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Theseus is a legendary hero from Greek mythology who was considered an early king of Athens. Famously killing villains, Amazons, and centaurs, his most celebrated adventure was his slaying of the fearsome Minotaur of the Cretan king Minos. In the Classical period, Theseus came to represent the perfect Athenian - the just man-of-action determined to serve his city as best he could and staunch defender of democracy. The hero appears in several Greek tragedy plays and his battle with the Minotaur was a favourite of Greek vase painters. He is the subject, too, of one of Plutarch's Lives biographies.
Early Adventures of Theseus – the Labours
In legend, Theseus' father was considered either the son of the god Poseidon or King Aegeus of Athens. His mother was Aethra, daughter of Pittheus, the king of Troezen, whom Aegeus seduced. Theseus spent his childhood at Troezen in the northeast of the Peloponnese as Aegeus had warned Aethra not to tell her son who his real father was until he came of age, perhaps explaining why Theseus was considered the son of Poseidon in his youth. When a young adult, the hero gathered up gifts of sandals and a sword from his father which had been buried under a heavy rock for when he was old enough to lift it. With these tokens Theseus set off for Athens to claim, as Aegeus' only son, his inheritance, the kingdom of Athens. Before he could reach the city, though, he first had to battle various villains and monsters.
The first villain to be dispatched was Periphetes, who smashed the heads of anyone he came across with a huge iron club. Theseus killed him without ceremony and took his club as a handy weapon for his future adventures. A similar baddy was Sinis (also Sines) who hung around the Corinth countryside and bent pine trees so that they might strike and kill people who passed through the Isthmus. Our hero killed the troublesome Sinis using, of course, a bent pine tree. According to Plutarch, Theseus had a son, Melanippus, by Sinis' daughter Perigune.
Next came Skiron who blocked the narrow sea passage through the rocks of Megara. He took delight in forcing people to wash his feet and when they bent down to do so he would kick them over the cliff and into the sea. Whether the unfortunate travellers survived the fall or not was irrelevant as, in any case, they were then eaten by a giant turtle that haunted those parts. All this frightful behavior was put to an end by Theseus who kicked Skiron into the sea to be eaten by his own accomplice or, in another version, to be turned into a rock.
Theseus was the great hero of Athens who battled the Minotaur, Amazons, Centaurs, & Villains.
Next in line came Kerkyon, the champion wrestler who crushed to death anyone who passed his way, but Theseus beat him at his own sport. The last scoundrel was Prokroustes (also Procrustes or Damastes) who waylaid travellers and forced them onto a bed; if they were too tall for the bed he would chop off the excess, if they were too short he would stretch them using weights or hammer their limbs to increase their length. Theseus swiftly dealt with him too by putting him on his own device.
Finished with littering the Greek countryside with dead villains, Theseus then had to kill a bad-tempered sow called Phaia which was causing trouble, again, in the Corinth area. He finally did arrive at Athens, where he was not helped by his jealous step-mother Medea. She and Theseus' cousins, the Pallantidae, tried several times to do away with our hero but their ambushes and poisonings came to nothing. Medea then sent Theseus off on the dangerous errand of dealing with the bull of Marathon which was terrorizing the countryside. The hero captured the animal and sacrificed it to Apollo. In yet more adventures, Theseus even found time to help Meleager in the Calydonian Boar hunt and to accompany Jason and his Argonauts on their quest to find the Golden Fleece, but his greatest trial was yet to come.
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Theseus & the Minotaur
Theseus' most famous adventure was his slaying of the Minotaur of King Minos on Crete. Every year (or every nine, according to Plutarch) Athens was compelled to send seven young men and seven young women to feed this fearsome creature with a man's body and the head of a bull, which dwelt in the mysterious labyrinth at Knossos, built by the famed architect Daedalus. The terrible tribute was, in some sources, compensation for the death of Minos' son Androgeous, killed by jealous competitors after he won at the Athenian Games (in other versions he was killed by the bull of Marathon). The unique Minotaur came from the union of Minos' wife Pasiphae and a bull after the queen was made to fall in love with the animal by Zeus as revenge for Minos' refusal to sacrifice it in the god's honour.
Theseus, seeking to put a stop to this barbarity, enrolled himself as one of the seven youths and sailed to Crete. On the way, our hero, with the help of Amphitrite, Poseidon's wife, retrieved a ring which had been thrown into the sea by Minos. On arrival Theseus fearlessly entered the lair of the Minotaur from which no one had ever come out alive. There, with the help of Ariadne, daughter of Minos, the hero marked his way through the winding passages of the labyrinth using a ball of string. Striking down the beast with his sword, he easily followed the string back to the labyrinth's entrance and freed Athens from her terrible obligation to Minos.
Sailing back to Athens, Theseus rather ungallantly abandoned Ariadne on the island of Naxos, perhaps on the advice of Athena, but she soon found solace in the arms of the god of wine Dionysos, whom she married. In another version she is killed by Artemis, acting on instructions from Dionysos, who had once been betrothed to the princess and was miffed to have lost her to Theseus. The hero then stopped at Delos, offered a sacrifice to Apollo, and performed what would become a famous dance, the geranos or Crane dance, which mimics the movements inside the labyrinth.
Theseus then sailed on home but was hit by tragedy when he forgot, as he had promised to his father before setting off, to hoist a white sail instead of the usual black one (set as a mark of mourning for the doomed youths) which would signal to his waiting father that all was well. Theseus' father saw the black sail, thought his son had been killed by the Minotaur and, utterly distraught, threw himself off the cliff into the sea below. Thereafter, the sea carried his name, the Aegean. Theseus thus inherited the throne and he settled down to government, unifying the many small settlements of the area into a single political unit (synoecism), and establishing a peaceful and prosperous period for Athens.
Battling Amazons, Centaurs & Hades
This was not the end of Theseus' adventures as he was involved in several other myths too. He fought the Amazons alongside Hercules when they invaded Attica to regain the girdle of their queen Hippolyta, aka Antiope, which Hercules had stolen as one of his labours. In some accounts, Hippolyta was Theseus' first wife and together they had a son, Hippolytos. Next up, Theseus fought the centaurs, the half-man, half-horse creatures, which had disrupted the wedding of Theseus' good friend Pirithous (Peirithoos) of the Lapiths.
Theseus then tried to abduct Persephone from Hades in the underworld so that Peirithous might marry her. Hades was not to give up his bride so easily (especially after the trouble taken to get her down there in the first place) and he tricked the pair into sitting on thrones which entrapped them. Theseus was only rescued by the exploits of Hercules, who had come to capture Cerberos in his final labour, but Peirithous was, alas, left to his fate.
Theseus' second wife was Phaidra, sister of Ariadne, with whom he had two sons, Akamas and Demophon. Unfortunately for family harmony, Phaidra then fell in love with her step-son Hippolytos. Her advances were not reciprocated, though, and scorned, she furiously told Theseus that his son had tried to rape her. Outraged, Theseus called upon Poseidon to punish Hippolytos, and the god of the sea responded by sending a bull from the depths of the ocean. This creature so frightened the horses of Hippolytos' chariot that they tipped the youth into the sea where he drowned. Phaidra, hit by pangs of guilt, then hanged herself to complete a typical cycle of Greek tragedy.
In another abduction, but this time more successful, Theseus captured Helen when she was a child and gave her to his mother to look after until she reached womanhood. The girl was rescued by her brothers, though, the Dioscuri. The latter invaded Attica for the purpose and Theseus was forced to flee to the Aegean island of Skyros. According to legend, the hero was killed there by King Lycomdedes, who pushed him off a cliff. His bones were eventually recovered by the Athenian statesman and admiral Cimon c. 475 BCE, who brought them back to Athens and placed them in a temple, the Theseion. Theseus was subsequently honoured by the Theseia festival held each year in the city and was forever associated with the 8th day of each month, the traditional day the hero had first arrived in Athens as a youth.
Significance of the Myths
The myths involving Theseus became prominent in the 6th century BCE, at a time when the city of Athens was entering a period of dominance in wider Greece. Theseus may have been a convenient alternative to that other great Greek hero Hercules, and he gave the city a prestigious heritage which differed from other cities. Theseus was also promoted by the Athenian statesman Cleisthenes, who was arch-rival to the Peisistratids who regarded Hercules as the symbol of Athens' strength. The long list of villains that Theseus deals with is also very similar in nature to the older story of Hercules' twelve labours. In his fight against the Amazons and centaurs, Theseus was likely a metaphor for Athens' resistance against foreign attack.
The requirement of paying a tribute of youths to Minoan Crete may have been based on a real payment of tribute to the Aegean's dominant trading power in the middle Bronze Age. The Minoans were also bull-worshippers as attested by archaeological finds such as bull horn architectural decorations, bull rhytons, and frescoes, and other artwork depicting a sport of bull-leaping. In addition, the palace of Knossos was extremely large for its time and was composed of multiple small adjoining rooms, many with columns and open ceilings acting as light-wells. It would not be at all surprising that Athenian visitors might consider this architectural wonder a labyrinth. In another possible link, the very word labyrinth may be connected to the labrys, a double axe symbol of important religious significance to the Minoans.
Theseus in Art & Literature
Theseus appears, in particular fighting the Minotaur, in Greek art from the last decade of the 6th century BCE. Scenes from the hero's battles on his first journey to Athens were present in relief sculpture on the Hephaesteion of Athens and the Athenian treasury at Delphi - both buildings date to c. 500 BCE - and the temple of Poseidon at Sounion and the heroon at Trysa in Lycia.
The hero's battles with the bull of Marathon and the Minotaur were particularly popular with black-figure vase painters, the finest example being the Francois Vase, which shows many scenes from the Theseus story. Special mention should be given to a magnificent Attic red-figure Kylix, now in the British Museum, which depicts all of the hero's labours. Theseus is distinguished from similar painted scenes of Hercules fighting a bull and centaurs as the former is usually depicted without a beard.
Theseus appears in the tragedies of both Euripides (Hippolytus and Suppliant Women – where he criticizes tyranny and defends democracy) and Sophocles (Oedipus at Colonus). Finally, the labyrinth appeared on Cretan coins, and the motif was also a popular device in Roman art, especially floor mosaics.
Theseus, Great Hero of Greek Mythology
Theseus is one of the great heroes of Greek mythology, a prince of Athens who battled numerous foes including the Minotaur, the Amazons, and the Crommyon Sow, and traveled to Hades, where he had to be rescued by Hercules. As the legendary king of Athens, he is credited with inventing a constitutional government, limiting his own powers in the process.
Fast Facts: Theseus, Great Hero of Greek Mythology
- Culture/Country: Ancient Greece
- Realms and Powers: King of Athens
- Parents: Son of Aegeus (or possibly of Poseidon) and Aethra
- Spouses: Ariadne, Antiope, and Phaedra
- Children: Hippolytus (or Demophoon)
- Primary Sources: Plutarch "Theseus" Odes 17 and 18 written by Bacchylides in the first half of 5th c BCE, Apollodorus, many other classic sources
In 1951 Claude Shannon made Theseus, a maze-solving mouse that used a bank of relays for its brain. It was a fairly large device with X-Y motors, 90 relays, reed switches and lots of metal. A replica wasn't really amenable to being a wall-mounted art piece.
Theseus at the MIT Museum
Courtesy MIT Museum
So I started with 1:4 scale cardboard model to get a sense of what it would look like on a wall.
My kids got a kick out of watching Hexbugs bounce around in the maze
Then I reached out to Bell Labs to see if they could share any information on the maze. In particular I was interested in trying to match the relays in the original because in one promotional video that Shannon made about Theseus, there was a close-up of the relays and they had a very distinctive appearance.
