Greek Mythology - Great hero who killed the Minotaur of Crete


Discovery of birthright, Journey to Athens
Theseus was the son of Aegeus (the king of Athens) and Aethra. He was raised by his mother, separated from Aegeus. Before leaving his son, Aegeus had left a sword and a pair of sandals in a small hollow, and placed a large stone in front of the entrance. He told Aethra that the boy could claim his right to the throne of Athens when he was strong enough to move the rock. When Theseus was old enough, Aethra showed him the spot where Aegeus had hidden the sword and sandals. Theseus moved the stone easily, and set out for Athens to declare himself Aegeus' son, and heir to the throne.

However, Theseus wished to further prove himself, so instead of going by sea (which would have been an easy journey), he went by land, encountering monsters and robbers along the way. In Epidaurus, he came upon the barbarian Periphetes, whose weapon was a large iron club. Theseus got the club away from Periphetes, and turned the tables by beating the savage to death with his own weapon. He encountered other creatures along the way, and killed them as well, using each one's own means of slaying; he threw Sciron over a cliff into the sea, and tied Sinis between two trees.

Medea's treachery
Once he reached Athens, Theseus was still not safe. The sorceress Medea, who was Aegeus' wife, knew through her sorcery that Theseus would be arriving. She feared that the presence of Theseus would lessen her own influence over the king, so she convinced Aegeus that the young man was a threat to his kingdom. Medea convinced Aegeus to poison Theseus at a great banquet, but as Theseus was about to drink the poison, Aegeus caught sight of the sword that he had left for Theseus years before. He knocked away the poison cup and declared to the people that the young man was Theseus, his son and heir.

The Minotaur of Crete
Theseus had arrived at a rather unpleasant time for Athens, as it was nearing the appointed day for tribute to be paid to Minos, the king of Crete. Aegeus had allowed Minos' son Androgeos to go on a dangerous expedition to kill a bull, but instead, the bull had killed Androgeos. Minos, outraged, declared that he would destroy Athens unless Aegeus sent seven young men and seven virgins to Crete every nine years as a sacrifice to the Minotaur. Hearing Athens' plight, Theseus volunteered to go as one of the sacrifice offerings. He told his father that if he succeeded in killing the Minotaur, he would change the sails on the return ship to white; otherwise, the sails would remain black.

Upon arriving in Crete, Theseus and the other victims were brought before Minos. Ariadne, Minos' daughter, and Theseus took one look at each other and fell in love. Ariadne gave Theseus a sword and some thread, so that he would be able to fight the Minotaur and then find his way out of the labyrinth where the creature was kept. Theseus succeeded in killing the Minotaur; then, after retracing his steps out of the labyrinth, he took Ariadne and the other intended victims and headed back to Athens. However, he abandoned Ariadne on Naxos after Athena appeared to him in a dream and told him to leave the girl there.

The ship sailed on; however, as his ship neared the coast of Athens, Theseus forgot to change the sails from black to white to signal his success. Aegeus saw the black sails in the distance and, believing his son to be dead, flung himself into the sea (which is to this day called the Aegean Sea in honor of him). With his father dead, Theseus became the king of Athens.

Other tales (Antiope; Pirithous in the underworld; Hippolytus)
Theseus had a number of other adventures. He abducted Antiope, queen of the Amazons, and took her as his wife. The Amazons then invaded Athens, and Theseus defeated them in the middle of the city. He and his friend Pirithous each wanted to marry one of the daughters of Zeus. Theseus carried off Helen (this occurred long before the Trojan War, when Helen was still a child), and then accompanied Pirithous on a journey to the underworld, as he coveted Persephone, wife of Hades. However, Hades caught the two friends and held them prisoner until Hercules set Theseus free, leaving Pirithous in the underworld.

After Antiope died, Theseus took Phaedra (a daughter of Minos) as his wife. However, she was more interested in Hippolytus, Theseus' and Antiope's son. Hippolytus, on the other hand, didn't share Phaedra's affections, which led her to hate him. She manipulated Theseus and told him that Hippolytus had raped her; Theseus then called upon Poseidon for vengeance. Poseidon sent a sea monster to frighten Hippolytus as he was driving a chariot near the shore, and the creature startled the horses, causing the chariot to crash. Hippolytus was killed, but was then restored to life by Aesculapius and sent to live with the nymph Egeria for protection.

Death of Theseus
Theseus, after losing favor with his people, went to the court of Lycomedes, who double-crossed Theseus and killed him. His remains were found later by an Athenian general, who moved them to the Theseum, a temple in Athens dedicated to the great hero.

Noded faithfully from my notes from the Greek Mythology and Roman Epic class at UR

E2 Dictionary of Classical Mythology

Theseus also appears as a character in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The Duke of Athens, Theseus is betrothed to Hippolyta who is the queen of the Amazons. The approaching wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta provides the background within which the events of the play unfold.

Within the play, Theseus' mature and impartial character is used to provide contrast with that of the fairy king Oberon, who uses magic to humiliate and thus win back his wife Titania, as well as with those of the young lovers, Demetrius and Lysander, who are victims of Puck's mischief. Theseus does not come across as a universally sympathetic character, however; after the four protagonists have described the strange events of the previous night, Theseus reveals that he has little sympathy for "the lunatic, the lover, and the poet."

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