Thyestes

Last updated
Nosadella Tiestes y Aerope.jpg

In Greek mythology, Thyestes (pronounced /θˈɛstz/ , Greek : Θυέστης, [tʰyéstɛːs] ) was a king of Olympia. Thyestes and his brother, Atreus, were exiled by their father for having murdered their half-brother, Chrysippus, in their desire for the throne of Olympia. They took refuge in Mycenae, where they ascended the throne upon the absence of King Eurystheus, who was fighting the Heracleidae. Eurystheus had meant for their lordship to be temporary; it became permanent because of his death in conflict.

Contents

The most popular representation of Thyestes is that of the play Thyestes by Seneca in 62 AD. This play is one of the originals for the revenge tragedy genre. Although inspired by Greek mythology and legend, Seneca's version is different.

Family

Thyestes was the son of Pelops and Hippodamia, and father of Pelopia and Aegisthus. His three sons by a naiad who was killed by Atreus were named Aglaus, Orchomenus and Calaeus. [1]

Myth

Pelops and Hippodamia are parents to Thyestes. However, they were cursed by Myrtilus, a servant of King Oenomaus, the father of Hippodamia. Myrtilus was promised the right to Hippodamia's virginity and half of Pelops' kingdom, but Pelops denied both to him and killed him by throwing him into the sea. With his dying gasp, Myrtilus cursed their line, which is where Thyestes and Atreus comes in.

Thyestes' brother and King of Mycenae, 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, 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 heads. He served Thyestes his own sons and then taunted him with their hands and heads. This is the source of modern phrase "Thyestean Feast," or one at which human flesh is served. When Thyestes was done with his feast, he released a loud belch, which represents satiety and pleasure and his loss of self-control.

An oracle then advised Thyestes that, if he had a son with his own daughter Pelopia, that son would kill Atreus. Thyestes did so by raping Pelopia (his identity hidden from her) and the son, Aegisthus, did kill Atreus. However, when Aegisthus was first born, he was abandoned by his mother, ashamed of the origin of her son. 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 and that Atreus was his uncle. Aegisthus then killed Atreus.

While Thyestes ruled Mycenae, the sons of Atreus, Agamemnon and Menelaus, were exiled to Sparta. There, King Tyndareus accepted them as the royalty that they were. Shortly after, he helped the brothers return to Mycenae to overthrow Thyestes, forcing him to live in Cytheria, where he died.

Legacy

As a token of good will and allegiance, King Tyndareus offered his daughters to Agamemnon and Menelaus as wives, Clytemnestra and Helen respectively.

When Agamemnon left Mycenae for the Trojan War, Aegisthus seduced Agamemnon's wife, Clytemnestra, and the couple plotted to kill her husband upon his return. They succeeded, killing Agamemnon and his new concubine, Cassandra. Clytemnestra and Aegisthus had three children: Aletes, Erigone, and Helen who died as an infant.

Seven or eight years after the death of Agamemnon, Agamemnon's son Orestes returned to Mycenae and, with the help of his cousin Pylades and his sister Electra, killed both their mother, Clytemnestra, and Aegisthus.

Tired of the bloodshed, the gods exonerated Orestes and declared this the end of the curse on the house of Atreus, as described in Aeschylus' play The Eumenides .

However, other stories say that when Aletes and Erigone came of age and became rulers at Mycenae, Orestes returned with an army then killed his half-brother and raped his half-sister, who gave birth to a son, Penthilus.

