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.
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
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
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
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
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