THESEUS was the great hero of Attic legends and the son of Aegeus, king of Athens, and Aethra, daughter of Pittheus, king of Troezen, or of Poseidon and Aethra. The legend relates that Aegeus, being childless, went to Pittheus, who contrived that Aegeus should have intercourse with Aethra, who in due time brought forth Theseus. On reaching manhood Theseus was sent by his mother 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 Crommyon ian sow (or boar). Then over a cliff he flung 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. Later he slew Procrustes, who fitted all comers to his only bed by lopping or racking them to the right length. 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. Theseus was now declared heir to the throne, and the Pallantidsl, who had hoped to succeed the childless king, conspired against him, 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.).
While Theseus was on his way to Crete, Minos, wishing to see whether Theseus was really the son of Poseidon, flung his ring into the sea. Theseus dived and brought it up, together with a golden crown, the gift of Amphitrite. He landed on the return voyage at Delos, and there he and his comrades danced the crane dance, whose complicated movements were meant to imitate the windings of the Labyrinth. In historical times, this dance was still danced by the Delians round the Altar of Horns. Theseus had promised Aegeus that, if he returned successful, the black sail with which the fatal ship always put to sea should be exchanged for a white one. But he forgot his promise ; and when Aegeus, from the Acropolis at Athens, descried the black sail out at sea, 'The sons of Pallas, the brother of Aegeus. Aegeus and Poseidon are quite possibly one and the same.
he flung himself from the rock and died. Hence, at the festival which commemorated the return of Theseus there was always weeping and lamentation. Theseus now carried out the union of the various Attic communities into a single State. He extended
the territory of Attica to the isthmus of Corinth.
He transformed the Isthmian ceremony in honour of Meli certes by adding games in honour of Poseidon. Alone, or with Heracles, he captured the Amazon princess Antiope. Thereafter the Amazons attacked Athens. Antiope fell fighting on the side of Theseus. By her he had a son, Hippolytus (q.v.). Theseus is also said to have taken part in the Argonautic expedition and the Calydonian boar-hunt. He compelled the Thebans to give up the unburied bodies of the Seven (see ANTIGONE).
The famous friendship between Theseus and Peirithous, king of the Lapiths, originated when Peirithous heard of the strength and courage of Theseus, and desired to put them to the test. Accordingly, he drove away from Marathon some cows which belonged to Theseus. The latter pursued, but when he came up with the robber the two heroes were so filled with admiration of each other that they swore brotherhood. At the marriage of Peirithous, a fight broke out between the Lapiths and Centaurs (q.v.). Theseus and Peirithous now carried off Helen (q.v.). He now descended to the lower world with Peirithous, to help his friend to carry off Persephone. But the two were caught and con fined in Hades till Heracles came and released Theseus. When Theseus returned to Athens, he found that a sedition had been stirred up by Menestheus, a descendant of Erechtheus, one of the old kings of Athens. Failing to quell the outbreak, Theseus in despair sent his children to Euboea, and after solemnly cursing the Athenians sailed away to the island of Scyrus, where he had ancestral estates. But Lycomedes, king of Scyrus, took him up to a high place, and killed him by casting him into the sea. His ghost was said to have appeared in the Athenian ranks at Mara thon. When the Persian war was over, the Delphic oracle bade the Athenians fetch the bones of Theseus from Scyrus and lay them in Attic earth. This was done, in 469, by Cimon. His chief festival, called Theseia, was on the 8th of the month Pyanepsion (Oct. 21), but the 8th day of every month was sacred to him.
The well-preserved Doric temple to the north of the Acropolis at Athens, commonly known as the Theseum, is certainly not his shrine. There were several (according to Philochorus, four) temples or shrines of Theseus at Athens.
See (a) of ancient works, especially Plutarch's Theseus, (b) of modern works, L. Preller, ed. C. Robert, Gr. Mythologie, ii, p. 676 ff. (4 vol., 1887-94) ; L. R. Farnell, Hero-Cults, p. 337 ff. (1921) ; Stend ing in Roscher's Lexikon, s.v. (good bibliography) also 0. Gruppe, Griechische Mythologie, i. pp. 581--6o8 (Munich, 1898).