Theseus

Orfeas Katsoulis | Jul 5, 2022

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Summary

Theseus or Theseus (Greek Θησεύς, lat. Theseus) is a character of Greek mythology, the central figure of the Attic mythological cycle. Theresean princess Ephra of Pelopidas family gave birth to Theseus from two fathers - earthly (King Aegeus of Athens) and divine (the sea god Poseidon). From childhood this hero was distinguished by his courage and strength. When he grew up, Theseus made his way to Athens, defeating many monsters and villains along the way (including the robber Procrustes). Recognized by his earthly father, he traveled to Crete, where, with the help of the Princess Ariadne, he killed the monster named Minotaur, who lived in the labyrinth of Knossos. On his way back, Theseus left Ariadne on one of the islands. Sailing toward Attica, he forgot to change the black sail on his ship for a white one; because of this, Aegeus killed himself with grief, and Theseus became king of Athens. In this capacity he organized synoikism - the disparate Attic communities united under his rule within the Athenian polis. According to various authors, Theseus participated in the Calydonian hunt, the Centauromachy, the march of the Argonauts, and the war with the Amazons. One of the Amazons became his wife and bore a son, Hippolytus. Later Theseus married a second time - to Ariadne's sister Phaedra. She fell in love with her stepson and, not finding reciprocity, slandered him, after which she killed herself. Theseus cursed Hippolytus and he died.

When Theseus was 50 years old, he and his friend Piriphoeus kidnapped the young Helen to make her their wife. Then the friends went to the realm of the dead to get Persephone for Pirithoi, but there they found themselves chained to the rocks. A few years later Theseus was freed by Hercules. Theseus was unable to return to power in Athens and ended up on Skyros, whose king Lycomedes pushed him off a cliff.

In historical times Theseus became one of the most popular mythological characters of Hellas and a symbol of Athenian statehood. In Athens at least since the 470s BC his cult existed. Myths about Theseus were the source of plots for many works of Greek and Roman art, for a number of tragedies (including Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Seneca). The legends of Ariadne and especially of Phaedrus and Hippolytus, in which Theseus was a supporting character, became the most popular. They were also used in the New Age in drama (the most famous example is Jean Racine's Phaedrus), music and painting. In the twentieth century Theseus became the main character in the novels of André Gide and Mary Renaud.

Origins

The mother of Theseus was Ephra, the daughter of Pytheas, the king and, according to one version of the myth, the founder of the city of Trezen in Argolis. Pitheus, one of the sons of Pelops and Hippodamia, traced his lineage back to Tantalus and, through him, to Zeus himself. Many other prominent heroes descended from Pelops: King Agamemnon of Mycenae, King Menelaus of Sparta, King Amphitrion of Tirynth (grandsons), King Ajax of Salamis, Thelemonides, Heracles (great-grandsons). According to Plutarch, Theseus attached special importance to his kinship with Hercules, whose valor he admired and whose exploits he wanted to eclipse.

One day King Aegeus of Athens, who belonged to the Erechtheid family (his ancestor Erichthonius was the son of Hephaestus and Gaia, that is, of the earth), stopped at Tresenes. Aegeus went to the Pythian to see if a son would be born to him, but received only the cryptic advice "not to untie the bottom edge of the wineskin until he reached Attica." Pytheas, hearing this, realized that his guest would have mighty offspring to rule Athens; so he got Aegeus drunk and put him to bed with Ephra (according to other accounts, Pytheas convinced Aegeus to lie down with the princess or "forced him by deceit"). On the same night or the night before, the sea god Poseidon also shared his bed with Ephedra. After that, Pitheas's daughter became pregnant, so that her child had two fathers at once - an earthly and a divine one. Aegeus left for his homeland immediately after the night with the queen and asked to bring up the child in Tresen in deep secrecy, because he was afraid of the intrigues of his nephews, Pallantides, who disputed his power. The Athenian king left his sandals and sword under the huge stone; Ephra's son was to go to his father after he could lift the stone.

Researchers state that Theseus' origins were quite unusual. Through his earthly father he was a descendant of monsters, a half-human half-zombie; Theseus himself, as the son of an earthly woman and a god, belonged to the tribe of heroes and fought against monsters, but his divine father Poseidon is the most savage and chthonic of the Olympians. Aegeus, according to one hypothesis, was originally a sea god of the ancient Ionians, but later became a hero and legendary king of Athens, and in Ephraim some anticollectors see one of the personifications of Athena: in the ancient era it was believed that Tresen was dedicated both to this goddess and Poseidon simultaneously. Greek mythology knows other cases of double paternity, but we are always talking about pairs of twins (Heracles and Iphicles, Dioscurs Castor and Polydevcus, Apharetides Idas and Linkeus). Therefore there is a hypothesis that originally it was assumed that Theseus also had a twin brother.

The Early Years and the Path to Athens

According to Pausanias, Ephra gave birth to a son at Genetilius on the way from Tresenes to the harbor of Kelenderis. The child was named Theseus (Theseus). Later antique authors tried to connect this name with the words Theseus (in the second case it was assumed that Ephra's son received the name already as an adult when he came to Athens and was recognized as his father. Antiquarian scholars have suggested a connection of the name with the Pelasgic tçu->thçso- "to be strong".

Theseus was brought up by Pitheas, who, according to Plutarch, was "the most learned and the wisest man of his time. It is known that his tutor was a certain Connidas, he was taught by Forbantes and Athena herself, and the centaur Chiron taught him the art of hunting. From a young age Theseus stood out for his courage, intelligence, and physical strength. A local Trezen myth tells us that when Theseus was seven years old, Heracles visited Pytheas; during a feast, all the boys were frightened by the guest's lion skin and ran away, but the son of Ephera, thinking he was facing a real lion, snatched an axe from the guard and dashed into the fray.

When Theseus emerged from childhood, he visited Delphi and, in accordance with tradition, dedicated a lock of his hair to Apollo. It was a symbolic act, signifying that the young man was entrusting his destiny to the god and hoped for his help. At the same time, his hair was cut only in the front; later such a haircut became fashionable and was called "Theseus'." In his sixteenth year, Theseus learned from his mother that his father, Aegeus, had lifted a stone and taken his sword and sandals. Now his way lay to Athens. Ephra and Pittheus advised him to sail by sea, but Theseus chose the difficult and dangerous route by land, through Isthmus, which was then teeming with monsters and brigands. At the time, Hercules was a slave of the Lydian queen Omphale, for which, according to Plutarch, "in the Greek lands atrocities again broke out and blossomed in profusion: there was no one to suppress or curb them". Theseus considered the hypothetical attempt to dodge the danger shameful for himself and saw in the journey across the Isthmus of Corinth an opportunity to equal the glory of his kinsman.

