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The House of Atreus
& The House of Thebes
BY: Halle Smith, Allissa Valenzuela, & Terin Perla
Tantalus and Niobe
• Tantalus was a highly honored son of Zeus.
• He had his son, Pelops, killed and served to the gods.
• The gods knew what he did and punished him by sending
him to a pool in Hades. The pool was filled with water that
disappeared whenever he stopped to drink and fruit trees
that would toss the fruit too high for him to reach it.
ALLUSION: The word tantalize, meaning to torment with,
or as if with, the sight of something desired but out of reach;
tease by arousing expectations that are repeatedly
disappointed (definition from, comes from
• Pelops was brought back to life by the gods.
• Pelops decided he wanted to marry the Princess Hippodamia.
• The King required her suitors to win a chariot race against him to marry
her, but he had special horses Ares had given him.
• Pelops won the race because Hippodamia got her father’s charioteer,
Myrtilus, to pull out the bolts of the wheels of her father’s chariot.
• Pelops later killed Myrtilus, and some writers say this is what doomed
the family, but most say it was because of Tantalus’s actions.
• Niobe was Tantalus’s daughter.
• She married a son of Zeus named Amphion.
• Niobe believed that she was superior to the gods and got the people
of Thebes to worship her.
• Apollo and Artemis shot down her seven sons and seven daughters.
• Niobe was turned into a stone that was always wet with tears.
• Pelops had two sons, Atreus and Thyestes.
• Thyestes had an affair with his brother’s wife.
• Atreus killed his brother’s two children and served them to Thyestes.
• Atreus was not punished, but his descendants were.
Agamemnon and his Children
• The sons of Atreus were Agamemnon, the commander of the Greeks at
Troy and Menelaus, the husband of Helen.
• Agamemnon was the only one of the Greek chieftains that got home
right after the fall of Troy.
• One version says that Agamemnon was killed by his wife, Clytemnestra,
killed him with the help of her lover, Aegisthus.
• Another version says that his wife killed him because she was mad at
him for sacrificing their daughter, Iphigenia.
• Agamemnon had two other children. A daughter, Electra, and a son,
• Orestes had been sent away to a friend, but Electra lived with her
mother and stepfather who treated her poorly.
• Orestes goes the Oracle at Delphi to ask if he should kill his mother in
revenge for his father’s death.
• Apollo tells him to kill his mother and her lover.
• When he gets back home he finds his sister and his childhood
friend, Pylades.
• Orestes and Pylades go to the palace as messengers claiming to
be bringing the news of Orestes’s death.
• They killed Clytemnestra and Aegisthus.
• The Furies chased Orestes through many countries.
• Apollo sent him to Athens to ask Athena for help.
• Athena decided to help Orestes and she turned the Furies into
the Eumenides, “protectors of the suppliant.”
• The curse on the House of Atreus ends.
Iphigenia among the Taurians
• Iphigenia was the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra.
•According to an old Greek legend, she was sacrificed to Artemis, the
hunting goddess, because a hunter killed one of Artemis’s favorite
animals. The only way the hunter would be forgiven is if he offered a
young girl (Iphigenia) to be sacrificed.
• But later Greeks disapproved of this story because it made Artemis
seem barbaric and out of character, so another ending was given to
the story:
• Just as Iphigenia was about to be slain, she disappeared and a
slaughtered deer was put in her place on the altar.
• She was said to be rescued by Artemis herself and taken to the land
of the Taurians where she was made the priestess of Artemis’s
• After many years of Iphigenia being in the temple, Orestes,
Iphigenia’s brother, and his friend, Pylades, sailed to the land of the
Taurians to go to Artemis’s temple to steal her sacred image to clear
Orestes’s guilt.
• They were taken prisoner to Iphigenia to be sacrificed, but before
they were, Iphigenia stared asking them questions of who they were.
When they told her they were from Mycenae, she agreed to save one
of them if he brought a letter to Orestes.
• Once Iphigenia gave Pylades the letter explaining what had
happened to her, Orestes knew she was his sister and reunited with
• They agreed they had to leave the Taurians to save Orestes without
killing the king. Iphigenia went to the king and tricked him into letting
her use a boat for them to sail away on.
• As soon as they started to sail off a wind began to push them back to
Taurians where the king was aware he had been tricked. He ordered
Iphigenia and the two men to be killed, but Athena ordered him to let
them go.
Cadmus and his children
• When Europa was carried away by a bull, her father sent her
brothers to find her.
