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Orestes 2

Synopsis: When Agamemnon returned from Troy, he was murdered by Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra, and Aegisthus became king of Mycenae. But Orestes 2, whose life was now in danger, was smuggled away and given to the Phocian Strophius 1 to bring up. Years later, following the oracle of Delphi, Orestes 2 returned to Mycenae in company of Pylades, and killed both his mother and Aegisthus. But having become a matricide, he was pursued by the ERINYES, and afflicted with madness. He was also brought to trial in Athens for this crime, and being acquitted, he then came to Tauris (today called Crimea) to get rid of his mental disorder. Orestes 2, along with Pylades, was made prisoner in Tauris, but after being recognized by his sister Iphigenia, who acted as a priestess, he fled with her back to Hellas. In time Orestes 2 inherited his father's throne, and became the ruler of a wide territory including Mycenae, Argos, Messenia, the greater part of Arcadia, and Sparta.

4903: Hermann Wilhelm Bissen 1798-1868: Orestes flees from the Eumenides. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen.

Causes & Effects 

Chain of events

Orestes 2 is best known for having murdered his own mother Clytaemnestra.

"Do you think that Orestes, if he had had all his wits about him and had known what was best for him to do, would have brought himself to commit any act of the sort? (Socrates. Plato, Alcibiades 143d).

Why did he commit this terrible deed? In order to avenge his father Agamemnon, who was in turn murdered by Clytaemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. But why did she murder her husband? Because Agamemnon let his and Clytaemnestra's daughter Iphigenia be sacrificed at Aulis. Why did Agamemnon such a thing? Because, according to the seer Calchas, that was the only way to tame the winds that bound the Achaean fleet at Aulis. And what was that fleet doing there? It had gathered in order to sail against Troy. But why was it necessary for that fleet to sail to Troy? Because the Achaeans purposed to claim back Helen, who had been stolen by the Trojan Paris. And why did Paris abduct Helen? Because Helen was given to Paris by Aphrodite. And why would this goddess do that? In order to get the Golden Apple that Eris had thrown during the wedding party of Peleus and Thetis as a prize to be awarded to the fairest. Why did Eris throw that apple? Because she was not invited to the party. Why was she not invited? Zeus knows, for:

"Gods manifest themselves in many forms, bring many matters to surprising ends: the things we thought would happen do not happen, the unexpected God makes possible." (Women of Phthia. Euripides, Andromache 1285).

But some have said that Clytaemnestra took a lover because Nauplius 1 induced her to do so. And why would he do that? Because Agamemnon did not give him satisfaction for the death of his son Palamedes who was stoned by the Achaean army as a traitor. But why was Palamedes accused of treason? Because he was conspired against by Odysseus, who hated him. And why did Odysseus hate him? Because Palamedes forced him to go to Troy, showing that Odysseus was feigning madness to avoid joining the alliance. But why should Odysseus go to Troy? Because he was bound, as all the SUITORS OF HELEN, by The Oath of Tyndareus. And why were the suitors exacted that oath? To prevent them, by swearing to defend Helen's husband, to fight the man who had won her hand. The oath, which seemed at first an advantageous device, became in time a bane; for Odysseus, who received Penelope for having the idea of exacting the oath, was later forced by the same oath to be separated during twenty years from the beloved wife he had won.

Fate of this family

As for Aegisthus, he had his own dynastic reasons to murder Agamemnon. For both Atreus and Thyestes 1, fathers of Agamemnon and Aegisthus respectively, wishing to sit on the throne of Mycenae, performed horrible deeds against each other, their heirs inheriting the rivalry. And this family was fated to bathe in its own blood because of the curse that Myrtilus uttered against his baneman's house when he was treacherously slain by Pelops 1, father of Atreus and Thyestes 1.


Triumph abroad

King Agamemnon of Mycenae led the great alliance which sailed to Troy to obtain the restoration of Helen and the Spartan property that the seducer Paris had stolen, either through negotiation or by force. As diplomacy failed, in the tenth year of the war Troy was sacked, and Helen was given back to her husband Menelaus, Agamemnon's brother.

