Pelops: Wikis


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In Greek mythology, Pelops (Greek Πέλοψ, from pelios: dark; and ops: face, eye), king of Pisa in the Peloponnesus, was venerated at Olympia, where his cult developed into the founding myth of the Olympic Games, the most important expression of unity, not only for the Peloponnesus, "island of Pelops", but for all Hellenes. At the sanctuary at Olympia, chthonic night-time libations were offered each time to "dark-faced" Pelops in his sacrificial pit (bothros) before they were offered in the following daylight to the sky-god Zeus (Burkert 1983:96).



Pelops was a son of Tantalus and Dione. Of Phrygian or Lydian birth, he departed his homeland for Greece, and won the crown of Pisa (or Olympia) from King Oenomaus. Pelops was credited with numerous children, begotten on his wife Hippodameia, daughter of Oenomaus. Pelops' sons include Pittheus, Alcathous, Dias, Pleisthenes, Atreus, Thyestes, Copreus, and Hippalcimus. Pelops and Hippodameia also had several daughters, some of whom married into the House of Perseus, such as Astydameia (who married Alcaeus), Nicippe (who married Sthenelus), and Eurydice (who married Electryon). By the nymph Axioche, Pelops was father of Chrysippus.

Tantalus' savage banquet

Pelops' father was Tantalus, king at Mount Sipylus in Anatolia. Wanting to make an offering to the Olympians, Tantalus cut Pelops into pieces and made his flesh into a stew, then served it to the gods. Demeter, deep in grief after the abduction of her daughter Persephone by Hades, absentmindedly accepted the offering and ate the left shoulder. The other gods sensed the plot, however, and held off from eating of the boy's body. Pelops was ritually reassembled and brought back to life, his shoulder replaced with one of ivory made for him by Hephaestus. Pindar mentioned this tradition in his First Olympian Ode, only to reject it as a malicious invention: his patron claimed descent from Tantalus.

After Pelops' resurrection, Poseidon took him to Olympus, and made the youth his eromenos, teaching him also to drive the divine chariot. Later, Zeus threw Pelops out of Olympus, angry that his father, Tantalus, had stolen the food of the gods, given it to his subjects, and revealed the secrets of the gods.

Courting Hippodamia

Having grown to manhood, Pelops wanted to marry Hippodamia. King Oenomaus, her father, fearful of a prophecy that claimed he would be killed by his son-in-law, had killed thirteen suitors of Hippodamia after defeating them in a chariot race and affixed their heads to the wooden columns of his palace. Pausanias was shown what was purported to be the last standing column in the late second century CE. Pelops came to ask for her hand and prepared to race Oenomaus. Worried about losing, Pelops went to the seaside and invoked Poseidon, his former lover.[1] Reminding Poseidon of their love ("Aphrodite's sweet gifts"), he asked Poseidon for help. Smiling, Poseidon caused a chariot drawn by winged horses to appear.[2] In an episode that was added to the simple heroic chariot race, Pelops, still unsure of himself (or alternatively, Hippodamia herself), convinced Oenomaus' charioteer, Myrtilus, a son of Hermes, to help him win. Pelops or Hippodamia herself convinced Myrtilus by promising him half of Oenomaus' kingdom and the first night in bed with Hippodamia. The night before the race, while Myrtilus was putting together Oenomaus' chariot, he replaced the bronze linchpins attaching the wheels to the chariot axle with fake ones made of beeswax. The race started, and went on for a long time. But just as Oenomaus was catching up to Pelops and readying to kill him, the wheels flew off and the chariot broke apart. Myrtilus survived, but Oenomaus was dragged to death by his horses. Pelops then killed Myrtilus (by throwing him off a cliff into the sea) after the latter attempted to rape Hippodamia.

Walter Burkert notes[3] that though the story of Hippodamia's abduction figures in the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women and on the chest of Cypselus (ca. 570 BCE) that was conserved at Olympia, and though preparations for the chariot-race figured in the east pediment of the great temple of Zeus at Olympia, the myth of the chariot race only became important at Olympia with the introduction of chariot racing in the twenty-fifth Olympiad (680 BCE). G. Devereux connected the abduction of Hippodamia with animal husbandry taboos of Elis,[4] and the influence of Elis at Olympia that grew in the seventh century.

