House of Pelops Greek Mythology Explained
Another important family arrived in Greece. Pelops won a wife and kingdom in a chariot race in Pisa, but his children and descendants would establish an important dynasty in Mycenae and Argos.
|Niobe, see Wrath of Heaven, Folly of Niobe|
|House of Atreus|
|Tantalus (Τάνταλος) was the king of Sipylus, in Lydia. Tantalus was the son of Zeus and Pluto, daughter of Cronus. Tantalus was married to the Oceanid Dione, and was the father of Pelops and a daughter, Niobe.
The gods often invite him to dine with them, or that he would host the gods. He was one of the few mortals honoured by the gods, but he foolishly and cruelly wanted to test their omniscience.
During the feast he gave to the gods, he killed his son, Pelops, and served the flesh of his son to the gods. All but Demeter recognised human flesh and was repulsed by the horrid crime.
According to the Boeotian poet, Pindar, he wrote that his crime was not only those mentioned above, but also that Tantalus had abused his privileges, by trying to share ambrosia and nectar, the food and drink of the gods, with his companions.
Zeus sends his son immediately to Tartarus. His punishment was that a great rock hanged over his son’s head, while he would suffer from great pang of eternal hunger and thirst, but could never satisfy them. Tantalus was forced to stand in a pool of water, that will drain away when he bend down for a drink, and then refill itself with water, to his chin when stood up straight. Also a single branch of fig would hang above his head but a wind from nowhere would blow away the fruit, always just out of his reach.
Pelops was restored to his life, and lived as king in Pisa, but his life was hardly innocent, when he had committed murder, forever fearing the curse for the murder he had done. Pelops, however, managed to escape the curse that would rip apart the family of his sons and descendants. (See Pelops for his tale.)
His daughter, Niobe had brought about the destruction of her family and her own downfall, when she let her good fortune and foolish pride get the better of her that she made her boast and challenge the gods. (See the Wrath of Heaven, for Niobe’s folly.)
|Pelops (Πñλοψ) was the son of Tantalus and brother of Niobe.
His father had killed him and served his flesh to the gods, hoping to fool the gods. The gods punished Tantalus and restored Pelops to life. Demeter, who had eaten part of shoulder blade, replaced it with ivory shaped like his shoulder blade.
When Pelops reached manhood, he heard that King Oenomaüs (Oenomaus) of Pisa, the son of Ares and Asterope, challenged his suitors to a chariot race, offering his daughter Hippodaemia’s hand in marriage as the prize. However, any suitors who lose the race against the king also forfeit his life. Oenomaüs had received a pair of swift horses from the war god. The proof of how swift the horses were – the spectators could count the number of headless bodies that littered the race track.
When Pelops was restored to life, he became a beloved of Poseidon, because of his beauty. According to Apollodorus, Poseidon gave a winged chariot that could be driven across the sea without ever wetting its axles. But according to Pindar, the pair of horses were winged; the chariot was made out of gold.
Pelops went to Pisa, decided to bribe the king’s charioteer, Myrtilus, into sabotaging Oenomaüs’ chariot. The king was kill as his axle of his wheel broke, dragging the king to his death. Pelops won the race and married Hippodaemia.
Pindar (and other early writers) says that it was Poseidon’s gift won the race, not the treachery. The earliest mention of Myrtilus’ treachery is found in Pherecydes in the 5th century BC. Pindar wrote that Poseidon gave him winged horses and chariot of gold, but Apolldorus wrote that Pelops received a winged chariot.
When Myrtilus sought his rewards for helping Pelops to win the race, Pelops flung him out of chariot, off the cliff overlooking the sea. Dying Myrtilus cursed him and his family, for his treachery. The sea he drowned in was named after him, Sea of Myrto.
A slightly different version from Apollodorus, says that Myrtilus had tried to rape Hippodaemia, when Pelops went to fetch a drink from small stream. Upon hearing the cry from his new wife, Pelops angrily threw into the Myrtoan Sea. Myrtilus cursed Pelops as he fell.
