Garner's Greek Mythology

EP 38: The Curse of the House of Atreus

January 22, 2022 Patrick Garner Season 3 Episode 38
Garner's Greek Mythology
EP 38: The Curse of the House of Atreus
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to Episode 38. In this episode we follow six cursed generations known as the House of Atreus. A classic Greek tragedy, the story involves gods and men, wives and daughters, and spans 800 miles of geography from Troy to Athens.

Like so many of these tales, it begins with Zeus, who has a son who has a son. What follows? Murder, deceit, incest, matricide and suicide …

Narrated by mythologist and best-selling author, Patrick Garner, Garner's Greek Mythology is unlike any other Greek history series.  Here these divine beings are viewed as if they were anything but mythical...

If you love this podcast, you'll also enjoy Garner's novel Homo Divinitas, now available as an audio book on Amazon.com and Audible.com.

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EPISODE 38THE CURSE OF THE HOUSE OF ATREUS

Greetings, this is your host Patrick Garner. As a heads up, my usual schedule of an episode every two weeks is being extended a bit. 

I’m deep into writing my fourth book involving the Greek gods. Because the episodes and the new novel require equal concentration, I’ll be slowing the podcast production down. 

But the podcasts will keep coming ... 

IN THIS EPISODE WE MEET SIX GENERATIONS OF MORTALS WHO LIVED UNDER A SHOCKING CURSE. 

THE GODS WHO GLIDE IN & OUT OF THIS FAMILY’S TRAGEDY INCLUDE ZEUS, ARTEMIS, APOLLO & ATHENE.

FEW OF THE PLAYERS WE’LL DISCUSS ARE INNOCENT, BUT ALL SUFFER. AND THE SUFFERING IN SOME CASES IS UNIMAGINABLE.

THE COLLATERAL DAMAGE — PARTICULARLY WHAT HAPPENS TO THE WIVES & DAUGHTERS OF THE GUILTY — SEEMS UTTERLY UNFAIR.

IN FACT, SOME OF THE MOST TRAGIC & FAMOUS NAMES IN GREEK HISTORY APPEAR in this episode ... 

ALL LIVED UNDER THE GRIM CURSE OF THE HOUSE OF ATREUS.  

THIS IS EPISODE 38 OF GARNER'S GREEK MYTHOLOGY. WE HAVE LISTENERS FROM 153 COUNTRIES ... SO WELCOME TO EVERYONE, WHEREVER YOU ARE.

I'M YOUR HOST, MYTHOLOGIST & BEST-SELLING AUTHOR, PATRICK GARNER. 

THESE STORIES ABOUT THE GODS HAVE BEEN TOLD FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS. BUT NOW THERE ARE NEW STORIES THAT ARE AS COMPELLING.

IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY DONE SO, CHECK OUT MY BOOKS ABOUT THE GODS IN THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD. THEY'RE PART OF THE WINNOWING TRILOGY.

YOU CAN READ ABOUT THEM & ABOUT THIS PODCAST AT PATRICKGARNERBOOKS.COM. 

AND AS ALWAYS, THIS PODCAST FOCUSES ON ONE THING ... GREEK GODS, OF COURSE. THEY, LIKE YOU, ARE HERE, NOW ...

THE CURSE OF THE HOUSE OF ATREUS: WHAT WAS IT?

IT DIDN'T START WITH ANYONE NAMED ATREUS, BUT THE NAME OF THE CURSE IS FOREVER LINKED TO HIS. 

PERHAPS BY THE TIME ATREUS WAS BORN INTO THE FAMILY, THE CURSE WAS FINALLY OBVIOUS TO ALL.

IT STARTED WITH PELOPS, WHO WAS THE SON OF TANTALUS, WHO WAS ONE OF THE MANY SONS OF ZEUS.

PELOPS BECAME A LOCAL RULER & MARRIED A KING’S DAUGHTER. BUT HE WON HER HAND BY TREACHERY.WHICH RESULTED IN HER FATHER'S VIOLENT DEATH.

PELOPS' SCHEME WAS AIDED BY ONE OF THE KING'S SERVANTS. PELOPS HAD PROMISED HIM A NIGHT WITH THE BRIDE IF THEY WERE SUCCESSFUL.

HOWEVER, WITH THE KING SUDDENLY OUT OF THE WAY, PELOPS RETRACTED HIS PROMISE & ORDERED THE SERVANT KILLED.

FACING HIS DEATH, THE SERVANT CURSED PELOPS & HIS ENTIRE LINE, EVEN SENDING THE CURSE BACKWARDS TO INCLUDE PELOPS' FATHER TANTALUS.

