THESEUS, the's.6-fis or the'sfis (Lat.. from Gk. encrEifs). The national hero of the Athenians, and, next to Hercules, the most famous character of Greek legend. His story owes its prominence largely to the influence of Athens in Greek art and literature, for in the epic Theseus has but small place. A doubtful verse in the Iliad asso ciates him, not with Athens, but with the Thes salian Lapith and their conflict with the Cen taurs, and he appears in the late passage of the Odyssey which describes the visit of Odysseus to the lower world. The early art knows only the slaying of the Minotaur, and seems to have bor rowed the type from Myeemcan tradition. Though a thoroughly satisfactory analysis of the Theseus legend is still lacking, it seems probable that it was closely connected with the Mara thonian tetrapolis, then crossed to Trcezen, whence it returned to Athens. Its first great development occurred under the Pisistratid:e, when Theseus was recognized as the uniter of Attica• and the type of the gentle and just ruler, beloved of his people, a sort of mythical pre decessor of Pisistratus. Soon after the Persian wars the democracy transformed him into its real founder, who protected the injured from other States and forced Creon and Eurystheus to observe justice and humanity. At this time (B.c. 473) his reputed bones were brought from Seyros to Athens with great pomp by Cimon, and an heroiin, the Theseum (q.v.), was erected. In origin, Theseus is probably best considered as a beneficent deity, a local parallel to Hercules, who slays monsters and gives peace and security to his worshipers, 'but, like other nature-divinities, de scends into the lower world, and is subject to the powers of death. Legend made Theseus the son of zEthra, daughter of Pittheus, King of Trcezen. His father was commonly said to be .Egeus, King of Athens, though early legend recognized the paternity of Poseidon. (The two versions arc really the same, --Egeus being originally a name of the sea-god.) He was brought up at Trcezen, and, on reaching manhood, proceeded to his father's residence at Athens. On his way thither across the isthmus he destroyed robbers and monsters who rendered the route unsafe for travelers, such as Periphetes, Sinis, the Crommyonian sow, Sciron, Cercyon, and Pro erustes. (Sec PROCRESTES. ) On his arrival in Athens he found the sorceress Medea living as his father's wife, and only escaped her attempt to poison him through .,Egeus's timely recogni
tion of his own sword and sandals, which he had left in Trcezen for his son. Medea fled and Theseus overcame Pallas and his sons, who at tempted to secure the royal power. He also bound the Marathonian bull, which was ravag ing the Tetrapolis. Then came the expedition to Crete to deliver Athens from its tribute to the Minotaur (q.v.) of seven youths and seven maidens. On this voyage he proved his descent from Poseidon by bringing back the ring of Minos from the depths of the sea, and by the help of Ariadne (q.v.) killed the Minotaur. On his way back he founded a festival of Apollo at Delef, to which the Athenians ever after sent an annual embassy.
As his father, _Egeus, had destroyed himself in the belief that his son had perished in Crete. The seus now became King of Athens, and consolidated into one State the twelve independent communi ties of Attica, in celebration of which event was instituted the festival of the Panathenfea. That the festival commemorated such an event is prob able, but this does not prove the historical per sonality of Theseus. Legend also told of his friendship for the Lapith King Pirithofis, at whose wedding he fought the Centaurs LAPITFLT) , with whose aid he carried oft Helen to Aphidna, and with whom lie finally descended to the lower world that his friend might carry off Persephone as his bride. Pirithofis never re turned, and Theseus remained in captivity till Hercules. on his quest for Cerberus, prevailed on Hades to release him. Athenian legend also told of the great invasion of the Amazons in his reign, of the straits to which they reduced the Athenians, and of their final rout by the hero, who secured as wife their queen, Antiope or 1-lippolyta, by whom he had a son, Hippolytus. Later lie married Phaedra (q.v.), daughter of Minos and sister of Ariadne. It was said that during his absence in the lower world Menes thens, with the help of Castor and Pollux, who had come to rescue Helen, made himself King. and that Theseus. linable to his au thority, went to Scyros, where he was murdered by Lycomedes. Much in the character of The seus as it appears in legend seems due to Athenian desire to represent their national hero as the embodiment in heroic times of the virtues on which they prided them.sel•es in historic times, and which the great heroes of the national epic often conspicuously lacked.