Theseus, the Legendary Hero of Athens
Theseus gave an ultimate proof of his lineage by getting rid of the Marathonian Bull, an emblem of Cretan power that Heracles had brought with him. After this stunning achievement the young Thesues wanted to free Athens completely from Cretan yoke; Minos, the king of Crete had won a war against his father and had then enforced Aegus to send him at the end of every Great Year (seven solar years) seven young girls and seven young men, that he gave to the Minotaur, a monster, half-man and half-bull. This creature was locked up in a labyrinth built by Dedalus but Minos promised to exonerate the Athenians if they achieved to annihilate it. Theseus angered by such a terrible tribute blended himself with the number of young men and left for Crete in a boat with black sails. Before leaving Aegus gave him a set of white sails, that he ordered his son to hoist if ever he returned to Athens safe and sound. On his arrival at Crete he charmed Ariane, Minos’s daughter promising the young girl that if she helped him he would take her with him to Athens and marry her. Consequently she gave him a ball of yarn to hang at the entrance of the maze that he had to rewind to come out; accordingly Theseus after having vanquished the Minotaur with his bare hands, found his way back without effort and fled the country with Ariane and the other Atheniens in their ship.
On his way back to Athens for an unknown reason Theseus abandoned Ariane on the island of Naxos. Later in his haste however, Thesues forgot to change his sails according to his father’s instructions. Aegus watching his son’s return caught sight of the black sails from the distant and believing his son had failed in his mission, threw himself into the sea out of despair. Consequently Theseus was proclaimed king of Athens and his political work was fundamental for he goes as the true founder of the city, to which he gave its name, in honor of Athena, its guardian. Very soon he had to defend the city against an attack of the Amazons, a population of women warriors; the causes of this siege differs from one tradition to another, but Theseus always managed to chase the Amazons and their queen Hippolyta with whom he had a son Hippolytus; later he married Phedra, Medea’s sister who was the cause of the loss of his son Hippolytus.
Thesues is also connected to Pirithos, the king of Thessaly with whom he descended to Hades when the latter wanted Persephone,. There the god of death made them sit on the “seats of forgetfulness” and the two heroes forgot their own identities and were transformed into rocks. When Heracles went to the underworld to fetch Cerebus he released the Athenian hero but Hades decided to keep his friend down. Theseus’s return to Athens was however painful for he had to face a revolt led by one of the old kings of Athens. Unable to quell the outbreak he had no other choice but to leave for the island of Scyros where he died, according to certain at the hands of Lycomede, the king.
Yet for posterity Thesues remains Greek and above all Athenian and the hero of Attica and the founder of democracy.