Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Atreus (AY-tree-uhs), the oldest son of Pelops and the rightful ruler of Mycenae. He is the protagonist in what is arguably the most fiendish revenge play in the history of the theater. He and his brother Thyestes were supposed to alternate in ruling Mycenae, but neither of them respected the other’s rights. Having won the latest civil war, Atreus has consolidated his power and is now ready to avenge himself on his brother. Asserting that, as a king, he is not bound by moral law, Atreus formulates his plan. He sends his two sons to Thyestes with a friendly message, inviting him to return to Mycenae and share the throne with Atreus. When Thyestes arrives, Atreus welcomes him warmly; later, however, Atreus kills his nephews, butchers them, cooks the meat, and at a great feast serves it to their unsuspecting father. He concludes by giving Thyestes wine mixed with his children’s blood, then reveals the truth by uncovering a platter holding their heads. Gloating over his brother’s distress, Atreus claims victory. Now, Atreus says, his marriage bed has been cleansed and he can be sure that his sons are his own. He ends by scoffing at the idea that the gods will punish him.


Thyestes (thi-EHS-teez), Atreus’ brother, who seduces his wife and steals the golden ram, the symbol of power in the kingdom. Having been defeated and banished by Atreus,...

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