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Theseus

Although Theseus never actually existed, Plutarch, in documenting his life, wants to cull important lessons for Greeks and Romans. Just as Theseus wrestles with villains threatening civilization, Plutarch forces his readers to grapple with the role of virtue in politics, or, less abstractly, the role the virtuous man has to play in his polis: i.e. how to be a citizen rather than a subject. This becomes explicit at the end of Theseus's life when he ceases to be a good king and becomes a tyrant, stripping citizenship from the Athenians by returning them to subjugation under a king. 

Historical Context – Emergence from the Dark Ages

  • Bronze-Age to Iron Age transition:
    • Dark Ages:
      • What were they?
    • Bronze Age civilizations:
      • Egypt
      • Hittites
      • Sumer/Akkad/Babylonians
      • Minoans and Myceneans (Aegean)
    • Middle Period:
      • As most major civilizations in decline, the smaller civilizations seem to rise and fill in the gaps:
        • Phoenicians
        • Hebrews
        • Arameans
        • Philistines
      • For the Greeks, though, they lose writing and reading and see a mass exodus from the old urban centers of Mycenean Greece.
    • Iron Age civilizations:
      • Neo-Assyrians
      • Neo-Babylonians
      • Persians
      • Greeks
      • Romans
      • Etc…

Outline

  • Parentage
  • Comes of age
    • Delphi
    • Theseus’s haircut
  • Sword and Sandals under a rock
    • Sea = safe
    • Land = dangerous
  • Theseus personally cleans up the land around the Saronic Gulf
    • @ Epidaurus (wins his club)
    • On the isthmus of Corinth
    • Crommyonian Sow
    • Wrestles near Eleusis
    • Procrustes
      • Cf. Hercules and how he killed his monsters and fiends
  • Theseus receives first real hospitality at the Cephisus River, just outside of Athens
  • Arrival in Athens
    • Medea!? Poison!?
    • Recognition and Inheritance
    • Revolt!
    • First battle in Athens (neighborhoods named)
  • Bull of Marathon
  • Theseus and the Minotaur
    • Plague and Expiation
    • The most “likely” (common?) story
    • Was Minos good/bad?
      • Why does Plutarch have to defend Minos?
    • Alternative stories
      • Vary by geographic region
    • Return: the sail!
    • Philosophical Problems: The Ship of Theseus
  • Theseus unites Athens and Attica
    • Centralizes authority
    • Institutes common feasts
      • Oscophoria
      • Panathenaic Festival
    • Establishes three classes of citizen:
      • Nobles
      • Craftsmen
      • Farmers
    • Gives nobles most power over law and religion
    • Opens Athens as a “commonwealth of all nations” (cf. Romulus welcoming refugees)
  • The many other adventures of Theseus
    • The Amazons
      • Source for Shakespeare’s Hippolyta and Theseus in Midsummer Night’s Dream?
      • Second battle in Athens, more neighborhoods named
    • False marriages
    • False adventures
      • Theseus did NOT participate in
        • Jason and the Argonauts
        • Meleager and the Boar (cf. Iliad Book 9; Ovid Metamorphoses Bk. 7/8)
        • Seven Against Thebes
    • His friendship with Perithous
      • Did involve him in the battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs
    • Seizure of Helen
      • Ends up in prison to the King of Molossus
      • Heracles frees him
  • Theseus returns to Athens
    • Castor and Pollux
      • brothers of Helen and mythical Spartans
      • causing trouble in Athens
  • Theseus curses the Athenians, giving them what they want (deserve?)
    • Flees to the

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