Agamemnon Killed Klytemnestra’s First Husband (and Child!)

According to just a few sources, Klytemnestra was married and had a child before she married Agamemnon. As one might expect, the story is not a happy one and includes many of the themes from the unhappy marriage between the two, including husband-killing and child-murder.

The most famous accounts of this come from the 12th Century CE Chiliades by John Tzetzes and the Epitome of Apollodorus (both of which are available on Perseus or in translation on Theoi.com).

Chiliades, 1.456-465

“The nurse took Agamemnon with Menelaos
To Polypheides who ruled Sikyon
and who sent them in turn to Aitolian Oeneus.
Not much later Tyndareus brought them back again
and they drove Thysetes away to live in Cytheria
after he fled to the altar of Hera and they took an oath from him.
They both became sons-in-law to Tyndareus:
Agamemnon made Klytemnestra his wife
after he killed her husband, Thyestes’ son Tantalos
along with their new-born child. And Menelaos married Helen.”

τὸν δ᾽ Ἀγαμέμνονα τροφὸς μετὰ τοῦ Μενελάου
ἄγει πρὸς Πολυφείδεα, κρατοῦντα Σικυῶνος,
ὃς πάλιν τούτους πέπομφε πρὸς Αἰτωλὸν Οἰνέα.
μετ᾽ οὐ πολὺ Τυνδάρεως τούτους κατάγει πάλιν,
οἳ τὸν Θυέστην μὲν αὐτὸν Ἥρας βωμῷ φυγόντα
ὁρκώσαντες διώκουσιν οἰκεῖν τὴν Κυθηρίαν.
οἱ δὲ Τυνδάρεω γαμβροὶ γίνονται θυγατράσιν,
ὁ Ἀγαμέμνων μὲν λαβὼν σύνευνον Κλυταιμνήστραν,
κτείνας αὐτῆς τὸν σύζυγον Τάνταλον τὸν Θυέστου
σὺν τέκνῳ πάνυ νεογνῷ, Μενέλαος Ἑλένην.

Epitome 2.16

“Agamemnon ruled as king of the Mycenaeans and married Tyndareus’ daughter Klytemnestra—but first he killed her husband, Tantalos, the son of Thyestes, with their child. They had a son Orestes and daughters Chrysothemus, Elektra and Iphigenia. Menelaos married Helen and ruled Sparta after Tyndareus gave him the kingship.”

Ἀγαμέμνων δὲ βασιλεύει Μυκηναίων καὶ γαμεῖ Τυνδάρεω θυγατέρα Κλυταιμνήστραν, τὸν πρότερον αὐτῆς ἄνδρα Τάνταλον Θυέστου σὺν τῷ παιδὶ κτείνας, καὶ γίνεται αὐτῷ παῖς μὲν Ὀρέστης, θυγατέρες δὲ Χρυσόθεμις Ἠλέκτρα Ἰφιγένεια. Μενέλαος δὲ Ἑλένην γαμεῖ καὶ βασιλεύει Σπάρτης, Τυνδάρεω τὴν βασιλείαν δόντος αὐτῷ.

There’s little to ‘confirm’ this story apart from a few mentions in Pausanias:

Pausanias, 2.18.2

“I cannot say with precision whether Aigisthus began the wrongdoing or whether it was preceded by Agamemnon’s murder of Thyestes’ son Tantalos. For they say that he lived with Klytemnestra when she was a virgin, receiving her from Tyndareus. I don’t want to say that these men were wicked by nature….”

ὕστερον δὲ οὐκ ἔχω σαφὲς εἰπεῖν πότερον ἀδικίας ἦρξεν Αἴγισθος ἢ προϋπῆρξεν ᾿Αγαμέμνονι φόνος Ταντάλου τοῦ Θυέστου· συνοικεῖν δέ φασιν αὐτὸν Κλυταιμνήστρᾳ παρθένῳ παρὰ Τυνδάρεω λαβόντα. ἐγὼ δὲ καταγνῶναι μὲν οὐκ ἐθέλω φύσει σφᾶς γενέσθαι κακούς· –

2.22.3

“Others maintain that the bones of Tantalos are in this bronze container. This would be Tantalus the son of Thyestes or Broteas—for both stories are common—who lived with Klytemnestra before Agamemnon.  I won’t deny that this Tantalos is buried there. I know that the other Tantalos, the son of Zeus and Plouto, has his tomb in Sipylos because I saw it and it is worth seeing.”

