Theseus: Famous Hero Of Greek Mythology 15 Facts

Meet with us Theseus, mythical Greek hero who performed the most fascinating feats. Discover all his legends and stories.

Theseus hero

Theseus, Hero of Legend

Theseus was the mythical king and founding hero of Athens. Like Perseus, Cadmus, or Heracles, He fought and defeated enemies who identified with an archaic religious and social order. “This was an important cultural transition, like the realization of the new Olympia of Hercules.” He was regarded as a great reformer; his name comes from the same root as θεσμός (thesmos), which in Greek means “The Gathering”.

who was Theseus?

Theseus was a famous Greek hero, also known as king of Athens and slayer of the Minotaur. He was also a great friend of Herakles, who was his idol because of his extreme strength. This hero was influenced by Heracles to go on his own dangerous quests. However, unlike Heracles, Theseus had other individual attributes such as divine wisdom and intelligence. He was able to read others and outsmart them if necessary.

His leadership was appreciated and respected by the people, because he always strived for the common good. His early adventures benefited the city and his region. He is credited as the founder of the democracy of Athens, voluntarily transferring many of his powers as king to an elected assembly and very quickly gained a reputation for helping the poor and oppressed.

Theseus led an adventurous life, traveling widely and overcoming many obstacles. He also had a family, once he settled in Athens and completed one of his last missions which was to join his idol Herakles in a quest to bring back the girdle of Hippolyta. However, the gods influenced some of the events within his family that resulted in the death of his son. Because of the pain and grief into which he fell, his life ended tragically.



According to Greek mythology, Theseus was the son of Aethra, but his father was unknown. At the time, Aethra supposedly had two suitors; King Aegeus of Athens and Poseidon, god of the sea.

Birth of Theseus

Even after two wives, Meta and Calliope, Aegeus, the esteemed king of Athens, was still childless. Fearing the intentions of his three brothers, he turned to Pythia to learn from the Oracle whether she would ever produce a male heir. As always, the advice was almost simple: “The bulging mouth of the wineskin, or the best of men, does not let go until you reach the height of Athens”.

King Aegeus assumed that the child was his, and in the months before Theseus’ birth, he gave instructions to Aethra regarding the baby. He buried his sword and sandals under a large rock, and told Aethra to ask Theseus to lift the rock and take the sandals and sword with him when he attained manhood. Before Theseus was born, Aegeus left for Athens, condemning Theseus to an early life without a father.

Aethra raised him in a small town known as Troezen, and the boy eventually grew into a strong and powerful young man. Aethra realized that she could no longer deny Theseus his own inheritance, so she took him to the rock that hid Theseus’ belongings. She asked him to lift the rock, so he bent down and embraced the giant stone, clutching it with his whole body.

She lifted easily and tossed the huge boulder aside as if it were a stone. Then he picked up the old sandals and the sword at his mother’s request. She told him he must go to Athens to meet Aegeus.

Theseus in Troezen: forecasts of a hero

The night Theseus was conceived, his mother Aethra slept with Aegeus, the king of Athens, and Poseidon, the god of the sea. Whoever his father was, Theseus’ exceptional offspring was evident even in his early years. Shortly after Theseus reached adulthood, Aethra sent him to Athens.

Lion skin of Herakles

Whether the son of a god or an exceptional mortal, Theseus was clearly different from his peers even as a child, surpassing them in every category. Once, when Herakles visited the kingdom of Pittheus and removed his lion skin before sitting at table, the children of the palace, mistaking him for a real lion, all fled in fright and alarm.

Theseus calmly took an axe and attacked the skin; even then, looking at the scene with eyes full of love and admiration, Aethra already knew what she was supposed to do in a few years.

The sword and the sandals

For, you see, before Aegeus left Troezen, he hid his sword and a pair of sandals under a large rock. “If you should have a son in nine months,” he said to Aethra, “and if he is able to lift this rock once he attains manhood, then send him to Athens with this sword and these sandals, for then I would know that he is, in fact, my son, the future king of Athens.

When the time came, Aethra led Theseus to the rock and conveyed his father’s message to him. Theseus lifted the rock with ease and, equipped with Theseus’ paternity tokens, set out for Athens.

Myths of Theseus, king of Athens

The semi-mythical and semi-historical Theseus was the great hero of ancient Athens. The numerous Athenians attributed to him were seen by the ancient Athenians as the acts that led to the birth of democracy in the Attic city-state, the cradle of Greek democracy.

Mitos de Teseo

On the road to Athens

In sending him to Athens, Aethra begged Theseus to travel by sea and thus avoid all the dangers that, by all accounts, lay on the land route ahead. These, however, wanted to earn a reputation worthy of a formidable hero before he met his father. And by the time he reached Athens, he had defeated so many famous villains, each with a memorable modus operandi, that people were already eager to compare him to the idol of his childhood, Herakles.

