Greek Myth: Theseus and The Myths of Athens

  1. Athens

    - prominent during which period
    - what about legendary history
    - additions to myths?
    • - prominent in Classical Period, not so much before that
    • - legendary history confused
    • - additions to myths in 6th and 5th centry BC as Athenian power grows
  2. What did the Athenians claim about their origins?
    • - autochthonous - ppl of Athens spring forth from the ground (like grasshoppers)
    • *** know the root -CHTH means from the ground ****

    - descended from Athena - gave them the olive tree

    • - descended from Cecrops - mortal king of Athens,
    • - half snake; he sprang from the earth too
    • - he brought the golden age / taught athenians many things- showed them the arts of civilization, monogamous marriage, taught to worship Zeus, to abandon human sacrifice, to build cities and bury the dead properly
  3. When did the golden age last until (whose reign)
    until Themistocles persuaded the people to spend all their money on building a great fleet --> defeated the Persians in 480 bc and became the greatest sea power
  4. Other Mythical King of Athens: Erichthonius
    • - succeeded Cecrops
    • - autochothonous -> born when Hephaestus jizzes on Athena's leg; she wipes it off and throws on ground.
    • - Athena wants to make him immortal -> places in a basket and gives to the daughters of Cecrops - Aglaurus "shining", Herse "dew", and Pandrosus "all-dew"
    • - She tells them not to look inside the basket, only Pandrosus obey. The other two, seeing half baby, half snake, jump to their deaths
    • - Athena raises him and he becomes king of Athens
    • - sets up a wooden image of his "mother" Athena on the Acropolis
  5. Observations: Arrephoria (Festival of the Dew Carriers)
    • - daughters of Cecrops is a myth that reflects a ritual --> the Arrephoria - "festival of the dew carriers"
    • - every year 2 young girls live in a house on the Acropolis, spend the whole year weaving a robe offered to the statue of Athena

    - Athena sends them at night into a grove of Aphrodite, take baskets on heads, carry through secret passageway and leave at bottom, climb back out with covered basket holding something secret

    • - Entrance into Aphrodite's grove = loss of sexual innocence; same with the nocturnal descent underground (where Hades carried the virgin Persephone to make her his bride).
    • - in the ritual the girls die smybollically (actually for Herse and Aglaurus) to represent the end of the virgin's life of sexual innocence

    - snake represents penis, so actual death in myth represents loss of sexual innocence - enacted at the Arrephoria (every parthenos must undergo to become a woman- gyne)

    - phallus engenders life, basket in myth has new life, loss of virginity/death of daughters brings promise of new life
  6. Procris and Cephalus
    • - from Ovid- roman version. Different Version of the story; all three daughters live
    • - Herse pregnant by Mars/Hermes --> Cephalus, who grows up to marry Procris.
    • - Aurora/Eos steals Cephalus away before his wedding night and has Phaethon by him
    • - Happy marriage at first, and then Ceph. gets jealous, comes to wife in disguise of another man, tries to get her to sleep with him. She finally agrees when he offers her a crown --> he shows who he really is.
    • - she flees to Minos (king) in Crete. Minos falls in love with her.
    • - But Minos' wife cursed him - he ejaculates spiders and scorpions. Procris cures him, and so he gives her a hound that always catches, Lelaps, and a spear that never misses
    • - goes back to Athens as a boy, and offers the gifts to her husband if he will sleep with "her" - he falls for the same trick that she did. happy again
    • - heard rumor, so she is afraid he is still seeing Eos "dawn, but also referred to as breeze. Spies on him, when he hunts in the morning. --> he calls out for breeze to refresh his face. She runs to him, but he sees a wild animal --> kills her with a spear.

