Persia 26: Theseus Returns to Athens of Pericles

A major source of insight into the Athens of Pericles comes from the various Athenian theatre productions of the day, such as the Oedipus plays of Sophocles; ‘The Phoenician Women’ and ‘Suppliants’ by Euripedes; and ‘The Persians’, ‘Seven Against Thebes’, and Oresteian Trilogy by Aeschylus. All of these have much to say about the politics of Greece in the time of Pericles, both directly and through their choice of characters and typecasting.

Theseus is a leading character in ‘Oedipus at Colonus’ by Sophocles. In the play, King Oedipus (Akhenaten) has come to the end of his bitter life, and calls upon Theseus to both care for his surviving daughters and give him a proper burial. Theseus therefore assumes the role of successor to his kingdom. In typological terms, this makes Theseus successor to the House of Joseph during the Amarna Period, and therefore a character of Greek Myth well worth revisiting.

The claim to fame of Theseus in the Greek Myths is as a pig-killer, that is, an assassin of greedy tyrants. Theseus, meaning “depositer”, was known for bumping off a series of kings by throwing them off precipices and thereby "depositing" their remains in the crags below. One such king was even called Cercyon, "boar's tail". The memory of Theseus was assimilated into the Thesmophoria Festival of Demeter in which pigs were driven off cliff-tops to their deaths. The decayed remains were later used to fertilize the fields.

Theseus first arrives in Athens when Aegeus was king. The resident queen is called Medea, who had fled from Corinth and was given refuge at Athens by Aegeus. Theseus is immediately and with great celebration recognized as the promised son of Aegeus. Although Medea was the one who earlier prophesied such a son, she is outrages and a feud breaks out between her and Theseus. Medea flees Athens taking a young prince named Medus with her, evidently the son she intended to follow Aegeus on the throne. Theseus subsequently defeats the minions of Medea, who are called the “fifty sons of Pallas” (corresponding to the 50 priestesses of the Pallas Athena/Asherah cult).

Afterwards, against the protestations of Aegeus, Theseus undertakes a mission to slay the sacred white bull of Poseidon (the Apis bull of Ptah) and thereby prove himself a committed Athenian (Atenist). The oracle of Delphi urges Theseus to bring “Aphrodite” along with him from Athens, but upon reaching the domain of King Minos and the Minotaur, she transforms into Minos' daughter Ariadne, falls in love with Theseus, and helps him kill her “father” (figuratively speaking, by slaying/tossing the Minotaur/Taurus/Bull of Minos and marrying Theseus).

King Minos accepts Theseus as his new son-in-law, however Theseus cannot bring Ariadne/Aphrodite back to Athens as his wife, due to the jealousy of prince Dionysus. Theseus is forced to part ways with her at the island of Naxos, after which Dionysus marries Ariadne, but not before she had given birth to at least one son by Theseus (called Thoas and/or Oneophion).

At some point in his career, Theseus engages in a fierce battle with the “Amazons”, during which Theseus is either aided or opposed by the princess Antiope/Hippolyte, whom he had not married but had a son named Hippolytus. A later Roman writer, Statius, imagined that Theseus paraded the Amazon queen in his Athenian triumph and then duly married her. Regardless, when Theseus weds Phaedra, a sister of Ariadne and Deucalion of Crete, Antiope tries to stop it. Theseus is compelled to kill her, and her son Hippolytus is adopted by Theseus’ twin Pittheus. Phaedra then leaves Theseus to pursue an affair with Hippolytus, only to be rejected by him. She hangs herself in despair and shame.

After the "wreck" of King Minos, Theseus kills Deucalion and becomes king of Crete where he rules with the heiress Ariadne once again. However, Ariadne soon dies in childbirth on Cyprus. Other sources say she committed suicide by hanging.

Some years later, Aegeus is tragically cast down from his own kingship, but buried honorably by Theseus, who succeeds him as King of Athens.

Theseus overthrows yet another king, variously called Lycus or Lycomedes. Lycus is credited with killing Creon (Aye) and succeeding him (to the Great Throne), therefore, Lycus logically represents Horemheb. Theseus overcomes Lycus with the help of his ally Pittheus/Menestheus. Theseus then joins forces with other allies against Eurystheus, who attacks Athens (and by association, the god Aten). Eurytheus then reasonably corresponds to Ramses I.

Finally, the supremacy is contested between Theseus and Pittheus. The conflict begins when Theseus abducts a young princess "Helen". Her hand is disputed by Pittheus, who suggests that he and Theseus settle this score in Hades. Theseus reluctantly agrees. The outcome of their death struggle is not clear in Greek Myth, but it is conclusive in Biblical and Egyptian reckonings.

The story of Theseus is quite clearly that of Ipy/Aper-el/Nakhtmin, who first rose to prominence at Akhet-aten during the reign of Akhenaten. Originally, Ipy was considered the son and heir of the formerly deprived Aanen, a.k.a., Huy/Vizier Amenhotep, but was actually a prince sired for him by his step-brother Aye. Ipy became the political son of Akhenaten, who enlisted him in the feud with Aye’s other leading sons by Queen Tiye, those being Sena’a (Osorkon) and Merymose (Takelot). Ipy is one of the most notorious hit-men of the Bible, called there as Jehu, the assassin of Joram and Ahaziah. For his services to “the Lord”, Jehu is promised a “dynasty like David’s”, that is, one lasting four generations.

