1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pelops

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PELOPS, in Greek legend, the grandson of Zeus, son of Tantalus and Dione, and brother of Niobe. His father's home was on Mt Sipylus in Asia Minor, whence Pelops is spoken of as a Lydian or a Phrygian. Tantalus one day served up to the gods his own son Pelops, boiled and cut in pieces. The gods detected the crime, and none of them would touch the food except Demeter (according to others, Thetis), who, distracted by the loss of her daughter Persephone, ate of the shoulder. The gods restored Pelops to life, and the shoulder consumed by Demeter was replaced by one of ivory. Wherefore the descendants of Pelops had a white mark on their shoulder ever after (Ovid, Metam. vi. 404; Virgil, Georgics, iii. 7). This tale is perhaps reminiscent of human sacrifice amongst the Greeks. Poseidon carried Pelops off to Olympus, where he dwelt with the gods, till, for his father's sins, he was cast out from heaven. Then, taking much wealth with him, he crossed over from Asia to Greece. He went to Pisa in Elis as suitor of Hippodameia, daughter of king Oenomaus, who had already vanquished in the chariot-race and slain many suitors for his daughter's hand. But by the help of Poseidon, who lent him winged steeds, or of Oenomaus's charioteer Myrtilus, whom he or Hippodameia bribed, Pelops was victorious in the race, wedded Hippodameia, and became king of Pisa (Hyginus, Fab. 84) The race of Pelops for his wife may be reminiscence of the early practice of marriage by capture. When Myrtilus claimed his promised reward, Pelops flung him into the sea near Geraestus in Euboea, and from his dying curse sprang those crimes and sorrows of the house of Pelops which supplied the Greek tragedians with such fruitful themes (Sophocles, Electra, 505, with Jebb's note). Among the sons of Pelops by Hippodameia were Atreus, Thyestes and Chrysippus From Pisa Pelops extended his sway over the neighbouring Olympia, where he celebrated the Olympian games with a splendour unknown before. His power and fame were so great that henceforward the whole peninsula was known to the ancients as Peloponnesus, “island of Pelops” (νῆσος, island). In after times Pelops was honoured at Olympia above all other heroes; a temple was built for him by Heracles, his descendant in the fourth generation, in which the annual magistrates sacrificed to him a black ram.

From the reference to Asia in the tales of Tantalus, Niobe and Pelops it has been conjectured that Asia was the original seat of these legends, and that it was only after emigration to Greece that the people localized a part of the tale of Pelops in their new home. In the time of Pausanias the throne of Pelops was still shown on the top of Mt Sipylus. The story of Pelops is told in the first Olympian ode of Pindar and in prose by Nicolaus Damascenus.