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Chapter 11

PERSEUS AND THESEUS

PERSEUS

Perseus was born in a rather unusual fashin. Zeus had become smitten with Perseus' mother, Danae. Danae had been locked away in a tower by her father, Acrisius, because of an oracle he had received that said that any child of Danae would kill him. Zeus entered into the tower in the form opf a shower of golden rain, falling into Danae's lap, impregnating her with a son, later to be called Perseus. Once the child was born, Acrisius, fearing the oracle, banished the mother and child, setting them adreift in a wooden chest.

They drifted to the Isle of Seripos, where the cruel king Polydectes, ruled. Perseus and Danae were taken in by dictys, the kindly brother of Polydectes. Polydectes fell in love with danae, but Perseus stood in the way, so Polydectes plotted to get rid of Perseius. He publicly challenged Perseus, to demonstrate his manhood, by bringin back the head of Medusa, one of the dreaded Gorgons, a task which Polydectes surely thought would slay Perseus.

Perseus sought the aid of the gods to accomplish this venture. He went to the "Oaks of Dodona" in western Greece, where Zeus's will was told to him, saying to Perseus that the Gods would aid him in his quest.

Hermes and Athena advised Perseus to go to find the "Graiae" to find out where their sisters, the Gorgons, were located. The Graiare were three old, gray-haired sisters, who shared one eye amongst the three, passing it to each other to use, when needed.

Perseus came to the Graiae and immediately snatched the eye from their hands, and refused to give it back., unless they told him the location of their sisters, the Gorgons. The Graiae told Perseus where they were, and Perseus kept his word, by giving the sisters their eye back.

The Gods then gave to Perseus three valuable weapons to use in his finght with the Gorgons; winged sandals, like Hermes, to speed his travel; a helmet to make him invisible; and a wallet, in which to store objects. Finally, Athena gave him her aegis, or shield, for protection.

Hermes then took him to the Gorgons. The Gorgons were three sisters, snake-haired monsters, whose faces were said to be so ideous that gazing upon them woujld turn the onlooker into stone. Medusa was th eonly one of th sisters who was mortal.

When Perseus approached the Gorgons, he was careful not to lok directly at them, by peering at their reflection in his shield given to him by Athena. In this maner, he crept p to them while they were sleeping, and, with one swipe, beheaded Medusa, quicly putting her head into his pouch. Since his helmet made him invisible, the now awakened sister Gorgons were not able to see Perseus to pursue him. Incidentally, the famous horse (see myth of Bellerophon) Pegasus. was born from the blood of Medusa's neck.

On the way back to Seiphos, Perseus engaed in a few adventures. He came upon Atlas, the Titan who was destined to hold up the sky forever. Atlas beseeched Perseius to put him out of his misery, by letting him gaze at the head of Medusa, which Perseus allowed, which turned Atlas into what is known today as the Atlas Mountains of North Africa.

Next, Perseius, while flying, saw a helpless amiden, adnromeda, chained to a rock, off the coast of Ethiiopia, being approached by a monster, while her parents, and fellow villagers watched helplessly. Andromeda's mother had incurred the wrath of the Gods by saying she more beautiful than some of the Goddesses, so a sea monster was sent to ravage the land. This curse could only be lifted by sacrifice of the Queen's daughter, Andromeda.

Perseus want to Andromeda's parents, telling them he would rescue her, if they would give her hand in marriage to him. They agreed, and Perseus, with the aid of the weapons the Gods had given him, easily slew the monster, thereby winning the hand of Andromada in marriage.

Perseus then travelled with Adromeda to Seriphos, where his mother had sought refuge in a temple, to avoid the advances of Polydectes. Perseus confronted Polydectes and his followers, and, after a brief batle, Perseus took the head of Medusa from his pouch, and turned Polydectes into stone. He installed Dictys aqs King of Seriphos, before leaving for his home of Argos, with both Andromeda and his mother, Danae.

Acrisius had been deposed as King of Argos, in the absence of Perseus and Danae. Perseus quickly subdued the new king, and put Acrisius on the throne.

At a discus contest, tragedy struck during the celebration. Perseus accidentally threw a discus off-course, striking Acrisius in the head, mortally wounding him. In this fashion, the original oracle that Acrisius was fulfilled of him being killed by his grandson.

