Theseus the Hero of Athens

Greek Mythology



When Aegeas, the King of Athens, failed to produce a son and heir he decided to consult the oracle at Delphi as to the reasons why. In reply Themis the Priestess at the temple told him "not to untie the mouth of the wineskin before he reached Athens." This did not make sense to Aegeas, so before returning home he decided to consult King Pittheus of Troizen, a man renowned for his wisdom. Pittheus did understand the words of the oracle, and decided to use them for his own benefit. He persuaded the drunken Aegeas to spend the night with his daughter Aithra, and told him she would produce for him a son and heir. Before departing for Athens Aegeas put his sword and sandals beneath an enormous rock, and told Aithra that if a son was born he should be told to raise the rock and bring them to Athens. Unknown to those about her, Aithra had also had union with the God Poseidon, therefore the parentage of the child would be uncertain.


Thus Theseus was born, son of man or God, but certainly ranked amongst the Hero's of Greece. On reaching manhood he raised the rock as he was required, and with the sword and sandals set of to Athens to claim his birthright as heir to the throne.


During his journey he encountered many adversaries, in an episode called the Labours of Theseus, which was to rate him alongside Herakles who had similar tasks set for him, which formed the basis of a rite of passage.


When Theseus arrived at Athens he was recognised by the sorceress Medea the wife of King Aegeas. She was a savage woman who had killed all her children in revenge during her previous marriage to Jason. She asked Aegeas to test Theseus to prove who he was, so he was sent to kill the bull, brought by Herakles from Crete, which was running amok at Marathon. This he succeeded in doing. Her plan thwarted, Medea decided to poison Theseus at a banquet held to celebrate, but when the sandals and sword were produced Aegeas knew it was his son and exiled his wife for trying to bring his downfall. Despite more opposition, from Aegeas's brother Pallas, Theseus was declared heir to the throne.


Athens was under the dominion of Crete, and was obliged to send seven youths and seven maidens each year to Knossos to be sacrificed as food for the Minotaur. An thus it was that Theseus offered to be sent to Crete to endeavour to kill the monstrous beast.

Having killed the Minotaur, triumphant Theseus and the Athenians set off home, taking Ariadne who Theseus had promised to marry with them. However when they stopped at the island of Naxos, the beautiful Ariadne was sought after by the God Dionysos, so she stayed behind on the island.


When Theseus arrived home he found his father King Aegeas, believing Theseus to be dead, had committed suicide by throwing himself from the cliff into the sea, afterwards named Aegean in memory of him. Theseus became King of Athens, and was involved in the battle with Amazons and Centaurs, and journeyed to the underworld, before  he was eventual killed, by being pushed off a cliff on the Isle of Skyros, by King Lykomedes.



The Temple at Delphi


Themis reading the Oracle to Aegeas


Theseus raising the rock with Aithra




Fighting the Minotaur

Roman Mosaic