Theatre

In the first century AD, Seneca the Younger wrote a tragedy called Thyestes . In 1560 Jasper Heywood, then a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, published a verse translation. Shakespeare's tragedy Titus Andronicus derives some of its plot elements from the story of Thyestes. In 1681, John Crowne wrote Thyestes, A Tragedy, based closely on Seneca's Thyestes, but with the incongruous addition of a love story. Prosper Jolyot Crebillon (1674-1762) wrote a tragedy "Atree et Thyeste" (1707), which is prominent in two tales of ratiocination by Edgar Allan Poe. In 1796, Ugo Foscolo (1778–1827) wrote a tragedy called Tieste that was first presented in Venice one year later. Caryl Churchill, a British dramatist, also wrote a rendition of Thyestes. Churchill's specific translation was performed at the Royal Court Theater Upstairs in London on June 7, 1994 [2] In 2004, Jan van Vlijmen (1935–2004) completed his opera Thyeste. The libretto was a text in French by Hugo Claus, based on his 20th century play with the same title (in Dutch: Thyestes). Thyestes appears in Ford Ainsworth's one-act play, Persephone.

Seneca's influence in literature is reflected through other works. In Arnold's Sonnet on Shakespeare, the influence of Seneca is apparent. "The reminiscence of Atreus’ speech in the Thyestes of Seneca, which might subtend Cleopatra's own passionate, distended rhetoric about Antony" (Edgecombe, 257). [3]

References in literature

Related Research Articles

Agamemnon figure from Greek mythology

In Greek mythology, Agamemnon was a king of Mycenae, the son of King Atreus and Queen Aerope of Mycenae, the brother of Menelaus, the husband of Clytemnestra and the father of Iphigenia, Electra or Laodike (Λαοδίκη), Orestes and Chrysothemis. Legends make him the king of Mycenae or Argos, thought to be different names for the same area. When Menelaus's wife, Helen, was taken to Troy by Paris, Agamemnon commanded the united Greek armed forces in the ensuing Trojan War.

Aegisthus mythical character

Aegisthus was a figure in Greek mythology. Aegisthus is known from two primary sources of Greek mythology. The first is Homer's Odyssey, believed to have been first written down by Homer at the end of the 8th century BC, and the second from Aeschylus's Oresteia, written in the 5th century, BC.

Menelaus King of Sparta, husband of Helen of Troy

In Greek mythology, Menelaus was a king of Mycenaean (pre-Dorian) Sparta, the husband of Helen of Troy, and the son of Atreus and Aerope. According to the Iliad, Menelaus was a central figure in the Trojan War, leading the Spartan contingent of the Greek army, under his elder brother Agamemnon, king of Mycenae. Prominent in both the Iliad and Odyssey, Menelaus was also popular in Greek vase painting and Greek tragedy, the latter more as a hero of the Trojan War than as a member of the doomed House of Atreus.

Orestes figure from Greek mythology

In Greek mythology, Orestes was the son of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon. He is the subject of several Ancient Greek plays and of various myths connected with his madness and purification, which retain obscure threads of much older ones.

Atreus king of Mycenae, father of Agamemnon

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

Aerope daughter of Catreus, the king of Crete

In Greek mythology, Aërope was a daughter of Catreus, the king of Crete, and sister to Clymene, Apemosyne and Althaemenes. She was the wife of Atreus, and by most accounts the mother of Agamemnon and Menelaus.

In Greek mythology, Pleisthenes is the name of several different people descended from Tantalus.

Pelops mythical character

In Greek mythology, Pelops was king of Pisa in the Peloponnesus. His father, Tantalus, was the founder of the House of Atreus through Pelops's son of that name.

Hippodamia of Pisa Greek mythological figure

Hippodamia was a Greek mythological figure. She was the queen of Pisa as the wife of Pelops.

Myrtilus mythical character

In Greek mythology, Myrtilus was a divine hero and son of Hermes. His mother is said variously to be an Amazon, either Theobule or Myrto; Phaethusa, daughter of Danaus; or a nymph or mortal woman named Clymene, Clytie, or Cleobule. Myrtilus was the charioteer of King Oenomaus of Pisa in Elis, on the northwest coast of the Peloponnesus.

Oenomaus father of Hippodamia; son of Ares

In Greek mythology, King Oenomaus of Pisa, was the father of Hippodamia and the son of Ares. His name Oinomaos signifies him as a wine man.

In Greek mythology, Aletes was the son of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra, the king and queen of Mycenae. He had two sisters: Erigone and Helen. When they were young, their parents were killed by Orestes, who was their half-brother and the son of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon. The infant Helen was also killed or at least died young.

