Study Guide

Theseus: Later Adventures and Death Characters

  • Theseus

    Most of the stories of Theseus's later years don't exactly show him being particularly heroic. He pretty much spends most of his time kidnapping unwilling women like Hippolyta and Helen. He even tries to help his buddy Pirithous kidnap Persephone, wife of Hades, Lord of the Dead. (How in the world did he think he was going to get away with that?)

    So, the guy who was once thought of as the great lawgiver and unifier of Athens dies with a reputation as a total womanizer and kind of a stupid one at that. Theseus is definitely not the only Greek hero to go down this road. Heracles ends up dying because he's tries to ditch his wife Deianira, and Jason's life is destroyed when he abandons Medea.

    It's pretty interesting that the Greeks included these types of stories in the legends of their heroes. Just like in the great tragedies that the myths inspired, Theseus and his fellow heroes are eventually torn down by their own actions. In a way, the ancient Greek heroes are a lot more realistic than many of our modern superheroes. (It's not like Superman ever even thinks about cheating on Lois Lane.) Theseus and his heroic buddies may be brave and strong, but they're also pretty darn flawed.

  • Hippolyta

    Hippolyta is the queen of the Amazons, a race of warrior women descended from Ares, the god of war himself. Poor Hippolyta is always getting picked on by male heroes. First, Theseus kidnaps her, forces her to marry him, then kicks her to the curb so that he can marry Phaedra. Then later on, Heracles comes along, takes her magic belt, and kills her.

    Well, there's actually some disagreement about how she died, since some say that Theseus killed her when she busted up his wedding to Phaedra with a pack of angry Amazons. No matter which way you shake it, there's no doubt that Hippolyta had a pretty terrible history when it came to men. What do you think it says that Greek legends constantly showed this powerful woman being mistreated and overpowered by men?

    A really docile version of Hippolyta appears in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Two Noble Kinsmen. Hippolyta also shows up in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales: The Knights Tale.

  • Hippolytus

    Hippolytus is the son of Theseus and the Amazon queen, Hippolyta (though some say he's the son Hippolyta's sister Antiope). Pretty much everybody agrees he was a major stud. Like a major stud. Like all the girls went crazy for him. Unfortunately for the ladies, he was totally devoted to the virgin goddess Artemis and swore to never take a bride. Some sources even say that he was downright sexist and hated all women, making him a symbol of misogyny, or hatred of women.

    When Hippolytus rejects the sexual advances of his stepmother Phaedra, she gets revenge by telling Theseus that Hippolytus raped her. Theseus then asks his father, Poseidon, to curse Hippolytus. The beautiful boy is dragged to his death by his own horses after a bull charges at him from the sea. There once was a cult that worshiped the dead hero Hippolytus, and young girls offered locks of their hair to him before they were married.

    All the badness between Phaedra and Hippolytus has been irresistible to many playwrights for many many years. Famous tragedian Euripides puts his spin on the story in his tragedy, Hippolytus. The tale is also told by French playwright Racine in his Phedre and by modern British playwright Sarah Kane in her gruesome play, Phaedra's Love. The story is also the basis for Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms.

  • Phaedra

    Phaedra, daughter the King Minos of Crete, is Theseus' second wife, who he marries after ditching the Amazonian Queen, Hippolyta. Phaedra is also the sister of Ariadne who Theseus ditched on an island after she helped him in quest to kill the Minotaur. So yeah, Theseus has a thing for stringing women along and then ditching them. (Some hero.) In Phaedra's case, however, Theseus gets a taste of his own medicine when she falls in love with Hippolytus, Theseus's son by Hippolyta.

    When Hippolytus rejects Phaedra's advances, she gets revenge by telling Theseus that Hippolytus raped her. Theseus then asks his father Poseidon to curse Hippolytus, and the beautiful boy is dragged to his death by his own horses after a bull charges at him from the sea. And so Phaedra goes down in a long list vengeful females in Greek mythology. Of course, unlike oh say Medea, Phaedra feels horrible for what she does and commits suicide.

    All the badness between Phaedra and Hippolytus has been irresistible to many playwrights for many many years. Famous tragedian Euripides puts his spin on the story in his tragedy, Hippolytus. The tale is also told by French playwright Racine in his Phaedre and by modern British playwright Sarah Kane in her gruesome play, Phaedra's Love. The story is also the basis for Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms.

  • Pirithous

    Pirithous, Prince of the Lapiths, was Theseus's best bud. From the moment the two heroes set eyes on each other, it was a total bromance. We're guessing they probably spent a lot of their time together going, "You're cool." "No you're cool." Anyway, the point is muck like Achilles and Patroclus, or Heracles and Iolaus, these two were inseparable. The hero buddies went off on lots of adventures together like the hunt for the Calydonian Boar, and the Centauromachy, a battle against Centaurs.

    Why did they get along so well? Maybe, it was because they both had godly fathers on top of having mortal ones. After all, Theseus was the son of Poseidon and Aegeus, while Pirithous was the son of Zeus and Ixion. Of course, they might have been such good buddies because they both had the same attitude towards women. Both heroes seemed to see them as objects to be taken, which wasn't exactly a minority opinion among the males of ancient Greece.

    Pirithous's misogynist attitude actually eventually causes his downfall. When he enlists Theseus to whisk away Persephone, the wife of Hades, Lord of the Dead, only Theseus makes it out of the Underworld. Pirithous is doomed to forever be frozen to a rock, or tied to a chair by snakes, depending on who you talk to. Either way, much like his father Ixion, who is forever bound to a fiery wheel, Pirithous is doomed to a pretty unpleasant afterlife. (O.K., having to sit in one place forever is probably not as bad being tied to a fiery wheel, but it has got be seriously boring. It's not like Pirithous can't do Sudoku or anything.)