UP UNTIL THIS POINT, TANTALUS HAD ALWAYS GOTTEN ALONG WITH THE OLYMPIANS. THEN —PERHAPS AS A RESULT OF THE SERVANT’S CURSE—HE TRIED TO TRICK THE GODS.

WHAT DID HE DO? WELL, TANTALUS  QUESTIONED THEIR OMNISCIENCE. AS A TEST, HE DECIDED TO SLAY HIS SON—PELOPS—& FEED HIM TO THE GODS, PRETENDING THE FLESH WAS FROM AN OX.

HE CONCLUDED THAT IF THE OLYMPIANS KNEW WHAT HE'D DONE, THEY WOULD INDEED PROVE THEIR OMNISCIENCE, 

BUT HE DIDN’T ANTICIPATE THEIR ANGER IF THEY SECOND GUESSED HIM. 

WITH THE TABLES SET FOR THE FEAST, THE GODS INSTANTLY SAW THROUGH HIS DUPLICITY & BANISHED TANTALUS TO THE UNDERWORLD.

THERE HE WAS CONDEMNED TO STAND IN A POOL OF WATER UNDER AN OVERHANGING FRUIT TREE.

WHENEVER HE TRIED TO PICK THE FRUIT, THE BRANCHES WOULD RISE BEYOND HIS REACH. WHENEVER HE TRIED TO GET A DRINK OF WATER, THE POOL WOULD RECEDE.

THE ENGLISH WORD 'TANTALIZE,' COMES FROM HIS FATE. HE WAS ETERNALLY TORMENTED BY THE SIGHT OF WHAT HE COULD NEVER OBTAIN.

WITH BOTH PELOPS & TANTALUS OUT OF THE PICTURE, WE TURN TO THE THIRD GENERATION THAT WAS CAUGHT UP IN THE CURSE.. 

PELOPS HAD TWO SONS, ATREUS & THYESTES. THESE TWO, LIKE THEIR FATHER & GRANDFATHER, WERE BAD TO THE BONE. 

NOT WANTING TO SHARE THE KINGDOM, THEY MURDERED THEIR HALF-BROTHER. BUT THEIR CRIME WAS DISCOVERED.

THE GREEKS BELIEVED THAT KILLING A FAMILY MEMBER WAS ONE OF THE WORST CRIMES POSSIBLE. 

SO THE BROTHERS WERE BANISHED TO MYCENAE IN NORTHERN GREECE. COMPLICATING THE TRAGEDY, IN SHAME, THEIR MOTHER HUNG HERSELF.

AND SO THE CURSE CONTINUED ... ATREUS & THYESTES EACH MARRIED, BUT WITHIN A SHORT TIME, THYESTES BEGAN A RELATIONSHIP WITH ATREUS'  WIFE.

WHEN ATREUS LEARNED OF IT, HE SOUGHT REVENGE BY KILLING THYESTES' SONS & FEEDING THEM TO THEIR UNKNOWING FATHER. 

AFTER HIS BROTHER HAD HIS FILL, ATREUS TAUNTED HIM ABOUT THE ENTRÉE. FOR THE CRIME, THYESTES' & HIS ENTIRE FAMILY WERE EXILED ONCE AGAIN.

YOU CAN IMAGINE THYESTES' FURY. HIS SONS WERE DEAD, HE'D EATEN THEM & TO CAP IT OFF, HE — & NOT ATREUS — WAS BANISHED.

THYESTES ASKED AN ORACLE FOR ADVICE. HE WAS TOLD TO IMPREGNATE HIS DAUGHTER & THAT THE RESULTING SON WOULD, IN TURN, GROW UP TO KILL ATREUS.

THYESTES TOOK THE ORACLE'S ADVICE, THUS ADDING INCEST TO THE INCREASING LIST OF FAMILY CRIMES. 

THE SON FROM THAT UNION—NOW GENERATION #4— GREW UP TO FULFILL THE DREADFUL PROPHESY. 

YET THE CYCLE WAS FATED TO CONTINUE. ATREUS HAD BECOME KING OF HIS NEW HOME, & BEFORE HE WAS MURDERED, HAD FATHERED TWO SONS .

YOU’VE HEARD THEIR NAMES BEFORE AS THEY PLAYED A KEY ROLE IN THE TROJAN WAR. I SPEAK OF AGAMEMNON & MENELAUS

AGAMEMNON & MENELAUS WERE COMPATIBLE CO-RULERS OF THEIR KINGDOM. 

