Atreus, king of Mycenae

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Greek, Ancient: Ἀτρεύς
Immediate Family:

Son of Pelops, king of Pisa and Hippodamia
Husband of Aerope, Queen of Mycenae
Father of Menelaüs, king of Sparta and Agamemnon, king of Mycenae
Brother of Pittheus, King of Troezen; Nicippe of PIsa; Sicyon; Alcyone; Cléoné and 9 others
Half brother of Chrysippus of Mycenae

Occupation: King
Managed by: FARKAS Mihály László
Last Updated:

About Atreus, king of Mycenae


In Greek mythology, Atreus (Ἀτρεύς) was a king of Mycenae, the son of Pelops and Hippodamia, and the father of Agamemnon and Menelaus. Collectively, his descendants are known as Atreidai or Atreidae.

Atreus and his twin brother Thyestes were exiled by their father for murdering their half-brother Chrysippus in their desire for the throne of Olympia. They took refuge in Mycenae, where they ascended to the throne in the absence of King Eurystheus, who was fighting the Heracleidae. Eurystheus had meant for their stewardship to be temporary, but it became permanent after his death in battle.

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, because they knew the nature of the meat they were served, were appalled and did not partake. Nevertheless, Demeter, who was distracted due to the abduction by Hades of her daughter Persephone, obliviously ate Pelops' shoulder. The gods threw Tantalus into the underworld, where he spends eternity standing up to his chin in a pool of water, which drains whenever he attempts to slake his thirst. Above him are low-hanging fruit that lift just out of reach when he tries to grab it. Thus is derived the word "tantalize". The gods brought Pelops back to life, replacing the bone in his shoulder with a bit of ivory, thus cursing the family forever afterwards.

The gods brought Pelops back to life, replacing the bone in his shoulder with a bit of ivory, thus cursing the family forever afterwards.

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 Pelops and his line, further adding to the house's curse.

Pelops and Hippodamia had two sons, Atreus and Thyestes, who (depending on myth version) murdered Chrysippus, their stepbrother. Because of the murder, Hippodamia, Atreus, and Thyestes were banished to Mycene, where Hippodamia is said to have hanged 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 responded by asking an oracle what to do, who advised 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 who was 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, her sister (known later as Helen of Troy). Helen was taken away from Menelaus by Paris of Troy during a visit. Menelaus then called on the chieftains to help him take back Helen. 9/7/09

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