Defeat at home

But Agamemnon himself never enjoyed his military triumph, for, as it is said, his wife Clytaemnestra welcomed him not with crown or garland but with a two-edged sword. And so, on his return to Mycenae, Agamemnon met sedition and death in the shape of his wife and her lover. Aegisthus then reigned in Mycenae for seven years, and it is told that when he was drunk he loved to jump on Agamemnon's grave, shouting insults against the dead king and his children.

Death of Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra 

Zeus' comment on this case

Even as now Aegisthus, beyond that which was ordained, took to himself the wedded wife of Agamemnon, and slew him on his return, though well he knew of sheer destruction, seeing that we spoke to him before, sending Hermes, that he should neither slay the man nor woo his wife; for from Orestes shall come vengeance for Agamemnon when once he has come to manhood and longs for his own land. So Hermes spoke, but for all his good intent he prevailed not upon the heart of Aegisthus; and now he has paid the full price of all." (Zeus. Homer, Odyssey 1.35).

Version I
The child Orestes 2 rescued

After becoming a murderer then, Aegisthus became king, but fearing the descent of Agamemnon, he planned to kill the dead king's son Orestes 2, who was still a child. However, this little prince was smuggled out of the country either by his sister Electra 2, or by his nurse Arsinoe 4, or by an old slave who had previously been Agamemnon's tutor.

His new home

Orestes 2 was then taken to Phocis (which is the region bordering the Gulf of Corinth west of Boeotia) to the house of Strophius 1, son of Crisus, son of Phocus 3, son of Aeacus and the Nereid Psamathe 1. Strophius 1 was married to Anaxibia 4 (also called Astyoche 6), sister of Agamemnon, and had by her a son Pylades, who being brought up together with Orestes 2, became his most loyal friend, later wedding Orestes 2's sister Electra 2.

Electra 2's plight

Electra 2 stayed at home, and although she had many suitors, she was at first prevented by Aegisthus to marry a prince, for fear that her son would revenge Agamemnon's death. But later, as Aegisthus also feared that she might bear a son in secret to a man of noble blood, he planned to put an end to his apprehensions by killing her. However, he was stopped by Clytaemnestra, who feared the hatred that such a deed would arouse, and that is why Aegisthus conceived instead the idea of marrying Electra 2 to an insignificant man. For, he reasoned, a nobody would not go stirring up old blood asking that the debt for Agamemnon's death should be paid. Clytaemnestra agreed to this arrangement, for as it is said, women's love is for their lovers, not their children.

The Mycenaean peasant

But (so they say) the Mycenaean peasant who married Electra 2, knowing the details of the case and his own position, did not approach her bed, and instead felt sorry for the fate of both Electra 2 and her brother Orestes 2, treating her with friendly affection.

Hopes and pains of the princess

In the meantime, she hoped for Orestes 2 to return and punish the murderers of Agamemnon, releasing her from what she thought to be a miserable life. For it is painful for a princess to be dressed in simple clothes woven by her own hand, or to abstain from feasts and holy days and dances, or to see her royal palace replaced by a shabby cottage.

The Oracle of Apollo

When Orestes 2 was grown up, he went to Delphi and asked the oracle whether he should avenge his father's death. And as the oracle of Apollo told him that he should, he departed secretly to Mycenae together with Pylades.

Meeting of Orestes 2 with his sister

Having arrived to the place where Electra 2 lived with the peasant outside the city, Orestes 2 and Pylades, without being recognized, learned about her desolate life. As there was nothing in the house to offer the visitors, Electra 2 sent her husband to bring the old slave, Agamemnon's tutor, that once had saved the life of Orestes 2 by smuggling him out of the country. And when this old man came, he recognized Orestes 2 by a scar on his brow, and told him that if he was to get his kingdom back he would have to kill his own mother and Aegisthus.

Planning revenge

In order for them to perform such an exploit, the old man provided tactical advice describing how Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra could be approached. Orestes 2 considered the deed they were planning as most glorious, and his sister Electra 2 claimed for herself the right to kill her own mother. To such a high pitch did their enthusiasm reach while discussing the practical details of their conspiracy.

Death of Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra (I)

Orestes 2 and Pylades carried out the plan, killing Aegisthus while he was sacrificing to the NYMPHS; and the royal guard, which was there for Aegisthus' safety, having recognized the son of Agamemnon, did not intervene but instead applauded the usurper's murderer. After that, Clytaemnestra, who had been told by the old man that Electra 2 had given birth to a child, came to see her, and while meeting her children in the cottage she was killed by Orestes 2, who held his cloak over his eyes in order not to watch himself drive the blade into his mother's throat. For Clytaemnestra had opened her gown, thrusting forth her breast so that Orestes 2 could clearly see that he was about to stab the body that had given him birth.

