History and accounts
Early life and birth
The king Aegeus was one of the primordial kings of Athens, he was in search of a bride and found Aethra who was the daughter of king Pittheus. Both Aethra and her father resided at Troezen, a small city on the southwest of Athens. On their wedding night, Aethra sailed through the sea to the island of Sphairia, which is located close to the coast and subsequently lay there with Poseidon, the Olympian god of the oceans. Aethra had previously shared intimate moments with her husband Aegeus, leading to the event in which her son would have characteristics from both mortals and gods, which was a trait commonly shared by to-be Greek heroes. When Aethra became pregnant, her husband Aegeus returned to Athens. Her son, Theseus now had a combination of divine as well as mortal characteristics; such as double fathers.
Pirithoüs and the CentaursPirithoüs, King of the Lapiths, heard of Theseus's reputation and wanted to see for himself if Theseus was indeed as brave and clever as people said. When Theseus was herding his cattle near Marathon, Pirithoüs made a raid on Theseus and his cattle. Theseus confronted Pirithoüs. However, Pirithoüs amazed by Theseus cunning abilities as a warrior and overcome with admiration for Theseus, surrendered and humbly told him that he would accept any punishment Theseus chose. But Theseus asked only for his friendship.
Some time later, Pirithoüs invited Theseus to his wedding to Hippodamia. Among the many wedding guests were the Centaurs, neighbors of Pirithoüs. The Centaurs had the bodies of horses and the torsos and heads of men. During the wedding festivities, much wine was provided. The simplistic centaurs, unused to the wine, were intoxicated easily. The centaurs drunkenly tried to kidnap and rape all the women including Hippodamia. Theseus, aided by the Lapiths won the ensuing battle against the Centaurs.
The abduction of Persephone and encounter with Hades
Theseus, a great abductor of women, and his bosom companion, Pirithous, since they were sons of Zeus and Poseidon, pledged themselves to marry daughters of Zeus. Theseus, in an old tradition, chose Helen, and together they kidnapped her, intending to keep her until she was old enough to marry. Pirithous chose Persephone. They left Helen with Theseus's mother, Aethra at Aphidna, whence she was rescued by the Dioscuri.
On Pirithous' behalf they travelled to the underworld, domain of Persephone and her husband, Hades. As they wandered through the outskirts of Tartarus, Theseus sat down to rest on a rock. As he did so he felt his limbs change and grow stiff. He tried to rise but could not. He was fixed to the rock on which he sat. Then, as he turned to cry out to his friend Pirithous, he saw that he himself was crying out too. Around him was standing the terrible band of Furies with snakes in their hair, torches and long whips in their hands. Before these monsters the hero's courage failed and by them was led away to eternal punishment.
For many months in half darkness, Theseus sat immovably fixed to the rock, mourning both for his friend and for himself. In the end he was rescued by Heracles who had come down to the underworld for his 12th task. There he persuaded Persephone to forgive him for the part he had taken in the rash venture of Pirithous. So Theseus was restored to the upper air but Pirithous never left the kingdom of the dead, for when he tried to free Pirithous, the Underworld shook. When Theseus returned to Athens, he found that the Dioscuri had taken Helen and Aethra to Sparta.
Theseus makes love to Queen Hippolyta on ship. They married in Athens Greece in the Temple of Artemis. She leaves him when he falls for Phaedra. Phaedra was a Greek Amazon. She was a cousin to Queen Hippolyta.
Phaedra and Hippolytus
Phaedra, Theseus's second wife, bore Theseus two sons, Demophon and Acamas. While these two were still in their infancy, Phaedra fell in love with Hippolytus, Theseus's son by Hippolyta. According to some versions of the story, Hippolytus had scorned Aphrodite to become a devotee of Artemis, so Aphrodite made Phaedra fall in love with him as punishment. He rejected her out of chastity.
Alternatively, in Euripides' version, Hippolytus, Phaedra's nurse told Hippolytus of her mistress's love and he swore he would not reveal the nurse as his source of information. To ensure that she would die with dignity, Phaedra wrote to Theseus on a tablet claiming that Hippolytus had raped her before hanging herself. Theseus believed her and used one of the three wishes he had received from Poseidon against his son. The curse caused Hippolytus' horses to be frightened by a sea monster, usually a bull, and drag their rider to his death. Artemis would later tell Theseus the truth, promising to avenge her loyal follower on another follower of Aphrodite.