Perseu gave to athena the head of Medusa, wo placed it in the center of her shield, the aegis.

THESEUS

Theseus was, perhaps, the greatest of the Athenian heroes. He not only was a great warrior, but also a great humanitarian and statesman. He was born in the town of Troezen, to Aegeus, then King of Athens, and Aethra of Troezen. When Aethra was pregnant with Theseus, Aegeus placed sandals and a sword beneath a heavy rock, and gave Aethra instructions that, when Theseus was strong enough to move the rock, he could come to Athens, from Troezen to join him.

At about sixteen years of age, Theseus was successful in moving the rock, and removing the sword and sandals.

Rather than take the asy sea rolut to Athens, (see below), Theseus wanted to go the longer, more difficlt way, by land. This road was plagued by thieves and bandits, that Theseus wanted to defeat, to emulate his hero, Heracles.

The first rogue Theseus came upon was Periphetes, the club-wielder. His habit was to club all passersby to death with a large club. Theseus, using his speed to his advantage, defeated the bigger foe, taking Peripetes' club to use in the future, as his own, thereafter.

Next, Theseus came to the area of the Isthmus of Corinth, where he encountered the infamous "Sinis the Pine-bender". Sinuse would ask travellers to help him bend a huge pine, and would unexpectedly let go throwing the traveller to his death, against the mountainside. Already knowing Sinis' methods, Theseus tricked Sinus himself, into being thrown by the pine.

The road to Athens then went near the sea, and became narrow. It was at this point that Sciron, the Robber, was stationed. He would not allow any traveller, he said, to pass, unless they washed his feet. While the traveller was washing his feet, Sciron would kick them off the cliffside, plunging them into the sea, where a man-eating turtle hungrily awaited to devour the victims. Theseus knelt down, but, before Sciron could push him off, Theseus grassped Sciron's feet, and hurled hnim over his shoulders, to his death in the jaws of the waiting turtle.

Procrustes the Stretcher was the next rogue. He would welcome the traveller to his inn, placing them in a bed. After the victim fell asleep, Procrustes would do terrible things. If the intended victim was short, he would tie their limbs, and stretch them the length of the bed. If they were tall, Procrustes would cut off their overhanging limbs. Today, a "Procrustean bed" is an artificial standard to which conformity is demanded.

Theseus killed Procrustes by tying him to one of his beds, and beheading him. He continued on towards Athens. When he arrived in Athens, his fame of clearing the road of these rogues spread far and wide. Therefore, King Aegeus, not yet aware that Theseus was his son, planned a great feast in this hero's honor.

But Aegeus' new wife, the soreceress Medea, did indeed perceive Theseus' identity, and plotted to kill him, since she felt he would be a rival for power. She put poison in a cup, giving it to Theseus. But, just before Theseus broght the cup to his ips, Aegeus recognized Theseus' sword, which he had originally put under the rock in Troezen, and he immediately smashed the poisoned cup from Theseus' hands. Being discovered, Medea fled in her dragon -drawn car.

After a short time, Theseus discerned much gloom in Athens. King Minos of Crete, due to the death of his son while visiting Athens, had forcibly exacted a tribute from the Athenians for punishment. He required Athens to send seven young men, and seven young women every seven years to Crete. Once there, the youths would be put into the Labyrinth of the Minotaur, a creature half-human, half-bull. In the Labyrinth, the young would, inevitably, be killed by the Minotaur, and devoured.

Theseus determined to end such an onerous tribute. Against the wishes of his father, Theseus went with the next group of sacrifices. His fateher told the departing Athenians to return with white sails if Theseus was successful in his mission, and, if not, return with black sails.

Shortly after arriving in Crete, Ariadne, King Minos's daughter, fell in love with Theseus at first sight. To aid Theseus, Ariadne secretely instructed him to carry a ball of string into the Labyrinth, unwinding it as he walked in the maze-like structure. so he would not be lost. Theseus promised to carry off Ariadne to Greece, if successful in vanquishing the Minotaur, and to marry her.

Theseus progressed into the Labyrinth, unwinding the string, as instructed by Ariadne. He soon encountered the deadly Minotaur, but Theseus quickly dispatched this monster, and headed for Athens.