Version II
The plight of Electra 2 and her sister Chrysothemis 1

However, others have not mentioned Electra 2's peasant husband, and they affirm that she and her sister Chrysothemis 1 continued to live in the house of their parents at Mycenae, now ruled by Aegisthus, during the time Orestes 2 was in exile in Phocis. Electra 2, they assert, never ceased to mourn her father, comparing herself to Niobe 2, who entombed in stone weeps eternally (see NIOBIDS), and hoped, having no child or husband of her own, for the return of her brother Orestes 2. But Chrysothemis 1, fearing Aegisthus and the punishments he had in store for those unwilling to stop complaining, thought it wiser, when strength is lacking, to restrain her anger and obey the master of the house.

Arrival of Orestes 2 and Pylades

Orestes 2 then, guided by the oracle of Delphi, which had instructed him to punish his father's murderers, and by stratagem, that is, without men and arms, exact the penalty of death, came to Mycenae with Pylades and the same tutor that had once taken him away from the city, and bringing him up to manhood, saved his life so that he could avenge Agamemnon's death.

False news

This tutor was then sent by Orestes 2 to the palace to tell Clytaemnestra that her son Orestes 2, who once had promised to avenge his father's death, had fallen from a chariot in the course of a contest during a festival at Delphi, and that his ashes would be soon brought by some men from Phocis.

Death of Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra (II)

Disguised then as Phocian messengers, Orestes 2 and Pylades came into the palace carrying the urn with the ashes, and having met Electra 2, they went to where Clytaemnestra was, and Orestes 2 slew her. After that, Aegisthus came from the town into the palace anxious to meet the Phocian messengers, who standing beside the covered body of Clytaemnestra, invited Aegisthus to lift the veil supposedly covering the corpse of Orestes 2. It was first when Aegisthus saw his dead wife that he understood that he was trapped, and Orestes 2 led him to the place in the palace where Aegisthus had murdered Agamemnon, and killed him on that same spot. For revenge seeks to imitate the gestures of outrage and to return to the location where the first affront occurred, turning both gestures and location into the meaningful symbol from which it derives its deepest pleasure.

Others who got killed

Orestes 2 pursued by the ERINYES. 3811: Carl Rahl 1812-1905: Orest von Furien verfolgt. Augusteum, Oldenburg.

They also say that in the tumult Pylades killed some sons of Nauplius 1, probably Oeax, who had come to bring Aegisthus assistance.

Version III
Meeting of Orestes 2 with his sister

According to another account, Orestes 2 and his sister did not meet in a cottage or in the palace but instead when they, by coincidence, came on the same day to pour libations at Agamemnon's tomb. Later Orestes 2, having first presented himself as a Phocian messenger announcing his own death, came into the palace and slew first Aegisthus and then Clytaemnestra. She begged for her life:

"Wait son! Have pity, child, upon this breast, which you held, drowsing away the hours, sucking, with toothless gums, the milk that nourished you … I gave you life. Let me grow old with you." (Clytaemnestra to Orestes 2. Aeschylus, Libation-Bearers 895).

and also warned him:

"You have no fear of a mother's curse, my son? … Watch out, the hounds of a mother's curse will hunt you down." (Clytaemnestra to Orestes 2. Aeschylus, Libation-Bearers 923).

But even if for a second Orestes 2 hesitated,

Orestes 2: What will I do Pylades? I dread to kill my mother!
Pylades: What of the future? What of Apollo's oracles, declared at Delphi, the faith and oaths we swear? Make all mankind your enemy, not the gods. (Aeschylus, Libation-Bearers 898).

no words were able to restrain him, and he slew his mother.

Plot against Helen 


In any case, when Orestes 2, assisted by his sister Electra 2 and his faithful friend Pylades, had committed the horrible crime of taking, besides Aegisthus', his own mother's life, he was prostrated by the weight of the deed he had performed. Orestes 2 spent most of the time in bed wasted with a fierce disease, having fits of madness, and being tortured by the ERINYES, who turn painful remorse into the master of both heart and mind.