    Cephalus is exiled. Goes to thebes - overrun by a fox who can never be caught. Lends Lelaps who always catches (paradox). Zeus gets impatient and turns them both to stone.
  7. Myth of Pandon, Philomena, Procne, Tereus, and Itys
    • - Pandion succeeds Erichthonius as King. Has two daughters - Procne and Philomena.
    • - Visiting King Tereus likes both daughters but marries Procne. Brings her back to Thrace, but still likes Philomena.
    • - Goes back to get her (phil.) to "visit sister" then rapes her on the ship, brings her to a hunting cabin, cuts out her tongue, and then rapes her again.
    • - Philomena weaves a tapestry of what happened, gives it to a servent to give to her sister and then they plot their revenge.
    • - Procne kills her son Itys, cooks him, and serves him to Tereus.
    • - no more heir
    • - they are all changed into birds (songless swallow, and nightinggale - haunting song)
  8. Observations: Ovid's Literary Myth
    • - human instinct to feel connection with the natural world
    • - many religious cults based on efforts to communitcate / negotiate with the humanlike powers in nature (ex: animals)
    • - but Ovid is highly urbane/literate writer - created poems to be read aloud to roman upper classes.
    • - Metamorphoses - doesnt focus on metamorphoses as much as the events leading up to it (states of feelings) - melodramatic situations and images, homespun morals
    • - often get the idea that a god/goddess gives out excessive punishment - humans are petty victims of divine emotion (actaeon eaten by own hounds - focus on the human mind even after transformation)
    • - deity having sex with mortal woman who's then turned into an animal. or of a human who accidentally offends a god
    • - conflict between a human family, but still focus on rhetorical/moral aspects - Procris and Cephalus should trust eachother
    • - Humans of their own will commit crimes against eachother, making life miserable. When human passions not checked, both innocent and guilty are destroyed.
  9. Erechtheus (the line after that i guess?)
    • - king after dad (Pandion) dies (brother of Procne and Philomena)
    • - gets married, has several kids including second Cecrops and second Pandion.
    • - Cecrops becomes king of Athens, brother Pandion becomes king of Megara and marries Creusa. they have twins Pallas
  10. Story of Pallas and Aegeus / Birth of Theseus
    • - Pallas and Aegeus are sons of second Pandion.
    • - they hate eachother
    • - Aegeas is first in line to throne, droves out Pallas
    • - Aegeas has no sons, Pallas has 50.
    • - Aegeas goes to Delphi (oracle - dont untie the wineskin until you get back to Athens)
    • - Aegeas doesnt get it, goes to visit friend Pittheus of Troezen (wise)
    • - He understands it --> first time he gets drunk and has sex is when he will have a son. So Pittheus gets him drunk and sends his daughter Aethra to fuck him. - That same night Poseidon came to have sex with her (divine conception)
    • - Aegeus leaves his sandals and sword under a rock and says if you have a son, when he is old enough tell him to bring these and come to me.
  11. The Labors of Theseus
    When he is old enough, Theseus lifts the rock, takes the sandals and sword and decides to take the dangerous route to Athens.

    • 6 Labors (mirror Heracles)
    • 1. Epidaurus - killed Periphetes "the clubber," takes the club (like Heracles) - does the same to him
    • 2. Corinth - kill Sinis "the pinebender" - does the same to him
    • 3. Crommyon - Crommyonian sow (giant pig that was destorying some shit. - he tracks and kills) - like Heracles
    • 4. Megara - Sciron. Makes travelers wash their feet on edge, then push them over a cliff. - does the same to him
    • 5. Eleusis - Cercyon (powerful wrestler) Has to strangle in air, because becomes stronger when touching his mother (Gaea) (like Heracles)
    • 6. Right outside Athens - Procrustes - innkeeper, cut his customers to size - Theseus does to him.
  12. What are Theseus' obstacles in Athens?
    • - Bull of Marathon: has to prove he is a true hero -->go capture and kill the Bull of Marathon that Heracles let go (similar to Heracles).
    • - Medea: Aegeus had gone to see Medea (powerful sorceress) about not having a son; she is pregnant with his child. She convinces Aegeus that Theseus is not his true son (threat to her son), so poison his drink at the banquet after he slays the bull. Theseus starts to cut the roast with Aegeus' sword, Aegeus recognizes, knocks the cup from his hand right as he is about to take a sip. Medea flees, has a son called Medes (Persians, hate between Greeks and Persians)

    50 sons of Pallas: they try to kill Theseus, he kills them all.
  13. death of Aegeus
    - Theseus goes to slay the Minotaur, but forgets to change the sails to white on his way back. dad is so distraught that he hurls himself off a cliff. Theseus becomes king.
  14. Theseus and Antiope and the Amazonomachy
    Theseus wants adventure --> sails to the land of the Amazons to abduct their Queen Antiope. The Amazons actually welcomed him and offered him many gifts, but when the Queen brought them to the ship, he abducted her. --> she mothers Hippolytus, butreplaced by Phaedra

