The Hero of Athens

"What lies beyond is full of marvels and unreality,
a land of poets and fabulists, of doubt and obscurity..."
Plutarch, Lives

picture by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

The Adventures of Athens' Greatest Hero,
Where were you when the ship hit the sand?

Aegeus, King of the great city of Athens, desperately wanted a child or ten...You see, his brother Pallas had fifty sons (poor Mrs. Pallas kept forgetting the Trojans!), and as long as Aegeus was childless, the sons of Pallas hoped to succeed to the Athenian throne. This would not do! His fifty nephews were vile, crude, cruel and vain, not to mention despicable...and those were their good qualities! Aegeus needed an heir, and quickly!

Neither his first wife, Melite, nor the second, Chalciope, bore him any children. Certain that the goddess of Love, Aphrodite, held a grudge against him, Aegeus introduced her worship into Athens, thinking this may appease the goddess' wrath.

Talk about making yourself popular with your subjects! I mean, picture the scenario, as Aegeus addressed the citizenry:

"Listen up, dear people of Athens, it appears that lovely Aphrodite is peeved at us. To make amends we must build temples in her honor and worshipfully engage in the sensual and sexual arts. Any objections?"

Objections? Methinks not!

"Let us pray!" shouted back the aroused Athenians...

Next, Aegeus decided to consult the renowned Oracle at Delphi. Remember the funky Oracles? Their motto was "For Every Seer There Is a Sucker." The Pythian priestess, stoned out of her mind as usual, told the King that he must not sleep with any women until he reached Athens, lest he one day die of grief. These were her exact words:

"Loose not the wine-skin's jutting neck, great chief of the people,
Until thou shalt have come once more to the city of Athens."

Say what? Does that mean what I think it does? "Yo'racle, can I get a second opinion?", Aegeus wanted to shout!

Confused with this obscure pronouncement (easy on the hallucinogenic, Pythia!) Aegeus sailed to the small city of Troezen (pronounced 'treason'), ruled by his friend Pittheus. This King of Troezen was no fool and Aegeus hoped that he could translate the Oracle's ramblings.

King Pittheus was a good man, albeit a bit off-center; You won't believe what he did! Upon hearing the Pythian Oracle's pronouncement, he promptly set up Aegeus with his gorgeous daughter, Aethra. It's not clear exactly how he managed this, but next thing you know, his guest from Athens was drunk as a satyr and Aegeus and Aethra were playing doctor, late into the dawn.

I'll tell you, there's nothing like ancient Greek hospitality! No sir.

(A nasty -- not to mention fishy -- rumor circulated in the Olympian Enquirer that, following their erotic dalliance, Aethra went down to the ocean to bathe; whereupon the great god of the sea, Poseidon, drawn by her exquisite beauty (and smell), rose from the depths and had his way with her.

(Oh my...They didn't call him the 'Earth Shaker' for nothing. Suffice me to say that Uncle Poseidon, like his brother Zeus, "lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts". The Enquirer approached Poseidon for a quote, but he referred all questions to his attorneys, who had absolutely no comment. Thus, we will never know whether Theseus was the son of Aegeus, or the child of the god of the sea.)

When it came time for King Aegeus to return to Athens he took Aethra to the harbor to wish her a fond farewell. He suspected that the young woman was pregnant with his child, but worried lest his mean brother Pallas (and the fifty filthy sons) found out about this offspring and brought harm to mother and child in their evil envy. What to do, what to do. He couldn't very well bring Aethra back to Athens, for he feared for her safety.

Digging a deep hole near the beach, Aegeus took off his sword and sandals -- ancient symbols of royalty -- and buried them. The priceless sword was an heirloom from Cecrops, founder and legendary first King of Athens, so you can imagine how reluctantly Aegeus parted with it.

Lifting a huge rock, he concealed the hole and told Aethra that, in the event that she had a son by him, the boy was to move the stone and retrieve his personal effects. "Once our son is strong enough to move the stone, tell him to appear in Athens and I will recognize him as my child," he said.

(Did it ever occur to the good King that he may have a daughter? Just wondering.)

Aegeus gave Aethra one last passionate kiss, and told the beautiful woman that he would always consider her his wife. He warned her to never reveal the identity of her child in case his evil brother Pallas learned of it, and boarded his ship to return to the great city of Athens.

