Menestheus (Ancient Greek: Μενεσθεύς) was a legendary ruler of Athens according to Greek mythology, though he was a man placed on the throne, rather than the more common method of succession by inheritance.


Menestheus was the son of Peteus, and thus a great-grandson of Erechtheus, one of the earliest kings of Athens. ​

In the time of Peteus, rule of Athens had followed a different branch of the Erechtheus family line, for Aegeus was king of Athens at the time. Some say that Peteus was persecuted by Aegeus, forcing Peteus and his family to emigrate to Phocis.


​Menestheus would become king of Athens though, for in the time of Theseus, Aegeus’ son, Athens and Sparta would go to war.

Theseus, king of Athens, a widower, would decide he and his best friend Pirithous, would now wed daughters of Zeus.

Theseus decided that the young Helen, daughter of Zeus and Leda would be his wife when of age. Travelling to Sparta, Helen was thus abducted, and taken to Attica.

Pirithous then decided that Persephone, wife of Hades, would be his bride, but when Theseus and Pirithous descended to the realm of Hades, they were trapped.

In the meantime, the abduction of Helen had been discovered, and Helen’s brothers, Castor and Pollox, the Dioscuri, came to Athens to retrieve her.

​With Theseus absent no resistance was given in the face of the Spartan force, and so Helen was retrieved, and Theseus’ mother Aethra taken.

Castor and Pollox then decided that Menestheus should be king of Athens.


Theseus would eventually be released from the Underworld by Heracles, but he found that he was not welcome in Athens, for the population remembered how he had caused a Spartan army to come to Attica. With the support of the populous, Menestheus thus sent Theseus into exile.


​Helen, would eventually come of age, and Tyndareus, king of Sparta would send out word that suitable suitors could present themselves in Sparta. The beauty of Helen was such that all eligible kings and heroes descended upon Sparta; and as King of Athens, Menestheus was definitely an eligible suitor, and so Menestheus travelled to Sparta.

Faced with potential quarrels between all the Suitors of Helen, Tyndareus enacted the Oath of Tyndareus, calling for all Suitors to protect the chosen husband of Helen; and Menestheus took the oath, although of course it was Menelaus who was chosen to wed Helen.


​Having taken the Oath of Tyndareus, Menestheus was thus obliged to aide Menelaus when Helen was abducted by Paris. Thus, it was that Menestheus led “50 black ships” to Troy.

Menestheus was highly regarded in terms of military knowledge, and no-one, aside from Nestor, could arrange troops into battle order better. When it came to the practicalities of war though, Menestheus was perhaps lacking.

It was suggested that Menestheus was not as heroic as other Achaean leaders, perhaps not at the fore of fighting, and quick call for aide from another leader, if faced with danger. Nevertheless, Menestheus was named as one of the heroes who hid within the Wooden Horse, and was thus present during the Sacking of Troy, although not linked in anyway with any of the sacrilegious acts that took part during the fall of the city.


​After the fall of Troy, there is some disagreement about what happened to Menestheus. Commonly it was said that Menestheus never returned to Athens, for his route home saw him stop on the island of Melos (Melos), one of the Southern Cyclades. Without ruler, following the death of King Polyanax, Menestheus thus became king of Melos.

Alternatively, Menestheus did return to Athens and was warmly welcomed by the population, unlike many other returning kings who had fought at Troy. Though, shortly afterwards Menestheus would die. ​

In either case, whether he returned, or did not return to Athens, Menestheus would be succeeded as King of Athens by Demophon, the son of Theseus.

Menestheus in Greek Mythology

The name Menestheus may also refer to:

Menestheus, son of Clytius and grandson of Aeolus, a companion of Aeneas

Menestheus, an Athenian youth who was sacrificed to the Minotaur

Menestheus, a warrior in the army of the Seven Against Thebes, participant of the disk-trowing competition at the funeral games of Opheltes

Iphicrates has named his son Menestheus, after the legendary King of Athens during the Trojan War.


Plutarch, Theseus, 32. 1 ff

Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1. 17. 5

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, Epitome of Book 4, 1. 23

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 10. 8

Homer, Iliad (Book 2, ln 557)

Hyginus, Fabulae, 97

Iliad (Book 2, ln. 552)

Iliad 4. 327

Iliad 12. 331 ff

Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1. 23. 8

Quintus Smyrnaeus, Fall of Troy, 12. 314

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, Epitome of Book 4, 6. 15b = Tzetzes on Lycophron, 911

Plutarch, Theseus, 35. 5

Virgil, Aeneid, 10. 129

Statius, Thebaid, 6. 661

"Greek Legends and Myths"

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