THEN THE BROTHERS MADE A DREADFUL MISTAKE IN THEIR CHOICE OF WOMEN. THEY CHOSE SPARTAN PRINCESSES WHO BROUGHT RUIN UPON BOTH MEN.

AGAMEMNON MARRIED CLYTEMNESTRA & MENELAUS MARRIED HER SISTER, THE BEAUTIFUL, BEWITCHING HELEN.

WHILE OFF ON OFFICIAL DUTIES, MENELAUS LOST HELEN TO A VISITING TROJAN PRINCE, PARIS.

WHETHER SHE WAS ABDUCTED OR LEFT WILLINGLY, HELEN WAS TRANSPORTED TO TROY ON PARIS' SHIP. WHEN MENELAUS RETURNED HE WAS FURIOUS.

HE QUICKLY PERSUADED THE BRAVEST WARRIORS IN THE SURROUNDING CITY-STATES TO HELP RESCUE HELEN. 

WITHIN MONTHS, A 1,000 SHIPS SET SAIL FOR TROY. AGAMEMNON, APPOINTED COMMANDER, LEFT BEHIND HIS WIFE, CLYTEMNESTRA, HIS DAUGHTERS, IPHIGENIA & ELECTRA, & HIS SON, ORESTES.

ALAS, ON THE VOYAGE TO TROY. THE SHIPS WERE BECALMED AT A PORT ALONG THE WAY. 

BLAME AGAMEMNON ... WHILE ON LAND HE SHOT A DEER SACRED TO ARTEMIS. AND THUS THE FAMILY CURSE WAS REIGNITED.

WORSE, HE THEN BRAGGED ABOUT BEING A BETTER HUNTER THAN THE GODDESS. SHE PROMPTLY STOPPED THE WINDS. & HIS SHIPS WERE STUCK.

AS WE’VE SEEN BEFORE IN TOUGH SITUATIONS, MEN TURN TO ORACLES. THIS TIME AN ORACLE SAID THAT, ONLY IF AGAMEMNON SACRIFICED HIS DAUGHTER, IPHIGENIA, WOULD THE WINDS RETURN.

SHOCKINGLY, AGAMEMNON AGREED TO THE ORACLE'S DEMAND. AND TO THE HORROR OF AGAMEMNON’S WIFE, CLYTEMNESTRA, IPHIGENIA WAS KILLED ... 

YET AGAMEMNON'S MEN REJOICED AS THE WINDS RESUMED.

TEN YEARS PASSED & THE GREEKS WON THE TROJAN WAR. BUT CLYTEMNESTRA STILL SECRETLY SEETHED AT AGAMEMNON FOR MURDERING THEIR DAUGHTER. 

THIS SETS THE STAGE FOR THE NEXT TRAGEDY. 

AGAMEMNON RETURNED HOME IN TRIUMPH, CELEBRATED BY HIS CITY FOR VANQUISHING THE MIGHTY TROY. 

CLYTEMNESTRA & HER HANDMAIDENS GREETED HIM, PRETENDING TO BE THRILLED AT HIS RETURN.  

AGAMEMNON BROUGHT WITH HIM THE SPOILS OF WAR. THOSE INCLUDED GOLD & OTHER VALUABLES. 

IN ADDITION, HE BROUGHT THE BEAUTIFUL TROJAN PRINCESS, CASSANDRA, AS HIS CONCUBINE, TELLING CLYTEMNESTRA THAT THE GIRL WOULD SHARE THEIR MARRIAGE BED.

THIS IS A STORY IN ITSELF. THE NAME 'CASSANDRA' HAS COME DOWN TO US AS A PROPHET OF DISASTER, BUT IRONICALLY, AS A PROPHET WHO'S IGNORED BY EVERYONE UNTIL IT'S TOO LATE.

CASSANDRA HERSELF WAS CURSED. IN HER CASE, THE GOD APOLLO HAD PROMISED HER THE GLORY OF BEING AN ORACLE.

SHE WAS AN INNOCENT, THRILLED AT HIS PROMISES. WHAT SHE DIDN'T KNOW WAS THAT APOLLO LUSTED AFTER HER. 

HIS PROMISES WERE NO MORE THAN A PRETENSE, AN EXCUSE TO HAVE HIS WAY. TOO NAIVE TO SEE THROUGH THE GOD, SHE WAITED TO BE APPOINTED.

BUT HE BETRAYED HER.  THE GREEK PLAYWRIGHT AESCHYLUS HAS CASSANDRA EXPLAIN WHAT HAPPENED.

