Theseus is the Athenian hero who connects himself to other mythological figures and into history.
Who was Theseus?
In myth, he was the one who slayed the Cretan Minotaur, befriended Heracles, and with that, he furthermore connected himself to other figures. He isn’t a character who has a steady storyline. That is to say: Theseus’ life was not simply from birth to death, and his major point in his life is the destruction of the Minotaur. That is incorrect. In addition to connecting to Heracles later in his life, during his travels, he had gone to the eastern modern-day Greece, into Sparta, and even the northern Mediterranean. He journeyed across the land connecting himself into other myths.
However, he doesn’t stop there. He plays a part in Athenian history just as well.
Birth of Theseus
But before going that far into Theseus’ life, let us see into his beginning. His father was the Aegeus, King of Athens at the time. His mother was Aethra, daughter of the Pittheous, King of Troezen. During the night of marriage, Aethra was given royal blood for the future child. However, upon the same night, though there are variations on the timing, Poseidon gives his own deified blood and genetics to the future Theseus. It is at this point where Aethra’s child is destined to be a Greek Hero. With the blood of Royalty and the Gods, his Fate is predetermined for greatness to the utmost degree.
At this point in Theseus’ life, he is grouped to together in the category of Greek Heroes. However, what makes Theseus important? What is it that differentiates Theseus from other Greek heroes?
1.) The Mythic Hero
Most notably, Theseus fights against the Cretan Minotaur. The Minotaur myth represents Theseus’ masculinity and his utilization of “good looks” in which he was aided by Ariadne and the String that guided him through the labyrinth. In addition, post-Minotaur myth, he becomes the Visionary for Athens. Later on, he becomes the Connector as he goes on journeying across the land.
2.) The Connector
Theseus constantly branches his lifeline into other myths. He comes across Herakles, Jason and the Argonauts, Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons, even Helen of Sparta. Theseus, unlike other Greek heroes exemplifies the traveling hero who creates alliances, forms comrades that holds importance in their own myths.
3.) The Visionary
Furthermore, in myth, Theseus becomes a Futurist for Athens. He expels the monarchial form of government and forms the Athenian democracy of the time. Though Pericles in 460-430 BCE became the actual Athenian populist who transformed the government and developed Athenian art and literature, Theseus provides the mythic etymology for Athens and democracy.
4.) Enshrined in Athenian art and literature
In addition, due to his mythic triumphs, Theseus is highly praised by the Athenian people. Consequently, they enshrine him in their art and literature.
Death of Theseus
During the time in which Theseus left Athens to travel to embrace his heroic fate, wisdom starts leaving him. During one of his last adventures, Theseus took Helen of Sparta who, at the time, was still somewhat young, to be his future wife. Later on, to help a comrade in aiding him to obtain his own wife, Theseus and Perithous attempted to kidnap Persephone. Ultimately, the plan failed and the two were trapped in the Underworld.
During this time, the Spartans raided Athens to get back Helen thus putting the city in turmoil. Eventually, Herakles came to the Underworld for his last Labor brought back Theseus to the mortal world. It was at this point when Theseus came back to Athens did he find the city in such a chaotic state. Consequently, the people exiled him. During his later travels, under extreme anxiety and fear of his own throne being taken by Theseus, Lycomedes threw him off a cliff thus ending his life.
However, even at death, Theseus remains to be an important heroic figure. Long after his death, Theseus supposedly returned during the Battle of Marathon (490 BC) in a spirited form that aided the Athenians to victory against the Persians.
As a result of seeing the ghost of Theseus, the general commanded Theseus’ bones be found, collected, and returned to Athens for burial. Currently, the burial site is called the Temple of Hephaestus. However, at the time of burial, it was called the Theseion which served as a sanctuary for the defenseless during the Persian Wartime.
From being a hero of divine and royal blood to being killed in exile, Theseus’ return allowed himself to be placed back into his honorary position in history and served as a protector for his city.
- Anthology of Classical Myth (Apollodorus, Hygenus, Plutarch)
- A Brief History of Ancient Greece