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Unraveling the Mythical Origins of the Aegean Sea

Unraveling the Mythical Origins of the Aegean Sea

Plenty of people have heard of the Aegean Sea. It is a part of the sovereign water zones of Greece, often disputed by the Turkish government, based on unhistorical claims. This part of the earth has played a crucial role to the history of the Greek tribes, since 3.000 BC, the era that the Cycladic Civilization appeared. But how come we know it today as Aegean? Who was the man responsible for the name of that sea? The answer of course, is well hidden within the rich content of Greek Mythology! In the stories around the Demigod Theseus!

Aegeus, the Warrior – King

Aegeus was the son of Pandion, who was once the king of Athens. However, a faction called the Metionids gained the support of the nobility and some of the people, leading to the overthrow of Pandion. Pandion accepted his defeat. The Metionids banished him from the city for the rest of his life. Despite his hardships, he eventually became the ruler of Megara. Pandion had four sons: Aegeus, Nisus, Lycus, and Pallas. From a young age, they harbored deep resentment for the injustice inflicted upon their father, pledging an oath to seek revenge against Athens.

Upon their father’s demise, they launched an attack on Athens and seized control through force. Aegeus, as the eldest, ascended to the throne of Athens, reclaiming the seat that rightfully belonged to their family. Nisus assumed the rulership of Megara, a smaller city located within the borders of the Athenian kingdom. Lycus was appointed as the king of Euboea, the second largest island in Greece. Finally, Pallas was granted control over the southern part of the Attica region. However, conflicts eventually arose between the brothers. Lycus was exiled to the land of Messenia, while Pallas, after Aegeus’ death, rebelled against the new king, Theseus, accompanied by his fifty sons. Ultimately, they were defeated and slain by the hand of the young hero.

Theseus, the Man with three parents

One of the challenges that arose during Aegeus’ reign as king was his inability to conceive children, despite his effective governance of Attica and Athens. One day, while inebriated at the palace of Pittheus, the king of Troizen, Pittheus arranged for Aegeus to lie with his daughter, Aethra. It was from this union that Theseus was conceived. Later that night, Aethra visited the temple of Poseidon and made a sacrificial offering. The Sea God, Poseidon, left his watery realm and lay with Aethra. According to myth, Theseus thus possessed the blood of three individuals: Aethra, Aegeus, and Poseidon.

Several days later, Aegeus prepared to depart for Athens. Taking Aethra, who was now pregnant, he accompanied her to the seashore. There, beneath a massive rock, he concealed his sword and sandals, instructing her that once their son had grown strong enough, he should seek out Aegeus in Athens. Following that, Aegeus returned to Athens and married Medea, who had fled from the city of Corinth to escape the vengeance of Jason. Through the use of witchcraft, Medea beguiled the king and bore him a son named Medus.

Nine months later, Aethra gave birth to a robust boy whom she named Theseus. As the boy matured, his partially divine lineage endowed him with great strength. When he reached adulthood (around 16 years of age during that era), Aethra led him to the imposing rock where Aegeus had hidden his sword and sandals. Theseus effortlessly lifted the rock and retrieved the items his father had left for him. Aethra then revealed to him his true heritage and informed him of his father’s enthrallment by Medea’s enchantments. Subsequently, Theseus confronted Medea, defeated her, and liberated his father from her magical spell.

The Conflict with Minos

Athens hosted the Panathenaea Games for many years during historical times. People from all over Greece participated in the games. If one were to make a comparison, they could say that the Panathenaea was similar to the Olympic Games on a local scale. During the competitions, Aegeus also participated, but he was consistently defeated by Androgeus, the son of King Minos. Blinded by jealousy, the king of Athens, using the pretext of honoring the prince, sent him to hunt the Marathonian Bull. Androgeus was killed as a result, leading to a diplomatic conflict with Minos. Soon after, Crete declared war against Athens. Aegeus, realizing he couldn’t fight against the powerful Minoans, reluctantly accepted Minos’ grim demand. He was forced to send seven young men and seven young women as sacrificial offerings to the Minotaur.