"Tell inquisitive people that the father is Poseidon!" he shouted out to Aethra, as the ship pulled away. Hmmm...I wonder if he subscribed to The Enquirer...

Aegeus still had no clue what the Delphic Oracle had meant, but I'm here to tell you that it was too late. The "wine-skin's jutting neck had been loosed", so to speak...

And thus was conceived the greatest hero Athens would ever see. Or was Poseidon to blame? Alas, short of DNA testing, we will never know. Or will we?

Theseus grows up


I met Theseus when he was a mere child of six or seven. My nephew Hercules and I were passing by Troezen so we briefly stopped by the palace of King Pittheus to say "hello" and kick back some of his fine wine. The good King was thrilled to see us and ordered his servants to serve up a fabulous feast. Hercules promptly took off his famous lion pelt so that he could eat in comfort, and all the assembled children ran away in terror at the sight of this ferocious "lion" lying on the floor.

All the children scattered, that is, save for Theseus. The brave little rascal, displaying the valor that would serve him so well throughout his life, picked up his  wooden toy sword and attacked the lion pelt with a vengeance, triumphantly "killing" it. He then paraded the pelt around the room, chasing and terrifying the other children with his trophy. Herc and I (and the other adults) howled in laughter at the little guy's heroic antics. The darn pelt was ten times his size but Theseus had no problem lifting it!

"My little cousin Theseus is going to be a splendid warrior," commented Hercules, grinning at proud grandpa Pittheus. "The tiny dude is fearless! Did you say the great Poseidon is his daddy? No wonder..."

Hercules then sat Theseus on his knee and regaled him (and everyone else) with tales of his wild and renowned labors. Wide-eyed sat Theseus, enthralled as his larger-than-life cousin spoke of exotic beasts and horrid creatures and fair maidens in distress. By the end of the evening, Theseus knew exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up - A certified hero, just like mighty Hercules!

To this day I remember the little guy's last words to Hercules, the next morning as we were leaving Troezen: "Don't kill all the evil men and beasts, cousin Hercules, please leave some for me!" he shouted, waving his wooden sword and running beside us as we rode out of the city...

"Save some for me!" he repeated, his boyish voice faint in the distance. Herc and I smirked at each other, for Apollo - who knew everything before it happened - had already told us bits and pieces of Theseus' future, and we knew that the intrepid little guy was fated for greatness.

After all, that's why Herc had insisted that we stop by Troezen, it was no mere co-incidence. He knew that his visit was going to be the spark that ignited the heroic fires deep inside Theseus, and he reveled at the deeds to come...


Theseus grew up to be a very strong man, endowed with uncommon courage and intelligence. When he turned 16 his mother knew it was time. Aethra took her son to the Rock of Aegeus and asked if he was strong enough to move it.

"One or two hands?" teased the cocky teen. Effortlessly he heaved the huge stone, and, following his mother's instructions, soon unearthed his father's fine sword and sandals. The majestic sword felt like an extension of his hand, so perfect was the fit, and the fancy sandals were the epitome of retro fashion.

"Cool birthday gifts. Thanks, mom!"

Aethra then dropped the bolt on him - She told Theseus that these objects were his father's, named Aegeus, who was the King of Athens. It was now his duty to report to Athens and to announce himself as the heir to the great throne. Aethra warned her son about his uncle Pallas and the fifty filthy scions, and beseeched him to be very careful.

Yeah, right mom. Careful. That's for wimps. Theseus had different ideas.

When his grandfather Pittheus heard that Theseus was off to Athens, he implored him to travel by sea. It would be a far quicker, and much safer journey.

You see, while my nephew Hercules was around, all the thieves and thugs knew enough to lay low...The lucky ones whom Herc hadn't killed, that is. But, having cleaned up the area long ago, and having run out of ruffians and beasts to tame, the mighty Hercules had departed for Lydia. The emboldened scoundrels had re-surfaced and were now terrorizing the vicinity, and they even controlled the road from Troezen to Athens.

"Please go by ship," begged Pittheus, telling Theseus about the bandits and robbers who waited on the road.

No way. Those evil men were kindly spared by Hercules so that Theseus could have a go at them, as per his request many years ago. It was Athens by land or bust, this he knew.