In the meantime, I found some vintage relays on eBay and decided to go ahead and order them. A few days later, I received them.
Paying the shipping costs was way more than the bidding price.
Turns out the relays were a pretty good match. They were the same type as the ones in the video &mdash U Type. Although they weren't the same model number, John at Bells Labs was kind enough to look at some of their old specification sheets to confirm that they were used during the 40s to 70s.
Relays. A pretty close match
Then I turned my attention to the mouse. I couldn’t get a hold of any detailed drawings or photographs to use as a reference and so I ended up sketching my own version of a mouse in Fusion 360.
3D printing the mouse using black filament
Back to the maze
I decided to go down the path of making a piece that was representative of the original but clearly not a replica. Thanks to my friends at Tap Plastics, their suggestion was to try a fluorescent acrylic to make the maze walls stand out.
The last major component was to figure out how to make the square posts with the grooves at the corners, just like in the original. After watching me struggle to use wood and a table router to make the groove, Kenny at TheShop suggested that I just 3D print them. By this point my design skills in Fusion 360 had improved and knocking out the design wasn’t too bad.
Checking the fit and look
Theseus Exhibit Label
Theseus 1951 by Claude Shannon
Maze and mouse design by Edwardo Martinez
Fluorescent acrylic, 3D printed mouse, 3D printed maze posts
Claude Shannon is known as the father of the information age and he’s also known for Theseus, the intelligent mouse that could solve a maze on its own. The brains of Theseus were actually underneath the maze itself and using a combination of relays and magnets, the mouse was able to explore the maze and learn the solution to reach the goal (cheese). Betty Shannon, a mathematician and his wife, was one of his closest collaborators and helped him develop his ideas, including wiring the brains of Theseus. The original Theseus was made of metal with a brain composed of 90 relays. By constructing Theseus, it gave Shannon and Bell Labs a way to communicate the speed and capabilities by Bell Labs to handle and intelligently route telephone calls.
Meet the worm with a jaw of metal
Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.
- Bristle worms are odd-looking, spiky, segmented worms with super-strong jaws.
- Researchers have discovered that the jaws contain metal.
- It appears that biological processes could one day be used to manufacture metals.
The bristle worm, also known as polychaetes, has been around for an estimated 500 million years. Scientists believe that the super-resilient species has survived five mass extinctions, and there are some 10,000 species of them.
Be glad if you haven't encountered a bristle worm. Getting stung by one is an extremely itchy affair, as people who own saltwater aquariums can tell you after they've accidentally touched a bristle worm that hitchhiked into a tank aboard a live rock.
Bristle worms are typically one to six inches long when found in a tank, but capable of growing up to 24 inches long. All polychaetes have a segmented body, with each segment possessing a pair of legs, or parapodia, with tiny bristles. ("Polychaeate" is Greek for "much hair.") The parapodia and its bristles can shoot outward to snag prey, which is then transferred to a bristle worm's eversible mouth.
The jaws of one bristle worm — Platynereis dumerilii — are super-tough, virtually unbreakable. It turns out, according to a new study from researchers at the Technical University of Vienna, this strength is due to metal atoms.
What is the Ship of Theseus?
Plutarch tells us: "The ship on which Theseus sailed with the youths and returned in safety, the thirty-oared galley, was preserved by the Athenians down to the time of Demetrius Phalereus. They took away the old timbers from time to time, and put new and sound ones in their places, so that the vessel became a standing illustration for the philosophers in the mooted question of growth, some declaring that it remained the same, others that it was not the same vessel."
Many philosophers, such as Prof. Jennifer Wang of Stanford University, tend to simplify Plutarch's original into the following question: if the Athenians who had kept the Ship of Theseus as a monument to the great hero's adventures had to replace one plank of the ship every year and did so for a thousand years — at which point every part of the ship has been replaced — is it still technically Theseus' ship?
Theseus - History
Commentary: A few comments have been posted about Theseus .
Translated by John Dryden
As geographers, Sosius, crowd into the edges of their maps parts of the world which they do not know about, adding notes in the margin to the effect, that beyond this lies nothing but the sandy deserts full of wild beasts, unapproachable bogs, Scythian ice, or a frozen sea, so in this work of mine, in which I have compared the lives of the greatest men with one another, after passing through those periods which probable reasoning can reach to and real history find a footing in, I might very well say of those that are farther off: "Beyond this there is nothing but prodigies and fictions, the only inhabitants are the poets and inventors of fables there is no credit, or certainty any farther." Yet, after publishing an account of Lycurgus the lawgiver and Numa the king, I thought I might, not without reason, ascend as high as to Romulus, being brought by my history so near to his time. Considering therefore with myself-
"Whom shall I set so great a man to face?
Or whom oppose? Who's equal to the place?" (as Aeschylus expresses it), I found none so fit as him that peopled the beautiful and far-famed city of Athens, to be set in opposition with the father of the invincible and renowned city of Rome. Let us hope that Fable may, in what shall follow, so submit to the purifying processes of Reason as to take the character of exact history. In any case, however, where it shall be found contumaciously slighting credibility and refusing to be reduced to anything like probable fact, we shall beg that we may meet with candid readers, and such as will receive with indulgence the stories of antiquity.
Theseus seemed to me to resemble Romulus in many particulars. Both of them, born out of wedlock and of uncertain parentage, had the repute of being sprung from the gods.
"Both warriors that by all the world's allowed." Both of them united with strength of body an equal vigour of mind and of the two most famous cities of the world, the one built Rome, and the other made Athens be inhabited. Both stand charged with the rape of women neither of them could avoid domestic misfortunes nor jealousy at home but towards the close of their lives are both of them said to have incurred great odium with their countrymen, if, that is, we may take the stories least like poetry as our guide to the truth.
The lineage of Theseus, by his father's side, ascends as high as to Erectheus and the first inhabitants of Attica. By his mother's side he was descended of Pelops. For Pelops was the most powerful of all the kings of Peloponnesus, not so much by the greatness of his riches as the multitude of his children, having married many daughters to chief men, and put many sons in places of command in the towns round about him. One of whom named Pittheus, grandfather to Theseus, was governor of the small city of the Troezenians and had the repute of a man of the greatest knowledge and wisdom of his time which then, it seems, consisted chiefly in grave maxims, such as the poet Hesiod got his great fame by, in his book of Works and Days. And, indeed, among these is one that they ascribe to Pittheus,-
"Unto a friend suffice
A stipulated price" which, also, Aristotle mentions. And Euripides, by calling Hippolytus "scholar of the holy Pittheus," shows the opinion that the world had of him. Aegeus, being desirous of children, and consulting the oracle of Delphi, received the celebrated answer which forbade him the company of any woman before his return to Athens. But the oracle being so obscure as not to satisfy him that he was clearly forbid this, he went to Troezen, and communicated to Pittheus the voice of the god, which was in this manner,-
"Loose not the wine-skin foot, thou chief of men,
Until to Athens thou art come again."
Pittheus, therefore, taking advantage from the obscurity of the oracle, prevailed upon him, it is uncertain whether by persuasion or deceit, to lie with his daughter Aethra. Aegeus afterwards, knowing her whom he had lain with to be Pittheus's daughter, and suspecting her to be with child by him, left a sword and a pair of shoes, hiding them under a great stone that had a hollow in it exactly fitting them and went away making her only privy to it, and commanding her, if she brought forth a son who, when he came to man's estate, should be able to lift up the stone and take away what he had left there, she should send him way to him with those things with all secrecy, and with injunctions to him as much as possible to conceal his journey from every one for he greatly feared the Pallantidae, who were continually mutinying against him, and despised him for his want of children, they themselves being fifty brothers, all sons of Pallas.
When Aethra was delivered of a son, some say that he was immediately named Theseus, from the tokens which his father had put under the stone others that he had received his name afterwards at Athens, when Aegeus acknowledged him for his son. He was brought up under his grandfather Pittheus, and had a tutor and attendant set over him named Connidas, to whom the Athenians even to this time, the day before the feast that is dedicated to Theseus, sacrifice a ram, giving this honour to his memory upon much juster grounds than to Silanio and Parrhasius for making, pictures and statues of Theseus. There being then a custom for the Grecian youth, upon their first coming to man's estate, to go to Delphi and offer first-fruits of their hair to the god, Theseus also went thither, and a place there to this day is yet named Thesea, as it is said, from him. He clipped only the fore part of his head, as Homer says the Abantes did. And this sort of tonsure was from him named Theseus. The Abantes first used it, not in imitation of the Arabians, as some imagine, nor of the Mysians, but because they were a warlike people, and used to close fighting, and above all other nations accustomed to engage hand to hand as Archilochus testifies in these verses:-
"Slings shall not whirl, nor many arrows fly,
When on the plain the battle joins but swords,
Man against man, the deadly conflict try
As is the practice of Euboea's lords
Skilled with the spear.-"
Therefore that they might not give their enemies a hold by their hair, they cut it in this manner. They write also that this was the reason why Alexander gave command to his captains that all the beards of the Macedonians should be shaved, as being the readiest hold for an enemy.
Aethra for some time concealed the true parentage of Theseus, and a report was given out by Pittheus that he was begotten by Neptune for the Troezenians pay Neptune the highest veneration. He is their tutelar god to him they offer all their first-fruits, and in his honour stamp their money with a trident.
Theseus displaying not only great strength of body, but equal bravery, and a quickness alike and force of understanding, his mother Aethra conducting him to the stone, and informing him who was his true father, commanded him to take from thence the tokens that Aegeus had left, and sail to Athens. He without any difficulty set himself to the stone and lifted it up but refused to take his journey by sea, though it was much the safer way, and though his mother and grandfather begged him to do so. For it was at that time very dangerous to go by land on the road to Athens, no part of it being free from robbers and murderers. That age produced a sort of men, in force of hand, and swiftness of foot, and strength of body, excelling the ordinary rate and wholly incapable of fatigue making use, however, of these gifts of nature to no good or profitable purpose for mankind, but rejoicing and priding themselves in insolence, and taking the benefit of their superior strength in the exercise of inhumanity and cruelty, and in seizing, forcing, and committing all manner of outrages upon everything that fell into their hands all respect for others, all justice, they thought, all equity and humanity, though naturally lauded by common people, either out of want of courage to commit injuries or fear to receive them, yet no way concerned those who were strong enough to win for themselves. Some of these, Hercules destroyed and cut off in his passage through these countries but some escaping his notice while he was passing by, fled and hid themselves, or else were spared by him in contempt of their abject submission: and after that Hercules fell into misfortune, and, having slain Iphitus, retired to Lydia, and for a long time was there slave to Omphale, a punishment which he had imposed upon himself for the murder: then, indeed, Lydia enjoyed high peace and security, but in Greece and the countries about it the like villainies again revived and broke out, there being none to repress or chastise them. It was therefore a very hazardous journey to travel by land from Athens to Peloponnesus and Pittheus giving him an exact account of each of the robbers and villains, their strength, and the cruelty they used to all strangers, tried to persuade Theseus to go by sea. But he, it seems, had long since been secretly fired by the glory of Hercules, held him in the highest estimation, and was never more satisfied than in listening to any that gave an account of him especially those that had seen him or had been present at any action or saying of his. So that he was altogether in the same state of feeling as, in after ages, Themistocles was, when he said that he could not sleep for the trophy of Miltiades entertaining such admiration for the virtue of Hercules, that in the night his dreams were all of that hero's actions, and in the day a continual emulation stirred him up to perform the like. Besides, they were related, being born of cousins-german. For Aethra was daughter of Pittheus, and Alcmena of Lysidice and Lysidice and Pittheus were brother and sister, children of Hippodamia and Pelops. He thought it therefore a dishonourable thing, and not to be endured, that Hercules should go out everywhere, and purge both land and sea from wicked men, and he himself should fly from the like adventures that actually came in his way disgracing his reputed father by a mean flight by sea, and not showing his true one as good evidence of the greatness of his birth by noble and worthy actions, as by the token that he brought with him the shoes and the sword.
