Pausanias, an ancient Greek author from the 2nd century, opened up his Description of Greece with details about the Athenian heartland of Attica. Naturally, he spliced into his account various local (in this case Athenian) tales of folklore, legend and mythology in-between his geographical description of the environment and his architectural analysis of the regional buildings and monuments. In fact, monuments and art installations were often the reason why Pausanias segued into stories about legendary figures or gods. He would describe a certain statue or altarpiece in a city, for example, and go on to explain the story behind the artwork and why it was important to the region. This was the case for a vague hero figure revered in the Athenian port of Piraeus. According to Pausanias, the figure was simply known as the Hero, or perhaps (according to his fellow second-century writer, Clement of Alexandria), the full title may have been Divine Hero on the Stern. Although the average Piraeus resident was evidently content to keep the Hero an obscure figure, Pausanias and his antiquarian associates were confident that the identity of the mysterious Hero was a prince named Androgeos, linked to the legendary tale of King Minos, Theseus, and the Minotaur.
Pausanias recounted Androgeos’ unfortunate involvement in the myth, stating that Theseus and other young Athenian sacrifices were sent to face King Minos and his minotaur in Crete in order to “pay Minos the penalty for the death of Androgeos” (Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.1.2). In short, Androgeos—the son of Minos—was killed in Athens and the fallout of his death set up the situation where the Athenians began sending seven boys and seven girls as tribute to Minos in order to limit his wrath. This Androgeos, whose death led to the slaughter of Athenian children, is the one who apparently came to be worshipped to some extent at the Piraeus. It was an odd fit, indeed, but the antiquarians were certain that the Hero was undoubtedly linked to Androgeos. On the matter, Pausanias wrote, “There is also an altar to Androgeos, Minos’ s son, called the altar of the Hero, though those who cultivate a knowledge of local monuments know it belongs to Androgeos” (Description of Greece, 1.1.4). Androgeos’ links to one of Athens’ darkest hours aside, the curious figure intriguingly came to be seen as a multi-talented deity, known particularly as a patron of sailors and having an involvement in plague prevention.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Six Theseus Subjects for the Palazzo Gaddi, Forli, by Felice Giani (c. 1758–1823), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Smithsonian).
- Pausanias, Guide to Greece 1: Central Greece, translated by Peter Levi. Penguin Group (Penguin Classics), 1971, 1979.