To atone for the murder, the smith-god Hephaestus had purified him. Myrtilus was the son of Hermes, so fearing reprisal from the god, Pelops set out to appease Hermes, by instituting the god’s worship in the Peloponnese. Pelops had also erected a burial mound near the race-course at the Olympia. It was said that Myrtilus’ ghost frequently spooked the horses at the races during the Olympic Games. Hermes may have placed his son in the sky as the constellation of the Charioteer.
Pelops became one of the most powerful kings of his time. Pelops had conquered Elis, Achaea and Arcadia, and renamed the entire peninsula from Apia to Peloponnesus or Peloponnese.
Pelops and Hippodaemia had many children. His daughters, Astydameia, Anaxo, Nicippe and Lysidice had all married to the sons of Perseus, king of Tiryns and Mycenae. His son, Pittheus and Troezen ruled in Troezen, while Alcathous had succeeded Megareus in Megara. His sons Atreus and Thyestes ruled Midea, in Argolis, until Eurystheus died.
Pelops also had an illegitimate son named Chrysippus, by the nymph Astyoche or Axioche, daughter of Danaüs. It was said that Hippodaemia was jealous, because of Pelops’ love and attention to Chrysippus, instead of their sons. She urged Atreus and Thyestes to murder her step-son.
A different version says that Laius, king of Thebes, had abducted Chrysippus. Laius had fallen in love with the young boy. The Theban king abducted and raped Chrysippus. In shame of the rape, Chrysippus killed himself, by falling upon a sword. Pelops cursed Laius that led to the Theban king’s death.
Before we can start on the House of Atreus, a dynasty who ruled Mycenae after Eurystheus’ death, I will give a brief history of Atreus’ ancestors, beginning with Tantalus.
|Atreus and Thyestes|
|Menelaus, see House of Sparta|
Ἀτρεύς & Θυέσης
|During Perseus’ reign, Pelops was king of Pisa, while his wife Hippodaemia bored him many children. Pittheus (king of Troezen), Atreus (Ἀτρεύς) and Thyestes (Θυέσης).
Pelops had cleverly married most of his daughters to the sons of Perseus: Astydameia to Alcaeüs (Alcaeus), and she bore him Amphitryon; while his daughter Anaxo married Electryon, who became mother of Alcmene; and Sthenelus was father of Eurystheus by Pelops’ daughter, Nicippe. Atreus and Thyestes ruled Midea, a vassal city of Sthenelus.
Pelops banished Atreus and Thyestes, when they had murdered their half-brother, Chrysippus, whom Pelops favoured but Hippodaemia hated. It was most likely their mother who had incited them to murder Chrysippus.
Upon the death of Eurystheus, and because of strong ties with the Perseids, Atreus and Thyestes became kings of Mycenae.
The following events are rather confusing; it seemed Thyestes ruled for a short time, before Atreus convinced the people allow him to rule instead. Atreus drove Thyestes from Argolis.
Later, Atreus discovered that his wife Aërope or Aerope, the daughter of King Catreus of Crete, was having an affair with his brother.
Pretending to make peace with Thyestes, Atreus invited his brother back to Mycenae. Then Atreus murdered Thysestes’ sons and served them to his brother during the feast. Revealing what he done, Atreus had his brother exiled for the second time.
Thyestes went to Delphi and asked the how to avenged his sons’ death. The oracle told him to have a child by his own daughter, Pelopia. Thyestes unknowingly raped his own daughter in Sicyon (?), before leaving for Lydia. Pelopia kept the sword that her father had left behind, when he had ravished her.
In Mycenae, Atreus divorced his wife Aërope on the ground that she had committed adultery with his brother. Atreus went to Sicyon, met and fell in love with Pelopia and unknowingly married Thyestes’ daughter, who was already pregnant. She bored Aegisthus (Aigisthos), whom she exposed to die.
But Atreus found the infant and thinking that the baby belonged to him and Pelopia’s, he raised the boy himself.