Besides, his father's sword was far too clean. What better way to make a good impression on daddy, than by staining the weapon with the blood of bad men?


A word here about the bandits who infested the road to Athens. These men possessed extraordinary speed, strength and stamina, but they were benighted and clueless, and hence used these gifts of Nature for destructive purposes.

You see, these idiots still believed in Survival of the Fittest, an outdated theory even in ancient times. Insolent and cruel, they enjoyed and took sadistic pleasure and pride in committing all sorts of outrages on anyone and anything that came under their power. Needless to say they treated the animals and the plants just as shabbily as they did their fellow men.

They even had a name for it - Natural Selection! The poor morons failed to see the great co-operative symphony of humans and Nature - nay, the entire Universe - and instead focused on brute strength and force in their shoddy daily reality.

These utter imbeciles believed that the mighty had no reason to respect others, and that the concepts of justice and humanity were only wishful thinking on the part of those who were too squeamish or too feeble to cause pain. To them, might was right, and they boasted that the only earth the humble would inherit would be the cold soil of their graves.

Talk about fools! No wonder they - and all like them - were doomed to extinction! If the absurd evolutionary theory of Survival of the Fittest were true, soon there would be nobody left! In fact, humanity would have vanished eons ago, having horribly destroyed itself out of sheer brutality!

Hate when that happens.

(artist unknown)


Sweet sixteen. It was time. Theseus set out, like his idol Hercules, intending to do no injury to anyone, but prepared and determined to defend himself and to punish any aggressors he might meet. It was time. Sweet sixteen.

I'm sure it's happened to you.

The first villain that Theseus encountered was a vicious robber named Periphetes, also known as the Club-Carrier. This robber took great pride in his lineage, variously claiming to be a son of Poseidon or even of  industrious Hephaestus. Hardly.

Periphetes didn't beat around the bush with formalities. Any wayfarers unlucky enough to "trespass" on his road would be pummeled to death at once. Nice guy. In another incarnation, he was a security guard at the gates of Augusta National during Masters week...

Jumping out of nowhere, he attacked Theseus with his frightful spiked club, spitting out threats and obscenities.

Nice club, dude!
picture by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

"Hey, nice club, dude!" grinned our unfazed hero, pirouetting out of danger. "I could really use such a lethal weapon. You don't mind if I take it, do you?"

This oaf was a real brute, and to make matters worse he reeked of garlic, but Theseus killed him in a fair fight. Wrenching the weapon from his hand, promptly he battered him to death with the spiked club, making the punishment fit the crime.

From then on he used Periphetes' club as his own weapon. Hey, Hercules wore a lion-skin on his shoulders as proof of what a huge beast he had conquered, so our protagonist had to do something similar, I guess. Theseus used the famous club of Periphetes the same way, and just like Herc, what he had overcome was now, in his own hands, invincible -- It never failed to kill.

Next up to bat was Sinis, affectionately known as the "Pine Bender". Don't let the name fool you, this villain of Corinth was no tree-hugger. Rather, he would bend a tree down to the ground, ask innocent passers-by to help him, then release it and laugh as the tree sprang upright and the victims hurtled through the air and died.

Another neat trick of Sinis was to bend down the tops of two neighboring pine trees, tie people to them, and then let the trees go, tearing the hapless citizens to pieces.

(Now you know where tax collectors developed their methods.)

Ouch! Hate when that happens! How about you?

"You're a dead man!" snarled Sinis when he spotted Theseus strolling down the path. "I kill anyone who dares to walk on my road, especially pretty boys like you!"

Did I mention that Sinis was uglier than any man has the right to be? Dude was so hideous that, even as a child, his mom had to tie a lamb chop around his neck so that Cerberus, the three-headed hound of Hades, would deign to play with him.

"You're barking up the wrong tree, dog!" replied our brave protagonist. He wrestled with the powerful man and quickly pinned him immobile. Before Sinis could blink, he found himself tied to two trees that Theseus had bent down to the ground.

"I have a bone to pick with you, on behalf of all your victims. Make a wish, Pine Bender!" said Theseus, as he let the trees go.

Oh my...They're still picking up bits of the human wishbone all over the Corinthian countryside.

Now that's what I call Sinis pain...

