Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.17.2-1.17.4

[2] ἐν δὲ τῷ γυμνασίῳ τῆς ἀγορᾶς ἀπέχοντι οὐ πολύ, Πτολεμαίου δὲ ἀπὸ τοῦ κατασκευασαμένου καλουμένῳ, λίθοι τέ εἰσιν Ἑρμαῖ θέας ἄξιοι καὶ εἰκὼν Πτολεμαίου χαλκῆ: καὶ ὅ τε Λίβυς Ἰόβας ἐνταῦθα κεῖται καὶ ὁ Χρύσιππος ὁ Σολεύς. πρὸς δὲ τῷ γυμνασίῳ Θησέως ἐστὶν ἱερόν: γραφαὶ δέ εἰσι πρὸς Ἀμαζόνας Ἀθηναῖοι μαχόμενοι. πεποίηται δέ σφισιν ὁ πόλεμος οὗτος καὶ τῇ Ἀθηνᾷ ἐπὶ τῇ ἀσπίδι καὶ τοῦ Ὀλυμπίου Διὸς ἐπὶ τῷ βάθρῳ. γέγραπται δὲ ἐν τῷ τοῦ Θησέως ἱερῷ καὶ ἡ Κενταύρων καὶ ἡ Λαπιθῶν μάχη: Θησεὺς μὲν οὖν ἀπεκτονώς ἐστιν ἤδη Κένταυρον, τοῖς δὲ ἄλλοις ἐξ ἴσου καθέστηκεν ἔτι ἡ μάχη. [3] τοῦ δὲ τρίτου τῶν τοίχων ἡ γραφὴ μὴ πυθομένοις ἃ λέγουσιν οὐ σαφής ἐστι, τὰ μέν που διὰ τὸν χρόνον, τὰ δὲ Μίκων οὐ τὸν πάντα ἔγραψε λόγον. Μίνως ἡνίκα Θησέα καὶ τὸν ἄλλον στόλον τῶν παίδων ἦγεν ἐς Κρήτην, ἐρασθεὶς Περιβοίας, ὥς οἱ Θησεὺς μάλιστα ἠναντιοῦτο, καὶ ἄλλα ὑπὸ ὀργῆς ἀπέρριψεν ἐς αὐτὸν καὶ παῖδα οὐκ ἔφη Ποσειδῶνος εἶναι, ἐπεὶ οὐ δύνασθαι τὴν σφραγῖδα, ἣν αὐτὸς φέρων ἔτυχεν, ἀφέντι ἐς θάλασσαν ἀνασῶσαί οἱ. Μίνως μὲν λέγεται ταῦτα εἰπὼν ἀφεῖναι τὴν σφραγῖδα: Θησέα δὲ σφραγῖδά τε ἐκείνην ἔχοντα καὶ στέφανον χρυσοῦν, Ἀμφιτρίτης δῶρον, ἀνελθεῖν λέγουσιν ἐκ τῆς θαλάσσης. [4] ἐς δὲ τὴν τελευτὴν τὴν Θησέως πολλὰ ἤδη καὶ οὐχ ὁμολογοῦντα εἴρηται: δεδέσθαι τε γὰρ αὐτὸν λέγουσιν ἐς τόδε ἕως ὑφ᾽ Ἡρακλέους ἀναχθείη, πιθανώτατα δὲ ὧν ἤκουσα: Θησεὺς ἐς Θεσπρωτοὺς ἐμβαλών, τοῦ βασιλέως τῶν Θεσπρωτῶν γυναῖκα ἁρπάσων, τὸ πολὺ τῆς στρατιᾶς οὕτως ἀπόλλυσι, καὶ αὐτός τε καὶ Πειρίθους— Πειρίθους γὰρ καὶ τὸν γάμον σπεύδων ἐστράτευεν— ἥλωσαν, καὶ σφᾶς ὁ Θεσπρωτὸς δήσας εἶχεν ἐν Κιχύρῳ.