SHE SAYS ABOUT APOLLO, "HE CAME LIKE A WRESTLER, MAGNIFICENT, TOOK ME DOWN & BREATHED HIS FIRE THROUGH ME — 

I YIELDED, THEN AT THE LAST MOMENT, I RECOILED ... AND ONCE I HAD REJECTED HIM, I WAS CURSED WITH NEVER AGAIN BEING BELIEVED ..."

WHEN SHE WAS LATER HAULED AS A CAPTIVE TO AGAMEMNON'S KINGDOM, SHE WARNED ANYONE WHO WOULD LISTEN THAT CLYTEMNESTRA WAS A SNAKE.

HER WORDS WERE DISMISSED. SHE RATCHETED UP HER WARNINGS, CRYING OUT THAT THE QUEEN WOULD KILL THE KING HIMSELF & THAT SHE, CASSANDRA, WOULD DIE AS WELL.

HER PROPHESIES WERE TO NO AVAIL ... AS CLYTEMNESTRA BATHED HER LONG ABSENT KING, SHE SUDDENLY TURNED LIKE A VIPER AND STABBED AGAMEMNON TO DEATH WITH HIS OWN SWORD.

CASSANDRA WAS KILLED SHORTLY AFTER. AND SO BLOOD CONTINUED TO STAIN THE HANDS OF THE HOUSE OF ATREUS ...

AT THAT POINT, AGAMEMNON’S SON, ORESTES, WHO HAD BEEN RAISED IN A DISTANT LAND, WAS CALLED BACK TO THE KINGDOM BY HIS SISTER, ELECTRA. 

THESE TWO REPRESENTED GENERATION 6 OF THE CURSE.

AS THE RIGHTFUL HEIR TO THE THRONE, ORESTES WAS PERSUADED BY ELECTRA, WHO PLEADED WITH HIM FOR A YEAR, TO AVENGE THEIR FATHER'S MURDER.

ON ITS FACE THIS WAS NOT UNUSUAL. THIS WAS A SON'S GREATEST DUTY IN EARLY GREECE. 

BUT ORESTES KNEW THAT TO AVENGE HIS FATHER'S MURDER, HE'D HAVE TO KILL HIS MOTHER. 

ELECTRA SAID IT DIDN'T MATTER. THEIR MOTHER HAD KILLED THEIR FATHER & THEREFORE HAD TO DIE.

BUT ORESTES ALSO KNEW THAT MATRICIDE—OR KILLING ONE’S MOTHER—WAS ABHORRENT TO BOTH GODS & MEN.

SO HE WAS CONFLICTED ABOUT WHAT TO DO, HE PRAYED TO APOLLO FOR GUIDANCE. 

REMEMBER THAT APOLLO WAS ALREADY DEEPLY INVOLVED WITH THIS FAMILY'S TRAGEDIES, AS IT WAS APOLLO WHO HAD BETRAYED CASSANDRA.

REGARDLESS, THE GOD THROUGH HIS ORACLE AT DELPHI, ADVISED ORESTES CARRY OUT HIS REVENGE. 

WHEN HE SHOWED UP & CORNERED HIS MOTHER, CLYTEMNESTRA PLEADED WITH HER SON TO SPARE HER LIFE. HE DID NOT. 

HIS DEED HAD BEEN BLESSED BY THE GOD. OR SO HE THOUGHT. THE FAMILY CURSE BECAME ONE LONG HOWL

ORESTES WAS IMMEDIATELY SHUNNED BY EVERYONE BUT ELECTRA. WORSE, THE FURIES APPEARED.

THESE IMMORTALS WITH BURNING RED EYES & SNAKES FOR HAIR TORMENTED ANYONE WHO COMMITTED A HORRENDOUS CRIME. … 

AND THERE WAS NO CRIME WORSE THAN KILLING ONE’S PARENT. THEY INFLICTED SUCH ANGUISH THAT MURDERERS OFTEN WENT MAD.

ORESTES DID SO. STUMBLING OUT OF HIS KINGDOM & ROAMING THE GREEK COUNTRYSIDE, HE WAS NEVER ABLE TO ESCAPE THE WHIPS & SCREAMS OF THE FURIES.

ELECTRA TOO WAS DOOMED. WITHIN A DAY SHE LEARNED OF THE SUICIDE OF HER BETROTHED & COMMITTED SUICIDE HERSELF.  ORESTES WAS UTTERLY ALONE.

HE PRAYED TO APOLLO FOR DELIVERANCE, REMINDING THE GOD THAT HE HAD ACTED ON HIS ADVICE. 

