Greek mythology, Thyestes (Θυέστης) was the son of Pelops, King of Olympia, and Hippodamiaand father of Pelopiaand Aegisthus. Thyestes and his twin brother, Atreus, were exiled by their father for having murdered their half-brother, Chrysippus in their desire for the throne of Olympia. They took refuge in Mycenae, where they ascended to the throne upon the absence of King Eurystheus, who was fighting the Heracleidae. Eurystheus had meant for their lordship to be temporary; it became permanent due to his death in conflict. Atreus(Thyestes' brother and King of Mycenae) vowed to sacrifice his best lamb to Artemis. Upon searching his flock, however, Atreus discovered a golden lamb which he gave to his wife, Aerope, to hide from the goddess. She gave it to her lover, Thyestes (also Atreus' brother), who then convinced Atreus to agree that whoever had the lamb should be king. Thyestes produced the lamb and claimed the throne.
Atreus retook the throne using advice he received from
Hermes. Thyestes agreed to give the kingdom back when the sun moved backwards in the sky, a feat that Zeusaccomplished. Atreus retook the throne and banished Thyestes.
Atreus then learned of Thyestes' and Aerope's adultery and plotted revenge. He killed Thyestes' sons and cooked them, save their hands and heads. He served Thyestes his own sons and then taunted him with their hands and heads. This is the source of modern phrase "Thyestean Feast," or one at which human flesh is served.
An oracle then advised Thyestes that, if he had a son with his own daughter (
Pelopia), that son would kill Atreus. Thyestes did so and the son, Aegisthus, did kill Atreus. However, when Aegisthus was first born, he was abandoned by his mother, ashamed of her incestuous act. A shepherd found the infant Aegisthus and gave him to Atreus, who raised him as his own son. Only as he entered adulthood did Thyestes reveal the truth to Aegisthus, that he was both father and grandfather to the boy and that Atreus was his uncle. Aegisthus then killed Atreus.
Aegisthus and Thyestes ruled over Mycenae jointly, exiling Atreus' sons,
Agamemnonand Menelausto Sparta, where King Tyndareusgave the pair their wives, his daughters, Clytemnestraand Helen. When Tyndareus died, he gave his throne to Menelaus, who then helped Agamemnon overthrow Aegisthus and Thyestes.
When Agamemnon left Mycenae for the
Trojan War, Aegisthus seduced his wife, Clytemnestra, and the couple plotted to kill her husband upon his return. They succeeded, killing Agamemnon and his new concubine, Cassandra. Eight years later, Agamemnon's son Orestes returned to Mycenae and, with the help of his sister Electra, killed both their mother, Clytemnestra, and Aegisthus.
Tired of the bloodshed, the gods exonerated Orestes and declared this the end of the curse on the house of Atreus, as described in
In the 1st century,
Seneca the Youngerwrote a tragedy called "Thyestes". Jasper Heywood, then a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, published a verse translation in 1560. Caryl Churchillwrote a translation of Seneca's play in 2001. Shakespeare's tragedy Titus Andronicusderives some of its plot elements from the story of Thyestes. In 1681, John Crownewrote "Thyestes, A Tragedy", based closely on Seneca's Thyestes, but with the incongruous addition of a love story. In 1796, Ugo Foscolo(1778-1827) wrote a tragedy called "Tieste" that was represented first in Venice one year later. In 2004, Jan van Vlijmen (1935-2004) completed his opera "Thyeste". The librettowas a text in French by Hugo Claus, based on his 20th century play with the same title (in Dutch: "Thyestes"). The South ParkSeason 5 episode Scott Tenorman Must Dieis also loosely based on the Thyestes myth, though it is more based on Shakespeare's Titus. Thyestes appears in Ford Ainsworth's one-act play, "Persephone".
* [http://www.lamonnaie.be/demunt-1.0/cache/3546/press%20release%203.rtf Press release about the 2005 premiere of this opera in Brussels]
Spoken-word myths - audio files
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