Just then a beautiful girl ran out and tried to conceal herself in a thicket of rushes and wild asparagus. Theseus gave chase and eventually found the maiden hiding in the bushes. Actually, he heard her before he saw her - she was invoking the plants to hide her safely, promising never to burn or destroy them if they helped her.

Theseus swore not to harm the girl and eventually convinced her to emerge from her hiding place. It was Sinis's daughter, Perigune, a dark-haired Grecian beauty. She took one look at our handsome hero, sweat glistening off his chest, and nearly swooned. Theseus always had that effect on women, just like his cousin Hercules.

Perigune instantly fell in love with Theseus and at once forgave him for the death of her father. He was a chauvinistic swine, after all, who often abused and beat her for no reason. The folk from Children's Aid years ago had come to remove her from the family home, but Sinis had given them the famous tree treatment. They had 'split', never to be seen again...

Let's just say Perigune had no problem expressing her gratitude towards Theseus. In fact, she expressed it more than once...In due course she bore him a son, Melanippus, and she happily settled down with a good man named Deioneus, to whom Theseus had given her in marriage.

The very next day Theseus disposed of a huge wild boar that had a fondness for eating small children and farmers. People were so petrified of this beast that they no longer dared plough their fields, and they were eternally grateful to Theseus for killing it.  Known as the Crommyonian Sow, it was the offspring of the dreaded monster Typhon, and mother to the Calydonian Boar.

Theseus got to try out his new club, as he shattered the creature's skull with it. I won't boar you with the gruesome details.

And his new legend grew...

Near the city of Megara, Theseus encountered Sciron. The road to Athens wound along the top of precipitous cliffs and that's where this bad man set up shop. I guess you could call it a 'foot-shine stand'. Stopping people who walked on the road, Sciron would force them to stoop and wash his feet as he sat upon a rock. He told them it was the toll for using his road.

However, as they vigorously scrubbed his filthy feet, Sciron would kick them over the cliff, where a gigantic sea turtle disposed of the bodies by eating them. Even the few who survived the fall were soon consumed by the monstrous sea turtle.

"Yo, punk!" hollered Sciron when he spotted Theseus coming. "You can't go any further until you wash my feet, just like everyone else who dares to use my road!"

Theseus wondered why this unkempt lout was so interested in clean feet - he didn't seem too concerned with personal hygiene, judging by the mud and dirt caking his entire body. The man was a living pigsty! And what a stench! Yuck!

Still, our hero played along, even though Theseus was hip to his tricks. Kneeling at stinky's feet, he waited until Sciron kicked out at him, then he grabbed the scoundrel by the legs, lifted him off the rock and tossed him into the sea. Tit for tat, and all that.

The sea turtle made a quick lunch of Sciron, but Theseus could hear it throwing up shortly thereafter. Hey, there's some things even a monster shouldn't eat, and food doesn't come much more unpalatable than dirty old Sciron...

A wicked man named Cercyon the Arcadian was next, a.k.a. Vince McMahon. This fool fancied himself a wrestler, in the process giving true wrestling a bad name. Cercyon liked to force people to fight with him and killed those who lost. Naturally, this goof always won, because he towered over his opponents and cheated shamelessly.

This time he lost. Not only was Theseus just as strong as Cercyon, he was far more clever and agile. Our protagonist lifted him by the knees and within seconds Vinnie Mac was pinned to the ground.

"Hey, this wasn't in the script!" he was heard to exclaim, just as Theseus snapped his neck.

For real.

You see, Theseus had invented the art of wrestling, which until that time was not understood by the people. He was particularly peeved because Cercyon dared to gloss himself a "wrestler". Theseus relied less on strength than he did on skill, a tactic many so-called wrestlers still don't get. 

Five down, one to go. Theseus was having a blast, journeying to meet his father in Athens and ridding the countryside of all scum. Ah, to be young and heroic, and built like a Greek god...

The final fiend was unlike the others. This was the father of Sinis (recall his pain?) and his name was Procrustes. Also known as Damastes or Polypemon (dude had a real identity crisis), he lived in a nice house by the side of the road. Pretending to be hospitable to strangers, he would invite them into his home, give them food and drink, then graciously ask them to spend the night.

