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An Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek and Roman Mythology - Second Edition

An Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek and Roman Mythology - Second Edition


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Check out the second edition, with hundreds of full colour illustrations.
Check out the second edition, with hundreds of full colour illustrations.

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Published by: James Hampton Belton on Aug 03, 2009
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Ægeus, king of Athens, being twice married, and having no children, was so desirous of an heir to his throne
that he made a pilgrimage to Delphi in order to consult the oracle. But the response being ambiguous, he
repaired to Troezen to consult his wise friend Pittheus, who reigned over that city, by whose advice he
contracted a secret marriage with his friend's daughter Aethra.
After passing some time with his bride, Ægeus prepared to take his departure for his own dominions; but
before doing so he led Aethra to the sea-shore, where, after depositing his sword and sandals under a huge
rock, he thus addressed her: "Should the gods bless our union with a son, do not reveal to him the name and
rank of his father until he is old enough to possess the strength requisite for moving this stone. Then send him
to my palace at Athens bearing these tokens of his identity."
A son was born to Aethra, whom she called Theseus, and who was carefully trained and educated by his
grandfather Pittheus. When he had developed into a strong and manly youth his mother conducted him to the
spot where the rock had been placed by Ægeus, and at her command he rolled away the stone, and took
possession of the sword and sandals which had lain there for sixteen years, and which she now desired him to
convey to his father Ægeus, king of Athens.
When Theseus reached Athens, he found his father a helpless tool in the hands of the sorceress Medea, whom
he had married after her departure from Corinth. Knowing, by means of her supernatural powers, that
Theseus was the king's son, and fearing that her influence might be weakened by his presence, she poisoned
the mind of the old king against the stranger, whom she represented as being a spy. It was accordingly
arranged that Theseus should be invited to a banquet, and a strong poison mixed with his wine.
Now Theseus had resolved to reveal himself at this feast to the father whom he yearned to embrace. Before
tasting the wine he put his plan into execution, and drew out his sword so that the eyes of the king might rest
upon it. When Ægeus beheld once more the well-known weapon which he had so often wielded, he knew that
it was his son who stood before him. He warmly embraced him, presented him as his heir to his courtiers and

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Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek and Roman Mythology

subjects, and then, no longer able to endure the sight of Medea, he banished her for ever from his dominions.
When Theseus was acknowledged as the rightful heir to the throne he was opposed by the fifty sons of
Pallas, the king's brother, who had confidently expected that on the demise of the old king the government of
the country would devolve upon them. They therefore resolved to put Theseus to death; but their plans
becoming known to him, he surprised them as they lay in ambush awaiting his approach, and destroyed them
Years before, Androgeos, the youthful son of Minos, king of Crete, had been treacherously murdered by the
Athenians and his father, anxious to avenge the death of his son, had declared war against king Ægeus, and
conquered Athens. The conqueror henceforth compelled the Athenians to send to him every nine years a
tribute of seven youths and seven maidens of the noblest families of the land, who became the prey of the
Minotaur, a monster, half-man, half-bull, whose lair was in the wonderful labyrinth, constructed by Dædalus
for the Cretan king.
When Theseus informed his father of his heroic determination to end this oppression, Ægeus was
overwhelmed with grief, and endeavoured, by every means in his power, to shake his son's resolution, but,
confident of success, Theseus assured his father that he would slay the Minotaur and return home victorious.
It was customary for the vessel bearing its unhappy freight of human victims to use on this voyage black sails
only; but Theseus promised his father that, should he return in safety, he would hoist white ones in their
Theseus killed the Minotaur but, on his return, forgot that the ship still bore the black sails with which she
had left the Attic coast. As she neared the port of Athens,Ægeus, who was anxiously awaiting the return of
his son on the beach, caught sight of the vessel with its black sails, and concluding that his gallant son had
perished, threw himself in despair into the sea.

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