ἑτέροις δέ ἐστιν εἰρημένον ὀστᾶ ἐν τῷ χαλκείῳ κεῖσθαι Ταντάλου. τὸν μὲν δὴ Θυέστου παῖδα ἢ Βροτέου—λέγεται γὰρ ἀμφότερα—, ὃς Κλυται-μνήστρᾳ πρότερον ἢ ᾿Αγαμέμνων συνῴκησε, τοῦτον μὲν <τὸν> Τάνταλον οὐ διοίσομαι ταφῆναι ταύτῃ· τοῦ δὲ λεγομένου Διός τε εἶναι καὶ Πλουτοῦς ἰδὼν οἶδα ἐν Σιπύλῳ τάφον θέας ἄξιον.

 

Clyt
Murdering Agamemnon Makes Even More Sense Now!

 

Gender, Smell and Lemnos: More Misogyny from Greek Myth

A proverb from the Suda

“By a Lemnian Hand: [meaning] cruelly and lawlessly. This is from a story: for they say that the women in Lemnos allegedly killed their husbands because they weren’t having sex with them”

Λημνίᾳ χειρί: ὠμῇ καὶ παρανόμῳ. ἀπὸ τῆς ἱστορίας· φασὶ γὰρ τὰς ἐν Λήμνῳ γυναῖκας τοὺς ἄνδρας αὐτῶν ἀνελεῖν αἰτιωμένας, ὅτι αὐταῖς οὐκ ἐμίγνυντο.

A few years ago I was looking up some odd word or another in the work of the lexicographer Hesychius (ok, to be honest, I was looking up words for feces and was looking at κοκκιλόνδις· παιδὸς ἀφόδευμα; kokkilondis: “a child’s excrement”). I found the following words which are pretty much absent from all modern lexica.

Kikkasos: the sweat flowing from between the thighs

κίκκασος· ὁ ἐκ τῶν παραμηρίων ἱδρὼς ῥέων.

Kikkê: Sex. Or the bad smell [that comes] from genitals

κίκκη· συνουσία. ἡ ἀπὸ τῶν αἰδοίων δυσοσμία

Obviously, the specificity of these two lexical items is amusing. But their very existence perplexed me a bit. Where did they come from? How were they used? (They don’t actually appear anywhere but in Hesychius.) After some contemplation and a little restraint, I can only conclude that the words emerge from a generally misogynistic context which also considered sex in some way unclean.

The story that I kept thinking of was that of the Lemnian women—it is one of the few connections I could make between sex and bad smells. It is also one of my least favorite myths because it echoes modern misogynistic taboos which marginalize and alienate female bodies. So, I almost didn’t write this post. But I do think that it is worth making these connections, however uncomfortable they are.

Here are two versions of the Lemnian women tale.

Apollodorus, 1.114

“Jason was the captain of the ship as they disembarked and neared Lemnos. The island then happened to be bereft of men and was ruled by Hypsipyle, Thoas’ daughter, for the following reason. The Lemnian women used not to honor Aphrodite. She cast a terrible smell upon them and, for this reason, their husbands acquired spear-won women from Thrace and slept with them.

Because they were dishonored, the Lemnian women slaughtered their fathers and husbands. Hypsipyle alone spared her father Thoas by hiding him. After they landed on the women-controlled island, they slept with the women. Hypsipyle gave birth to sons after sleeping with Jason: Eunêos and Nebrophonos.”

οὗτοι ναυαρχοῦντος ᾿Ιάσονος ἀναχθέντες προσίσχουσι Λήμνῳ. ἔτυχε δὲ ἡ Λῆμνος ἀνδρῶν τότε οὖσα ἔρημος, βασιλευομένη δὲ ὑπὸ ῾Υψιπύλης τῆς Θόαντος
δι’ αἰτίαν τήνδε. αἱ Λήμνιαι τὴν ᾿Αφροδίτην οὐκ ἐτίμων· ἡ δὲ αὐταῖς ἐμβάλλει δυσοσμίαν, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο οἱ γήμαντες αὐτὰς ἐκ τῆς πλησίον Θρᾴκης λαβόντες
αἰχμαλωτίδας συνευνάζοντο αὐταῖς. ἀτιμαζόμεναι δὲ αἱ Λήμνιαι τούς τε πατέρας καὶ τοὺς ἄνδρας φονεύουσι· μόνη δὲ ἔσωσεν ῾Υψιπύλη τὸν ἑαυτῆς πατέρα κρύψασα
Θόαντα. προσσχόντες οὖν τότε γυναικοκρατουμένῃ τῇ Λήμνῳ μίσγονται ταῖς γυναιξίν. ῾Υψιπύλη δὲ ᾿Ιάσονι συνευνάζεται, καὶ γεννᾷ παῖδας Εὔνηον καὶ Νεβρο-φόνον.