It was around this time, that Atreus allied himself with other Peloponnesian kingdoms and encountered the army of Heraclids (Children of Heracles). Instead of fighting, they agreed that who ever lose a single combat, must go into exile for fifty years. Hyllus, son of Heracles, fought against Echemus, king of Arcadia. Echemus killed Hyllus, and the Heraclids went into exile. A successful invasion by the Heraclids didn’t arrive until 3 generations later. See Heraclids.
A famine swept through his land, caused by his murder of Thyestes’ sons. Atreus was advised by the oracle of Delphi to find his brother and return him to Mycenae. Finding Thyestes, Atreus had his brother thrown into the dungeon. Atreus ordered Aegisthus to murder Thyestes. But Thyestes recognising his sword, claimed the sword belong to him and asked Aegisthus to bring his mother to him.
Pelopia told him how she obtained the sword after her rape. Realising that it was her father had raped her, Pelopia killed herself with the sword her son was holding. With his mother’s blood on the sword, Aegisthus went to Atreus, and claimed that he had murdered Thyestes. Then Aegisthus used the sword, which his mother died upon, to kill his uncle Atreus.
Thyestes once again ruled Mycenae, but only for a short time. His brothers’ sons by Aërope (known as the Atreides), Agamemnon and Menelaüs (Menelaus), avenged their father’s death by murdering Thyestes. Agamemnon and Menelaüs also drove Aegisthus out of Mycenae.
Agamemnon became king of Mycenae. Despite the fact that Mycenae had reached its zenith during Agamemnon’s rule, the curse still followed the House of Atreus. More blood would be shed.
However, in the Catalogues of Women and Aeschylus’ Oresteia, Atreus was the father of Pleisthenes. Pleisthenes married Cleolla, the daughter of Dias, and that he became the father of Agamemnon, Menelaüs and Anaxibia. Therefore Atreus was the grandfather of Agamemnon and Menelaüs. (Anaxibia had married Strophius and became the mother of Pylades.) The parentage Agamemnon and his brother caused confusion among the later writers.
Though, Apollodorus in his Library, sometimes listed Agamemnon and Menelaüs as the sons of Atreus and Aerope, he also had listed them as the sons of Pleisthenes and Aerope. In this last case, Pleisthenes was listed as the son of Pelops, not of Atreus.
Agamemnon became king of Mycenae, the most powerful kingdom during the war against Troy, while his brother, Menelaüs, who married Helen, became king of Sparta.
Agamemnon married Clytemnestra (Κλυταιμνἠστρα), Helen’s half-sister, only after he killed her first husband, Tantalus or Broteas, the son of Thyestes, and their baby. Agamemnon seized her baby from Clytemnestra and dashed the infant’s brains out. (This is definitely not way to start a relationship with your wife). This would have further tragic consequences.
Clytemnestra bore him Iphigeneia, Electra, Chrysothemis and Orestes. Some say that Iphigeneia was actually daughter of Helen and Theseus, and that Clytemnestra raised the girl as her own, since Helen was too young. (Homer only knew Iphigeneia and Electra by other names, as Iphianassa and Laodice.)
With the outbreak of the Trojan War, Agamemnon became commander-in-chief of the Greek army, and led a hundred ships from Mycenae and Corinth, to Troy, while his brother, led eighty ships from Sparta.
All the Greek forces with their fleet were gathered at Aulis, a coastal town in Boeotia, but the fleet could not leave for Troy, because the goddess Artemis kept the fleet stranded with strong, unfavourable winds for months.
There was all sorted of reasons why Artemis was punishing the Greek forces, and they are usually linked with Agamemnon, who had offended the goddess in some ways.
According to the Cypria and Apollodorus’ Library, Agamemnon had killed a stag in Artemis’ sacred grove, and then he boasted that he not even the goddess was a better hunter than him. Another version says that he failed to sacrifice to her, when he sacrificed to the other gods and goddesses. Or it was that Atreus, Agamemnon’s father, had failed to sacrifice his finest lamb to the goddess as Atreus had promised to do.
