Renee Hand

USA Award-Winning Children's Books; chapter books for elementary and middle school. Award-Winning Author, Book Entertainer, & Prolific Speaker

The Greek Hero Theseus

Theseus was a Greek hero in Greek mythology. While having all the qualities of a traditional hero, such as strength and courage, he was also intelligent and wise. His early adventures benefited the city and region of Athens, helping in the consolidation of the Athenian power through shrewd political maneuvering. He also led the Athenian army on a number of victorious campaigns. He was credited as the founder of democracy, voluntarily transferring many of his powers as king over to an elected assembly. He gained a reputation for helping the poor and oppressed.

His shedding of power also made it easier for him to continue going on adventures after his rule. "Not without Theseus" became a popular Athenian saying, reflecting the belief he should be included in any important undertaking. Theseus was the son of Aethra, a daughter of King Pittheus of Troezen, and either the Athenian king Aegeus or Poseidon. When counted as Poseidon's son, Theseus is one of the demigods. Theseus was a Greek hero second only to Hercules in Athens, where Theseus is counted as one of the early kings.

While growing up, he looked up to his older cousin Hercules. Theseus and Hercules later saved each other's lives; Hercules through his strength; Theseus through his wisdom. In middle age, his wisdom deserted him. He began going on foolish adventures, and making bad decisions. His efforts to produce an heir for the throne led to more problems. The people of Athens grew tired of the turmoil he produced. Eventually, he died in exile. The city did not bother to bring his body home.

Generations passed without much thought being given to Theseus. Then, during the Persian wars, Athenian soldiers reported seeing the ghost of Theseus and came to believe that he was responsible for their victories. The Athenian general Kimon received a command from the Oracle at Delphi to find Theseus' bones and return them to Athens. He did so, and he was reburied in a magnificent tomb that also served as a sanctuary for the defenseless.

The Pillars of Hercules

Pillars of Hercules is the ancient name given to the promontories that flank the entrance to the Straits of Gibraltar. They are Gibraltar in Europe and Monte Hacho in Ceuta in Africa. The Jebel Musa, west of Ceuta, is sometimes considered one of the Pillars.

Mythological Significance

The creation of the pillars

After killing Medusa, Perseus took the head of the Gorgon with him to distant lands and reached the western end of the Earth where the sun sets - the land where Atlas the Titan resided and raised magical golden apples. Perseus wished to rest in Atlas' garden and asked him for food but Atlas - fearing that the hero would steal his magical fruit - refused and sent Perseus away. Perseus then showed Atlas the head of Medusa and the Titan turned into a giant mountain - his hair turning into a great forest, his shoulders into cliffs and his bones into solid rock.

The naming of the pillars

When Hercules had to perform twelve labours, one of them was to fetch the Cattle of Geryon and bring it to Eurystheus. On his way to the island of Erytheia he had to cross the mountain that was once Atlas. Instead of climbing the great mountain, Hercules split it in half using his indestructible mace. By doing so, he connected the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and formed the Strait of Gibraltar. One part of the split mountain is currently called Gibraltar and the other is Monte Hacho. Since the split these two mountains have been known as the Pillars of Hercules.

The pillars as portals

The pillars are also mentioned at some places as portals, or gates to different locations on Earth. When the Carthaginian admiral Himilco was sent to explore the area of the Muddy Sea (a shallow plateau that lies to the southwest of the Pillars) he found many seaweeds growing in the troughs between the waves, which slowed the ship like bushes. There the beasts of the sea moved slowly among the sluggishly creeping ships. The description accurately resembles the Sargasso Sea rather than the Muddy Sea.

The Pillars appear as supporters of the coat of arms of Spain. The motto Plus Ultra (Latin for further beyond) indicates the desire to see the Pillars as an entrance to the rest of the world rather than as a gate to the Mediterranean Sea.

But is was not until Columbus discovered America in 1492 that it became Plus Ultra, before this point it said Non Plus Ultra. The reason for this was that until then the navigation outside of the pillars had been limited to coastline navigation. It wasn't until Columbus' discovery that seafaring technology proved to be ripe enough for sailors to venture safely into the open ocean.

Phoenician connection

Another origin for the legend could be the columns of the Phoenician temple of Melqart at Gadir, just beyond the Strait. Melqart was identified by the Greeks with Heracles. The columns of the Melqart temple at Tyros were also of religious significance.

Historical location

Before Eratosthenes about 250 BC, ancient Greek writers located the Pillars of Hercules on the Strait of Sicily. This changed with Alexander the Great’s eastward expansion and the Pillars were moved by Eratosthenes to Gibraltar. This evidence has been cited in some Atlantis theories.

In Dante's Inferno

When describing his circles of Hell, Dante mentions Ulysses and his voyage past the Pillars of Hercules (once considered the western end of the world). Ulysses justifies endangering his sailors by the fact that his goal is to gain knowledge of the unknown. After five months of navigation in the ocean, Ulysses detects the Purgatory but encounters a whirlwind that sinks his ship.