Periphetes, the Club-Carrier

Wielding a bronze club, Periphetes chased the road near Epidaurus, threatening to savagely strike any traveler who dared to cross him. But Theseus was no ordinary traveler: before Periphetes could realize it, he managed to grab the club from his hands and kill him with his own weapon.

Emulating the actions of Heracles (who barely slipped from the skin of the lion of Nemea after completing his first delivery), Theseus seized Periphetes’ club and, soon, became the most recognizable piece of his team.

Sinis, the pine-twinner

Before leaving the Peloponnese, this hero encountered Sinis, the Pine Bender, so called because of his notorious habit of tying casual travelers to bent pine trees, which, when released, instantly broke two people unfortunate enough to be caught by this brutal bandit. However, and somewhat expectedly, Sinis was no match for Theseus: once again, the Athenian hero prevailed by using his enemy’s own method of destruction.

Sciron, the foot washer

Not much farther along, on the rocky coastal road of the isthmus of Corinth, Theseus encountered Sciron, a powerful brigand who would force passing travelers to wash his feet, only to kick his kneeling victims off the cliffs into the sea, where A giant sea turtle waited to devour them. Recognizing the danger, once he bent down, Theseus grabbed Sciron by the foot, lifted him up and threw him into the sea. The turtle got its meal anyway.

Cercyon, the fighter

Compared to the other five miscreants Theseus crossed on his way to Athens, Cercyon of Eleusis was something of an old school: he challenged passersby in a win-or-die wrestling match.

not a good idea when your opponent is Theseus! Needless to say, it was Cercyon who got the proposed deal wrong. Or as one Greek poet humorously and obliquely put it. Theseus “closed Cercyon’s school of wrestling.”

Procrustes, the stretcher

At first glance, Procrustes seemed like a kind man: he offered his house as a shelter to any needy traveler who came across him. The house had two beds, one short and one long. However, once the ill-fated traveler would choose and lay down on one of them, Procrustes made sure that he could fit the bed (not the other way around), either by using his infernal device to lengthen his limbs or with a hammer for his length.

As should be evident by now, Theseus eventually dealt with his host in the same way he dealt with his guests. And while we don’t know which of Procrustes’ two beds spelled the end of Procrustes, neither could have been a pleasant experience.

Theseus and Medea

In Athens, Theseus was quickly recognized by Medea, the wife of his father, Aegeus. So, before Aegeus could distinguish Theseus’ identity, the hero had to prove his worth and capture the Marathonian Bull.

When he arrived in Athens, he had the misfortune of being recognized by the wrong person: not by his father Aegeus, but by his wife, the sorceress Medea. Obviously, Medea did not want Aegeus to be succeeded on his throne by a son from a previous marriage, so she decided to kill Theseus.

She had no problem convincing Aegeus to her side, since the Athenian king still feared that he would be killed by one of his brother’s sons or, even worse, by an outsider. So, soon after arriving in Athens, Aegeus sent Theseus to capture the Marathonian Bull.

The Marathon Bull

Now, the Marathon Bull is actually the same bull that Heracles managed to capture for his seventh labor. Formerly known as the Cretan Bull, the creature was either released by Heracles or escaped from Tiryns on its own. After crossing the Isthmus of Corinth, it reached Marathon and annoyed its inhabitants for years before Theseus finally succeeded in taming it. After showing it to Aegeus and Medea, Theseus killed the Bull and sacrificed it to Apollo.


The Cup of Venom: Theseus Recognized

Medea did not expect him to emerge victorious from his confrontation with the Marathon Bull; however, she had a Plan B, which included a feast and a cup of poison. Fortunately, just a second before the poison touched Theseus’ lips, Aegeus recognized his sword and sandals and, moreover, Medea’s cruel intentions. Two proclamations followed, one naming Theseus as Aegeus’ legitimate successor to the throne, and the other to banish Medea from Athens forever.

Theseus and the Minotaur of the Labyrinth

Shortly after Theseus’ return to Athens, it fell to Aegeus to pay the third annual tribute to Minos, the king of Crete. Namely, in recompense for the death of Minos’ son Androgeus, once savagely murdered by the Athenians out of jealousy and envy, Athens obliged to regularly send fourteen of its noblest men and women to Crete, where each of them was destined to meet. The same end to be thrown into the Labyrinth of Daedalus and to be devoured by the monstrous half-man, half-bull, a Minotaur.


Ever in search of fame and glory, and now deeply despairing of the dreadful fate awaiting the innocent young Athenians, Theseus decided to do something about it. So, when the time came, he volunteered to go to Crete, where Ariadne, the beautiful daughter of Minos, fell in love with him upon arrival, just as she laid eyes on the muscular Athenian prince.