Whatever the reason, the Greek fleet cannot leave the harbour, the Greek prophet Calchas revealed that the only way for Agamemnon to atone for his sin and appease the goddess, he had to sacrifice Agamemnon’s daughter, Iphigeneia.
With his reputation as commander-in-chief at stake, he tricked his wife in bringing her daughter to Aulis, to marry Achilles. Achilles was offended that he was being used as bait; the hero would have defended Iphigeneia against the other Greeks, despite being greatly outnumbered. The girl, however admiring the young reckless hero, agreed to allow herself to be sacrificed.
Before she was to be kill, Artemis spirited Iphigeneia away (possibly to Tauris, according to Euripides, who wrote a play on Iphigeneia among the Taurians), and replaced the maiden with a deer. Favourable wind allowed the fleet to set sail. But according to the original story, Artemis did not rescue Iphigeneia; Iphigeneia had died under sacrificial knife.
In the war against the Trojans, Agamemnon was a skilled warrior, but he was outclassed by many other Greek leaders. Agamemnon was also easily discouraged, when the tides of battle go against him.
In the last year of war, he had a terrible quarrel with Achilles over the concubines, which resulted in Achilles’ withdrawal from the war and caused many deaths of both Greeks and Trojans, especially Hector. (See the Iliad or the Trojan War.)
During Agamemnon’s absence in the war, Clytemnestra was determined to get rid of her husband. When Agamemnon became responsible for the death of second child of Clytemnestra, his wife secretly took Aegisthus (Aigisthos, ´Αιγςθου), Agamemnon’s cousin, as her lover. Together they plotted to murder her husband upon his return from Troy.
Unlike most of Greek leaders in the war, Agamemnon’s ships return quickly and safely to Greece. Agamemnon returned to Mycenae with the Trojan prophetess Cassandra, daughter of Priam and Hecuba, as his concubine and mistress.
In Aeschylus’ play, Agamemnon, when Agamemnon entered the palace with Clytemnestra, to sacrifice to the gods for his safe return, Cassandra realised that Agamemnon, as well as herself, would be murder that night. Yet, rather than flee, she resigned herself to her death and walked into the palace.
Aegisthus murdered Agamemnon, while Clytemnestra killed Cassandra. According to Pausanias, Aegisthus had also slaughtered the twin sons of Cassandra – Teledamus and Pelops. However, Pausanias was the only author to say that Agamemnon and Cassandra had children together.
There are several variations of what happened after Agamemnon’s death that was different from Aeschylus’ plays — how Orestes avenged his father and what happened to Orestes.
For eight years, Strophius, the king of Phocis, reared Orestes. Orestes befriended Pylades, Strophius’ son. When Orestes consulted the oracle in Delphi, he was told to avenge his father’s death by killing Aegisthus (Aigisthos) and his mother.
Forced into the dilemma Orestes returned to Argos with Pylades, where he was reunited with his sister, Electra (Ἠλέκτρη). Electra helped him decided to follow the oracle’s instruction. With Pylades, he murdered Aegisthus, and despite pleads for mercy from his mother, Orestes killed Clytemnestra.
The Furies (Erinyes) immediately afflicted with madness Orestes, for murdering a blood kin, his mother. Though, Clytemnestra had plotted with lover to murder Orestes’ father, she did not actually kill him. Even if Orestes did not murder his mother, he would still be afflicted with madness by the Erinyes, for not fully avenging his father’s death. Such was the duality of the Erinyes’ nature.
After wandering places to places, he sought help from Delphi again. Apollo sent him to Athens to be tried by the Athenian jury, presided by the goddess Athena. Though the jury was evenly divided on his guilt or innocence, Athena decided to acquit Orestes of murder. To prevent the Erinyes from continuing to persecute Orestes and to restore his sanity, she introduced the worship of Erinyes in Athens.
The Erinyes (Furies) then became known as the Eumenides, which means the “Kindly Ones”.
