Theseus Summary


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Theseus Summary

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Theseus, an ancient Greek myth, is better known as Theseus and the Minotaur after the best-known segment of the story. Like most classical Greek myths, the author is unknown, and it is believed to date from roughly 800 to 500 BCE. The myth centers on Theseus, the Prince of Athens, who is part of a kingdom that is forced to sacrifice some of its young people to the neighboring kingdom of Crete due to an old wrong. The mad king of Crete, King Minos, sends those Athenian youths into the labyrinth, an endless maze where they are hunted by the Minotaur—a vicious bull-like creature. Theseus decides that despite his royal blood, he will be one of the sacrifices and put an end to the threat once and for all. Theseus’s life story is told in Plutarch’s Life of Theseus, which also includes later chapters that are detailed in classic Roman plays such as Hippolytus. The myth of Theseus and the Minotaur is one of the most iconic Greek myths and is still read and analyzed extensively. It is considered to be heavily influential in modern stories, including The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner franchises.

The story of Theseus begins before he is born, in Crete. Androgenos, the eldest son of King Minos and his wife, Pasiphae, sets sail for Athens to take part in the Panathenaic Games. These games, held every four years, are the pinnacle of athletic competition. Androgenos, a skilled athlete, excels in the competition, winning more than his share and becoming a fan favorite. This causes resentment among the Pallantides (the sons of Pallas), and they assassinate him. When Minos hears of his son’s death, he blames all of Athens and sends the Cretan fleet to invade. He demands King Aegeus turn over the assassins, but Aegeus does not know their identity. He surrenders the town to Minos’s mercy, and Minos decrees that at the end of every Great Year (one every seven solar years), the seven bravest boys and seven most beautiful women will be surrendered to Crete never to be seen again. Other versions of the myth have this happen after Minos conquers Crete. What the Athenians do not know at first is that these youths will be sent into a complex labyrinth built by Daedalus, where they will be fed to the Minotaur.

After three cycles of these tributes, Prince Theseus has come of age and is horrified by these sacrifices. He volunteers to slay the monster and end the deaths, taking the place of one of the boys. He sets off with a black sail and promises Aegeus that if he is successful, he will replace it with a white sail to let him know he is still alive. He arrives in Crete and is stripped of his weapons. Here he meets Princess Ariadne, King Minos’s daughter. While waiting to be sent to the labyrinth, Theseus gets to know Ariadne and she falls in love with him. Daedalus, who is horrified by what his creation is being used for, advises her on how to help Theseus. Ariadne gives Theseus a ball of thread so he can track his path within the maze. Theseus promises that if he escapes, he will take Ariadne back to Athens with him. As soon as Theseus enters the labyrinth, he ties one end of the string to the door and reveals that he had hidden a sword within his tunic that the guards missed during their search. Following Daedalus’s instructions, he remembers to go forward, always down towards the center of the maze, and never left or right. He makes his way to the heart of the labyrinth and finds the Minotaur sleeping. Sensing his presence, the Minotaur wakes up; it and Theseus have a brutal fight. Theseus overpowers the Minotaur and stabs it in the throat with his sword. At last, the beast that was preying on Athenians is no more.

After decapitating the monster, Theseus uses the string to find his way back to the entrance and escape. He escorts all of the other young Athenians out of the city, along with Ariadne and her younger sister, Phaedra, fulfilling his promise. They sleep on the beach, however, Theseus is woken up by the Goddess Athena and told to leave early in the morning. He is also ordered to leave Ariadne and Phaedra behind. In his distress and panic, as the Athenians are forced to leave in a hurry, Theseus forgets his promise to his father and leaves up the black sails. When the ship approaches Athens, Aegeus sees this and, assuming his son is dead, throws himself into the sea, committing suicide. This is why the sea is now called the Aegean. Legend also says that Dionysus saw Ariadne on the beach crying out to the sea for Theseus and pitied her, so he married her. His father dead and Theseus now seen as a hero of Athens for ending the thread of the Minotaur, Theseus reluctantly takes the throne as King of Athens.