APOLLO COULD NOT RELEASE HIM FROM THE FURIES. INSTEAD, HE SUGGESTED THAT TOGETHER, THEY PLEAD WITH ATHENE TO INTERVENE.

SHE AGREED TO DO SO. AND THE TERMS? 

SHE WOULD TAKE ORESTES TO ATHENS WHERE HE WOULD BE PUT ON TRIAL—IT WOULD BE THE FIRST TRIAL IN HISTORY—& SUBMIT TO THE JURY’S VERDICT.

THE FURIES WERE PREDICTABLY ENRAGED BY HER INTERVENTION. REGARDLESS, ATHENE PREVAILED & THE TRIAL BEGAN. 

APOLLO ARGUED FOR ORESTES, ADMITTING THAT HE ADVISED ORESTES TO LIFT HIS SWORD. 

ORESTES DEFENDED HIMSELF, CITING HIS DUTY TO HIS FATHER, & NOTING THAT HIS MOTHER WAS A MURDERER. 

FINALLY, THE FURIES ARGUED THAT THEY SHOULD BE LEFT TO INFLICT SUFFERING AS WAS THEIR DIVINE RIGHT.

THE JURY, CONSISTING OF TEN CITIZENS, LISTENED QUIETLY, THEN VOTED. FIVE VOTED GUILTY & FIVE VOTED INNOCENT. 

ATHENE BROKE THE TIE, VOTING TO ACQUIT ORESTES. THE PLAYWRIGHT AESCHYLUS QUOTES ATHENE AS SAYING, 

”I WILL CAST MY VOTE FOR YOU, ORESTES ... CLYTEMNESTRA KILLED YOUR FATHER, GUARDIAN OF THE HOUSE ... 

"EVEN THOUGH THE VOTE IS EQUAL, I DECLARE THAT ORESTES WINS."

WITH THIS DECISION, ORESTES RETURNED TO TAKE HIS FATHER'S THRONE ... HE NEVER MARRIED. HE HAD NO LIVING FAMILY ...

& SO THE CURSE OF THE HOUSE OF ATREUS WAS LIFTED.

WHAT DO WE MAKE OF ALL OF THIS? THE ANCIENT GREEKS REMIND US THAT MOST FAMILIES HAVE CONFLICTS BETWEEN PARENTS & CHILDREN.

BUT THIS WAS A CONFLICT ON STEROIDS — &, IN EVERY WAY, A TRAGEDY.

AS GREEK TRANSLATOR ROBERT FAGLES WRITES, "THIS IS NOT A BATTLE BETWEEN RIGHT & WRONG. IT IS INSTEAD A STORY OF BETRAYAL, SUFFERING & DECEIT.”

TRAGEDY FOR THE GREEKS WAS MEANT TO PROVOKE AWE & HORROR. ARISTOTLE CALLED TRAGEDY A "PURGING OF THE SOUL BY TERROR & PITY."

THE VIOLENCE IN THE HOUSE OF ATREUS HAS ITS ORIGIN WITH THE GODS. ZEUS' SON KILLS HIS OWN SON IN AN ACT OF HUBRIS TO TRICK THE GODS. 

THE GODS  THEMSELVES ARE COMPLICIT. ZEUS COULD HAVE INTERVENED FROM THE START, BUT DID NOT.

INSTEAD, THE BLOODY CYCLE ENDS ONLY WHEN WISE ATHENE CALLS A HALT TO IT. WHY DID SHE DO SO?

ON A PERSONAL LEVEL, THE FAMILY HAD INDEED PAID FOR THEIR CRIMES ... TAKING A WIDER VIEW, PERHAPS ATHENE USED ORESTES' TRIAL TO INTRODUCE THE GREEKS TO SELF-GOVERNMENT.

AND WHERE WAS ZEUS IN THIS? PERHAPS HE LET THE SUCCESSION OF TRAGEDIES PLAY OUT BECAUSE HE WAS AMUSED & CONSIDERED IT ALL GREAT THEATER. 

OR PERHAPS HE DIDN'T CARE.

HE DID HAVE A HABIT OF FATHERING CHILDREN WHOM HE THEN NEGLECTED. 

REGARDLESS, THE CURSE OF THE HOUSE OF ATREUS BECAME THE STUFF OF LEGENDS ...

… JOIN ME ... FOR THE NEXT EPISODE OF GARNER'S GREEK MYTHOLOGY. 

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THANKS FOR LISTENING ... THIS IS YOUR HOST, PATRICK GARNER.