With this mind and these thoughts, he set forward with a design to do injury to nobody, but to repel and revenge himself of all those that should offer any. And first of all, in a set combat, he slew Periphetes, in the neighbourhood of Epidaurus, who used a club for his arms, and from thence had the name of Corynetes, or the club-bearer who seized upon him, and forbade him to go forward in his journey. Being pleased with the club, he took it, and made it his weapon, continuing to use it as Hercules did the lion's skin, on whose shoulders that served to prove how huge a beast he had killed and to the same end Theseus carried about him this club overcome indeed by him, but now in his hands, invincible.
Passing on further towards the Isthmus of Peloponnesus, he slew Sinnis, often surnamed the Bender of Pines, after the same manner in which he himself had destroyed many others before. And this he did without having either practised or ever learnt the art of bending these trees, to show that natural strength is above all art. This Sinnis had a daughter of remarkable beauty and stature, called Perigune, who, when her father was killed, fled, and was sought after everywhere by Theseus and coming into a place overgrown with brushwood, shrubs, and asparagus-thorn, there, in a childlike innocent manner, prayed and begged them, as if they understood her, to give her shelter, with vows that if she escaped she would never cut them down nor burn them. But Theseus calling upon her, and giving her his promise that he would use her with respect, and offer her no injury, she came forth, and in due time bore him a son, named Melanippus but afterwards was married to Deioneus, the son of Eurytus, the Oechalian, Theseus himself giving her to him. Ioxus, the son of this Melanippus, who was born to Theseus, accompanied Ornytus in the colony that he carried with him into Caria, whence it is a family usage amongst the people called Ioxids, both male and female, never to burn either shrubs or asparagus-thorn, but to respect and honour them.
The Crommyonian sow, which they called Phaea, was a savage and formidable wild beast, by no means an enemy to be despised. Theseus killed her, going out of his way on purpose to meet and engage her, so that he might not seem to perform all his great exploits out of mere necessity being also of opinion that it was the part of a brave man to chastise villainous and wicked men when attacked by them, but to seek out and overcome the more noble wild beasts. Others relate that Phaea was a woman, a robber full of cruelty and lust, that lived in Crommyon, and had the name of Sow given her from the foulness of her life and manners, and afterwards was killed by Theseus. He slew also Sciron, upon the borders of Megara, casting him down from the rocks, being, as most report, a notorious robber of all passengers, and, as others add, accustomed, out of insolence and wantonness, to stretch forth his feet to strangers commanding them to wash them, and then while they did it, with a kick to send them down the rock into the sea. The writers of Megara, however, in contradiction to the received report, and, as Simonides expresses it, "fighting with all antiquity," contend that Sciron was neither a robber nor doer of violence, but a punisher of all such, and the relative and friend of good and just men for Aeacus, they say, was ever esteemed a man of the greatest sanctity of all the Greeks and Cychreus, the Salaminian, was honoured at Athens with divine worship and the virtues of Peleus and Telamon were not unknown to any one. Now Sciron was son-in-law to Cychreus, father-in-law to Aeacus, and grandfather to Peleus and Telamon, who were both of them sons of Endeis, the daughter of Sciron and Chariclo it was not probable, therefore, that the best of men should make these alliances with one who was worst, giving and receiving mutually what was of greatest value and most dear to them. Theseus, by their account, did not slay Sciron in his first journey to Athens, but afterwards, when he took Eleusis, a city of the Megarians, having circumvented Diocles, the governor. Such are the contradictions in this story. In Eleusis he killed Cercyon, the Arcadian, in a wrestling match. And going on a little farther, in Erineus, he slew Damastes, otherwise called Procrustes, forcing his body to the size of his own bed, as he himself was used to do with all strangers this he did in imitation of Hercules, who always returned upon his assailants the same sort of violence that they offered to him sacrificed Busiris, killed Antaeus in wrestling, and Cycnus in single combat, and Termerus by breaking his skull in pieces (whence, they say, comes the proverb of "a Termerian mischief"), for it seems Termerus killed passengers that he met by running with his head against them. And so also Theseus proceeded in the punishment of evil men, who underwent the same violence from him which they had inflicted upon others, justly suffering after the manner of their own injustice.
As he went forward on his journey, and was come as far as the river Cephisus, some of the race of the Phytalidae met him and saluted him, and upon his desire to use the purifications, then in custom, they performed them with all the usual ceremonies, and, having offered propitiatory sacrifices to the gods, invited him and entertained him at their house, a kindness which, in all his journey hitherto, he had not met.
On the eighth day of Cronius, now called Hecatombaeon, he arrived at Athens, where he found the public affairs full of all confusion, and divided into parties and factions, Aegeus also, and his whole private family, labouring under the same distemper for Medea, having fled from Corinth, and promised Aegeus to make him, by her art, capable of having children, was living with him. She first was aware of Theseus, whom as yet Aegeus did not know, and he being in years, full of jealousies and suspicions, and fearing everything by reason of the faction that was then in the city, she easily persuaded him to kill him by poison at a banquet, to which he was to be invited as a stranger. He, coming to the entertainment, thought it not fit to discover himself at once, but willing to give his father the occasion of first finding him out, the meat being on the table, he drew his sword as if he designed to cut with it Aegeus, at once recognising the token, threw down the cup of poison, and, questioning his son, embraced him, and having gathered together all his citizens, owned him publicly before them, who, on their part, received him gladly for the fame of his greatness and bravery and it is said, that when the cup fell, the poison was spilt there where now is the enclosed space in the Delphinium for in that place stood Aegeus's house, and the figure of Mercury on the east side of the temple is called the Mercury of Aegeus's gate.
The sons of Pallas, who before were quiet upon expectation of recovering the kingdom after Aegeus's death, who was without issue, as soon as Theseus appeared and was acknowledged the successor, highly resenting that Aegeus first, an adopted son only of Pandion, and not at all related to the family of Erechtheus, should be holding the kingdom, and that after him, Theseus, a visitor and stranger, should be destined to succeed to it, broke out into open war. And dividing themselves into two companies, one part of them marched openly from Sphettus, with their father, against the city, the other, hiding themselves in the village of Gargettus, lay in ambush, with a design to set upon the enemy on both sides. They had with them a crier of the township of Agnus, named Leos, who discovered to Theseus all the designs of the Pallantidae. He immediately fell upon those that lay in ambuscade, and cut them all off upon tidings of which Pallas and his company fled and were dispersed.
From hence they say is derived the custom among the people of the township of Pallene to have no marriages or any alliance with the people of Agnus, nor to suffer the criers to pronounce in their proclamations the words used in all other parts of the country, Acouete Leoi (Hear ye people), hating the very sound of Leo, because of the treason of Leos.
Theseus, longing to be in action, and desirous also to make himself popular, left Athens to fight with the bull of Marathon, which did no small mischief to the inhabitants of Tetrapolis. And having overcome it, he brought it alive in triumph through the city, and afterwards sacrificed it to the Delphinian Apollo. The story of Hecale, also, of her receiving and entertaining Theseus in this expedition, seems to be not altogether void of truth for the townships round about, meeting upon a certain day, used to offer a sacrifice which they called Hecalesia, to Jupiter Hecaleius, and to pay honour to Hecale, whom, by a diminutive name, they called Hecalene, because she, while entertaining Theseus, who was quite a youth, addressed him, as old people do, with similar endearing diminutives and having made a vow to Jupiter for him as he was going to the fight, that, if he returned in safety, she would offer sacrifices in thanks of it, and dying before he came back, she had these honours given her by way of return for her hospitality, by the command of Theseus, as Philochorus tells us.
Not long after arrived the third time from Crete the collectors of the tribute which the Athenians paid them upon the following occasion. Androgeus having been treacherously murdered in the confines of Attica, not only Minos, his father, put the Athenians to extreme distress by a perpetual war, but the gods also laid waste their country both famine and pestilence lay heavy upon them, and even their rivers were dried up. Being told by the oracle that, if they appeased and reconciled Minos, the anger of the gods would cease and they should enjoy rest from the miseries they laboured under, they sent heralds, and with much supplication were at last reconciled, entering into an agreement to send to Crete every nine years a tribute of seven young men and as many virgins, as most writers agree in stating and the most poetical story adds, that the Minotaur destroyed them, or that, wandering in the labyrinth, and finding no possible means of getting out, they miserably ended their lives there and that this Minotaur was (as Euripides hath it)-
"A mingled form where two strange shapes combined,
And different natures, bull and man, were joined." But Philochorus says that the Cretans will by no means allow the truth of this, but say that the labyrinth was only an ordinary prison, having no other bad quality but that it secured the prisoners from escaping, and that Minos, having instituted games in honour of Androgeus, gave, as a reward to the victors, these youths, who in the meantime were kept in the labyrinth and that the first that overcame in those games was one of the greatest power and command among them, named Taurus, a man of no merciful or gentle disposition, who treated the Athenians that were made his prize in a proud and cruel manner. Also Aristotle himself, in the account that he gives of the form of government of the Bottiaeans, is manifestly of opinion that the youths were not slain by Minos, but spent the remainder of their days in slavery in Crete that the Cretans, in former times, to acquit themselves of an ancient vow which they had made, were used to send an offering of the first-fruits of their men to Delphi, and that some descendants of these Athenian slaves were mingled with them and sent amongst them, and, unable to get their living there, removed from thence, first into Italy, and settled about Japygia from thence again, that they removed to Thrace, and were named Bottiaeans and that this is the reason why, in a certain sacrifice, the Bottiaean girls sing a hymn beginning Let us go to Athens. This may show us how dangerous it is to incur the hostility of a city that is mistress of eloquence and song. For Minos was always ill spoken of, and represented ever as a very wicked man, in the Athenian theatres neither did Hesiod avail him by calling him "the most royal Minos," nor Homer, who styles him "Jupiter's familiar friend" the tragedians got the better, and from the vantage ground of the stage showered down obloquy upon him, as a man of cruelty and violence whereas, in fact, he appears to have been a king and a law-giver, and Rhadamanthus, a judge under him, administering the statutes that he ordained.
Now, when the time of the third tribute was come, and the fathers who had any young men for their sons were to proceed by lot to the choice of those that were to be sent, there arose fresh discontents and accusations against Aegeus among the people, who were full of grief and indignation that he who was the cause of all their miseries was the only person exempt from the punishment adopting and settling his kingdom upon a bastard and foreign son, he took no thought, they said, of their destitution and loss, not of bastards, but lawful children. These things sensibly affected Theseus, who, thinking it but just not to disregard, but rather partake of, the sufferings of his fellow-citizens, offered himself for one without any lot. All else were struck with admiration for the nobleness and with love for the goodness of the act and Aegeus, after prayers and entreaties, finding him inflexible and not to be persuaded, proceeded to the choosing of the rest by lot. Hellanicus, however, tells us that the Athenians did not send the young men and virgins by lot, but that Minos himself used to come and make his own choice, and pitched upon Theseus before all others according to the conditions agreed upon between them, namely, that the Athenians should furnish them with a ship and that the young men that were to sail with him should carry no weapons of war but that if the Minotaur was destroyed, the tribute should cease.
