Online Encyclopedia

THESEUS

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V26, Page 837 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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THESEUS, the great hero of Attic legend,' son of Aegeus, king of Athens, and Aethra, daughter of Pittheus, king of Troezen. Thus through his father he was descended from Erechtheus and the original stock of Attica; through his mother he came of the Asiatic louse of Pelops. The legend relates that Aegeus, being childless, went to Pittheus, who contrived that Aegeus should have intercourse with his daughter Aethra, and that in due time Aethra brought forth Theseus. It was given out that the child's father was Poseidon, the great god of Troezen, and that Aethra raised a temple to Athena Apaturia, at which Troezenian maids used to dedicate their girdles before marriage. For his tutor and guardian young Theseus had one Cannidas, to whom, down to Plutarch's time, the Athenians were wont to sacrifice a black ram on the eve of the festival of Theseus. On passing out of boyhood Theseus was sent by his rather to Athens. He encountered many adventures on the way. First he met and slew Periphetes, surnamed Corynetes (Clubman). At the isthmus of Corinth dwelt Sinis, called the Pine-Bender, because he killed his victims by tearing them asunder between two pine-trees. Theseus hoisted the Pine-Bender on his own pine-tree. Next Theseus despatched the Crommyonian sow (or boar). Then he flung over a cliff the wicked Sciron, who used to kick his guests into the sea, while perforce they washed his feet. In Eleusis Theseus wrestled with Cercyon and killed him. A little farther on he slew Procrustes, who fitted all corners to his only bed: if his guest was too short for the bed, he stretched him out; if he was too long, he cut him down to the requisite length. As he passed through the streets of Athens, his curls and long garment reaching to his ankles drew on him the derision of some masons, who were putting on the roof of the new temple of Apollo Delphinius: " Why," they asked, " was such a pretty girl out alone?" In reply Theseus took the bullocks out of their cart and flung them higher than the roof of the temple. He found his father married to Medea, who had fled from Corinth. Being a witch, she knew Theseus before his father did, and tried to persuade Aegeus to poison his son; but Aegeus recognized him by his sword and took him to his arms. Theseus was now declared heir to the throne, and the Pallantids,2 who had hoped to succeed to the childless king, conspired against Theseus, but he crushed the conspiracy. He then attacked the fire-breathing bull of Marathon and brought it alive to Athens, where he sacrificed it to Apollo Delphinius. Next, came the adventure of the Cretan Minotaur (q.v.), whom Theseus slew by the aid of Ariadne (q.v.). While Theseus was in Crete, Minos, ' The story of Theseus is a strange mixture of (mostly fictitious) political tradition, of aetiological myths invented to explain misunderstood acts of ritual and of a cycle of tales of adventure analogous to the story of the labours of Heracles. All the passages in the Iliad and Odyssey in which his name or allusions to his legend occur are regarded with more or less probability as spurious (but see O. Gruppe, Gr. Myth., i. p. 581). 2 The sons of Pallas, the brother of Aegeus. 1817. See M. Pellet, Etude historique et biographique sur Theroigne de Mericourt (1886) ; L. Lacour, Les Origines du feminisme contemporain. Trois femmes de la Revolution (Paris, 1900) ; Vicomte de Reiset, La Vraie Theroigne de Mericourt, (Paris, 1903) ; E. and J. de Goncourt, Portraits intimes, du X VIIIe. siecle (2 vols., 1857-58) ; and the play Theroigne de Mericourt of M.. Paul Hervieu, produced at the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt in 1902.
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