House of Atreus

From Phantis
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The House of Atreus is a family in Greek mythology.


The House of Atreus begins with Tantalus. Tantalus initially held the favor of the gods but decided to cook his own son, Pelops and feed him to the gods as a test of their omniscience. Most of the gods, as they sat down to dinner with Tantalus, immediately understood what had happened, knew the nature of the meat they were served, were appalled and did not partake. However, Demeter who was distracted because of the abduction by Hades her daughter, Persephone, obliviously ate Pelops's shoulder. The gods threw Tantalus into the underworld, where he spends eternity standing in a pool of water, which drains whenever he attempts to slake his thirst, and beneath hanging fruit, which lifts out of his reach. The gods bring Pelops back to life, replacing the bone in his shoulder with a bit of ivory, and curse the family.


Tantalus also had a daughter, Niobe, who married the king of Thebes, Amphion, and had 6 daughters and 6 sons. She foolishly boasted that she was superior to the goddess Leto, whose only children were Artemis and Apollo, and because of this she refused to worship Leto. Leto sent Artemis, who killed Niobe's 6 daughters, and Apollo, who killed her 6 sons. Finally, Zeus turned Niobe to stone as she mourned her children.

Pelops and Hipodamia

Pelops married Hippodamia, after winning a chariot race against her father by arranging for the sabotage of his would-be-father-in-law's chariot - resulting in his death. The versions of the story differ here - the sabotage was arranged by a servant of the king, Myrtilus, who was killed by Pelops for one of the following reasons: 1) because he had been promised the right to take Hippodamia's virginity, which Pelops retracted, or 2) because he attempted to rape her, or 3) because Pelops did not wish to share the credit for the victory. As Myrtilus died, he cursed Pelop and his line, further adding to the house's curse.

Atreus, Thyestes and Chrysippus

Pelops and Hippodamia had two sons, Atreus and Thyestes, who (depending on myth version) murdered Chrysippus (mythology), their step-brother. Because of the murder, Hippodamia, Atreus, and Thyestes were banished to Mycenae, where Hippodamia is said to have hung herself.

Atreus vowed to sacrifice his best lamb to Artemis. Upon searching his flock, however, Atreus discovered a golden lamb which he gave to his wife, Aerope, to hide from the goddess. She gave it to her lover, Thyestes (also Atreus' brother), who then convinced Atreus to agree that whoever had the lamb should be king. Thyestes produced the lamb and claimed the throne.

Atreus retook the throne using advice he received from Hermes. Thyestes agreed to give the kingdom back when the sun moved backwards in the sky, a feat that Zeus accomplished. Atreus retook the throne and banished Thyestes.

Atreus then learned of Thyestes' and Aerope's adultery and plotted revenge. He killed Thyestes' sons and cooked them, save their hands and feet. He served Thyestes his own sons and then taunted him with their hands and feet. Thyestes responds by asking an oracle what to do, who advises him to have a son by his daughter, Pelopia, who would then kill Atreus. However, when Aegisthus was first born, he was abandoned by his mother, ashamed of her incestuous act. A shepherd found the infant Aegisthus and gave him to Atreus, who raised him as his own son. Only as he entered adulthood did Thyestes reveal the truth to Aegisthus, that he was both father and grandfather to the boy. Aegisthus then killed Atreus, although not before Atreus had two sons, Agamemnon and Menelaus.

Agamemnon married Clytemnestra, and Menelaus married Helen (later of Troy).

Agamemnon, Iphigenia, Clytemnestra, Aegisthus, Orestes and Electra

Prior to sailing off to Troy, Agamemnon annoyed the goddess Artemis. As a result, Agamemnon's fleet cannot catch a wind, and thus can't sail. A prophet named Calchas tells him that in order to appease Artemis, Agamemnon must sacrifice one of his daughters, Iphigenia. He sends for her from home, (in some versions of the story on the pretense that she is to be married to Achilles) does so, and sets sail. While he is fighting the Trojan War, his wife Clytemnestra, infuriated by the murder of her daughter, begins an affair with Aegisthus. When Agamemnon returned home from the war, he brought home with him a new concubine, the doomed prophetess Cassandra. Clytemnestra and Aegisthus then murder Agamemnon and Cassandra. Agamemnon's son, Orestes, goaded by his sister Electra, must avenge his father's death, but in doing so must kill his mother. Orestes was still quite young when Agamemnon was killed by Clytemnestra. He was sent into exile (in some versions he was sent away by Clytemnestra to avoid having him present during the murder of Agamemnon, in other's Elexctra herself rescues the infant Orestes and sends him away to protect him from their mother) and swore revenge. He was torn between avenging his father and not killing his mother. 'It was a son's duty to kill his father's murderers, a duty that came before all others. But a son who killed his mother was abhorrent to gods and to men.' When he asked Apollo for advice, the god advised him to kill his mother. 'And Orestes knew that he must work out the curse of his house, exact vengeance and pay with his own ruin.' After Orestes murdered Clytemnestra, he wandered the lands with guilt in his heart. After many years, he pleaded to Athena with Apollo by his side. No man of Atreus had ever done something so noble and 'neither he nor any descendant of his would ever again be driven into evil by the irresistible power of the past.' Orestes therefore ends the curse of the House of Atreus.

Demonstration of Greek Society

The story of Iphigenia illustrates the Greek belief in the omnipotence of their gods. The arrogance of Tantalus had to be avenged and so the gods curse the House of Atreus with internal feuding. Even then the story of the House of Atreus climaxes with the death of Iphigenia because her father, Agamemnon, tries to be greater than the god Artemis. This story demonstrates the Greek concept that people can never be as powerful as the gods and that this kind of arrogance leads to tribulation.

External links

A portion of content for this article is credited to Wikipedia. Content under GNU Free Documentation License(GFDL)