On the two former occasions of the payment of the tribute, entertaining no hopes of safety or return, they sent out the ship with a black sail, as to unavoidable destruction but now, Theseus encouraging his father, and speaking greatly of himself, as confident that he should kill the Minotaur, he gave the pilot another sail, which was white, commanding him, as he returned, if Theseus were safe, to make use of that but if not, to sail with the black one, and to hang out that sign of his misfortune. Simonides says that the sail which Aegeus delivered to the pilot was not white, but-
"Scarlet, in the juicy bloom
Of the living oak-tree steeped," and that this was to be the sign of their escape. Phereclus, son of Amarsyas, according to Simonides, was pilot of the ship. But Philochorus says Theseus had sent him by Scirus, from Salamis, Nausithous to be his steersman, and Phaeax his look-out-man in the prow, the Athenians having as yet not applied themselves to navigation and that Scirus did this because one of the young men, Menesthes, was his daughter's son and this the chapels of Nausithous and Phaeax, built by Theseus near the temple of Scirus, confirm. He adds, also, that the feast named Cybernesia was in honour of them. The lot being cast, and Theseus having received out of the Prytaneum those upon whom it fell, he went to the Delphinium, and made an offering for them to Apollo of his suppliant's badge, which was a bough of a consecrated olive tree, with white wool tied about it.
Having thus performed his devotion, he went to sea, the sixth day of Munychion, on which day even to this time the Athenians send their virgins to the same temple to make supplication to the gods. It is farther reported that he was commanded by the oracle of Delphi to make Venus his guide, and to invoke her as the companion and conductress of his voyage and that, as he was sacrificing a she goat to her by the sea-side, it was suddenly changed into a he, and for this cause that goddess had the name of Epitragia.
When he arrived at Crete, as most of the ancient historians as well as poets tell us, having a clue of thread given him by Ariadne, who had fallen in love with him, and being instructed by her how to use it so as to conduct him through the windings of the labyrinth, he escaped out of it and slew the Minotaur, and sailed back, taking along with him Ariadne and the young Athenian captives. Phercydes adds that he bored holes in the bottom of the Cretan ships to hinder their pursuit. Demon writes that Taurus, the chief captain of Minos, was slain by Theseus at the mouth of the port, in a naval combat as he was sailing out for Athens. But Philochorus gives us the story thus: That at the setting forth of the yearly games by King Minos, Taurus was expected to carry away the prize, as he had done before and was much grudged the honour. His character and manners made his power hateful, and he was accused moreover of too near familiarity with Pasiphae, for which reason, when Theseus desired the combat, Minos readily complied. And as it was a custom in Crete that the women also should be admitted to the sight of these games, Ariadne, being present, was struck with admiration of the manly beauty of Theseus, and the vigour and address which he showed in the combat, overcoming all that encountered with him. Minos, too, being extremely pleased with him, especially because he had overthrown and disgraced Taurus, voluntarily gave up the young captives to Theseus, and remitted the tribute to the Athenians. Clidemus gives an account peculiar to himself, very ambitiously, and beginning a great way back: That it was a decree consented to by all Greece, that no vessel from any place, containing above five persons, should be permitted to sail, Jason only excepted, who was made captain of the great ship Argo, to sail about and scour the sea of pirates. But Daedalus having escaped from Crete, and flying by sea to Athens, Minos, contrary to this decree, pursued him with his ships of war, was forced by a storm upon Sicily, and there ended his life. After his decease, Deucalion, his son, desiring a quarrel with the Athenians, sent to them, demanding that they should deliver up Daedalus to him, threatening upon their refusal, to put to death all the young Athenians whom his father had received as hostages from the city. To this angry message Theseus returned a very gentle answer excusing himself that he could not deliver up Daedalus, who was nearly related to him, being his cousin-german, his mother being Merope, the daughter of Erechtheus. In the meanwhile he secretly prepared a navy, part of it at home near the village of the Thymoetadae, a place of no resort, and far from any common roads, the other part by his grandfather Pittheus's means at Troezen, that so his design might be carried on with the greatest secrecy. As soon as ever his fleet was in readiness, he set sail, having with him Daedalus and other exiles from Crete for his guides and none of the Cretans having any knowledge of his coming, but imagining when they saw his fleet that they were friends and vessels of their own, he soon made himself master of the port, and immediately making a descent, reached Gnossus before any notice of his coming, and, in a battle before the gates of the labyrinth, put Deucalion and all his guards to the sword. The government by this means falling to Ariadne, he made a league with her, and received the captives of her, and ratified a perpetual friendship between the Athenians and the Cretans, whom he engaged under an oath never again to commence any war with Athens.
There are yet many other traditions about these things, and as many concerning Ariadne, all inconsistent with each other. Some relate that she hung herself, being deserted by Theseus. Others that she was carried away by his sailors to the isle of Naxos, and married to Oenarus, priest of Bacchus and that Theseus left her because he fell in love with another-
"For Aegle's love was burning in his breast a verse which Hereas, the Megarian, says was formerly in the poet Hesiod's works, but put out by Pisistratus, in like manner as he added in Homer's Raising of the Dead, to gratify the Athenians, the line-
"Theseus, Pirithous, mighty son of gods." Others say Ariadne had sons also by Theseus, Oenopion and Staphylus and among these is the poet Ion of Chios, who writes of his own native city-
"Which once Oenopion, son of Theseus built." But the more famous of the legendary stories everybody (as I may say) has in his mouth. In Paeon, however, the Amathusian, there is a story given, differing from the rest. For he writes that Theseus, being driven by a storm upon the isle of Cyprus, and having aboard with him Ariadne, big with child, and extremely discomposed with the rolling of the sea, set her on shore, and left her there alone, to return himself and help the ship, when, on a sudden, a violent wind carried him again out to sea. That the women of the island received Ariadne very kindly, and did all they could to console and alleviate her distress at being left behind. That they counterfeited kind letters, and delivered them to her, as sent from Theseus, and, when she fell in labour, were diligent in performing to her every needful service but that she died before she could be delivered, and was honourably interred. That soon after Theseus returned, and was greatly afflicted for her loss, and at his departure left a sum of money among the people of the island, ordering them to do sacrifice to Ariadne and caused two little images to be made and dedicated to her, one of silver and the other of brass. Moreover, that on the second day of Gorpiaeus, which is sacred to Ariadne, they have this ceremony among their sacrifices, to have a youth lie down and with his voice and gesture represent the pains of a woman in travail and that the Amathusians call the grove in which they show her tomb, the grove of Venus Ariadne.
Differing yet from this account, some of the Naxians write that there were two Minoses and two Ariadnes, one of whom, they say, was married to Bacchus, in the isle of Naxos, and bore the children Staphylus and his brother but that the other, of a later age, was carried off by Theseus, and, being afterwards deserted by him, retired to Naxos, with her nurse Corcyna, whose grave they yet show. That this Ariadne also died there, and was worshipped by the island, but in a different manner from the former for her day is celebrated with general joy and revelling, but all the sacrifices performed to the latter are attended with mourning and gloom.
Now Theseus, in his return from Crete, put in at Delos, and having sacrificed to the god of the island, dedicated to the temple the image of Venus which Ariadne had given him, and danced with the young Athenians a dance that, in memory of him, they say is still preserved among the inhabitants of Delos, consisting in certain measured turnings and returnings, imitative of the windings and twistings of the labyrinth. And this dance, as Dicaearchus writes, is called among the Delians the Crane. This he danced around the Ceratonian Altar, so called from its consisting of horns taken from the left side of the head. They say also that he instituted games in Delos, where he was the first that began the custom of giving a palm to the victors.
When they were come near the coast of Attica, so great was the joy for the happy success of their voyage, that neither Theseus himself nor the pilot remembered to hang out the sail which should have been the token of their safety to Aegeus, who, in despair at the sight, threw himself headlong from a rock, and perished in the sea. But Theseus being arrived at the port of Phalerum, paid there the sacrifices which he had vowed to the gods at his setting out to sea, and sent a herald to the city to carry the news of his safe return. At his entrance, the herald found the people for the most part full of grief for the loss of their king others, as may well be believed, as full of joy for the tidings that he brought, and eager to welcome him and crown him with garlands for his good news, which he indeed accepted of, but hung them upon his herald's staff and thus returning to the seaside before Theseus had finished his libation to the gods, he stayed apart for fear of disturbing the holy rites but, as soon as the libation was ended, went up and related the king's death, upon the hearing of which, with great lamentations and a confused tumult of grief, they ran with all haste to the city. And from hence, they say, it comes that at this day, in the feast of Oschophoria, the herald is not crowned, but his staff, and all who are present at the libation cry out eleleu, iou, iou, the first of which confused sounds is commonly used by men in haste, or at a triumph, the other is proper to people in consternation or disorder of mind.
Theseus, after the funeral of his father, paid his vows to Apollo the seventh day of Pyanepsion for on that day the youth that returned with him safe from Crete made their entry into the city. They say, also, that the custom of boiling pulse at this feast is derived from hence because the young men that escaped put all that was left of their provision together, and, boiling it in one common pot, feasted themselves with it, and ate it all up together. Hence, also, they carry in procession an olive branch bound about with wool (such as they then made use of in their supplications), which they call Eiresione, crowned with all sorts of fruits, to signify that scarcity and barrenness was ceased, singing in their procession this song:-
"Eiresione bring figs, and Eiresione bring loaves
Bring us boney in pints, and oil to rub on our bodies,
And a strong flagon of wine, for all to go mellow to bed on." Although some hold opinion that this ceremony is retained in memory of the Heraclidae, who were thus entertained and brought up by the Athenians. But most are of the opinion which we have given above.
The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.
The feast called Oschophoria, or the feast of boughs, which to this day the Athenians celebrate, was then first instituted by Theseus. For he took not with him the full number of virgins which by lot were to be carried away, but selected two youths of his acquaintance, of fair and womanish faces, but of a manly and forward spirit, and having, by frequent baths, and avoiding the heat and scorching of the sun, with a constant use of all the ointments and washes and dresses that serve to the adorning of the head or smoothing the skin or improving the complexion, in a manner changed them from what they were before, and having taught them farther to counterfeit the very voice and carriage and gait of virgins so that there could not be the least difference perceived, he, undiscovered by any, put them into the number of the Athenian maids designed for Crete. At his return, he and these two youths led up a solemn procession, in the same habit that is now worn by those who carry the vine-branches. Those branches they carry in honour of Bacchus and Ariadne, for the sake of their story before related or rather because they happened to return in autumn, the time of gathering the grapes. The women, whom they call Deipnopherae, or supper-carriers, are taken into these ceremonies, and assist at the sacrifice, in remembrance and imitation of the mothers of the young men and virgins upon whom the lot fell, for thus they ran about bringing bread and meat to their children and because the women then told their sons and daughters many tales and stories, to comfort and encourage them under the danger they were going upon, it has still continued a custom that at this feast old fables and tales should be told. For these particularities we are indebted to the history of Demon. There was then a place chosen out, and a temple erected in it to Theseus, and those families out of whom the tribute of the youth was gathered were appointed to pay tax to the temple for sacrifices to him. And the house of the Phytalidae had the overseeing of these sacrifices, Theseus doing them that honour in recompense of their former hospitality.