In the other plays by Sophocles and Euripides, where both wrote plays titled Electra. According to Sophocles’ play, Electra waited outside while Orestes murdered their mother. According to Euripides, Electra took a far more aggressive role, urging him on and actively helping her brother to kill their mother.
According to another play by Euripides, titled Orestes, Tyndareüs arrested Orestes and Electra for murdering his daughter, Clytemnestra. Tyndareus was going to try Orestes and Electra, and they would have been sentenced to death, but the brother and sister escaped. The pair tried to kill Helen, but Zeus spirited his daughter away, so they took their cousin Hermione, daughter of Menelaüs and Helen, as hostage. At this point, Apollo intervened, where Orestes would leave in exile for a year, before being tried and acquitted in Athens.
Another story, particularly by Euripides, say that he was still suffering from madness inflicted by the Erinyes, unless he brought back a wooden image of Artemis from the land of Taurians, north of the Black Sea. The Taurians, like the Colchians, were known for hostilities to foreigners. The Taurians were known to perform human sacrifices upon foreigners, to the goddess Artemis.
Accompanied by his loyal friend, Pylades, they were soon captured. The two prisoners were brought to high priestess, Iphigeneia (Ἰφιγένεια), Orestes’ sister. Neither knew the other identity until he told his stories. Reunited with his long, lost sister, they planned to escape and return home with statue. They would have been killed by the Taurians, had the goddess not intervene on her brother’s behalf (Apollo’s).
Iphigeneia’s return home would have ended in tragedy, according to Hyginus. Electra heard untrue news that Iphigeneia had sacrificed their brother. Electra, in a fit of rage, would have blind her older sister with a firebrand, but Orestes arrived just in time to intervene.
Cured of the madness and no longer persecuted by the Erinyes, Orestes returned to Mycenae. Aletes, son of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, was ruling Mycenae during Orestes’ absence. He had Aletes murdered and Orestes became king of Mycenae. Not long after he ruled Mycenae, Orestes seized the throne from his neighbouring kingdom, Argos, from Cylarabes (). Cylarabes was a descendant of Proëtus (Proetus or Proitos).
Before the war with Troy began, Agamemnon and Menelaüs (Menelaus) had decided to arrange a marriage between Orestes and his cousin Hermione (Ἑρμιόνη), daughter of Menelaüs and Helen. But during his exile in Phocis and later the persecution and madness from Erinyes, Hermione instead was married to Neoptolemus (Νεοπτόλεμος), son of Achilles and Deïdaemeia, upon their return from Troy. Orestes’ jealousy led him to have Neoptolemus murder. Orestes would have also would have killed Neoptolemus’ sons (Molossus, Pielus and Pergamus) by his Trojan concubine, Andromache, had they not been rescued by their great-grandfather, Peleus.
By marrying his cousin, also Orestes became the king of Sparta. He ruled two powerful kingdoms, Argos and Sparta. By Hermione, he became the father of Tisamenus. Orestes died in Oresteion, a place named after him in Arcadia, when he was bitten by a snake.
Fifty years after the death of the Hyllus, the exiled Heraclids (descendants of Heracles) invaded the Peloponnesus, under the leadership of Aristomachus, grandson of Hyllus. Orestes defeated the Heraclids, and Aristomachus was killed in one of the raids. The Heraclids withdrew from the Peloponnesus again, and would not return until Orestes’ son Tisamenus was ruling both Argos and Sparta.
See the Heraclids, for more detail about the Heraclids’ return from exile.
According to later legend told by Herodotus, Orestes’ bone was buried in Tegea, Arcadia. Sparta was at war against the Tegeans, and sought advice from the oracle in Delphi. They learned they could never capture Tegea unless they find the bones of Orestes and re-bury him in Sparta. The Spartans sent a spy in Tegea, and the spy learnt that Orestes was buried under the anvil of blacksmith in Tegea. He recovered the bones and brought it to Sparta. From that point, Sparta captured Tegea, and Arcadia came under the hegemony of Sparta.
|King of Argos and Sparta. Tisamenus (Τισαμενός) was the son of Orestes and Hermione. Tisamenus succeeded his father, to both kingdoms.
