ritual” will be used inter-
changeably), which accounts for 7/28 of all Experiential
Themes. The foregrounding of the ritual as Theme in the text
construes the significance of the event from the narrator’s per-
spective. Indeed, in an impossibly lonely world almost absent
of human contact it is no surprise that Asterion actively
searches for meaning in this macabre interaction with people. It
is also not surprising that Asterion unquestioningly believes an
outsider who prophesises the arrival of a “redeemer”. These are
arguably the only words ever spoken to Asterion by a real per-
son. Asterion’s obsession with his redeemer is reflected in the
selection of Theme, with the redeemer accounting for 6/28 of
the Themes. Of the remaining Themes, 4/28 are time references,
all of which are foregrounded Themes.
The Theme is said to be marked when it is not the gram-
matical Subject in declarative clauses. The choice of a marked
Theme presumes a reason for the Theme to be foregrounded in
such a way.
(iii) Every nine years, nine men come into the house
(iv) Nine men come into the house every nine years
The text uses the marked Theme in (iii) above rather than the
potentially unmarked version (iv). In (iii), the grammatical
Subject of the clause is “nine men” but the departure point of
the clause is “every nine years”. Compared to the potential
unmarked Theme (iv), the period of time is more important
than the people. Altogether, there are six marked Themes in the
text: three of which refer to counting (clauses 1, 7, 13) and
three of which refer to a point in time (clauses 17, 18, 21). The
markedness of counting-related Themes reveals that although
Asterion counts the years between the arrival of the outsiders
(every nine years) he has lost count of, or is not concerned with
the number of victims who have died (one after another, how
many). Thus, the wait for redemption is foregrounded. Of the
marked “time” Themes, two describe the coming of the re-
deemer (some day, in the end) and the other conveys the idea
that faith removes the pain of loneliness (since then).
(vi) Since then, there has been no pain for me in solitude
(vii) There has been no pain for me in solitude since then
Of the two examples above, Hurley chooses the marked
Theme (vi), effectively foregrounding the day of the prediction.
The syntactic choice suggests that for Asterion, neither the loss
of human life nor loneliness is as important as the arrival of his
hero. He waits for “redemption” (whatever that means), count-
ing the years and perhaps finding disappointment when the
audible footsteps turn out to be regular people. According to the
myth, Theseus arrives at the labyrinth with a group of sacrifi-
cial offerings and slays the Minotaur. During the Renaissance,
this victory was praised as a heroic triumph of good over evil
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 53
(Peyronie, 1992b) but in Borges’ story the victory seems shal-
low because Asterion welcomes his ironic destiny without re-
sistance. Is it possible that Asterion actually wants to die? In the
story, he mentions how he enjoys pretending to be hunted and
hurling himself from rooftops (Borges, 1949: p. 221). Perhaps
Asterion knows the terrible reality of his existence and engages
in self-destructive behaviour as he awaits the final redemption
of death.
Redemption & Blind Faith
Asterion’s preoccupation with the idea of redemption has al-
ready been demonstrated, but what exactly does redemption
mean for him? What has Asterion done to deserve his impris-
onment? In the story, he mentions that his royal lineage pre-
vents him from “mixing with commoners” (Borges, 1949: p.
220). Is this another of Asterion’s delusions, or could he be
aware of his hideous nature, simply choosing not to confront it?
An analysis of the text’s Transitivity system supports the notion
that Asterion is blind to reality (Davis, 2004), but fails to dis-
ambiguate delusion from ironic comprehension. The following
discussion presumes a distinction between the real and the
imaginary, but before commenting on Asterion’s ability to un-
derstand his self and his world, I would mention that he might
not be as ignorant as some critics would suggest. On the con-
trary, Asterion’s delusions might be an intentional effort to
make his unfathomable reality meaningful:
In his stories Borges does not set everyday reality against a
more convincing reality of thought; in fact, he scrupulously
blurs the differences between these two levels. But in the pat-
tern of all of them is the implicit opposition between bewitch-
ment or blind faith and ironic comprehension. In an essay he
quotes Novaliss description of mans self-deception: the
greatest wizard is the one who enchants himself to the point of
taking his own fantasmagoria for autonomous appearances.
