In Greek mythology, Pirithous - Πειρίθοος (also transliterated as Perithoos, Peirithoos or Peirithous) was the King of the Lapiths in Thessaly and husband of Hippodamia, at whose wedding the famous Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs occurred. He was a son of "heavenly" Dia, fathered either by Ixion or by Zeus. His best friend was Theseus. In Iliad I, Nestor numbers Pirithous and Theseus "of heroic fame" among an earlier generation of heroes of his youth, "the strongest men that Earth has bred, the strongest men against the strongest enemies, a savage mountain-dwelling tribe whom they utterly destroyed". No trace of such an oral tradition, which Homer's listeners would have recognized in Nestor's allusion, survived in literary epic.
In disjointed episodes that have survived, Pirithous had heard rumors about Theseus' courage and strength in battle but he wanted proof. He rustled Theseus' herd of cattle from Marathon, and Theseus set out to pursue him. Pirithous took up arms and the pair met, then became so impressed by each other they took an oath of friendship.
They were among the company of heroes that hunted the Calydonian Boar, another mythic theme that was already well-known to Homer's listeners. Later, Pirithous was set to marry Hippodamia (offspring: Polypoetes). The centaurs were guests at the party, but they got drunk and tried to abduct the women, including Hippodamia. The Lapiths won the ensuing battle, the Centauromachy, a favorite motif of Greek art.
Theseus and Pirithous pledged to carry off daughters of Zeus. Theseus chose Helen of Sparta and together they kidnapped her when she was 13 years of age and decided to hold onto her until she was old enough to marry. Pirithous chose a more dangerous prize: Persephone herself. They left Helen with Theseus' mother, Aethra and traveled to the underworld, domain of Persephone and her husband, Hades. Hades pretended to offer them hospitality and set a feast; as soon as the pair sat down, either snakes coiled around their feet and held them there or the stone itself grew and attached itself to their thighs.
Heracles freed Theseus from the stone, but the earth shook when he attempted to liberate Pirithous. He had committed too great a crime for wanting the wife of one of the great gods as his own bride. By the time Theseus returned to Athens, the Dioscuri (Helen's twin brothers Castor and Pollux) had taken Helen and Aethra back to Sparta.
- Homer, Odyssey XXI, 295-305, XI, 631;
- Apollodorus, Bibliotheke, 2.5.12, etc;
- Vergil, Aeneid VI.393;
- Ovid, Metamorphoses, XII.218.
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