Now, after the death of his father Aegeus, forming in his mind a great and wonderful design, he gathered together all the inhabitants of Attica into one town, and made them one people of one city, whereas before they lived dispersed, and were not easy to assemble upon any affair for the common interest. Nay, differences and even wars often occurred between them, which he by his persuasions appeased, going from township to township, and from tribe to tribe. And those of a more private and mean condition readily embracing such good advice, to those of greater power he promised a commonwealth without monarchy, a democracy, or people's government, in which he should only be continued as their commander in war and the protector of their laws, all things else being equally distributed among them- and by this means brought a part of them over to his proposal. The rest, fearing his power, which was already grown very formidable, and knowing his courage and resolution, chose rather to be persuaded than forced into a compliance. He then dissolved all the distinct statehouses, council halls, and magistracies, and built one common state-house and council hall on the site of the present upper town, and gave the name of Athens to the whole state, ordaining a common feast and sacrifice, which he called Panathenaea, or the sacrifice of all the united Athenians. He instituted also another sacrifice called Metoecia, or Feast of Migration, which is yet celebrated on the sixteenth day of Hecatombaeon. Then, as he had promised, he laid down his regal power and proceeded to order a commonwealth, entering upon this great work not without advice from the gods. For having sent to consult the oracle of Delphi concerning the fortune of his new government and city, he received this answer:-
"Son of the Pitthean maid,
To your town the terms and fates,
My father gives of many states.
Be not anxious nor afraid
The bladder will not fail to swim
On the waves that compass him." Which oracle, they say, one of the sibyls long after did in a manner repeat to the Athenians, in this verse:-
"The bladder may be dipt, but not be drowned." Farther yet designing to enlarge his city, he invited all strangers to come and enjoy equal privileges with the natives, and it is said that the common form, Come hither, all ye people, was the words that Theseus proclaimed when he thus set up a commonwealth, in a manner, for all nations. Yet he did not suffer his state, by the promiscuous multitude that flowed in, to be turned into confusion and he left without any order or degree, but was the first that divided the Commonwealth into three distinct ranks, the noblemen, the husbandmen, and artificers. To the nobility he committed the care of religion, the choice of magistrates, the teaching and dispensing of the laws, and interpretation and direction in all sacred matters the whole city being, as it were, reduced to an exact equality, the nobles excelling the rest in honour, the husbandmen in profit, and the artificers in number. And that Theseus was the first, who, as Aristotle says, out of an inclination to popular government, parted with the regal power, Homer also seems to testify, in his catalogue of the ships, where he gives the name of People to the Athenians only.
He also coined money, and stamped it with the image of an ox, either in memory of the Marathonian bull, or of Taurus, whom he vanquished, or else to put his people in mind to follow husbandry and from this coin came the expression so frequent among the Greeks, of a thing being worth ten or a hundred oxen. After this he joined Megara to Attica, and erected that famous pillar on the Isthmus, which bears an inscription of two lines, showing the bounds of the two countries that meet there. On the east side the inscription is,-
"Peloponnesus there, Ionia here" and on the west side,-
"Peloponnesus here, Ionia there." He also instituted the games, in emulation of Hercules, being ambitious that as the Greeks, by that hero's appointment, celebrated the Olympian games to the honour of Jupiter, so by his institution, they should celebrate the Isthmian to the honour of Neptune. For those that were there before observed, dedicated to Melicerta, were performed privately in the night, and had the form rather of a religious rite than of an open spectacle or public feast. There are some who say that the Isthmian games were first instituted in memory of Sciron, Theseus thus making expiation for his death, upon account of the nearness of kindred between them, Sciron being the son of Canethus and Heniocha, the daughter of Pittheus though others write that Sinnis, not Sciron, was their son, and that to his honour, and not to the other's, these games were ordained by Theseus. At the same time he made an agreement with the Corinthians, that they should allow those that came from Athens to the celebration of the Isthmian games as much space of honour before the rest to behold the spectacle in, as the sail of the ship that brought them thither stretched to its full extent, could cover so Hellanicus and Andro of Halicarnassus have established.
Concerning his voyage into the Euxine Sea, Philochorus and some others write that he made it with Hercules, offering him his service in the war against the Amazons, and had Antiope given him for the reward of his valour but the greater number, of whom are Pherecydes, Hellanicus, and Herodorus, write that he made this voyage many years after Hercules, with a navy under his own command, and took the Amazon prisoner- the more probable story, for we do not read that any other, of all those that accompanied him in this action, took any Amazon prisoner. Bion adds, that, to take her, he had to use deceit and fly away for the Amazons, he says, being naturally lovers of men, were so far from avoiding Theseus when he touched upon their coasts, that they sent him presents to his ship but he, having invited Antiope, who brought them, to come aboard, immediately set sail and carried her away. An author named Menecrates, that wrote the History of Nicae in Bithynia, adds, that Theseus, having Antiope aboard his vessel, cruised for some time about those coasts, and that there were in the same ship three young men of Athens, that accompanied him in this voyage, all brothers, whose names were Euneos, Thoas, and soloon. The last of these fell desperately in love with Antiope, and, escaping the notice of the rest, revealed the secret only to one of his most intimate acquaintances, and employed him to disclose his passion to Antiope she rejected his pretences with a very positive denial, yet treated the matter with much gentleness and discretion, and made no complaint to Theseus of anything that had happened but Soloon, the thing being desperate, leaped into a river near the seaside and drowned himself. As soon as Theseus was acquainted with his death, and his unhappy love that was the cause of it, he was extremely distressed, and, in the height of his grief, an oracle which he had formerly received at Delphi came into his mind for he had been commanded by the priestess of Apollo Pythius, that wherever in a strange land he was most sorrowful and under the greatest affliction, he should build a city there, and leave some of his followers to be governors of the place. For this cause he there founded a city, which he called, from the name of Apollo, Pythopolis, and, in honour of the unfortunate youth, he named the river that runs by it Soloon, and left the two surviving brothers intrusted with the care of the government and laws, joining with them Hermus, one of the nobility of Athens, from whom a place in the city is called the House of Hermus though by an error in the accent it has been taken for the House of Hermes, or Mercury, and the honour that was designed to the hero, transferred to the god.
This was the origin and cause of the Amazonian invasion of Attica, which would seem to have been no slight or womanish enterprise. For it is impossible that they should have placed their camp in the very city, and joined battle close by the Pnyx and the hill called Museum, unless, having first conquered the country around about, they had thus with impunity advanced to the city. That they made so long a journey by land, and passed the Cimmerian Bosphorus, when frozen, as Hellanicus writes, is difficult to be believed. That they encamped all but in the city is certain, and may be sufficiently confirmed by the names that the places hereabout yet retain, and the graves and monuments of those that fell in the battle. Both armies being in sight, there was a long pause and doubt on each side which should give the first onset at last Theseus, having sacrificed to Fear, in obedience to the command of an oracle he had received, gave them battle and this happened in the month of Boedromion, in which to this very day the Athenians celebrate the Feast Boedromia. Clidemus, desirous to be very circumstantial, writes that the left wing of the Amazons moved towards the place which is yet called Amazonium and the right towards the Pnyx, near Chrysa, that with this wing the Athenians, issuing from behind the Museum, engaged, and that the graves of those that were slain are to be seen in the street that leads to the gate called the Piraic, by the chapel of the hero Chalcodon and that here the Athenians were routed, and gave way before the women, as far as to the temple of the Furies, but, fresh supplies coming in from the Palladium, Ardettus, and the Lyceum, they charged their right wing, and beat them back into their tents, in which action a great number of the Amazons were slain. At length, after four months, a peace was concluded between them by the mediation of Hippolyta (for so this historian calls the Amazon whom Theseus married, and not Antiope), though others write that she was slain with a dart by Molpadia, while fighting by Theseus's side, and that the pillar which stands by the temple of Olympian Earth was erected to her honour. Nor is it to be wondered at, that in events of such antiquity, history should be in disorder. For indeed we are also told that those of the Amazons that were wounded were privately sent away by Antiope to Chalcis, where many by her care recovered, but some that died were buried there in the place that is to this time called Amazonium. That this war, however, was ended by a treaty is evident, both from the name of the place adjoining to the temple of Theseus, called, from the solemn oath there taken, Horcomosium and also from the ancient sacrifice which used to be celebrated to the Amazons the day before the Feast of Theseus. The Megarians also show a spot in their city where some Amazons were buried, on the way from the market to a place called Rhus, where the building in the shape of a lozenge stands. It is said, likewise, that others of them were slain near Chaeronea, and buried near the little rivulet formerly called Thermodon, but now Haemon, of which an account is given in the life of Demosthenes. It appears further that the passage of the Amazons through Thessaly was not without opposition, for there are yet shown many tombs of them near Scotussa and Cynoscephalae.
This is as much as is worth telling concerning the Amazons. For the account which the author of the poem called the Theseid gives of this rising of the Amazons, how Antiope, to revenge herself upon Theseus for refusing her and marrying Phaedra, came down upon the city with her train of Amazons, whom Hercules slew, is manifestly nothing else but fable and invention. It is true, indeed, that Theseus married Phaedra, but that was after the death of Antiope, by whom he had a son called Hippolytus, or, as Pindar writes, Demophon. The calamities which befell Phaedra and this son, since none of the historians have contradicted the tragic poets that have written of them, we must suppose happened as represented uniformly by them.
There are also other traditions of the marriages of Theseus, neither honourable in their occasions nor fortunate in their events, which yet were never represented in the Greek plays. For he is said to have carried off Anaxo, a Troezenian, and having slain Sinnis and Cercyon, to have ravished their daughters to have married Periboea, the mother of Ajax, and then Phereboea, and then Iope, the daughter of Iphicles. And further, he is accused of deserting Ariadne (as is before related), being in love with Aegle, the daughter of Panopeus, neither justly nor honourably and lastly, of the rape of Helen, which filled all Attica with war and blood, and was in the end the occasion of his banishment and death, as will presently be related.
Herodorus is of opinion, that though there were many famous expeditions undertaken by the bravest men of his time, yet Theseus never joined in any of them, once only excepted, with the Lapithae, in their war against the Centaurs but others say that he accompanied Jason to Colchis and Meleager to the slaying of the Calydonian boar, and that hence it came to be a proverb, Not without Theseus that he himself, however, without aid of any one, performed many glorious exploits, and that from him began the saying, He is a second Hercules. He also joined Adrastus in recovering the bodies of those that were slain before Thebes, but not as Euripides in his tragedy says, by force of arms, but by persuasion and mutual agreement and composition, for so the greater part of the historians write Philochorus adds further that this was the first treaty that ever was made for the recovering the bodies of the dead, but in the history of Hercules, it is shown that it was he who first gave leave to his enemies to carry off their slain. The burying-places of the most part are yet to be seen in the villa called Eleutherae those of the commanders, at Eleusis, where Theseus allotted them a place, to oblige Adrastus. The story of Euripides in his suppliants is disproved by Aeschylus in his Eleusinians, where Theseus himself relates the facts as here told.
The celebrated friendship between Theseus and Pirithous is said to have been thus began the fame of the strength and valour of Theseus being spread through Greece, Pirithous was desirous to make a trial and proof of it himself, and to this end seized a herd of oxen which belonged to Theseus, and was driving them away from Marathon, and, when the news was brought that Theseus pursued him in arms, he did not fly, but turned back and went to meet him. But as soon as they had viewed one another, each so admired the gracefulness and beauty, and was seized with such respect for the courage of the other, that they forgot all thoughts of fighting and Pirithous, first stretching out his hand to Theseus, bade him be judge in this case himself, and promised to submit willingly to any penalty he should impose. But Theseus not only forgave him all, but entreated him to be his friend and brother in arms and they ratified their friendship by oaths. After this Pirithous married Deidamia, and invited Theseus to the wedding, entreating him to come and see his country, and make acquaintance with the Lapithae he had at the same time invited the Centaurs to the feast, who growing hot with wine and beginning to be insolent and wild, and offering violence to the women, the Lapithae took immediate revenge upon them, slaying many of them upon the place, and afterwards, having overcome them in battle, drove the whole race of them out of their country, Theseus all along taking their part and fighting on their side. But Herodorus gives a different relation of these things that Theseus came not to the assistance of the Lapithae till the war was already begun and that it was in this journey that he had his first sight of Hercules, having made it his business to find him out at Trachis, where he had chosen to rest himself after all his wanderings and his labours and that this interview was honourably performed on each part, with extreme respect, and good-will, and admiration of each other. Yet it is more credible, as others write, that there were, before, frequent interviews between them, and that it was by the means of Theseus that Hercules was initiated at Eleusis, and purified before initiation, upon account of several rash actions of his former life.