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Près de ce gymnase est le temple de Thésée. Les peintures sont d'abord le combat des Athéniens contre les Amazones, sujet qui se trouve également sur le bouclier d'Athéna et le socle du Zeus d'Olympie. Ensuite on trouve peint au temple de Thésée le combat des Centaures et des Lapithes; Thésée a déjà tué un centaure, mais la victoire est encore indécise. Le tableau de la troisième paroi du tmeple est difficile à comprendre quand on n'a pas la clé; ce qui tient en partie à l'effet du temps, en partie à ce que Mikon n'a pas représenté le sujet dans son entier. Lorsque Minos conduisait en Crète Thésée et le reste de la flotte des jeunes tributaires, il devint amoureux de Périboia, et, comme Thésée s'opposait fortement à sa passiom, Minos emporté par la colère, lui reprocha de n'être pas un vrai fils de Poséidon, puisqu'il ne pourrait pas lui rapporter l'anneau qu'il avait au doigt, s'il le jetait à la mer; et, à l'instant, il le jeta dans les flots. Thésée, après avoir plongé, reparut en tenant l'anneau, et, de plus, une couronne d'or, présent d'Amphitrite. Quant à la mort de Thésée, on la raconte de différentes manières. Quelques-uns disent qu'il resta enchaîné jusqu'à ce qu'il eût été délivré par Héraklès. De toutes ces versions, voici la plus vraisemblable. Thésée ayant porté les armes contre les Thesprotes pour enlever la femme de leur roi, perdit la plus grande partie de ses troupes et fut lui-même fait prisonnier en compagnie de PIrithoüs qui s'était joint à lui pour rechercher ce mariage. Le roi des Thesprotes les mit aux fers et les retint à Kichyros.

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Commentary

(Overbeck 1086, 5)

  1. The Theseion was the shrine of Theseus in Athens, where the bones of the hero were disposed (schol Aristophanes, Plutus 627 = Souda s.v. Θησείοισιν). The shrine was situated in the center of Athens near the gymnasium of Ptolemy – perhaps of Ptolemy VI Philometor- (Plut., Thes. 36.4. On this point see Chamoux in Pausanias 1992, p. 182). The Theseion was probably on the north slope of the Acropolis, not far from the archaic agora (Robertson 1998, pp. 295- 298; Schmalz 2006, pp. 35-36, fig. 1, pp. 38-40, fig. 5). It seems that the sacred space was already in place around the end of the 6th century B.C. and a new building was added just after Kimon's campaign on the island of Skyros against the Dolopian pirates in 475 or 474/73 B.C. In connection with the return of Theseus’ bones, the Theseia (religious festival honoring Theseus) were established ca. 475 B.C. on the eighth of Pyanopsion (LIMC s.v. Theseus, p. 949; Boersma 1970, pp. 51-52; Podlecki 1971; Travlos 1980, pp. 234, 578-579 (fig.5); Thompson & Wycherley 1972, pp. 124-126; Castriota 1992, pp. 33-34; Calame 1996, pp. 129-130 and 153-156, 408; Walker 1995, pp. 57-58). We know very little about the appearance of the shrine. Maybe it was a "temenos" - sacred space - within a "sekos" - fence or precinct. But Pausanias also calls it a "hieron", suggesting a building similar to a temple or a treasury, certainly rectangular (Boersma 1970; Barron 1972). Besides hosting the remains of Theseus, the Theseion was used as a refuge for slaves and suppliants (Aristophanes, Knights, 1311-1312 and schol. to Aristophanes' Knights; Etym. Mag. s.v. Theseion; Philochoros FGH IIIB, 328, 177; Hesych. s.v. Theseion; Phot. s.v. Theseion), as a law court (Etym. Mag. s.v. Theseion), and as a meeting place for the Boule (Aeschines 111 (Ktesiphon), 13; Aristotle, Pol. 62.1; IG II2 1039). It was also used for weapons' storage, which suggests that it was a building of medium to large size (Wycherley 1957, pp. 113-119; Barron 1972, pp. 21-22). The shrine was decorated with three paintings (maybe four, see below note 5) illustrating some of Theseus' exploits: the victory against the Amazons; the battle against the Centaurs during the wedding of Peirithoos and Hippodameia and the recovering of Minos' ring. Unfortunately, Pausanias does not give a very detailed description, leaving more unanswered questions about the decorative program of the Theseion than providing answers to them. What about the technique, the composition, the scale of the paintings? Were the paintings murals or panels hung on the walls? One can just presume that the paintings were large, at least for the two battle scenes. Pausanias mentions only Mikon as the painter of the third painting at the Theseion (on Mikon see text 135), so one can assume that Mikon painted all the pictures. Or the paintings were the result of collaboration between Polygnotos and Mikon, according to Harpocration's scholia (text 100) which mention that Polygnotos did work at the Theseion (Reinach et al. 1921, p. 86). But, "Theseion" is Overbeck's emendation, correcting "thesauroi" into "theseion" (Reinach et al. 1921, p. 86; Wycherley 1957, p. 37, text 68; Thompson & Wycherley 1972, pp. 124-126; Castriota 1992, pp. 33-34).

