The Curse of the House of Atreus – King Pelops , the grandfather of Agamemnon and Menelaus

The Curse of the House of Atreus – King Pelops , the grandfather of Agamemnon and Menelaus

Pelops’ father was Tantalus, king at Mount Sipylus in Anatolia. Wanting to test the Olympians, Tantalus cut Pelops into pieces and made his flesh into a stew, then served it to the gods. Demeter, deep in grief after the abduction of her daughter Persephone by Hades, absentmindedly accepted the offering and ate the left shoulder. The other gods sensed the plot, however, and held off from eating of the boy’s body. While Tantalus was banished to Tartarus, Pelops was ritually reassembled and brought back to life, his shoulder replaced with one of ivory made for him by Hephaestus. Pindar mentioned this tradition in his First Olympian Ode, only to reject it as a malicious invention.

After Pelops’ resurrection, Poseidon took him to Olympus, and made him the youth apprentice, teaching him also to drive the divine chariot. Later, Zeus found out about the gods’ stolen food and their now revealed secrets, and threw Pelops out of Olympus, angry at his father, Tantalus.

Courting Hippodamia

Having grown to manhood, Pelops wanted to marry Hippodamia. Her father, King Oenomaus, of Pisa in Elis, on the northwest coast of the Peloponnesus, fearful of a prophecy that claimed he would be killed by his son-in-law, had killed eighteen suitors of Hippodamia after defeating them in a chariot race and affixed their heads to the wooden columns of his palace.

Myrtilus, who was a divine hero and son of Hermes, was the charioteer of King Oenomaus.

On the eve of the fateful horse race that would decide the marriage between Pelops and Hippodamia, Myrtilus was approached by Pelops who wanted him to hinder the efforts of his master, Oenomaus, to win the race. Myrtilus was offered as bribe the privilege of the first night with Hippodamia.

Myrtilus, who loved Hippodamia himself but was too afraid to ask her hand of her father, agreed and sabotaged the king’s chariot by replacing the bronze linchpins with fake ones made of bees’ wax. In the ensuing accident Oenomaus lost his life, cursing Myrtilus as he died.
Pelops refused to give Myrtilus his reward and when he saw him moving to take her, enraged, murdered Myrtilus by casting him into the sea off the east coast of the Peloponnesus, which was later named the Myrtoan Sea. His body was later recovered and brought in the temple of Hermes where it was honored with annual sacrifices. Some say that Myrtilus was transformed into the constellation of Auriga.

As Myrtilus died, he cursed Pelops. This curse would haunt future generations of Pelops’ family …

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.


1. wikipedia
2. www2.classics.upenn.edu

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