Book Notes Part 3, Chapter 2: Theseus Notes from Mythology

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Mythology Part 3, Chapter 2: Theseus

Theseus was the great Athenian hero and the son of King Aegeus. When Theseus returned to Athens from his mother's city in southern Greece, he went by land instead of ship because it was more dangerous. Along the way, he killed many evil-doers and doled out his own justice. By the time he arrived at Athens, he was already famous, and Aegeus, ignorant that the youth coming to the city was his son, became apprehensive. When he saw him, however, he recognized his son and rejoiced as he proclaimed him heir to the throne of Athens. Years before, Minos of Crete had conquered Athens and demanded that 14 youths and maidens be sacrificed every year to the beast, the Minotaur. He did this because his son died in Athens on an errand for Aegeus. The Minotaur was half man and half bull, born of Minos' wife Pasiphae's lust for a bull. Rather than killing his wife's beastly child, he commissioned Daedalus to build the Labyrinth to contain it. Theseus volunteered to be one of the youths and went to Crete with the goal of slaying the beast. He told his father that on his return, he would raise white sails instead of black if his journey were successful.

When they arrived in Crete, Minos' daughter Ariadne fell in love with Theseus and wanted to help him. Daedalus told her that if Theseus trailed a ball of string behind him, he could find his way out of the maze. Daedalus beat the Minotaur and left with the youths and Ariadne. They stopped on an island, either because Ariadne was seasick, or to rest. She was left behind on the island. Some accounts say this was an accident and some say it was on purpose. When Theseus neared Athens, he forgot to raise the white sails and his father threw himself from a cliff. Theseus did not want to be king but commander-in-chief:

"Thus Athens became, of all earth's cities, the only true home of liberty, the one place in the world where the people governed themselves." Part 3, Chapter 2, pg. 216

Theseus took his army against Thebes to make them bury the dead Athenians. He received Oedipus when everyone else refused him. He stood by Hercules when he went mad and killed his family. Despite all this, he still loved danger for the sake of danger. He went to the country of the Amazons and carried away their leader. She bore a child named Hippolytus to him. The amazons attacked Athens but were defeated. He sailed on the Argo and participated in the Calydonian boar hunt. The king of Calydon asked the warriors of Greece to help him kill a bora that was ravaging his kingdom.

When he caught a man named Pirithous stealing his cattle, Theseus swore an oath of friendship to him because he sang his praise. When Pirithous, king of the Lapiths, got married, the Centaurs came to take his wife away and there was a terrible battle. They expelled the Centaurs from Greece.

Later, Theseus was going to try to kidnap the young Helen and Pirithous decided that he desired Persephone. They made their way to the underworld and were trapped. After, Hercules freed Theseus. He ended up marrying Ariadne's sister and upsetting Hippolytus. Aphrodite caused her to fall in love with Theseus' son and when he did not want anything to do with her, she planned to kill herself. Theseus found his wife dead with a letter that said Hippolytus had violently tried to have his way with her. Theseus would not listen to his son's defense and he exiled him. He died on his journey. Artemis appeared and told Theseus the truth. Years later another king, for no apparent reason, killed him.

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