Menelaus arrives from Troy

One week after the matricide, Menelaus arrived from Troy at the harbor of Nauplia. His wife Helen he sent on ahead to join their daughter Hermione, who, during the war, had been brought up in the palace by her aunt Clytaemnestra. And when he himself arrived, he met Orestes 2, who had not eaten or washed, destroyed by grief, and the victim of insane fits, during which he seemed to see the ERINYES, persecuting and lashing him. And yet he could find some consolation in the oracle:

Orestes: My revenge was Apollo's command.
Menelaus: A command showing some ignorance of law and right.
Orestes: What are the gods? We don't know, but we are their slaves.
(Euripides, Orestes 416).

Orestes 2 asks Menelaus for help

But besides grief and remorse there was another torment: the Argives were considering to punish the matricide, and after voting, to stone Orestes 2 and his sister to death. It was to avert this threat that Orestes 2 asked Menelaus for help, reminding him of the assistance that he had received from Agamemnon when Helen was abducted:

"Menelaus, all my hope rests upon you alone … You have come home successful. I am your brother's son. Give me a share of your well-being…And pay where it is due the debt you owe to my father. Friends who in times of trouble are no longer friends mock the true force of friendship with an empty name." (Orestes 2 to Menelaus. Euripides, Orestes 450).

Menelaus' reluctance

But Menelaus was not ready to give him assistance, and just promised to beg the citizens and Tyndareus, father of both Helen and Clytaemnestra, for mercy. For he deemed resistance impossible, as the whole city was a trap, and armed men were everywhere. Besides, opposing Tyndareus, his wife's father and the man from whom he expected to inherit the Spartan throne, was not, as Menelaus deemed, his wisest choice. Orestes 2 did not appreciate his uncle's reluctance to assist him:

"You coward! Did you once command an army? Yes, to win a woman; not to help your friends…Traitor! Have you forgotten Agamemnon? (Orestes 2 to Menelaus. Euripides, Orestes 720).

The citizens condemn the murderers

During the deliberations of the assembled citizens, Talthybius, the herald of Agamemnon at Troy, was heard making an ambiguous speech, for as it is said, that is the way of heralds, always trying to please the winning side. Also Diomedes 2 spoke, urging the assembly not to sentence Orestes 2 and his sister to death, but satisfy piety by banishing them. Menelaus did not show his face, for as some believe, succession to the Spartan throne was his only thought. So the full court of the Argive people, after hearing several speeches, found Orestes 2 and his sister guilty of matricide, and voted to condemn them to die, leaving them the choice to hang themselves, or to use a sword, or to be killed by someone appointed by the citizens.

Pylades invents new plot

But for Pylades life was not worth if he lost his friend, and he had no intention of saving his own skin by leaving or betraying Orestes 2. He also thought that, having shared the killing with Orestes 2, his duty was now to perish with him and Electra 2. But since death seemed unescapable, he wished to ensure a share of suffering for Menelaus, and that is why the three, led by resourceful Pylades, conceived a new plot while they were on the verge of death. And probably because great ideas are deemed to be simple, Pylades just conceived the following: to kill Helen, who was in the house making a list of all the valuables, and thereby send Menelaus raving mad.

Orestes 2 enthusiastic

Orestes 2 found this idea so brilliant that he said that he was ready to die twice if they could bring this deed off. So they started immediately to plan how they would attack the Trojan body-guard that protected her, a group of chaps, who, used to polish her mirrors and set out her scents, were not supposed to cause them any serious trouble; these they intended to shut up in various rooms.

Contribution of Electra 2 to the plot

This murder, they thought, would be a popular one. For Helen was hated in the whole of Hellas by all those who had lost a relative or friend in the Trojan War. And by killing her, Pylades reasoned, Orestes 2's name of "matricide" would be forgotten, giving place to the title "Killer of the killer of thousands, Helen." In the midst of the enthusiasm that this plan aroused in them, they even started hoping to escape after the murder and avoid death. And Electra 2 came with her own contribution to the plan: to take Hermione as a hostage, and threat to kill her if Menelaus would dare to make any move after Helen's death.

