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Theseus

Theseus (Θησευς) was King of Athens, son of Aegeus (or of Poseidon)

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Introduction

Theseus was considered by Athenians as the great reformer. His name comes from the same root with "θεσμoς - thesmos" Greek for institution. As we can read in Aristophanes' "Frogs", they used to credit their everyday's habits to him.

Birth and Childhood

Aegeus (King of Athens) went to Troezena[?] (a city located SW of Athens) and met with Aethra, daughter of Troezena's king, Pittheus. They had sex and then, in some versions, Aethra waded out to the sea to Sphairia[?] and had sex with Poseidon). When she got pregnant, Aegeus decided to go back to Athens. Before leaving, he covered his sandals, shield and sword under a huge rock and told her that when their son would grow up, he should move the rock and bring his weapons back.

Theseus grew up and became a brave young man. He managed to move the rock and got his father's arms. His mother then told him the truth about who his father was and how he should take the weapons back to him. Theseus had to go to Athens and could choose to go by sea, which was the safe way and by land, following a dangerous path with thieves and bandits all the way long. Young, brave and ambitious, Theseus decided to go to Athens by land. Along the way, he fought a great many bandits.

One of the bandits was Cercyon, King of Eleusis. He challenged passersby to a wrestling match and when he beat them, he killed then. Theseus beat Cercyon in a match and then killed him.

Another bandit was Periphetes, who robbed and killed his victims with an iron club. Theseus killed him.

An elderly robber named Sciron forced travellers to wash his feet. While they knelt before him, he kicked them off a cliff behind them, where they were eaten by a sea monster (or a giant turtle). Theseus pushed him off the cliff.

Another was a robber named Siris. He tied people to two pine trees which he bent down to the ground, then let the trees go, tearing his victims apart. Theseus killed him the same way and married his daughter, Perigune, with whom he fathered Melanippus.

Procrustes was the last bandit. He had a bed which he offered to passersby. He then made the person fit into it, either by stretching them or cutting off the excess. Theseus killed him.

Medea and the Marathonian Bull

When Theseus arrived, he did not reveal his true identity. He was welcomed by Aegeas, who was suspicious about the stranger who came to Athens. Aegeus' wife, Medea, tried to have Aegeus kill Theseus by asking him to capture the Marathonian Bull.

On the way to Marathon to capture the Bull, Theseus sought shelter from a storm in the a shack owned by an ancient lady named Hecale. She swore to make a sacrifice to Zeus if Theseus was successful in capturing the bull. Theseus did capture the bull but when he returned to Hecale's hut, she was dead. Theseus built a deme[?] in her honor.

When Theseus returned to Athens, Medea tried to poison him but at the last second, Aegeas recognized the sandals, shield and sword and knocked the wine glass out of Theseus' hand. Father and son were reunited.

Ariadne and the Minotaur

At the time, Athens had to pay a horrible tax to Crete. Seven young men and young women had to be sent to Crete. They would put them inside the Labyrinth to be eaten by Minotaur. Theseus volunteered to be one of the seven men.

Soon after arriving on Crete, Minos raped one of the young women. Theseus protested and boasted of his parentage, being a son of Poseidon. Minos told him to prove it by bringing up a golden ring he threw into the ocean. Theseus succeeded.

King Minos' daughter, Ariadne, was engaged to Dionysus. However, she fell in love with Theseus and gave him a magical sword and a ball of string to kill the Minotaur. Theseus unrolled the string as he wandered through the Labyrinth searching for the Minotaur, so that he could follow his own trail back. After killing the Minotaur with the magic sword, Theseus and Ariadne fled Crete. Theseus abandoned her, at Athena's, request, on the island of Dia or Naxos.

The Return to Athens

Theseus forgot to put up the white sails that he had promised his father he would if he survived against the Minotaur. His father, watching from a cliff, jumped to his death at the thought of his son's demise. Theseus then had to stop Pallas, who was organizing a rebellion to take Athens away from him. He was successful and killed Pallas.

