Who were the people that Theseus fought on the road to Athens?
There is perhaps no better source to consult on matters of ancient Greek history and mythology than the historian Robert Graves, so it is to him that we turn for an answer to the question of who or what Theseus (son of Aethra, his mother, and either Poseidon or King Aegeus, both whom reportedly slept with Aethra in same brief span of time) encountered and fought on his journey to Athens. Theseus, of course, had grown strong and was able to lift the heavy boulder underneath which Aegeus had stored a sword and sandals. It was Aegeus’ plan that, if Aethra gave birth to a boy, the lad would eventually claim his birthright by successfully retrieving the sword and sandals. Having done so, Theseus sets out for Athens and encounters, according to Graves, Periphetes, a cripple. As Graves describes the ensuing scene:
“Periphetes, who some call Poseidon’s son, and others the son of Hephaestus and Anticleia, owned a huge brazen club, with which he used to kill wayfarers; hence his nickname Corunetes, or ‘cudgel-man.’ Theseus wrenched the club from his hands and battered him to death.” [Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, 1955]
As Theseus continued on his journey, he next encountered Sinis who, according to Graves, “claimed to be Poseidon’s bastard.” As with the violent Periphetes, Theseus fought and killed the murderous Sinis, and then married the latter’s daughter, Perigune. Theseus’s next violent encounters included a giant wild boar, followed by Sciron, another possible son of Poseidon who would “force passing travelers to wash his feet,” only to push them off a cliff into the sea below. Cercyon was next. Cercyon would force passers-by to wrestle, during which he would crush them to death; he lost to Theseus, as would Polypemon, Sinis’ father, who was particularly sadistic in his practice of sawing off the legs of tall visitors to his inn. Next came Phytalids, the son of Phytalus and a relative of Sinis. Despite this familial connection to one of Theseus’ victims, Phytalids was the only congenial host whom Theseus encountered on his long and apparently macabre journey.