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Schol ad. Pind. P4 88b

“The story goes like this: Because the Lemnian women had carried out the honors for Aphrodite improperly, the goddess inflicted a bad smell upon them: for this reason, men turned them away. They all worked together and killed their husbands in a plot. Then the Argonauts, as they were travelling to Skythia, arrived in in Lemnos; when they found that the island was bereft of men, they slept with the women and then left. The sons who were born from them went to Sparta in search of their fathers and, once they were accepted among the Lakonians, they became citizens there and settled in Sparta.

ἱστορία τοιαύτη· ταῖς Λημνίαις γυναιξὶν ἀσεβῶς διακειμέναις περὶ τὰς τῆς ᾿Αφροδίτης τιμὰς ἡ θεὸς δυσοσμίαν προσέπεμψε, καὶ οὕτως αὐτὰς οἱ ἄνδρες ἀπεστράφησαν· αἱ δὲ συνθέμεναι πρὸς ἑαυτὰς ἐξ ἐπιβουλῆς τοὺς ἄνδρας ἀνεῖλον. τηνικαῦτα δὲ οἱ ᾿Αργοναῦται τὸν εἰς Σκυθίαν στελλόμενοι πλοῦν προσωρμίσθησαν τῇ Λήμνῳ, καὶ εὑρόντες ἔρημον ἀρσένων τὴν νῆσον συνελθόντες ταῖς γυναιξὶν ἀπηλλάγησαν. οἱ δὲ φύντες ἐξ αὐτῶν ἦλθον εἰς Λακεδαίμονα κατὰ ζήτησιν τῶν πατέρων, καὶ προσδεχθέντες παρὰ Λάκωσι καὶ πολιτευσάμενοι συνέθεντο ἐπιθέσθαι τῇ Σπάρτῃ…

This tale seems to combine with a larger treatment of Lemnos as clear from the proverb above and this one:

A proverb from Zenobius (4.91)

“A Lemnian evil”: A proverb which they say comes from the lawless acts committed against husbands by the women of Lemnos. Or it derives from the story of the women who were abducted from Attica by the Pelasgians and settled in Lemnos. Once they gave birth, they taught their sons the ways and the language of the Athenians. They honored each other and ruled over those who descended from Thracians. Then the Pelasgians, because they were angry over this, killed them and their mothers. Or the proverb derives from the bad smell of the Lemnian women.”

Λήμνιον κακόν: παροιμία, ἣν διαδοθῆναι φασὶν ἀπὸ τῶν παρανομηθέντων εἰς τοὺς ἄνδρας ἐν Λήμνῳ ὑπὸ τῶν γυναικῶν. ῍Η διὰ τὸ τὰς ἁρπαγείσας ὑπὸ Πελασγῶν ἐκ τῆς ᾿Αττικῆς γυναῖκας εἰς Λῆμνον ἀπαχθῆναι· ἃς ἀποτεκούσας τρόπους τε τῶν ᾿Αθηναίων διδάξαι τοὺς παῖδας καὶ γλῶτταν· τούτους δὲ τιμωρεῖν ἀλλήλοις καὶ τῶν ἐκ τῶν Θρᾳσσῶν γεγενημένων ἐπικρατεῖν· τοὺς δὲ Πελασγοὺς ἐπὶ τούτῳ ἀχθομένους κτεῖναι αὐτοὺς καὶ τὰς μητέρας αὐτῶν. ῍Η διὰ τὴν δυσωδίαν τῶν Λημνιάδων γυναικῶν τὴν παροιμίαν διαδοθῆναι.

The story of the Lemnian crimes (Lêmnia Erga) is told by Herodotus (6.137-138): the Pelasgians were driven out of Attic and took Lemnos; then they got their revenge by abducting Athenian women during a festival. When the sons of these women grew up, they frightened the native Pelasgians and they were all killed.

