Greek mythology is filled with heroes who slay murderous beasts and accomplish impossible tasks, and Athens has her very own: Theseus.
Theseus’s father was Aegeus, the king of Athens. He had been married for a long time but the marriage had remained childless, thus his 50 nephews were eagerly awaiting his death. In one last attempt to secure his lineage, he visited his friend king Pittheus the ruler of Troezen, a city located in the south-east corner of Peleponnese. Kind Aegeus courted Pittheus’s daughter Aethra, and it also so happened that the oracle had told Pittheus that his daughter would not have a legitimate marriage, but would bear a famous hero. Thus, Aegeus and Aethra were wed in secret. There is disagreement over whether the sea god Poseidon, Aegeus or both men are the father of Theseus, however it is known that Poseidon was the protector of Theseus and granted him three wishes.
Soon, Aegeus had to return to Athens and he made Aethra promise to raise their son in secret until he was strong enough to lift a big stone in the garden. Under the stone Aegeus had placed his sandals and a sword, so that he would recognize his son when he arrived in Athens.
When Theseus was 18, his mother took him to that stone and he lifted it with ease. She gave him the sandals and the sword, told him the story of his father and let him go make his own destiny.
Theseus decided to travel to Athens by land, which was ill-advised during those days because robbers and giants ruled the area around the isthmus of Corinth, which one had to cross to get to Attica. On his way to Athens, he encountered many of these villains and defeated them all. I won’t go into detail because that would drive me crazy as well, but believe me when I say that some of these people were incredibly violent and aggressive.
Having finally arrived in Athens, he was almost poisoned by the sorceress Medea, who knew his real identity and feared for her place in court (more about Medea in another myth). She was able to exert influence over Aegeus because she had promised to keep him young and healthy with her magic powers. Before he could drink the poisoned wine though, Aegeus spotted his sword in Theseus’s hands and knocked the glass out of Theseus’s hands in excitement. Father and son were finally reunited and Medea was banished from Athens.
This is the early life of Theseus. There are many more legends that surround him, and I will try to write most of them down. He is not one of my favorite heroes, but certainly a very important one because he is considered the founding hero of Athens.
Funnily enough, my journey was the exact opposite of his: I started in Athens and worked my way to the Peleponnese, while he wanted to end up in Athens. As we were driving along the highway towards Corinth, we came across a point where the mountains to the right presented a very narrow pathway. A robber called Skiron used to stand on that pathway and force passerbys to wash his feet. When they bent down to do so, he would kick them off the mountain. Theseus gave him a taste of his own medicine. Today, that particular area of the mountain is called “Kakiaskala” in Greek, which can be roughly translated into “bad rock”. My host told me that it received this nickname because the construction of the highway kept getting interrupted there due to falling rocks and boulders. I guess you could say it is cursed 🙂
Another ironic thing is that many of the highway tunnels are named after the thieves and villains that Theseus killed on his way to Athens. So the presence of the villains can still be felt in this area, but this time they are helping people travel from one place to another 😉 redemption much?
I like to think that my journey was made possible by his, because he was responsible for making the isthmus a safe area to travel through again. Thank you Theseus!