Study Guide

Theseus: Birth and Early Adventures Summary

How It (Supposedly) Went Down

A Brief Summary:

Theseus is conceived when his mom, Aethra, sleeps with King Aegeus of Athens and the sea god Poseidon in the same night. Aegeus leaves his sword and sandals under a rock and tells Aethra that if she has a son, the boy should lift the rock and claim the items when he reaches manhood. After that, the young man should travel to Athens to join his father. Theseus does just this. He travels to Athens via a super-dangerous road full of lots of unsavory characters. The young hero manages to slaughter six bad guys along the way. When he finally gets to Athens, Theseus almost gets poisoned by his stepmother, Medea, but Aegeus recognizes his own sword just in the nick of time. Father and son are united, and Theseus is made heir to the throne of Athens. Happily ever after and all that jazz.

A Detailed Summary:

  • First thing you gotta know: there's this guy named Aegeus, who's the King of Athens.
  • Like anybody who's anybody in ancient Greece, he goes to get some advice from the Oracle of Delphi, a trippy young lady who make predictions on behalf of the God Apollo.
  • The Oracle says, "Loose not the wine-skin's jutting neck, great chief of the people until thou shalt have come once more to the city of Athens" (source).
  • King Aegeus hasn't the foggiest idea what the Oracle means with all this wine-skin mumbo-jumbo, but he heads home to Athens anyway.
  • On the way back, he stops off at the sleepy little city of Troezen, which is ruled by a guy named Pittheus.
  • Aegeus tells Pittheus the wacky prophecy.
  • Pittheus instantly has an idea of what it might be about, i.e. mainly that the Oracle was telling Aegeus not to have sex before he returned to Athens.
  • Pittheus decides to take advantage of the situation, and encourages his daughter, Aethra, to seduce Aegeus.
  • Not long afterward, it becomes pretty clear that Aethra is pregnant.
  • Some say that Aethra also got it on with the sea-god Poseidon in the same night as Aegeus, and, as a result, the baby had both a god and a king as daddies. If you're gonna double-dip in the hanky-panky pot, you might as well do it in style.
  • Before he heads back to Athens, Aegeus puts his special sword and his sandals under a really big rock for his unborn child.
  • He tells Aethra that if she has a son, that the boy should lift this rock when he comes to manhood and take the sword and sandals.
  • Then the boy is supposed to come join Aegeus in Athens and claim his rightful place by his side. Kind of a weird way to make up for being a deadbeat dad.
  • Not long after, a bouncing baby boy is born, and they name him Theseus.
  • When he grows into a young man, Aethra tells him about the sword and sandals under the rock.
  • Theseus easily lifts the rock like it's a mini marshmallow and claims the sword and sandals of Aegeus.
  • He gets ready to go to Athens to hang out with the pops.
  • He can either go to Athens by sea or by land.
  • The sea route would a pretty leisurely pleasure cruise, while the land route is full of thieves and all sorts of bad people.
  • Theseus wants to show everybody just how awesome he is and decides to go by land. Okay bro, we're all totally impressed.
  • The trip to Athens is definitely full of craziness.
  • First, Theseus runs into a bad guy named Periphetes who likes to kill people with his massive club.
  • Theseus turns the table on Periphetes by taking the bandit's club and bopping him in the head with it until he dies.
  • Next, Theseus comes upon a dude named Sinis, the Pine-Bender.
  • Sinis has a nasty habit of tying people to two bent pine trees, and then letting the pine trees go so that they rip people apart.
  • Once again, Theseus give Sinis a taste of his own medicine and gives the dude somewhat of a split personality.
  • Then Theseus finds Sinis's daughter, Perigune, hiding in the woods and lays with her. (Some say he forces himself on her, while others say she mates with him willingly.)
  • Perigune gets pregnant from this encounter and has a daughter named Melanippus. But, much like his father, Theseus isn't sticking around.
  • Now Theseus comes upon a giant pig in a place called Crommyon.
  • This beast is mean and nasty, so Theseus kills it. Who wants bacon?
  • Next, Theseus meets a guy named Sciron, an old guy who tricks people into washing his feet on the edge of a cliff.
  • As soon as people to wash his feet, Sciron kicks them over the cliff where they are eaten by a giant turtle. (Seriously, we're not making this up.)
  • Of course, this didn't work on Theseus.
  • Our hero chucks Sciron over the cliff, and he too suffers the ultimate indignity of Turtular Death.
  • After this, Theseus meets a guy name Cercyon who wrestles everybody who comes by and then kills them.
  • Theseus beats him at his own game, wrestling him and shish-kebabing him through with his sword.
  • The last villain that Theseus meets on the way to Athens is a super-weirdo named Procrustes. The name alone ought to gross you out.
  • This guy gets his jollies by offering a stranger his bed for the night.
  • Then when they're asleep, he either cuts off their feet, or stretches their bodies to make them fit the bed exactly. Talk about a perfectionist.
  • As you might expect, Theseus gives Procrustes the old "you've made your bed, now sleep in it" treatment.
  • At long last, Theseus makes it to Athens.
  • Word of his heroic deeds has already made him famous, but nobody knows yet that he's the son of King Aegeus. Not even Aegeus himself.
  • Well, we take that back. One person knows his true identity: Aegeus's sorceress wife, Medea. This is bad news for Prince T, since Medea is something of a basketcase.
  • The sorceress is afraid that Aegeus will name Theseus as his heir rather than her son Medus.
  • So, Medea convinces Aegeus that the new hero is a threat.
  • Hoping to get rid of Theseus, Medea suggests to the King that he ought to send the young hero off to capture the Marathonian Bull, a big beast who's been causing tons of trouble over in Marathon. (This is the same bull that Heracles had to fetch during his Twelve Labors. It's also the father of the Minotaur, the bull-man that Theseus will slay later in life.)
  • Medea's plot is a total flop, though, and Theseus takes out the Bull without a problem.
  • When Theseus returns triumphant, Medea convinces Aegeus that the young hero is an even bigger threat. All the people love this new hero.
  • Medea gets Aegeus to approve the plan to assassinate Theseus.
  • A big banquet is held in Theseus's "honor" at which he is served a glass of wine loaded with some particularly nasty poison of Medea's making.
  • The thing is, Theseus has already planned on revealing himself to his father at the banquet by using his father's sword to cut the meat.
  • Aegeus notices the sword just before Theseus takes a sip of the deadly wine.
  • The old King jumps up and knocks the wine out of his son's hand just in time. This is the first time in history that a party foul has saved a bro's life.
  • In the end, Theseus claims his birthright and becomes the heir to the throne of Athens.

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