According to ancient Greek myth and legend, a curious figure named Sceiron lived atop a Megarid seaside cliff at a place called Chelonê. Sceiron was no ordinary man—he was potentially a son of Poseidon, and this alleged parentage apparently gave Sceiron a supernatural amount of charisma, as well as an affinity with the sea below his cliffside. He was apparently quite a persuasive fellow, able to talk travelers who were passing by his home into spending time with him, the result being that he would eventually convince them into performing odd manual tasks. At this point, Sceiron’s favorite thing to do was to lure his guests over to his favorite cliffside seat, where they could overlook the sea below. There, at that scenic spot, guests were compelled by their host’s charisma and power to bend the knee and wash Sceiron’s feet. As the story goes, after letting the guest give his feet a good scrubbing, Sceiron would then suddenly use his freshly cleaned foot to give the unfortunate traveler a ferocious and unexpected kick, sending the person plummeting backward to tumble down the cliffside into the sea below. On this peculiar villain from myth, the historian Diodorus Siculus (c. 1st century BCE) wrote, “This man [Sceiron], namely, made it his practice to compel those who passed by to wash his feet at a precipitous place, and then, suddenly giving them a kick, he would roll them down the crags into the sea at a place called Chelonê” (Diodorus Siculus, Library, 4.59).
Although being kicked down a cliff is bad enough, the story does not end there. As Sceiron was potentially the child of a sea god, it is not surprising that sea creatures were naturally drawn to him. In particular, Sceiron apparently developed an interesting partnership with a giant man-eating turtle that lurked in the waters below his cliff. Therefore, if a person happened to survive the fall, they would then have to get away from the hungry giant monster. The existence of this man-eating turtle of myth was attested to by the scholar, Pseudo-Apollodorus (1st-2nd century), who stated, “Sceiron occupied the rocks in the Megarid which are named the Scieronian Rocks because of him, and forced passers-by to wash his feet; and as they did so, he would kick them into the deep to become the prey of a giant turtle” (Apollodorus, Library, Epitome.1.2).
One day, Sceiron invited in a guest that was not the average ancient Greek traveler. Doing his usual routine, the villain lured his guest over to his favorite cliffside seat and invited the visitor to begin the usual foot-washing process. When the time felt right, Sceiron tried to give this particular visitor the usual kick that sent everyone else tumbling over the cliffside. Yet, all did not go to plan. As it happened, the person he tried to kick was the famous hero, Theseus, and he quickly countered the attack in deadly fashion. As told by Pseudo-Apollodorus, “Theseus grasped Sceiron by the feet and flung him [into the sea]” (Library, Epitome.1.2). This move proved fatal, and one is drawn to believe that Sceiron ended up being eaten by his own turtle.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Terracotta kylix (drinking cup) ca. 480–470 B.C., attributed to Douris, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the MET).
- Apollodorus, The Library of Greek Mythology, translated by Robin Hard. New York, Oxford University Press, 1997.
- The Library of History, by Diodorus Siculus, edited by Giles Laurén (Sophron Editor, 2014).