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Atreus was an antagonist in Greek mythology. He was the patriarch of the infamous House of Atreus, the brother of Thyestes and the father of Menelaus and Agamemnon. As King of Mycenae, he abused his power and violated xenia (sacred hospitality) in order to punish his brother for attempting to cheat him out of the throne of Mycenae.

Biography

Atreus was grandson of Tantalus and son of Pelops and Hippodamia. In accordance with a curse placed on Pelops's line by Myrtilus, Atreus and his brother Thyestes grew jealous of their half-brother Chrysippus and killed him by throwing him down a well, for which they were exiled by their father. King Eurystheus of Mycenae granted them shelter and granted them temporary stewardship over Mycenae while he was away fighting the Heraclids. When the Heraclids won and slew Eurystheus, Atreus and Thyestes argued over who should take his throne.

Atreus vowed to sacrifice the best lamb from his flock to the gods if they would make him king; however, he found a golden lamb among the flock and, not wishing to sacrifice it, gave it to his wife Aerope to hide. Aerope then gave the lamb to Thyestes, who she was having an affair with. Thyestes convinced Atreus to agree that whoever had the lamb should have the throne of Mycenae before producing it and ascending the throne. Angered, Atreus asked the god Zeus for help. Zeus told Atreus to bet Thyestes that the sun would rise in the west the next day and get him to agree to hand over the throne if he did so. Thyestes agreed to the bet, believing he was sure to win. But Zeus had convinced the sun god Helios to move backwards in the sky that day, so Atreus won the bet, took the throne and banished Thyestes.

As king, Atreus had two sons by Aerope, Agamemnon and Menelaus. However, he soon learned of her affair with Thyestes and plotted brutal revenge. Atreus gave Thyestes permission to return to Mycenae with his two sons. When Thyestes returned, Atreus took his sons, killed them and served them to Thyestes in a banquet. Once Thyestes had eaten his sons, Atreus produced their uncooked hands and feet (their heads in some versions) and revealed what he had just eaten. He then declared Thyestes a cannibal and banished him once again. Soon after, Atreus avenged himself on Aerope by throwing her off a cliff to her death.

Thyestes vowed revenge against Atreus and consulted the Oracle of Delphi, which informed him that if he had a son by his daughter Pelopia that son would slay Atreus. Thyestes began raping Pelopia to produce this son, eventually getting her pregnant with Aegisthus. Meanwhile, Mycenae had become barren due to the god's hatred for Atreus, so he consulted the Oracle and was told to find Thyestes and return him to Mycenae. Atreus searched for Thyestes in Sicyon but was unable to find him, only finding Pelopia, who he decided to make his wife. Pelopia was brought back to Mycenae and married to Atreus, but not before abandoning the infant Aegisthus in the wilderness because she was ashamed of how he was born. Atreus discovered his existence and ordered the infant brought to him; a shepherd found him and delivered him to Atreus.

Many years passed, and Atreus continued to search for Thyestes to fulfil the prophecy. His sons Agamemnon and Menelaus eventually captured Thyestes in Delphi and brought him back to Mycenae. As the prophecy said nothing about keeping Thyestes alive Atreus decided to have him killed, sending Aegisthus to Thyestes's prison cell to do the deed. Once they were alone Thyestes revealed the truth to Aegisthus, who decided to kill Atreus. He returned to the throne room and informed him that Thyestes was dead. Atreus was overjoyed at the news and went down to the beach to make a sacrifice to the gods, accompanied only by Aegisthus. With nobody else around, Aegisthus killed Atreus with the sword meant for Thyestes, thus fulfilling the prophecy.

Legacy

With Atreus dead, the gods allowed prosperity to return to Mycenae, thus fulfilling the second prophecy. However, Atreus's violations of xenia lead to a further curse being placed on the House of Atreus, in addition to the previous curses placed on Tantalus and Pelops. Due to this, misfortune and evil continued to plague the House of Atreus: Thyestes unfairly banished Agamemnon and Menelaus from Mycenae, Agamemnon deposed and exiled Thyestes, Menelaus's wife Helen was abducted by Paris and the resultant war left many dead and finally Agamemnon was murdered by Aegisthus and his unfaithful wife Clytemnestra. The curse was only broken when Agamemnon's son Orestes, after killing Aegisthus and Clytemnestra, gained the assistance of the goddess Athena in purifying his line.

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See Also
Cthulhu Mythos Villains | Trevor Henderson Villains | Creepypasta Villains | SCP Foundation Villains

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