Apparently, there is a version of the Pirithous and Theseus story that has Hades trapping the pair in the Underworld by having them sit on the Chairs of Forgetfulness:

This happened, some think, because Theseus was not in Athens but in the Underworld where he had come with his accomplice Pirithous so that he could marry the goddess of his dreams: Persephone. Many reproaches could be made against these two friends, except that they lacked audacity. And it is on account of this quality, they say, that Zeus bade them in a dream to go to the realm of shadows, and there ask Hades for the hand of Persephone. In the Underworld they were cheerfully received by Hades, who bade them to take a sit. Having done as they were told, these two disoriented middle-aged gentlemen saw themselves grow fast to the Chair of Forgetfulness, being held there either because the rock grew to their flesh, or else by coils of serpents. It has also been told that they were stretched out and tortured by the ERINYES.

Greek Mythology Link: Pirithous

According to some version, Hades, the king of underworld, cheerfully welcomed Pirithous and Theseus in the underworld and asked them to take a sit. When they sat on the chair, they saw themselves grow fast to the chair of forgetfulness, being held there either because the rock grew to their flash or by coils of snakes. Pirithous and Theseus were stretched out and tortured by Erinyes.

Greek Mythology: Theseus and Pirithous

However, none of the online references to the story I've found mention its source. Help? Where does this story come from?


1 Answer 1


Apollodorus' Epitome 1.24:

Theseus, arriving in the realm of Haides [Hades] with Peirithous [Pirithous], was thoroughly deceived, for Haides on the pretense of hospitality had them sit first upon the throne of Lethe. Their bodies grew onto it, and were held down by the serpent's coils. Now Peirithous remained fast there for all time, but Herakles led Theseus back up and sent him to Athens. Thence he was driven by Menestheus and went to Lykomedes [Lycomedes], who threw him down an abyss and killed him.

James George Frazer's translation of the same passage renders "the throne of Lethe" rather as "the Chair of Forgetfulness", where, like in the preceding quotation, it is singular (rather than chairs). Lethe is the personification of oblivion, or forgetfulness, who dwelt in the Underworld. In Line 147 of Seneca's play Phaedra, one of the characters mentions Theseus being "hidden away in Lethean depths [Lethaeo abditum]".

Frazer supplies the following footnote to his own translation of Epitome 1.24:

As to Theseus and Pirithous in hell, and the rescue of Theseus by Hercules [Herakles], see above, Apollod. 2.5.12 with the note. The great painter Polygnotus painted the two heroes seated in chairs, Theseus holding his friend's sword and his own, while Pirithous gazed wistfully at the now useless blades, that had done such good service in the world of light and life. See Paus. 10.29.9. No ancient author, however, except Apollodorus in the present passage, expressly mentions the Chair of Forgetfulness, though Horace seems to allude to it (Hor. Carm. 4.7.27ff.), where he speaks of “the Lethaean bonds” which held fast Pirithous, and which his faithful friend was powerless to break. But when Apollodorus speaks of the heroes growing to their seats, he may be following the old poet Panyasis, who said that Theseus and Pirithous were not pinioned to their chairs, but that the rock growing to their flesh held them as in a vice (Paus. 10.29.9). Indeed, Theseus stuck so fast that, on being wrenched away by Hercules, he left a piece of his person adhering to the rock, which, according to some people, was the reason why the Athenians ever afterwards were so remarkably spare in that part of their frame. See Suidas, s.v. Λίσποι; Scholiast on Aristoph. Kn. 1368; compare Aulus Gellius x.16.13.

The section of Apollodorus' Bibliotheka (2.5.12) referenced in the footnote, which narrates the same event, gives no details about the mechanics of the imprisonment, simply saying that Theseus and Peirithous were "bound fast." I suppose that where we get the idea of more than one "chair of forgetfulness" is in Pausanias' description of the painting by Polygnotus at Delphi in the Description of Greece 10.29.9, also referenced above in Frazer's footnote:

Lower down than Odysseus are Theseus and Peirithous sitting upon chairs. The former is holding in his hands the sword of Peirithous and his own. Peirithous is looking at the swords, and you might conjecture that he is angry with them for having been useless and of no help in their daring adventures. Panyassis the poet says that Theseus and Peirithous did not sit chained to their chairs, but that the rock grew to their flesh and so served as chains.

(By the way, Carlos Parada's Greek Mythology Link does mention these reference sources, specifically those of Apollodorus and Pausanias, on the webpage that your quote comes from, granted that it is in super-fine print in a long list of several other references at the bottom of the page.)

  • Thank you. I kinda noticed Apd. at the bottom of the Greek Mythology Link article, but probably thought it was the Bibliotheka reference that doesn't mention the chairs (I was already aware of that version) and dismissed it.
    – yannis
    Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 8:42
  • You're welcome :-) Indeed, it is a bit of a whirlpool of context-less references on that site, made a level deeper by their somewhat insider abbreviations; & I do see the "Apd. Ep. " references trying not to lose themselves in the haystack on that page. (Not that I'm complaining about the GML: 1 of the top 5 Greek mythology sites, in English [as far as I'm concerned].)
    – Adinkra
    Commented Feb 17, 2018 at 7:15

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