The Heroic Age. - Theseus. - His legislative Influence upon Athens. - Qualities of the Greek Heroes. - Effect of a Traditional Age upon the Character of a People.
I. As one who has been journeying through the dark  begins at length to perceive the night breaking away in mist and shadow, so that the forms of things, yet uncertain and undefined, assume an exaggerated and gigantic outline, half lost amid the clouds, - so now, through the obscurity of fable, we descry the dim and mighty outline of the HEROIC AGE. The careful and skeptical Thucydides has left us, in the commencement of his immortal history, a masterly portraiture of the manners of those times in which individual prowess elevates the possessor to the rank of a demigod; times of unsettled law and indistinct control; - of adventure - of excitement; - of daring qualities and lofty crime. We recognise in the picture features familiar to the North: the roving warriors and the pirate kings who scoured the seas, descended upon unguarded coasts, and deemed the exercise of plunder a profession of honour, remind us of the exploits of the Scandinavian Her-Kongr, and the boding banners of the Dane. The seas of Greece tempted to piratical adventures: their numerous isles, their winding bays, and wood-clad shores, proffered ample enterprise to the bold - ample booty to the rapacious; the voyages were short for the inexperienced, the refuges numerous for the defeated. In early ages, valour is the true virtue - it dignifies the pursuits in which it is engaged, and the profession of a pirate was long deemed as honourable in the Aegean as among the bold rovers of the Scandinavian race . If the coast was thus exposed to constant incursion and alarm, neither were the interior recesses of the country more protected from the violence of marauders. The various tribes that passed into Greece, to colonize or conquer, dislodged from their settlements many of the inhabitants, who, retreating up the country, maintained themselves by plunder, or avenged themselves by outrage. The many crags and mountains, the caverns and the woods, which diversify the beautiful land of Greece, afforded their natural fortresses to these barbarous hordes. The chief who had committed a murder, or aspired unsuccessfully to an unsteady throne, betook himself, with his friends, to some convenient fastness, made a descent on the surrounding villages, and bore off the women or the herds, as lust or want excited to the enterprise. No home was safe, no journey free from peril, and the Greeks passed their lives in armour. Thus, gradually, the profession and system of robbery spread itself throughout Greece, until the evil became insufferable - until the public opinion of all the states and tribes, in which society had established laws, was enlisted against the freebooter - until it grew an object of ambition to rid the neighbourhood of a scourge - and the success of the attempt made the glory of the adventurer. Then naturally arose the race of heroes - men who volunteered to seek the robber in his hold - and, by the gratitude of a later age, the courage of the knight-errant was rewarded with the sanctity of the demigod. At that time, too, internal circumstances in the different states - whether from the predominance of, or the resistance to, the warlike Hellenes, had gradually conspired to raise a military and fierce aristocracy above the rest of the population; and as arms became the instruments of renown and power, so the wildest feats would lead to the most extended fame.
II. The woods and mountains of Greece were not then cleared of the first rude aboriginals of nature - wild beasts lurked within its caverns; - wolves abounded everywhere - herds of wild bulls, the large horns of which Herodotus names with admiration, were common; and even the lion himself, so late as the invasion of Xerxes, was found in wide districts from the Thracian Abdera to the Acarnanian Achelous. Thus, the feats of the early heroes appear to have been mainly directed against the freebooter or the wild beast; and among the triumphs of Hercules are recorded the extermination of the Lydian robbers, the death of Cacus, and the conquest of the lion of Nemea and the boar of Erymanthus.
Hercules himself shines conspicuously forth the great model of these useful adventurers. There is no doubt that a prince , so named, actually existed in Greece; and under the title of the Theban Hercules, is to be carefully distinguished, both from the god of Egypt and the peaceful Hercules of Phoenicia , whose worship was not unknown to the Greeks previous to the labours of his namesake. As the name of Hercules was given to the Theban hero (originally called Alcaeus), in consequence of his exploits, it may be that his countrymen recognised in his character or his history something analogous to the traditional accounts of the Eastern god. It was the custom of the early Greeks to attribute to one man the actions which he performed in concert with others, and the reputation of Hercules was doubtless acquired no less as the leader of an army than by the achievements of his personal prowess. His fame and his success excited the emulation of his contemporaries, and pre-eminent among these ranks the Athenian Theseus.
III. In the romance which Plutarch has bequeathed to us, under the title of a "History of Theseus," we seem to read the legends of our own fabulous days of chivalry. The adventures of an Amadis or a Palmerin are not more knightly nor more extravagant.