Study Guide

Theseus: Later Adventures and Death

How It (Supposedly) Went Down

A Brief Summary:

Theseus' later years are full of female trouble. But it's all pretty much caused by Theseus, himself. The king of Athens kidnaps Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, to be his wife, starting a bloody war. Later he kicks the Amazonian Queen to the curb and takes the Cretan Princess Phaedra for his new bride. This ends badly too, when Phaedra falls in love with Hippolytus, Theseus's son by Hippolyta. When Hippolytus says, "Ooh gross" to Phaedra's advances, his stepmother accuses him of rape. Theseus curses his son, and the boy is trampled by his own horses. Phaedra feels so bad about the whole thing that she kills herself.

Theseus finishes off his string of bad decisions by making friends with a guy named Pirithous. The two get in all kinds of trouble, from kidnapping Helen of Sparta, to trying to carry off Persephone, wife of Hades, Lord of the Dead. This final act of stupidity gets both of them trapped in the Underworld. Theseus eventually escapes with the help of Heracles, but by the time he gets back to Athens somebody else has taken his throne. He tries to take sanctuary with a guy named King Lycomedes, but instead of giving Theseus help, Lycomedes pushes him over a cliff. Ouch.

A Detailed Summary:

Theseus and the Amazons 

  • The Amazons are a race of warrior women, who only associate with men when they want to have babies. If they have boy children they either kill them or send them away.
  • For one reason or another, King Theseus of Athens decides it'd be fun to take a little sea cruise to the land of the Amazons.
  • Some say that he does this with his fellow hero Heracles, but most say that Theseus went on his own.
  • Anywho, when Theseus gets to the land of the Amazons, the fearsome ladies are actually really nice to him.
  • They send him gifts, and their queen comes aboard his ship.
  • Some say the Queen's name is Antiope, but more often you hear that it's her sister Hippolyta who comes aboard.
  • Theseus thinks Hippolyta is smokin' hot and takes off with her in his ship, determined to make her his queen.
  • As you might expect, this kidnapping totally ticks off the Amazons.
  • The warrior women launch a full-scale attack on the city of Athens.
  • After a vicious battle, Theseus defeats the Amazons and gets to keep Hippolyta as his bride.
  • Eventually, Hippolyta has a son by Theseus named Hippolytus.

Phaedra and Hippolytus 

  • Phaedra, the daughter of King Minos of Crete, catches the eye of Theseus.
  • (Note: Phaedra is the sister of Ariadne who Theseus once promised to marry and then abandoned on an island. More here.)
  • The king of Athens decides to kick Hippolyta to the curb and make the Cretan Princess his new queen.
  • In some versions of the story, Hippolyta shows up at the wedding with a posse of Amazons and is either driven away or killed by her former husband (Ouch).
  • Phaedra has two babies by Theseus named Acamas and Demephon, but the marriage ends up being far from happy.
  • Eventually, Phaedra gets the hots for Hippolytus, the son of Hippolyta, the woman Phaedra replaced. (This story is getting seriously twisted.)
  • There are lots of variations on the details of this story, but the most popular version says that it's actually Aphrodite who causes Phaedra to fall in love.
  • The goddess of love is mad at Hippolytus because, being a follower of the virgin goddess Artemis, he's sworn to never have sex and never get married. (In some versions, he's actually downright hateful to women in general.)
  • For some reason or another, Aphrodite decides to wrap Phaedra up in Hippolytus's punishment and causes the queen to fall passionately in love with her stepson.
  • Phaedra tries her best to resist her feelings, but eventually she just can't help herself.
  • When Phaedra makes a move on Hippolytus, he's totally grossed out and rejects her.
  • Phaedra is furious at this rejection and gets Hippolytus back by telling Theseus that he raped her.
  • Theseus goes nuts when he hears this and calls on his father, the sea god Poseidon, to put a curse on Hippolytus.
  • So, one day when Hippolytus is riding his chariot on the beach, Poseidon makes either a sea monster or bull (depending on who you talk to) explode from the waves.
  • Hippolytus's horses totally freak out.
  • They throw the beautiful boy from the chariot and he dies.
  • When Phaedra finds out what happened she feels so awful that she hangs herself.
  • In some versions, Artemis appears to Theseus and tells him the truth of everything afterward. (Man, that has got to be depressing.)