By this time, Theseus had gained recognition for his skill with weapons, and his father welcomed him, banishing the witch Medea from the kingdom, who had attempted to kill the young hero. Theseus had already become famous for his encounters with formidable adversaries on his journey to Athens, such as Procrustes, and for slaying the Marathonian Bull. However, the annual tribute to the Cretan King disrupted the celebrations. Fourteen young individuals had to be chosen for the harrowing voyage toward their impending deaths. It was then that Theseus, to the horror of Aegeus, volunteered—not as a helpless victim, but to end the Minotaur’s life. Although the king initially disagreed, Theseus remained resolute in his decision.

Theseus was determined to solve their problem and become the hero that Athens desperately needed.

Theseus and Ariadne

When Theseus arrived in the city of Knossos, he revealed his identity to the king along with his intentions. The king chuckled and agreed that if Theseus succeeded, Athens would no longer be required to pay tribute to the fearsome creature. However, Minos also warned him that even if Theseus managed to overpower and ultimately kill the beast, escaping the labyrinth created by Daedalus would still be impossible. At this point, Eros, the son of Aphrodite, intervened to alter the situation in favor of Theseus. Utilizing his arrows, he caused Ariadne, the eldest daughter of King Minos, to fall deeply in love with Theseus. The Athenian hero reciprocated her affection, and thus began a clandestine relationship between the two. Ariadne, not wanting to witness Theseus meet a futile demise within the labyrinth, devised a solution involving a thread.

She simply handed him a thread that Theseus could tie at the entrance, enabling him to find his way back. In alternative versions of the myth, Daedalus himself provided Ariadne with the idea, seeking revenge and humiliation against King Minos (as Daedalus was held captive by Minos to construct buildings and military weaponry). And so it was done. On the day of execution, Theseus ventured alone into the labyrinth, ensuring he attached the thread at the entrance. Before long, he encountered the beast, and a fierce battle ensued. With the aid of his divine powers, Theseus triumphed over the Minotaur and dispatched him with his sword. Some variations of the myth suggest that he strangled the creature to death with his bare hands. He then severed the head of the beast and emerged from the labyrinth as the victor.


After slaying the formidable beast, Theseus managed to escape from the Labyrinth and flee Crete, accompanied by Ariadne and her sister Phaedra. They departed in secrecy, aware that they would have to confront Minos’ wrath if he ever discovered that the Minotaur had been vanquished and that Ariadne had aided Theseus in accomplishing his objective. Upon their escape, they arrived at the island of Naxos, where Theseus and Ariadne became separated. The myths diverge regarding the reason for Ariadne’s separation from Theseus. One version suggests that Theseus himself abandoned her, while another recounts that the goddess Artemis ended her life, possibly due to Theseus’ lack of genuine affection.

The most renowned and plausible variation, given Theseus’ compassionate nature, asserts that while Theseus and his companions slumbered, Dionysus happened upon Naxos, beheld the beauty of Ariadne, and resolved to wed her. He whisked her away to Olympus, where he granted her immortality. When Theseus awoke and comprehended what had transpired, he grieved. However, he found solace in the knowledge that Ariadne would never experience death. Thus, they continued their homeward journey.

The Aegean Sea

However, there was a problem. As was customary, when the ship sailed from Athens to Knossos, its sails were black. Aegeus, in order to determine whether Theseus was successful or not, instructed his son to change the color of the sails from black to white if he succeeded, or to leave them unchanged if he perished during the expedition, along with the other 13 young individuals. Unfortunately, due to the jubilations, Theseus forgot to alter the sails, so they were returning to Athens with the same black sails they initially departed with. Every day since Theseus’ departure, Aegeus ascended to the cape of Sounion, gazing upon the sea before him, hoping to be the first to witness his son’s arrival.

The fateful day arrived when Aegeus spotted an Athenian warship on the horizon. His heart quickened as he realized that it was Theseus’ vessel. However, due to the distance, he couldn’t discern whether the sail was black or white. Minutes ticked by as the ship drew nearer. In despair, Aegeus eventually discerned the black sails. Overwhelmed with grief, believing he had lost his newfound son, he leaped into the sea below.

Upon Theseus’ arrival in Athens, he rejoiced and shared the glad tidings with the people. However, they informed him that his father had perished due to his own mistake. Theseus ascended to the throne, assuming the role of king, and held a grand funeral to honor his father. In remembrance of Aegeus, he named the sea into which he had fallen the Aegean, ensuring that people would forever remember the Athenian King Aegeus. To this day, the name remains, serving as a poignant reminder to civilizations across the world of the legacy of King Aegeus.

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