Plot accomplished only partially

All this was attempted. But during the confusion that ensued when Hermione was to be captured and the body-guard avoided, Helen escaped. So when Menelaus arrived, he had already heard that Helen was not dead, but instead he found his daughter Hermione with a sword's edge at her throat. Escape was no longer possible, so Orestes 2 threatened to kill Hermione and set fire to the palace unless Menelaus went to the assembly and persuaded the citizens to spare their lives.

Divine intervention

Apparently, no human being could solve this situation, and that is why Apollo, coming down from heaven, ordered everybody to calm down. Helen he took with him to heaven, telling Menelaus to get a new wife,

"For Helen's beauty was to the gods their instrument for setting Achaeans and Trojans face to face in war. And multiplying deaths, to purge the bloated earth of its superfluous welter of mortality." (Apollo to Menelaus. Euripides, Orestes 1640).

to reign in Sparta, and yield to Orestes 2 the throne of Argos and Mycenae. But others have said that when, after the Trojan War, Odysseus' son Telemachus came to Sparta inquiring about his father, he was there entertained by both King Menelaus and Helen. Apollo ordered Orestes 2 to live in Parrhasia in Arcadia for one year, and afterwards come to Athens and there stand his trial for Clytaemnestra's blood.

Trial in Athens 

Orestes 2 at Athena's temple.
4402: Pierre-Charles Simart 1806-1857: Oreste refugié à l'autel de Pallas. Musée des beaux arts, Rouen.

Orestes 2 is said to have visited Delphi and Troezen, before coming to Athens, where he was brought to trial by the ERINYES, or by Tyndareus, father of Clytaemnestra, or by Erigone 1, daughter of Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra, or by Perileos, son of Icarius 1 and Clytaemnestra's cousin. The votes at his trial were equal, and that is why Orestes 2 was acquitted, being helped by Athena, who presided the first court which tried a case of homicide.

Purifications of little avail

However, Orestes 2 remained insane after the trial, having fits of madness as before, and some have said that once he had bitten off one of his fingers, the ERINYES ceased to torture him, and he recovered his senses. But Orestes 2 is also said to have sought purification by the waters of the Horse's Fount in Troezen, in the place where the earth sent up the water when the horse Pegasus struck the ground with his hoof. Centuries after there was still a building called the Booth of Orestes, where the descendants of those who cleansed Orestes 2 used to dine on appointed days. In that building, which was in front of a sanctuary of Apollo, the Troezenians lodged Orestes 2, for before he was purified no citizen would receive him into his home.


New oracle

As his fits of madness continued, Orestes 2 inquired at Delphi how he should be rid of his mental disorders. The oracle then answered that he would be rid of them if he should fetch from a temple in Tauris the statue of Artemis.

Customs in Tauris

Tauris, which today is called Crimea and is a peninsula in the northern coast of the Black Sea, was a part of the realm of Scythia. In this country hospitality was dishonoured, and foreigners, or whatever stranger who happened to come within the Taurian borders, were systematically put to death and thrown into the sacred fire in the temple of Artemis. Orestes 2 and Pylades, following the oracle, embarked and came to Tauris. But soon after their arrival they were seized by the Taurians, and brought to the temple of Artemis to be sacrificed.

Iphigenia's life in Tauris

Pylades defending Orestes 2 from the Taurians. 4615: Françoise Bouchot 1800-1842: Pylade défendant Oreste 1822. Musée des beaux arts, Chartres.

The priestess of this temple was Iphigenia, sister of Orestes 2, who had not lost her life at Aulis as some believed; for in the last moment, when Iphigenia was about to be sacrificed, she vanished and was saved by Artemis, who substituted for her a deer at the altar, and transported her to Tauris. In this barbarian country she lived many years, performing the rites and sending strangers to the altar where they were butchered by other attendants, without ever blaming the gods, for she reasoned:

"… Men of this country, being murderers, impute their sordid practice to divine command. That any god is evil I do not believe." (Iphigenia. Euripides, Iphigenia in Tauris 390).

And as before Electra 2, she also wept for what she believed was the lost life of her own brother Orestes 2, the destruction of her father's house, the extinction of her family, and her own fate.

Orestes 2 meets his sister Iphigenia

When the prisoners Orestes 2 and Pylades met the priestess Iphigenia, by tokens and questions they all soon understood who they were, and together made a plan to remove the statue of Artemis.