Theseus and Pirithous: A Doomed Bromance 

  • Pirithous is a Prince of the Lapiths, the legendary people who lived in Thessaly.
  • The Prince keeps hearing from everybody all around that Theseus, king of Athens, is supposed to be awesome.
  • So, Pirithous decides to go meet Theseus for himself.
  • To test Theseus, Pirithous steals some of Theseus's cattle from Marathon.
  • Theseus rides out and tracks down Pirithous.
  • The two get in a fight.
  • It's an awesome battle.
  • The two warriors are so impressed with each other that they stop fighting and say, "You're cool." "No, you're cool."
  • Theseus and Pirithous become best buds and have tons of adventures together.
  • In one incident, the two heroes join a bunch of other heroes, like Jason and Atalanta to hunt down the Calydonian Boar, a vicious creature who's ravaging the land.
  • In another famous incident, Theseus is attending Pirithous's wedding to a woman named Hippodaemia.
  • For some terrible reason, Pirithous decides to include his rowdy cousins, the Centaurs, on the guest list.
  • (The Centaurs were creatures with the upper bodies of men but the lower bodies of horses. They were known for being crude and awful.)
  • The Centaurs end up getting totally drunk and off the hook at the wedding.
  • When the bride Hippodaemia comes out, the horse-men get super hot and bothered.
  • The herd tries to rape the bride, the other female guest, and the little boys present.
  • As you might expect, Theseus, Pirithous, and the other guests don't take to well to this kind of behavior.
  • The wedding erupts into a full tilt battle that some call the Centauromachy.
  • The heroes band together, kick some Centaur booty, and decide to be a lot more selective when deciding on future guest lists.
  • In another famous event, Theseus and Pirithous decide that they both need to marry the daughters of gods.
  • See, both heroes have a godly father as well as a mortal father: Theseus is son of both Poseidon and Aegeus, while Pirithous is son of both Zeus and Ixion.
  • The way Theseus and Pirithous figure it, the only wives who will really be good enough for them will just have to have gods as parents too.
  • So, the two heroes pinky swear that they'll help each other find wives that will truly measure up to each other's awesomeness.
  • Theseus sets his sights on Helen of Sparta, who is a daughter of Zeus.
  • (Yes, this is the same young lady who later gets the name Helen of Troy after she runs off with the Trojan Prince, Paris, causing the infamous Trojan War.)
  • So, Theseus and Pirithous sneak into Sparta and kidnap Helen, who happens to be like 12 or 13.
  • In an effort to not be totally gross, Theseus leaves Helen with his mother Aethra to live until she's old enough to marry.
  • Aethra turns out to be a pretty bad future-wife-sitter, though, and Helen is rescued by the brothers Castor and Pollux, whom the Greeks called the Dioscouri.
  • This all goes down while Theseus and Pirithous are on a quest to find Pirithous a godly wife.
  • Pirithous makes the pretty awful decision to try and win the hand of Persephone, daughter of Zeus and wife of Hades, Lord of the Dead.
  • Even though it's a massively stupid idea, Theseus is forced to travel to the Underworld with Pirithous to try and win the hand of the Queen of the Dead.
  • (Hey, what can Theseus do? He pinky swore.)
  • When the buddies get to the Underworld, Hades is not in any way amused.
  • He curses the Theseus and Pirithous, causing a rock that they sit on to grow into their butts, trapping them in the Underworld.
  • The two are stuck there for a long time until Heracles comes by on his 12th labor to fetch the hellhound Cerberus.
  • Heracles rescues Theseus, using his enormous strength to rip the king of Athens from the rock.
  • Some say part of Theseus's booty rips off and stays stuck to the stone, explaining why Athenians have small ba-donks.
  • When Heracles tries to pull Pirithous from the stone, however, everything starts shaking.
  • Hades absolutely won't allow Pirithous to go, so Theseus is forced to head back to the land of the living without his best bud.

Death

  • By the time Theseus gets back to Athens from the Underworld, a dude named Menestheus has taken over the throne.
  • Theseus tries to start a rebellion and get his throne back, but Menestheus has turned the people against him.
  • Defeated, Theseus goes to the island of Scyros to take refuge with King Lycomedes.
  • Lycomedes is afraid that the famous Theseus will try to take over Scyros.
  • So, the king lures Theseus up to a high cliff and shoves the hero to his death.
  • It's said that later on the descendants to Theseus regained control of Athens, and that his bones were brought back to his city and given a place of honor.