Procrustes had unusual sleeping arrangements, to say the least. There were two beds in his house, one short and the other long. If the guest was too short for the long bed Procrustes would pound and stretch and super-size him until he fit. Similarly, if the poor visitor was too long for the short bed, the evil man would saw off his legs to make him fit.

Don't you hate when that happens to you? Most uncomfortable, makes for a bad night's sleep.

Damn economy motels! Next time it's first-class! But I digress...

Procrustes had killed many travelers in his beds of horror. To make a long story short, when he invited Theseus to spend the night, our hero wasted no time tying up the murderer in the shorter bed. Even though the fit was nearly right, Theseus cut off the villain's head, just so he wouldn't bother any more travelers. How fitting.

Like cousin Hercules, Theseus justly compelled criminals to suffer the same torments that their victims had endured.

Serves them right. So much for Survival of the Fittest.


Nearly there. In Attica, Theseus was met at the River Cephissus by the sons of Phytalus, who kindly purified him for the blood he had spilled. The ceremony was performed at the altar of Gracious Zeus and there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

Taking advantage of the first true hospitality since he left Troezen, Theseus then was welcomed as a guest of the Phytalids, a generous family. He ate and drank until full, rested overnight, then in the morning he took a much-needed bath and dressed in a splendid garment that reached to his feet. His freshly washed hair was neatly pleated and the royal sword and sandals completed the heroic picture.

If Theseus felt any better, he'd be jealous of himself...

Outside the city a group of masons were putting the finishing touches on the temple of Apollo the Dolphin, and they mistook the handsome long-haired teenager for a girl. They jeered and impertinently inquired why "she" was allowed to walk around unescorted. Cooler than the other side of the pillow, Theseus couldn't even be bothered to reply. Instead, he unyoked the two oxen from the masons' cart, lifted one of the behemoths off the ground, and, after holding it briefly aloft, tossed it over the temple roof, intentionally just missing the masons.

Oh my...Not bad for a girl. Theseus pretended to pick up beast number two and the panicked masons scattered for cover, convinced they were dealing with a deity.

Time to rock! Glorious Athens was in sight. News of this mysterious youth, who had slain so many feared criminals, had reached the city and throngs of citizens greeted Theseus at the gates. They hailed his name, as frenzied agents thrust exclusive contracts into his face and swooning maidens tried to cop a feel.

He was led to the palace of Aegeus and patiently our hero waited to be presented to the King, who still didn't know that the exalted youth was his own flesh and blood.

But Medea knew! You remember that witch, don't you? Last time we talked about her, she had just murdered her two young sons to punish Jason and had made a hurried exit out of town riding her dragon chariot. Talk about throwing out the baby with the bathwater!

Medea was not nice.

Medea the witch
picture by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

The witch had arrived at Athens and had beguiled King Aegeus with her beauty and charms. Promising the old man that she would use her sorcery to bear him an heir, she had set up herself as Queen, in essence ruling the city. Indeed she had bore him a son, Medus, and it was commonly accepted that he would succeed Aegeus once he came of age. Athens was in an uproar, and the fifty filthy sons of Pallas were ready to make their move. Theseus could not have arrived at a more fortuitous - and dangerous - time!

Medea had access to black magic and knew all about the identity of this new hero, having followed his progress on the road to Athens. She had known about him ever since he was born and was hoping that he would be killed by one of the robbers.

Man, did she ever feel threatened! The witch was beside herself! With the sudden appearance of a legitimate heir to the throne -- and a hero at that! -- she realized that control of Athens was slipping out of her hands. Dude had to go!

Medea had no qualms about killing. After all, she had murdered her own children out of spite. No Mother of the Year award for this creep.

She convinced King Aegeus that the young stranger was a spy, who had come to assassinate him, and had the King's minions invite him to a banquet at the Dolphin Temple. There Aegeus was to offer Theseus a cup of wine specially prepared by Medea.

This killer vintage contained wolfsbane, a poison produced from the deadly foam spewing out of the mouth of Cerberus when Hercules dragged the mutt out of Tartarus. The elixir was also known as 'aconite' and Medea thoughtfully had brought a stash along with her. One never knows when one needs good poison, and wolfsbane was darn near impossible to find in Athenian drugstores without a prescription.