Note: Recall that Greek legends about kings prior to the Classical Age pertained to Near Eastern royalty. Thebes of Greek Myth was primarily the Thebes of Egypt, Athens corresponded to Akhet-Aten (El-Amarna), Corinth represented Karnak, Delphi was Memphis, and Colonus was On/Heliopolis. See Chapter 16 of the on-line book:

In Greek Myth, Theseus is called the son of Aegeus. Aegeus, "goatish", is a Jacob/Re-style name that relates well to Akhenaten as a Sun King. However, the characterization of Aegeus seems to combine aspects of both Akhenaten and Aye, if not also Aanen, the third father of Ipy/Aper-el. (Note: The more recognized Greek name of Akhenaten is Oedipus, and that of Aye is Creon. Aanen does not figure prominently in the Oedipus Cycle.)

Queen Tiye corresponds to Medea in the Theseus story, the ruling Queen Athene/Pallas. She vehemently opposed the favoring of Ipy/Aper-el over her own sons. She was especially concerned about the welfare of her youngest son Tutankhamun (Medus).

The prince named Dionysus that contends with Theseus for Ariadne would represent Smenkhkare, rightful husband of Merit-aten, the oldest daughter of Akhenaten. Smenkhkare sacrificed the firstborn son of Meritaten upon the top of a city wall in Moab, where he had established himself as king under the name of Mesha. This no doubt signaled the end of his relationship with Meritaten, and either to her return to Ipy (Theseus) or eventual suicide. It is the second daughter of Akhenaten who is generally considered to be the one that died in childbirth. We can now suspect that the father of this child was not Akhenaten but Ipy/Aper-el/Nakhtmin.

The victory of Theseus over the Amazons is reflected by his other Biblical name of King Amaziah. King Amaziah of the Bible is associated with Theseus in 2 Chronicles 25:12 (KJV), which states that Amaziah took 10,000 men of Mount Seir “and brought them unto the top of the rock, and cast them down from the top of the rock, that they all were broken in pieces.” In Greek Myth, Theseus is likewise associated with the stony/white rocks of Sciron and Cercyon where the sacred king was hurled to his death, and with the strong north winds and bending pine trees of Sinis.

The name Amazon is sometimes interpreted as, a-matz, “without breasts”, because Amazon women pressed down or removed their breasts in order to become more proficient warriors. In Greek Myth, Theseus (Ipy) is effectively also accused of not having the makeup of a true Joseph (Ptah personified as the breasted Nile god Hapy). Although Theseus is claimed by Poseidon (Ptah personified as the Ocean), and therefore a nominal Erechtheid (member of the “House of Joseph”), his father Aegeus (pharaoh Aye) was only an adopted or step-son of Laius (Yuya), not a biological son.

After the plague and sword ravaged House of Joseph comes to an end, Theseus decides he is the one best qualified to succeed. He is the last Erechtheid standing, either true or adopted. Enthused by his victories over Philistines, Arabs, and Libyans, King Amaziah calls out Joash of Israel for a decisive battle for supremacy. Joash first resists but then obliges his former friend and ally, now turned a deadly rival. Amaziah is soundly defeated and Joash (Seti) emerges as the undisputed Great King.

At the very point of becoming the next High King (a grabber Jacob-Re), Theseus (Aper-el/Nakhtmin) is made over as a scapegoat to be pushed over the cliff. The renowned feller of High-Kings, has fallen to his own death. Theseus, the depositor of kings, has become himself another stinking corpse on the pile of tyrants cast down before him like so many greedy pigs in appeasement of Demeter. Theseus, in addition to taking the fall like Re, also goes down as a Geb, the archetypal avenger, whose name also connotes “piling up”. By doing so, Theseus makes room for the apotheosis of the Horus King, Seti/Sheshonq III, a man he once greatly admired (not only as a twin Pittheus/Menestheus, but as one in the role of Heracles). Seti, by pushing Ipy off the royal stage, also became in essence the new Theseus. He is however not interested in ruling from Athens. He curses the city and removes his “sons” who had been kept as hostages there by the former Theseus.

The dynastic line of the old Theseus however is said to have continued on for three more generations after the death of King Menestheus. It became the proverbial "dynasty like David's". The “Helen” that Theseus (Nakhtmin) and Menestheus/Pittheus (Seti) vied for was none other than the future God’s Wife Nefertari, who was given by Seti to be the consort of his son Ramses II. Her firstborn son (sired by Nakhtmin/Ipy before his death) became the “eldest son” of Ramses II. His name was Amen-hir-khepshef/Osorkon III/Assurdan III (Greek Atreus). He claimed the Great Throne upon the death of Ramses II and bequeathed it to his son Takelot III/Tiglath-pileser III (Greek Agamemnon). In turn, his leading son Osorkon IV/Esarhaddon (Greek Orestes) eventually became Great King. Although this was the end of the dynasty of Nakhtmin, these three kings became the theme of another set of plays, not by Sophocles but Aeschylus. The Oresteian Trilogy will be covered by a separate post.

The Persian dynasts were very much aware of the expectation for a new Joseph to rise up and take the birthright of kingly succession. The new leadership of Athens was also cognizant of tradition. The Athenian general Cimon won great popularity for supposedly retrieving the bones of Theseus and bringing them to Athens. The purpose was clearly as a charm for the dynastic line of a new Theseus in its bid to continue and ultimately supplant the one presently ensconced in Persia. In other words, even if Pericles as the “true Joseph” should fail, the line of Cimon as a new Theseus might somehow carry on the fight.