Why is the story Theseus important to the Greeks?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Theseus is an important, legendary figure in Athenian history. He was revered as the Athenian king who unified Attica under Athenian hegemony. Numerous stories about Theseus slaying monsters on the way to Athens to recover his birthright are thought by scholars to allegorically represent the process by which Athens gained control over surrounding societies, many of which adhered to what the Athenians deemed primitive lifestyles.

Some literary critics and historians have argued that Theseus's victory over the Minotaur represented the victory of civilization in the form of Theseus over savagery and brutality in the form of the half-bull Minotaur. Additionally, the story probably represented the decline of the influence of Crete, which faded into relative obscurity at about the time of the rise of Athens. In the words of one literary critic:

Theseus' victory over Minos is the triumph of political principle over arbitrary rule, of Athens over Crete, the defeat of the old order and the coming of the new. 

So Theseus was remembered in Greek mythology as among those men who ushered in a new era of civilization, learning, and political innovation. He was among the mythological fathers of the Golden Age of Athens.

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