In the major tales, it is clear that the women are not completely at fault, but they are the ones who seem to suffer the most. Within the broader narrative of the Argonaut tale, especially, we can see how women are defined by their bodies as loci of sexual interest or disinterest, the ability to produce children, and anxiety that they might not remain subordinate to male desire. The casual detail of the Pelasgian tale is especially harrowing.

Philologists Account for Antiquity’s Errors

John Ruskin, Queen of the Air (1.1):

“I will not ask your pardon for endeavoring to interest you in the subject of Greek Mythology; but I must ask your permission to approach it in a temper differing from that in which it is frequently treated. We cannot justly interpret the religion of any people, unless we are prepared to admit that we ourselves, as well as they, are liable to error in matters of faith; and that the convictions of others, however singular, may in some points have been well founded, while our own, however reasonable, may be in some particulars mistaken. You must forgive me, therefore, for not always distinctively calling the creeds of the past ‘superstition,’ and the creeds of the present day ‘religion;’ as well as for assuming that a faith now confessed may sometimes be superficial, and that a faith long forgotten may once have been sincere. It is the task of the Divine to condemn the errors of antiquity, and of the philologists to account for them; I will only pray you to read, with patience, and human sympathy, the thoughts of men who lived without blame in a darkness they could not dispel; and to remember that, whatever charge of folly may justly attach to the saying, ‘There is no God,’ the folly is prouder, deeper, and less pardonable, in saying, ‘There is no God but for me.'”

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Helen’s Sisters Were Unfaithful, But it Was Their Father’s Fault

Ever wondered why Helen left Menelaos or why her sister cheated on Agamemnon (other than the obvious)? Ancient poetry traced it back to a sin of their father

Schol. Ad Euripides’ Orestes 249

“Stesichorus says that when Tyndareus was sacrificing to the gods he overlooked Aphrodite. For this reason, the angry goddess made his daughters thrice and twice married deserters of husbands. The segment reads like this:

“Because when Tyndareus was sacrificing to all the gods
He neglected only the gentle-giving Kyprian
She was enraged and she made the daughters of Tyndareus
Twice and thrice married deserters of husbands.”

A fragment of Hesiod agrees with this (fr. 176):

“Smile-loving Aphrodite
Was enraged when she saw them: then she hung bad fame upon them.
After that, Timandra abandoned Ekhemos and left;
She went to Phyleus who was dear to the holy gods.
And so Klytemnestra abandoned shining Agamemnon
To lie alongside Aigisthos as she chose a lesser husband;
In the same way, Helen shamed the marriage-bed of fair Menelaos…”

Στησίχορός φησιν ὡς θύων τοῖς θεοῖς Τυνδάρεως ᾿Αφροδίτης ἐπελάθετο• διὸ ὀργισθεῖσαν τὴν θεὸν διγάμους τε καὶ τριγάμους καὶ λειψάνδρους αὐτοῦ τὰς θυγατέρας ποιῆσαι. ἔχει δὲ ἡ χρῆσις οὕτως [frg. 26]•
‘οὕνεκά ποτε Τυνδάρεως
ῥέζων πᾶσι θεοῖς μόνης λάθετ’ ἠπιοδώρου
Κύπριδος, κείνα δὲ Τυνδάρεω κούραις
χολωσαμένη διγάμους τε καὶ τριγάμους τίθησι
καὶ λιπεσάνορας’.

καὶ ῾Ησίοδος δέ [frg. 117]•
τῆισιν δὲ φιλομμειδὴς ᾿Αφροδίτη
ἠγάσθη προσιδοῦσα, κακῆι δέ σφ’ ἔμβαλε φήμηι.
Τιμάνδρη μὲν ἔπειτ’ ῎Εχεμον προλιποῦσ’ ἐβεβήκει,
ἵκετο δ’ ἐς Φυλῆα φίλον μακάρεσσι θεοῖσιν•
ὣς δὲ Κλυταιμνήστρη <προ>λιποῦσ’ ᾿Αγαμέμνονα δῖον
Αἰγίσθῳ παρέλεκτο, καὶ εἵλετο χείρον’ ἀκοίτην.
ὣς δ’ ῾Ελένη ᾔσχυνε λέχος ξανθοῦ Μενελάου…

This passage provides an explanation for why the daughters of Tyndareus—Helen and Klytemnestra—were unfaithful: it was Aphrodite’s game from the beginning because their father did not worship her correctly. A few interesting aspects here: first, Helen is “thrice-married” because after Paris dies, she marries Deiphobus (although some accounts associate her with Theseus too). Second, Hesiod’s fragmentary poems seems to be in the process of cataloging women who leave their husbands.