Theseus defeated and killed all the bandits he encountered on the road, and each time he executed his enemy in the same way he had killed travelers before. The first to die near Epidaurus was Periphaetus or Corinetus ("the cudgel-carrier"), the son of Hephaestus, who used a copper club in battle. Theseus took this weapon with him and has always fought with it. Anticologists believe that this episode was invented by antique writers relatively late in order to justify the presence of Theseus' mace, a weapon used by Hercules as well. On Isthmus the hero killed Sinid, "the bender of the pines": he tied his victims to the tops of two bent trees and they were torn in two. On the way to Megarides, Theseus killed a ferocious Crommion pig named Phaea (there is an alternative version, according to which it was a woman named Phaea, nicknamed "Pig" "for her vile temper and way of life"). At the borders of Megarides, Skiron, who forced travelers to wash his feet at the cliff and then threw them into the abyss with a heel strike, was deservedly punished. In Eleusin, Theseus killed Kerkyon, defeating him in a struggle. Finally, in Hermes he met Damascus, nicknamed the Stretcher (Procrustes). This outlaw laid his victims on a bed, and those whose bodies were too short he stretched and those too long he cut off their legs; Theseus did the same to him.

After all these victories, Theseus was able to rest at the Eleusinian Thethalides, who received him with all hospitality and cleansed him of his spilled blood. The next point on his journey was Athens.

In Athens.

At that time Athens was a small city, occupying only the acropolis. There were other kings in Attica besides Aegeus; in addition, the ruler of Athens had to fight with his nephews, the Pallantids, who did not recognize him as a full member of the royal dynasty. Aegeus himself at this time was under the influence of the Colchian sorceress Medea, who had taken refuge with him after fleeing Corinth and had borne him a son, Medes. Medea hoped that this boy would inherit royal power and was jealous of any other possible challengers. When news reached Athens of an unknown hero killing brigands on Isthmus, she guessed who it was and persuaded Aegeus to kill the man as an obvious source of danger.

Theseus ascended the Athenian acropolis from the south on the eighth day of the month of kronies, later renamed hecatombeon. There is an account of how the traveler was ridiculed by the workers who were building the temple of Apollo Delphinius: Theseus was dressed in a long chiton, "his hair was very beautifully combed", and he was asked why such a young and beautiful girl was travelling alone. Instead of answering, the hero harnessed bulls from a nearby wagon and tossed the wagon above the temple, thus demonstrating amazing strength. Theseus told no one his name or his origin. The king, still unaware of who he was, invited him to a feast. There, Aegeus offered the young man a bowl of poisoned wine, but at the last moment he recognized his sword, with which the unknown man was girded. He realized that it was his own son before him, and threw the cup away. Medea fled the city with her son, and Theseus was officially recognized as the king's son and heir.

Immediately thereafter, the army of Pallantis moved on Athens. Theseus led the defense: first he defeated those enemies who had ambushed him at Gargetta (Greek) (Rus. east of Athens) and then he routed a second detachment, commanded by Pallantius himself. According to some sources, both Pallantes and all fifty of his sons were killed. Theseus was then acquitted by a court in Delphinia and was purified in Tresen of the blood of his kin. According to one version, these events took place much later, after the death of Aegeus.

Antique authors agree that shortly after arriving in Attica, Theseus fought a huge marathon bull, a monster that came out of the sea and trampled the fields. The night before the fight, the hero spent in the home of an old woman named Hecala, who was very hospitable and promised Zeus a sacrifice if Theseus won. Hecala died without waiting for the hero's return, so he set up a special cult, Zeus of Hecala, which has since been sacrificed by the women who lived in those places. Theseus captured the bull alive, going out against him alone and unarmed, and led him through Athens and then sacrificed him to Apollo Delphinia.

Journey to Crete

Soon after the captivity of the Marathon bull, an embassy from Crete arrived in Athens to collect tribute. Aegeus had once been responsible for the death of the Cretan prince Androgyus, and he was now obliged, as reparation, to give a certain number of Athenian boys and girls to the father of the dead Minos on a regular basis. They were taken to Crete and given to be mauled by the Labyrinthine monster named Minotaur - the son of Queen Pasiphae and a bull, a creature with a human body and a bull's head. According to Plutarch and Diodorus of Sicily, Athens required seven girls and seven boys every nine years; according to the First Vatican Mythographer, every seven years; and according to Virgil, seven boys annually.

The Cretans sailed for tribute a third time, and now among the young men doomed to be mauled was the prince Theseus. Most authors report that he volunteered to share the fate of his fellow citizens and try to free them from the plague by killing the Minotaur; according to Ferecidus, Theseus was chosen by lot, while Gellanicus writes that the prince was chosen by Minos, who came to collect the tribute himself. Theseus believed in a happy outcome and, before parting, promised his father that if he returned victorious, the helmsman would hoist a white sail on his ship instead of a black one. Apollo, to whom the prince had made sacrifices before sailing, ordered him to "take Aphrodite as his guide". Subsequently, the goddess of love played an important role in this story.

On the way, Minos decided to see if Theseus was really the son of Poseidon. He threw the ring into the sea; Theseus, receiving a sign from his divine father in the form of lightning, dived into the water. There he was met by dolphins and nereids, one of whom, Thetis, gave the prince the precious crown she had received from the gods at her wedding to Peleus. Theseus returned to the ship with the ring of Minos. After arriving in Knossos, Ariadne, daughter of Minos, fell in love with the hero. She gave Theseus a ball of thread and explained how to use it to get out of the labyrinth after defeating the Minotaur. Ariadne herself received the ball from Daedalus, and one version of the myth suggests that this master helped Theseus directly, without intermediaries. According to another version, Ariadne gave the prince a crown that glowed in the darkness and illuminated his path. Theseus descended into the Labyrinth, found the Minotaur in its most remote part, and fought him. According to the oldest versions of the myth, the hero was armed with a sword; according to later versions, with a club. Finally, some authors report that Theseus acted with his fists. Thanks to his courage and strength, as well as the help of the goddess Athena, who was present during the fight, he defeated and killed the monster, and then was able to get out of the Labyrinth - with the help of a guiding thread or a shining crown.

