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pflugk229: Pelops drives away with Hippodamia. From an 5C BC Attic amphora (Bruckmann).

Life and Deeds of the Pelopides 

The Pelopides are the descendants of Pelops 1: mainly Atreus, Thyestes 1, the Atrides (Agamemnon and Menelaus), Aegisthus, Orestes 2, and Tisamenus 2. They ruled the Peloponnesus until the return of the HERACLIDES. Synoptic account:

Tantalus 1

Himas' daughter Pluto 3 was seduced by Zeus, and had by him a child Tantalus 1, who became king of Paphlagonia in northern Asia Minor, but was later driven out of the country by Ilus 2, the founder of Troy. Tantalus 1 is best known for having told men about the mysteries of the gods, and attempted to share ambrosia with his fellows. For these crimes, he is still being punished in Hades by having a stone impending on him, and by not being able to eat or drink, since the water in the lake dries out, and the fruits in the trees are lifted by the wind each time he tries to reach either. During his lifetime, Tantalus 1 had three children by Dione 3, daughter of Atlas; these were Niobe 2, Broteas 4, and Pelops 1. The grave of Tantalus 1 is at Mount Sipylus, which is east of Smyrna in Asia Minor; near by, there is a lake called after him.

Niobe 2

Tantalus 1's daughter Niobe 2 became queen in Thebes, but left the city after the killing of her children—the NIOBIDS—by Apollo and Artemis, and returned to her father's home at Sipylus, where on praying to Zeus, she was transformed into a stone from which tears flow night and day (though some say that she sheds tears only in summertime). It is told that Niobe 2's husband Amphion 1 was a great musician, having learned the musical Lydian mode and added three strings to the four old ones, following the teaching of his father-in-law Tantalus 1.

Broteas 4

Some affirm that Tantalus 1's son Broteas 4 was father of Tantalus 3, and that the latter was Clytaemnestra's first husband. But others assert that Tantalus 3's father was Thyestes 1, brother of Atreus. It is told that a man called Broteas went mad and threw himself into fire, but it is not certain whether this Broteas is the same as the son of Tantalus 1.


Tantalus 1's son Pelops 1 was slaughtered by his own father, cut up, boiled, and offered as a meal at a feast of the gods. It was then that Demeter, unwittingly, ate his arm; but when Tantalus 1's outrage was discovered, Pelops 1 was given life again by the will of the gods, who joined his limbs together. However, since the shoulder was not complete, Demeter fitted an ivory one in its place [for the bone of Pelops 1 see also Trojan War]. It is told that, because of his beauty, Pelops 1 became a minion of Poseidon, who gave him a winged chariot, the axles of which were not wet even when it ran through the sea.


Pelops 1 left father and country , coming to that part of Hellas that later was called after him: the Peloponnesus. According to General Thucydides, Pelops 1 arrived with vast wealth to a needy country, a combination of circumstances that secured his success [see Thucydides' account at Trojan War].

The bride

Pelops 1 became the last of the SUITORS OF HIPPODAMIA 3, the daughter of King Oenomaus 1 of Pisa (in Elis, northwestern Peloponnesus), and the only successful among them. Many before him had died while attempting to become the son-in-law of the king of Pisa. For Oenomaus 1 used to put to death his daughter's suitors and nail their heads to his house, fearing an oracle that had declared that he would die whenever his daughter should marry.

Oenomaus 1

King Oenomaus 1, who had received from Ares arms and horses, offered as a prize to the SUITORS the hand of his daughter, forcing each of them to take up the bride on his own chariot, and flee as far as the Isthmus of Corinth. Then Oenomaus 1 pursued him, killing the suitor if he overtook him; and only if the suitor were not overtaken, was he given Hippodamia 3 to wife. By this procedure, he slew many suitors, and after killing them, he cut off their heads and nailed them to his house. All these things were already tradition at the house of Oenomaus 1 when Pelops 1 arrived with the determination to win the bride for himself.

The bribe wins the bride

Realizing the difficulty of his task, Pelops 1 approached Myrtilus, son of Hermes and charioteer of Oenomaus 1, and persuaded him to change sides, after promising him half of the kingdom for his help. So when it was time to yoke the horses, Myrtilus simply did not put the pin in the wheels of his master's chariot. However, others say that when Pelops 1 appeared, Hippodamia 3 fell immediately in love with him, and that it was she who persuaded Myrtilus to help Pelops 1. And they add that because Myrtilus himself was in love with her and wished to gratify her, he did not insert the linchpins in the boxes of the wheels. In any case, Myrtilus let himself be transformed into a saboteur, and thus he got Pelops 1 a stolen victory: The king lost the race, being entangled in the reins and dragged to death, or as some say, he was killed by Pelops 1. When about to die, the king discovered Myrtilus' treachery, and cursing him, prayed that the traitor might perish by the hand of Pelops 1.

