HOW THESEUS FOUND HIS FATHER
BY NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE
In the old city of Trœzene, at the foot of a lofty
mountain, there lived, a very long time ago, a little
boy named Theseus. His grandfather, King Pittheus,
was the sovereign of that country, and was reckoned a
very wise man; so that Theseus, being brought up in the
royal palace, and being naturally a bright lad, could
hardly fail of profiting by the old king's instructions.
His mother's name was Ęthra. As for his father, the
boy had never seen him. But, from his earliest remembrance,
Ęthra used to go with little Theseus into a
wood, and sit down upon a moss-grown rock, which was
deeply sunken into the earth. Here she often talked
with her son about his father, and said that he was called
Ęgeus, and that he was a great king, and ruled over
Attica, and dwelt at Athens, which was as famous a city
as any in the world. Theseus was very fond of hearing
about King Ęgeus, and often asked his good mother
Ęthra why he did not come and live with them at
"Ah, my dear son," answered Ęthra, with a sigh, "a
monarch has his people to take care of. The men and
women over whom he rules are in the place of children to
him; and he can seldom spare time to love his own
children as other parents do. Your father will never be
able to leave his kingdom for the sake of seeing his little
"Well, but, dear mother," asked the boy, "why cannot
I go to this famous city of Athens, and tell King
Ęgeus that I am his son?"
"That may happen by and by," said Ęthra. "Be
patient, and we shall see. You are not yet big and
strong enough to set out on such an errand."
"And how soon shall I be strong enough?" Theseus
persisted in inquiring.
"You are but a tiny boy as yet," replied his mother.
"See if you can lift this rock on which we are sitting."
The little fellow had a great opinion of his own
strength. So, grasping the rough protuberances of the
rock, he tugged and toiled amain, and got himself quite
out of breath, without being able to stir the heavy stone.
It seemed to be rooted into the ground. No wonder
he could not move it; for it would have taken all the
force of a very strong man to lift it out of its earthy
His mother stood looking on, with a sad kind of a
smile on her lips and in her eyes, to see the zealous and
yet puny efforts of her little boy. She could not help
being sorrowful at finding him already so impatient to
begin his adventures in the world.
"You see how it is, my dear Theseus," said she.
"You must possess far more strength than now before
I can trust you to go to Athens, and tell King Ęgeus
that you are his son. But when you can lift this rock,
and show me what is hidden beneath it, I promise you
my permission to depart."
Often and often, after this, did Theseus ask his
mother whether it was yet time for him to go to Athens;
and still his mother pointed to the rock, and told him
that, for years to come, he could not be strong enough
to move it. And again and again the rosy-cheeked and
curly-headed boy would tug and strain at the huge mass
of stone, striving, child as he was, to do what a giant
could hardly have done without taking both of his great
hands to the task. Meanwhile the rock seemed to be
sinking farther and farther into the ground. The moss
grew over it thicker and thicker, until at last it looked
almost like a soft green seat, with only a few gray
knobs of granite peeping out. The overhanging trees,
also, shed their brown leaves upon it, as often as the
autumn came; and at its base grew ferns and wild
flowers, some of which crept quite over its surface. To
all appearance the rock was as firmly fastened as any
other portion of the earth's substance.
But difficult as the matter looked, Theseus was now
growing up to be such a vigorous youth that, in his
own opinion, the time would quickly come when he
might hope to get the upper hand of this ponderous
lump of stone.
"Mother, I do believe it has started!" cried he, after
one of his attempts. "The earth around it is certainly a
"No, no, child!" his mother hastily answered. "It
is not possible that you can have moved it, such a boy
as you still are!"
Nor would she be convinced, although Theseus showed
her the place where he fancied that the stem of a flower
had been partly uprooted by the movement of the rock.
But Ęthra sighed and looked disquieted; for, no doubt,
she began to be conscious that her son was no longer
a child, and that, in a little while hence, she must send
him forth among the perils and troubles of the world.
It was not more than a year afterwards when they
were again sitting on the moss-covered stone. Ęthra
had once more told him the oft-repeated story of his
father, and how gladly he would receive Theseus at his
stately palace, and how he would present him to his
courtiers and the people, and tell them that here was
the heir of his dominions. The eyes of Theseus glowed
with enthusiasm, and he would hardly sit still to hear his
"Dear mother Ęthra," he exclaimed, "I never felt
half so strong as now! I am no longer a child, nor a
boy, nor a mere youth! I feel myself a man! It is now
time to make one earnest trial to remove the stone."
"Ah, my dearest Theseus," replied his mother, "not
yet! not yet!"