The Heraclids returning from their long exile, overthrew Tisamenus. Tisamenus would have preferred to go into exile in Achaea, but the Heraclid leaders murdered him and buried him in Helice, in Achaea.
The Heraclids’ return had always been associated with the Dorian invasion. Temenus, son of Aristomachus, receiving the kingdom of Argos, while Temenus’ two nephews, Procles and Eurysthenes, took Sparta.
See the Heraclids, for more detail about the Heraclids’ return from exile.
|King of Troezen. Pittheus was the son of Pelops and Hippodaemia. He was the brother of Troezen, Atreus, Thyestes, Alcathous, and several sisters.
Originally the kingdom of Troezen, were two separate towns, Hypereia and Antheia, when Pittheus and Troezen settle on the land. When Troezen died, Pittheus combined the two towns together, and renamed the city after his brother.
Pittheus was the father of Aethra. At first, Aethra was due to marry Bellerophon, son of Glaucus, king of Corinth, but the hero was banished from Corinth for murder. Pittheus had to seek a new suitor for his daughter. It was at this time, that Aegeus, king of Athens, arrived in Troezen.
Aegeus had just come from Delphi, where he was told to go to Troezen, where he would gain a son to rule after him. Pittheus warmly received his royal guest, and heard of Aegeus’ oracle. Pittheus realised that his own daughter would be the mother of this son, the oracle mentioned, got Aegeus drunk and to sleep in his daughter’s room.
That night, Poseidon visited Aethra, who conceived a new child, while Aegeus had passed out from excessive consumption of wine. When Aegeus found out that Aethra was pregnant the king thought he would be the father. Before Aegeus left and returned to Athens, he left sword, ring and pair of sandals under a large rock. Aegeus told Aethra to only send his son to Athens, when he could remove these items from under the rock.
Aethra gave birth to a son, whom she named Theseus. Theseus’ real father was therefore Poseidon, not Aegeus. Pittheus raised his grandson in Troezen, until he was old enough to remove Aegeus’ sword.
When Theseus later abducted Helen, daughter of Zeus and Leda, the hero brought the girl to Troezen, in the care of his mother. However, Castor and Polydeuces (Dioscuri), the brothers of Helen, rescued their sister, and took Aethra, as slave of Helen.
Theseus returned to Troezen, in exile from Athens. Troezen was the scene for Euripides’ play, Hippolytus. Hippolytus was the son of Theseus and the Amazon Antiope, and he was meant to rule after Pittheus, but Hippolytus was mortally wounded by Theseus’ curse.
There is no myth about Pittheus’ death, but either the kingdom was absorbed into either Agamemnon in Mycenae or Diomedes in Argos.
|King of Megara. Alcathoüs (Ἀλκάθοος) was the son of Pelops and Hippodaemia.
Alcathoüs married Evaechme, daughter of Megareus, king of Megara, after he had killed the Cithaeronian lion. Alcathoüs became king at Megareus’ death. He was the father of two sons – Ischepolis and Callipolis – and of three daughters – Automedusa, Periboea and Iphinoe.
Alcathoüs had rebuilt the city wall, which had been destroyed by King Minos of Crete, during the reign of Nisus, Megareus’ father-in-law.
None of his sons survived to succeed after him. Ischepolis was killed in the Calydonian Boar Hunt. Alcathoüs was in the middle of sacrificing to Apollo, when his younger son Callipolis returned from Calydon, with the news of Ischepolis’ death. Alcathoüs killed Callipolis for interrupting the rite. He only realised too late that he had murdered his last son. The Argive seer Polydieus purified Alcathoüs for the murder.
With no son to rule after him, the aging king appointed his grandson Ajax as his heir. Ajax took twelve ships from Salamis and Megara to Troy, but he died at his own hand. I am not certain who ruled Megara after Ajax’s death. Ajax’s illegitimate son, Eurysaces did ruled Salamis, but not Megara.