The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology

By Robin Hard | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

THE RETURNS OF THE GREEKS AND THE HISTORY OF THE PELOPIDS

THE RETURN JOURNEYS OF THE GREEKS

The stories of the return journeys (nostoi) of the Greeks were recounted in a special epic in the Trojan cycle, the Nostoi or ‘Returns’. A central theme of this epic was the wrath of Athena, which was provoked by an act of sacrilege committed at her shrine by the lesser Aias during the sack of Troy (see pp. 477-8), and was directed not only against him but also against the Greeks in general for having failed to punish him. The goddess sowed discord in the Greek camp, causing Agamemnon and Menelaos to quarrel and so return home separately with different sections of the army; and she then sent a fearsome storm against Agamemnon’s section of the fleet. Some heroes were driven far off course, some were killed, while a few avoided the perils of the sea altogether by travelling away by land. The varying itineraries and fates of the returning Greeks will form the subject of the first half of the present chapter. Four heroes in particular have interesting stories associated with their returns. Odysseus wandered far abroad into strange realms and distant seas, as recounted in the second of the Homeric epics, while Neoptolemos, the son of the dead Achilles, travelled overland on the advice of his divine grandmother and settled in Epirus, on the north-western fringes of Greece, with Hektor’s widow as his concubine and Helen’s daughter as his wife. Agamemnon for his part made a safe sea-crossing but was murdered by his wife (or her lover) on arriving home in Argos, while his brother Menelaos delayed for several years in Egypt after being driven out far off course by a storm, and therefore did not set foot in the Peloponnese until after Agamemnon’s murder had been avenged by his son Orestes. As it happens, this cycle of intrafamilial conflict and vengeance was nothing exceptional in the history of Agamemnon’s family, the Pelopids. Since the main myths of the Pelopids fall equally on either side of the Trojan War, we will devote the second half of the chapter to the bloody history of the family, tracing its earlier history before returning to consider the murder of Agamemnon and all that followed from it.

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