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Theseus with the head of the Minotaur - bronze before 1800

Theseus ( Mycenaean te-se-u , ancient Greek Θησεύς , modern Greek Θησέας ) was a legendary king of Athens . He is one of the most famous heroes in Greek mythology . His descendants are called Thesides. In the Parian Chronicle , the beginning of his mythical royal rule in Athens is for 1259/58 BC. Chr. Indicated.



When the Athenian king Aigeus remained childless, he went to Delphi to consult the oracle . He received an oracle saying that he “did not loosen the protruding end of a wine tube”, i.e. H. shouldn't get drunk until he returned to Athens . Since Aigeus did not understand the prophecy, he went to Troizen to see the wise King Pittheus . He understood the oracle and got Aigeus to sleep with a girl - presumably by making him drunk. Aigeus later learned that the girl was Aithra , the daughter of Pittheus. Since Aigeus believed that she was pregnant by him, he hid a sword and a pair of sandals under a heavy stone. Should a son be born to Aithra, he should, if he was strong enough, roll the stone aside and come to him in Athens with the things deposited. Aigeus then left Troizen.


Aithra was actually pregnant and gave birth to a son. Whether this was given the name Theseus and what it meant was reported in various ways. Those who claimed that he was so called immediately after birth said that the name was derived from Thesauros ( ancient Greek Θησαυρός = place of storage ) and referred to the things stored. Others said that he only received the name when he was recognized by Aigeus as his son ( ancient Greek Θέσις = adoption ). Theseus was also considered the son of Poseidon and his name could indicate his divine descent ( ancient Greek Θεός = God ). He was raised by his grandfather Pittheus, his guardian and teacher was Konnidas . Aithra and Pittheus kept secret who his real father was. As a youth, Theseus went to Delphi and, as was customary at the time, sacrificed part of his hair. That is why a place there is said to have been called Theseia. The tonsure , in which only the front hair was shaved, was also named Theseïs after Theseus . At a young age Theseus took part in the Argonaut procession and the Calydonian hunt .

The way to Athens

When Theseus was old enough to roll away the stone that Aigeus had laid on the beach when he was born, Aithra revealed to him that Aigeus was his father and that he had hidden objects for him. He should take this as a sign of identification and travel by safe sea route to his father in Athens. Theseus rolled the stone aside, took his sword and sandals, and planned to take the dangerous overland route. After all, he had Heracles , his second cousin, as a model.

First he came to Epidaurus and met the "club-bearer" Periphetes . He challenged this to a wrestling match and killed him. The club of the Periphetes was from now on his preferred weapon and trademark. At the Isthmus of Corinth he met Sinis , the spruce flexor ; this he killed, just as he mistreated his victims. Perigune , Sinis' daughter, ran away first, but when Theseus promised to spare her she came back. With her he begat Melanippos . The wild boar Phaia awaited the hero in Krommyon next . He also killed these without further ado. On the border with Megara , the robber Skiron ambushed passers-by, robbed them and killed them. Theseus also put this out of the way. In Eleusis he killed Kerkyon . In Erineos he defeated the giant Procrustes . Before he reached Athens, he let himself be cleansed of bloodshed by the Phytalidai on the river Kephissus .

Attempted murder of Theseus

Theseus reached Athens on the eighth day of the month of Kronios, later called Hekatombaion . Medea , who had fled from Corinth to Athens, now lived with Aigeus. With the help of her magic, Aigeus finally wanted to fulfill her desire to have children. Fearing the presence of Theseus, she persuaded the king to invite him to dinner, and then him with from the venom of the Kerberos gained aconite poisoning. However, when Theseus used the sword to cut the meat, Aigeus recognized it and knocked over the cup with the poison. Medea then managed to escape, shrouded in fog. Before the town meeting, Aigeus officially recognized Theseus as his son and successor. The citizens respected him for his heroism.

Marathon bull

In the plain of Marathon the marathon bull was up to mischief and terrified the inhabitants of the Tetrapolis . Once upon a time, this bull killed Androgeus . Aigeus had sent Androgeos, a son of the Cretan king Minos , to kill the bull, because as a punishment that Minos had not sacrificed him, he had been beaten with frenzy and therefore wreaked havoc and killed many people. Since Androgeos himself died trying to kill the bull, Athens had to send seven young men and seven virgins to Crete every nine years as human sacrifices for the Minotaur in retaliation . Theseus caught the bull, led it to Athens and sacrificed it to the Delphic Apollo .


