A grandson of Zeus and son of Tantalus and Dione, the daughter of Atlas.1 As he was thus a great-grandson of Cronus, he is called by Pindar Kronios (Κρόνιος),2 though it may also contain an allusion to Pluto, the mother of Tantalus, who was a daughter of Cronus. Some writers call the mother of Pelops Euryanassa or Clytia.3
He was married to Hippodamia, by whom he became the father of Atreus,4 Thyestes, Dias, Cynosurus, Corinthus, Hippalmus (Hippalcmus or Hippalcimus), Hippasus, Cleon, Argeius, Alcathous, Aelius, Pittheus, Troezen, Nicippe and Lysidice.5 By Axioche or the nymph Danais he is said to have been the father of Chrysippus,6 and according to Pindar7 he had only six sons by Hippodamia, whereas the Scholiast8 mentions Pleisthenes and Chrysippus as sons of Pelops by Hippodamia. Further, while the common accounts mention only the two daughters above named, Plutarch9 speaks of many daughters of Pelops.
Pelops was king of Pisa in Elis, and from him the great southern peninsula of Greece was believed to have derived its name the Peloponnese; the nine small islands, moreover, which were situated off the Troezenian coast, opposite Methana, are said to have been called after him the Pelopian islands.10 According to a tradition which became very general in later times. Pelops was a Phrygian, who was expelled from Sipylus by Ilus,11 whereupon the exile then came with his great wealth to Pisa;12 others describe him as a Paphlagonian, and call him an Eneteian, from the Paphlagonian town of Enete, and the Paphlagonians themselves Peloeēioi (Πελοεήϊοι),13 while others again represent him as a native of Greece, who came from Olenos in Achaea.14 Some, further, call him an Arcadian, and state that by a stratagem he slew the Arcadian king Stymphalus, and scattered about the limbs of his body which he had cut to pieces.15 There can be little doubt that in the earliest and most genuine traditions, Pelops was described as a native of Greece and not as a foreign immigrant; and in them he is called the tamer of horses and the favorite of Poseidon.16
The legends about Pelops consist mainly of the story of his being cut to pieces and boiled, and of the tale concerning his contest with Oenomaus and Hippodamia, to which may be added the legends about his relation to his sons and about his remains.
1. Pelops cut to pieces and boiled (Κρεουργία Πέλοπος). Tantalus, the favorite of the gods, it is said, once invited them to a repast, and on that occasion he slaughtered his own son, and having boiled him set the flesh before them that they might eat it. But the immortal gods, knowing what it was, did not touch it; Demeter alone being absorbed by her grief about her lost daughter (others17 mentioned Thetis), consumed the shoulder of Pelops. Hereupon the gods ordered Hermes to put the limbs of Pelops into a cauldron, and thereby restore to him his life and former appearance. When the process was over, Clotho took him out of the cauldron, and as the shoulder consumed by Demeter was wanting, Demeter supplied its place by one made of ivory; his descendants (the Pelopidae), as a mark of their origin, were believed to have one shoulder as white as ivory.18
This story is not related by all authors in the same manner, for according to some, Rhea restored Pelops, and Pan, the companion of Rhea, danced on the occasion.19 Pindar, again, denies the story of the κρεουργία (kreourgia), and states that Poseidon, being in love with the beautiful boy Pelops, carried him off, whereupon Pelops, like Ganymede, for a time stayed with the gods.20
2. Contest with Oenomaus and Hippodamia. As an oracle had declared to Oenomaus that he should be killed by his son-in-law, he refused giving his fair daughter Hippodamia in marriage to any one. (Some said that he himself was in love with his daughter, and for this reason refused to give her to any one21). Many suitors however, appeared and Oenomaus declared that he would give her to him, who should conquer him in the chariot-race, but that he should kill those that should be conquered by him. Among other suitors Pelops also presented himself, but when he saw the heads of his conquered predecessors stuck up above the door of Oenomaus, he was seized with fear, and endeavored to gain the favor of Myrtilus, the charioteer of Oenomaus, promising him half the kingdom if he would assist him in gaining Hippodamia. Myrtilus agreed, and did not properly fasten the wheels to the chariot of Oenomaus, so that he might be upset during the race. The plan succeeded, and Oenomaus dying pronounced a curse upon Myrtilus. When Pelops returned home with Hippodamia and Myrtilus, he resolved to throw the latter into the sea. As Myrtilus sank, he cursed Pelops and his whole race.22
This story too is related with various modifications. According to Pindar, Pelops did not gain the victory by any stratagem, but called for assistance upon Poseidon, who gave him a chariot and horses by which he overcame Oenomaus.23 On the chest of Cypselus where the race was represented, the horses had wings.24 In order to atone for the murder of Myrtilus, Pelops founded the first temple of Hermes in the Peloponnese,25 and he also erected a monument to the unsuccessful suitors of Hippodamia, at which an annual sacrifice was offered to them.26 When Pelops had gained possession of Hippodamia, he went with her to Pisa in Elis, and soon also made himself master of Olympia, where he restored the Olympian games with greater splendor than they had ever had before.27 He received his scepter from Hermes and bequeathed it to Atreus.28
3. The sons of Pelops. Chrysippus who was the favorite of his father, roused the envy of his brothers, who in concert with Hippodamia, prevailed upon the two eldest among them, Atreus and Thyestes, to kill Chrysippus. They accomplished their crime, and threw the body of their murdered brother into a well. According to some Atreus alone was the murderer,29 or Pelops himself killed him,30 or Chrysippus made away with himself,31 or Hippodamia slew him, because her own sons refused to do it.32
According to the common tradition, however, Pelops, who suspected his sons of the murder, expelled them from the country, and they dispersed all over the Peloponnese.33 Hippodamia, dreading the anger of her husband, fled to Midea in Argolis, from whence her remains were afterwards conveyed by Pelops, at the command of an oracle, to Olympia.34 Some state that Hippodamia made away with herself.35 She had a sanctuary at Olympia in the grove Altis, to which women alone had access, and in the race course at Olympia there was a bronze statue of her.36
4. The remains of Pelops. While the Greeks were engaged in the siege of Troy, they were informed by an oracle, that the city could not be taken, unless one of the bones of Pelops were brought from Elis to Troas. The shoulder bone accordingly was fetched from Letrina or Pisa, but was lost together with the ship in which it was carried, off the coast of Euboea. Many years afterwards it was dragged up from the bottom of the sea by a fisherman, Demarmenus of Eretria, who concealed it in the sand, and then consulted the Delphic oracle about it. At Delphi he met ambassadors of the Eleians, who had come to consult the oracle respecting a plague, which was raging in their country. The Pythia requested Demarmenus to give the shoulder bone of Pelops to the Eleians. This was done accordingly, and the Eleians appointed Demarmenus to guard the venerable relic.37 According to some the Palladium was made of the bones of Pelops.