Curse of the Pelopidai

As Myrtilus died, he cursed Pelops for his ultimate betrayal. This was one of the sources of the curse that destroyed his family (two of his sons, Atreus and Thyestes killed a third, Chrysippus, who was his favorite son and was meant to inherit the kingdom; Atreus and Thyestes were banished by him together with Hippodamia, their mother, who then hanged herself) and haunted Pelops' children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren including Atreus, Thyestes, Agamemnon, Aegisthus, Menelaus and Orestes.

Pelops' cultus

The shrine of Pelops at Olympia, the Pelopion "drenched in glorious blood"[5], described by Pausanias[6] stood apart from the temple of Zeus, next to Pelops' grave-site by the ford in the river. It was enclosed with a circle of stones. Pelops was propitiated at night, with the offering of a black ram. His remains were contained in a chest near the sanctuary of Artemis Kordax (Pausanias 6.22.1), though in earlier times a gigantic shoulder blade was shown; during the Trojan War, John Tzetzes said, Pelops' shoulder-blade was brought to Troy by the Greeks because the Trojan prophet Helenus claimed the Pelopids would be able to win by doing so.[7] Pausanias was told the full story:[8] the shoulder-blade of Pelops was brought to Troy from Pisa, the rival of Elis; on the return, the bone was lost in a shipwreck, but afterwards recovered by a fisherman, miraculously caught in his net.

Pelops (son of Agamemnon)

There is another Pelops in Greek mythology. This was a son of Agamemnon and Cassandra. This Pelops, carrying the ancestral name, and his twin brother Teledamus (destined to have been "far-ruling"), the very emblems of the Pelopides, were murdered in their infancy by the usurper Aegisthus.


  1. ^ Pindar, First Olympian Ode. 71.
  2. ^ Cicero, Tusculanae Disputationes 2.27.67 (noted in Kerenyi 1959:64).
  3. ^ Burkert, Homo Necans 1983, p 95f.
  4. ^ G. Devereux, "The abduction of Hippodameia as 'aiton' of a Greek animal husbandry rite" ''SMSR 36 (1965), pp 3-25. Burkert, in following Devereux's thesis, attests Herodotus iv.30, Plutarch's Greek Questions 303b and Pausanias 5.5.2.
  5. ^ Pindar, First Olympian Ode.
  6. ^ Pausanias, 5.13.1-3.
  7. ^ Adrienne Mayor, The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times (Princeton University Press, 2000) discusses the uses made of giant fossil bones in Greek cult and myth.
  8. ^ Pausanias 5.13.4.

Spoken-word myths - audio files

Pelops myths as told by story tellers
1. Apotheosis of Pelops, (integral to myth of Tantalus), read by Timothy Carter
Bibliography of reconstruction: Homer, Odyssey, 11.567 (7th c. BCE); Pindar, Olympian Odes, 1 (476 BCE); Euripides, Orestes, 12-16 (408 BCE); Apollodorus, Epitomes 2: 1-9 (140 BCE); Ovid, Metamorphoses, VI: 213, 458 (8 CE); Hyginus, Fables, 82: Tantalus; 83: Pelops (1st c. CE); Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.22.3 (160 - 176 CE)
2. Marriage of Pelops and Hippodameia, read by Timothy Carter
Bibliography of reconstruction: Pindar, Olympian Ode, I (476 BCE); Sophocles, (1) Electra, 504 (430 - 415 BCE) & (2) Oenomaus, Fr. 433 (408 BCE); Euripides, Orestes, 1024-1062 (408 BCE); Apollodorus, Epitomes 2, 1-9 (140 BCE); Diodorus Siculus, Histories, 4.73 (1st c. BCE); Hyginus, Fables, 84: Oinomaus; Poetic Astronomy, ii (1st c. CE); Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.1.3 - 7; 5.13.1; 6.21.9; 8.14.10 - 11 (ca. 160 - 176 CE); Philostratus the Elder Imagines, I.30: Pelops (170 - 245 CE); Philostratus the Younger, Imagines, 9: Pelops (ca. 200 - 245 CE); First Vatican Mythographer, 22: Myrtilus; Atreus et Thyestes; Second Vatican Mythographer, 146: Oenomaus
3. Downfall of Pelops: the Laius and Chrysippus myth, read by Timothy Carter
Bibliography of reconstruction: Pindar, Olympian Ode, I (476 BCE); Apollodorus Library and Epitome 3.5.5 (140 BCE); Hyginus, Fables, 85. Chrysippus; 243. Women who Committed Suicide (1st c. CE); Pausanias, Description of Greece, 9.5.5-10, 6.20.7 (c. 160 - 176 CE); Athenaeus, The Deipnosophists, Book XIII, 602 (c. 200 CE); Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks, ii, 34, 3 - 5 (150 - 215 CE)