Borges argues that such is our case. We have dreamed the
world but we have left certain tenuous interstices of unreason
in order to know that it is false. (Weber, 1968: p. 140, my em-
According to systemic functional linguistics, the Transitivity
system represents the world through a “manageable set of
Process types” (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004: p. 170). These
Process (verb) types include Material Processes, which construe
the outer world and Mental Processes, which construe the inner
world of experience. The text under examination consists
mostly of Material (12/29) and Mental (9/29) Processes. A
closer inspection of Material and Mental Process types in the
text reveals a worldview that is almost exclusively absent of
consequence. Material Processes can be either Transitive (the
“doing” type) or Intransitive (the “happening” type). Whereas
Transitive Processes have a grammatical “goal of impact”,
Intransitive Processes do not:
(vii) so that I (Agent) can free (Pro:ma) them (Goal) of all
evil (Circ)
(viii) so that I (Agent) can absolve (Pro:ma)
In the examples above, the Intransitive version (viii), con-
tains a Process that does not make an impact on an entity, and is
thus less impinging than its Transitive counterpart. In the text,
the predominant type of Material Process is Intransitive. The
implication is that in Asterion’s world actions have little con-
sequence. Of the 14 clauses only three of them (clauses 2, 11,
26) are Transitive. In other words, only three clauses have a
Goal of impact. Since these Transitive clauses are foregrounded,
it is worth taking a closer look at them.
(2) so that I (Agent) can free (Pro:ma) them (Goal) from
all evil (Circ)
(11) and their bodies (Agent) help distinguish (Pro:ma) one
gallery (Goal) from the others (Circ)
(26) he (Agent) takes (Pro:ma) me (Goal) to a place with
fewer galleries and fewer doors (Circ)
Whereas clause 26 comes from Asterion’s imagination, cla-
uses 2 and 11 are “real” in the sense that they are unimagined
interactions in Asterion’s physical world. In clause 2, Asterion
claims to “free” the outsiders, whose dead bodies form land-
marks that help to make the labyrinth less confusing. These two
“real” Transitive Processes are both concerned with the ritual.
The suggestion is that “participating” in the ritual is the only
way for Asterion to make an impact on, and therefore exist
meaningfully in his outer world. In an Intransitive space where
action lacks impact, it is no surprise that Asterion infers mean-
ing from his limited contact with the outside world. From the
reader’s perspective, the sacrificial ceremony is just a part of
the story. But trapped within the labyrinth of the fictional narra-
tive, Asterion is unable to perceive this higher-level reality, and
is unwilling to accept the apparent meaninglessness of the event.
Asterion, alone in an Intransitive world, tries to imagine his
redeemer and waits eagerly for him. Although he does not de-
fine what his redemption actually means, the Transitivity sys-
tem offers a clue. Asterion hopes that his redeemer will “take
him to a place with fewer galleries and fewer doors” (clause 26).
As a Transitive Process, his desire to be free of the labyrinth is
construed as a powerful thought—a Process that expresses a
real impact on the grammatical Goal, Asterion:
(25) I hope
(26) he takes me (Goal) to a place with fewer galleries and
fewer doors
Asterion does not tell us exactly where the redeemer will
take him, but he implies that it is outside the labyrinth. Also,
since this is one of the few Transitive Processes being fore-
grounded, it seems that Asterion is preoccupied with the idea of
escape. If we read the labyrinth as a metaphor for Asterion’s
existence, redemption means death. But what is the implication
if we take the labyrinth to be a metaphor for his fictional uni-
verse? Before attempting to answer this question I will first
comment on Asterion’s ostensible shortsightedness.
Despite his claims earlier in the story to have walked the
streets outside of the labyrinth and despite his claim not to be a
prisoner (Borges, 1949: p. 220) Asterion’s apparent blindness
would prevent him from finding his way out of the labyrinth by
himself. Just as Material Processes construe the outer world of
experience, Mental processes construe the inner world. Of the
nine Mental Process clauses, only three (clauses 3, 23, 24) have
a non-Projected Phenomenon. A Phenomenon is defined as that
which is “felt, thought, wanted or perceived” (Halliday & Mat-
thiessen, 2004: p. 203). A Phenomenon can either be like a
“fact” or an “act”:
(viv) I (Senser) hear (Pro:me) their footsteps (Phen) or their
voices (Phen)
(x) I (Senser) hear (Pro:me) [[how they walk or speak]]
Similar to Goal in Material clauses, fact-like Phenomena, as
in (viv) are more concrete than act-like Phenomena (x). The
text contains three such fact-like Phenomena (clauses 3, 23, 24).
