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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Bromance of Theseus and Pirithous

One of my favorite myths is the the story of how Theseus and Pirithous meet for the first time. Somehow, the idea of the young King Theseus, making a name for himself as a hero and an upstanding individual -- a king of great wisdom and honor -- being tested by Pirithous the most piratey of rapscallions, just tickles me.

The story goes that Pirithous, having heard of Theseus' prowess in battle, wanted proof of his courage and strength, and so, as all good heroes do, he went out to rustle some of Theseus' cattle in order to test him. A time honored tradition among demigods, and second only to stealing women-folk! Plutarch tells the rest of the story in his essay on Theseus:

[...]when the news was brought that Theseus pursued him in arms, he did not fly, but turned back and went to meet him. But as soon as they had viewed one another, each so admired the gracefulness and beauty, and was seized with such respect for the courage of the other, that they forgot all thoughts of fighting; and Pirithous, first stretching out his hand to Theseus, bade him be judge in this case himself, and promised to submit willingly to any penalty he should impose.

And that, as they say, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. From that day forth, Theseus and Pirithous were like brothers, allies in everything and according to Ovid's Heroides, inseparable to the point of neglecting their other relationships, including their own sons (but then too, Phaedre isn't the most reliable of narrators, either, and bespelled by the gods in her lust for Theseus' son, besides).

Perithoos Hippodameia BM VaseF272
© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons
Which is Pirithous and which is Theseus
I couldn't tell you, honestly.
Of Pirithous alone, we have very little information. Most of what is preserved is only in relation to his adventures with Theseus, in which, to my prejudiced readings, he comes off as the instigator of some foolish adventures, inevitably resulting in trouble for both of them, the primary example being, as we have discussed on multiple occasions, the abduction of Helen, and the subsequent trip to Hades so that Pirithous might steal Persephone, because that is just the kind of overconfident, arrogant piece of work that Pirithous was. And we've also touched on the Centauromachy, and his wedding to Hippodamia, which was so rudely interrupted by lustful centaurs trying to molest, if not steal outright, his bride.

Personally, I think the bromance of Pirithous and Theseus belongs up there with Achilles and Patroclus, and it's a real shame they don't get more press in pop culture. That um, might account for their continued and repeated presence on my blog. If you were wondering.

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