A son of Ares and Harpinna, the daughter of Asopus, and husband of the Pleiad Sterope, by whom he became the father of Hippodamia, was king of Pisa in Elis.1 According to others he was a son of Ares and Sterope,2 or a son of Alxion,3 or of Hyperochus and Sterope.4
An oracle had declared that he should die if his daughter should marry, and he therefore made it a condition that those who came forward as suitors for Hippodamia's hand should contend with himself in the chariot-race, and he who conquered should receive her, whereas those that were conquered should suffer death. The race-course extended from Pisa to the altar of Poseidon, on the Corinthian isthmus. At the moment when a suitor started with Hippodamia, Oenomaus sacrificed a ram to Zeus at Pisa, and then armed himself and hastened with his swift chariot and four horses, guided by Myrtilus, after the suitor. He thus overtook many a lover, whom he put to death, until Pelops, the son of Tantalus, came to Pisa. Pelops bribed Myrtilus, and using the horses which he had received from Poseidon, he succeeded in reaching the goal before Oenomaus, who in despair made away with himself. Thus Pelops obtained Hippodamia and the kingdom of Pisa.
There are some variations in this story, as e.g. that Oenomaus was himself in love with his daughter, and for this reason slew her lovers.5 Myrtilus also is said to have loved her, and as she wished to possess Pelops, she persuaded Myrtilus to take the nails out of the wheels of her father's chariot; and as Oenomaus was breathing his last he pronounced a curse upon Myrtilus, and this curse had its desired effect, for as Pelops refused to give to Myrtilus the reward he had promised, or as Myrtilus had attempted to dishonor Hippodamia, Pelops thrust him down from Cape Geraestus. But Myrtilus, while dying, likewise pronounced a curse upon the house of Pelops, which was afterwards the cause of the fatal occurrences in the life of Atreus and Thyestes.6 All the suitors that had been killed by Oenomaus, were buried in one common tomb.7
Scenes that depict the race between Oenomaus and Pelops can be found on several Greek vases. The preparations of the race are depicted in the sculpture on the eastern wing of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (first half of the fifth century BCE). There, Oenomaus is portrayed as a proud figure with a beard and wearing a helmet.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 10.1; Pausanias. Description of Greece v, 10.2, 22.5; vi, 2.6.
- Scholiast on Homer's Iliad xviii, 486; Hyginus. Fabulae, 84, 159.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece v, 1.5.
- Tzetzes on Lycophron, 149.
- Tzetzes on Lycophron, 156; Hyginus. Fabulae, 253.
- Tzetzes on Lycophron, 156.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece vi, 21.6 ff.
- ibid. vi, 21.3.
- ibid. v, 20.3, 14.5; comp. v, 17.4, 10.2; Sophocles. Electra, 504 ff.
- Aken, Dr. A.R.A. van. (1961). Elseviers Mythologische Encyclopedie. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
- Diodorus Siculus. Historical Library iv, 73.
- Hyginus. Fabulae, 84.
- Ovid. Ibis, 365 ff.
- Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius, i, 752; on Pindar's Olympian Odes i, 114.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.