MYTHICAL KINGS OF ATHENS
1st Mythical King of Athens: Cecrops. His
grave is said to be under the South Porch of the Erechtheum on the
Acropolis. Autochthonous (born with no parents) and snake-bodied. During his
reign, Athena wins patronship of the city (as celebrated in the pedimental
sculpture of the Parthenon, built in her honor). See
Dr. J's Illustrated Parthenon
for details and images. The storied daughters of Cecrops are Aglauros, Herse,
and Pandrosos. Herse's son by Hermes is said to be Cephalus.
Rubens painting of Cephalus.
2nd Mythical King of Athens: Erichthonius.
Male-born (from spilled semen when Athen thwarted Hephaestus' rape of her).
He is raised by Athena, whom he honors with the Panathenaea (festival
celebrating her patronship of the city) and and Palladium (wooden statue
that gets a new robe, or peplos). Rubens'
Painting of Erichthonius.
3rd Mythical King of Athens: Erechtheus. The
Erechtheum celebrates his close connection with both Poseidon and Athena.
See Dr. J's Illustrated
Erechtheum for details and images. Storied daughters include Creusa and
4th Mythical King of Athens: Pandion.
Pandion's story changes depending on the mythographic source. His famous
storied children include daughters Procne and Philomela and multiple sons.
Sometimes, Aegeus is one of them.
4th Mythical King of Athens: Aegeus
Theseus is the son of Aegeus (or Poseidon) and
Folktale motif: when Theseus comes of age, he will
be strong enough to discover his true identity by lifting the rock that
conceals his sword and sandals, gifts of his father.
LA HIRE, Laurent de
Theseus and Aethra
Oil on canvas, 141 x 118,5 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest
Theseus' Labors are designed after Heracles'.
First, he makes the highways safe for travelers,
the first thing a king must do to foster growth, commerce, and travel: He kills Periphetes, Sinis
(Pine-Bender), Sciron, and Procrustes ("Stretcher"). He kills the Bull of
Marathon (the same bull released by Heracles).
Typical of mythic heroes, Theseus kills an
anthropophagic monster, the Sow of
Crommyon (= Heracles' Mares of Diomedes).
Typical of mythic heroes, Theseus fights the
traditional liminal creatures. He fights the Amazons with Heracles
and has a son Hippolytus by an Amazon named Hippolyta. See Euripides' play
for the conflict between his wife Phaedra (sister of Ariadne) and his son
Hippolytus. He fights the Centaurs, who get drunk and
attack during his friend Pirithous' wedding. He travels to Crete and kills the Minotaur
(child of Pasiphae, wife of Minos [son of Europa and Zeus], and a bull). He
is aided by the princess Ariadne, whom he subsequently abandons on
the island of Naxos (Theseus is a cad). (Tangentially connected to these
tales are the stories of Daedalus and Icarus and the tale of Pasiphae).
Theseus "forgets" to change the sail to white, the signal of a successful
voyage, and in despair Aegeus kills himself by jumping from a cliff
at Sounion into the sea (subsequently named for him). For details and
images, see Dr. J's Illustrated
Images Of Fall of Icarus:
Pompeian wall painting
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
Watercolour on paper, 133 x 206 mm
Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp
BRUEGEL, Pieter the Elder
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
Oil on canvas, mounted on wood, 73.5 x 112 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels
Daedalus and Icarus
Oil on canvas, 136 x 111 cm
Private collection, Genoa
PAINTING FROM CNOSSUS: BULL JUMPING
WALL PAINTING FROM CNOSSUS:
WOODEN MODEL OF LABYRINTH
HORNS OF CONSECRATION AT CNOSSUS
Black-figure vase of Theseus
Killing the Minotaur
Then Theseus becomes the 5th Mythical King of
Typical of mythic heroes, Theseus is involved in
several heroic journeys, including the voyage of the Argonauts.
Typical of mythic heroes, Theseus shows his prowess
in a mythic hunt: the Calydonian boar-hunt.
Typical of mythic heroes, Theseus voyages to the
underworld. Theseus had already snatched Helen for his bride (she is
snatched back by her brothers when he goes with Pirithous to the
Underworld). Now they seek Persephone for Pirithous. They are imprisoned,
but Heracles frees Theseus (Pirithous, mortal, is stuck).
Typical of mythic heroes, Theseus mellows with
age and becomes a good king, offering sanctuary to Oedipus and providing
succor to widows/orphans (something Pericles will remind his audience is an
Typical of mythic heroes, he is spotted long after
his purported death (Elvis, anyone?). After the Battle of Marathon in 490
BC, it was said that the ghost of Theseus could be seen haunting the
plains of Marathon (and that he brought luck to the Athenians in their
victorious fight against the more powerful Persians)