In each case, the Mental Process is “hear” and the Phenomenon
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
is a sound. The suggestion is that Asterion’s most reliable sense
is his hearing. In the extract under analysis, there is a complete
absence of “seeing” Processes. It should also be noted that
elsewhere in the story there is no proof that Asterion actually
sees anything, though his imaginary other does. A closer look
at the three fact-like Phenomena again suggests that the cere-
mony is the only real event in Asterion’s life.
(3) I (Senser) hear (Pro:me) their footsteps (Phen) or their
voices (Phen) far away in the galleries of stone (Circ)
(23) If my ear (Senser) could hear (Pro:me) every sound in
the world (Phen)
(24) I (Senser) would hear (Pro:me) his footsteps (Phen)
Of the three clauses above, clause 3 is the only “real” event
because clauses 23 and 24 are hypothetical. This means that in
the whole text, Asterion only perceives one fact that is
grounded in reality—the sound of human footsteps. In addition,
Asterion seems to rely on his sense of hearing. Indeed, Asterion
might literally beshortsighted. Except for a reference to a “night
vision”, which could refer to a dream, a reference to the “col-
ourless faces” of the people on the streets and a reference to the
“colour of the day”, (Borges, 1949: p. 220), he makes no sug-
gestion that he can actually see anything within the labyrinth.
The motif of blindness in Borges’ work is often attributed to his
failing eyesight (Zamora, 1995) and Padel (1996) interprets the
Minotaur as an embodiment of the blind Eros. Asterion’s
blindness can also be seen through a systemic functional read-
ing, it reveals Asterion’s blind faith in redemption and suggests
that Asterion is blind to insight. Hemis interprets the events that
impinge on his world, but whether this misconception is in fact
“ironic comprehension” remains ambiguous.
Inner and Outer Labyrinths
The House of Asterion provides the reader with a new per-
spective of an ancient tale. The style of narration is monologic,
allowing the reader to connect directly to Asterion’s psyche and
experience the world through his consciousness. Through this
experience, the reader realises that the labyrinth is a metaphor,
chaotic and unexplainable, for Asterion’s very existence. Ac-
cording to the myth, the Minotaur was condemned to a dark and
nightmarish labyrinth because of his beastly nature. In The
House of Asterion, the labyrinth is an intransitive space where
actions have no impact and nothing makes sense. Within the
labyrinth, the only “reality” is death—the death of the sacrifice
victims and the death of Asterion himself. Everything else is
either imagination or illusion. The Minotaur is incapable of
understanding the mystery of his existence and thus creates his
own meanings,which is common of Borges’ characters (Lyon
& Hangrow, 1974). Asterion convinces himself that he is not a
prisoner, but some kind of godly being who is able to absolve
evil (this theme is also explored in other stories from The Aleph
such as The Writing of the God). In his desperate attempt to
find meaning he develops a blind faith in “redemption”. It is
implied that for Asterion, redemption means escaping from the
labyrinth. His destiny then unfolds on two separate levels of
reality. In the narrative “inner” context, the Minotaur is freed
from the labyrinth of his existence through death. Ironically,
Asterion’s redeemer turns out to be Theseus, whose archetypal
heroic role is subverted when he murders a defenceless and
pitiable creature. The moment of revelation is marked by a
sudden shift to omniscient third person narration:
The morning sun shimmered on the bronze sword. Now there
was not a trace of blood left on it.
