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The Mycenaean Saga

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University of Toronto St. George
Claesson Welsh

The Mycenaean SagaPelops and Tantalus Pelops was the son of Tantalus who came from Asia Minor as a suitor for the hand of Hippodamia daughter of the King of Pisa whose territory included OlympiaFrom the end of the Mycenaean age Pisa and Olympia were for most of the time controlled by ElisIn the time of Tantalus and Pelops there was easy intercourse between gods and mortals and in some way Tantalus abused the privilege of eating with the godsHe invited the gods to dine with him and cut up his son Pelops boiled the parts in a cauldron and served them as the feastTantalus was condemned to suffer everlasting thirst and hunger in the UnderworldThere are two other Greek myths that involve cannibalism both from places connected with ElisThe one is the story of Lycaon king of Arcadia told by Ovid and the other is the banquet of ThyestesThe existence of these myths is evidence enough that in the distant past some form of cannibalism once underlay the sacrificial ritualsThe Gods recognized the deception of Tantalus and all except for Demeter refused to eatShe ate the flesh on his shoulder so that when he was restored to life by the gods an ivory shoulder had to be substitutedAnother version says that Poseidon fell in love with Pelops and took him up to Olympus as Zeus has done with GanymedeThe Gods however sent Pelops back to be among the mortalsIt was after this that he traveled to Greece as the suitor of HippodamiaHe became an important hero with a cult at Olympia where his shrine the Pelopion was next to the temple of ZeusSacrifices to Zeus and Pelops were central to the ritual of the Olympic festivalWhen the temple of Zeus was built the sculptures of the west pediment showed the moment before the start of the race between Pelops and Oenomaus This race was the origin of the curse of the descendants of PelopsTo win Hippodamia a suitor had first to win a chariot race against Oenomaus from Pisa to the Isthmus of CorinthHe would have a short start and take Hippodamia in his chariot with him Oenomaus would follow and if he caught up he would kill the suitorThirteen suitors failed before Pelops came and their heads decorated Oenamaus palaceApparently Pelops prayed to his lover Poseidon before the raceAlso a version tells how Pelops bribed Oenamaus charioteer Myrtilus son of Hermes to remove the linchpins from
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