Study Guide

Theseus: Later Adventures and Death Themes

  • Betrayal

    Even though he was a major hero and a king, Theseus was definitely not the kind of guy you'd want to marry. Seriously, watch out ladies. His first major betrayal of a woman happened when he ditched Ariadne on an island. Now, in his later years he continues his bad behavior by kicking his wife, Hippolyta, to the curb to marry Ariadne's sister, Phaedra. Of course, the theme of betrayal gets flipped on its head when Phaedra betrays Theseus by passing love notes to his son, Hippolytus. (Does this sound like a soap opera to you too?) In the end, all this betrayal leaves everybody either miserable or dead. Hmm, we sense a lesson in there somewhere...

    Questions About Betrayal

    1. How does Theseus's history of betrayal affect his status as a hero?
    2. Do the people of Athens betray Theseus when they decide to back another king? Why, or why not?
    3. Does Theseus betray Hippolytus when he believes Phaedra over his son? Why, or why not?
    4. What is the meaning of betrayal?
  • Women and Femininity

    The stories of Theseus's final years are full of examples of women being treated badly. In particular, the Amazons get the bum end of the deal. This race of warrior women live totally free of male influence. Well, that is until Theseus comes along and screws up their lives. Not only does he kidnap their queen, Hippolyta, but many of them are slaughtered when they raise and army to come rescue her.

    It says a lot about the status of women in ancient Greek society, when the Amazons, symbols of total girl power, can be so easily over powered and defeated. The powerlessness of women is also shown when Hippolyta is abandoned by Theseus and when he kidnaps Helen of Sparta. All in all, Theseus's later adventures tell the story that ancient Greece truly was a man's world.

    Questions About Women and Femininity

    1. In what ways might the Amazons symbolize female power?
    2. Compare and contrast the role of women today to the role they played in ancient Greece.
    3. What woman do you think has the most power in the later myths of Theseus? The least? Explain your answers.