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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Fall of Theseus (II)

Last week I mentioned that Theseus went on two (related) adventures, which are, in my opinion, at the heart of why we overlook his twilight years, and directly related to his fall from grace. I know the suspense has been killing you, so let's just get to the good stuff:

photo by me!
Rodin's The Bronze Age
And yes, it is the same sculpture,
different medium.
First, Theseus kidnapped Helen from Sparta, which resulted in Sparta choosing the next King of Athens; and Second, which goes hand in hand with the first, he acted against the gods and abandoned Athens by accompanying Pirithous on his quest to the underworld to steal Persephone. And he didn't mess with just any god, but Hades, the lord of the dead, to whom all Greeks entrusted their shades at the end of their lives. Not only that, Theseus returned to Athens less whole than he left it, the backs of his thighs torn off when he was pulled from the Chair of Forgetfulness. Rescued by Heracles. (If he'd only just stayed home, would he have kept his kingdom AND Helen? I wonder...)

When Theseus returns to Athens after these adventures, he wasn't warmly received by his people. In his absence, his cousin was appointed as King by Helen's brothers, who by the way, also took their sister after threatening the city, and Athens wasn't interested in giving him back his throne. Whatever good Theseus had done for them, his time was over, and his people exiled him. It isn't really a triumphant ending for a hero. It isn't even a glorious death. Possibly crippled and forsaken by his own city, Theseus seeks a quiet retirement on the island of Skyros -- where he either slips, or is pushed off a cliff to his death. The end. There isn't any elevation to godhood for Theseus, like Heracles. He just dies. Pathetically.

Ultimately, Theseus isn't a hero anymore. He's a man stripped of everything who comes to an ignominious end. So of course the stories told more frequently come from his glory days, his youth, before he messed it all up as a King. Maybe people wanted to remember him as a paragon of virtue and brilliance, not as the guy who got kicked out of his own kingdom.

And honestly? I'm still kind of hoping to find some reference to his living out the rest of his days at the bottom of the sea in Poseidon's palace. I mean, after all the rest of the tragedy that was his life, I think he at least deserves that much.


  1. I really hope there will be a part two to Helen of Sparta. I need to read more! You definitely have a gift for story telling and I just can't wait to read more!

    1. Thanks so much, Erika! I'm working on writing it, now! :)