In music

The Russian bard Alexander Gorodnitsky wrote a song under a similar title in 1965, while sailing past the Strait of Gibraltar on one of his many sea voyages. The song makes numerous references to Ulysses' voyages in the area and other sections of The Odyssey

Information about the Planet Neptune

Dark, cold and whipped by supersonic winds, Neptune is the last of the hydrogen and helium gas giants in our solar system. More than 30 times as far from the sun as Earth, the planet takes almost 165 Earth years to orbit our sun. In 2011 Neptune completed its first orbit since its discovery in 1846.

10 Need-to-Know Facts About Neptune:

  1. If the sun were as tall as a typical front door, the Earth would be the size of a nickel and Neptune would be about as big as a baseball.
  2. Neptune orbits our sun. Neptune is the eighth planet from the sun at a distance of about 4.5 billion km (2.8 billion miles) or 30.07 AU.
  3. One day on Neptune takes about 16 hours (the time it takes for Neptune to rotate or spin once). Neptune makes a complete orbit around the sun (a year in Neptunian time) in about 165 Earth years (60,190 Earth days).
  4. Neptune is a sister ice giant to Uranus. Neptune is mostly made of a very thick, very hot combination of water (H2O), ammonia (NH3), and methane (CH4) over a possible heavier, approximately Earth-sized, solid core.
  5. Neptune's atmosphere is made up mostly of hydrogen (H2), helium (He) and methane (CH4).
  6. Neptune has 13 confirmed moons (and 1 more awaiting official confirmation of discovery). Neptune's moons are named after various sea gods and nymphs in Greek mythology.
  7. Neptune has six rings.
  8. Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft to have visited Neptune.
  9. Neptune cannot support life as we know it.
  10. At times during the course of Neptune's orbit, dwarf planet Pluto is actually closer to the sun, and us, than Neptune. This is due to the unusual elliptical shape of Pluto's orbit.

More in-depth information:

The ice giant Neptune was the first planet located through mathematical predictions rather than through regular observations of the sky. (Galileo had recorded it as a fixed star during observations with his small telescope in 1612 and 1613.) When Uranus didn't travel exactly as astronomers expected it to, a French mathematician, Urbain Joseph Le Verrier, proposed the position and mass of another as yet unknown planet that could cause the observed changes to Uranus' orbit. After being ignored by French astronomers, Le Verrier sent his predictions to Johann Gottfried Galle at the Berlin Observatory, who found Neptune on his first night of searching in 1846. Seventeen days later, its largest moon, Triton, was also discovered.

Nearly 2.8 billion miles from the sun, Neptune orbits the Sun once every 165 years. It is invisible to the naked eye because of its extreme distance from Earth. Interestingly, the highly eccentric orbit of the dwarf planet Pluto brings Pluto inside Neptune's orbit for a 20-year period out of every 248 Earth years. Pluto can never crash into Neptune, though, because for every three laps Neptune takes around the Sun, Pluto makes two. This repeating pattern prevents close approaches of the two bodies.

The main axis of Neptune's magnetic field is tipped over by about 47 degrees compared with the planet's rotation axis. Like Uranus, whose magnetic axis is tilted about 60 degrees from the axis of rotation, Neptune's magnetosphere undergoes wild variations during each rotation because of this misalignment. The magnetic field of Neptune is about 27 times more powerful than that of Earth.

Neptune's atmosphere extends to great depths, gradually merging into water and other melted ices over a heavier, approximately Earth-size solid core. Neptune's blue color is the result of methane in the atmosphere. Uranus' blue-green color is also the result of atmospheric methane, but Neptune is a more vivid, brighter blue, so there must be an unknown component that causes the more intense color.

Despite its great distance and low energy input from the Sun, Neptune's winds can be three times stronger than Jupiter's and nine times stronger than Earth's. In 1989, Voyager 2 tracked a large, oval-shaped, dark storm in Neptune's southern hemisphere. This "Great Dark Spot" was large enough to contain the entire Earth, spun counterclockwise, and moved westward at almost 750 miles per hour. Subsequent images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope showed no sign of this Great Dark Spot, but did reveal the appearance and then fading of two other Great Dark Spots over the last decade. Voyager 2 also imaged clouds casting shadows on a lower cloud deck, enabling scientists to visually measure the altitude differences between the upper and lower cloud decks.

Neptune has six known rings. Voyager 2's observations confirmed that these unusual rings are not uniform but have four thick regions (clumps of dust) called arcs. The rings are thought to be relatively young and short-lived.

Neptune has 13 known moons, six of which were discovered by Voyager 2. A 14th tiny, very dim, moon was discovered in 2013 and awaits official recognition. Triton, Neptune's largest moon, orbits the planet in the opposite direction compared with the rest of the moons, suggesting that it may have been captured by Neptune in the distant past. Triton has extremely cold temperatures on its surface about -235 degrees Celsius (-391 degrees Fahrenheit). Despite this deep freeze at Triton, Voyager 2 discovered geysers spewing icy material upward more than 5 miles. Triton's thin atmosphere, also discovered by Voyager, has been detected from Earth several times since, and is growing warmer, although scientists do not yet know why.