Now, you may have heard that Theseus revealed his identity during the serving of the main course. A huge slab of beef had been rolled in and our hero jokingly drew out his sword, as if to carve it. Supposedly Aegeus recognized the royal weapon and immediately realized the stranger's identity.

That's false. I'm here to tell you that the drama unfolded just after the appetizer had been served (spanakopita, made fresh at Thanasi's Olympus Greek Restaurant and catered for the occasion). Queen Medea wasted no time in proposing a toast to this brave warrior, offering Theseus the lethal spiked cup.

The unsuspecting youth raised the poison to his lips and was about to drink when Aegeus suddenly noticed the intricate carving on the stranger's ivory sword-hilt. Frantically leaping to his feet, the King tore the cup from his son's hand and dashed it to the floor, just in time!

Medea was not pleased. Too bad. It's easy to get wine stains off a marble floor.

Can you say "party"? The joint went nuts! What followed was the greatest celebration in the storied history of Athens. Aegeus called a general assembly, summoned all the citizens and introduced Theseus as his son and heir. Fires were lit at every altar and mounds of gifts were offered to the Olympian gods who had smiled down upon the King. The entire city rang out with the joyous sounds of feasting, as noblemen and commoners drank and ate together, singing glorious praises to their Prince's deeds.

"Yo, Yanni, did you hear what Theseus said to Sinis just before he let go the two trees? 'Make a wish, Pine Bender!' What a character!"

The bacchanal went on for days. Never one to miss a great party, my cousin Danny (Dionysus, god of wine) made a cameo appearance, blasting in with his host of frenzied Maenads and frenetic satyrs. Oh my...To this day they're still talking about the coming-out party for Theseus with awe. Everyone had a smashing time, albeit nobody can actually recall details.

I'm sure it's happened to you.

Wow, that was some party!
Painting by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

But what about Medea, you ask. She had taken advantage of the revelry to slither unnoticed out of the palace. When Theseus went looking for her, knowing that she was bad news, Medea cast a magic spell and a cloud enveloped her, rendering the witch invisible. King Aegeus felt pity for his ex and generously provided an escort to see Medea and young Medus safely out of town. The witch returned to Colchis, her homeland, and never again dared set broom in Athens.

(Good riddance, methinks! Medea and I never got along, going way back to my days with Jason and the Argonauts. She was a manipulative witch who used her magic and exquisite beauty for destructive causes, a vain woman suffering from 'I' strain. I tried hard to like that witch, and I failed miserably. Greece was far better off without this femme fatale. One less monster to fret about. But I digress with personal musings...)

There was still one little matter to take care of before Theseus could rest: Uncle Pallas and the fifty filthy sons. Remember those swine? Even before Theseus arrived the fifty filthy sons had declared that Aegeus was not of true lineage and thus had no claim to the throne. Then Medea had shown up and had briefly managed to mesmerize and muzzle the mutts with her charms and black magic. Pallas and his brood weren't happy when Medea bore Medus, and the spoiled brats threw a hissy fit once they realized that this stranger named Theseus, a hero to the Athenians, was the real heir to the coveted throne.

The scoundrels hatched a devious plan. Pallas and twenty-five of his scions, along with an army of hired thugs, marched in force against Athens from the direction of Sphettus. Meanwhile, the other twenty-five swine concealed themselves and waited in ambush at Gargettus. Our hero was grossly outnumbered, with his very survival at stake.

Not to worry. It's Survival of the Aware, not the Fittest, remember? (Even though it doesn't hurt to be fit.) A herald named Leos informed Theseus of the trap and our protagonist bushwhacked the ambushers, so to speak. Armed with his father's sword and the terrible Club of Periphetes, single-handedly Theseus sprang the ambush, devastating the twenty-five filthy brothers and destroying the entire force.

Tit for tat, and all that.

News of the untimely demise of half his sons broke the spirit of Pallas and his march on Athens ground to a sudden halt. He disbanded his command, enrolled his remaining offspring in the Witness Protection Program, complete with change of identity, and told them to run like the wind for their lives. Falling at the feet of Theseus, Pallas implored him to be merciful.

Cool. Theseus did not like to kill needlessly.

"Still", he told Pallas, "It's a shame I never got to meet the rest of my cousins..."


So everyone lived happily ever after, right? Are you kidding me? What do you think this is, a fairy tale?