Theseus and Minotauros - Rome, Villa Albani

When the ambassadors of the Cretan King Minos came to Athens a little later to collect the tribute of seven young men and seven virgins from Athens for the third time, the citizens were outraged and Aigeus was in distress. Theseus volunteered and promised to put an end to this injustice, although his father objected. At the Prytaneion the youths and virgins who were to be sent to Crete were determined by lot. When they had sacrificed Apollo, they went to the coast and sacrificed a goat to Aphrodite Epitragia , which immediately turned into a billy goat. On the sixth day of the month of Munychion , they set sail with black sails. Should Theseus succeed in bringing the young people back safely, he would set sail on their return. The ship's helmsman was either Phereklos, the son of Amarsyas, or Nausithoos and Phaiax the navigator.

After his arrival in Crete, Ariadne fell in love with Theseus and therefore helped him. She gave him a thread to help him get out of the labyrinth and a sword to use to kill the Minotaur. He managed to kill the Minotaur and use the thread to get back to the exit. The Athenians left the island together with Ariadne and her younger sister Phaidra , who later became the wife of Theseus, and landed on Naxos . Here he separated from Ariadne, on the one hand because she had been promised to Dionysus in Olympus, on the other hand because Theseus had fallen in love with Aigle , the daughter of Panopeus . Ariadne is said to have been pregnant by Theseus and later to have given birth to Oenopion and Staphylos . The journey continued to Delos . Here they donated the picture of Aphrodite that they had received from Ariadne and Theseus performed a dance that corresponded to his way through the labyrinth. On the way on, they forgot to hoist the white sails because of the great joy of their return home. When Aigeus, waiting for the returnees at Cape Sunion , saw the black sails, he thought his son had fallen and threw himself into the sea, which was named after him the Aegean . When Theseus arrived in Athens, he was greeted with great joy and after burying his father, he took control of the city.

Theseus' reforms

Pallas and his sons wanted to use the situation to usurp the government. They split into two groups - one marched openly from Sphettos against the city, while the other hid with Gargettos to attack Theseus from the side by surprise. Leo's messenger, however, revealed the plan to Theseus. This attacked the ambushed troops and killed everyone. The rest of Pallas' army fled.

After Theseus had consolidated his rule, he reshaped the government of Attica . He convinced the surrounding twelve communities to give up their own administration in order to rule all together from the capital Athens ( Synoikismos des Theseus). For this he built a town hall and an administrative building in Athens and donated the Panathenaic and Isthmic Games . The union itself was celebrated with the Synoikia on the 16th of Hekatombaion . Theseus himself only wanted to serve as a general and guardian of the laws. The business of government should be taken over by the citizens. Theseus divided the citizens into three groups: the nobility, the peasants and the artisans. The nobility should be responsible for religious questions and the laws and provide the magistrate. Theseus is also said to have minted coins with the image of a bull. In addition to his wise rule, he is said to have distinguished himself through other bold heroic deeds.


Theseus went with Heracles against the Amazons . According to other sources, he is said to have undertaken his own expedition to their country on the Black Sea . There are different accounts of whether there were fighting with the Amazons or whether there was just a peaceful meeting. In any case, Theseus fell in love with Antiope or her sister or mother Hippolyte . Solois , one of three brothers who accompanied Theseus, also fell in love with Antiope. Since this love went unrequited, he killed himself by throwing himself into a river. When Theseus found out about this, he remembered an oracle he had once received: he should found a city if he were to experience serious suffering. So he founded the city of Pythopolis on Lake Askanios , handed it over to Euneus and Thoas, the brothers of the Solois, and left Hermus and other followers behind. He named the river Solois after the dead man .

Theseus kidnapped Antiope / Hippolyte to Athens, married her and begat Hippolytos with her . The Amazons pursued the kidnapper overland and besieged the city. At first the opponents watched each other and only after Theseus had sacrificed Phobos , the daimon of fear, a fight ensued. The fighting lasted three months. Finally, through the mediation of Theseus' wife, an armistice was reached. According to another tradition, Antiope / Hippolyte fell fighting at Theseus' side. Theseus later married Phaidra, Ariadne's younger sister. One version of the story says that he had rejected Antiope / Hippolyte beforehand and therefore the Amazons appeared armed at the wedding party. However, they were all killed and Antiope / Hippolyte died at the hand of Heracles. The other variant says that Antiope / Hippolyte had already died when Theseus married Phaidra. Phaidra, on the other hand, died of suicide after desiring her stepson Hippolytus in vain.

Battle of the Centaurs

The Lapith king Peirithoos wanted to put Theseus' courage and strength to the test and therefore kidnapped his cattle from Marathon. When Theseus met him armed, they were both amazed at the other's beauty and boldness. They laid down their arms and Theseus refrained from punishment. Instead, he held out his hand to Peirithoos. From now on they were friends and comrades in arms.