Ancient sources

Modern sources

  • Burkert, Walter (1983). "Pelops at Olympia". Homo Necans. University of California Press. pp. 93–103.  
  • Kerenyi, Karl (1959). The Heroes of the Greeks. New York/London: Thames and Hudson.  

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

PELOPS, in Greek legend, the grandson of Zeus, son of Tantalus and Dione, and brother of Niobe. His father's home was on Mt Sipylus in Asia Minor, whence Pelops is spoken of as a Lydian or a Phrygian. Tantalus one day served up to the gods his own son Pelops, boiled and cut in pieces. The gods detected the crime, and none of them would touch the food except Demeter (according to others, Thetis), who, distracted by the loss of her daughter Persephone, ate of the shoulder. The gods restored Pelops to life, and the shoulder consumed by Demeter was replaced by one of ivory. Wherefore the descendants of Pelops had a white mark on their shoulder ever after (Ovid, Metam. vi. 404; Virgil, Georgics, iii. 7). This tale is perhaps reminiscent of human sacrifice amongst the Greeks. Poseidon carried Pelops off to Olympus, where he dwelt with the gods, till, for his father's sins, he was cast out from heaven. Then, taking much wealth with him, he crossed over from Asia to Greece. He went to Pisa in Elis as suitor of Hippodameia, daughter of king Oenomaus, who had already vanquished in the chariot-race and slain many suitors for his daughter's hand. But by the help of Poseidon, who lent him winged steeds, or of Oenomaus's charioteer Myrtilus, whom he or Hippodameia bribed, Pelops was victorious in the race, wedded Hippodameia, and became king of Pisa (Hyginus, Fab. 84). The race of Pelops for his wife may be a reminiscence of the early practice of marriage by capture. When Myrtilus claimed his promised reward, Pelops flung him into the sea near Geraestus in Euboea, and from his dying curse sprang those crimes and sorrows of the house of Pelops which supplied the Greek tragedians with such fruitful themes (Sophocles, Electra, 505, with Jebb's note). Among the sons of Pelops by Hippodameia were Atreus, Thyestes and Chrysippus. From Pisa Pelops extended his sway over the neighbouring Olympia, where he celebrated the Olympian games with a splendour unknown before. His power and fame were so great that henceforward the whole peninsula was known to the ancients as Peloponnesus, "island of Pelops" (v rhos, island). In after times Pelops was honoured at Olympia above all other heroes; a temple was built for him by Heracles, his descendant in the fourth generation, in which the annual magistrates sacrificed to him a black ram.

From the reference to Asia in the tales of Tantalus, Niobe and Pelops it has been conjectured that Asia was the original seat of these legends, and that it was only after emigration to Greece that the people localized a part of the tale of Pelops in their new home. In the time of Pausanias the throne of Pelops was still shown on the top of Mt Sipylus. The story of Pelops is told in the first Olympian ode of Pindar and in prose by Nicolaus Damascenus.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




From Ancient Greek Πέλοψ (dark face, eye).

Proper noun

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  1. (Greek mythology) A Greek mythological figure.

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Simple English

Pelops is a person from Greek mythology. He was the son of Tantalus and Dione and the father of Pittheus, Plisthenes, Atreus, Thyestes, Chrysippus and Copreus. According to the mythology, the Peloponesus was named after Pelops.

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