Theseus was now fifty years old, as Hellanicus states, when he carried off Helen, who was yet too young to be married. Some writers, to take away this accusation of one of the greatest crimes laid to his charge, say, that he did not steal away Helen himself, but that Idas and Lynceus were the ravishers, who brought her to him, and committed her to his charge, and that, therefore, he refused to restore her at the demand of Castor and Pollux or, indeed, they say her own father, Tyndarus, had sent her to be kept by him, for fear of Enarophorus, the son of Hippocoon, who would have carried her away by force when she was yet a child. But the most probable account, and that which has most witnesses on its side, is this: Theseus and Pirithous went both together to Sparta, and, having seized the young lady as she was dancing in the temple Diana Orthia, fled away with her. There were presently men sent in arms to pursue, but they followed no further than to Tegea and Theseus and Pirithous, being now out of danger, having passed through Peloponnesus, made an agreement between themselves, that he to whom the lot should fall should have Helen to his wife, but should be obliged to assist in procuring another for his friend. The lot fell upon Theseus, who conveyed her to Aphidnae, not being yet marriageable, and delivered her to one of his allies, called Aphidnus, and, having sent his mother, Aethra, after to take care of her, desired him to keep them so secretly, that none might know where they were which done, to return the same service to his friend Pirithous, he accompanied him in his journey to Epirus, in order to steal away the king of the Molossians' daughter. The king, his own name being Aidoneus, or Pluto, called his wife Proserpina, and his daughter Cora, and a great dog, which he kept, Cerberus, with whom he ordered all that came as suitors to his daughter to fight, and promised her to him that should overcome the beast. But having been informed that the design of Pirithous and his companion was not to court his daughter, but to force her away, he caused them both to be seized, and threw Pirithous to be torn in pieces by his dog, and put Theseus into prison, and kept him.
About this time, Menestheus, the son of Peteus, grandson of Orneus, and great-grandson of Erechtheus, the first man that is recorded to have affected popularity and ingratiated himself with the multitude, stirred up and exasperated the most eminent men of the city, who had long borne a secret grudge to Theseus, conceiving that he had robbed them of their several little kingdoms and lordships, and having pent them all up in one city, was using them as his subjects and slaves. He put also the meaner people into commotion, telling them, that, deluded with a mere dream of liberty, though indeed they were deprived of both that and of their proper homes and religious usages, instead of many good and gracious kings of their own, they had given themselves up to be lorded over by a new-comer and a stranger. Whilst he was thus busied in infecting the minds of the citizens, the war that Castor and Pollux brought against Athens came very opportunely to further the sedition he had been promoting, and some say that by his persuasions was wholly the cause of their invading the city. At their first approach, they committed no acts of hostility, but peaceably demanded their sister Helen but the Athenians returning answer that they neither had her there nor knew where she was disposed of, they prepared to assault the city, when Academus, having, by whatever means, found it out, disclosed to them that she was secretly kept at Aphidnae. For which reason he was both highly honoured during his life by Castor and Pollux, and the Lacedaemonians, when often in aftertimes they made incursions into Attica, and destroyed all the country round about, spared the Academy for the sake of Academus. But Dicaearchus writes that there were two Arcadians in the army of Castor and Pollux, the one called Echedemus, and the other Marathus from the first that which is now called Academia was then named Echedemia, and the village Marathon had its name from the other, who, to fulfil some oracle, voluntarily offered himself to be made a sacrifice before battle. As soon as they were arrived at Aphidnae, they overcame their enemies in a set battle, and then assaulted and took the town. And here, they say, Alycus, the son of Sciron, was slain, of the party of the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux), from whom a place in Megara, where he was buried, is called Alycus to this day. And Hereas writes that it was Theseus himself that killed him, in witness of which he cites these verses concerning Alycus-
"And Alycus upon Aphidnae's plain,
By Theseus in the cause of Helen slain." Though it is not at all probable that Theseus himself was there when both the city and his mother were taken.
Aphidnae being won by Castor and Pollux, and the city of Athens being in consternation, Menestheus persuaded the people to open their gates, and receive them with all manner of friendship, for they were, he told them, at enmity with none but Theseus, who had first injured them, and were benefactors and saviours to all mankind beside. And their behviour gave credit to those promises for, having made themselves absolute masters of the place, they demanded no more than to be initiated, since they were as nearly related to the city as Hercules was, who had received the same honour. This their desire they easily obtained, and were adopted by Aphidnus, as Hercules had been by Pylius. They were honoured also like gods, and were called by a new name, Anaces, either from the cessation of the war, or from the care they took that none should suffer any injury, though there was so great an army within the walls for the phrase anakos ekhein is used of those who look to or care for anything kings for this reason, perhaps, are called anactes. Others say, that from the appearance of their star in the heavens, they were thus called, for in the Attic dialect this name comes very near the words that signify above.
Some say that Aethra, Theseus's mother, was here taken prisoner, and carried to Lacedaemon, and from thence went away with Helen to Troy, alleging this verse of Homer to prove that she waited upon Helen-
"Aethra of Pittheus born, and large eyed Clymene." Others reject this verse as none of Homer's, as they do likewise the whole fable of Munychus, who, the story says, was the son of Demophon and Laodice, born secretly, and brought up by Aethra at Troy. But Ister, in the thirteenth book of his Attic History, gives us an account of Aethra, different yet from all the rest: that Achilles and Patroclus overcame Paris in Thessaly, near the river Sperchius, but that Hector took and plundered the city of the Troezenians. and made Aethra prisoner there. But this seems a groundless tale.
Now Hercules, passing by the Molossians, was entertained in his way to Aidoneus the king, who, in conversation, accidentally spoke of the journey of Theseus and Pirithous into his country, of what they had designed to do, and what they were forced to suffer. Hercules was much grieved for the inglorious death of the one and the miserable condition of the other. As for Pirithous, he thought it useless to complain but begged to have Theseus released for his sake, and obtained that favour from the king. Theseus, being thus set at liberty, returned to Athens, where his friends were not yet wholly suppressed, and dedicated to Hercules all the sacred places which the city had set apart for himself, changing their names from Thesea to Heraclea, four only excepted, as Philochorus writes. And wishing immediately to resume the first place in the commonwealth, and manage the state as before, he soon found himself involved in factions and troubles those who long had hated him had now added to their hatred contempt and the minds of the people were so generally corrupted, that, instead of obeying commands with silence, they expected to be flattered into their duty. He had some thoughts to have reduced them by force, but was overpowered by demagogues and factions. And at last, despairing of any good success of his affairs in Athens, he sent away his children privately to Euboea, commending them to the care of Elephenor, the son of Chalcodon and he himself having solemnly cursed the people of Athens in the village of Gargettus, in which there yet remains the place called Araterion, or the place of cursing, sailed to Scyros, where he had lands left him by his father, and friendship, as he thought, with those of the island. Lycomedes was then king of Scyros. Theseus, therefore, addressed himself to him and desired to have his lands put into his possession, as designing to settle and to dwell there, though others say that he came to beg his assistance against the Athenians. But Lycomedes, either jealous of the glory of so great a man, or to gratify Menestheus, having led him up to the highest cliff of the island, on pretence of showing him from thence the lands that be desired, threw him headlong down from the rock, and killed him. Others say he fell down of himself by a slip of his foot, as he was walking there, according to his custom, after supper. At that time there was no notice taken, nor were any concerned for his death, but Menestheus quietly possessed the kingdom of Athens. His sons were brought up in a private condition, and accompanied Elephenor to the Trojan war, but, after the decease of Menestheus in that expedition, returned to Athens, and recovered the government. But in succeeding ages, besides several other circumstances that moved the Athenians to honour Theseus as a demigod, in the battle which was fought at Marathon against the Medes, many of the soldiers believed they saw an apparition of Theseus in arms, rushing on at the head of them against the barbarians. And after the Median war, Phaedo being archon of Athens, the Athenians, consulting the oracle at Delphi, were commanded to gather together the bones of Theseus, and, laying them in some honourable place, keep them as sacred in the city. But it was very difficult to recover those relics, or so much as to find out the place where they lay, on account of the inhospitable and savage temper of the barbarous people that inhabited the island. Nevertheless, afterwards, when Cimon took the island (as is related in his life), and had a great ambition to find out the place where Theseus was buried, he, by chance, spied an eagle upon a rising ground pecking with her beak and tearing up the earth with her talons, when on the sudden it came into his mind, as it were by some divine inspiration, to dig there, and search for the bones of Theseus. There were found in that place a coffin of a man of more than ordinary size, and a brazen spear-head, and a sword lying by it, all which he took aboard his galley and brought with him to Athens. Upon which the Athenians, greatly delighted, went out to meet and receive the relics with splendid processions and sacrifices, as if it were Theseus himself returning alive to the city. He lies interred in the middle of the city, near the present gymnasium. His tomb is a sanctuary and refuge for slaves, and all those of mean condition that fly from the persecution of men in power, in memory that Theseus while he lived was an assister and protector of the distressed, and never refused the petitions of the afflicted that fled to him. The chief and most solemn sacrifice which they celebrate to him is kept on the eighth day of Pyanepsion, on which he returned with the Athenian young men from Crete. Besides which they sacrifice to him on the eighth day of every month, either because he returned from Troezen the eighth day of Hecatombaeon, as Diodorus the geographer writes, or else thinking that number to be proper to him, because he was reputed to be born of Neptune, because they sacrifice to Neptune on the eighth day of every month. The number eight being the first cube of an even number, and the double of the first square, seemed to be an emblem of the steadfast and immovable power of this god, who from thence has the names of Asphalius and Gaeiochus, that is, the establisher and stayer of the earth.
The Best-Known Theseus Story
The best known story about Theseus, however, is the one in which he slays the Minotaur . In this myth, Theseus volunteered to be one of the 14 sacrificial victims who were sent each year by the Athenians to King Minos of Crete, so that he may have a chance to slay the monster.
Theseus honored by the Athenians after he killed the Minotaur. ( Public Domain )
Although Aegeus refused to allow his son to risk his life, he eventually relented, on the condition that if he returned from Crete alive, he was to change the ship’s sail from black to white. With the help of Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos , Theseus succeeded in slaying the Minotaur. Unfortunately, the hero had forgotten to change the ship’s sail on his voyage back to Athens, and when Aegeus saw the black sail, he was so full of grief that he committed suicide by throwing himself into the sea.
Theseus—The Hero of Athens
(Image: By Livioandronico2013/Public domain)
Theseus’s connection with Athens is that he is seen as being the legendary synoikistes of Attica. Synoikistes means, more or less, “unifier.” What this refers to is that Theseus persuaded the various small and independent towns of Attica—the peninsula on which Athens is located— to come together under the centralized control of Athens.
This element of his myth, as far as we can tell, developed for Theseus fairly late, in the 6th century BC, and seems to parallel political developments that were happening in Athens at the time. The Athenians felt a need to have a mythic predecessor, a mythic justification for their political developments in the 6th century BC, and Theseus provided that justification.