Pelops was honored at Olympia above all other heroes.39 His tomb with an iron sarcophagus existed on the banks of the Alpheius, not far from the temple of Artemis near Pisa; and every year the ephebi there scourged themselves, shedding their blood as a funeral sacrifice to the hero.40 The spot on which his sanctuary (Πελόπιον, Pelopion) stood in the grove Altis, was said to have been dedicated by Heracles, who also offered to him the first sacrifices.41 The magistrates of the Eleians likewise offered to him there an annual sacrifice, consisting of a black ram, with special ceremonies.42 His chariot was shown in the temple of Demeter at Phlius, and his sword in the treasury of the Sicyonians at Olympia.43
The eastern facade of the temple of Zeus at Olympia shows Pelops with spear and shield, ready to compete with Oenomaus (sculpture from the first half of the fifth century BCE). The contest is depicted many times on vases and sarcophagi. Pelops sometimes wears Phrygian clothes, sometimes Greek, such as on an amphora at Arezzo (ca. 415 BCE) by the Meidias Painter. Here, Pelops and his bride drive away in his chariot, hair and clothes billowing in the wind.
- Hyginus. Fabulae, 83; Euripides. Orestes, init.
- Olympian Odes iii, 41.
- Scholiast on Euripides' Orestes, 5, 11; Tzetzes on Lycophron, 52; comp. Apostol. Centur. xviii, 7.
- Letreus, Pausanias. Description of Greece vi, 22.5.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library ii, 4.5; Scholiast on Euripides' Orestes, 5.
- Scholiast on Euripides, l.c.; Plutarch. Parallela Minora, 33.
- i, 89.
- on Olympian Odes i, 144.
- Theseus, 3.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece ii, 34.4.
- ibid. ii, 22.4; v, 13.4.
- ibid. v, 1.5; Thucydides, i, 9; comp. Sophocles. Ajax, 1292; Pindar. Olympian Odes i, 36, ix, 15.
- Apollonius Rhodius. Argonautica ii, 358, with the Scholiast, and 790; Scholiast on Pindar's Olympian Odes i, 37; Diodorus Siculus. Historical Library iv, 74.
- Scholiast on Pindar, l.c.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library iii, 12.6.
- Homer. Iliad ii, 104; Pausanias. Description of Greece v, 1.5, 8.1; Pindar. Olympian Odes i, 38.
- Scholiast on Pindar's Olympian Odes i, 37.
- Pindar. Olympian Odes i, 37 ff., with the Scholiast.; Tzetzes on Lycophron, 152; Hyginus. Fabulae, 83; Virgil. Georgics, iii, 7; Ovid. Metamorphoses vi, 404.
- Scholiast on Aristides, p. 216 (ed. Frommnel); Lucian. De Saltatione, 54; Pausanias. Description of Greece v, 13.4.
- Olympian Odes i, 46 ff.; comp. Scholiast on Pindar's Olympian Odes i, 69; Euripides. Iphigeneia in Taurus, 387; Philostratus of Lemnos. Imagines i, 17; Lucian. Charidemus, 7; Tibullus, i, 4, 57.
- Tzetzes on Lycophron, 156; Lucian. Charidemus, 19; Hyginus. Fabulae, 253.
- Hyginus. Fabulae, 84; Scholiast on Pindar's Olympian Odes i, 114; Diodorus Siculus. Historical Library iv, 73; Eustathius on Homer, p. 183.
- Olympian Odes i, 109 ff.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece v, 17.4; comp. Apollonius Rhodius. Argonautica i, 752 ff.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece v, 15.5.
- ibid. vi, 21.7.
- Pindar. Olympian Odes ix, 16; Pausanias. Description of Greece v, 1.5, 8.1.
- Homer. Iliad ii, 104.
- Scholiast on Euripides' Orestes, 800.
- Scholiast on Thucydides, i, 9.
- Scholiast on Euripides' Phoenician Women, 1760.
- Plutarch. Parallela Minora, 33.
- Scholiast on Euripides' Orestes, 5; Pausanias. Description of Greece v, 8.1.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece vi, 20.4.
- Hyginus. Fabulae, 85, 243.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece vi, 20.10.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece v, 13.3; Tzetzes on Lycophron, 52, 54.
- Clement of Alexandria on Gentes, p. 30, d; comp. Pliny the Elder. Naturalis Historia xxviii, 4.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece v, 13.1.
- Scholiast on Pindar's Olympian Odes i, 146.
- Pausanias, l.c.; v, 26, in fin.; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library ii, 7.2.
- Pausanias. Description of Greece v, 13.2.
- ibid. ii, 14.3; vi, 19.3.
- 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.