• One of the sons, Cadmus, went to Delphi to ask Apollo where
she was.
• Apollo told him to follow a heifer and build a city where it
stopped to lay down. This was how the city of Thebes began.
• Before the city could be built, Cadmus had to slay a dragon in
his path and sow the earth with the dragon’s teeth. After he did
so, an army of men sprung from the ground and started killing
one another. Afterwards, only five were left and they were to
help Cadmus build Thebes.
ALLUSION: The continent of Europe was named after
• Cadmus marries Harmonia, daughter of Aphrodite and Ares,
and have four daughters and one son. As a marriage present,
Aphrodite gives Harmonia a necklace from Olympus that was to
bring misfortune to their children and other later generations:
- Semele perished in the glory of Zeus.
- Ino’s son was killed by her husband.
- Agave believed her son was a lion and killed him.
- Autonoe had to watch her son die as punishment for
accidently coming upon Artemis bathing in a stream where he
was hunting. Artemis automatically thought he meant to insult
her and turned him into a deer.
• Cadmus and Harmonia try to leave their curse by fleeing
Thebes, but their misfortune stays with them. The gods turn
them into serpents to prove that the innocent suffer just as
much as the guilty.
• Son of King Laibus of Thebes, raised by King Polybus of Corinth.
• When Oedipus was born Laibus left him on a mountain to die
because Apollo told Laibus that there was prophecy that declared
he was to be murdered by his son.
• But Oedipus was found by a servant of Laibus and given to a
messenger from Corinth who gave him to King Polybus.
• When Oedipus was grown he traveled to Thebes, never to return
to Corinth so he could not kill his “father” (King Polybus).
• There, he saved the citizens of Thebes by answering the Sphinx’s
riddle. The Sphinx killed herself and the Thebans where saved from
her rath and Oedipus was made their king.
• Apollo told Oedipus of the prophecy; that he was to kill his father,
marry his mother, and have children who were to be cursed.
• He married Jocasta (his mother) and had two sons. When they
were grown, a plague hit Thebes. Jocasta’s brother, Creon, went to
Apollo to ask how the plague could be stopped and Apollo said the
person who murdered King Laius had to be punished.
• Oedipus went to Teiresias, an old prophet, to ask who killed Laius.
Teiresias told him that he, Oedipus killed Laius, his own father, and
that the prophecy was true.
• Oedipus did not believe him, but he remembered a time when he
did kill someone that could possibly be Laius. He said, “…he struck
me with his stick. Angered, I fell upon them and I killed them. Could
it be the leader was Laius?”
• When came the messenger of Corinth, he confirmed that Oedipus
was not the son of Polybus, but the son of Laius and that the
prophecy was true. Oedipus didn’t believe him, but when the
servant of King Laius confirmed it as well, it was clear that the
prophecy had come true and Oedipus and all of his descendants
were cursed.
• After
Jocasta’s death, Oedipus continued to live on in Thebes while his children
grew up.
He had two sons Polyneices, Eteocles, and two daughters, Antigone and
An oracle told Oedpius, “they were very unfortunate young people, but they
were far from being monsters all would shudder to look at.”
• Oedpius resigned the throne, as did his eldest son Polyneices. So they
accepted Creon, Jocasta’s brother as regent.
•For many years, they treated Oedipus with nothing but kindness, but
unexpectedly decided to expel him from the city. It is not known why, but Creon
insisted it and the two brothers consented. The only two people who stayed
loyal to Oedipus were his two daughters.
•When Oedipus was kicked out of the city, Antigone went with him to care for
him and guide him in his blindness, Ismene stayed behind to look out for his
interests and keep him informed on anything that touched him.
•After he had gone, both brothers tried to assert themselves as king, Etocles,
the younger brother, succeeded and expelled Polyneices from Thebes.
• Polyneices took refuge in the city of Argo, and did everything he could to form
an army to march against Thebes.
• Oedipus and Antigone eventually settled in Colonus, a spot near Athens. They
felt safe there, and that was where Oedipus shortly after, died. As he was dying,
the oracle who once spoken terrible words about him, comforted him and after
a long life of suffering, he was finally happy and at peace.
• Ismene came to tell Oedipus the good news of the oracle, Apollo promised
that he who was, the disgraced, homeless wanderer, would bring a mysterious
blessing to the gods at his grave and Theseus, the king of Athens, received him
with all honor.
