The House of Atreus
TANTALUS is best known for being stuck in water in Hades while"tantalized" by fruits just out of his reach. A king in Asia Minor, he had once been favored by the gods but somehow annoyed them. Some said he had done so by serving them his son Pelops at a divine banquet. Pelops was restored to life by the gods, though they had to replace his shoulder, Demeter having absentmindedly eaten it.
PELOPS won a chariot race for the hand of Hippodamia, the daughter of daughter of the king of Pisa, and he extended his rule so widely that the peninsula was called the Pelopponesus. Pelops had six sons and two daughters by Hippodamia, but his favorite was the son of a local nymph. Hippodamia persuaded her sons Atreus and Thyestes to murder their rival, at which Pelops banished all three of them.
Hippodamia's sons ATREUS and Thyestes took refuge in Mycenae, where Atreus eventually became king, marrying Aerope, the daughter of the king of Crete. His children by her included AGAMEMNON and MENELAUS. Jealous, Thyestes stole the golden lamb that justified the rule of Atreus, seduced Aerope, and stole the kingdom. Aided by Zeus, Atreus regained his throne, tossing Aerope in the sea for adultery. Thyestes then sent Pleisthenes, whom he had raised, to assassinate Atreus, but Atreus killed him, not recognizing his own son. Atreus responded by bringing Thyestes back from exile, but the main dish at the welcome-home banquet was the limbs of the sons of Thyestes. Thyestes fled, cursing the land. Looking for Thyestes, Atreus found only Pelopia, the daughter of Thyestes and Aerope. Atreus then married Pelopia.
Atreus raised Pelopia's son, AEGISTHUS, not knowing he was the son of her incest with her father Thyestes. Some say that Thyestes again returned from exile, and that Atreus sent Aegisthus to kill him. Thyestes revealed his parenthood, Pelopia killed herself in shame; and Thyestes and Aegisthus took over Mycenae, displacing the sons of Atreus, who fled to Sparta.
Earlier, LEDA, wife of King Tyndareus of Sparta, was raped by Zeus in the form of a swan. She gave birth to Clytemnestra, Helen, Castor, and Pollux (or Polydeuces)--the last 2 were twins, known as the "Dioscuri." Castor was a soldier and horse-tamer, and Pollux a great boxer. The brotherly devotion of Castor and Pollux to each other was famous, and they are now in the night sky as the Heavenly Twins.
HELEN was the most beautiful woman in the world, and since her father Tyndareus was also rich, so many noble Greeks wished to marry her that he made them all swear to protect her marriage--a tactic suggested by the crafty Odysseus of Ithaka and which led to the Trojan War. Menelaus won Helen and also inherited the kingdom of Sparta, while his brother Agamemnon married her sister Clytemnestra. Helen and Menelaus had one daughter, Hermione, who eventually married (or was carried off by) Achilles's son, Neoptolemus. Helen's abduction by Paris caused the Trojan War. Some say she had also been abducted by Theseus, from whom she was rescued by her brothers, Castor and Pollux.
Meanwhile, Agamemnon expelled his uncle and ruled in Mycenae. His children with Clytemnestra included Iphigenia, Electra, and Orestes. IPHIGENIA was sacrificed by her father to help get favorable winds for the fleet attacking Troy. though some say that Artemis rescued her in the last seconds and took her off to be her priestess. The sacrifice of lphigenia made it easier for his cousin Aegisthus to seduce Clytemnestra while Agamemnon was away at Troy. When he came home from the Trojan War, bringing Cassandra with him as his concubine, Aegisthus and Clytemnestra killed him.
Eight years later, ORESTES, who had been smuggled to safety, returned home to kill his mother and Aegisthus, aided (or at least encouraged) by his sister ELECTRA. Some say the latter married his best friend, Pyaldes. Both Sophocles and Euripides wrote plays on Electra.
They also say that Orestes married his cousin Hermione, after killing her husband when Neoptolemus was trying to pillage the
famous oracle at Delphi. Others say that Orestes was long pursued by the
Erinyes, who were not satisfied that
even purging by the Delphic Oracle
could atone for matricide. Orestes
fled to Athens, where Athena convened
the first jury trial and cast the deciding vote for acquittal. This is
the version told in the great Oresteia trilogy by Aeschylus, who thus makes it a moral
tale of the change from blood feuds to the rule of law, incidentally
glorifying his native Athens.
[Last posted July 15, 2002, by Bob Canary, mail comments to email@example.com]