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Pirithous. 6718: West Pediment of the Temple of Zeus, Olympia c. 460 BC. Archaeological Museum, Olympia.

"Neither, then ... must we believe this or suffer it to be said, that Theseus, the son of Poseidon, and Pirithous, the son of Zeus, attempted such dreadful rapes, nor that any other child of a god and hero would have brought himself to accomplish the terrible and impious deeds that they now falsely relate of him. But we must constrain the poets either to deny that these are their deeds or that they are the children of gods, but not to make both statements or attempt to persuade our youth that the gods are the begetters of evil, and that heroes are no better than men." (Plato, Republic 391d).

"Keep away, O dearer to me than my own self, my soul's other half; it is not shame for brave men to fight at long range." (Theseus to Pirithous during the Calydonian Boar Hunt. Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.405).

"These are but fairy-tales you tell Achelous ... and you concede too much power to the gods ..." (Pirithous to the river god Achelous. Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.614).

"Homer pictures us Achilles looking upon Patroclus not as the object of his passion but as a comrade, and in this spirit signally avenging his death. So we have songs telling also how Orestes, Pylades, Theseus, Pirithous, and many other illustrious demi-gods wrought glorious deeds of valour side by side, not because they shared a common bed but because of mutual admiration and respect." (Xenophon, Symposium 8.31).

Pirithous defeated the CENTAURS, helped Theseus to abduct Helen, and looking for a new wife, he might have ended his days in the Underworld, or else killed by a dog.

Loyal friend

Pirithous, who was among the ARGONAUTS, and also joined the CALYDONIAN HUNTERS, is counted among the most loyal friends because of his close relationship with Theseus, with whom he descended to the Underworld. They also were brothers in arms; for when Pirithous married Hippodamia 4 a great battle took place at his wedding party. He had invited the CENTAURS, who were his kinsmen, but these, having made their hearts foolish with too much wine, attempted to violate the bride. It was then that Theseus, Pirithous, and the LAPITHS fought against the CENTAURS and drove them from Mount Pelion to Aethicia, which is a territory near Epirus. The LAPITHS were a people from Thessaly, who became famous mainly because of this battle. Pirithous and Hippodamia 4 had a son Polypoetes 1 who fought at Troy and survived the war; he is one of those who buried the seer Calchas at Colophon, in Asia Minor, when the Trojan War was over.

Adventures of the two friends

One day Hippodamia 4 died, and then Pirithous and Theseus, who had grown older, conceived new and extraordinary ideas with regard to women: they decided to marry daughters of Zeus. And so Pirithous helped Theseus to abduct the twelve years old Helen from Sparta, when she was sacrificing to Artemis. Theseus hid her in the city of Aphidnae, but Helen's brothers the DIOSCURI, raising an army of Lacedaemonians and Arcadians, captured Athens and razed Aphidnae to the ground. That was just the beginning; for the DIOSCURI dethroned Theseus, and gave the sovereignty of Athens to Menestheus 1, whom they brought from exile. Besides, they carried away Theseus' mother Aethra 2 and Pirithous' sister Phisadie, giving both in servitude to Helen.

6717: Hippodamia. West Pediment of the Temple of Zeus, Olympia c. 460 BC. Archaeological Museum, Olympia.

The Chair of Forgetfulness

This happened, some think, because Theseus was not in Athens but in the Underworld where he had come with his accomplice Pirithous so that he could marry the goddess of his dreams: Persephone. Many reproaches could be made against these two friends, except that they lacked audacity. And it is on account of this quality, they say, that Zeus bade them in a dream to go to the realm of shadows, and there ask Hades for the hand of Persephone. In the Underworld they were cheerfully received by Hades, who bade them to take a sit. Having done as they were told, these two disoriented middle-aged gentlemen saw themselves grow fast to the Chair of Forgetfulness, being held there either because the rock grew to their flesh, or else by coils of serpents. It has also been told that they were stretched out and tortured by the ERINYES.

Heracles 1 meets them in the Underworld

They could have seated there forever, though they were not dead, and in fact some say they did. But Heracles 1, as others tell, found them when he came to fetch Hades' three-headed hound Cerberus 1, as Eurystheus had ordained. Pirithous and Theseus then, wishing to be raised from the dead, stretched out their hands towards him, and Heracles 1 rescued both. Or perhaps he could only raise Theseus; for some tell that when he wished to save Pirithous, the earth quaked and he desisted. Yet others say that both were saved.

Pirithous persuaded Theseus

Some seem to think that Pirithous was the bad company for Theseus, and not the other way round. For they affirm that Theseus only agreed to such impious deed as it is to descend to the Underworld to marry its queen, because he was bound by his oaths towards his friend. They tell that when Hippodamia 4 died, Pirithous came to Athens where he, having discovered that Theseus' wife Phaedra was also dead, persuaded Theseus to carry off Helen, who was only ten years old. Having succeeded, they then cast lots to see who was to marry the little girl, agreeing that the winner would also aid the other to get a wife. This is the reason why, they argue, Theseus had to follow Pirithous to the Underworld, while hiding Helen in Aphidnae; for the Athenians did not approve what their king had done.

