Although a king, what form of government was Theseus supposed to have established at Athens?We've talked about this before, and I called shenanigans on the supposed answer. And when you get right down to it, I'd say that a lot of these kinds of stories about Theseus were not just shenanigans, but they were also something more: propaganda.
|Theseus delivering a beat down. With a club.|
image by Roland Longbow, via wiki commons
Heracles was pretty stiff competition for anyone. But the Athenians -- they never settle for second best. Instead, they made Theseus a companion to Heracles on some of his most famous journeys. In fact, that went ahead and made Theseus a companion to everyone on their most famous journeys. They sent him off with Jason after the Golden Fleece, with Heracles against the Amazons, they sent his sons to Troy, even though they had totally been deposed by Menestheus when Theseus was run out of Athens upon his return from the Underworld. They inserted Theseus into so many stories, that he became his own expression: Not Without Theseus. Meaning, nobody got anything awesome done without the ATHENIAN hero himself. Not even Heracles!
So, Heracles had the 12 labors? Theseus had 6 of his own -- and conquered them before he'd even reached manhood! And!! After THAT, he liberated Athens from the subjugation of Minos by shipping out to Crete as tribute and killing the Minotaur. Yeah, okay, sure, maybe Heracles did kill snakes in his crib as an infant, but Theseus could have taken the easy route to Athens by sea, he didn't need a goddess to drive him into madness to become a hero, he made a deliberate choice to be all he could be! And he taught wrestling to the Greeks. And, he was so enlightened and just, he practically created DEMOCRACY!
Heracles? pfft. He just whaled on people with his club. All he had going for him was crude power. Theseus had brains as well as a club! Because Theseus is nothing if not a reflection of the virtues of Athens. A shining example of everything the Athenians believed in.
Now, I'm not saying Theseus didn't make with all the awesome -- but I am going to say this:
In other countries where the king sets up some additional governmental body to offer advice and maybe even make a few decisions on their own, while still remaining KING, himself, we don't call that a democracy. We call it a monarchy. In fact, Elective Monarchy might be the most fitting way of describing government in Theseus' day. And it wasn't special to Athens. In those days, nobody got to be king just because he was born a prince. Sure, it gave you a leg up, but if you didn't have the support of your people? Pfft.
Your days were numbered.
Even when you're Theseus, bringer of "democracy" and Hero of Attica.