When last we left our intrepid hero Theseus he was on his way to Athens in order to claim his royal birthright. He had already moved a massive stone and reclaimed his father’s sandals, sword and shield. His mother, Aethra had told him that he was the son not only of Aegeus (the then king of Athens) but also that Theseus was the son of Poseidon, the Greek God of the sea.
He had chosen a route around the Saronic Gulf even though it was more treacherous than a sea route would have been. On the way to Athens, he encountered six entrances to the Greek Underworld. The first was at a place known as Epidaurus. This tiny town was sacred to the Greek God Apollo and was reputed to have been the birthplace of his son Asclepius. Asclepius was the Greek God of healing. His staff, entwined with serpents is still used today as a symbol for medicine.
Apollo was not the problem at Epidarus and neither was Asclepius. Instead, Theseus had to face a man by the name of Periphetes. In some legends, Periphetes was also known as Korynetes. He was an outlaw who didn’t have much going for him even though he was the son of Hephaestus, the god of blacksmiths, craftsmen, metal and many other similar things. Periphetes was lame and wielded a massive wooden club that was wrapped in bronze. Periphetes was lame like his father and only had one eye. He lived in Epidauros but was actively robbing travelers on the road from Athens to Troezen and killing them with his club.
The battle was a fairly quick one. Periphetes tried to strike Theseus in the head with the club but Theseus was able to grab the club from Periphetes and strike him with it, killing him. Theseus then was able to take the club for himself and was shown in many drawings as carrying the weapon and using it in future encounters. In some accounts, the club was made of iron instead of steel.
After defeating Periphetes, Theseus continued along his path until he came to the next entrance to the underworld. This was located on an isthmus. There, he encountered a robber named Sinis. Sinis was a relative of Theseus as he also was the son of Poseidon. Sinis was a giant whose name meant “pine bender” This was an accurate name for the giant who killed travelers in a rather unpleasant way.
He would force travelers to help him bend two pine trees to the ground and then suddenly let them go. As a result, the pine trees would straighten up and the force would rip unwary travelers in two. In some legends, Sinis tied the people directly to the pine trees and in others he had them help him bend them down. Theseus managed to tie Sinis to his own pine trees and allowed them to rip him apart. It was a fitting end to someone who killed travelers in a most unpleasant way. Once Sinis was dead, Theseus was able to continue on his way to Athens.
Tomorrow: Theseus’ journey to Athens to claim his birthright.