    This provoked the Amazonomachy --> they attack but the Athenians win.
  15. Observations: The Amazons
    • - fight many people in greek myth (Heracles, Achilles, Dionysus..)
    • - Descendent from Ares and the nymph Harmonia
    • - Hate men; only tolerate them as slaves.
    • - Periodically joined with men to have sex (preserve thier race) - boy babies killed or blinded/maimed
    • - cut off one boob so they can shoot an arrow and throw spear
    • - follow Artemis
    • - Greeks never questioned their historical reality
    • - example of mythical inversion: conspicuous feature of social behavior is turned upside down.
    • * - opposite of "good" Athenian woman (submissive, chaste, produce male heirs, want to preserve stability of family) - Amazons are bold, sexually unrestrained, kill male babies, dont live in families
    • *- defied their destiny as women and lived like males - fighting, hunting on horseback, ruling themselves, having sex when they feel like it.
    • - caught between childhood and maturity: neither girls nor women, neither male nor female. Live btw civilization and barbarism.
    • - perversion of all that is proper and correct; a threat to the family, the basis of civilized society
    • - Greek heroes always overcome them.
    • - Athenians represent Persians, kind of. --> Theseus' victory over the Amazons symbolized and justified moral and political superiority - over persioans and all other opposers.
  16. Theseus and Pirithous, and Theseus' return to Athens
    • - Pirithous (friend of Theseus'). Both their wives die; decide they want to marry daughters of Zeus.
    • - Theseus --> Helen of Sparta (young girl); sails to Sparta - attack, take Hellen, give to mom to care for
    • - Pirithous --> Persephone. They go to the underworld; Hades invites them to eat, then their flesh is stuck to the chair.

    Theseus is eventually saved by Heracles (rips him out of the chair).

    When he comes back, finds that Athens has been attacked - Helens brother's have come to take her back. He has to go into exile
  17. Theseus' death
    After he returns from Hades, has to go into exile to Skyros. There the king pushes him into the sea because he fears that Theseus will take over.

    *same manner of death as dad.
  18. Perspective 15.1: Bobbaccio's Misfortunes of Famous Men
    • - Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) - best known for his Decameron - collection of stories that has had big influence in the development of modern literature
    • - liked to recount Greek myths, sometimes attempted to explain the compled meanings in these stores
    • - "Concerning the Misfortunes of Famous Men" - gathers stories about the disasters of famous men and women in myth/history/the bible - one story is about Theseus, Phaedra, and hippolytus
    • - Finds a moral for everyone: Phaedra should not have slandered her stepson, Hippolytus should not have jumped to hasty conclusions **- little known of actual greek clothing, architecture, daily life, in this time.
  19. Observations: The Rolktale of "Potipahr's Wife"
    • - Phaedra/Hippolyta mirrors egyptian folktale
    • - wife Anubis propositions brother-in-law Bata. When he refuses she rubs herself w/ fat and grease so she looks like shes been beaten/abused.
    • - Tells Anubis he made advances, and when she refused, he beat her up.
    • - Bata, who represents the Pharoah, repeatedly dies and is reborn --> womans treachery repeatedly brings death, but pharoic vitality triumphs again and again --> political myth
    • Biblical Tale
    • - Joseph taken to Egypt to house of Pophitar (officer of Pharoah).
    • - his wife propositions Joseph - "how can you ask me to sin against god like this" - runs away, leaving a garment in her hands.
    • - She uses this to accuse Joseph - he is thrown in prison, but able to get out b/c God helps him to interpret the Pharoah's dreams. \


    • - Bellerophon (non-greek name) - corinthian hero. Rebuffs the wife of King Proteus for making advances.
    • - King sends him ot his father in law in Lycia with tablets saying to kill him - instead that king just sends him on impossible tasks (kill Chimera with help of Pegasus, fight Amazons)--> always successful.
    • - eventuall married a princess and received a reward, but flew to high, near heaven, on pegasus --> falls to his death
  20. Observations: Myth and Propaganda
    • - 5th century BC Theseus not really known, no important families / villages claimed him as their ancestor
    • - rises in 6th century - festival named after him, prominent in Athenian art
    • - Psisistratus (famous Athenian leader) popularized the legends of Theseus.
    • - Many parallels between the accomplishments of the two men: Theseus often gets the credit for P's deeds - unification of Athens, "synoecism?"
    • - these parallels strengthened P's reputation as a benevolent and powerful leader.
    • - Athenians say that T founded their democracy, but actually P who encouraged the individualism/cultural enlightenment that made democracy possible.
    • - P gave the Panathenaic games, that theseus "invented", special character
    • - Theseus defeated Bull of Marrathon; P. came back from exile there --> increase his support
    • - P is actually the first one to create coinage (w/ head of bull of marathon) not T.
    • - Theseus was the defender of homeland and freedom.
    • - Succeeded by Miltades, who was succeeded by Cimon - further politicized the myths of Athens: led an alliance of Greek states, sponsored trade, captured slaves, took booty that greatly enriched the city of Athens.
    • - Add festival of theseus ot the calander
    • - Cimon was the new theseus, brought fresh glory to a new athens
    • -Theseus - Ionians (Athens). Heracles - Dorians (Sparta)
    • - Athenians pioneered the use of myth for political ends, but today practiced all over the world.
Card Set
Greek Myth: Theseus and The Myths of Athens
Theseus and the Myths of Athens