Theseus: Then and Now
Quick, what monster did Theseus kill in the original myth?
If you answered the minotaur, you’re right of course.
There are however other acceptable answers. I’d forgotten the story about the bandit who would “fit” his victims onto a bed—if they were too short, he would stretch them; if they were too tall, he would chop off their feet. Being the villain that he was, he had two beds handy to make sure his victims couldn’t fit either one.
It was Theseus who defeated this bandit (Procrustes: worst name since Gladiator’s Commodus). He also defeated more such bandits and fiends, each located at six entrances to the underworld (including Pityokamptes, who would tie his victims between two bent pine trees and then snap them apart; and Periphetes “the clubber,” who literally beat his victims into the ground).
Theseus defeated all bandits he met—and still more adversaries besides. He took on the Crommyonian Sow, the Marathonian Bull, and the Minotaur. Like Hercules, Theseus had a string of victories to his name, befitting such a legendary figure. He was a superhero.
Yet several of those victories would instantly remove Theseus from our modern-day concept of hero.
In The Immortals, Theseus is a fairly chaste figure. He cares for his mother until she’s killed (which drives his quest for vengeance). Later on, he sleeps with the equally chaste oracle (Frieda Pinto, of Slumdog Millionaire fame), displaying the sly embarrassment afterward of a high school kid laid for the first time. But together, Theseus and the oracle are partners. The oracle bears him a child, who will carry on Theseus’ legacy after the hero has found mortal death and achieved a kind of apotheosis.
In the original myth, however, Theseus unfortunately adds to his resume by abducting several women—treating them more as trophies and adversaries then anything else. A few are even recurring characters from myth: Medea (from Jason and the Argonauts) tries to poison him. He abducts Helen (yes, that Helen). He also abducts Hippolyta, the Amazonian queen, who Hercules would later abduct as well, and then hastily kill.
In fact, it was Hercules who would rescue Theseus from no less than Hades itself. He could not, however, rescue Theseus from his ultimate fate—being thrown off a cliff while in exile.
The rise and inglorious fall (no pun intended) of a hero… much different than the clean “arc” of The Immortals.