Can you believe it, Ariadne?” said Theseus. The Minotaur
scarcely defended itself. (Borges, 1949: p. 222)
At the same time, redemption occurs in the story’s “outer”
context, i.e. the world of the reader. Asterion’s incapability of
perceiving the realm outside his fictional world is construed
through the experiential Processes that he uses to describe his
reality. Literary critics have claimed that Asterion is deluded
and naïve, but it seems unfair to expect him to perceive a level
of reality outside his fictional world. As McHale (2001) points
out, “the fictional world is accessible to our real world, but the
real world is not accessible to the world of fiction; in other
words, we can conceive of the fictional characters and their
world, but they cannot conceive of us and ours” (p. 35). Al-
though Asterion may at first appear ignorant for consistently
“missing the point,” his understanding of his world is uncannily
accurate. Perhaps the message here is not the futility of ever
understanding our selves and our universe, which presumes a
single, absolute meaning, but a more hopeful message. If Aste-
rion can find truth in his own self-deception, his own “fantas-
mogoria”, then perhaps we can find it also. Borges once men-
tioned in an interview that the labyrinth is a sign of hope rather
than despair, because if indeed the universe is a labyrinth, it
will have a centre of meaning, without which we are “truly
lost” (Frisch, 2004: p. 27). While the labyrinth refers on the one
hand to Asterion’s inner world in the narrative inner context, it
also stands for his outer world, or his fictional universe, in the
outer context of the “real” world. Through Borges’ text, Aste-
rion is refigured in the reader’s mind as a conscious being that
suffers the same despair, the same loneliness, and the same
confusion as ordinary people. At the end of the story, in the
moment when the unattainable is finally attained, the Minotaur
dies and is reborn as Asterion, a son of royalty condemned to a
life of suffering. In the mind of the reader, Asterion is freed
from the labyrinth of his traditional fictional universe, from his
archetypal role of monster in classical mythology. In this sense,
the godlike saviour whose outward appearance Asterion can
only imagine, is in fact the reader of the story. It is the reader
who, through the process of reading, performs the magical rite
of transforming a dreadful beast into a symbol of the human
The House of Asterion is a story that frees the Minotaur from
his nightmarish existence. His redemption is realised, not only
in death, but also in the metamorphosis that occurs in the mind
of the reader. Peyronie (1992b) points out that “it is impossible
to kill the Minotaur. At the very most we can sacrifice it, in
other words transform it…” (p. 821). In this paper, I have sug-
gested that such a transformation is in fact the redemption that
informs Asterion’s obsession, regardless of how fully he can
comprehend it. Asterion’s reality depends on his redemption,
which is achieved through his relocation from the margin to the
centre of the fictional world. The shift is enabled through a
metaphysical process that is achieved through the text’s ability
to transcend its own boundaries. The stylistic analysis above
does not acknowledge the extent to which the lexical and syn-
tactic choices in Hurley’s English translation represent those of
Borges’ original text La casa de Asterión. However, Borges’
literary mastery, discernible in Hurley’s exemplary work,
makes The House of Asterion an exhilarating reading experi-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 55
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
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Appendix 1. Clausal Units in an Extract from The House of Asterion
CC1 C# Clausal Taxis Clause
A 1 α Every nine years, nine men come into the house
2 xβ so that I can free them from all evil
B 3 1 I hear their footsteps or their voices far away in the galleries of stone
4 +2  α and I run joyously
5 xβ to find them
C 6 1 The ceremony lasts but a few minutes
D 7 α One after another, they fall
8 xβ without my ever having to bloody my hands
E 9 xβ Where they fall
10 α 1 they remain
11 +2 and their bodies help distinguish one gallery from the others
F 12 α I do not know
13 ‘β 1 how many there have been
14 x2 α but I do know
15 ‘β α that one of them predicted
16 xβ α as he died
17 ‘β that someday my redeemer would come
G 18 α Since then, there has been no pain for me in solitude
19 xβ α because I know
20 ‘β 1 that my redeemer lives
21 +2 1 and in the end he will rise
22 +2 and ^HE WILL stand above the dust
H 23 xβ If my ear could hear every sound in the world
24 α I would hear his footsteps
I 25 α I hope
26 ‘β he takes me to a place with fewer galleries and fewer doors
J 27 ‘1 What will my redeemer be like
28 2 I wonder
K 29 ‘1 Will he be bull or man
L 30 ‘1 Could he possibly be a bull with the face of a man
M 31 ‘1 Or will he be like me
CC stands for clause complex and C# represents the clause number. For a description of clausal taxis, clause units, and notation, see Halliday and Matthiessen (2004).