The first woman in the tale is Timandra, who, according to only this passage, was a third daughter of Tyndareus who left her husband Ekhemos, a king of Arcadia. They had a son together, named Leodocus before she eloped with Phyleus. In another fragment from Hesiod (fr. 23) we learn more about the family of Tyndareus and Leda:

“After climbing into the lush bed of Tyndareus
Well-tressed Leda, as fair as the rays of the moon,
Gave birth to Timandra, cow-eyed Klytemnestra,
And Phylonoe whose body was most like the immortal goddesses.
Her…the arrow bearing goddess
Made immortal and ageless for all days.”

ἣ μὲν [Τυνδαρέου θαλερὸν λέχο]ς εἰσαναβᾶσα
Λήδη ἐ̣[υπλόκαμος ἰκέλη φαέεσσ]ι σελήνης
γείνατ[ο Τιμάνδρην τε Κλυταιμήστρ]ην τε βοῶπ[ιν
Φυλο̣[νόην θ’ ἣ εἶδος ἐρήριστ’ ἀθαν]άτηισι.
τ̣ὴ̣ν[ ἰο]χέαιρα,
θῆκ[εν δ’ ἀθάνατον καὶ ἀγήραον ἤ]ματα πάντ̣[α. (7-12)

Later on in the same fragment –after hearing about the marriage and children of Klytemnestra—we learn about Timandra:

“Ekhemos made Timandra his blooming wife,
The man who was the lord of all Tegea and Arcadia, wealthy in sheep,
A rich man who was dear to the gods.
She bore to him Laodakos, the horse-taming shepherd of the host,
After she was subdued by golden Aphrodite.”

Τιμάνδρην δ’ ῎Εχεμος θαλερὴν ποιήσατ’ ἄκοιτιν,
ὃς πάσης Τεγ[έης ἠδ’ ᾿Αρκαδίης] πολυμήλου
ἀφνειὸς ἤνασ[σε, φίλος μακάρεσσι θ]ε̣ο[ῖ]σ̣ιν•
ἥ οἱ Λαόδοκον̣ μ[εγαλήτορα ποιμέν]α̣ λαῶν
γ]είνα[θ]’ ὑποδμη[θεῖσα διὰ] χρυσῆν ᾿Αφ[ροδίτην (28-31)

This section of the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women seems to be mentioning only Leda’s children with Tyndareus and not those possibly fathered by Zeus (Helen, Kastor, Polydeukes). But we hear nothing of the future of Leda’s attractive daughter Phylonoe (also spelled Philonoe) other than that Artemis made her immortal. The ancient sources? Nothing at all to explain this.

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The Rape of Helen by Francesco Primaticcio (c. 1530–1539, Bowes Museum)

How Did Odysseus Marry Penelope

A fragment of the mythographer Pherecydes provides an interesting account for how Odysseus came to be married to Penelope (hint: it wasn’t his choice):

Pherecydes, fr. 90 (= Fowler 129)

“Ikarios, the son of Oibalos, married Dôrodokhês, the daughter of Ortilokhos or, according to Pherecydes, Asterôdia, the daughter of Eurypylos, the son of Telestôr. When Laertes heard about Penelope—that she differed from all women in both her beauty and her intelligence, he arranged for her to marry his son Odysseus. She possessed so much virtue that she surpassed even Helen who was born from Zeus in some degree. This is the account of Philostephanos and Pherecydes.”

Schol. Homer. Odyss. Ο, 16: ᾿Ικάριος ὁ Οἰβάλου γαμεῖ Δωροδόχην τὴν ᾿Ορτιλόχου, ἢ κατὰ Φερεκύδην, ᾿Αστερωδίαν τὴν Εὐρυπύλου τοῦ Τελέστορος. Πυθόμενος δὲ Λαέρτης περὶ τῆς Πηνελόπης ὅτι καὶ τῷ κάλλει καὶ ταῖς φρεσὶ διαφέρει πασῶν τῶν καθ’ ἑαυτὴν γυναικῶν, ἄγεται αὐτὴν τῷ παιδὶ ᾿Οδυσσέϊ πρὸς γάμον· ἣ τοσαύτην εἶχεν ἀρετὴν, ὥστε καὶ τὴν ῾Ελένην τὴν ἐκ Διὸς οὖσαν τῷ τῆς ἀρετῆς ὑπερβάλλειν. ῾Η δὲ ἱστορία παρὰ Φιλοστεφάνῳ καὶ Φερεκύδῃ.