Statue stolen

When Iphigenia was actually doing this, and the king came and asked her why she was moving it from its inviolable place, she answered that impure men, who had killed their mother, had come into the temple. For that reason, she said, she was taking, along with the prisoners, the statue of Artemis out under the pure heaven, to be purged of blood, and then to the beach to be cleansed by the water of the sea, which can wash clean all the foulness of mankind.


Having come to the beach, where Orestes 2's ship was anchored out of sight, they tricked the guards and the temple attendants, and escaped with the statue, which they brought to Athens, although some have said that the ship of Orestes 2 was driven in a storm to Rhodes, and that in accordance with an oracle, the statue was dedicated there. Still others say that by a favoring wind, the ship of Orestes 2 was borne to the island of Zminthe where the family of Chryses 3, priest of Apollo, lived.

Orestes 2's half-brother

Chryses 3 is the same priest, who in the last year of the Trojan War asked the Achaeans to set free his daughter Chryseis 3, whom they held prisoner, having his request denied by the arrogance of Agamemnon. Afterwards, however, the girl was released, in order to placate Apollo, who hearing the prayers of Chryses 3, had sent a plague that decimated the Achaean army. Some say that the priest's daughter was pregnant when she was set free, and that later she gave birth to a boy Chryses 4, who was the son of Agamemnon.

Punishing the Taurians

Now, when Orestes 2 arrived with Iphigenia and Pylades to Zminthe, they were seized by Chryses 4, who decided to return them to King Thoas 3 and the Taurians. But through his grandfather Chryses 3, he learned that he too was son of Agamemnon. So Chryses 4, joining his forces to those of his half-brother Orestes 2, attacked the Taurians and killed their king Thoas 3. After that, Orestes 2 came safe to Mycenae, carrying the statue of Artemis.

Aegisthus' son seizes power in Mycenae 

New usurper

In the meantime, a messenger came to Electra 2 in Mycenae falsely saying that Orestes 2 and Pylades had been sacrificed in Tauris. But when also Aletes 1, son of Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra, heard that the family of the Atrides was extinct, he seized power in Mycenae, and Electra 2 became once again the subject of an usurper, now her own half-brother.

Meeting in Delphi

She then, in company with the messenger, traveled to Delphi in order to inquire about her brother's death. She came there the same day that Iphigenia and Orestes 2 arrived, and when the sisters met, the false messenger said that Iphigenia was the murderess of her brother. So Electra 2 seized a burning firebrand from the altar, and would have blinded her sister Iphigenia if Orestes 2 had not appeared and intervened.

Death of Aletes 1

After this incident they returned to Mycenae, and Orestes 2 killed Aletes 1. He also intended to slay Aletes 1's sister Erigone 1, but, as they say, Artemis rescued her and made her a priestess in Attica, although the girl is also reported to have given birth to a child Penthilus 1, son of Orestes 2.


Hermione given twice in marriage

Pylades, Orestes 2, and the statue of Artemis. 9730: «Grupo de San Ildefonso». Finales del siglo I d.C. Orestes y Pilades con la imagen de Artemisa de Táuride. Museo Nacional del Prado.

Now, some say that Menelaus promised his daughter Hermione in marriage twice, first to Orestes 2, before the Trojan War, and then to Neoptolemus, son of Achilles, when they were at Troy. So when the war was over, Neoptolemus came to Sparta and demanded Hermione from Menelaus although he had already begotten sons Amphialus 1 and Molossus by his captive concubine Andromache, former wife of Hector 1. As Orestes 2 at the time was insane, Menelaus decided to honour the promise he had made to Neoptolemus, and gave Hermione to him. Orestes 2, weakened on account of his mental disorders, his exile, and his family troubles, did not wish at the time to blame Menelaus, and instead begged Neoptolemus to renounce his claim to marry Hermione. When he was insolently rebuked by Neoptolemus, who abused him as a matricide and as a victim of folly, Orestes 2, though robbed of his marriage, chose to take a humble tone and wait.

Against Hermione's will

But others say that Hermione was promised in marriage to Orestes 2 by Tyndareus while the Achaeans were fighting at Troy, and that Menelaus was ignorant of this circumstance when he promised Hermione to Neoptolemus. Hermione, they affirm, was not happy with this arrangement and had to be dragged into Neoptolemus' palace, which was in Epirus.

