In Greek mythology, Theseus was a king of Athens, famous for slaying the Minotaur. His mother was Aethra, daughter of Pittheus, the king of Troezen. Aegeus, the king of Athens had consulted the Oracle at Delphi how he could have children. When returning to Athens, he spent the night in Troezen and lay with Aethra while he was drunk. During the same night Poseidon lay with her as well and she then gave birth to Theseus.
He was raised by his mother away from his father, but she had been instructed to send Theseus to claim his place as his father's heir once he was strong enough to roll away a boulder that covered a sword and sandals belonging to Aegeus. After a time, he rolled away the boulder and prepared to journey to his father's kingdom. Because the roads to Athens were filled with dangerous bandits, Theseus's mother and grandfather tried to convince him to take the safe route by sea, but Theseus was determined to prove his valor and become a hero by traveling over land. He first encountered Periphetes, the son Hephaestus in Epidaurus who killed all passers-by with an iron club. Theseus killed him and carried the club with him afterwards. He next killed Sinis who forced passers-by to bend two pines and be torn by the trees as they were too weak to bend them. He then killed the giant sow Phaea, the offspring of Typhon and Echidna, at Crommyon. Then he killed Sciron who kicked all passers-by from the rock which he occupied and they were eaten by a turtle and Cercyon who wrestled with all the passers-by. Finally, he killed Procrustes in Attica who forced all travelers to lie down on a bed, and if any were too long for the bed he cut off the parts of their body which protruded and if they were too short for it, he stretched their legs.
When he arrived in Athens, Aegeus was convinced by his wife Medea that Theseus was dangerous and he sent him against the Marathonian bull which Theseus killed. Medea then tried to offer him poison but Aegeus recognized Theseus as his son because of his sword and banished Medea. The Athenians had been compelled by King Minos of Crete to give him seven young men and seven young women every nine years to be put into the labyrinth of Crete and fed to the Minotaur. Theseus volunteered to be one of the seven youths and was taken to Crete. Ariadne, the daughter of Minos fell in love with Theseus and promised to help him if he agreed to marry her. She asked Daedalus for help and he gave Theseus a ball of thread which he fastened to the door of the labyrinth, then killed the Minotaur which he found in the last part of the labyrinth and followed the thread to find his way out. He then released the other prisoners and escaped from Crete with them and Ariadne. They stopped near the island of Naxos where Dionysus fell in love with Ariadne and carried her with him. Before leaving, Theseus had told Aegeus that if he came back alive, he would raise white sails on his ship as he returned, but he forgot and instead kept the ship's usual black sails, causing Aegeus to think he was dead. In his grief, the King threw himself into the sea which was named the Aegean Sea after him.
Theseus then became king of Athens. He followed Heracles in an expedition against Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons and took her sister Antiope with him when he returned. She gave birth to a son who was named Hippolytus after her sister. The Amazons then attacked Athens and were defeated by Theseus but Antiope fell during the battle. Following the death of Minos, his son Deucalion had become the king of Crete. He made an alliance with Athens and gave his sister Phaedra in marriage to Theseus. She gave birth to two sons named Acamas and Demophon. However, she fell in love with Hippolytus and asked him to lie with her but he refused because he hated all women. Phaedra then lied to Theseus that Hippolytus had attempted to rape her. Hippolytus then escaped from Athens and Theseus asked Poseidon to take revenge on him. When Hippolytus was driving his chariot near the sea Poseidon sent a bull which frightened his horses and Hippolytus was dragged to death. Following his death, Phaedra hanged herself.
Later, Theseus made a compact with his ally Pirithous, the king of the Lapithae that they would both marry a daughter of Zeus. Theseus decided to marry Helen who was then only twelve years old and carried her away from Sparta. Pirithous decided to marry Persephone and went to Hades with Theseus. Hades tricked them to sit in the Chair of Forgetfulness and they were both bound to it forever but Heracles managed to free Theseus when he visited Hades. While Theseus was away, Castor and Polydeuces, the brothers of Helen had conquered Athens with the Spartans and the Arcadians and installed Menestheus as the new king. Theseus went to exile in Scyros and asked its king Lycomedes to help him regain his kingship. However, Lycomedes led him near some cliffs under pretence of showing him his lands but instead threw him down from the cliffs and killed him.
According to 'Oedipus in Colonos' , Theseus also stood by the blind Oedipus during his final moments, and aided him to the land of the dead.
- Apollodorus. The Library.
- Diodorus Siculus. The Library of History.
- Plutarch. Life of Theseus.