Childish tales again

But these tales about descents to the Underworld are deemed by some to be unlikely if not childish. And that is why they say otherwise, asserting that Pirithous and Theseus never came to Hades, but instead invaded Thesprotia in northwestern Hellas, where they, having failed in their military campaign which had as main purpose to carry off the wife of the Thesprotian king, were made captive and kept prisoners at a place called Cichyrus or Cicherus and formerly called Ephyra, not far from Buthrotum. And it was while Theseus was captive in Thesprotia that the DIOSCURI invaded Attica and rescued Helen. Yet this reasonable explanation could not satisfy others who narrate the story differently: Pirithous, they tell, having heard of Theseus' reputation for bravery put it to the test by driving away Theseus' cattle from Marathon. And when Theseus came after him, Pirithous did not fly but waited for Theseus. This is how they met, and when they had admired each other's beauty and daring, they became friends and brothers in arms, ratifying their friendship with oaths.

Expulsion of the CENTAURS

After some time, Pirithous invited Theseus to his wedding, an occasion which the CENTAURS made use of in order to get drunk, and laid hands upon the ladies. For this insolence they were fought against at the banquet, being defeated and expelled from the country.

Helen and the lots

Years later, when Theseus was fifty years old, they made their incursion against Sparta, and carried off Helen while she was dancing in Artemis' temple, a girl who, as many say, was not of marriageable age. When they returned and were out of danger, they cast lots saying that he on whom the lot fell should have Helen to wife, yet should be obliged to assist the other in getting another wife.

Family and dog with familiar names

Pirithous, sword in hand, prepares to defend his bride (here called Laodamia) against the CENTAURS. 8221 detail: Red-figured calyx-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water) decorated in two zones, showing Pirithous and Hippodamia. Apulia c. 350-340 BC. British Museum, London.

It was to return the service that Theseus followed his accomplice Pirithous to Epirus, having in mind to abduct the daughter of one Aedoneus, king of the Molossians, who, in his originality, called his wife Phersephone, his daughter Cora, and his dog Cerberus. They also add that Aedoneus had as a rule to make his daughter's suitors fight against the dog as a way to get the girl. However, when the two friends arrived and Aedoneus discovered that they had come to steal his daughter away, he put Theseus in prison, and Pirithous out of the way with the help of his dog.

Theseus loses power

And whereas Pirithous lost his life Theseus lost his power; for while he was kept in close confinement, a revolution took place in Athens under the leadership of Menestheus 1, who, some say, was the man who called the DIOSCURI as a way of accomplishing his seditious purposes. And when the DIOSCURI arrived, he received them as allies; for, as he reasoned, they did not wage war against Athens, but against Theseus alone.

Uncertain end of Pirithous

Now Heracles 1, they say, came one day to the court of Aedoneus, and having learned from the king himself what had happened to Theseus, who was still in prison, and Pirithous, who had been killed by the fierce dog, asked for the release of the former, which the king granted. Theseus returned to Athens, but being overpowered by factions and disturbances, was forced to retire to the island of Scyros where he died. The end of Pirithous remains uncertain, since some say that he sits forever in the Chair of Forgetfulness, others that he was rescued by Heracles 1, and still others that we was killed by a dog. In any case, he failed in his last quest, which was to find a new wife.






Ixion & Dia


Zeus & Dia


Ixion is the man from Thessaly who fell in love with Hera and attempted to rape her, but was deluded by Zeus who made a Cloud Resembling Hera (Nephele 1). For this, Ixion is still being punished in Hades, bound to a wheel on which he is whirled through the air.
Some say that Ixion's father was Leonteus 2, but others say that he was the son of Antion (son of Periphas 2, son of Lapithus 1, son of Apollo and Stilbe) and Perimele 3, daughter of Amythaon 1, son of Cretheus 1, son of Aeolus 1.
Some have said that Ixion became the father of the CENTAURS, or of Centaurus, having made love to the cloud (Nephele 1). By Dia, daughter of Eioneus 5, Ixion had Pirithous, and probably Phisadie, who was given in servitude to Helen by the DIOSCURI.
Dia is daughter of Eioneus 5.

Hippodamia 4

Polypoetes 1

Hippodamia 4, or as some call her Deidamia 3, was daughter of Butes 6, son of Boreas 1 (the North Wind; see WINDS). The CENTAURS attempted to violate her at her wedding party, which caused a battle. After her death, Pirithous came to Athens and persuaded Theseus to seize and carry off Helen.

For Polypoetes 1 see ACHAEAN LEADERS.

Genealogical Charts

Names in this chart: Aeolus 1, Amythaon 1, Antion, Apollo, Astraeus 1, Astyaguia, Boreas 1, Butes 6, CENTAURS, Cretheus 1, Crius 1, Deucalion 1, Dia, Eioneus 5, Eos, Eurybia 1, Eurynomus 5, Gaia, Hellen 1, Hippodamia 4, Hyperion 1, Hypseus 1, Ixion, Lapithus 1, Nephele 1, Orsinome, Peneus, Perimele 3, Periphas 2, Phisadie, Pirithous, Polypoetes 1, Pontus, Stilbe, Thia, Uranus, Zeus.

Related sections

Apd.1.8.2, 2.5.12, 3.10.8; Apd.Ep.1.21, 1.24; Dio.4.63.1, 4.69.3; Hes.SH.179; Hom.Il.2.739ff.; Hom.Od.21.295; Hyg.Fab.14, 79, 155; Ov.Met.12.218ff.; Pau.1.17.4, 10.29.9; Plu.The.30.1ff., 31.1ff.; Strab.9.5.19.