  2. "The Amazonomachy" (LIMC I s.v. Amazones 230-231). Pausanias does not describe the picture, but a reconstitution has been proposed based on vase-painting (Barron 1972, pp. 33-40). The Theseian Amazonomachy was a popular subject during the fifth century B.C. It was connected to a new version of the myth, stipulating that the Amazons attacked Athens to avenge the rape of Antiope/Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons (Aesch. Eum 685-690; Hdt. 9.27; Gantz 1993, pp. 282-285). It seems that this Amazonomachy was related to the one at the Stoa Poikile, painted ca. 470/65 B.C., also by the hand of Mikon (text 116; Barron 1972, p. 33; Castriota 1992, pp. 33-34). Although one cannot propose a reconstitution of this Amazonomachy from vase painting, it seems that some innovations were introduced by Mikon and contemporary artists (as Phidias). Indeed, since the 460's BC, Amazons appear in vase-painting as a group of warriors with armor, weapons, helmets, shields, on foot or on horseback. The duels, common in archaic vase-painting, are substituted by large battle scenes in which Greek hoplites (and sometimes heroes as Heracles or Theseus) are facing Amazons. For example, a calyx-crater in New-York, attributed to the painter of the Woolly Satyrs, depicts an Amazonomachy and on the neck a battle between centaurs and Lapiths (Von Bothmer 1957, p. 163 f.; Devambez in LIMC I s.v. “Amazones”, pp. 640-642). The Amazonomachy can be interpreted as a symbol of the battle of the Greeks against the foreign invaders; especially alluding to the Persians’ assault during the Sack of Athens in 480 B.C. (Boardman 1982; Tyrrell 1984, pp. 9-19; Castriota 1992, pp. 43-58; Castriota 2005). On other hand, as Hardwick stresses, Amazons -as a group- were used as a symbol to promote the military excellence of Athenians over their enemies, both Greek and foreign. The Amazonomachy proves the historical and military superiority of the Athenians (Hardwick 1990; DuBois 1991, pp. 32-42). More widely, Amazons are the perfect opposite of the ideal Athenian male citizen: as women warriors, they are a threat against the community of male citizen (Bremer 2000; Lissarrague & Schmitt-Pantel 2009). The theme is well-adapted to a building aimed at glorifying Theseus, the Athenian hero "par excellence".

  3. "The Centauromachy" (LIMC VIII s.v. “Kentauroi et kentaurides” 199; LIMC VII s.v. Theseus 272). Same as for the Amazonomachy, Pausanias does not get into much detail about the painting. He just mentions that Theseus has killed a Centaur and the battle is still going on. Nevertheless, some scholars have tried to recognize the influence of the picture on classical vase-painting and reliefs, such as the West pediment of Zeus' temple at Olympia which, according to Pausanias, depicts the battle between Centaurs and Lapiths (Barron 1972, pp. 23-33; Woodford 1974).The painting refers to the battle against the Centaurs during a feast at Peirithoos' house - probably his wedding feast - at which Theseus was a guest. Peirithoos was Theseus' friend and king of Lapiths in Thessaly (Gantz 1993, pp. 277-282; LIMC VIII s.v. “Kentauroi et kentaurides” pp. 671-706). Centauromachies, just as Amazonomachies, are used, in Athenian art, as metaphors for the struggle against the barbarians (Persians) and, in a more general sense, for everything which is outside/different/distant in space and time (DuBois 1991, pp. 25-31). But Centauromachies are also a reminder of the complexity of human condition and its inner struggles. The aim of such a theme is to highlight the ideal of Athenians values such as self-control (sophrôsyne) and respect for human and divine laws. Centaurs act as the paradigm of bestiality (sexual assault and brutality), opposed in everything to Athenians values, especially in their hostility towards legal marriage (Woodford 1974; DuBois 1991, pp. 28-30; Castriota 1992, pp. 34-43). In this context, Theseus appears as guarantor of Athenian values which are the guarantors of civilization.