There are alternative versions of this myth. According to Clement, Theseus attacked Crete at the head of a fleet, killed the local king at the gate of the Labyrinth, and handed over power to Ariadne. According to Philochorus, Athenian young men and women were the prize for winning the games in memory of Androgyus. The first games were won by a general named Taurus, a cruel and arrogant man who was dangerous to Minos. He could have won again, but Theseus volunteered to participate and defeated Taurus. In gratitude, Minos gave the prince his freedom and freed the Athenians from tribute.

Having put his Athenian companions and Ariadne on the ship, Theseus sailed immediately toward Attica (according to Herekidus, he ordered to cut through the bottoms of the Cretan ships to avoid being chased). Because of the storm, the hero was delayed on the island of Dija, which late antique writers identify with Naxos. Antique authors explain the reasons in different ways: Theseus either decided that the Athenians would be hostile to the Cretan girl, or he fell in love with another (Panopeian daughter Aegla), or he heard in a dream the order of Dionysus to abandon the girl. According to another version, Ariadne, already pregnant, died during her stay in Cyprus. According to the classic version of the myth, Theseus left Ariadne as she slept. The princess either hanged herself with grief.

Because of the grief of separation from Ariadne, or the joy of his happy return, Theseus forgot to change his black sail for a white one. Aegeus, who was waiting for his son on the acropolis, saw his ship from a distance; thinking that Theseus was dead, he threw himself down and crashed to his death.

King of Athens

After the death of his father, Theseus became king of Athens - according to Pseudo-Hyginus, the seventh king. In this capacity he carried out extensive transformations. The inhabitants of Attica, who had either inhabited twelve cities since the time of Cecropsus, or had lived since the time of Jonas within four tribal entities (phyla), subordinate to the phylov-siles, were now united within a large community, the polis of Athens, which began to expand to the south and south-east of the acropolis. According to Plutarch, Theseus personally went around "demos after demos and clan after clan," persuading his subjects to agree to this unification (synoikism). He promised the aristocrats that he would limit his power by restricting it to a commander in chief and guardian of the law. Having secured their agreement, he destroyed the local council houses and provinces and set up new institutions in Athens. To commemorate these events he instituted two festivals with sacrifices: Panathineia and Sinoikia (or Metekia).

The ancient authors write that it was Theseus who divided the Athenians into three classes - eupatrides, geomores and demiurges (nobles, landowners and artisans), and that only eupatrides could occupy the highest positions. He was the first Hellenic to mint a coin on which he placed an image of a bull. Theseus annexed Megarida, initiated the resettlement of the Ionians to Asia Minor and founded Smyrna. On the Isthmus he erected a boundary pole and instituted the Isthmian games in honor of Poseidon. According to one version, the king of Athens honored in this way the memory of Skyron, who was related to him, or Melikertes; according to another, he followed in the footsteps of Hercules, who not long before had celebrated the first games in honor of Zeus the Olympic. According to Pausanias, Theseus invented the art of wrestling and fist-fighting; at the first Olympic Games this hero fought Hercules, and the duel ended in a draw.

The Amazon War and Other Achievements

According to some ancient authors, Theseus took part in the march of Heracles to the Pontus of Euxine, against the Amazons. There his captive was Antipas, either a queen or the daughter or sister of the queen of the Amazons. According to one version, Theseus personally captured this girl; according to another, he received her as a gift from Hercules for her bravery; and according to a third, Antipas, who led the siege of Themyscira, surrendered herself because she fell in love with the Athenian king. However, most sources state that Theseus undertook his own campaign to the Pontus of Euxine after Hercules, and captured Antiopa by stealth, luring her onto his ship. He took the Amazon to Hellas and made her his wife. The tribeswomen of Antiochus went to Attica in order to avenge her abduction; they crossed the Cimmerian Bosporus on the ice and approached the Athenian acropolis. At the walls of the city, on the territory of historical Athens, a battle took place that did not decide the winner. According to some accounts, Antipas was killed in the battle, but according to others, she not only survived, but also secured a truce for the fourth month of the war. After that, the Amazons withdrew from Attica.

The name of the Athenian king is mentioned in connection with many mythological events, because of which, according to Plutarch, there even appeared the proverb "Not without Theseus" of the surviving lists of heroes who took part in the hunt for the huge boar in Aetolia - by Pseudo-Apollodorus. Pseudo-Apollodorus and Pseudo-Hyginus name Theseus among the Argonauts, Jason's companions on his voyage to Colchis for the golden fleece. However, Apollonius of Rhodes writes that Theseus was unable to join Jason because he was in the afterlife at the time.

Theseus' closest friend was Pirithaus, the Lapith king of Thessaly, who was also noted for his bravery and strength. This hero undertook a raid on Attica specifically to meet the Athenian king. He landed at Marathon and stole a herd of the king's cows; Theseus gave chase, but Pirithoi did not flee. According to Plutarch, when "the two men saw each other, each was delighted by the beauty and courage of his opponent. They did not begin to fight: Pirithaus announced that he would accept any punishment from Theseus for stealing the cattle, and he forgave him and immediately offered friendship. The heroes sealed their relationship with oaths on the spot. According to an alternative version, Pirithoi came to Attica after killing his kinsman to purify himself.

Theseus is also mentioned among the participants of the centauromachy, a battle between the Lapithians and the Centaurs that took place at the wedding of Pirithoi and Hippodamia. According to Plutarch's version, Pirithoi invited his new friend to the wedding immediately after they met; Theseus, along with other heroes, protected the bride from the centaur kidnappers and then stayed in Thessaly until the end of the war. Ovid lists the centaurs killed by the king of Athens in the battle. Herodorus writes that Theseus was not present at the wedding, but rushed to the aid of Pirithoi as soon as he learned of the conflict.

Theseus and Phaedra

There were very dramatic events in Theseus' family. According to one version, Antiope survived the invasion of the Amazons, but later Theseus decided to marry another - the younger sister of Ariadne, Phaedra. Antiope did not put up with it. According to the epic poem Theseus, she rebelled and attacked Athens, but was killed in battle by Hercules. Pseudo-Apollodorus reports that Antipas appeared at the wedding of Theseus and Phaedra in full battle garb and declared that she would kill everyone present; a fight ensued, in which Theseus himself killed his former wife (or his men did so).