This story, of course, runs against a more famous version that isn’t exactly compatible (although one could imagine finding some way to match the two tales):

Apollodorus, 3.132

“When Tyndareus saw the mass of suitors, he feared that once one was selected the rest would start fighting. But then Odysseus promised that if he aided him in marrying Penelope, he would propose a way through which there would be no fight—and Tyndareus promised to help him. Odysseus said that he should have the suitors swear an oath to come to the aid if the man who was selected as bridegroom were done wrong by any other man regarding his marriage. After he heard that, Tyndareus had the suitors swear an oath and he himself chose Menelaos as the bride groom and he suited Penelope from Ikarios’ on Odysseus’ behalf.”

τούτων ὁρῶν τὸ πλῆθος Τυνδάρεως ἐδεδοίκει μὴ κριθέντος ἑνὸς στασιάσωσιν οἱ λοιποί. ὑποσχομένου δὲ ᾿Οδυσσέως, ἐὰν συλλάβηται πρὸς τὸν Πηνελόπης αὐτῷ γάμον, ὑποθήσεσθαι τρόπον τινὰ δι’ οὗ μηδεμία γενήσεται στάσις, ὡς ὑπέσχετο αὐτῷ συλλήψεσθαι ὁ Τυνδάρεως, πάντας εἶπεν ἐξορκίσαι τοὺς μνηστῆρας βοηθήσειν, ἐὰν ὁ προκριθεὶς νυμφίος ὑπὸ ἄλλου τινὸς ἀδικῆται περὶ τὸν γάμον. ἀκούσας δὲ τοῦτο Τυνδάρεως τοὺς μνηστῆρας ἐξορκίζει, καὶ Μενέλαον μὲν αὐτὸς αἱρεῖται νυμφίον, ᾿Οδυσσεῖ δὲ παρὰ ᾿Ικαρίου μνηστεύεται Πηνελόπην.

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Helen and Penelope Were Cousins!

Helen and Penelope, the two most important women of Homeric epic, appear to be cousins! How can this be the case? Their fathers, as one might imagine, were brothers (Apollodorus 3.126):

“There are some who say that Aphareus and Leukippos were sons of Periêrês the son of Aiolos and that Periêrês was the son of Kunortos, but that he himself was the father of Oibalos who fathered Tyndareus, Hippokoôn, and Ikarios.

Hippokoôn had for children Dorykleus, Skaios, Enarophoros, Euteikhes, Boukolos, Lukaithos, Tebros, Hippothoos, Eurytos, Hippokorustês, Alkinoos,and Alkôn. With these sons, Hippokoôn expelled his brothers Ikarios and Tyndareus from Lakedaimôn. The pair fled to Thestios and they allied with him in the war against his neighbors. So, Tyndareus wed Thestios’ daughter, Lêda. And then, when Herakles killed Hippokoôn and his sons, they returned, and Herakles handed over the kingdom of Tyndareus.”

εἰσὶ δὲ οἱ λέγοντες ᾿Αφαρέα μὲν καὶ Λεύκιππον ἐκ Περιήρους γενέσθαι τοῦ Αἰόλου, Κυνόρτου δὲ Περιήρην, τοῦ δὲ Οἴβαλον, Οἰβάλου δὲ καὶ νηίδος νύμφης
Βατείας Τυνδάρεων ῾Ιπποκόωντα ᾿Ικάριον.

῾Ιπποκόωντος μὲν οὖν ἐγένοντο παῖδες Δορυκλεὺς Σκαῖος ᾿Εναροφόρος Εὐτείχης Βουκόλος Λύκαιθος Τέβρος ῾Ιππόθοος Εὔρυτος ῾Ιπποκορυστὴς ᾿Αλκίνους ῎Αλκων. τούτους ῾Ιπποκόων ἔχων παῖδας ᾿Ικάριον καὶ Τυνδάρεων ἐξέβαλε Λακεδαίμονος. οἱ δὲ φεύγουσι πρὸς Θέστιον, καὶ συμμαχοῦσιν αὐτῷ πρὸς τοὺς ὁμόρους πόλεμον ἔχοντι· καὶ γαμεῖ Τυνδάρεως Θεστίου θυγατέρα Λήδαν. αὖθις δέ, ὅτε ῾Ηρακλῆς ῾Ιπποκόωντα καὶ τοὺς τούτου παῖδας ἀπέκτεινε, κατέρχονται, καὶ παραλαμβάνει Τυνδάρεως τὴν βασιλείαν.