When Peirithoos married Hippodameia , Centaurs were among the guests. When they, drunk with wine, molested the women and also wanted to kidnap the bride, a fight between the Lapiths and Centaurs broke out. Theseus, who was also there, helped his friend and so all the centaurs were killed. Then they celebrated a big party. This battle, also known as Centauromachy, was often depicted in ancient times, for example at the Parthenon .

Rape of Helena

When Theseus was 50 years old, he came to Sparta with Peirithoos and kidnapped the then twelve-year-old Helena from the temple of Artemis Orthia . When they had escaped their persecutors, they played a lottery to see who could marry them, and Theseus won. Since she was not yet of marriageable age, Theseus first brought her to Aphidnai and placed her in the care of his mother Aithra. Another version of the story goes that Idas and Lynkeus kidnapped Helena and entrusted her to Theseus.

Now Peirithoos wished to marry Persephone , the wife of Hades . Therefore Theseus accompanied him to Eleusis , where the gateway to the underworld was. Hades received them and asked them to sit on a throne. But as soon as they sat down, snake arms held them in place. Heracles descended into the underworld and freed Theseus - Peirithoos stayed behind.

Menestheus , the son of Peteos, took advantage of Theseus' absence and seized the government over Attica. The Dioscuri , Helena's brothers, came to him and asked for their sister to be released. Since Menestheus did not know the whereabouts, the twins ravaged the country. Finally, according to one version of Plutarch, Akademos betrayed the hiding place in order to avert further damage. According to one version of Herodotus , the Dioscuri learned the whereabouts of Helen from the décolleté . The brothers took Aphidnai by storm, freed Helena and in turn captured Aithra. Helena is said to have been pregnant by Theseus and gave birth either in Aphidnai or later in Argos Iphigenie , who is actually considered the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra . Helena is said to have passed Iphigenia on to Clytemnestra because she was already married.

Theseus' death

When Theseus returned to Athens, Menestheus drove him out and therefore went to the island of Skyros . Either he demanded from King Lykomedes his throne or support against Menestheus - at least this was reason enough for Lykomedes to let Theseus fall from a rock to his death. He was buried on the island. 476/75 BC BC, the archon Phaedo was commissioned by an oracle to bring Theseus' bones to Athens and to bury them in Athens. Kimon conquered the island of Skyros and found the burial mound through an eagle who sat on it and pawed with its claws. He found a coffin for an oversized corpse in the floor. A bronze spear and a sword lay next to it. The bones were brought to Athens and reburied in the Theseion .


The semi-divine hero Theseus was the Ionian (especially Athenian) main hero, whom his admirers tried to raise to the same splendor as the Dorians did to Heracles, and was in particular the representative of popular kingship. A magnificent temple was built for him in Athens. Even now, a temple in Athens that was consecrated to Saint George as a Christian church until the 19th century and then used as a museum, the temple of Hephaestus - the temple of Hephaestus - bears the name Theseion , albeit wrongly.

The depiction of Theseus on works of art is often very similar to that of Heracles, only he is always depicted as youthful, his entire appearance is slimmer, and the club is less massive than that of Heracles. His deeds were often depicted on Attic monuments ( metopes and friezes of the temple of Hephaestus in Athens).

In some elements of the saga, a number of historians believe they can recognize a vague memory of historical events: that Athens was dependent on Crete, had to sacrifice human beings to the Minotaur and then, thanks to Theseus, was able to free itself from Cretan supremacy point to the replacement of the Minoan dominance in the Aegean region (around 1500 BC) by the Mycenaean Greeks. But this is certainly not, since the historical evaluation of orally transmitted legends is always very problematic.

Archaeological evidence

According to media reports, the supposed grave of Theseus is said to have been found in 2006 in the Troizen region near Galatas on the eastern side of the Peloponnese . The tomb is one of a series of domed tombs on the Maghoula Acropolis . The archaeologist Eleni Konsolaki states that Pausanias visited the place of birth and the grave of Theseus and therefore searched specifically in the area mentioned by Pausanias. In fact, Pausanias only located the place of birth in Troizen while describing the tomb in Athens. Examinations of the bones found in the underground tomb are supposed to bring final certainty about the identity of the grave owner. The grave complex is made up of three domed graves from the 15th to 13th centuries BC. The archaeological importance of the region became apparent as early as 1990, when a Mycenaean sanctuary from the same period was found near Methana . These finds were published in 1997 at the first conference on the archaeological history of the Saronic Gulf in Poros.

