Theseus was a king of Athens famous for many exploits, and appearing in works by many authors and on countless vases, art and statues. There is some confusion about Theseus' parentage - some say he is the son of Aegeus and Aethra, and others the son of Poseidon and Aethra. The ancient Greek writers Apollodoros and Hyginus say Aethra waded out to Sphairia after sleeping with Aegeus, and lay there with Poseidon.

The next day, Aegeus, who had been visiting Aethra at Troizen, left for his home city of Athens. As he left, he left sandals and a sword under a large rock; should Aethra bear a male child, she was to send him to Athens to claim his birthright as soon as he was old enough to lift the rock and retrieve the items.

Aethra gave birth to Theseus, who came of age and set off for Athens with the sword and sandals, encountering and defeating six murderous adversaries along the way. When Theseus reached Athens, Medea, the wife of Aegeus, persuaded Aegeus to kill the as of yet unrecognized Theseus by having him attempt to capture the savage Marathonian Bull. Theseus does the unexpected and succeeds, so Medea tells Aegeus to give him poisoned wine. Aegeus recognizes Theseus' sword as he is about to drink and knocks the goblet from his lips at the last second.

According to Plutarch and Philochoros, on the way to Marathon to kill the bull, Theseus encounters a fierce storm and seeks shelter in the hut of an old woman named Hecale. She promises to make a sacrifice to Zeus if Theseus comes back successful. He comes back, finds her dead, and builds a deme in her name. Some time after Theseus return to Athens, trouble stirs and blood flows between the houses of Aegeus in Athens and Minos, his brother in Crete.

War and drought ensues and an oracle demands that recompense be made to Minos. Minos demands that seven maidens and seven youths are to be sacrificed to the Minotaur every nine years. Theseus is among the chosen victims and sails off to Crete, promising to Aegeus that his ship's black flag would be replaced with a white flag if Theseus is victorious. In Crete, Minos molests one of the maidens and Theseus becomes angry and challenges him, boasting of his parentage by Poseidon. Minos, son of Zeus is amused and asks Theseus to prove his heritage by retrieving a ring from the depths of the ocean. Theseus being a son of Poseidon succeeds.

Ariadne, a young woman in Crete already betrothed to Dionysus, falls in love with Theseus and helps him defeat the Minotaur. Ariadne then leaves Crete with Theseus, who abandons her on Dia (at Athena's behest, according to Pherekydes).

In returning to Athens Theseus forgets to switch the black sail with the white one. Aegeus, consequently, watching from afar believes his son is dead and hurls himself into the sea, named the 'Aegean' after him. After Aegeus' death, Theseus must contend against Pallas for the throne. Theseus gets wind of a planned assassination against him and spoils the ambush, killing Pallas and gaining the throne.

Theseus and a good friend of his by the name of Pirithous want to marry daughters of Zeus, and begin their quest by abducting Helen. Theseus wins a bet and gets Helen, but must accompany Pirithous to Hades to recover Persephone for him. There is much disagreement here about what happens in Hades, but many traditions say only Theseus makes it back out.

Theseus does two noteworthy patriotic acts to Thebes, accepting Oedipus at Kolonus, and helping Adrastos bury the Seven, fallen in the struggle for the throne of Thebes. Late in his life Theseus loses popularity in Athens and is exiled. He wanders to Scyrus where he is hurled off a cliff by Lycodemes.


Theseus was a great hero from Athens who was the son of the Greek king, Aegeus. Theseus did not grow up with his father, but in fact his mother in southern Greece. King Aegeus left Theseus with his mother before the child was born. He left a sword and a pair of shoes in a hollow under a stone. King Aegeus said that if Theseus, when he was old and strong enough, could roll the stone away, then Theseus could travel to Athens to claim himself as the son of the king. Theseus, at a young age, accomplished this feat and his mother told him what to do.

His grandfather left a ship for him to use to travel to Athens, but Theseus declined the offer, saying that it would be too easy for him. Theseus decided that it would be better to travel by land because he felt that he wanted to become a great hero at a young age and he believed that the safety of a ship was not the way to go about this. Theseus wanted to become as great a hero as the famous Hercules, and Theseus always had Hercules in his mind, trying to become as great a hero as Hercules. This was quite natural considering that Hercules and Theseus were cousins.

So Theseus made the trek by land. It would be a long and dangerous journey because there were many bandits that roamed the countryside. To achieve the greatness that Theseus believed he should achieve, he killed every bandit on the way to Athens. Theseus' form of justice was very effective: he believed that what each of the bandits had done to others, Theseus must do to the bandits.

An example of this occurred when Theseus met Sinis, a man famous for killing people by strapping people to the trunks of two pine trees that were bent to the ground. Sinis would then let the trees stand straight again, thus hurling the victim that was strapped to the trees through the air to their death. Theseus knew about this, and he killed Sinis by this method.

There were many other bandits that were killed by Theseus and he killed them using the same method that each bandit used to kill their victims. When Theseus arrived in Athens, he was praised by the people for his help to kill the bandits in the country. The king invited him to the palace, not knowing that Theseus was his son. In fact, the king was frightened that since Theseus was so popular with the people that they might make Theseus the king. So, King Aegeus invited Theseus to dinner with the intention of poisoning him. This was not a plan of his, but a plan that Medea had thought up.

Medea was the heroine of the Quest of the Golden Fleece who fled from Corinth to Athens in her flying chariot. She had obtained a great influence over King Aegeus and didn't want to have that changed if a son appeared in the life of the king. Theseus was invited to a splendid dinner with the king. During the dinner as Medea handed the poisoned cup to Theseus, Theseus drew his sword to reveal his identity to the king. As soon as the king caught sight of the sword, he instantly recognized his son and threw the poisoned cup to the ground. Medea, as she always did, fled without a trace to Asia. Soon after, King Aegeus proclaimed that Theseus was his son and heir. This gave Theseus the opportunity to endear himself to the people of Athens.

Years before the arrival of Theseus to Athens, a terrible misfortune happened to the city. Minos, the ruler of Crete, lost his only son, Androgeus, while visiting King Aegeus in Athens. Aegeus sent Androgeus on a dangerous expedition, to kill a bull. This is something that a host should never do. As a result, Androgeus was killed by the bull. Minos invaded the country of Greece to avenge his son's death. He captured the country and threatened to demolish it unless King Aegeus sent seven maidens and seven youths to Crete every nine years. When the 14 Athenians arrived in Crete, they were given to the Minotaur to devour. The Minotaur was a creature that was half bull, half human which was the offspring of Minos' wife, Pasiphaë, and a beautiful bull. Poseidon had given the bull to Minos with the assumption that Minos would sacrifice it to Poseidon but Minos could not bear to kill the bull, so he kept it for himself. Poseidon decided that Minos should be punished, so he made Pasiphaë fall in love with the bull.





Homework HelpGreek Mythology TodayOlympian GodsGreek HeroesLove StoriesBeasts and CreaturesMyth of the MonthZodiac, Stars and Constellations

Web, myth narration and graphics created and maintained by Nick Pontikis
Copyright © 1995 Nick Pontikis Thanasi's Olympus Greek Restaurant
Copyright 1999
The Myth Man persona copyright 1988 Nick Pontikis