Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

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As for Theseus and Pirithous, their treacherous intention was soon discovered by Pluto, who set the first on an enchanted rock, from which he could not descend unassisted, and bound the second to the constantly revolving wheel of his father, Ixion.

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THESEUS.—Canova. (Volksgarten, Vienna.)

When Hercules was in Hades in search of Cerberus (p. 229), he delivered Theseus from his unpleasant position, and thus [262] enabled him to return to his own home, where he now expected to spend the remainder of his life in peace.

Phædra and Hippolytus.

Although somewhat aged by this time, Theseus was still anxious to marry, and looked about him for a wife to cheer his loneliness. Suddenly he remembered that Ariadne’s younger sister, Phædra, must be a charming young princess, and sent an embassy to obtain her hand in marriage. The embassy proved successful, and Phædra came to Athens; but, young and extremely beautiful, she was not at all delighted with her aged husband, and, instead of falling in love with him, bestowed all her affections upon his son, Hippolytus, a virtuous youth, who utterly refused to listen to her proposals to elope. In her anger at finding her advances scorned, Phædra went to Theseus and accused Hippolytus of attempting to kidnap her. Theseus, greatly incensed at what he deemed his son’s dishonorable behavior, implored Neptune to punish the youth, who was even then riding in his chariot close by the shore. In answer to this prayer, a great wave suddenly arose, dashed over the chariot, and drowned the young charioteer, whose lifeless corpse was finally flung ashore at Phædra’s feet. When the unfortunate queen saw the result of her false accusations, she confessed her crime, and, in her remorse and despair, hung herself.

Death of Theseus.

As for Theseus, soured by these repeated misfortunes, he grew so stern and tyrannical, that he gradually alienated his people’s affections, until at last they hated him, and banished him to the Island of Scyros, where, in obedience to a secret order, Lycomedes, the king, treacherously slew him by hurling him from the top of a steep cliff into the sea. As usual, when too late, the Athenians repented of their ingratitude, and in a fit of tardy remorse deified this hero, and built a magnificent temple on the Acropolis in his honor. This building, now used as a museum, contains many relics of Greek art. Theseus’ bones were piously brought back, and inhumed in Athens, where he was long worshiped as a demigod.




At Iolcus, in Thessaly, there once reigned a virtuous king, Æson, with his good wife, Alcimede. Their happiness, however, was soon disturbed by Pelias, the king’s brother, who, aided by an armed host, took forcible possession of the throne. Æson and Alcimede, in fear of their lives, were forced to resort to a hasty and secret flight, taking with them their only son, Jason.

The king and queen soon found a place of refuge, but, afraid lest their hiding place should be discovered and they should all be slain by the cruel Pelias, they intrusted their son to the Centaur Chiron, revealing to him alone the secret of the child’s birth, and bidding him train him up to avenge their wrongs.

Chiron discharged his duties most faithfully, trained the young prince with great care, and soon made him the wisest and most skillful of his pupils. The years spent by Jason in the diligent acquisition of knowledge, strength, and skill, passed very quickly; and at last the time came when Chiron made known to him the secret of his birth, and the story of the wrongs inflicted by Pelias, the usurper, upon his unfortunate parents.

Jason’s vow.

This tale aroused the young prince’s anger, and made him solemnly vow to punish his uncle, or perish in the attempt. Chiron encouraged him to start, and in parting bade him remember that Pelias alone had injured him, but that all the rest of the human race were entitled to any aid he could bestow. Jason listened respectfully to his tutor’s last instructions; then, girding his sword and putting on his sandals, he set out on his journey to Iolcus.

[264] It was early in the spring, and the young man had not gone very far before he came to a stream, which, owing to the usual freshets of the season, was almost impassable. Jason, however, quite undaunted by the rushing, foaming waters, was about to attempt the crossing, when he saw an aged woman not far from him, gazing in helpless despair at the waters she could not cross.

Naturally kind-hearted and helpful, and, besides that, mindful of Chiron’s last recommendation, Jason offered the old woman his assistance, proposing to carry her across on his back if she would but lend him her staff to lean upon. The old woman gladly accepted this offer; and a few moments later, Jason, bending beneath his strange load, was battling with the rapid current.