Anteope's son Hippolytus was sent by Theseus to be raised in Tresenes by his mother's brothers. Later, the family was reunited again (according to one version, Theseus had to serve a year of exile in Tresen because of the murder of the Pallantides). Phaedra fell in love with her stepson and confessed her feelings to him, but he rejected her. Phaedra then decided to take revenge. She sent her husband a letter stating that Hippolytus had raped her and hanged herself (or the letter was found dead in her hand). Theseus believed this was the case and banished his son. In a rage he summoned Poseidon. As Hippolytus rode along the seashore, the god sent a wave or an ox; the horses were carried, and Hippolytus died. According to another version, Phaedra openly accused her stepson before her husband and killed herself later, either because she was afraid of the investigation (in this version of the myth Hippolytus died because he was "troubled in spirit" and lost control of his chariot) or because the truth was revealed. In any case, Theseus learned that his son had been slandered when Hippolytus was already dead or on his deathbed.

Kidnapping Elena

When both Theseus and Pirithoi were widowed, they decided together to find new wives, and they had to be daughters of Zeus himself. At that time Theseus was already an old man: Gellanicus writes that he was about fifty years old. The friends first went to Lacedaemonium to fetch Helen, who was famous for her beauty, the daughter of Zeus by the local queen Leda, wife of King Tyndareus. According to Gellanicus, the girl was then seven years old, according to Diodorus of Sicily - ten, and according to Pseudo-Apollodorus - twelve. The heroes kidnapped Helen when she was offering sacrifices in the temple of Artemis and took her to Attica, evading pursuit (the Spartans chased them to Tegea). On their way they drew lots, having sworn to each other that the stolen girl would be wed to the victor and that the latter would help his friend get his own wife. Theseus' lot fell out. According to other reports, it was originally assumed that he would get Helen.

According to the classical version of the myth, the friends left the kidnapped girl in the Attic village of Athens under the care of Theseus' mother Ephra and Pirithoi's sister Physadia. Theseus did not want to take Helen to his capital to avoid the displeasure of the Athenians, who feared a quarrel with Helen's brothers Dioscurus; besides, the abductee could not yet marry because of her age. The author of the scholia to Apollonius of Rhodes writes that Helen was left in Tresenes, in the homeland of Theseus. An inscription on one ancient vase says that the girl was taken to Corinth and then to Athens, but according to the Second Vatican Mythographer, she ended up in Egypt. Some ancient authors write that there was no kidnapping: Tyndareus himself placed his daughter under the protection of Theseus, fearing that she would be captured by Enarephoros, son of Hippocreonte. According to another version, Helen was kidnapped by the Apharetides, who asked Theseus to protect the girl.

According to one of the alternative versions of the myth, expounded in particular by Isocrates and Lucian, there was no original agreement between the two heroes to kidnap the daughters of Zeus. Theseus accidentally saw Helen during a trip to Lacedaemon and fell in love with her; realizing that Tyndareus would not agree to the marriage because the princess was still too young, he decided to kidnap the girl. Pirithoi volunteered to help him. According to Diodorus of Sicily, this was the beginning of the friendship of the heroes, and Theseus agreed to take part in the kidnapping of Zeus' second daughter not because of an oath, but only as a sign of gratitude.

Going to the Afterlife

Now the heroes needed to get another daughter of a god for Pirithoi. No one was found on earth, so Pirithaus suggested they go to the netherworld to kidnap Persephone, Zeus' daughter from Demeter and Hades' wife. Theseus tried to dissuade his friend, but, bound by the treaty, was forced to yield. The heroes descended into the realm of the dead either in Attica, at the foot of a rock, or at Cape Tenar in Laconica, or in Argolida. The kidnapping failed: Hades deceived Pirithoi and Theseus by offering them to sit on the throne of Lethe, to which they immediately grew attached. Thus, held by dragons, the heroes spent a long time (according to Seneca, four years.

The friends remained in Hades until the arrival of Heracles, who had to bring Cerberus to earth by order of Eurystheus. When they saw Heracles, Pirithaus and Theseus stretched out their hands to him, begging for help. He was able to tear Theseus away from the rock, but with Pirithaus, according to most sources, he did not succeed. As a result, he remained in the realm of the dead forever. However, Diodorus of Sicily reports that Heracles freed and brought both friends back to the world of the living; there was also a version according to which both remained in Hades forever.

Some ancient authors of the later epoch tried to rationalize the myth of the march to the afterlife. For example, Pausanias localizes this event in Thesprotia, where the river Acheron flows: according to his data, Theseus and Pirithoi, at the head of an army, invaded this country in order to capture the daughter of the local king (apparently, the queen was to be given to Theseus), but were defeated, captured and kept tied up in the city of Cychrus for a long time. According to another version, described by Plutarch, the heroes set out to the land of the Molossians to kidnap the daughter of the local king Aydonius Cora (the name was one of Persephone's epithets). Aydoneas had a fierce dog, Kerber, with whom all the princess' suitors were forced to fight. This dog mauled Pirithoi, and Theseus ended up in captivity, from which he was rescued by Heracles. According to Philochore's version, Pirithoi and Theseus tried to kidnap Aydonius' wife Persephone with the same result.

Another rationalizer of the myth was Strabo. He writes in his Geography: "It is probable that Theseus and Pirithoi ... ventured on long journeys and left of themselves the fame as if they had made the descent into Hades.

Death

When Theseus returned to the realm of the living, he learned that in his absence, many things had changed. The Dioscurians had freed their sister and captured Theseus' mother Ephra (she had become Helen's maid), and they had made Menespheus king of Athens. Theseus first helped Heracles in his war with the new king of Thebes, Lycus, and then purged Heracles of the blood he had shed in his madness and initiated his kinsman into the Eleusinian mysteries. According to Euripides, Theseus accompanied Heracles at his request to Argos, where the heroes together handed Cerberus over to Eurystheus. Then Theseus made his way to Athens. The locals refused to accept him back as king; Theseus then solemnly cursed them and left the city as an exile.