That Theseus' bones lie in the temple of Hephaestus at Athens (hence also called Theseion ) was a legend of Byzantine times.

Literary adaptations

  • Jakob Ayrer wrote the Tragedia Thesei published in 1618 .
  • Ernst Bacmeister's tragedy Theseus was published in 1940.
  • André Gide wrote a kind of biography of the aging hero: " Theseus " (OT Thésée ), published in 1946 (excerpts as early as 1944).
  • Johannes Tralow's novel Uprising of Men (1953) treats the legend of Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur as a broad-based adventure against the background of the overcoming of Minoan supremacy over the Greek world. (8th edition, Berlin 1997, ISBN 978-3-373-00501-8 ).
  • In Michel Butor's novel Der Zeitplan , German for the first time in 1960, new by Matthes & Seitz, Berlin 2009, the Theseus saga forms the actual background.
  • The Theseus myth was elaborated by the English writer Mary Renault in two historical novels:
    • The King Must Die ( The king must die ). Droemer Knaur, Munich 1993, ISBN 3-426-63017-6 .
    • The bull from the sea ( The bull from the sea ). Droemer Knaur, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-426-63088-5 .

Reception in music

  • Patrick Wolf processed this hero myth in 2003 in the song Theseus of the same name .
  • In 2002 Juan María Solare composed the song "Meditación de Teseo" (Meditation of Theseus) based on a text by the Chilean poet Pedro Lastra . The piece is also played in a purely instrumental version.
  • By Jean-Baptiste Lully one comes Tragédie en musique entitled Thésée from the year 1674th
  • Georg Friedrich Handel composed Teseo as the third opera for London in 1712 , an opera in five acts
  • Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643): In Lamento d'Arianna from the opera L'Arianna (1608) based on a libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini (1562–1621), Ariadne celebrates the death of Theseus.


The Mount Theseus in Antarctica is named after him.


Web links

Commons : Theseus  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Felix Jacoby (ed.): The marble Parium . Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, Berlin 1904, p. 8–9 ( digitized version [accessed April 23, 2016]).
  2. Plutarch , Theseus 3.
  3. Plutarch , Theseus 4-6.
  4. Libraries of Apollodorus 1.67, 1.111
  5. ^ Strabo , Geographica 380.
  6. ^ Hyginus , Fabulae 187.
  7. Libraries of Apollodorus 3, 216–4, 4; Plutarch, Theseus 6-12.
  8. Libraries of Apollodorus 4.4-6; Plutarch, Theseus 12.
  9. Libraries of Apollodorus 3.209-213, 4.5-6; Plutarch, Theseus 14-15; Strabo, Geographica 399.
  10. Plutarch, Theseus 15-23.
  11. Plutarch, Theseus 13.
  12. ^ Strabo, Geographica 397.
  13. ^ Thucydides , History of the Peloponnesian War 2, 15; 6, 61; See also in detail on the Synoikismos of Theseus: Hans Lohmann : Kiapha Thiti und der Synoikismos des Theseus. In: Hans Lohmann, Torsten Mattern (Ed.): Attika. Archeology of a “central” cultural landscape. Wiesbaden 2010, pp. 35-46.
  14. Plutarch, Theseus 24-25.
  15. Plutarch, Theseus 26-28.
  16. Plutarch, Theseus 30.
  17. ^ Strabo, Geographica 48.
  18. Plutarch, Theseus 31-34.
  19. Herodotus, Historien 9, 73.
  20. ^ Strabo, Geographica 396.
  21. ^ Johannes Tzetzes , Ad Lykophron 143.
  22. ^ Pausanias , Journeys in Greece 2, 22, 6-7.
  23. Plutarch, Theseus 35-36; Pausanias, Travels in Greece 1, 17, 2-6.
  24. ^ Pausanias, Journeys in Greece 2, 32, 9.
  25. ^ Pausanias, Journeys in Greece 1, 17, 2-6.
  26. Reviews of Calames Thésée et l'imaginaire athénien :
    • Vinciane Pirenne-Delforge in: Kernos . Vol. 6, 1993 (download) .
    • Pascal Payen in: Revue de l'histoire des religions. Vol. 210, 1993, pp. 93-99 (online) .
    • Philippe Borgeaud in: History of Religions. Vol. 41, 2001, pp. 81-84 (online) .
    • Anton Bierl in: Bryn Mawr Classical Review 02.05.04 .
    • Patrick Kaplanian in: L'Homme. Vol. 164, 2002 (online) .
predecessor Office successor
Aigeus King of Attica Menestheus