Next, Theseus, Ariadne, and the crew stopped at the Greek Isle of Naxos.

In an act of uncharacteristic behavior, Theseus left off Ariadne in Naxos, and continued on to Athens. The Gods, horrified at this selfish act, made Theseus and his sailors to forget to raise the white sails, so that they sailed within reach of Athens with the black sails raised. When the ship came close to Athens, Aegeus saw the black sails, and knew that his meant that Theseus' mission had been unsucessful, and that Theseus had perished, Aegeus threw himself off the cliff into the sea, thereby drowning. Today, the waters in which Aegeus died are rightfully called the Aegean Sea, after King Aegeus.

Since his father the king was now dead, Theseus assumed control of Athens. During the next few years, Theseus demonstrated the ability to gover well, using democratic principles. He also showed characterisitics of compassion as evidenced by helping to bury the Argive dead, and giving asylum to Heracles, after he was driven mad, as well as giving asylum to the wandering Oedipus, after he blinded himself.

Theseus then fell in love with Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, whom he had forcibly abducted. Together, they had a son, named Hippolytus. The Amazons attempted to rescure their queen, but she was accidentally killed in battle.

Next, Theseus fought Pirithous, King of the Lapiths, who had declared war on Athens. But, on the battlefields, they had become friends. In fact, Pirithous asked Theseus fo come to his upcoming wedding to Hippodamia, daughter of the King of Argos. At the wedding were Heracles, and the Centaurs. Once the Centaurs were drunk, they became, as was their custom, very lustful, so much so, that they even attempted to carry off the bride, Hippolyta, herself.

The struggle that ensued, between the Centaurs and Lapiths, incidentally, is a favorite subject for artists.

Unfortunately, the bride did not live much longer after the wedding. Therefore, Pirithous and Theseus together took a vow that there next wives would be immortal, and that they would aid in other in finding that mate.

Theseus chose Helen, later Helen of Troy. Together, they kidnapped Helen, and brought her to Athens, and entrusted her to the care of Aethra, Theseus' mmother. Then they both went after a most-difficult prize, Persephone, wife of Hades of the Underworld, to be the next bride of Pirithous.

Together, they went to the Underworld, via Taenarum in Sicily. Hades listed patiently to their requests. Then he asked them to sit in two chairs, which unbeknownst to Theseus and Pirithous, where the dreaded "Chairs of Forgetfulness".

After sitting in these chairs one would forget everything, as did Theseus and Pirithous, after sitting down. However, Heracles came to the Underworld shortly thereafter, in his last Labour, to try to spirit away Cereberus, the three headed dog who guarded the gates to the Underworld.

Heracles pulled Theseus out of the chair, tearing some skin off his buttocks. In fact, this is said to be the reason that descendants of Theseus would be small-buttocked! However, Heracles could not extract Pirithous from his chair.

Theseus returned to the Upper World, reassuming control of Athens,. While he had been in the Underworld, Helen's brothers, the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollus) had taken Helen away, leaving Theseus a lonely man, once again.

Next, Theseus married Ariadnes's sister, Phaedra, a much younger maiden. Phaedra fell in love with Hippolytus, here stepson. But Hippolytus rejected her. To exact revenge on Hippolytus for being rejected, Phaedra wrote a note to Theseus saying that Hippolytus had tried to rape her, then she hung herself. When Theseus found the note, he did not believe the explanations of Hippolytus, and Theseus prayed for Poseidon to take revenge on his own son. Poseidon did this, by causing a huge wae to scare the horses of the fleeing chariot of Hippolytus, throwing him to his death, off a cliff.

Later, Theseus found out the truth, and became very disconsolate. The accumlation of this misdeed, and other misfortunes changed Theseus, to become a very tyrannical despot, losing popularity with the people. Eventually, Theseus was banished from Athens, to the Isle of Scyros. There, King Lycomedes, thinking that Theseus planned to overthrow him, lured Theseus to the edge of a cliff, where he pushed Theseus to his death.

With time, however, the Athenian people appreciated the deep, overall good nfluence that Theseus had on their developmning city-state, so that they built temples in his honor, and brought his bones back t Athens for burial in hisnative soil.