Theseus (THEE-see-uhs), the political ruler of Athens. The episodes in which Theseus is the primary actor are limited to books 1 and 2, in which he goes to war. He marches first against the Amazons in Scythia and then Creon in Thebes. In both instances, he proceeds with the confidence of self-righteousness in his mission against indignities and inhumanities that others had suffered. He demonstrates against Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, that he enjoys the power to subdue her forces regardless of how valiantly they fight. To Creon, he proves that cruel tyranny can never endure the sword of one in favor of the gods. These two episodes establish Theseus as an ideal model of the chivalric knight of the Middle Ages, one who exhibits a combination of personal valor earned in military battle and beneficent wisdom granted toward his enemies. Throughout the remainder of the epic, Theseus serves as the standard of honorable behavior by which to judge the actions of the other figures, and he presides over the unfolding of subsequent episodes involving those others.
Arcites, a former enemy of Theseus who fights at Thebes and is taken prisoner. He is one of the two principal antagonists. Arcites is a noble youth who proves his personal valor in military battle at Thebes. As a captured enemy, he is returned to Athens and imprisoned, where he first sees and falls in love with Emilia. The majority of the epic revolves around his quest to win her against similar...
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