Saboteur without wages

That came to pass. For when Pelops 1 saw the king dead, the bride his, and himself about to become a respectable man of power, he started to see things in a different light, thinking that the whole affair would disgrace him. Consequently, he not only refused to keep his promise to Myrtilus, but also cast him into the sea, as if to eliminate an accomplice or witness. However, others say that when all three were returning from the race, Pelops 1 withdrew to fetch some water, and that Myrtilus, taking advantage of Pelops 1's absence, tried to rape Hippodamia 3. So Pelops 1, having learned on his return what had happened, threw Myrtilus into the sea—which was called after him the Myrtoan Sea—at Cape Geraestus. In any case, this was the end of Myrtilus; but before dying he uttered terrible curses against the house of Pelops 1, whose descendants—particularly Atreus, Thyestes 1, Agamemnon, Aegisthus, and Orestes 2—took good care to fulfil with their follies.

Pelops 1's originality in finding names

This is how Pelops 1 became king, ruling over what was formerly called Apia and Pelasgiotis, which he now called Peloponnesus after himself.

The children of Pelops 1 

Notes about some of his children

Hippalcimus 1 became one of the ARGONAUTS.

Nicippe 1 is mother of Eurystheus.

Alcathous 3 became famous for having killed the Cithaeronian lion.

Copreus became the herald of Eurystheus.

Pittheus, king of Troezen, became grandfather of Theseus through his daughter Aethra 2.

Troezen 1 was also son of Pelops 1, the city Troezen being named after him.

Letreus founded Letrini in Elis.

Pelops 1 had by Danais an illegitimate son Chrisyppus 2 whom Laius 1 (later king of Thebes) loved, carrying him off. Pelops 1 recovered this son through war, although others have said otherwise.

There are other children attributed to Pelops 1, but they are also said to have other parentages.

Atreus and Thyestes 1 excelled in cruelty and folly among the children of Pelops 1:

Atreus and Thyestes 1 agree in that each wants power for himself

It is told that once a golden lamb appeared among the sheep of Atreus; but his wife Aerope 1, having a love affair with Thyestes 1, gave him the golden lamb. At the time, the Mycenaeans had received an oracle which bade them choose a Pelopid for their king, and when a discussion took place concerning the throne, Thyestes 1 declared that the kingdom ought to belong to him who owned the golden lamb. When Atreus agreed, Thyestes 1 produced the lamb that her mistress had secretly given him, and was made king. However, Zeus sent Hermes to instruct Atreus to stipulate with Thyestes 1 that Atreus himself should be king if the sun should go backwards; and when Thyestes 1, deeming such an event impossible, agreed, the sun set in the east by the will of the god. Thus Atreus got the kingdom, and banished his brother.

Atreus imitates his grandfather's method

The good news for Atreus were that he now was king, the bad news being that his wife was adulterous. So when he learned about it, he plotted against his brother: He invited him to come to Mycenae, and prepared a special dinner according to family tradition, that is, one resembling the dinner Tantalus 1 had once offered to the gods. For this purpose, he murdered two or three of Thyestes 1's sons, and cutting them limb from limb, boiled them and served them up to Thyestes 1, except the extremities, which he showed to his brother once he had eaten what he thought to be a delicious meal. And when the infamous dinner was ended, he banished him again.

The fatal sword

While suffering such a disgrace, Thyestes 1 consulted the Oracle, which declared that he would be able to retaliate if he had intercourse with his own daughter. And being in Sicyon, Thyestes 1 did ravish his own daughter Pelopia 4, although he did not know who the girl was. During the ravishing, she drew his sword from the sheath, and hid it under the pedestal of a statue. The next day, Thyestes 1 went back to Lydia without his weapon.

Birth of Aegisthus

In the meantime, misery had come to Mycenae, as they thought, because of the crime of Atreus; an oracle then declared that he should restore the kingdom to Thyestes 1, or bring him back to the city. Atreus then came to King Thesprotus 2, looking for Thyestes 1; but when he saw Pelopia 4 in the court, he asked that she be given to him in marriage, believing she was Thesprotus 2's daughter. The king handed her over to him, and when she gave birth to Aegisthus, Atreus thought him to be his own son.

