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Who Was King of Athens During the Trojan War?


Question: Who Was King of Athens During the Trojan War?
Answer: There is a fast and simple answer to this question, provided one accepts the historical validity of Iliad Book II lines 546-556 and the legitimacy of a question about a legendary king during the Trojan War. In the passage from the Iliad, it says that Menestheus, son of Peteus, son of Orneus, son of King Erechtheus and the naiad Praxithea, was in charge:
And they that held the strong city of Athens, the people of great Erechtheus, who was born of the soil itself, but Jove's daughter, Minerva, fostered him, and established him at Athens in her own rich sanctuary. There, year by year, the Athenian youths worship him with sacrifices of bulls and rams. These were commanded by Menestheus, son of Peteos. No man living could equal him in the marshalling of chariots and foot soldiers. Nestor could alone rival him, for he was older. With him there came fifty ships.
However, if one looks at Euripides' catalogue, in Iphigenia at Aulis (231ff), the leader of the Athenians, who brings 60 ships, is an unnamed son of Theseus. Elsewhere, the sons and heirs of Theseus, Demophon and Acamas, serve in the war, so Euripides is probably referring to Demophon. Demophon need not be the king, however.

The Athenian contribution in the Iliad is part of a passage that has raised questions since at least the fourth century, according to "Note on Iliad B 546-551," by William T. Magrath. Hermes, Vol. 105, No. 3 (1977), pp. 381-383. It may be a late interpolation. Another article that touches on the subject by looking at the chronology of Athenian kings is "Athena and the Early Acropolis," by R. J. Hopper. Greece & Rome, Second Series, Vol. 10, Supplement: Parthenos and Parthenon (1963), pp. 1-16.

Menestheus is said to have been given the throne by the Dioscuri when Theseus went to the Underworld. The Dioscuri had an axe to grind since Theseus had abducted their sister Helen. When Theseus returned from the Underworld (thanks to the help of Hercules), Menestheus sent him into exile.

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