The lineage of Theseus, on the father's side, goes back to Erechtheus and the first children of the soil; on the mother's side, to Pelops. For Pelops was the strongest of the kings in Peloponnesus quite as much on account of the number of his children as the amount of his wealth. He gave many daughters in marriage to men of highest rank, and scattered many sons among the cities as their rulers. One of these, named Pittheus, the grandfather of Theseus, founded the little city of Troezen, and had the highest repute as a man versed in the lore of his times and of the greatest wisdom.
Now the wisdom of that day had some such form and force as that for which Hesiod was famous, especially in the sententious maxims of his
‘Works and Days.’ One of these maxims is ascribed to Pittheus, namely
‘Payment pledged to a man who is dear must be ample and certain.’
At any rate, this is what Aristotle the philosopher says,2
when he has Hippolytus addressed as
‘nursling of the pure and holy Pittheus,’ shows what the world thought of Pittheus.
Now Aegeus, king of Athens, desiring to have children, is said to have received from the Pythian priestess the celebrated oracle in which she bade him to have intercourse with no woman until he came to Athens. But Aegeus thought the words of the command somewhat obscure, and therefore turned aside to Troezen and communicated to Pittheus the words of the god, which ran as follows:—
Loose not the wine-skin's jutting neck, great chief of the people,
Until thou shalt have come once more to the city of Athens.
This dark saying Pittheus apparently understood, and persuaded him, or beguiled him, to have intercourse with his daughter Aethra. Aegeus did so, and then learning that it was the daughter of Pittheus with whom he had consorted, and suspecting that she was with child by him, he left a sword and a pair of sandals hidden under a great rock, which had a hollow in it just large enough to receive these objects.
He told the princess alone about this, and bade her, if a son should be born to her from him, and if, when he came to man's estate, he should be able to lift up the rock and take away what had been left under it, to send that son to him with the tokens, in all secrecy, and concealing his journey as much as possible from everybody; for he was mightily in fear of the sons of Pallas,5
who were plotting against him, and who despised him on account of his childlessness; and they were fifty in number, these sons of Pallas. Then he went away.