What makes Theseus a heroic character?

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The Greek heroes all conform to a fairly narrow archetype which we find in Homer. They are categorized to such an extent that we can rank the heroes of the Iliad and, to a lesser extent, the Odyssey according to how closely they conform to this archetype. Non-Homeric heroes in...

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The Greek heroes all conform to a fairly narrow archetype which we find in Homer. They are categorized to such an extent that we can rank the heroes of the Iliad and, to a lesser extent, the Odyssey according to how closely they conform to this archetype. Non-Homeric heroes in Greek mythology, such as Theseus, are also subject to its constraints.

The hero should be of royal birth and preferably with at least one divine parent. He should be strong, handsome and virile. He should be aware of his status, acknowledging his equals or near-equals, not condescending too much to his inferiors. Above all, he should perform great deeds, which bring glory and renown to his name. In all these categories, Theseus obviously qualifies as a hero.

It is not necessarily required of the hero that he behave in a moral or reasonable manner. Achilles, the greatest of the Homeric heroes, is unreasonable when he refuses the gifts of Agamemnon, and Theseus seems immoral, unreasonable and profoundly ungrateful when he abandons Ariadne on Naxos. However, though Theseus is punished for his mistreatment of Ariadne, his heroic status is not lessened.

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Keep in mind, the classical heroes were understood, more than anything else, in term of their exploits. They stood at the pinnacle of human achievement, with feats that others would not have dared to attempt. With this in mind, Theseus would certainly qualify as a hero, given his various adventures, as well as his status as the definitive hero of Athens.

As a child, Theseus was set with a task to prove himself: his father, Aegeus, king of Athens (interestingly, Theseus had two fathers, the mortal Aegeus, and the god, Poseidon) had left a sword and sandals buried beneath a rock. When he'd grown to adulthood, he was to retrieve the sword and sandals, and then travel to Athens to present himself. So begins one of his most famous series of adventures.

During this time period, the road to Athens was plagued with dangers. Theseus confronts these dangers one by one, completing a total of six labors: slaying Periphetes, Sinis, the Crommyonian sow, Sciron, Cercyon, and Procrustes. Throughout these encounters, he has a tendency to turn the tables on his would be murderers, killing them in the same fashion that they had killed so many others. Later, after having cleared the road of these dangers, he would arrive in Athens, with further adventures still ahead of him.

There are numerous stories about Theseus. He's very much a larger-than-life kind of character, and that very same larger-than-life quality is what defines what it means to be a hero in the Classical World.

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Theseus is present in many different Greek myths and stories based upon those myths. He is important particularly because of his role as an early hero of Athens.

Perhaps the best known story concerning Theseus is the one of Theseus and the Minotaur. In this story, Athens was obliged to pay a annual tribute of seven young men and women to King Minos to serve as food for the Minotaur. Theseus, with the aid of Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos, kills the Minotaur and leaves Crete, abandoning Ariadne on Naxos, and returning to Athens. Especially since the discovery of bull dancing iconography in Minoan frescoes, attempts have been made to read this story as encapsulating historical themes, but the case for historical interpretation is mainly speculative.

Theseus also appears in Sophocles' "Oedipus at Colonus" as a wise king who gives sanctuary to Oedipus. He is rewarded for his generosity by Oedipus using a boon granted to him by the gods concerning the place of his death to make Colonus as sacred place and bring the favor of gods on Athens. This story represents the foundation myth of the temple at Colonus where Sophocles himself was a priest.

The account of Theseus in Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream`is derived from Plutarch`s `Life of Theseus.`

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