Determined to help him, she begged Daedalus to tell her the secret of the Labyrinth, which the old craftsman finally accepted. And when the time came for Theseus to enter the labyrinth, Ariadne gave him a ball of thread (provided by Daedalus), which was supposed to help him navigate inside the structure and guide him safely out of it.

Theseus and Ariadne

Comforted by the fact that he could always find his way out, Theseus delved deeper into the Labyrinth and found the Minotaur lurking in its deepest depths. As bestial as it was, the Minotaur was no match for Theseus’ strength and determination, after a brief fight, the Athenian slew the monster and followed the thread back to safety.

Theseus and Aridna

Now, Theseus had promised Ariadne that he would marry her even before he took his first step into the labyrinth; and, that is the first thing he did after emerging safe and sound. After the brief marriage ceremony, he took Ariadne with him and, along with the other young Athenians, left Crete.

Interestingly, his marriage to Ariadne did not last more than a few days, as soon as their ships reached the island of Dia (later called Naxos), Theseus abandoned the sleeping Ariadne. Behind him and sailed away. Some say he did this because he had fallen in love with another girl in the meantime (the daughter of Panopeus, Aegle); others, because he had no choice but to obey the will of Dionysus, who wanted Ariadne for himself.

The latter claim that the god arrived on the island of Dia moments after Theseus abandoned it, and promptly took Ariadne away in his chariot to be his beloved and immortal wife.

Theseus, the king of Athens. A broken promise

Before leaving for Crete, Theseus had promised his father that, if he survived the Minotaur, he would exchange the black sail of his ship for a white one. Thus, Aegeus would be able to discern at some distance whether his son was still alive. Unfortunately, he either completely forgot his promise or was too distraught to make the switch in time. Looking from a vantage point, Aegeus could not bear the sight he most feared to see, so he immediately jumped to his death.

Phaedra and Hippolytus

From his expedition against the Amazons, Theseus brought back to Athens one of his queens, either Antiope or Hippolytus, and she subsequently bore him a son, Hippolytus. After a while, he became bored with his wife, so he found himself another, curiously, none other than Ariadne’s sister, Phaedra.

Phaedra bore Theseus two sons, Acamas and Demophon, but then, to his surprise, he fell madly in love with her stepson, Hippolytus. After Hippolytus rejected her advances, she told Theseus; that he had tried to rape her. Theseus cursed Hippolytus and, before long, his curse came true; Hippolytus was dragged to his death by his horses. Either out of grief or because his treachery was exposed in the meantime, Phaedra hanged herself.

Theseus and Pyrithus

While a king, Theseus befriended the king of the Lapiths, Piritoo. He shared numerous adventures with him, the most famous being the hunt for the Calidon Boar, the Centauromaquia and an expedition among the Amazons, from which, to the utter dismay of the warriors, they both returned with new wives.

Some years later, the two friends attempted a similar foray into the underworld, but the abduction of Hades’ wife, Persephone, did not go according to plan, instead of getting Persephone out of there, Theseus and Pyrite remained trapped inside, fixed motionless to two enchanted seats.

On his way to capture Cerberus, Heracles noticed and recognized the heroes; although, with some effort, he managed to free Theseus, the earth shook when he tried to do the same with Pyritoo; therefore, Heracles had no choice but to leave Pyritoo in the underworld forever.

The death of Theseus

Once freed from the Underworld, Theseus quickly returned to Athens to discover that the city now had a new ruler, Menestheus. He fled at once to take refuge with Lycomedes, the king of the island of Scyros. A tragic mistake, since Lycomedes was a supporter of Menesteo. After a few days of feigned hospitality, Lycomedes took these unsuspecting Theseus on a tour of the island; when they reached its highest cliff, he violently pushed Theseus to his death.

Theseus death

Homage to Theseus

Generations passed without much thought of Theseus. Then, during the Persian wars, Athenian soldiers reported seeing the ghost of Theseus, clad in bronze armor and at full charge, and came to believe that he was responsible for their victories. The Athenian general Cimon received an order from the Oracle at Delphi to find the bones of Theseus and return them to Athens. He did so, and Theseus’ gigantic skeleton was buried in a magnificent tomb in the heart of Athens, which served as a sanctuary for the helpless and oppressed of the world.

Sources for the story of Theseus

Mentioned in both the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey”, Theseus is an important character in Euripides’ play “Hippolytus”. Ovid narrates his conflict with Medea and the Minotaur in the seventh and eighth books of his “Metamorphoses”. The biography narrated in Plutarch’s influential parallel lives is that of Theseus.

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