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Ancient Betrayals: Chrysippus and Family

The concept of betrayal is nothing new for ancient Greek mythology. Mothers turn their backs on their offspring, while siblings plot against one another , usually with the intentions of obtaining power and wealth. In this article, you will learn of the family betrayals that involve Chrysippus and his half brothers Atreus and Thyestes.

The betrayal and death of Chrysippus involves not only his brothers, but also someone he was supposed to trust , his tutor. In Greek mythology, Chrysippus is known as a hero associated with Elis in the Peloponnesus. He was the illegitimate son of the king of Pisa (Pelops) and the nymph Axioche. The first betrayal in his life came at the hands of his tutor Theban Laius, who was the boy’s escort to the Nemean Games. Chrysippus was slotted to be a competitor, but instead, Laius kidnapped and raped him. The gods later punished the tutor, his city, and his family for the crime.

Some authors say that Chrysippus took his own life with a sword for the shame that he felt for the heinous act that Laius committed against him. However, according to Hellanikos and Thucydides, Chrysippus was killed because his half-brothers were jealous. It is said that Atreus and Thyestes tossed him into a well at the request of their mother, Hippodamia. She feared that Chrysippus would inherit the throne after Pelops instead of her offspring.

As a consequence for their actions, both Atreus and Thyestes were banished by their father , along with their mother. They fled to Mycenae where Hippodamia took her own life. Another account states that Hippodamia killed Chrysippus on behalf of her sons Atreus and Thyestes.  She waited until the hero had fallen asleep with his tutor and took a knife that belonged to Laius to complete the deed. However, Chrysippus did not perish immediately and was able to tell Pelops of the actions of his stepmother.

Atreus and Thyestes

The betrayals and wrongdoing of Atreus and Thyestes did not end with the death of their half-brother. They continued on with their lives, committing more sins against their flesh and blood. Atreus was known for cooking the children of his brother for fun, while Thyestes committed adultery with his brother’s wife. They had a son together that he raised for the sole purpose of killing his own brother.

One of the offspring of Atreus was Agamemnon , the man who played an important role as commander of the Greeks during the Trojan War. Atreus was also the father of Menaleus, who wife Helen of Troy, was kidnapped , the spark that started the Trojan War.

Atreus continues to appear in ancient Greek myths, especially when it involves his cursed bloodline, which is often referred to as the House of Atreus.