Reader's Encyclopedia

Theseus

The chief hero of Attica in ancient Greek legend; son of Aegeus and the performer of innumerable exploits. Theseus is sometimes also described as the son of Poseidon. He was brought up by his mother, Aethra, but when he became strong enough to lift the stone under which his father's sword was hidden, he was sent to the court of Athens, where, in spite of the efforts of his father's wife, Medea, he was recognized as heir to the throne. Among his deeds were the slaying of Procrustes, Sciron, Sinis, and the Crommyonian sow; the capture of the Marathonian bull; the slaying of the Minotaur with the aid of Ariadne, whom he subsequently deserted in Naxos; his war against the Amazons; and his part in the expedition of the Argonauts and the hunt for the Calydonian boar. He defends Oedipus in Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus.

There are numerous versions of his war against the Amazons. He married the Amazonian queen who opposed him, known as either Antiope or Hippolyta (according to some accounts there were two sisters of these names), and took her home with him. After the death of this queen, he married Phaedra, whose ill - fated infatuation with her stepson Hippolytus has formed the subject of many tragedies in which Theseus plays a part. In his old age, he became unpopular with his people and was foully murdered by Lycomedes in Scyros, where he had taken refuge. He is the hero of two fine historical novels by Mary Renault, The King Must Die (1958) and The Bull from the Sea (1962).

According to medieval legend, Theseus ' title was duke of Athens and his duchess was Hippolyta. Under this title he plays a part in Chaucer's Knight's Tale and in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream.

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