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Dr J's Audio-Visual Resources for Classics

Courses Taught

INTELLECTUAL HERITAGE (at Temple University)

Course Info:
Sample Syllabus


Course Themes

Delphi- A Focal Point for IH 51 Texts

Writing Guides:
Writing Guidelines

style guide

Writing Analogies

Subject Study Aids:
Aeschylus' Agamemnon Study Guide

Aeschylus' Libation Bearers Study Guide

Aeschylus' Eumenides Passages

Sophocles' Oedipus and the Sphinx Lecture

Dr. J's Illustrated Pericles' Funeral Oration

Dr. J's Illustrated Pericles and America

Dr. J's Illustrated Pericles and Philadelphia

Dr. J's Illustrated Aeschylus' Oresteia

Dr. J's Curse of the House of Atreus Outline

Dr. J's Background Lecture on Greek Philosophy

Dr. J's Apology Study Questions

Dr. J's Illustrated Plato's Apology

Socrates and the Apology Lecture

Dr. J's Plutarch's Pericles

Judaism Study Guide

Sundiata Study Guide

Epic Qualities of the Sundiata Lecture

Othello Study Guide

Machiavelli Study Guide

Galileo and Humanism Lecture



Courses Proposed
(needs some pruning):

Topics in Classical Culture:
The Legend of the House of Atreus: Greek Tragedy in Greece

Religious Foundations of Greek Culture

The Intersection of Myth and History

The Ancient Greek Cultural Nexus- Art, Archaeology, Literature and Topography

From 1996-2001 I taught in the Intellectual Heritage Program at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This page is part of my teaching materials for Intellectual Heritage 51, a course covering literature and ideas from Sappho through Shakespeare...

The Five Generations of the House of Atreus, and its Curse

by Dr. Janice Siegel

Tantalus (son of Zeus)

He thought he could outwit the gods by tricking them into eating human flesh (his own son Pelops). Tantalus is punished for his arrogance for eternity in Hades: tortured by thirst, he stands in water that reaches only to his chin; tortured by hunger, he must look at but not touch boughs of fruit dangling in front of him. Thus the word "tantalizing" describes something we want but cannot have. It is said that none of the gods ate of the flesh except Demeter, who was preoccupied with thoughts of her missing daughter (the tale of Hades abducting Persephone). When the child was reassembled (gods can do that), the shoulder eaten by Demeter was replaced by one of ivory.

Pelops (son of Tantalus)

Once grown, Pelops decided to vie for the hand of the beautiful Hippodamia. According to rules set by her father, Oenomaus, hopeful suitors had to stake their life on beating him in a chariot race. Pelops cheated with the help of Myrtilus, Oenomaus' charioteer. They replaced the wooden pin holding his front wheel on with one of wax. Several laps into the race, the wax was melted by the friction of the wheel and fell off, causing a crash in which Oenomaus was killed. In exchange for "rigging" the race, Pelops had promised Myrtilus that he could sleep with Hippodamia first, but he refused to honor the agreement after he won the girl. Myrtilus tried to rape Hippodamia and as Pelops threw him off a cliff, Myrtilus levied a curse against his house. This story is told in the pedimental sculpture of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia. Pictures soon. As its mythical founder, Pelops gives his name to the southern part of Greece, the Peloponnesus ("island of Pelops").

Atreus and Thyestes (sons of Pelops)

In addition to other friction between them (they had vied for the throne of Mycenae), Thyestes had an affair with Atreus' wife, Aerope. In response, Atreus killed and cooked Thyestes' children and served them to him at a banquet (under the pretense of friendly reconciliation). Thyestes asked the Oracle of Delphi (Temple of Apollo) advice on how to even the score. He was told that he could only wreak vengeance on his brother through a son born of his own daughter. He disguised himself and raped his Pelopia, his daughter. She bore Aegisthus. Aegisthus killed Atreus and restored Thyestes to the throne of Mycenae. (In his telling of this tale, Aeschylus uses a different version - he says that Thyestes escaped from Atreus' feast with the infant Aegisthus tucked under his arm, and this infant grew up to avenge his father's mistreatment by killing Atreus' son, Agamemnon.)

Agamemnon and Menelaus (sons of Atreus)

Hustled out of Mycenae as children, they escaped Thyestes' wrath, came back later when they were grown and with the help of Tyndareus King of Sparta, expelled Thyestes. Each married a daughter of Tyndareus (Agamemnon = Clytemnestra; Menelaus = Helen). Agamemnon became King of Mycenae; Menelaus, Sparta. The unified Greek forces declared war against Troy because their prince, Paris, abducted Helen. Agamemnon, leader of the Greek forces, sacrificed his own daughter, Iphigenia, to appease the goddess Artemis, so that the fleet could sail to Troy. While Agamemnon is away, Clytemnestra invites Aegisthus to rule Argos with her. Upon Agamemnon's triumphant return from Troy, Clytemnestra and Aegisthus murder him for his various crimes against them.

Orestes and Electra (children of Agamemnon)

They murder Aegisthus and their mother, Clytemnestra, for the crime of murdering their father, Agamemnon. We will see how this cycle of blood-guilt and vengeance ends in the Oresteia.


copyright 2001 Janice Siegel, All Rights Reserved
send comments to: Janice Siegel (jfsiege@ilstu.edu)

date this page was edited last: 10/25/2005
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