Conflict between Hermione and Andromache

This is how Neoptolemus made Hermione his wife and queen, while still keeping Andromache as a concubine. As time went by and Hermione remained childless, she grew jealous of Andromache, saying that by secret spells the concubine made the queen barren. And seeing her own position threatened, Hermione plotted against Andromache's life during Neoptolemus' absence. For while Neoptolemus was in Delphi for the second time, wishing to make amends to Apollo for having demanded reparation for his father's death, Menelaus came to Neoptolemus' palace decided, on behalf of his daughter, to kill Andromache and put the life of Andromache's child Molossus in Hermione's hands.

Andromache almost killed

Andromache sought protection in the sanctuary of Thetis, but Menelaus captured little Molossus and threatened to cut the child's throat if she refused to abandon the sanctuary. Andromache found inconceivable that famous Menelaus could act so cowardly, and that is why she says:

"Oh Fame! How many thousands nobodies there are whom Fame blows up to importance and authority … Did a coward like you lead the warriors of Hellas against Priam to conquer Troy?" (Andromache to Menelaus. Euripides, Andromache 325).

She chose her own death, but when she had left the shrine, Neoptolemus' grandfather Peleus arrived, and with the protection, as he said, of both gods and troops, prevented Menelaus to kill Andromache, or do any harm to her child.

Menelaus cedes

Menelaus then left the palace declaring that as a stranger he did not intend to commit violence, but he promised to return, for he would not submit to it either. And when her father returned to Sparta, Hermione started fearing Neoptolemus, thinking that he would kill her at his return for having plotted against Andromache and the child, or perhaps make her a concubine in the house where she was queen. Orestes 2 takes Hermione and kills his rival

But while Neoptolemus was still away, Orestes 2 came to recover Hermione. For, as he saw it, Hermione was living with Neoptolemus only because of Menelaus' broken promise. And when they met, Hermione herself asked him to taker her away. This is how Hermione became the wife of Orestes 2. Later Orestes 2, having assembled troops, came to Delphi in order to end the life of the man who had insulted him and robbed his wife. He first stirred up the Delphians against the suppliant, saying that Neoptolemus had come in order to rob Apollo's temple, and not as he declared, on a pious pilgrimage to win the favor of the god. The Delphians then joined the troops of Orestes 2, and screened by the foliage of the laurel-trees, they all waited outside the temple with drawn swords. And when Neoptolemus came out, he was killed in the battle that took place, and many, they say, were those who came with their weapons and stones to strike and hack at him, destroying his body with countless wounds. This was the last of the crimes that Orestes 2 felt compelled to commit in order to recover his father's throne, his house, and his wife.

King Orestes 2 

Extension of his kingdom

Orestes 2 and Electra 2: loving brother and sister. 8811: Orestes og Elektra, fundet i Pozzuoli. Graesk/Romersk 1. årh. f.Kr. (Romkopi). Napoli, Museo Archeologico (Royal Cast Collection, Copenhagen).

King Orestes 2 ruled over a vaster territory than his father's. For when Cylarabes died childless, leaving vacant the throne of Argos, Orestes 2 succeeded him, thus adding this kingdom to his own. Orestes 2 also succeeded to the throne of Sparta, for the Lacedaemonians considered his claim to the throne prior to that of Nicostratus and Megapenthes 1, these being sons of Menelaus by one or perhaps two slave women, whereas Orestes 2 was the son of one of the daughters of King Tyndareus. Besides Sparta and Argos, Orestes 2 also extended his rule over the greater part of Arcadia, and obeying the oracle of Delphi, he moved his capital from Mycenae to Arcadia. Messenia was held in ancient times by the line of Neleus and Nestor until some time after the Trojan War; then Orestes 2 annexed the region to his kingdom, and Messenia was ruled by him and his descendants down to the return of the HERACLIDES.

First attack of the HERACLIDES

Some have said that the expedition of Hyllus 1, son of Heracles 1, against the Peloponnesus, took place during the reign of Orestes 2, and not during the rule of his son Tisamenus 2, and that this was the first attempt of the HERACLIDES to return to the Peloponnesus. Hyllus 1 was defeated at the Isthmus of Corinth, and killed by the Arcadian king Echemus.