Death of Atreus

Years passed and Atreus, who was still looking for his brother, sent his sons Agamemnon and Menelaus to inquire about Thyestes 1 at Delphi. There they met, by chance, their uncle, who still asked the Oracle about taking vengeance on his brother. Having seized him, they brought him to Mycenae and cast him into prison. Having thus recalled Thyestes 1 to Mycenae as the Oracle had ordained, Atreus bade Aegisthus, whom he believed to be his third son, to kill Thyestes 1 in his confinement. Aegisthus then came to the prison to carry out Atreus' request, but he appeared in front of the prisoner wearing the sword that Thyestes 1 had lost when he ravished his own daughter Pelopia 4. And when Thyestes 1 asked him where he had got it, Aegisthus replied that his mother Pelopia 4 had given it to him. They then summoned Pelopia 4, who said that she had stolen it from the unknown man who had raped her by night, the same who was Aegisthus' father. This is how father and son learned who they were, but Pelopia 4, realising who the father of her son was, snatched the sword and plunged it in her breast. Aegisthus came back to Atreus with the bloody instrument of murder, and Atreus rejoiced because he thought Thyestes 1 was dead. But Aegisthus killed Atreus as he was sacrificing on the shore, and restored the kingdom of Mycenae to Thyestes 1.

The Atrides

Agamemnon and Menelaus came as exiles to the court of King Polyphides 1 of Sicyon, but later they were supported in their return by Tyndareus, and with his help they drove away Thyestes 1 to live in Cythera, an island off the southern coast of the Peloponnesus. The Atrides married the daughters of Tyndareus: Agamemnon married Clytaemnestra, becoming king of Mycenae, and Menelaus married Helen (also called daughter of Zeus). When Tyndareus died, he was succeeded by Menelaus as king of Sparta.

Agamemnon in Aulis

Peace was disturbed when the Trojan Paris came to Sparta and abducted Helen while Menelaus was away attending the funeral of Catreus (his mother's father). Because of The Oath of Tyndareus [see SUITORS OF HELEN], an alliance was formed to punish the Trojans for the abduction of Helen, and Agamemnon was appointed commander in chief of this alliance that gathered at Aulis, a harbor in Boeotia. However, the Achaean fleet, being wind bound in Aulis, could not sail to Troy; and Agamemnon, following what he believed to be the wise counsel of the seer Calchas, agreed to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia in order to obtain propitious winds.

Agamemnon's death

Whatever happened at Aulis (for some say that Iphigenia was saved by Artemis, while others affirm that she was indeed sacrificed), Clytaemnestra had reasons to be angry at her husband, not only on account of her daughter. So while Agamemnon was busy at Troy, Clytaemnestra took Aegisthus as her lover, and when Agamemnon returned to Mycenae, they both murdered him. This is how Aegisthus paved his way to the Mycenaean throne, which had once belonged to both his uncle and his father. He ruled in Mycenae for seven years.

Orestes 2

Agamemnon's son Orestes 2 was smuggled away when Aegisthus took over power in Mycenae, and stayed in exile until he was a grown-up man. Then he returned to Mycenae, and with Pylades' help, he murdered his own mother and her lover in order to avenge his father. Orestes 2 became the ruler of a vast territory: besides Mycenae and Argos, he extended his rule over the greater part of Arcadia, and succeeded to the throne of Sparta.

Tisamenus 2

Orestes 2 was killed by the bite of a snake at Oresteum in Arcadia. On his death, Tisamenus 2, his son by Hermione, became king. It was under the latter's reign that the HERACLIDES returned to the Peloponnesus, and some affirm that Tisamenus 2 was killed by them. The HERACLIDES claimed their share of power in the Peloponnesus because they were descendants, through Heracles 1, of Perseus 1, founder of Mycenae, whereas Tisamenus 2 was a Pelopid, and in their eyes, an usurper.

Return to Asia

Orestes 2 had also a bastard son Penthilus 1 by Erigone 1, daughter of Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra. He is said to have led the Aeolian colonisation (which preceded the Ionian), and to have advanced as far as Thrace sixty years after the Trojan War (about the time of the return of the HERACLIDES). The sons of Tisamenus 2 were Daimenes, Sparton 1, Tellis, Leontomenes, and Cometes 4. They led the Achaeans who settled in Ionia (Asia Minor).

Related sections Pelops 1 

See the linked characters.