  4. "Theseus recovering Minos' Ring". (LIMC s.v. Theseus 227). In this case Pausanias mentions that the painting was on the third wall of the shrine. He goes on to give details about the state of conservation of the painting, which was degraded and not fully legible, after almost six centuries (!) but also because this was not a very well-known incident in Theseus' exploits. Therefore, Pausanias reminds the reader of this specific part of Theseus’ myth: the hero must prove his divine legacy after a fight with Minos, the Cretan king. To that effect, Theseus dives into the bottom of the sea to recover Minos' ring, thus proving that he is the son of Poseidon (Gantz 1993, pp. 263-264). Pausanias does not provide more detail about the composition of the painting. One must presume that the diving or only the encounter with Poseidon and Amphitrite was figured. The myth is told in Bacchylides, Dithyramb 3 while the episode had been known in ancient art since the end of the sixth century B.C. Thus, the red-figure cup by Euphronios and Onesimos, dated ca. 500-490 BCE in Louvre, Paris, is the first attested figuration of the episode of Theseus at the bottom of the sea (Neils in LIMC VII s.v. Theseus, pp. 939-940, 949-951; Dobrowolski 1972; Neils 1987, pp. 10-11, p. 61). This incident in Theseus' legend is part of the "Cretan episode", which was interpreted as the affirmation of Athenian supremacy over the Aegean Sea, especially after the conquest of Skyros. The diving is, as C. Calame points out, a rebirth from the sea, an "autothalassy". Theseus is a son of Poseidon and has rights over the sea just as much as over the Athenian land. Thus, the main theme of this episode is the divine and human parentage of Theseus, both confirmed by the iconographical choices and the physical presence of Theseus' bones within the sanctuary (Neils 1987, pp. 10-11; Pollitt 1987; Calame 1996, pp. 94-98, 440-441; Delattre 2009, pp. 144-152). On the other hand, Castriota prefers a more political (and historical) interpretation for the painting: it illustrates Athenian excellence with respect to the divine and human laws, in opposition to their enemies i.e. Persians, embodied by Minos. Thus, Athenians' actions are legitimate in the eyes of the gods i.e. domination over the Aegean sea and over the Greek lands (Barron 1980; Castriota 1992, pp. 58-63).

  5. The last part of the text raises questions, since Pausanias changes subject abruptly. Is Pausanias referring to a fourth painting describing the death of Theseus? Brunn, Six, Picard and Barron seem to believe so (Brunn 1889, p. 17; Six 1919; Picard 1960, pp. 65-71; Barron 1972, pp. 41-44). Or, is it just an occasion for Pausanias to show his mythological erudition, as Reinach suggests (Reinach et al. 1921, p. 142)? This part seems to allude to Theseus' katabasis (descend into the Underworld) with Peirithoos, with the goal to marry Persephone, Hades’ wife. As punishment, both were chained or stuck to a rock (or throne), until Heracles came to deliver Theseus, whereas Peirithoos remained a prisoner to the Underworld (Gantz 1993, pp. 291-295). This episode is one of the earliest attested examples of a Theseus exploit: it is mentioned in Homer’s Nekyia and later figured in Polygnotos' Nekyia at Delphi (text 107b). But Pausanias prefers the rational version of the myth, in which Theseus and Peirithoos are made prisoners by the king of the Thesprotians. Later sources recount the death of Theseus in Skyros, in exile or at the hands of Lykomedes (Gantz 1993, pp. 297-298). If there was a fourth painting at the Theseion, the picture would have illustrated Theseus' return from the dead, which would be well adapted to the whole iconographical program of the Theseion (Six 1919; Barron 1972, p. 44).

  6. Just as the paintings at the Stoa Poikile or at the Lesche of the Cnidians, the paintings at the Theseion must be thought of as a whole. A well-conceived and well-executed iconographical program entirely dedicated to Theseus and, by association, to Athens and its political and military hegemony. The paintings belong to the vast campaign of promotion of Theseus' myth that had started at the end of the sixth century B.C. with the aim of transforming Theseus into the paradigm of Athenian hero. In this case, it mostly benefited Kimon of Athens who used Theseus' myth to promote his own political and military agenda (Castriota 1992, pp. 33-34; Walker 1995, pp.56-61; Calame 1996, pp.420-450; Moormann 2011, pp. 11-12) .

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