"Yes, mother," he said resolutely, "the time has
Then Theseus bent himself in good earnest to the
task, and strained every sinew, with manly strength and
resolution. He put his whole brave heart into the effort.
He wrestled with the big and sluggish stone, as if it had
been a living enemy. He heaved, he lifted, he resolved
now to succeed, or else to perish there and let the rock be
his monument forever! Ęthra stood gazing at him, and
clasped her hands, partly with a mother's pride and partly
with a mother's sorrow. The great rock stirred! Yes;
it was raised slowly from the bedded moss and earth,
uprooting the shrubs and flowers along with it, and was
turned upon its side. Theseus had conquered!
While taking breath he looked joyfully at his mother,
and she smiled upon him through her tears.
"Yes, Theseus," she said, "the time has come, and you
must stay no longer at my side! See what King Ęgeus,
your royal father, left for you, beneath the stone, when
he lifted it in his mighty arms and laid it on the spot
whence you have now removed it."
Theseus looked, and saw that the rock had been placed
over another slab of stone, containing a cavity within it;
so that it somewhat resembled a roughly made chest or
coffer, of which the upper mass had served as the lid.
Within the cavity lay a sword, with a golden hilt, and a
pair of sandals.
"That was your father's sword," said Ęthra, "and
those were his sandals. When he went to be King of
Athens, he bade me treat you as a child until you should
prove yourself a man by lifting this heavy stone. That
task being accomplished, you are to put on his sandals,
in order to follow in your father's footsteps, and to gird
on his sword, so that you may fight giants and dragons,
as King Ęgeus did in his youth."
"I will set out for Athens this very day!" cried
But his mother persuaded him to stay a day or two
longer, while she got ready some necessary articles for
his journey. When his grandfather, the wise King
Pittheus, heard that Theseus intended to present himself
at his father's palace, he earnestly advised him to get
on board of a vessel, and go by sea; because he might
thus arrive within fifteen miles of Athens, without either
fatigue or danger.
"The roads are very bad by land," quoth the venerable
king; "and they are terribly infested with robbers and
monsters. A mere lad like Theseus is not fit to be
trusted on such a perilous journey all by himself. No,
no; let him go by sea!"
But when Theseus heard of robbers and monsters, he
pricked up his ears and was so much the more eager to
take the road along which they were to be met with.
On the third day, therefore, he bade a respectful farewell
to his grandfather, thanking him for all his kindness;
and, after affectionately embracing his mother,
he set forth, with a good many of her tears glistening
on his cheeks, and some, if the truth must be told, that
had gushed out of his own eyes. But he let the sun and
wind dry them, and walked stoutly on, playing with the
golden hilt of his sword and taking very manly strides
in his father's sandals.
I cannot stop to tell you hardly any of the adventures
that befell Theseus on the road to Athens. It is enough
to say that he quite cleared that part of the country of
the robbers about whom King Pittheus had been so much
alarmed. One of these bad people was named Procrustes,
and he was indeed a terrible fellow, and had an ugly
way of making fun of the poor travelers who happened
to fall into his clutches. In his cavern he had a bed, on
which, with great pretense of hospitality, he invited his
guests to lie down; but if they happened to be shorter
than the bed, this wicked villain stretched them out by
main force; or, if they were too tall, he lopped off their
heads or feet, and laughed at what he had done as an
excellent joke. Thus, however weary a man might be,
he never liked to lie in the bed of Procrustes. Another of
these robbers, named Sinis, must likewise have been a
very great scoundrel. He was in the habit of flinging
his victims off a high cliff into the sea; and in order
to give him exactly his deserts, Theseus tossed him off
the very same place. But if you will believe me, the sea
would not pollute itself by receiving such a bad person
into its bosom, neither would the earth, having once got
rid of him, consent to take him back; so that, between the
cliff and the sea, Sinis stuck fast in the air, which was
forced to bear the burden of his naughtiness.
Thus, by the time he reached his journey's end,
Theseus had done many valiant feats with his father's
golden-hilted sword, and had gained the renown of being
one of the bravest young men of the day. His fame
traveled faster than he did, and reached Athens before
him. As he entered the city, he heard the inhabitants
talking at the street corners and saying that Hercules
was brave, and Jason too, and Castor and Pollux likewise,
but that Theseus, the son of their own king, would
turn out as great a hero as the best of them. Theseus
took longer strides on hearing this, and fancied himself
sure of a magnificent reception at his father's court,
since he came thither with Fame to blow her trumpet
before him, and cry to King Ęgeus, "Behold your