Theseus, Sword, Sandals, and Medea in Athens

Medea, by Frederick Sandys 1868. PD Courtesy of Wikipedia
Medea, by Frederick Sandys 1868. PD Courtesy of Wikipedia

Having explained the term sword and sandal in Theseus Had A Hand In It.: Sword & Sandal, I am now providing you with a quick look at another stage in the Theseus saga. Like my earlier post, this precedes the familiar story about Theseus, the one with the Minotaur and the Labyrinth. Now we’ll see how Theseus almost died, a victim of Medea‘s wiles.

After a journey with its own set of Herculean stories, Theseus arrived at the homeland of his father, Aegeus, where his mother –following the instructions of her one-stand stand with the king of Athens twenty years earlier — had told Theseus (once he had reached manhood) to go to obtain his inheritance. Theseus arrived at Athens where he was not initially recognized by those who would welcome and love him, but by an evil stepmother, instead. Although she may not normally be thought of in this much-maligned role, she certainly adds credence to the stereotype.

Medea recognized the identifying sword and sandals and wished her stepson out of the way. Not content to do it herself, she tried to make the father get rid of his as-yet unrecognized son by poisoning him. Fortunately, Aegeus recognized the sword and sandals in the nick of time and swept the poisoned goblet from his son’s hand.

It was, then, on the eighth day of the month Cronius, now called Hecatombaeon, that he is said to have arrived at Athens. And when he entered the city, he found public affairs full of confusion and dissension, and the private affairs of Aegeus and his household in a distressing condition. [2] For Medea, who had fled thither from Corinth, and promised by her sorceries to relieve Aegeus of his childlessness, was living with him. She learned about Theseus in advance, and since Aegeus was ignorant of him, and was well on in years and afraid of everything because of the faction in the city, she persuaded him to entertain Theseus as a stranger guest, and take him off by poison. Theseus, accordingly, on coming to the banquet, thought best not to tell in advance who he was, but wishing to give his father a clue to the discovery, when the meats were served, he drew his sword, as if minded to carve with this, and brought it to the notice of his father. [3] Aegeus speedily perceived it, dashed down the proffered cup of poison, and after questioning his son, embraced him, and formally recognized him before an assembly of the citizens, who received him gladly because of his manly valor. And it is said that as the cup fell, the poison was spilled where now is the enclosure in the Delphinium,17 for that is where the house of Aegeus stood, and the Hermes to the east of the sanctuary is called the Hermes at Aegeus’s gate.
Plutarch’s Life of Theseus

There is another sandal story involving Medea and a different hero.
Jason was also recognized by a sandal when he reached the place he planned to rule. In Jason’s case, it was the fact that one of his sandals was missing that led to his recognition. Medea wasn’t involved in the agnorisis, but became his rescuer, common-law wife, and destroyer of all that he held near and dear, as a result of which, Medea had to flee to Athens and cause the Theseus-directed mischief.

Based on a Myth Monday.


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