The story according to a Homeric scholiast is presents even more family dysfunction (Schol. b in Il.2.581-6):

“Oibalos, the son of Perierês, ruled the Lakadaimonians and his children were Tyndareus, Ikarios, Arênê and the bastard Hippokoôn who conspired with Ikarios and drove Tyndareus away. He was ruling with his many sons.”

Οἴβαλος ὁ Περιήρους ἦρχε Λακεδαιμονίων, οὗ Τυνδάρεως ᾿Ικάριος ᾿Αρήνη καὶ νόθος ῾Ιπποκόων, ὃς συμφρασάμενος ᾿Ικαρίῳ τὸν Τυνδάρεων ἀπελαύνει, καὶ ἄρχει πολλοῖς πλήθων υἱοῖς.

According to the rest of this tale, Herakles came and killed Hippokoôn and his sons after he sacked Pylos. Menelaos was only in charge of the contingent, according to the scholiast, because Helen’s brothers were not there.

Some of these details are confirmed by a scholiast writing on Euripides, Schol. In Euripides Orestes 457

“These are the children of Oibalos,the son of Periêrês: Tyndareus, Ikarios, Arênê, and Hippokoôn, a bastard from Nikostratê. After the death of Oibalos, the children struggled over who would rule. Ikarios made a pact with Hippokoôn and drove Tyndareus out of Sparta. Tyndareus lived afterwards in the farthest reaches of Lakedaimonia and married Leda, the daughter of Thestios the Aitolian.

She gave birth to Kastor and Polydeukes, Timandra, Klytemnestra, and Helen. Later, Herakles killed Hippokoôn and his sons in exchange for the murder of Oiônos; then he returned Tyndareus from Phrixê and Pellênê and entrusted the rule of Sparta to him. For Herakles married Leda’s niece, Deineira.”

Οἰβάλου τοῦ Περιήρους παῖδες οὗτοι· Τυνδάρεως, ᾿Ικάριος, ᾿Αρήνη, καὶ νόθος ἐκ Νικοστράτης ῾Ιπποχόων. οὗτοι μετὰ θάνατον Οἰβάλου ἐστασίασαν περὶ τῆς ἀρχῆς. ᾿Ικάριος δὲ συνθέμενος μετὰ ῾Ιπποκόωντος ἐξελαύνει τὸν Τυνδάρεων τῆς Σπάρτης.

ὁ δὲ οἰκεῖ ἐν τοῖς ἐσχάτοις τῆς Λακεδαιμονίας καὶ γαμεῖ Λήδαν τὴν Θεστίου τοῦ Αἰτωλοῦ, ἐξ ἧς ἔσχε Κάστορα καὶ Πολυδεύκην καὶ Τιμάνδραν καὶ Κλυταιμνήστραν καὶ ῾Ελένην. ὕστερον δὲ ῾Ηρακλῆς ἐπὶ τῷ φόνῳ τοῦ Οἰωνοῦ φονεύσας ῾Ιπποκόωντα ἅμα τοῖς παισὶ καὶ καταγαγὼν τὸν Τυνδάρεων ἀπὸ Φρίξης καὶ Πελλήνης ἐγχειρεῖ αὐτῷ τὴν ἀρχὴν τῆς Σπάρτης. ἐγάμει γὰρ ῾Ηρακλῆς Δηϊάνειραν τὴν Λήδας ἀδελφιδῆν: —

[Leda is not universally a daughter of Thestios. Thestios’ other daughter was Althaia, who married Oineus and gave birth to Meleager and Deineira. According to another tradition, attributed to Eumelos of Corinth, Leda was the daughter of Glaukos and Panteiduia. And let’s not even bring Pherecydes into this. Because, well, there are even more accounts to consider…]

“Feminine Fame”: Homer on Why We Disbelieve Women

After the suitor Amphimedon arrives in the underworld and tells the story of Penelope’s shroud and Odysseus’ return, Agamemnon responds:

Odyssey 24.192-202:

“Blessed child of Laertes, much-devising Odysseus,
You really secured a wife with magnificent virtue!
That’s how good the brains are for blameless Penelope,
Ikarios’ daughter, how well she remembered Odysseus,
Her wedded husband. The fame of her virtue will never perish,
And the gods will craft a pleasing song
Of mindful Penelope for mortals over the earth.
This is not the way for Tyndareos’ daughter.
She devised wicked deeds and since she killed
Her wedded husband, a hateful song
Will be hers among men, she will attract harsh rumor
To the race of women, even for those who are good.”

