Classical Mythology: Road Warrior

Road Warrior

The dangers on the road from Troezen to Athens did not arise from the terrain, but rather from its inhabitants. Monsters—most of them human, but beastly nonetheless—preyed on any travelers unlucky enough to cross paths with them. Most of these highwaymen had devised horrifying ways to torture and dispose of their victims.

Theseus turned the tables on every one of these predators. Defeating them in battle or using his wits to trick them, he forced each to suffer the same fate they had meted out to their many victims.

Batter Up

In Epidaurus, on the coast of the Saronic Gulf, Theseus met up with Periphetes, nicknamed Corynetes (which means “Clubman”). Periphetes, a lame son of the lame god of metalworking and craftsmanship, Hephaestus, had the unpleasant habit of smashing his formidable iron (or bronze) club over the heads of strangers.

Using his quickness and agility, Theseus easily defeated the brute strength of Periphetes. After stripping the monster of his weapon, Theseus killed him with it. Thereafter the young hero carried the club—which no doubt had been forged by Hephaestus—as both a trophy and a weapon.

Up a Tree

As he approached the isthmus near Corinth, Theseus encountered Sinis, a notorious highwayman. Sinis had acquired the nickname of Pityocamptes (“Pine-Bender”) because of the unique way in which he disposed of his victims. After robbing them, the mighty Sinis would bend two strong trees toward each other. After strapping the vic-tim's arms to one tree and his legs to another, Sinis would let go. The trees, snapping back upright, would tear the victim to pieces. Theseus overpowered Sinis, strapped him to the bent trees, and let them fly.

After killing Sinis, Theseus caught sight of his beautiful daughter, Perigune. She turned and ran away, hiding herself in a patch of shrubs and asparagus. Approaching gently and speaking sweetly, Theseus convinced the young girl to come out of hiding. The two had a brief liaison, the outcome of which was a son, Melanippus.

Theseus had not gone much farther when a ferocious sow rushed out at him. This wild pig had long ravaged the town of Crommyon. Named Phaea after the old woman who bred or owned her, the beast was yet another monstrous offspring of Typhon and Echidna.

Theseus used both sword and spear to gore the beast, killing it with little difficulty.

Look Out Below

Moving along the southern coast of the isthmus, Theseus next encountered Sciron. Now, Sciron did not rob his victims; he merely killed them. Sciron sat blocking a particularly narrow path at the edge of a cliff that towered over the Saronic Gulf. He would stop any wayfarers foolish enough to travel this route and would request that they humble themselves by washing his feet as “payment” to pass him. When they bent down to do so, he would suddenly kick his victims off the cliff. In the waters below, a monstrous sea turtle waited to devour them.

Theseus agreed to wash Sciron's feet, but when he bent down, he hurled the foot bath at the murderer's head. Grabbing Sciron by the ankles, Theseus then hurled him into the water, where he became the last victim of the man-eating turtle.

Wanna Wrestle?

After completing his trek across the isthmus, Theseus arrived at Eleusis, a city ravaged by a monster named Cercyon. This brute challenged all wayfarers to wrestle with him.

Most of his opponents died while wrestling; those exhausted few who survived were immediately put to death. Once again, Theseus used wits, quickness, and agility—as well as his well-honed skill as a wrestler—to defeat brute strength. At the end of the match, Theseus lifted Cercyon up and smashed him to the ground, killing him instantly.

The Perfect Fit?

The final monster slain by Theseus on his way to Athens was named Procrustes. The father of Sinis the Pine-Bender, Procrustes at first appeared a kindly host. He would invite all travelers through Erineus to rest their weary bones in his home.

But after his guests fell asleep, Procrustes would torture them. He seemed obsessed with having all of his guests fit into his bed. If their legs or feet hung over the end of the bed, he would chop them off. If they were too short, he would attach weights to their arms and legs and stretch them to size—or he would hammer them out the way his father, Hephaestus, hammered out metal. As he had done with all the monsters that came before, Theseus used the torturer's own method to slay Procrustes.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Classical Mythology © 2004 by Kevin Osborn and Dana L. Burgess, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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