The hero headed for the island of Skyros. From the local king Lycomedes he wanted, according to some reports, help against the Athenians, and according to others, land on the island, which had once been owned by Aegeus. But the king was either afraid of his guest or decided to please Menestheus: he led Theseus to the highest mountain on the island (supposedly to show him his new possessions) and pushed him into an abyss. According to an alternative version, Theseus himself accidentally fell during an afternoon stroll and crashed to his death.

Family and descendants

Theseus' first wife was an Amazon, the daughter of Ares and Atrera, whom most sources call Antiopa (alternative versions include Hippolyta, Glavka, or Melanippa). To this marriage was born the son Hippolytus. The second wife was Phaedra, daughter of King Minos of Crete and Pasiphae, younger sister of Ariadne, who had two sons, Acamante and Demophontes (Pindar calls Antiopa the mother of the latter). Demophonte became king of Athens after Menespheus, and after him the city was ruled by three more generations of Theseids.

Other marriages and descendants of Theseus are mentioned in the sources. The wives of the hero are called Pherebea, Peribea (daughter of Alcathoi, who gave birth to Great Ajax in a marriage with Telamon), Iphicles' daughter Jopa. Theseus was in a relationship with the woman Anaxo, he raped the daughters of Sinid and Kerkyon (Sinid's daughter Periguna gave birth to a son Melanippus) and was in love with the daughter of Panopeia Aegla. According to one version of the myth, it was he, not Dionysus, who was the father of Ariadne's sons Enopion (king of Chios) and Staphylus (king of Peparethus).

Appearance

The sources report that Theseus cut his hair short in the front and left it long in the back. According to Pausanias, when he arrived in Athens, his hair was "very beautifully combed" and he was even mistaken for a girl; Ovid found it necessary to specify that in his youth Theseus "did not decorate his temples with the touch of tongs", that is, he did not curl his hair. Later on Theseus wore a long beard. According to Catullus, he was blond, but according to Bacchylides he was black-eyed.

Theseus is one of the most famous characters of Greek mythology. Some episodes of his biography became widely known, which remains in the 21st century. However, Theseus very rarely became the main character in literary works, and a single image of him for Western culture has never been formed. There are two main directions in the use of this character: representatives of State and legal thought saw Theseus as a model political figure, while writers and artists working in more popular genres saw Theseus as an adventurer, an unfaithful lover, a hapless spouse and father. Within the framework set by these narratives, Theseus found himself in a secondary position. The main characters were the Minotaur he defeated, Ariadne he abandoned, his tragically dead son (Hippolytus) and wife (Phaedra). Theseus is given the role of protagonist only when it comes to the confrontation of young culture with the archaic. This theme became relevant already in the twentieth century.

Remembrance of Theseus in Athens

In Athens, from the beginning of the historical era, Theseus was one of the most revered heroes. Travellers were shown the place where Aegeus lived and where this king knocked the cup of poisoned wine out of Theseus' hands, as well as the place where Theseus cursed the Athenians before going into exile (it was called Arateria - "place of curses"). These were regarded as the founder of a number of important festivals: Theseus (for which money was collected through a special tax, the "five drachmas for Theseus"), the Oschophoria ("the offering of bunches"), the Panathineia, the Sinoikia (Metekia), the Cybernesia (a sea festival celebrated in Piraeus). It was believed that this king was the first in Hellas to begin minting coinage (in fact, the first coins in the region did not appear until the seventh century BC), that he initiated the colonization of the northwestern coast of Asia Minor, which became Ionia. The thirty-seat ship in which Theseus sailed from Crete was kept by the Athenians until the end of the fourth century B.C. It was gradually renewed, which gave philosophers cause for constant controversy: "some asserted that he remained himself, others that he had changed into a new object." With the name of Theseus some ancient authors associate the phenomenon of ostracism - the expulsion of a person dangerous to democracy by voting on clay crocks (it has been suggested that Theseus was the first person to be expelled from Athens in this way). In Athenian vase paintings by the beginning of the sixth century BC the image of Theseus was used no less frequently than that of Hercules.

In the middle of the sixth century B.C. Theseus' popularity began to decline, presumably because Pisistratus and his sons, who had seized power, supported the cult of Hercules. However, Theseus seems to have continued to be revered by members of the powerful aristocratic Alcmaeonides family. In 510 B.C. the tyranny was overthrown, and soon the Greco-Persian wars began, during which Theseus' popularity rose to new heights. In the battle of the Athenians and Plataeans with the Persians at Marathon (490 BC), according to some witnesses, theseus "appeared to the Hellenes in full armor, rushing at the barbarians ahead of the Greek ranks. Later, the oracle commanded the Athenians to find the remains of the hero and take them to their city. It was in 476 BC that the commander, Simon, carried out the decree. He occupied Skyros and began the search. The locals claimed that there was no grave of Theseus on the island, but one day the Athenians noticed an eagle pecking at a mound. They began digging in the place and found a coffin of enormous size, beside which lay a sword and a spear of copper. No one doubted that this was the grave of Theseus. The coffin was brought to Athens, where it was greeted with jubilation by all the people, and placed in a specially built temple, the Theseion (three more sanctuaries were later built). From then on there was a state cult of Theseus. On the eighth of each month (it was believed that the number "eight" was especially close to Theseus) sacrifices were offered, and Diodorus of Sicily even writes of "divine honors," but this seems to be an exaggeration: it must be the cult of the hero.

This rise in the popularity of Theseus has been explained by scholars in various ways. Some see the influence of Kimon's personal preferences: this military commander was either genuinely interested in the figure of the legendary king of Athens, or needed an alliance with the Alcmaeonides, who revered this hero, or wanted to gain popularity by introducing a new cult. Other scholars see these events as an attempt by Athens to justify its claim to supremacy among the Ionians; in this case the image of Theseus became the "bearer of the imperial idea". There is also the opinion that the events of the 470s BC, when the Athenians had to return twice to the ruins of their city, caused associations with mythological Sinokism and forced a new way of looking at the myth of Theseus. Finally, the Ionian Theseus was contrasted with the Doric Hercules, who symbolized Sparta, Athens' main adversary after the defeat of the Persians. The popularity of Hercules was, from a certain point of time, explained by the fact that Theseus, before going into exile, gave his kinsman the land on which the king's sanctuaries stood.