You see, a great sorrow hung over Athens. The ferocious animal known as the Marathonian Bull had killed hundreds of people as it rampaged across the countryside. As if that wasn't bad enough, one of its victims was Androgeus, who happened to be the son of King Minos of Crete, a very rich and powerful man with a huge fleet and army at his disposal.

King Minos was not happy with the death of his precious boy and placed the blame squarely upon the Athenians. When a terrible drought hit the region an Oracle of Delphi pronounced that it was divine punishment for the death of Androgeus. Spaced out on noxious fumes, the Pythian priestess declared the macabre solution. Are you ready for this?

To compensate King Minos for the death of his son, seven maidens and seven youths had to be sent to Crete, every nine years, to be offered up as sacrifice.

The good news was, the Minotaur was having them over to his Labyrinth for dinner. The bad news was, they were to be the main course.

Now you know why I think the Oracles were out of control. Damn stoners never had any pleasant news! It was always, you know, "Kill your firstborn!", or "Gouge out your eyes!", or some other equally ridiculous command. Get a grip, folks!

Still, it was either Minotaur feast or Athenian famine. Dutifully every nine years the Athenians had sent fourteen of their best to perish, afraid lest the drought return. And now it was time to send fourteen more, as the third installment. The horror. The horror.

Relax, will you? So what if Theseus was one of the fourteen sacrificial lambs? Who cares that no-one who entered the Labyrinth was ever seen again? Does it matter that the Minotaur was the most ferocious beast alive at the time?

No. This is a bona fide Greek hero we're talking about here, Myth Maniacs. He knew enough not to sweat the small stuff, so why should we? After all, what sort of hero didn't face a little challenge or two?

Trust me. Our boy can take good care of himself, thank you very much.

First Theseus went hunting for the nasty Marathonian Bull, the cause of all this anguish. This fire-breathing monster was brought by Hercules from Crete and let loose in Argos, where it worked its murderous way to Marathon, killing and wreaking havoc as it went. The natives had nicknamed it Mike Bison.

Theseus promptly located the brute, seized it by the sinister horns and proceeded to humiliate it by unceremoniously dragging it in triumph alive through the streets of Athens, as people cheered wildly. The Bull had seen better days.

Up the steep slope of the Acropolis strode Theseus, dragging the disgraced Marathonian Bull, which by now had seen its pure white hide turn soiled and filthy. When he reached the top our protagonist sacrificed the bully to Athena and Apollo, and that was the end of that.

Everyone hoped that with the death of his son's murderer, King Minos would forego the nine-year ritual sacrifice and spare the Athenian youth. But no. Bullish King Minos himself showed up to hand-pick the latest batch of victims. Some say that Theseus was picked by lot to go to Crete, others insist that he convinced Aegeus to fix the draw so that he was selected.

They are wrong. I was there when Minos chose the fourteen Athenian youth, and I'm here to tell you that there was no luck of the draw involved. King Minos took one look at our hero and asked if he was Athenian. When told that this was the son of the King of Athens, born in Troezen, Minos was in a quandary. The Oracle had said that only Athenians could be sacrificed to the Minotaur, and thus he couldn't force the young man to go to Crete as part of the tribute.

But what sweet revenge it would be if Aegeus lost his son and heir, just as Minos had...

Theseus sensed the King's hesitation and made him an offer - He would volunteer to go to Crete to meet his doom, but if somehow he was successful in slaying the Minotaur, King Minos would have to cancel the tribute.

"No more Bull, no more sacrifice, King!" said our hero. We all held our breath awaiting the Minos sign. The Cretan despot didn't hesitate - He knew that, even if Theseus was lucky enough to slay the Minotaur, there was no thread of hope he could ever navigate his way out of the wicked maze called the Labyrinth.

The cocky young man was signing his own death warrant, this handsome brash son of Aegeus.

"Pack your bag, punk, you're going to Crete!" he said. "Bring thirteen of your lovely teenaged friends. Pack light, and only buy one-way fares. No use wasting money."

"Kiss your brave son goodbye," Minos finished, turning to King Aegeus. "You'll never see him alive again."

Alas, it was true...

Hate when that happens...

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The Myth Man persona 1988 Nick Pontikis
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