The House of Atreus
(i) Using a map locate: Lydia (A. Minor), Peloponnese, Crete, Mycenae, Sparta, Ithaca, Aulis and Troy.
(ii) Figure 1. describes the Family Tree of the House of Atreus.
- The house of Atreus descended from Zeus through Tantalus - the origin of the word "tantalise" in English is outlined below.
- The children of Tantalus were Pelops and Niobe. (Pelops gave his name to the Peloponnese).
- Pelops married Hippodamia (in order to do so, he had to win a chariot race against her father).
- E. Pediment Temple of Zeus, Olympia.
- Their children were Atreus and Thyestes.
- Oracle - the ruler of Mycenae would be Atreus or Thyestes.
- Thyestes said he would resign his claim to the throne if the sun went backwards - it did - the last time the sun set in the east!
- Therefore Atreus became ruler of Mycenae.
- He later killed the sons of Thyestes.
- Thyestes put a curse on the house of Atreus.
- Atreus's sons - Agamemnon and Menelaus.
- Agamemnon succeeded Atreus as King of Mycenae (Mycenae - Mycos = mushroom)
- Agamemnon married Clytemnestra.
- Menelaus became King of Sparta.
- He married Helen.
FIGURE 1 FAMILY TREE OF THE HOUSE OF ATREUS
(iii) The Story of Tantalus
Because of crimes against Zeus, Tantalus was sent to the Underworld and punished. When Odysseus visited the Underworld he saw Tantalus and witnessed the awful agonies that the latter had to bear.
Tantalus was an old man standing in a pool of water which almost reached to his chin. He was very thirsty but each time he bent to get a drink the water disappeared and he remained parched. Also, trees laden with fruit dangled over his head - pears, pomegranates, apples, figs and olives, but when he tried to reach them the wind blew them upwards out of his reach.
The Trojan War
(i) Using a map show the relative locations of Troy, Mount Ida, Sparta, Crete, Mycenae, Pylos, Ithaca, Thessaly and Aulis.
(ii) It might be best to break this topic into four units as follows:
- The Golden Apple
- The Sacrifice of Iphigenia
- The War itself
- The Wooden Horse
1. The Golden Apple
- This story provides the reasons for the war
- Peleus and Thetis (parents of Achilles) were getting married.
- All the Gods and Goddesses were invited except Eris, Goddess of Strife, who always caused trouble.
- Eris was determined to cause trouble and so sent down a Golden Apple with the words "for the fairest".
- Since each of the Goddesses, Hera, Aphrodite and Athene thought she was the fairest, a contest had to be held.
- None of the Gods was willing to judge the contest lest the losers were annoyed.
- They decided a mortal - Paris - must judge it.
- Hermes went with the three Goddesses to Mount Ida to meet Paris.
- Each Goddess tried to bribe Paris into choosing her.
- He choose Aphrodite and she in return promised him the most beautiful girl Helen.
- Helen lived in Sparta with her husband Menelaus (brother of Agamemnon).
- Menelaus went to a funeral in Crete.
- While he was away Paris stole Helen and took her to Troy.
- When Menelaus discovered what had happened he went to his brother, the High King Agamemnon.
- Agamemnon, King of Mycenae, asked the princes of Greece to help him invade Troy.
- The most important men to go with him were:
|Patroclus||Opus (Patroclus was a friend and cousin of Achilles)|
- They all met at Aulis (across from the island of Euboea).
- Agamemnon offered sacrifice to the Gods.
- During the sacrifice a serpent attacked a nest of nine sparrows and killed them.
This was an omen that the war would go on for nine years.
- They set off but landed in Mysia by mistake.
- They fought with the natives and some were killed or wounded.
- They washed their wounds in the hotsprings of Smyrna (Izmir, Turkey), now called the "Baths of Agamemnon".
- They set sail again but a wind blew them home.
2. The Sacrifice of Iphigenia
- The fleet met at Aulis for a second time.
- But the wind was not favourable.
The prophet, Calchas, said Agamemnon had to sacrifice his most beautiful daughter, Iphigenia, to Artemis.
- Agamemnon refused, saying his wife Clytemnestra would not let her go.
Some of the men then threatened to go home if Agamemnon did not sacrifice his daughter.
- It was decided then, to trick Iphigenia into coming to Aulis.
- They would tell her that Achilles wanted to marry her.
- Odysseus went with this message and she came.
- When Achilles found that his name had been used to trick her, he offered to save her.
- But she consented to die for the glory of Greece.
- She put her neck to the sacrificial axe. (Some say she was spared and carried off by the Gods).
- The winds dropped and the fleet set sail again for Troy.
3. The Trojan War
- Primary source, Homer's "The Iliad". (The War, Hector's Funeral).
- "The Iliad" deals with the war in its tenth year.
- There was a plague in the Greek camp.
- Calchas, the prophet said it was because Apollo was annoyed - Agamemnon had taken as his girl, the lovely daughter of Apollo's priest.
- Agamemnon would not give her back to her father.
- Finally, Agamemnon agreed to return her if he could have instead, Briseis, the girl of Achilles.
- Agamemnon took Briseis.
- Achilles was very annoyed, refused to fight for the Greeks and went to his tent.
- Another Greek, Diomedes, met Glaucus, one of the Trojan allies and they decided not to fight since their grandfathers were friends.
- The Greeks began to lose.
- Patroclus, friend and cousin of Achilles, tried to get the latter to return to the war.