• After Oedipus had died, Ismene and Antigone were sent safely back to Thebes
by Theseus, where they discovered Polyneices marching against the city, he had
six chieftains, one of them the King of Argos, Adrastus, and Adrastus’ brother in
law, Amphiaraus. Ampharous joined unwillingly because he was a prophet and
knew only, Adrastus would come back alive. But was forced by his wife who
was bribed by Polyneices with a wonderful necklace a wedding gift of his
ancestress Harmonia.
• There were 7 champions to attack the seven gates of Thebes, and seven
others to defend it.
•Teiresias, the prophet who brought some many other distressful prophecies
to the royal family, had come and brought another one, he told Creon that
Thebes would only be safe if Menoeceus, his son, was killed.
•Creon refused to slay his own son, he told his son to flee Thebes at once,
Menoecous agreed, but when his father walked away, got angry and did not
want to cower away when he could free his country in battle. He went and
joined the battle and unskilled in warfare, was killed immediately.
•The battle decided nothing, they all died except for Adratus, just as the
prophet had seen. And he had fled.
•Polyneices and Eteocles went against each other in battle and killed each
other. And as they lay dying, Polyneices had asked one thing, to at least be
buried in his homeland of Thebes. But Creon, who then took control of
Thebes, claimed that everyone who had fought against the city would not be
given burial and be left out for beasts and birds to devour. And anyone who
buried them would be put to death.
•Antigone and Ismene were horrified by this, they were utterly alone. Ismene
had accepted this with great grief, but Antigone could not, instead she set out
to bury Polyneices.
•Antigone and Ismene were horrified by this, they were utterly alone.
Ismene had accepted this with great grief, but Antigone could not,
instead she set out to bury Polyneices.
•Some hours later, Creon’s palace was startled by news by his guards,
that against his orders Polyneices had been buried, and brought out
Antigone explaining how she had snuck out during a thick dust
storm, and when the dust cleared the body had been buried and she
had been making an offering to the dead.
•Ismene came weeping to stand with her sister, claiming that
she too, had helped. But Antigone denied it taking full
responsibility, and was led away to death.
• Ismene disappeared, there was no story or poems written
about her, that was the last of the royal family of Thebes.
The Seven Against Thebes
•Although Polyneices had been given burial and his soul was free to be
ferried across the river and find a home among the dead, 5 of the other
chieftains lay unburied.
•Adratus, the only one who survived came to Theseus, King of Athens
bringing along the 5 mothers and sons of the chieftain’s to ask to allow
the bodies to be buried. Theseus answered, saying that he will not be
his ally, since he had led his people against Thebes, but his mother,
Aethra interrupted to speak with him, then they came back revealing
good news that the assembly had voted to tell the Theban’s that
Athens wished to be a good neighbor, but could not stand by and see a
great wrong done, and if they do not yield to their request then they
will be choosing war.
• Before Theasus had finished, a herald came in asking for the master of
Athens, to which Theasus replied explaining there wasn’t one, that
Athens was ruled by the people. The herald cried, how can the ignorant
crowd wisely direct a nations course? Theasus explained that in Athens,
they wrote their own laws, they aren’t ruled by a hateful tyrant.
•He told the herald to go back to Thebes and tell her we know how
much better peace is for men than war.
• Creon would not listen to Theasus’s plea and the Athenians
marched against Thebes, they conquered. Thebes panic stricken
people thought that they would be enslaved or killed and their city
would be ruined. But Theasus reassured them otherwise, that they
had only come to reclaim the dead.
•Theasus himself made “ready for the grave of those five poor
bodies, washed them and covered them and set them on a bier.”
•Peace came to the mothers, but not so much with the sons who
promised to bring vengeance upon Thebes. All that was left of old
Thebes was Harmonias necklace, which was taken to Delphi and for
hundreds of years shown to pilgrims there. The sons of the seven
champions succeeded where their fathers had not, were called the
Epigoni, “The After Born”, as if they came into the world too late,
after all the good deeds had been done.
•Thebes fell, but the Greek ships had not yet sailed to the Trojan
land, and the son of Tydeus, Diomedes, was famed as one the most
glorious of warriors who fought before the walls of Troy.
1. Do you think Orestes should have killed his
mother in revenge of her killing his father?
2. Why do you think the gods punished the innocent
just as often as the guilty? What does this say about
the gods?
3. If you were in Antigone’s position what would you
have done differently in order to get away with
going against the King’s decree by burying