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The Two Houses. The House of Atreus and The Royal House of Thebes. The House of Atreus. Preface:

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the two houses

The Two Houses

The House of Atreus


The Royal House of Thebes

the house of atreus
The House of Atreus
  • Preface:

The house of Atreus is one of the most famous families in Greek mythology. Agamemnon and his immediate family belonged to it. It was an ill-fated house, the cause of misfortunes was held to be an ancestor, the King of Lydia, Tantalus. His descendants also did wickedly and were punished.


Tantalus and Niobe:

Tantalus was the son of Zeus and was honored by the gods more than any other mortal child of Zeus; he was even allowed to taste the nectar and ambrosia of the gods. All the gods of Olympus came to a banquet in his place. In return for their favor, Tantalus had his only son Pelops killed and served to the gods. Tantalus was driven by a passion of hate for the gods which drove him to sacrifice his only son to show them the horror of being cannibals. Tantalus thought that the gods would never imagine the manner of food before them, but they did. They sent the sinner in a pool in Hades, whenever he stooped to drink the water, the water level would decrease, whenever he extended his arms to pick the fruit, the tree that bore the fruit contracted. Pelops was restored to life.

Pelops had also wooed a dangerous lady, from which he had to win a chariot race to acquire. The lady’s father had horses provided by Ares himself, and the terms of the race were that the lady’s suitors, if defeated, had to pay with their life. Through the help of the lady, Princess Hipodamia, and horses provided by Poseidon, Pelops won. Some say that Princess Hipodamia grew tired of her father’s ways and bribed the charioteer, Myrtilus, to lose the race, who was later killed by Pelops. Some say that this murder was the cause of the misfortunes afterwards for the family.


Niobe, daughter of Tantalus also suffered a terrible fate. Her husband was Amphion, son of Zeus. She thought herself strong enough not only to deceive the gods as her father had tried to do, but defy them openly. So she told the people of Thebes to worship her, instead of Leto, because she had double the amount of children. Hearing this, Apollo and Artemis struck down all of the children of Niobe. Her tears flowed and could not stop, so she turned into a stone that was wet night and day.

Pelops had two children, Atreus and Thyestes. Thyestes fell in love with his brother’s wife. For vengeance of this act, Atreus cut up Thyestes’ two little children and served them up to their father. Since Atreus was king, Thyestes had no power against him.


Atreushad two sons, his first son Agamemnon, commander of the Greek forces at Troy, and Menelaus, the husband of Helen, whom he got back after the fall of Troy and lived happily ever after. The story was quite different for his brother however. After the fall of Troy, Agamemnon had sacrificed his daughter driven by the army impatient for good sails. Ten years after the sacrifice of Iphigenia, Agamemnon returns home and is killed by his wife, Clytemnestra with the help of her lover Aegisthus. Atreus had two more siblings, his son Orestes and daughter Electra. In this agony of doubt, he was guided by the oracle at Delphi to kill his mother. Orestes and his cousin and friend Pylades travel to the city and meet Orestes’ sister Electra, and together they devise a plan to kill their mother. After killing his mother and her lover Orestes is taken over by guilt and goes to Athena for help. Athena accepts his plea and the spirit of evil which had haunted his house for so long was banished. The curse on the House of Atreus was ended.


Iphigenia among the Taurians:

In another version of the story, Iphigenia is rescued right before she is sacrificed by Artemis. Artemis replaces her with a dead deer to show that “she had accepted the sacrifice.” Artemis took Iphigenia to the land of the Taurians and made her a priestess in her own temple. Since the job involved sacrificing Greeks, she was very reluctant. Orestes talks to the Oracle at Delphi, which tells him that he must travel to the land of the Taurians and obtain the image of Artemis from its temple. Once Orestes and his friend and cousin arrive at the land of the Taurians, they are immediately captured with intent of sacrifice.

Because of Iphigenia’s doubtfulness of her job, she spoke to them in private and asks them where they are from. Upon hearing Mycenae, she asks them to deliver a letter to her brother, whom upon hearing his name reveals his identity. The three plan to escape from the land and are pursued by the Taurians whom are stopped by Athena who says that they are destined to escape.

the royal house of thebes
The Royal House of Thebes
  • Europa’s brothers were sent by her father to go find her because Zeus had stolen her away when he turned himself into a bull
  • Brother Cadmus went to the Gods for help (Apollo). From there He was to found his own city by following a heifer when he left and wherever she rest he was to make the city there.
  • Cadmus had to kill a dragon. He put the dragons teeth in the ground (Athena told him to do so) and from that sprung up warriors who killed each other. Five of them survived and they became Cadmus’s helper.
  • City flourished, Cadmus and his wife Harmonia had four daughters and one son (tragic stories).

Oedipus (Cadmus’s great-grand-son) was a part of an oracle that said he would one day kill his father. While wandering he comes to Thebes which was being held captive by a sphinx and he answers her riddle of “What creature goes on four feet in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three in the evening?” (Answer: man) setting the city free- he became ruler of the city.

  • Oedipus married Jocasta whose brother is Creon. Creon went to The Oracle at Delphi so that he could seek the Gods help about a plague that had struck Thebes. Creon reported that whoever killed Laius (Oedipus’s dad) had gotten away with it.
  • Eventually it is discovered that Oedipus killed his father (random person on the road on his way to Thebes) and married his wife (the widowed Jocasta) just like the oracle had said! Fate!

Jocasta kills herself and Oedipus gouges out his eye balls.

  • Oedipus leaves the throne (passed on to Creon). He doesn’t leave Thebes for a while but when he does leave he goes with his daughter Antigone (who guides him because he is now blind).
  • He eventually dies peacefully (thanks to Theseus). His daughter goes back to Thebes and his two sons fight over the thrown.

Eteocles eventually wins the throne, but Polyneices wants to retaliate by starting a war within Thebes which Creon’s son dies, fulfilling the oracle that Thebes will be saved if Creon’s son dies. Both of Oedipus’s sons kill each other and they express opposing wishes for their burials as they die. Their sister does not honor these and ends up burring Polyneices which she gets executed for.

  • Thebes is unsteady from that point on and in the end all that remained was Harmonia’s necklace that she wore on her wedding day to Cadmus.
high level questions
High-Level Questions?
  • What are the similarities and differences between the houses?
  • Why does punishing yourself, like Oedipus did, serve you good, or is it unnecessary? Explain.
  • What if you were forbidden to properly bury your own brother, would you still do it and why?
  • In the book Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (J.K. Rowling), Harry Potter is riddled by a Sphinx in the maze of the third task.
  • Tantalus: Tantalize