Theseus Had A Hand In It: Sword & Sandal

Normally, one starts a collection of stories about the hero Theseus with him as a young man defeating the minotaur, but there is a whole series’ worth of prequels to this. One of these is the origin of the term “sword and sandal.” Today it refers mostly to a genre of epic movies. This term — supposed to be a precursor of the Italian Spaghetti Western —  is visually striking. You might imagine a Biblical figure or a Mediterranean, scantily-clad warrior, a pair of non-modern footwear encasing his feet. But the origin of the term is slightly different. Yes, there was an ancient warrior’s sword and yes there was footgear suitable for walking miles in the mountainous terrain of Greece, but the sword and sandals were not in use.

A daughter of Pittheus, king of Troizen, which was a city in the Peloponnese, spent a night in the arms of two males, one divine and one mortal. The god was Poseidon and the human was the king of Athens, Aegeus ((Αιγέας). Aegeus, certain that the night would lead to conception — which it undoubtedly would have done with Poseidon there — couldn’t predict that the princess would give birth to a boy, but if she did, he told her she should give him two of his possessions, but only when he came of age, and to send him to him. These possessions were a sword and a pair of sandals. They were to be hidden for safe keeping under a stone. And so, a couple of decades later, roughly, Aethra, for that was the attractive woman’s name, told her son Theseus about the behest of his mortal father. She then bid him farewell as he set off to find his father and soon afterwards, to kill the minotaur.
Image: Theseus and Aethra, by Laurent de La Hyre
See: Aegeus Consults the Pythia: Themis provides King Aegeus with an oracle


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