Three versions of Theseus

The myth about Theseus has been found in many different versions.   Three versions of the myth are compared and contrasted here.

Churchill's version


In one version by Justin Churchill, Theseus was born to Poseiden and Aethra even though Aethra was just married to Aegeus.  Before Aegeus left for Athens, he left his sandals and sword so that Theseus could go to Athens when he was older with the sandals and sword and become the king of Athens.  When Theseus finally arrived in Athens, after fighting many villains on the land route to Athens,  Medea, the wife of Aegeus, persuaded Aegeus to kill Theseus by sending Theseus to capture the Marathonian Bull.  Theseus surprisingly captured the bull and Medea gave Aegeus poison to successfully kill Theseus. Right before Theseus drank the poison, Aegeus noticed the sword and smashed the cup away. 

War broke out between Aegeus and his brother Minos.  An oracle told Aegeus that seven girls and seven boys had to be sacrificed to the Minotaur every nine years.  Theseus was chosen to go and he promised King Aegeus that if he came back alive, he would raise a white flag.  At Crete, a girl named Ariadne fell in love with Theseus and helped him defeat the Minotaur. On his journey back home, Theseus ditched Ariadne on an island and forgot to raise the white flag. Aegeus, who believed Theseus was dead, killed himself.  Theseus then became the king of Athens.

Hamilton's version


In Hamilton's version of Theseus, Theseus was born to Aegeus and Aethra. Unlike Churchill's version, Theseus was not born to Poseidon, but  Aegeus left shoes and a sword under a rock for Theseus to claim.  Also,  just like Churchill's version, Theseus chose to go to Athens by land, not sea.  Hamilton included some of the bandits in her version of Theseus such as Sciron and Procrustes (see handout).  Medea found Theseus as a threat because of his popularity after he cleared the land route of the bandits so she persuaded Aegeus (who did not know who Theseus was yet) into killing Theseus. Before Theseus drank the poison, he pulled out the sword to show his father that he was Aegeus' son and Aegeus threw the cup down.  Medea ran safely away to Asia.  

Unlike in Churchill's version, Theseus did not capture the Marathonian bull. Instead, Minos' son was sent by Aegeus to kill the bull.  The bull killed the son and Minos waged war on Athens, captured it, and declared that he would destroy Athens unless they sent seven boys and seven girls as a tribute every nine years. In Hamiltons' version, she described the Minotaur.  "The Minotaur was a monster, half bull, half human, the offspring of Minos' wife Pasiphae and a wonderfully beautiful bull...He had Daedalus, a great architect and inventor, construct a place of confinement for him for which escape was impossible. (Mythology by Edith Hamilton page 157). Hamilton also wrote about how Ariadne fell in love with Theseus at first site. She went to Daedalus and asked him how to get out of the labyrinth. She then went to Theseus and told him that she would tell him the clue to get out of the labyrinth if Theseus promised to marry her in Athens. Theseus promised and Ariadne told him to use a ball of thread. Theseus did so and killed the Minotaur. Theseus, Ariadne, and the other tributes then fled back to Athens. 

Hamilton wrote that, on the journey home, Theseus could have done two things on the island of Naxos. One story says that Theseus deserted Ariadne while she was sleeping. The other story says that Ariadne became sick and Theseus left Ariadne on the island to recover. When Theseus went back to his ship to do necessary work, a storm swept the ship away. When Theseus went back to the island, he found Ariadne dead. However, all of the myths about Theseus agree that Theseus forgot to raise the white sail and Aegeus, out of despair, killed himself.  Theseus then became the king of Athens but later resigned and started the first democracy.


Bulfinch's version


In Bulfinch's version of Theseus, Theseus was not born to Poseidon, but to Aegeus and Aethra, just like Hamilton's version. Then, everything was the same as the other versions until Theseus decided to take the land route to Athens. Bulfinch goes more in depth about Periphetes and Procrustes (see handout). Medea knew who Theseus was in Bulfinch's version, and gave Theseus the poison. Theseus stepped forward to drink the poison and at that moment, Aegeus saw the sword and prevented Theseus from drinking the poison. Medea ran away to Asia and Theseus became the new heir.

 Unlike the other two versions of Theseus, Bulfinch's version does not include why the seven boys and seven girls were sent as a tribute to Crete. Also, Bulfinch's version states that the tributes were sent every year, while the other two versions states that they were sent every nine years.  The ships that departed for Crete always had a black sail and Theseus promised his father that he would change the sail to a white sail if he came home alive. When the tributes arrived in Crete, they were presented to Minos, the king of Crete. Ariadne, the daughter of Minos fell in love with Theseus and provided him with a clue about the labyrinth. Unlike Hamilton's and Churchill's versions however, Ariadne also provides Theseus with a sword, and Theseus does not promise to marry her. Theseus defeats the Minotaur and sails for Athens with the tributes and Ariadne. On their way back home, Theseus abandons Ariadne on Naxos. Bulfinch includes why he abandoned her. Theseus said that Minerva commanded him to do so.  Just like in the two versions mentioned above, Theseus forgot to change the sail and his father, Aegeus killed himself. Theseus then became the new king of Athens.

 The versions are probably different because the myth is very old and it was passed down by word of mouth so the story could have changed. Although there are some minor differences in the three versions, the main story flow is the same.

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