The Greek heroes, Theseus and Herakles, have characteristics that are similar yet uniquely different from each other. Both have a connection to the gods, accomplish tasks that no other mortal man can do and display extraordinary physicality, both in looks and strengths 1. However, Theseus was not widely acknowledged as a hero, even in Athens. His banishment from Attica and dying in a foreign land is not considered ideal for an Athenian. However, in the latter part of the sixth century, Attic paintings on vases showed a sudden change in the iconography of the hero 2. Furthermore, Theseus began to be shown as a national hero in Athenian tragedies in the fifth-century 3. In this essay the links between Theseus and Athens will be explored in depth to provide the proposal that Theseus is more of an appropriate hero figure for the Athenians in comparison to Herakles.
The Athenians had their ideas about desirable heroic attributes and Theseus possessed two similar features as Herakles, whom the Greek world and in Athens hail as a magnificent hero; bravery and strength. However, Herakles possessed a bestial side 12. His physical strength could either be used to benefit mankind or in excess and violence that sometimes led to innocent bystanders being killed; such as his teacher, Linos 13 and his beloved nephew and sons 14. Similar to Heracles, Theseus displayed physical strength and courage from very early on in his childhood. According to Plutarch 15, when his mother, Aethra led him to the rock and explained to him that his father had left two tokens underneath it, Theseus lifted the rock with ease, displaying his physical strength. Next, despite Theseus’ grandfather, Pitthheus’ and his mother’s warnings about the dangers that lay with travelling over land, Theseus refused to journey by sea like a ‘fugitive’16. As Theseus greatly admired Herakles, he thought it humiliating if he could not emulate the feats of his cousin 17 proving a courageous mind. Theseus’...
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