Theseus - Who was this Greek hero and why was he a horrible Demi-god? A Guide for Everyone
Updated: Jun 20
This summer we’ll be bringing you introductory guides to a range of mythological heroes, villains, and everyone in between. We’ll be giving the Imagining History treatment to iconic figures of legendary awesomeness like Odin, Gilgamesh, and Atalanta. First up though, we have the granddaddy of Ancient Greek heroes, the one, the only, Theseus.
Wait, Theseus? Is he the one who killed Medusa or completed twelve labours?
No, my friend that would be Perseus and Hercules respectively, Theseus is the hero who slew the half-human half-bull creature known as The Minotaur.
Is Theseus a demi-god then, just like those other two?
That’s right. A demi-god is like an Ancient Greek superhero. Theseus was the son of Poseidon, the god of the seas, and a mortal woman named Aethra. Being a demi-god is pretty cool, you usually get dashing good looks and superb fighting skills as part of the deal. Unfortunately, you also tend to get lumbered with having to undertake a deadly quest or two or three or twelve.
And Theseus’ quest would take him one-on-one with the Minotaur?
Sure, but first he had to retrieve his sword and sandals that had been left under a massive rock.
Under a rock? Wouldn’t they be squished? Not to mention, in the case of the sword, very rusty?
You’d think. But remember these are the Greek myths and much weirder things happen than squish-proof sandals and rust-proof swords.
So, Theseus has retrieved his sword and sandals, now what?
He set off to Athens for a spot of heroing of course. He travelled on foot and, on the way, he killed a whole lot of people. Theseus apparently invented wrestling, and he used his grappling skills to defeat two thieves called Peres and Sciron.
I like to think he unleashed some pro-wrestling skills on the unwitting criminals, maybe hitting Peres with a Stone Cold Stunner and Sciron with a Super Man Punch (any opportunity to have a Roman Reigns GIF!).
You’d think Theseus would be tired after all of his gallivanting, but oh no, before cup of tea time he’d also wiped the floor with a massive wild boar and a nasty fella called Procrustes – a mean fella who enjoyed cutting people’s legs off.
What about this Minotaur then?
Ok, so at this time Athens was under the rule of a rival city-state called Crete. The problem was that Crete was afflicted by a terrifying Minotaur that lived in a maze, or "labyrinth", in the catacombs under the city. On occasion, the Minotaur got a little bit peckish, so, rather than have his own people munched upon, King Minos asked 14 Athenians very nicely if they’d like to be sacrificed to the Minotaur. And ‘by asked very nicely’
I mean kidnapped them at sword point. As you can imagine, the Athenians were none too happy about this, but what could they do? Fortunately for them, Theseus decided to volunteer as one of the 14 sacrifices to go and sort out the Minotaur once and for all.
Before Theseus left, his kind-of dad King Aegean (it’s a long story) said to him, “the ship that will take you to Crete, by tradition, departs with black sails as a sign of mourning recognition of lives that would be sacrificed. But I ask you to return home safely. I will hoist to these white sails and with that my heart will be immediately appeased when I spot your ship on the horizon”
And did he?
Hold your horses buddy, no spoilers! Theseus goes to meet King Minos and it is here that his dashing good looks come in handy as, who should he meet, but Minos’s daughter, Princess Ariadne.
Ariadne immediately fell in love with Theseus because, erm, reasons and gave him a magical yarn of wool. Which, let’s face it, is about as disappointing as receiving a brick for your birthday. Thing is, this yarn proved handy. As Theseus crept through the Minotaur’s labyrinth he let the ball of wool unwind, leaving a path he could later follow to make his daring escape.
Theseus finally met the Minotaur in the centre of its blood-stained maze and unleashed his WWE-style move-set. Theseus hit the bamboozled bull-headed buffoon with a series of chops, a couple of stiff clotheslines, a suplex, a half-and-half, a dropkick off the top turnbuckle, and an entire superkick party. Or, depending on which myth you’re reading, he actually killed the Minotaur with one punch, sword swipe, or choke.
BORING. Our version is much more exciting.
Theseus slew the Minotaur! Now everyone gets to live happily ever after, right?
Not really, because, unfortunately for everyone, Theseus was a bit of a prat.
First of all, he and Princess Ariadne fell in love and decided to get married. Until one night, when the Greek god of partying, Dionysus, told Theseus to break up with his beloved. Theseus decided to do that the very next day, dumping Ariadne and then very literally dumping her on an abandoned island.
Then Theseus forgot to change the sails on his ship to white, leading to his kind-of dad King Aegean jumping off a cliff in sorrow.
If all that wasn’t enough, Theseus kept on being a bit of a berk through the rest of his life, becoming known as “a great abductor of women”. That’s right, he would kidnap women. One time he even tried to kidnap Hades’ wife Persephone with his pal Pirithous. Both creeps were punished by being glued to rocks in the underworld. Luckily, Theseus would be rescued by Heracles but Pirithous was left behind. Did Theseus care? Did he heck!
Ultimately, the people of Athens got fed up with Theseus and threw him off a cliff. Just goes to show that you should never meet your heroes.
If you are a teacher, you'll definitely want Imagining History to bring their 'Ancient Greece: Hero Training' Interactive workshop to your school.
Our Award-Winning sessions combine role-play, storytelling, demonstrations and drama and performance to bring history to life for your students.
In our 'Ancient Greece: Hero Training' workshop your students will learn all about the Myths & Legends of Ancient Greece by walking in the shoes of the great Greek heroes themselves.