The Ancient Library

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On this page: Theseus – Thesimenes – Thesmia – Thespeia – Thespis



Plutarch (Thcs. 27) finds evidence in the names of the localities and the tombs of the fallen Amazons. Cleidemus pretended even to point out the precise position of the contending forces and the fluctua­tions of the combat. (Compare the remarkable pas­sage of Aeschylus, JEumcn. 685.) By Antiope Theseus was said to have had a son named Hip-polytus or Demophoon, and after her death to have married Phaedra [hippolytus, phaedra]. The­seus figures in almost all the ancient heroic under­takings. He was one of the Argonauts (the anachronism of the attempt of Medea to poison him does not seem to have been noticed) ; he joined in the Calydonian hunt, and aided Adrastus in recovering the bodies of those slain before Thebes. He contracted a close friendship with Peirithous,and aided him and the Lapithae against the Centaurs. Aided bv Peirithous he carried off

Helen from Sparta while she was quite a girl, and placed her at Aphidnae under the care of Aethra. In return he assisted Peirithous in his attempt to carry off Persephone from the lower world. Pei­rithous perished in the enterprise, and Theseus was kept in hard durance until he was delivered by Hercules. Later writers endeavoured to turn this legend into history by making Peirithous attempt to carry off Core, the daughter of Aidoneus, a king <>f the Molossians. (Pint. c. 31.) Meantime Cas­tor and Pollux invaded Attica, and carried off Helen and Aethra, Academus having informed the brothers where they were to be found [acade­mus]. Menestheus also endeavoured to incite the people against Theseus, who on his return found himself unable to re-establish his authority, and retired to Scyros, where he met with a treacherous death at the hands of Lycomedes. The departed hero was believed to have appeared to aid the Athenians at the battle of Marathon. In b. c. 469 a skeleton of large size was found by Cimon in Scyros [CiMON], and brought to Athens. It was believed to be that of Theseus, in whose honour a temple was erected, in which the bones were depo­sited. A considerable part of this temple still re­mains, forming one of the most interesting monu­ments of Athens. A festival in honour of Theseus was celebrated on the eighth day of each month, especially on the eighth of Pyanepsion. Con­nected with this festival were two others : the Connideia, in memory of Connidas, the guardian of Theseus ; and the Cybernesia, having reference to his voyage. (Diet, of Antiq. s.v. Thescia )

There can be little question that Theseus is a purely legendary personage, as thoroughly so as his contemporary Hercules. Nevertheless, in later times the Athenians came to regard him as the author of a very important political revolution in Attica. Before his time Attica had been broken up into a number of petty independent states or townships (twelve is the number generally stated) acknowledging no head, and connected only by a federal union. Theseus, partly through persuasion, partly by force, abolished the separate council chambers and governments, did away with all separate political jurisdiction, and erected Athens into the capital of a single commonwealth. The festival of the Synoecia was celebrated in comme­moration of this change. The festival which was called Athenaea was now reinstituted and termed the Panathenaea (Thucyd. ii. 15). Theseus is said to have established a constitutional government, retaining in his own hands only certain definite


powers and functions. The citizens generally he is said to have distributed into the three classes of Eupatridae, Geomori, and Demiurgi (Plut. Thes. 24—26). That this consolidation took place some time or other, there can be no doubt. Whether k was accomplished by Theseus is another question. The authority of Thucydides has usually been allowed to settle the matter. Thucydides, however, did but follow the prevailing opinion of his coun­ trymen ; and if his belief raises Theseus to the rank of an historical king, it must also make the Trojan war a matter of history. It is a vain task now to attempt to decide whether there is any historical basis for the accounts of Theseus that were handed down, and still more so to endeavour to separate the historical from the legendary in what has been preserved. The Theseus of the Athenians was a hero who fought the Amazons, and slew the Minotaur, and carried off Helen. A personage who should be nothing more than a wise king, consolidating the Athenian commonwealth, however possible his existence might be, would have no Jiistorical reality. It has been urged that we have no ground for denying the personality of Theseus. In matters of this kind the question is rather " Have we any ground for affirming it ? " And for this we find nothing but the belief of the Athenians. The connection of Theseus with Poseidon, the national deity of the Ionic tribes, in various ways (the name Aegeus points to Aegae, the sanctuary of Poseidon), his coming from the Ionic town Troezen, forcing his way through the Isthmus into Attica, and establishing the Isthmia as an Ionic Panegyris, rather suggest that Theseus is, at least in part, the mythological representative of an Ionian immigration into Attica, which, adding perhaps to the strength and importance of Ionian settlers already in the country, might easily have led to that political aggregation of the dis­ jointed elements of the state which is assigned to Theseus. It was probably from the relation in which he stood to the Athenian commonwealth as a whole, that his name was not connected with any particular phyle. (Plut. Theseus; Diod. 1. c.; Grote, Hist, of Greece, vol. i. p. 281, &c., vol. ii. p. 29, vol. iii. p. 91; Wachsmuth, Hellonische Alter- thumskunde, §40. vol. i. p. 351, &c., § 128. vol. ii. p. 488.) [C. P. M.]

THESEUS (077o-6i5s), a Greek historian of unknown date, wrote the lives of illustrious men (fiioi ei/5o|«j/) in five books, and a work on Corinth (K.opiv6ia.Kd) in three books, in which he gave an account of the establishment of the Isth­mian games. (Suidas, s. v.; Etymol. M. s. v/Apvr]; Stobaeus, Floril. vii. 67, 70 ; Schol. ad Lycoplir. 644.)

THESIMENES. [tlesimenes.]

THESMIA or THESMO'PHOROS (0e^ia, &e(TfjLo<p6pos)t that is, tfc the law-giver," a surname of Demeter and Persephone, in honour of whom the Thesmophoria were celebrated at Athens in the month of Pyanepsion (Herod, ii. 171, vi. 16 ; Aristoph. Thesm. 303), and to whom sanctuaries were also erected at Megara, Troezene, Pheneos, and other places. (Pans. i. 42. § 7, ii. 32. § 7, viii. 15. § 1, ix. 16. $ 3, x. 33, in fin.) [L. S.]

THESPEIA (©e'o-Treia), a daughter of Asopus, from whom the town of Thespiae in Boeotia de­rived its name. (Pans. ix. 26. § 4.) [L. S.]

THESPIS (©6'o-TTfs). 1. The celebrated father of Greek tragedy, has no personal history discon-

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