Theseus’s Origin Story
It is perhaps because of the important role Theseus plays in Athens that a great many adventures were attached to his name, which makes it difficult to work out a consistent chronology for him. However, the early parts of his life—conception, birth, and early adulthood—are easy to describe and fairly well set. In his birth and childhood stories, Theseus demonstrates typical elements of narrative that appear in stories about many heroes. In Theseus’s story, we see that there is some sort of oddity or ambiguity surrounding his conception and birth. For Theseus, the strangest thing about his conception is an apparent double fatherhood. He is said to be the son of both a human and of the god Poseidon.
The reason there is confusion about his fatherhood is as follows: Theseus’s human father was Aegeus, king of Athens. Aegeus had gone to consult the oracle at Delphi to find out what he needed to do to have a son, because he was, at this point in his life, childless.
The oracle told him in a typical oracular fashion that, to be sure of begetting a son, he should not “loosen the dangling foot of the wineskin” until he returned home to Athens. Aegeus had no idea what this meant. On his way back to Athens from Delphi, he stopped overnight at a place called Troizen, which is close to Attica, and asked the king there what this oracle could mean.
The king recognized that it meant Aegeus should not have sexual intercourse until he returned home to Athens—the implication being that the next time Aegeus did have sex with anyone, he would beget a son. The king, wanting to connect his family with the royal house of Athens, offered his daughter to Aegeus as a sexual partner for that night. This woman was Aethra, Theseus’s mother.
The king recognized that what it meant was Aigeus should not have sexual intercourse until he returned home to Athens, the implication being that the next time Aigeus did have sex with anyone, he would beget a son. The king, wanting to connect his family with the royal house of Athens, offered his own daughter to Aigeus as a sexual partner for that night. This woman was Aithra, Theseus’s mother.
Aegeus and Aethra went to bed together on the advice and consent of her father and had sex. Later that night, Aethra is told in a dream that she should go to a particular temple. She gets out of bed, dresses, and when she goes to this temple, she is raped by the god Poseidon. This means that on the same night, Aethra has had sexual intercourse with both Aegeus and Poseidon. Therefore, no one will ever know who Theseus’s real father is.
The Logic of Two Fathers
There is a very clear logic at work behind this story. Theseus is the great hero of Athens. As such, Athenian myth wants him to be a great hero, and all great heroes have a god as their father. If Theseus must have a god as his father, there is this story about Poseidon. Theseus is also the most important legendary king of Athens. How do you become king? You inherit the kingship from your father.
So, Theseus must have a father who is the king of Athens, and therefore, the story about Aegeus’s parentage. Since Theseus has to fill both of these roles, he is given two fathers, and the two are left side-by-side without any decision ever being made in the myths of Theseus about which one is his true father.
Aethra showing Theseus the place where his father had hidden his sword. (Image: By Nicolas-Guy Brenet/Public domain)
Aegeus, when he left Aethra and continued on his way to Athens, performed another element that comes up very frequently in folk tale and hero myth: He left tokens for his son to discover at a later time in his life. Specifically, Aegeus placed a pair of sandals and a sword under a boulder. He told Aethra that if she bore a son, when that son was old enough to lift the boulder and retrieve the sandals and the sword, he should make his way to Athens, show these tokens to Aegeus, and Aegeus would recognize that he was indeed his son.
If Aethra bore a daughter, Aegeus apparently doesn’t want to know about it. Notice also that Aegeus is perfectly happy to have Aithra have all the trouble, expense, and worry of bringing the baby up. Aegeus only wants him once he is grown, once he is big enough to lift that boulder and make his way to Athens. So, Theseus grows up, lifts the boulder, retrieves the tokens, and sets off on a journey to Athens to claim his patrimony.
Theseus the Unifier
If the traveler was too tall for the bed, Procrustes lopped his legs off to make him fit. If the traveler was too short, Procrustes put him on a rack and stretched him out to make him fit the bed.
His journey to Athens, which he makes by foot, is a series of encounters with monsters and wild outlaws who are terrorizing the people of Attica. The most famous outlaw Theseus encounters as he walks from Troizen to Athens is named Procrustes. Procrustes had a bed in which he compelled all travelers who passed by his house to sleep.
Procrustes insisted that the traveler had to fit the bed precisely. If the traveler was too tall for the bed, Procrustes lopped his legs off to make him fit. If the traveler was too short, Procrustes put him on a rack and stretched him out to make him fit the bed. This is where we get the term “procrustean.” If someone says that a particular solution is a procrustean solution to a problem, by that they mean that the problem is made to fit the solution rather than the other way around.
Another outlaw was Sinis, the Pine-bender. He was a giant who had a habit of bending two pine trees down, tying a hapless traveler between them, and then releasing the pine trees, which of course rips the traveler into two pieces. Theseus killed him as well.
Theseus also killed a monstrous boar that was ravaging the countryside. These adventures work allegorically to underline the idea of Theseus as the synoikistes, the unifier of Attica under Athenian rule. What is he doing? He is ridding Attica of danger, of obstacles that make Attica unsafe for people to travel from one town to another.
These mythic monsters and outlaws whom he overcomes represent the idea of lawlessness, a lack of unification, and a lack of safety on the roads. So, Theseus, as the person who wipes out these monsters, parallels the idea of Theseus as the person who unifies Attica under Athenian control.
Theseus in Danger
When Theseus reached Athens, he was received as a guest. He did not declare who he was he was in disguise. According to some versions, he was dressed as a girl. He presented himself to his father Aegeus. Now, Aegeus, at this point, was married to a woman named Medea. Medea is much more famous for her previous marriage to the Greek hero Jason, the man who sailed the Argo to retrieve the Golden Fleece.
Medea is a sorceress, a witch, one of the very many powerful women who use magic and show up throughout Greek myth. In this particular element of her story, Medea was pregnant with Aegeus’s child, and she feared that Theseus, whom her magic allowed her to recognize as Aegeus’s son, would supplant her unborn child in Aegeus’s estimation. Therefore, Medea acted as Medea always does.
She was not a lady who was at all averse to killing her enemies to get them out of her way. She persuaded Aegeus that this young stranger-guest was planning to kill him, and that to protect himself, Aegeus should poison the guest before he gets the chance. Aegeus went along with this idea, a terrible violation of the guest-host relationship though it might be, and at dinner presented Theseus with a cup of poisoned wine.
Here we see yet another element common in folk tale, myth, and traditional tales in general—the idea that a disaster is averted, that a stranger is recognized as being a relative just in time. Theseus was sitting at the dinner table, the poisoned goblet of wine in front of him. Before he drank it, however, he drew his sword to carve his meat. Aegeus recognizes the sword, realizes that this is his son, and tells him not to drink the wine. Medea beats a hasty retreat. One very noteworthy element of Medea’s story is that she always manages to escape before she pays the consequences of her crimes, as she does in this circumstance.
Test and Quest
Aegeus and Theseus recognize each other as father and son. (Image: By Antoine-Placide Gibert/Public domain)
Aegeus and Theseus recognize each other as father and son. They have a joyous reunion and the next element in Theseus’s story gets into what is called the “test-and-quest” of a hero’s story. He sets out on a dangerous journey to the island of Crete to try to free Athens from the dreadful tribute that it pays every year to the Minotaur. The Minotaur is a monster that lives in Crete. Its body is that of a man its head is that of a bull. It is a monster that devours human beings. Athens has the obligation of sending seven youths and seven maidens every year to Crete to be eaten by the Minotaur.
Athens participates in this exchange because of a war fought between Crete and Athens and the treaty that ended that war. Minos, king of Crete, had a son Androgeos who had been visiting Aegeus in Attica. Androgeos had died while he was in Attica.
Either he was killed by a great bull that Aegeus sent him out to fight, or Androgeos was killed by young Athenian men who were jealous of his athletic prowess. Either version, the result is the same. Androgeos is killed, and Minos declares war on Athens to avenge his son’s death. The war ceased only when Athens agreed to let King Minos name whatever recompense he wanted. What he wanted was fodder for his monster, the Minotaur. Minos imposed this tribute on Athens of seven youths and seven maidens every year, who will be fed to the Minotaur in Crete.
The Minotaur in Crete. (Image: Daniel Eskridge/Shutterstock)
Theseus’s Adventures in Crete
When Theseus learns of this dreadful tribute from his father Aegeus, he volunteers to be a member of the delegation that year, one of the seven youths that will go to face the Minotaur in Crete. Of course, Theseus is intending to kill the monster if he possibly can, and therefore lift this tribute from Athens. Theseus’s adventures in Crete are the most famous part of his story. His encounter with the Minotaur and the help that he gets from the Cretan princess Ariadne, daughter of Minos, are the most famous elements of any story about Theseus.
Again, we are dealing with an element that appears in many stories of this “test-and-quest” pattern. Ariadne, the princess, helps Theseus. This is a common element: The young man attempting to perform an all-but-impossible feat is helped by a young woman who has fallen in love with him, usually a princess. Ariadne has fallen in love with Theseus at first sight, and so she decides to help him to overcome the Minotaur. She gives Theseus a ball of thread so that he can find his way back out of the labyrinth where the Minotaur is imprisoned.
The labyrinth is a maze so intricate that once you enter it you can never find your way back out again. The seven youths and seven maidens will be driven into the labyrinth, and the Minotaur would hunt them down and eat them. Ariadne gives Theseus a ball of thread so he can tie one end to the doorpost and use it to retrace his steps. This is often called the clue of Ariadne. “Clue” in English originally simply meant a ball of yarn. Our use of the word clue to mean the one element that leads you out of your perplexity to an understanding comes from the story of Ariadne. It is originally a metaphorical use of the term.
Ariadne gives Theseus a ball of thread so he can tie one end to the door post and use it to retrace his steps. (Image: By Niccolò Bambini/Public domain)
In return—Ariadne has to get something out of this as well—Theseus agrees to take Ariadne with him when he leaves Crete, as well he might. Minos is not going to be particularly pleased that his daughter has helped this Athenian kill the Minotaur and end Athens’s tribute to Crete.
Theseus succeeds in killing the Minotaur in the labyrinth. (Image: Правообладатель – Рябинин Алексей Валерьевич, художник – Н.А. Васильев/Public domain)
With the help of Ariadne’s thread, Theseus succeeds—after he kills the Minotaur in the labyrinth—in finding his way back out again. He and Ariadne do then indeed leave Crete. They stop to spend the night on the nearby island of Naxos and supposedly spend the night together. The next morning, when Theseus wakes up, he sets sail and leaves Ariadne behind, alone on the island of Naxos.
Various versions explain why he did this, but the most common one most authors seem to espouse is that he simply flat-out forgot her. He got up in the morning, forgot about Ariadne entirely and set sail without her. When Ariadne awakens, she finds herself abandoned, all alone on an island.
A Happy Ending for Ariadne, Not So Much for Aegeus
Unusually for myth, she has a happy ending to her story. The god Dionysos supposedly comes, finds Ariadne, rescues her, marries her, and turns her into a goddess. That is so unusual an ending—both in the idea that a woman would become a goddess and in the fact that this kind of story doesn’t normally have a happy ending—that many scholars think that Ariadne was a goddess, perhaps even a Minoan goddess. The name Ariadne means “very holy” and may indicate that she was originally a goddess.
If the story originally was that a Cretan goddess helped Theseus, then it would make more sense that after she helped him, Dionysos married her. It would be a god marrying a goddess rather than a god turning a human woman into a goddess. But as the story developed, Ariadne was downgraded to a human being, and the story evolved to Theseus leaving her behind on Naxos and Dionysos rescuing her.