Antique Fine Art

Many episodes of Theseus' biography became sources of plots for ancient artists and sculptors. Perhaps the statue of the hero mentioned by Pausanias, which stood in Messene in the "Palace of Victims" next to the statues of Hermes and Hercules, belongs to the archaic era. The earliest of the dated images belong to VIII-VII centuries B.C. and use the theme of minotauromache (fighting with the Minotaur). They show a young, beardless Theseus, naked or in a chiton, invariably holding his opponent with his left hand by the horns, neck or arm, while his right hand plunges the sword into his chest. Behind the hero's back stands Ariadne with a ball of thread in her hands; in addition, in some depictions there are Minos, Athena, Hermes, the Athenians who arrived in Crete with Theseus. Sometimes the Minotaur uses a stone as a weapon. Such images appeared on vases, on gold plates, in the form of reliefs.

Beginning in the 6th century BC, artists and sculptors depicted the exploits of Theseus on his journey from Tresenes to Athens (the episode with Periphetus began to be treated later than the others). At first these were vase paintings, later reliefs were added. From the sixth century entire cycles of images appeared depicting all the victories of Theseus, sometimes including victories over the Marathon bull and the Minotaur. If such cycles appeared on bowls, Minotauromachy was depicted on the inner surface and other feats on the outer surface. A typical example is a red-figure bowl from Vulci, dated 420 B.C., which is in the British Museum. Paintings depicting the exploits of Theseus adorned the walls of the Theseion and Parthenon, and the hero was depicted with the face of the most influential Athenian of the era - Pericles.

Since the 5th century BC, artists and sculptors have used other themes related to Theseus: the war with the Amazons, the episode with Ariadne, the kidnapping of Helen and the journey to Hades. Researchers attribute the abundance of these images to attempts by the Athenians to make Theseus the "Ionian Hercules". The story of Theseus finding his father's sword under a stone began to be used no later than the last decade of the fifth century BC. Pausanias describes the copper sculpture on this subject on the Athenian acropolis; images on coins and works of mural (Campanian) painting have survived. A number of bowls with a red-figure painting of Theseus arriving in Athens have been preserved. He holds a spear in his left hand and extends his right hand to Aegeus as a sign of greeting, but he is passionately embraced by a woman (Artemis is standing behind Theseus, on his right they are already serving him a cup with poisoned wine. The scene in which Aegeus knocks the cup out of his son's hands is depicted on a terracotta relief and a number of copies preserved in various museums.

Four red-figure bowls have been preserved, depicting the episode with the ring of Minos: Theseus greets Poseidon, Amphitrite is already holding a wreath that she wants to give to the hero. In one instance, at the crater from Akragantes, Glaucus also participates in this scene. A vase with Ariadne holding out an apple to Theseus as a sign of her love has been preserved. In two more images (in the first, both are standing and Theseus can see the entrance to the Labyrinth behind him, and in the second, the princess is seated and a statue of the goddess is seen behind her, and behind Theseus is a standing hoplite. In the frieze in Amicles, the prince leads the bound Minotaur into Athens.

The kidnapping of Helen became the subject of a relief on the throne of Apollo of Amicles, a red-figure painting on a seventh-century B.C. Protocrinthian lekif, a painting of an Etruscan vase from Volsinia, which is kept in Munich (on it Theseus is carrying Helen, with Pirithoi following him, looking back at his pursuers). According to Pausanias, Theseus was depicted together with Piriphos in a painting by Panenus in the temple of Zeus at Olympia. Next to his friend Theseus was also painted by Polygnotus in a painting depicting the afterlife, which was in the first century AD in Delphi. According to Pausanias, in this painting "Theseus holds swords, his own and Pirithoi's." Preserved are an Apulian vase in which Theseus is tormented by erynias and a sample of Etruscan mural painting from Corneto in which serpents have enveloped him. An Attic crater in the Metropolitan Museum of Art depicts the appearance of Hercules in the afterlife (Theseus sitting on a rock).

Ancient Literature

The earliest surviving literary texts in which Theseus is mentioned are Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. In the Iliad, the "immortal-like" king of Athens is one of those mighty heroes beside whom the king of Pylos, Nestor, fought against the centaurs. In the Odyssey, the title character, who has descended into the underworld, wants to see "the glorious, god-born, Theseus the king, Piritoi," but is forced to leave before this encounter. According to Plutarch, the reference to the King of Athens was inserted in the Odyssey as early as the sixth century BC by order of Pisistratus, who wished to please the Athenians in this way; scholars, however, admit that both this line and the reference in the Iliad may have appeared at the time when the canonical text of the poems was being composed.

Theseus became the protagonist of the epic poem "Theseus," the author of which is unknown. It is this text, which has not survived to this day, that became the source of plot material for all subsequent antique writers. Presumably the poem did not have a clearly delineated image of Theseus, and therefore in later works a variety of interpretations appeared. The hero's exploits in his youth, on his journey from Trezen to Athens, did not receive much attention from antique writers: they were similar to the exploits of Hercules and looked noticeably paler. The myth of Theseus' journey to Crete was more popular, but it is the part related to Ariadne that appears in the sources more often. The poets of Hellenistic Greece and Rome write about Ariadne, who was abandoned by her lover, with sympathy, but they do not lay the blame for what happened on Theseus: in their depiction the hero simply carries out the will of Dionysus when he leaves Ariadne on Naxos.

Bacchylides dedicated one of his dithyrambs to the meeting of Theseus with his father. The tragedies called Aegeus were written by Sophocles and Euripides, and they dealt with the same meeting as well as with the prince's victory over the bull of Marathon. Sophocles' tragedy Theseus, known through several papyrus finds, recounted the victory of the title character over the Minotaur. Euripides also had a play with the same name, but there is no reliable information about its content; sources also mention Theseus by Achaeus of Eretria and Theseus by Aulus Cremucius Cordes (early 1st century AD). In Aeschylus' Eleusinianes and Euripides' The Beggars (422

The story of Theseus and Phaedrus was the most significant for world literature. Presumably it was formed in the 5th century BC in Athenian drama. It was first used by Sophocles, who wrote the tragedy Phaedrus, of which only fragments have survived. Later (approximately in the mid 430s BC) Euripides created a play known as Hippolytus Cloaked: it takes place in Athens, when Theseus is in the kingdom of the dead, and in one scene Phaedra openly confesses her love for her stepson, and then announces to her husband, who has returned, that Hippolytus raped her. This version of the plot proved too unacceptable to the Athenian audience. Euripides therefore wrote a second version in 428 BC, Hippolytus Carrying a Wreath, in which the action takes place already in Tresen. Here the spectator does not hear any frank conversations: Phaedra, not having met with reciprocity, commits suicide, and a letter with a false confession is found in her hands. The second version was reproduced in the Fabulae by Pseudo-Hygin, the first by Pseudo-Apollodorus, author of the Homeric scholia, by Ovid in the Herodias, and by Lucius Annaeus Seneca in the tragedy Phaedra. Lycophron, who lived in the Hellenistic era, wrote a tragedy on the same theme; Sopatra of Paphos has the comedy Hippolytus. In general, the writers who developed the plot tried to keep Theseus a positive hero: in their portrayal, the king of Athens at first too easily believes his wife's slander and curses his son, but then repents of what he has done.

