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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Fall of Theseus (I)

Rodin's The Bronze Age
photo by me!
Most of the stories about Theseus revolve around his early years -- his youthful vanquishing of the monstrous men along the gates to the underworld on the Isthmus road, his defeat of the Minotaur and the subsequent abandonment of Ariadne -- and a lot less attention is paid to his later life.

Most of the people who write fiction about Theseus or Helen of Troy skate over the place where their paths cross,* and we get kind of a highlights reel of his other adventures. Maybe he went with Heracles to see the Amazons. Maybe he brought democracy to Athens. He was for sure a king, and there's that business with his stolen Amazon bride, and the war with the Amazons, the death of Hippolytus, and his epic bromance with Pirithous... But most people don't know those stories very well. Most people aren't familiar with KING Theseus.


Well, it's probably in part because Theseus wasn't adopted by the Romans the same way that Heracles was. He didn't get a new name and new adventures, and he was never played by Kevin Sorbo in a live action tv show. (We will not speak of the atrocity that was IMMORTALS.) We have Plutarch, comparing Theseus to Romulus and glorifying both of them in a propaganda piece, and to be honest, there isn't really a lot of compelling storytelling about his twilight years. Theseus doesn't get his own letter, written by Ovid. And none of the surviving plays by Euripides are titled THESEUS. (There is Euripides' play about Hippolytus, of course, which is the exception to this rule, and also Euripides' play about Heracles, in which King Theseus guest stars, and has some really interesting things to say about the gods, as a contrast to Heracles himself.)

But I think there's maybe a reason why Theseus, ultimately, didn't get adopted by the Romans. Because there are two hugely problematic adventures which Theseus undertakes after he becomes King, and neither one of them ends well for Athens.

Which adventures were they? We'll lay them out next week!

*People skate over it because it's a later addition to the mythology. But I don't think it makes it any less significant or relevant -- it was important enough that they thought it was something that SHOULD be part of his story, and that's good enough for me.


  1. "Immortals"?

    Whatever do you mean? There is no such film!!!


    On the other hand, the fabulous Stellan Skarsgård played him in the 2003 TV Movie "Helen of Troy", which was a fair portrayal, if I remember correctly. (It's been a couple of years since I last watched it.)

    Have you seen it? It's the one with Sienna Guillory and Rufus Sewell and all that lot.

    1. I have seen that -- but it's been a REALLY long time and I don't remember Stellan Skarsgård at all! I will have to rewatch it!

      Re: Immortals. people keep talking about it but I am SURE it is a figment of their imagination.

    2. Immortals- Some guys get punched so hard the 'splode. WOOOOOOOO!

    3. The poor things! They're clearly suffering from some sort of mass delusion. :D