Theseus returning home from the labyrinth of Crete in a ship with black sails. (Image: Morphart Creation/Shutterstock)
This was not the only devastating episode of forgetfulness on Theseus’s part. Before he left Athens, he had promised his father Aegeus that if he succeeded in killing the Minotaur, he would change the sails on his ship from black to white. When the ship set sail every year for Crete with the 14 doomed boys and girls aboard, it had black sails. When it came back, having left its human cargo in Crete, it still had black sails.
He forgot to do so, and Aegeus, who had been standing either on the Acropolis of Athens or on Cape Sounion—the southernmost tip of Attica—keeping watch every day for the returning ship, saw that the sails were still black, and leaped to his death because he thought Theseus was dead. Theseus then became king of Athens. With Aegeus dead, Theseus enters into kingship in his father’s place.
Common Questions About Theseus
Theseus was a half-breed. He had two fathers: One of them the god Poseidon, and the other a mortal, Aegeus. His mother had been with both of them the night she conceived.
Theseus is ultimately famous for slaying the Minotaur, but he was also king of Athens and killed many mythical beasts.
Theseus snuck the sword of Aegeus into the labyrinth inside his tunic, and when confronted, he overpowered the Minotaur and stabbed it.
Lycomedes, king of Scyros, threw Theseus from a cliff after he cursed Athens.
Magical abilities and skills
- Magical mastery: Theseus Scamander was described as "very powerful", and, as a Hogwarts student, he excelled in his studies enough to meet the qualifications for Auror training, becoming an Auror, and eventually getting promoted to the position of Head Auror. While Theseus alone was admittedly no match for the extraordinarily powerful Gellert Grindelwald, who was possibly the most powerful Dark Wizard to ever live, Department of Magical Law Enforcement Head Torquil Travers trusted the combined might of Theseus and the latter's subordinate Aurors with the task of bringing Grindelwald in after Albus Dumbledore refused to, with even Dumbledore seemingly believing that Theseus could survive a fight with Grindelwald if aided by his allies. Indeed, Theseus proved powerful and skilled enough to be able to survive such a fight, alongside Newt and Leta, and was moreover able to aid his brother, future sister-in-law, Yusuf, and Nicolas Flamel in saving Paris from Grindelwald's black fire.
- Auror skills: Theseus Scamander, as the Head Auror, was an exceptionally skilled Auror, more than likely completing the Concealment and Disguise, as well as the Stealth and Tracking portions of Auror training with excellence. These skills greatly contributed to Theseus's outstanding performance during the First World War, and to him gaining the respected status of "war hero", to the point that Hector Podmore, Momolu Wotorson, Rudolph Spielman, Arnold Guzman and even the abrasive Torquil Travers respected him, while Gellert Grindelwald kept up a correspondence with Theseus while posing as Percival Graves. During the Global wizarding war, Theseus was trusted by the British Ministry of Magic with the mission to participate in the international wizardhunt for Gellert Grindelwald (which proved unsuccessful), and later with the international mission to help the French Ministry of Magic to track down the ObscurialCredence Barebone, with Theseus's Auror team ultimately succeeding at finding Credence in the Lestrange family Mausoleum. Theseus was also observant enough to quickly notice his brother Newt and American Auror Tina Goldstein infiltrating the French Ministry, despite their efforts to be discreet.
- Duelling: As the Head Auror, Theseus was exceptionally skilled in martial magic, surviving magical involvement in the First World War and being considered a "war hero" for his efforts, and later actively participated in the Global wizarding war against Gellert Grindelwald. Theseus was notably only overpowered by fellow Auror Tina Goldstein due to being caught off-guard by her, so he later greatly contributed to stopping Grindelwald's Paris rally, defeating many of Grindelwald's allies. Although Theseus was no match for the incredibly powerful Dark Wizard alone, while aided by the combined efforts of his brother Newt and girlfriend Leta as well as future sister-in-law Tina, he could still stand his ground against Grindelwald for a time.
- Defence Against the Dark Arts: As the Head Auror, Theseus would have likely received either an "Outstanding" or "Exceeds Expectations" in his O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. for this subject. ⎗] Theseus's skills are evident in his victory in many duels against formidable dark wizards, such as Grindelwald's allies, and even surviving a brief duel against the incredibly powerful Grindelwald himself, alongside Newt and Leta, being able to hold off Grindelwald's extremely powerful black flames long enough to be saved by Leta, and even pushing the flames back when Grindelwald was not focusing it on him (due to being distracted by Leta). Theseus also was able to easily follow Nicolas Flamel's instructions in casting the General Counter-Spell to contain and extinguish the violent black flames.
- Charms: Theseus was shown to be capable with charms, as he was particularly apt in the use of defensive charms and counter-spells, as shown by his ability cast a Shield Charm strong enough to protect himself for a prolonged period of time against Grindelwald's lethal black fire. He also later proving proficient enough in the General Counter-Spell, as he was able to use it to a large enough scale alongside Nicolas Flamel, Newt, Tina and Yusuf in containing and extinguishing Grindelwald's fire.
- Apparition: Theseus, like most accomplished adult wizards, could Apparate at will.
- Leadership skills: Theseus, as the Head Auror in the British Ministry of Magic, had exceptional leadership skills, with him very effectively commanding a team of no less than 50 Aurors at Grindelwald's rally, and even Albus Dumbledore seemed to respect the Auror's leadership, since he took the time to give the younger man some useful advice. Tragically, however, Theseus was unable to stop one of his Auror subordinates from using the Killing Curse at the rally.
- Indomitable willpower: Theseus possessed immense willpower and bravery, being a respected hero of the First World War, and joining in on the subsequent Global wizarding war as the Head Auror without hesitation. As such, despite recognising Gellert Grindelwald as a "charismatic blighter", and despite seeing horrifying visions of a future Second World War, Theseus's moral code was incorruptible, and therefore, he resisted Grindelwald's persuasive speech, and continued valiantly fighting to break up the rally, whilst at the same time rejecting Travers' oppressive orders to arrest anyone simply present.
Temple or art gallery?
To answer the question posed in the headline: both, actually.
The Theseus Temple represents history going full circle. What once was, is once again, which sounds a little abstract. Let me explain…
The Theseus Temple went up in 1829 to a design by Peter Nobile. He had his hand in a fair few bits of architecture in Vienna and elsewhere, including the monumental Äußere Burgtor gates at the main entrance to Heldenplatz square.
The neo-classic building mirrors a Doric temple in Athens completed in around 415BC and dedicated to the Greek God, Hephaestus. The original is still around today:
(The original “Theseus Temple” in Greece. Image courtesy of the Rijksmuseum)
Which begs the question why it bears the name, Theseus Temple and not Hephaestus temple.
Well, the original Greek building also carried the name Theseum or Theseion, based on the belief in later centuries that the bones of Theseus (he of Minotaur-killing fame) were buried within.
The name also relates to the Viennese version’s original purpose as an exhibition hall designed for a specific sculpture by Antonio Canova: the Theseus Group. Completed in the second decade of the 1800s, the statues depict Theseus battling the centaur, Eurytus.
(Theseus and the Centaur. Joseph Steinmüller, after Antonio Canova, 1805 – 1841. Image courtesy of the Rijksmuseum)
The Theseus Temple continued its role as exhibition site intermittently until wear and tear sort of put an end to that. However, after extensive renovations returned the building to its full glory in 2010, this art venue came back to life under the auspices of the Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM).
(Incidentally, you can view Canova’s sculpture in the main building of the KHM, where it graces the beautiful main staircase.)
The Kunsthistorisches Museum now uses the Theseus Temple for a series of exhibitions of single works of contemporary art, harking back to the original purpose of the building. One artwork appears each year for a limited time.
The 2021 exhibition is scheduled to run from May 3rd to October 3rd and features a work by Viennese artist, Susanna Fritscher a parcours of silicone threads creates a remarkably immersive environment to pass through. The KHM commissioned the installation specifically for the temple.
No exhibition took place in 2020, but the 2019 exhibition ran from April 25 to October 6 with the work, Turisti (Tourists), by the Italian artist, Maurizio Cattelan. This loan from the Collezione Prada featured fifteen stuffed pigeons perched on the decorated cornices of the temple’s interior, a witty and thought-provoking reference that alluded to the tourist invasion of Venice and related issues.
Theseus - History
Heraclituss river fragments raise puzzles about identity and persistence: under what conditions does an object persist through time as one and the same object? If the world contains things which endure, and retain their identity in spite of undergoing alteration, then somehow those things must persist through changes . Heraclitus wonders whether one can step into the same river twice precisely because it continually undergoes changes. In particular, it changes compositionally . At any given time, it is made up of different component parts from the ones it was previously made up of. So, according to one interpretation, Heraclitus concludes that we do not have (numerically) the same river persisting from one moment to the next.
Plato is probably the source of this paradoxical interpretation of Herclitus. According to Plato, Heraclitus maintains that nothing retains its identity for any time at all:
But what Heraclitus actually said was more likely to have been this:
On Platos interpretation, its not the same river, since the waters are different. On a less paradoxical interpretation, it is the same river, in spite of the fact that the waters are different. On both interpretations of Heraclitus, he holds the Flux Doctrine : Everything is constantly altering no object retains all of its component parts from one moment to the next. The issue is: what does Flux entail about identity and persistence? Platos interpretation requires that Heraclitus held what might be called the Mereological Theory of Identity ( MTI ), i.e., the view that the identity of an object depends on the identity of its component parts. This view can be formulated more precisely as follows:
It now seems that if we want to allow that an object can persist through time in spite of a change in some of its components, we must deny MTI. An object x , existing at time t 1 , can be numerically identical to an object y , existing at time t 2 , even though x and y are not composed of exactly the same parts.
But once you deny MTI, where do you draw the line? Denying MTI leaves us vulnerable to puzzle cases, the mother of all of which is the following.
The Ship of Theseus
Plutarch tells us that the ship was exhibited during the time [i.e., lifetime] of Demetrius Phalereus, which means ca. 350-280 BCE. (Demetrius was a well-known Athenian and a member of the Peripatetic school, i.e., a student of Aristotle. He wrote some 45 books, and was also a politician).
The original puzzle is this: over the years, the Athenians replaced each plank in the original ship of Theseus as it decayed, thereby keeping it in good repair. Eventually, there was not a single plank left of the original ship. So, did the Athenians still have one and the same ship that used to belong to Theseus?
- Simple version : Theseus completely rebuilds his ship, replaces all the parts, throws the old ones overboard. Does he arrive on the same ship as the one he left on? Of course it has changed . But is it it ?
Our question then is: Does A = B? If not, why not? Suppose he had left one original part in. Is that enough to make A identical to B? If not, suppose he had left two, etc. Where do you draw the line?
- MTI tells us that A = C . The ship on which Theseus started his voyage, namely A, is identical to the ship on which the Scavenger finished his voyage, namely C. So we have two ships: one (A) that was sailed out by Theseus and (C) sailed in by the Scavenger, and another one (B) that was created (out of new parts) during the voyage and was sailed into port by Theseus.
Unfortunately, both alternatives lead to unintuitive consequences.
- The problem with alternative (i) is that it requires Theseus to have changed ships during the voyage. For he ends up on B, which is clearly not identical to C. But Theseus never once got off his ship during its entire voyage: Theseus got on board a ship (A), sailed a voyage during which he never got off the ship, and arrived at his destination in a ship (B). He was on just one ship during the whole process, but alternative (i) seems to require that he was on (at least!) two different ships.
- What do we replace it with? Spatio-temporal continuity (the intuition behind our alternative (ii), above) is the most promising (and common) suggestion. A persisting object must trace a continuous path through space-time. And tracing a continuous path is compatible with a change of parts, so long as the change is gradual and the form or shape of the object is preserved through the changes of its component materials. So it appears that we can replace MTI with the theory of spatio-temporal continuity (STC).