In a number of ancient texts Theseus appears as a wise ruler and founder of Athenian statehood. In the History of Herodotus he is not mentioned at all (although there is a reference, for example, to the Battle of Marathon). However, already in Thucydides Theseus is a "wise and powerful ruler", who established order in Attica. Some references to the hero in Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes suggest that he was identified with the Athenian polis; his victory over the Minotaur was interpreted by Hellenic intellectuals as a victory of Athens over Crete and civilization over archaicism. From the middle of the fifth century B.C. Theseus was regarded not only as a synoikos but also as the founder of democracy, although he still appeared in sources as a king. This trend can be traced back to Plutarch, who included the biography of Theseus in his Comparative Biographies, paired with the biography of Romulus, the founder of Rome.

The constellation now known as Hercules was in ancient times called the constellation of the Knee, and some ancient authors associated it with Theseus. Thus, Gaius Julius Hyginus, referring to Hegesianactus, states that in this constellation Theseus appears to the eye as if he were lifting a rock in Tresenes. The constellation Lyre, which is next to the constellation Knee, according to Hyginus, also belongs to Theseus, "for he was proficient in all kinds of arts and could, among other things, play the lyre".

Theseus is associated with the constellation Venus, now known as the Northern Crown. This is the same crown that was given to the hero either by Amphitrite at sea or by Ariadne on Crete.

Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, the myth of Theseus was given a new, allegorical meaning in the Christian spirit. The ancient stories of the legendary Athenian king were now seen as a coded message about how Jesus Christ (Theseus) descended into hell (the Labyrinth at Knossos) in order to defeat Satan (the Minotaur). Commentators of mythographic writings wrote about it, medieval artists created their works in this vein. The labyrinth was depicted by the authors of church mosaics and book illustrations both as an afterlife consisting of eleven circles and as a path to holiness, full of obstacles, but with no alternative.

One of the few exceptions was the Romance of the Rose (13th century), where the episode with the trip to the afterlife is given a new interpretation, converging with the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice: here Theseus loves Pirifoi so much that after his death he follows his friend into the realm of the dead. In the 14th century interest in antiquity began to grow in Italy, which was then experiencing the Early Renaissance. In particular, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote the epic poem "Theseis" (1339-1342), conceived as a description of Theseus' campaign against the Amazons and his participation in the Theban affairs (here the influence of Statius' "Thebaid" is obvious). "Theseside" had a marked influence on the perception of ancient mythology throughout Renaissance Europe; but the title character occupies a modest place in it, being merely the judge in the conflict between the central characters. Around 1380 the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer created his own variation of the story in "The Knight's Tale," part of the collection Canterbury Tales.

Early Modern Times

William Shakespeare was the first to portray Theseus in a comic way. In his comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream (1590s), written partly under the influence of Chaucer, the plot framework is delineated by the wedding of Theseus (the "Duke of Athens") and Hippolyta. This is the background against which the playwright's fictional story unfolds, using, among other things, the myth of the Minotaur.

In the Baroque period, Theseus became the hero of many plays that served as the literary basis for operas. He became the title character only occasionally, and in these cases the plot was based on a fictional love story involving Medea and Aegla. The most famous of such works was the opera by Jean-Baptiste Lully with a libretto by Philippe Kino (Medea, realizing the hopelessness of her passion, decides to poison Theseus, but Aegeus recognizes him at the last moment by the hilt of his sword. This musical tragedy was a huge success with audiences. In 1713, Georg Friedrich Handel wrote his opera on the same subject (libretto by Nicolo Francesco Heim). Other musical works on this theme are Francesco Provenzale's Theseus (1658), François-Joseph Gossec's Theseus (1782), and Gaspare Spontini's Teseo riconosciuto (1798).

The story of Theseus and Ariadne became popular. The plays called Ariadne were written in the 17th century by Ottavio Rinuccini, Vincenzo Giusti, Thomas Corneille, Ivan Gundulich and William Davenant, and in the 18th century by Pierre Jacopo Martello. Lope de Vega is credited with the play The Labyrinth of Crete and Alexander Ardi with The Abducted Ariadne. All these works became the literary basis for many operas, including Ariadne by Claudio Monteverdi, Robert Camber, Benedetto Marcello, Giuseppe Maria Orlandini, Ariadne and Theseus by Nicola Porpora, Ariadne Deceived and Then Goddess by Reinhard Kayser, Ariadne on Crete by George Frideric Handel, and others.

Theseus became a character with a tragic fate in numerous treatments of the myth of Phaedrus and Hippolytus: a victim of circumstances, he believes his beloved wife and destroys his own son. Robert Garnier was the first in the New Age to tackle this subject (tragedy Hippolyte, 1573), followed by Gabriel Gilbert (1647) and Michel Bidart (1675). Jean Racine's tragedy Phaedra (1677), which became one of the three canonical treatments of the subject (after Euripides' and Seneca's plays), is best known. In music, Jean-Philippe Rameau ("Hippolytus and Arisia," 1733-1757) and Christoph Willibald Gluck ("Hippolytus," 1745) used the subject.

Sometimes Theseus appears as a wise ruler and founder of a state. This occurs, in particular, in Niccolò Machiavelli's The Sovereign (1513) and François de Fenelon's Dialogues of the Dead.

