In Greek mythology, Theseus can truly be thought of as the greatest Athenian hero. He was the son of Aegeus, king of Athens, and Aethra, princess of Troezen, and daughter of Pittheus, king of Troezen.
Before Theseus was born his father Aegeus left Aethra in Troezen of Argolis and returned to Athens before he was born. But before he left king Aegeus put his sword and his pair of sandals under a large rock and said to Aethra that when Theseus was old enough to lift the heavy rock that Theseus should take the sword and sandals and come to see him in Athens.
At the age of 16 after being brought up in Troezen, Theseus was finally able to lift the heavy rock. Theseus with his long blond hair then took the sword and the sandals and began his journey to Athens to claim Aegeus as his father.
The young Theseus made his hazardous journey by the coast road along the Isthmus, clearing the road of six villains, murderers, and monsters that inhabited the road.
Theseus killed these villains by the same method by which they had murdered their own victims. Among the villains that Theseus killed, were Sciron, Sinis, Procrustes and Phaea.
Theseus arrived in Athens wearing a sword and a pair of sandals that Aegeus had left for him in Troezen. He was then greeted by his father Aegeus and his stepmother Medea who was a sorceress. But she was jealous of his influence over Aegeus so Medea tried to kill him by sending him to kill a wild bull. But Theseus succeeded and sacrificed the bull to Apollo.
He then returned to Athens and was almost poisoned by Medea, but as soon as Aegeus got wind of her plot, he proclaimed Theseus his son and heir. He then banished Medea from Athens and she escaped to what is now Asia. According to legend, the people of Athens had to send seven youths and seven Maidens every year as a tribute to Minos, the king of Crete, to be eaten by the Minotaur, who was a terrible monster, half man and half bull.
Theseus decided to go as one of the youths and try to kill the Minotaur. When he reached Crete, Ariadne, the beautiful daughter of Minos fell in love will him and helped him kill the Minotaur by giving him a sword which he killed the Minotaur with and a ball of thread to help him find his way out of the labyrinth in which the Minotaur lived. Theseus then left Create with Ariadne but left her on the way back to Athens.
On his return from Crete to Athens, however, in his hurry to get home, he forgot to hoist a white sail signaling his success against the Minotaur. So when Aegeus saw a black sail, he believed that his son was dead and was so sad that he threw himself from a high rocky cliff into the sea, which has ever since has been known as the Aegean Sea in his honor.
Theseus then became the King of Athens. And as king of Athens, Theseus was wise and generous, and united the many small communities of the Attic plain into a strong and powerful nation and brought prosperity and civilization to the people. But he kept his love of danger and adventure and during a war with the Amazon Women, he abducted the Amazon, Hippolyta, who bore him a son who was named Hippolytus.
He took part in the Calydonian boar hunt and in the quest of the Argonauts for the Golden Fleece. He was a devoted friend of Pirithous, king of the Lapithae, whom he accompanied to the underworld to rescue the goddess Persephone. Both men were imprisoned by the god Hades for their rash deeds, but Theseus was subsequently rescued by Hercules.
Returning to Athens, Theseus found his kingdom in disarray, torn by rebellion and corruption. Unable to reestablish authority, he sent his children away and sailed to the island of Skyros, where Lycomedes, king of Skyros, murdered him by throwing him from a cliff into the sea. Later the Delphic oracle commanded the Athenians to gather Theseus’s bones and bring them back to Athens.
The Athenians then paid him great honor by building him a tomb dedicated to the poor and helpless whom he had befriended.
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