The Royal House of the Atreids in Mycenae

The Royal House of the Atreids is along with the house of the Pelopids and Labdacids, one of the most important houses in Greek Mythology and History. The Atreids were carrying a heavy curse that tormented the family for many generations.

The Royal House of the Atreids, its curse and history have become one of the main subjects in Art, appearing in Greek tragedies, paintings, poems and literature.

The  Myth about the Curse of The Atreids

Pelops was the father and older member of the Royal House of the Atreids, ruling the area of Mycenae, Argos and Tiryns in the Peloponnese Peninsula.

Pelops had two sons, Atreus and Thyestes. According to the myth, before the two boys came to rule in the Argolid (the area around the town of Argos), they were sent to exile by Pelops because they had killed their step-brother Chryssipus, the illegitimate son of Pelops.

The two brothers arrived in Triphylia and Thyestes suggested to the local nobles that they should be recognized as Kings of the region. More particularly, Thyestes suggested that the carrier of the Golden Fleece, given by God Hermes, should become the King.

Atreus supported this idea with great pleasure because God Hermes had given the Fleece to him. However, Thyestes knew very well what he was doing; he had an affair with Atreus’ wife, and persuaded her to give him the fleece.

Zeus decided to intervene and prevent one more injustice; he told Atreus to bet with his brother on the throne, saying that the following day the sun would rise from the west. Thyestes accepted gladly and the next day he had to give the throne to his brother, because indeed, the sun rose from the west.

Atreus became the King, but soon he found out about the secret affair between his wife and his brother and he decided to take revenge in a terrible way.

treasury of atreus in mycenes
The treasury of King Atreus in Mycenes

Atreus invited Thyestes back to Triphylia for dinner in order to suggest reconciliation. His plan was different though; he had captured and killed Thyestes’ sons and he cooked them, offering them as a main course during the dinner.

When the dinner was over, Atreus told Thyestes what he ate, leading him to lay a heavy curse on the house of  the Atreids.

The curse of the Atreids would go on for many years, following the two sons of Atreus, Menelaus and Agamemnon, the two heroes of the Trojan War.

The heroes Agamemnon and Menelaus

The two sons of Atreus left for Sikyon after their father died. Agamemnon got married to Clytemnestra, who murdered her husband Tantalus, the third son of Thyestes. Agamemnon became the king of Mycenae, while his brother Menelaus got married to the beautiful Helen, sister of Clytemnestra.

Helen – or Helen of Troy as she is mostly known – was according to the Greek Myth written by Homer, the reason for the ferocious Trojan War between the Greeks and the Trojans. This war lead the Greeks away from their country for 10 years and cost the lives of thousands people.

The Trojan War became one more part of the famous curse of the Royal House of the Atreids, resulting in more deaths, vendettas and murders. It also became the basis for many new myths, rivalries and intriguing stories that inspired artists of all kinds throughout the centuries.

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