<i>Oresteia</i> Trilogy of Greek tragedies written by Aeschylus

The Oresteia is a trilogy of Greek tragedies written by Aeschylus in the 5th century BC, concerning the murder of Agamemnon by Clytemnestra, the murder of Clytemnestra by Orestes, the trial of Orestes, the end of the curse on the House of Atreus and the pacification of the Erinyes. The trilogy—consisting of Agamemnon (Ἀγαμέμνων), The Libation Bearers (Χοηφóρoι), and The Eumenides (Εὐμενίδες)—also shows how the Greek gods interacted with the characters and influenced their decisions pertaining to events and disputes. The only extant example of an ancient Greek theatre trilogy, the Oresteia won first prize at the Dionysia festival in 458 BC. The principal themes of the trilogy include the contrast between revenge and justice, as well as the transition from personal vendetta to organized litigation. Oresteia originally included a satyr play, Proteus (Πρωτεύς), following the tragic trilogy, but all except a single line of Proteus has been lost.

Clytemnestra figure from Greek mythology

Clytemnestra, in Greek mythology, was the wife of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, and the sister of Helen of Troy. In Aeschylus' Oresteia, she murders Agamemnon – said by Euripides to be her second husband – and the Trojan princess Cassandra, whom Agamemnon had taken as a war prize following the sack of Troy; however, in Homer's Odyssey, her role in Agamemnon's death is unclear and her character is significantly more subdued.

In Greek mythology Tantalus, not to be confused with his more famous grandfather and namesake (Tantalus) who was also called Atys, was the son of Broteas. He ruled over the city of Lydia. He was the first husband of Clytemnestra and was slain by Agamemnon, King of Mycenae, a soldier in the Trojan War, who made Clytemnestra his wife. After he died, the Tantalid dynasty finished because Agron took the throne. He was a great-grandson of Heracles and Omphale, Atys's stepmother.

In Greek mythology, Tantalus was a son of Thyestes and a prince of southern Argolis. He was killed along with his brother Pleisthenes, by Thyestes's brother Atreus. Atreus killed his nephews because Thyestes seduced his wife, Aerope. Atreus was the king of Mycenae, and Thyestes ruled the south of Argolis. In some accounts, he was the first husband of Clytemnestra and was slain together with their newborn child by Agamemnon who married the Spartan princess after his death.

<i>Electra</i> (Giraudoux play) play by Jean Giraudoux

Electra is a two-act play written in 1937 by French dramatist Jean Giraudoux. It was the first Giraudoux play to employ the staging of Louis Jouvet. Based on the classic myth of antiquity, Electra has a surprisingly tragic force, without losing the spirit and sparkling humor that made Jean Giraudoux one of the most important playwrights of the mid twentieth century.

<i>Thyestes</i> (Seneca) tragedy by Seneca the Younger

Thyestes is a first century AD fabula crepidata of approximately 1112 lines of verse by Lucius Annaeus Seneca, which tells the story of Thyestes, who unwittingly ate his own children who were slaughtered and served at a banquet by his brother Atreus. As with most of Seneca's plays, Thyestes is based upon an older Greek version with the same name by Euripides.

<i>Agamemnon</i> (Seneca) tragedy by Seneca

Agamemnon is a fabula crepidata of c. 1012 lines of verse written by Lucius Annaeus Seneca in the first century AD, which tells the story of Agamemnon, who was killed by his wife Clytemnestra in his palace after his return from Troy.

In Greek mythology, Pelopia, less commonly known as Mnesiphae, was the daughter of Thyestes.

References

  1. John Tzetzes. Chiliades, 1.18 line 449
  2. Seneca; Churchill, Caryl. Thyestes. : Nick Hern Books, 2014. Ebook Library. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.
  3. Edgecombe, Rodney Stenning. "A Debt To Seneca In Arnold's Sonnet On Shakespeare." Notes And Queries 60.2 (2013): 258. Print.