One of the many great aspects of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series is how he incorporates ancient Greek mythology into the modern-day. Percy and his friends battle many of the same monsters and villains that appear in the ancient myths. But just how many similar foes are present in Riordan’s books compared to those fought by the ancient heroes?
You’re about to find out. This is the beginning of a three-part series where we will focus on Theseus, Hercules, and Odysseus and how many of their foes are encountered in the Percy Jackson books.
First up: Theseus.
Percy Jackson and Theseus - credits: knossosguides.com
According to most myths, Theseus was the son of the mortal woman Aethra and either Poseidon, making him the half-brother of Percy, or Aegeus, the king of Athens. Theseus was raised by his mother in the palace of Troezen until adulthood when he is sent to Athens to meet his father (or adoptive father), King Aegeus.
Travel to Athens
The Acropolis rock in Athens - credits: Aerial-motion/Shutterstock.com
Along the way to Athens to reveal himself to his father, Theseus encounters six villains, defeating most of them using the same method his enemy used.
First, Theseus encounters Periphetes, known as “The Club-Bearer” due to his iron club used to beat any traveler he met. Theseus, however, grabbed the club out of Periphetes’s hands and beat him to death with his own weapon.
He in turn defeats Sinis, “The Pine Bender,” by tying him to two bent pine trees and releasing the trees, just as Sinis did to others.
Cercyon, “The Wrestler” is defeated by Theseus in his own sport of wrestling, one-on-one, with no weapons.
Theseus then defeats what is known as the “Crommyonian Sow.” Not much is said about this beast in the ancient texts—mainly that it was large, ferocious, and killed humans.
While this exact beast is not mentioned in Rick Riordan’s books, another sow called the “Clazmonian Sow” does appear in The Last Olympian, Percy Jackson & The Olympians book 5. Percy describes this flying pig as a “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade nightmare blimp with wings.” Percy defeats the sow by activating a statue of Hermes and two lion statues to come alive and help him kill it.
The last two enemies are perhaps the strangest. Sciron blocked a sea passage from travelers unless they washed his feet. He would then kick them off a cliff to be eaten by a giant sea turtle. Theseus defeated him by kicking him off the same cliff.
Jason Grace and Hazel Levesque encounter Sciron in The House of Hades, The Heroes of Olympus book 4, when he holds their ship hostage. Hazel uses magic to disorient Sciron to turn around so his back is to the edge of the cliff, and Jason kicks him off the cliff just as Theseus did.
The last villain was named Procrustes, “The Stretcher.” He was known for fitting his victims to a bed, where he would chop off the excess if they were too tall or use weights to stretch them if they were too short. Theseus defeats Procrustes by forcing him onto his own device.
Percy, Grover, and Annabeth encounter Procrustes in the first Percy Jackson book, The Lightning Thief. He is the owner of a mattress store in LA called “Crusty’s Water Bed Palace.” Procrustes forces Annabeth and Grover onto beds and begins to stretch them, but before he can do any real damage, Percy forces Procrustes onto a bed and chops off his head.
The Minotaur and the Labyrinth
The myth of Theseus and the Minotaur - credits: knossosguides.com
Theseus is best known for his slaying of the fearsome half-man half-bull Minotaur in Crete. As compensation for the death of his son, King Minos of Crete forced Athens to send seven young men and seven young women to feed the Minotaur every year. When Theseus heard this, he became determined to slay the Minotaur and free the Athenians.
Upon arriving in Crete, Theseus convinced Princess Ariadne, daughter of King Minos, to help him navigate the labyrinth that housed the Minotaur. She gave him some string to help him keep his way in the Labyrinth, and he was able to defeat the Minotaur and escape the Labyrinth. He then returned home to Athens and was crowned king.
Percy battles the Minotaur near the beginning of The Lightning Thief, without any training or a weapon. He jumps on its back and tears off one of the Minotaur’s horns, then uses it to stab the Minotaur in the gut.
Percy and his friends also figure out how to navigate the Labyrinth, in The Battle of the Labyrinth, Percy Jackson & the Olympians book 4, with the help of a mortal girl named Rachel.
Percy and Theseus: Similarities
Percy Jackson and Theseus - credits: knossosguides.com
The obvious similarity is that both heroes are most likely sons of Poseidon. They have relatively similar upbringings, as well, since neither of them knows who their father is until they are past childhood.
Percy and Theseus both exhibit strong leadership and unification skills. Theseus is able to unite the Attica region of Greece under Athens, and Percy unifies the Greek demigods during the Battle of Manhattan in The Last Olympian, and the Greeks and Romans in The Blood of Olympus, the final book in The Heroes of Olympus series.
Both heroes also display fierce loyalty. In The Titan’s Curse, Percy Jackson book 3, Athena tells Percy that his fatal flaw is personal loyalty. This is shown many times when Percy refuses to leave his friends behind and goes to great lengths to rescue them from harm.
Theseus shows loyalty as well, to his city when he volunteers to fight the Minotaur, and later to his friend Pirithous who he accompanies to the Underworld to steal Persephone, the wife of Hades. Theseus and Pirithous are then trapped in the Underworld. This loyalty to his friend ultimately costs Theseus his life.
While Percy and his friends complete only three out of six of Theseus’s “labors,” Percy also achieved Theseus’s greatest triumph, the slaying of the Minotaur, when he was only twelve years old.
These feats, along with the countless other enemies the demigod's defeat in Rick Riordan’s books, make today’s demigods seem a bit fiercer than those of mythology. Do you agree or disagree? Leave a comment below!
Athens view from Philoppapos Hill - credits: Panagiotis Assonitis/Shutterstock.com
After hearing these stories, how would you like to see the Labyrinth in Crete where Theseus defeated the Minotaur? How about the famous bronze statue of Theseus in Athens? Book a tour with our knowledgeable and fun guides to hear more stories from mythology and how they relate to the Percy Jackson books.