“ὄλβιε Λαέρταο πάϊ, πολυμήχαν’ ᾿Οδυσσεῦ,
ἦ ἄρα σὺν μεγάλῃ ἀρετῇ ἐκτήσω ἄκοιτιν·
ὡς ἀγαθαὶ φρένες ἦσαν ἀμύμονι Πηνελοπείῃ,
κούρῃ ᾿Ικαρίου, ὡς εὖ μέμνητ’ ᾿Οδυσῆος,
ἀνδρὸς κουριδίου. τῶ οἱ κλέος οὔ ποτ’ ὀλεῖται
ἧς ἀρετῆς, τεύξουσι δ’ ἐπιχθονίοισιν ἀοιδὴν
ἀθάνατοι χαρίεσσαν ἐχέφρονι Πηνελοπείῃ,
οὐχ ὡς Τυνδαρέου κούρη κακὰ μήσατο ἔργα,
κουρίδιον κτείνασα πόσιν, στυγερὴ δέ τ’ ἀοιδὴ
ἔσσετ’ ἐπ’ ἀνθρώπους, χαλεπὴν δέ τε φῆμιν ὀπάσσει
θηλυτέρῃσι γυναιξί, καὶ ἥ κ’ εὐεργὸς ἔῃσιν.”

More than half of this speech praises Penelope for being a loyal, ‘good’ wife (and that is another issue of its own). Of course, this makes Agamemnon think of Klytemnestra. There’s a lot to be said about how this passage sets up the end of the Odyssey, but Agamemnon’s words are striking because they reflect a sad reality not just about misogynistic thinking but about the operation of human thought.

Let’s start with the misogyny: Agamemnon says here, quite clearly, that because of the behavior of one woman (well, two if we hear ambiguity in the phrase “Tyndareos’ daughter” and think of Helen too) all women have bad fame, even if they are “good”? A simple response to this is to wonder whether the same applies to men (of course not…) Let’s pass over the fact that the murder of Agamemnon was probably well deserved.  I think this passage also reflects human cognition: the story of Klytemnestra is paradigmatic. We learn basic patterns about people and the world and apply these patterns (prejudices) as substitutions for deeper thought.

I am not sure whether this serves as a bit of an anticipatory apologetic on the part of epic–that the tale of Penelope cannot match up to negative messages about women. It probably stands as an acknowledgement of a “negative expectancy effect”–we are primed to hear negative tales and to believe negative things. I suspect that on Homer’s part this is probably less about women and more about anticipating the reception of this poem.

But, at the very least, this is a clear indication that Homer knows the way it goes: we live in a cultural system that discounts positive stories about women in favor of negative ones and which, accordingly, downgrades the authority of the stories they tell. In our responses to the testimonies of men and women, men have the privilege of being individuals whose lives might be ruined by rumor and false claims, while women are always already undermined. This is is an example of structural misogyny.

For discussions of this passage see: On the contrasting fame of Klytemnestra and Penelope, see Franco 2012, 60–61. For invocations of Klytemnestra as an example of how a woman can ruin a nostos, see Murnaghan 2011, chapter 4 and Nagy 1999, 36–39.

orestes
Classical myth deserves trigger warnings.

Franco, Cristina. 2012. “Women in Homer,” in Sharon L. James and Sheila Dillon, eds., A Companion to Women in the Ancient World. London. 55­–65.

Marquardt, Patricia. 1989. “Love’s Labor’s Lost: Women in the Odyssey,” in Robert Sutton, ed., Daidalikon: Studies in Honor of Raymond V. Schoder, S.J. Chicago. 239-248.

Murnaghan, Sheila. 2011. Disguise and Recognition in the Odyssey, Second Edition. Lanham.

Nagy, Gregory 1996. Poetry as Performance: Homer and Beyond. Cambridge