Hippolyte

In Greek mythology, Hippolyte was an Amazonian queen who possessed a magical girdle given to her by Ares. One of Heracles' Twelve Labors was to retrieve this girdle. He had succeeded but, at the last moment, his traveling companion, Theseus, kidnapped Antiope, Hippolyte's sister. The Amazons attacked (because Hera spread a rumor that Heracles was there to attack them or kidnap Hippolyte) but Heracles and Theseus made it away with the girdle and Antiope, whom Theseus later married. The Amazons then attacked Athens to get their queen back but lost.

From this point in the story, versions vary

  1. Heracles kidnapped Hippolyte's sister, Melanippe, and demanded the girdle as the ransom. Hippolyte complied and Heracles released her.
  2. Heracles kills Hippolyte as they flee with the girdle
  3. Antiope is killed in the battle for the girdle or for Athens
  4. Antiope and Theseus both survive and marry each other (son: Hippolytus). Theseus eventually leaves her for Phaedra
  5. Hippolyte and Theseus both survive and marry each other (son: Hippolytus) When Theseus left Hippolye for Phaedra, she brought her warriors into their wedding and promised to kill everyone present; she instead was killed by Theseus' men or accidentally by Penthesilea, another Amazon.
  6. Theseus marries Hippolyte, who gives birth to Hippolytus but dies before Theseus marries Phaedra

Pirithous

Theseus had a best friend named Pirithous, Prince of the Lapiths. Pirithous had heard rumors about Theseus' courage and strength in battle but he wanted proof. He drove Theseus' herd of cattle from Marathon and Theseus set out to pursue him. Pirithous took up arms and the pair met, then became so impressed by each other they took oaths of friendship.

They helped hunt the Calydonian Boar. Later, Pirithous was set to marry Hippodamia. The centaurs were guests at the party, but they got drunk and tried to abduct the women, including Hippodamia. The Lapiths won the ensuing battle.

Theseus and Pirithous Meet Hades

Theseus and Pirithous pledged to marry daughters of Zeus. Theseus chose Helen and together they kidnapped her and decided to hold onto her until she was old enough to marry. Pirithous chose Persephone. They left Helen with Theseus' mother, Aethra and travelled to the underworld, domain of Persephone and her husband, Hades. Hades pretended to offer them hospitality and set a feast; as soon as the pair sat down, snakes coiled around their feet and held them there or the stone itself grew and attached itself to their thighs.

Heracles freed Theseus but the earth shook when he attempted to liberate Pirithous. When Theseus returned to Athens, the Dioscuri had taken Helen and Aethra back to Sparta. Pirithous remained in Hades for eternity. When Heracles ripped Theseus off the chair, some of Theseus' thigh stuck to it--this explained the supposedly lean thighs of Athenians.

Phaedra and Hippolytus

Phaedra fell in love with Theseus' son by Hippolyte, his ex-wife, Hippolytus. According to some sources, he had scorned Aphrodite to become a devotee of Artemis and Aphrodite made Phaedra fall in love with him as a punishment. He rejected her. Alternatively, Phaedra's nurse told Hippolytus of her love, and he swore he would not reveal her as a source of information--even after Phaedra killed herself and blamed his seduction of her in her suicide note. In revenge, Phaedra wrote Theseus a letter that claimed Hippolytus raped her. She then killed herself. Theseus believed her and, using one of the three curses he had received from Poseidon, Hippolytus' horses were frightened by a sea monster and ragged their rider to his death. Alternatively, after telling Theseus that Hippolytus had raped her, he killed his son and Phaedra committed suicide out of guilt for she had not intended for Hippolytus to die. Artemis later told Theseus the truth. In an alternate version, Phaedra simply told Theseus this and did not kill herself; Dionysus sent a wild bull which terrified Hippolytus' horses.

A cult grew up around Hippolytus, associated with the cult of Aphrodite. Girls who were about to be married offered locks of their hair to him. His cult believed Asclepius resurrected Hippolytus and he lived in a sacred forests near Aricia[?] in Latium.

Other Stories and Death

Theseus was one of the Argonauts.

With Phaedra, Theseus fathered Acamas, who hid in the Trojan Horse during the Trojan War.

Theseus welcomed the wandering Oedipus and helped Adrastus bury the Seven Against Thebes. Lycodemes of Scyrus[?] threw Theseus off a cliff after he had lost popularity in Athens.



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