In a version by Seneca, the Roman playwright, entitled Phaedra, after Phaedra told Theseus that Hippolytus had raped her, Theseus killed his son himself, and Phaedra committed suicide out of guilt, for she had not intended for Hippolytus to die.
In yet another version, Phaedra simply told Theseus Hippolytus had raped her and did not kill herself, and Dionysus sent a wild bull which terrified Hippolytus's horses
Other Myths and death
According to sources, Theseus also was one of the Argonauts, although Apollonius of Rhodes states in the Argonautica that Theseus was still in the underworld at this time. Both statements are inconsistent with Medea being Aegeus' wife by the time Theseus first came to Athens. With Phaedra, Theseus fathered Acamas, who was one of those who hid in the Trojan Horse during the Trojan War. Theseus welcomed the wandering Oedipus and helped Adrastus to bury the Seven Against Thebes.
Lycomedes of the island of Skyros threw Theseus off a cliff after he had lost popularity in Athens. In 475 BC, in response to an oracle, Cimon of Athens, having conquered Skyros for the Athenians, identified as the remains of Theseus "a coffin of a great corpse with a bronze spear-head by its side and a sword." (Plutarch, Life of Cimon, quoted Burkert 1985, p. 206). The remains found by Cimon were reburied in Athens. The early modern name Theseion (Temple of Theseus) was mistakenly applied to the Temple of Hephaestus which was thought to be the actual site of the hero's tomb.
- Killed the six bandits: Periphetes the Clubber; King Cercyon the Wrestler; Sciron owner of the Giant Tortoise; Phaea and her giant Crommyonian Sow; Sinis the Pine Bender and Procrustes the Stretcher.
- Killed the fire breathing Cretan Bull.
- Slew his fifty Pallantide cousins, single handedly.
- Slew the Minotaur.
- Defeated Centaurs and Amazons.
- Participated in the Calydonian Boar Hunt.
- Kidnapped Helen of Troy before Paris did.
In Popular Culture
- Theseus appears in The Last of the Amazons.
- Theseus appears in the episode Theseus and the Minotaur, from the televesion series The Storyteller.
- Theseus appears in 2011's epic-fantasy film Immortals, portrayed by Henry Cavill. In the film, he is the mortal chosen by Zeus to fight against the forces of evil, and the mighty champion who defeats the Minotaur.
- The Theseus from the 2011's film Immortals, appears again on the 100-pages graphic epic titled Immortals: Gods and Heroes. The graphic novel explains how Theseus was trained by Zeus and how he came to be such a cunning warrior.
| Preceded by:|
| King of Athens|
| Succeeded by|
|Heracles • Theseus • Perseus • Odysseus • Oedipus • Orpheus • Jason and the Argonauts • Nestor • Atalanta • Cadmus • Hector • Memnon • Achilles • Daedalus • Bellerophon • Deucalion • Peleus • Castor and Pollux • Palamedes • Diomedes • Meleager • Telamon • Ajax • Philoctetes • Laertes|
|Greek mythology articles|
|Deities||Aphrodite • Apollo • Ares • Artemis • Athena • Demeter • Dionysus • Hephaestus • Hera • Hermes • Poseidon • Zeus|
|Heroes||Abderus • Bellerophon • Daedalus • Diomedes • Achilles • Cadmus • Heracles • Perseus • Odysseus • Orpheus • Theseus • Jason • Argonauts|
|Groups||Demigod • God • Titans • Graeae • Gorgons • Protogenoi|
|Creatures and monsters||Chimera • Centaur • Charybdis • Cyclops • Ceryneian Hind • Cretan Bull • Empusa • Erinyes • Erymanthian Boar • Minotaur • Typhon • Medusa • Makhai • Lernaean Hydra • Pegasus • More...|
|Titans||Atlas • Coeus • Crius • Cronus • Epimetheus • Gaia • Helios • Iapetos • Pallas • Perses • Prometheus • Oceanus • Hyperion • Rhea • Styx|
|Topics||Titanomachy • Overthrowing of Ouranus|