The myth of the Minotaur was the basis of a series of images on cassone (wedding chests) created by an unknown Italian artist. These are four large panels, each containing several images. The French Classicists Nicolas Poussin ("Young Theseus Finds His Father's Sword", 1630) and Laurent de La Gere (Russian: "Theseus in Tresen", circa 1640) depicted the moment when the young hero finds the sword and sandals left him by Aegeus. The action of these paintings takes place among the ruins, which the ancient authors do not have; in La Gira, Theseus, picking up a huge fragment of a tower, finds his father's shoes intact underneath it. The result is that the artists are not illustrating a Greek myth, but creating one of their own.

Francesco Primaticcio between 1547 and 1553 depicted in one of his sketches a scene in which Phaedra accuses Hippolyta to Theseus.

XIX-XXI centuries

In the nineteenth century, Theseus was recognized as a model political figure by Georg Hegel (in connection with the possible unification of Germany) and Hugo Foscolo, who compared the king of Athens to Napoleon. In the twentieth century there were works in which Theseus became the title character, a novella by André Gide (1946) and a dilogy by Mary Renault that included the novels The King Must Die (1958) and The Bull from the Sea (1962). In both cases the narrative is in the first person. Gide abstracts from mythological material in order to speak of universal problems. Renaud, however, confident that Theseus existed in reality, interprets the myth from the most realistic point of view, placing the life of his hero in the context of the struggle of the patriarchal order with the matriarchal order and linking the murder of the Minotaur to the destruction of the palace of Knossos.

The development of traditional European literary subjects continued. The myth of Theseus and Ariadne was used in his work by Johann Gottfried Herder ("Ariadne"), Emil Ludwig ("Ariadne on Naxos"), Marina Tsvetaeva ("Ariadne"). The latter also wrote the play Phaedra and wanted to write the play Helen, which would have been the last part of the trilogy; this idea was not realized. Algernon Swinburne (1866), Gabriele D'Annunzio (1909), and Miguel de Unamuno (1910) also wrote about Theseus and Phaedra. Theseus appears in operas by Jules Massenet (Ariadne, 1906), Bohuslav Martinou (Ariadne, 1958), and in a number of musical works based on Racine's Phaedra.

The labyrinth motif became popular in European literature, and the images of the Minotaur and Theseus were reinterpreted. For Julio Cortázar (Kings, 1949) and Nikos Kazantzakis (Theseus, 1953), the Athenian king is a civilizing hero who saw in the Minotaur the animal side of human nature and defeated it. For Marguerite Yourcenar, the Minotaur is the embodiment of Theseus' own destiny, so that the latter by definition cannot win the duel and get out of the labyrinth. Jorge Luis Borges, in the novel House of Asterius (1949), depicted the Minotaur as a being who considers himself a god, who "delivers from evil" the people sacrificed to him and expects to receive the same deliverance from Theseus. Most often, however, the theme is of interest to writers outside the Minotaur connection: literary heroes who find themselves lost in the likeness of a labyrinth are depicted as peculiar twins of Theseus, who have lost the Ariadne thread. This happens in the works of Emile Zola, Franz Kafka, Jean Cocteau, Max Frisch, Alain Rob-Grieux. A reader lost in the Labyrinthine text can also be in the role of Theseus (a typical example is Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, 1980).

The myth of Theseus was the basis for the plot of a number of fantasy novels. These are "The Minotaur's Labyrinth" Robert Sheckley (1990), The Assassination of Theseus by Kir Bulychev (1994), Ariadne's Thread by Fred Saberhagen (2000), Helmet of Terror by Victor Pelevin (2005), Bull from the Machine by Henry Lyon Oldie (2017) and other works.

The classicist sculptor Antonio Canova, who worked at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, created a series of statues depicting Theseus' struggle with the Minotaur. They depict Theseus as a brutal hero who knows no pity or as a melancholic man who is sad after his victory. The impressionist Lovis Corinth depicted Theseus in an ironic way in Ariadne on Naxos. Here Theseus, holding in his lap the head of the sleeping Ariadne, is clearly frightened by the approach of the Dionysus procession; this scene symbolizes a kind of revenge of the archaic element in its struggle with civilization. The Surrealists André Masson, Salvador Dali, and Pablo Picasso interpreted the myth in a similar way.

Theseus became the hero of a number of feature films. In 1960 the film "Minotaur, the wild beast of Crete" was released (the role of Theseus was played by American track and field athlete Bob Mathias. In 1962, Jules Dassin made a film called Phaedra in which the action was transferred to modern Greece. In 1971, the USSR created an animated film "Labyrinth. The Feats of Theseus".

Two American films came out in the 2010s: Tarsem Singh's War of the Gods: Immortals (2011, starring Henry Cavell as Theseus) and Joshua Kennedy's Theseus and the Minotaur (2017, starring Marco Munoz as Theseus).

There are opinions that Theseus existed in reality and that the myth of his victory over the Minotaur is an account of the liberation of Athens from the power of the Cretan maritime power. In particular, Fritz Schachermayr dates these events to about 1500 B.C. and associates them with the Minoan eruption. The myth of the victory over the Marathon bull is probably an allegorical description of the accession of Marathon to Athens. Scholars generally trust the ancient tradition which tells of Athenian synoikism, but there are debates on a number of fundamental issues. There is no consensus as to whether synoikism was only political (sympathy) or was connected with the resettlement of part of the population of Attica to the new center. It is also unclear when the unification of the region took place: there are opinions in favor of the Mycenaean era and the 10th-9th or even the 8th century B.C. Proponents of the latter version say that the ancient mythographers combined the features of two characters in the image of Theseus. One is a typical hero of Hellenic mythology, slaying monsters and undertaking military marches, and the other is a ruler from the "Dark Ages," under whom Athens was established as a state. In any case, researchers consider the image of Theseus to be multi-layered. His descent from Poseidon is associated with a layer of early classicism, the hero's victories over monsters are mature classicism, and his governmental activities are semi-historical and symbolic interpretations characteristic of late antiquity.

There is a hypothesis that originally Theseus belonged, together with his friend Pirithoi, to the Thessalian mythological cycle and only in the 7th century BC did the legends about him take root in northeastern Attica, in the region of Marathon. He may have been the king of the Lapithoi, but later his place was taken by Pirithoi

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  5. ^ "May I therefore succeed in purifying Fable, making her submit to reason and take on the semblance of History. But where she obstinately disdains to make herself credible, and refuses to admit any element of probability, I shall pray for kindly readers, and such as receive with indulgence the tales of antiquity." (Plutarch, Life of Theseus, translated by Bernadotte Perrin).
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