Homer Hesiod Hymns Tragedy Remythologizing Tools Blackboard Info
House of Atreus
  The House of Atreus can be traced back to Tantalus, king of Lydia. He invited the gods to a banquet and served the flesh of his own son, Pelops, in a stew to test their omniscience. All of the gods recognized what they were served immediately except Demeter. She was too concerned with the disappearance of Persephone to notice and ate Pelops' shoulder. The gods reconstructed the boy and Hephaestus made a new shoulder for Pelops out of ivory. For his wrongdoing, Tantalus was doomed to Tartarus, where he stood in a pool of water. When he would try to drink, the water would recede. Additionally, fruit would hang from trees just above him, but would move away when he tried to pick them. Odysseus sees Tantalus in Book 11 of the Odyssey.
  Meanwhile, Oenomaus was ruling over Pisa in the northwest Peloponnesus, and was in love with his own daughter, Hippodamia. To prevent her from marrying anyone else, he offered her as a prize in an impossible contest. The suitor had to take Hippodamia away in a chariot and race with a head start towards Corinth. However, Oenomaus always caught up to the suitor with his team of horses sired by the wind, and invariably killed the suitor and put his head on display at the door of his palace.
Pelops and Hippodamia
  Pelops decided to try his luck and sailed from Lydia to Pisa with his golden-winged chariot drawn by tireless horses, a gift from Poseidon.   He also paid off Myrtilus, the king's charioteer, promising him the first night in bed with Hippodamia (or a sack of gold, in another version). Myrtilus sabotaged the Oenomaus' chariot, replacing the bronze linchpins with wax, which melted from the heat of the axles as the king raced off. The chariot collapsed, and the reins wound up dragging the king to death.
  Pelops refused to give Myrtilus his reward and when he saw him moving to take her, Pelops threw him into the sea. The dying curse of Myrtilus affected Pelops' line for generations to come.
  Pelops then entered Pisa, became its king and named the land "Peloponnesus", meaning "island of Pelops". He fathered several sons, including Thyestes, the father of Aegisthus, and Atreus, the father of Menelaus and Agamemnon.
  Eurystheus had been the king of Mycenae, and when the Heraclids (the sons of Heracles) killed him in retaliation for his persecution of Heracles, an oracle commanded the Mycenaeans to make a son of Pelops king. Atreus was the older and the more sensible choice, but Thyestes insisted that the new king should be the one to produce the fleece of a golden lamb. Atreus was delighted with these terms and agreed -- because he had a golden fleece hidden safely away (or so he thought). Years earlier, he had promised his best sheep to Artemis as a sacrifice, but when a golden-fleeced sheep appeared among his flocks, he kept the fleece, instead. His wife, Aerope, knew of this impiety and gave the fleece to Thyestes, her lover. In this way, Thyestes triumphed.
  However, Atreus was certain that Zeus wanted him to be king, so he declared that as proof Zeus would make the sun rise in the west and set in the east the next day. When this actually happened, Atreus took the throne and banished Thyestes.
  Atreus soon discovered his wife's infidelity and planned revenge upon Thyestes. He offered to bury the hatchet and invited him back to Mycenae. When Thyestes returned and was being entertained (i.e. distracted), Atreus killed his three young boys, Atreus' own nephews, cut off their extremities, cooked their torsos, and served them to Thyestes. Atreus asked Thyestes if he knew what he had eaten, and then produced their heads and limbs. Thyestes fled, cursing Atreus' house. He asked the Delphic oracle how to get revenge, and was told that he must have a child by Pelopia, his own daughter.
  Leaving Delphi at night, Thyestes saw by the light of a sacrificial fire a girl going into a stream near Sicyon. He raped her, but left his sword behind. He did not know that she was in fact Pelopia, and she did not know who he was. Atreus soon found her while searching for Thyestes, and took her as his new wife, replacing the unfaithful Aerope. She bore Thyestes' son, but Atreus thought that the boy was his. Atreus named the boy Aegisthus.
  After many years of searching for Thyestes, Atreus finally sent his two grown sons, Agamemnon and Menelaus, to Delphi to find out where Thyestes was. Thyestes happened to be there, seeking new advice on taking revenge on Atreus, since he couldn't find his daughter (more precisely, he didn't know he'd found his daughter.) Agamemnon and Menelaus hauled Thyestes back to Mycenae.
  Atreus had his other son, Aegisthus, behead Thyestes, but when Aegisthus pulled his sword, Thyestes recognized it as his own sword. They had Pelopia summoned secretly, and as she explained what her unknown attacker had done to her, she realized that she had had intercourse with her own father, and killed herself with the sword. Aegisthus, now realizing that Thyestes was his true father, took the bloodied sword to Atreus as evidence that he had beheaded Thyestes. Atreus rejoiced, made sacrifices, and went to the river to wash his hands, where Aegisthus stabbed him in the back. Thyestes took the throne, and Agamemnon and Menelaus took refuge in Sparta with Tyndareus, the king. They raised an army and returned to drive Thyestes from Mycenae.
Leda and the Swan  Tyndareus had married Leda, who was so beautiful that Zeus took, in the form of a swan, raped her. She had sex with Tyndareus on the same night. She gave birth to four children: Polydeuces and Helen, semidivine children, and Castor and Clytemnestra, mortal children. In one version of the story, Leda actually laid two eggs-one with Zeus' children, one with Tyndareus'.
  Agamemnon married Clytemnestra, but many suitors came to court Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. Among those who came were Odysseus, Diomedes, Telamonian Ajax, Philoctetes, Patroclus, and Menelaus. Odysseus saw that he was going to lose, and suggested a solution to the situation to Tyndareus in exchange for Tyndareus' niece, Penelope. The Oath of Tyndareus stated that each losing suitor would defend the marriage of Helen to the winner, and that if Helen should ever be forcibly taken away, the other suitors would exact due punishment. Menelaus offered the greatest price for Helen and won her in marriage, and when Paris stole her away, the mechanisms that launched the Trojan War were all in place.
  So... just a typical family with a few problems...
House of Atreus
  Powell, Barry P. Classical Myth. Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1998.
  Green, Richard and Eric Handley. Images of the Greek Theater. London, 1995: Trustees of the British Museum
Timeline of Relevant Events
gutter splint
gutter splint
gutter splint