Alliance with Phocis

Orestes 2 married his sister Electra 2 to his loyal friend Pylades, who remained an ally; for Orestes 2 also had, among his forces, a contingent of Phocians always ready to help him. And this alliance survived the two friends, for it is said that the Heraclid Aristodemus, son of Aristomachus 2, son of Cleodaeus 2, son of Hyllus 1, son of Heracles 1, was killed by Medon 7 and Strophius 3, sons of Pylades and Electra 2. Aristodemus is the father of the twins Eurysthenes 1 and Procles 2, who are at the origin of the two royal houses of Sparta.


The man who slew his mother, and risking his life on several occasions, fought many enemies, was killed by the bite of a snake at Oresteum in Arcadia. This city had been long ago founded by Orestheus 2, son of impious Lycaon 2, and was first called Oresthasium after him, and later Oresteum after Orestes 2.


As it appears, Orestes 2 was first buried in the city of Tegea in southeastern Arcadia. But later a Spartan stole the bones and a new grave was erected in Sparta.
The story of Agamemnon's family and Orestes 2 in the Greek plays, arranged according to the chronological order of events. The incidents and sequel of the revenge of Orestes 2 is told from step 3.

Others with identical name

Orestes 1 is the son of the river god Achelous and Perimede 1, daughter of Aeolus 1.
Orestes 3 was an Achaean soldier killed by Hector 1 and Ares at Troy.
Orestes 4 was a Trojan who attacked the Achaean wall together with Asius 1, leader of the Phrygians, during the Trojan War. He was killed by Leonteus 1, a Lapith leader son of Coronus 1, son of Caeneus 1, he who once was a woman called Caenis, but later was turned into an invulnerable man by Poseidon.
Orestes 5 was one of the leaders of the SATYRS who joined the army of Dionysus 2 in his campaign against India.






Tisamenus 2

Hermione was daughter of Menelaus and Helen. Tisamenus 2 succeeded Orestes 2 on the throne, but during his rule the HERACLIDES returned to the Peloponnesus, and he was killed by them. His children Daimenes, Sparton 1, Tellis, Leontomenes, and Cometes 4 settled in Ionia (Asia Minor).

Erigone 1

Penthilus 1

Erigone 1 was daughter of Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra. Penthilus 1 is called the bastard son of Orestes 2. He led the Aeolian colonisation in Asia Minor, and advanced as far as Thrace sixty years after the Trojan War. According to some, Erigone 1, who had brought Orestes 2 to trial, was so grieved because of his acquittal that she hanged herself.

Genealogical Charts

Names in this chart: Aegisthus, Aerope 1, Agamemnon, Agenor 1, Agorius, Amyclas 1, Anchinoe, Apollo, Ares, Asopus, Atlas, Atreus, Batia 2, Belus 1, Catreus, Cleocharia, Clytaemnestra, Cometes 4, Corybas, Creusa 3, Cynortes, Daimenes, Damasius, Diomede 2, Dione 3, Echelas, Epaphus 1, Erigone 1, Europa, Eurotas, Gaia, Gras, Harpina, Helen, Hermione, Himas, Hippodamia 3, Ide 1, Io, Itone, Lacedaemon, Ladon 1, Lapithus 1, Leda, Lelex 2, Leontomenes, Libya, Lycastus 1, Lyctius, Memphis 2, Menelaus, Metope 1, Minos 1, Minos 2, Nilus, Oebalus 1, Oenomaus 1, Orestes 2, Pasiphae, Pelops 1, Peneus, Penthilus 1, Perieres 1, Pleione, Pluto 3, Poseidon, Sparta, Sparton 1, Stilbe, Tantalus 1, Taygete, Tellis, Tisamenus 2, Tyndareus, Zeus.

Related sections Agamemnon, Electra 2, Aegisthus, Clytaemnestra, Iphigenia, Madness  

Aes.Eum.passim; Aes.LB.passim; Apd.Ep.2.16, 6.13-14, 6.24-28; Dictys 6.4; Eur.And.884 and passim; Eur.Ele.passim; Eur.IT.passim; Eur.Ore.23 and passim; Hyg.Fab.257; Pau.2.16.7, 2.18.6, Pau.2.29.4; Soph.Ele.passim.