- Achilles refused so Patroclus asked fo
- Achilles' armour
- His army - the Myrmidons. (See R. Graves for "Ant" legends).
- Achilles agreed but told Patroclus to remain at the ships and not to go to the battle field.
- Patroclus however went onto the battlefield and was killed.
- Achilles was broken hearted at the death of his friend and vowed to take revenge.
- He went back into the war and killed Hector, son of King Priam of Troy.
- He tied Hector' s body to a chariot and dragged it three times around the walls of Troy.
- He then took the body back to the Greek camp thus preventing Hector's burial.
- The old King Priam - left at night for Achilles' tent and begged Achilles to
- Achilles agreed and the body was taken back for burial.
- The "Iliad" ended with the funeral games for Hector.
- Achilles was later killed by Paris who shot an arrow through his heel.
- Odysseus and Ajax competed for his divine armour and Odysseus won it.
4. The wooden Horse
The "Odyssey" , Books III and VIII - told by the bard in the Phaeacian Palace, and the "Aeneid", Book II (The Wooden Horse) - told by Aeneas to Dido in Carthage, are primary sources in this regard.
- The war dragged on and, in the end, the Greeks, inspired by Athene (Minerva), tricked the Trojans.
- Epeius built a gigantic wooden horse and filled it with Greek warriors.
- The remainder of the Greeks sailed away to the island of Tenedos.
- Laocoon, the priest of Apollo, warned the Trojans not to bring the horse in a sit would lead to Troy's destruction.
- A young stranger then arrived called Sinon - he was a Greek and had been captured by the Trojans - he was in chains.
- The Trojans took pity on him and removed the chains.
- Meanwhile two large Serpents came from the sea and strangled Laocoon and his sons.
- The Trojans then decided to bring the horse into Troy - they broke down part of the walls to allow it to enter.
- Sinon, who proved in fact to be a Greek spy, allowed the Greeks out of the Wooden Horse and they set fire to Troy.
- Aeneas, describing the fire, said "it was like fire catching a cornfield when wild winds are blowing" (Virgil).
(iii) Primary Sources for the Trojan War
|(a) Literature|| |
|Euripides:||"Hecabe", "Iphigenia in Aulis", "Iphigenia in Tauris", "The Trojan Women".|
| || |
|(b) Field Monuments of the Bronze Age|| |
|Troy (especially the Sloping Walls)|| |
|Mycenae||The Grave Circles - "The Mask of Agamemnon"|
The Tholos Tombs - "Treasury of Atreus"
|Enossos||Palace and throne room.|
| || |
|(c) Art|| |
|Sculpture:||"Laocoon", Vatican Museum (copy Powerscourt, Enniskerry), Bronze copy, Milltown Gift, National Gallery, Dublin.|
E. Pediment - Temple of Zeus, Olympia (race of Pelops).
|Vases:||Black Figure Vase of Ajax and Achilles playing draughts, by Exekias (Richter).|
|Painting:||Wall painting, Pompeii, "Achilles At Skyros"|
(iv) Influence on European Culture
- Roman - Virgil, Ovid, Seneca.
- English - Marlowe, Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, Coleridge.
- Anglo-Irish - especially Yeats: "No Second Troy"
- French - Ronsard, Racine
- German - Goethe: Iphigenia
- Italian - Dante: "Divine Comedy"
In the National Gallery in Dublin:
"Judgement of Paris" - after Rubens, and "Funeral of Patroclus" - David
"Building of the Trojan Horse" , Tiepolo
|Offenbach:||"La Belle Helene" - operetta|
|Gluck:||"Iphigenia in Aulis" after Euripides and Racine|
"Iphigenia in Tauris" after Euripides
|Cherubini:||"Iphigenia in Aulis"|
|Piccinni:||"Iphigenia in Tauris"|
|Berlioz:||"The Trojans" - opera|
(v) Additional Reading Material for Teachers
"A Handbook of Greek Art" (G. Richter). "Homer" by M. Thorpe (Inside the Ancient World Series)
Slides and Pictures of Troy and Mycenae.
(vi) Recommended Activities for Students
See Appendix A - Junior Certificate Classical Studies syllabus.
Retell the story in the students' own words and include a discussion on
- The Sacrifice of Iphigenia
- The feelings of Agamemnon and Achilles when Achilles refused to fight
- The feelings of Andromacheas Hector went off to fight
- Astyanax, when he is frightened by his father's helmet (read the passage)
Hold a class quiz on this topic:
Which side was . . . . . . . . on?
[Greeks] [Trojans] [Gods]
Draw a picture of the scene you liked best .
Make up a play on one or more of the scenes.
Discuss the idea of Symbolism e.g. The Wooden Horse as a symbol of treachery.
(vii) Related Topics
Introduction to Archaeology. Explain how archaeologists meticulously carry out their work by:
- Making a Grid
- Tying the Grid in with the Ordnance Survey map.
- Work - Slow and Careful - trowel - brushes
- Sketching the finds
- Recording the finds correctly - the area is placed on a grid and the depth is noted
- Interpreting the data.
Description of the life of a famous archaeologist e.g. Schliemann.
Heinrich Schliemann found Troy. He is regarded as the father of Archaeology. However he did not carry out his excavation work properly.
- He went too fast and dug large trenches
- He did not record the finds properly
- He could not interpret the finds properly because he did not record correctly
- He had a romantic nature and made up a story about Priam's Treasure.
His later excavations at Mycenae and Tiryns were carried out more scientifically.