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Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Bronzed Hero

I am not a good photographer -- most especially not with a camera phone. But we work with what we've got, and I couldn't just ignore this bronze of Theseus versus a centaur.

And besides, it's fitting really -- a bronze age hero cast in bronze. This sculpture is one of the reasons I need to get back to The Met. It deserves much better photography than my phone was capable of at the time.

I'm not sure that Theseus really had any personal stake when it came to the Centauromachy, beyond simply being present at the wedding of Pirithous and Hippodamia. But I'm certain that if Pirithous had called on him for support in any war, Theseus wouldn't have hesitated to answer. The proof is in their trip to the underworld,  when Theseus accompanies Pirithous to steal Persephone from Hades.

Why Pirithous thought he could get away with it, I really don't know, and as for Theseus -- you'd think after losing two wives and a son, he'd know better than to mess with the gods. But off they go, all the same, so Pirithous can have a daughter of Zeus for his bride, just like Theseus, who had recently abducted Helen for himself (with the help of Pirithous, of course!)

In the end, only one of our heroes comes back. Eventually, Theseus is fished out of Hades' chair of forgetfulness by Heracles. But that last adventure with Pirithous cost him (among other things) his kingship.

I can't help but wonder if he ever thought back on that day and said to himself: "Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time."

Somehow, I doubt it.


  1. They never learn...

    And welcome to the blogosphere!!

  2. I think this is a statue copy of "Theseus and the centaur Bienor" (by Antoine-Louis Barye).

    If you know the genealogy behind Hippodamia (her father being either Butes/Boutes, Atrax, or Adrastus) you find a curious link into Theseus' family, this being as follows.

    -Butes is likely a son of Pandion (often there are two Pandions, sometimes only one, the second or only one long lived was the father of Aegeus).

    -Helice was daughter of Selinus and by Ion mother of Bura, who was mother of Atrax by Peneus. Ion was son of Xuthus and Creusa, daughter of Erechtheus, king of Attica/Athens. Her father was the brother of Butes, the son of a Pandion.

    -Adrastus' daughters made marriages to heirs of Thebes (Polyneices), Calydon (Tydeus), and the king of Troy (Ilus), and Argos (Diomedes). After the fall of the Seven Against Thebes, Adrastus went to Theseus and had the help of Athens army in retrieving the unburied bodies of the six.

    As to what the regrets of Theseus might have been, I found this interesting.

    Seneca, Phaedra:

    "[Theseus returned from the underworld laments his unhappy lot :] `Alcides, give back his boon to Dis [Haides]; give me up again to the ghosts whom I escaped. Impiously, I make vain prayers for the death I left behind."

    1. I have no trouble believing that Theseus might have thought death would have been a kinder fate than survival after he was ripped out of the chair -- coming home to Athens a cripple, and being turned out and losing his kingdom entirely, was likely a serious shock to a man who was both very active and had until then been highly respected by his peers.

      Regarding Hippodamia and her genealogy/family connections -- well, you know what they say! "Not without Theseus!" :) I'm not surprised there are connections. Theseus seems to have a hand or a finger or a toe or an encounter with everyone of any note. How much of it was organic to his character and how much was added back in, later, to give Heracles that much more competition and increase Theseus's fame, I don't think we'll ever know!