The lineages involved in the Trojan War include: the Tantalum lineage, the Trojan royal lineage, the Spartan lineage, the Maia lineage, the Deion lineage and the Asopos lineage.The lineage of Tantalus studied here embodies the aspiration of the seeker. It includes in particular Pelops, Atreus and Thyestes, Agamemnon and Menelaus.
Agamemnon with the priest Chryses attempting to ransom his daughter Chryseis – Louvre museum
To fully understand this web page, it is recommended to follow the progression given in the tab Greek myths interpretation. This progression follows the spiritual journey.
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The origins of Tantalus
See Family tree 15
In the genealogical diagrams used in this work, the lineage of Tantalus has been described in relation to the descendants of the Pleiad Sterope, although Apollodorus and Hyginus were the only one amongst the initiates of ancient Greece to have identified her as the mother or spouse of Oenomaus, father of Hippodamia.
However, if Tantalus is taken to be a primary symbol of aspiration, of a will for progress and/or of a need for evolution, his lineage can be placed neither within the path of the ascension of the planes of consciousness nor within that of purification and liberation. Aspiration, or the need for evolution, is in fact the motor force of all that lives with the purpose of uniting with the Source. In man in can express itself through action, through the heart or through the mind. But this is a need of the soul, and is therefore situated beyond the five categories of primary needs defined by Maslow: physiological or vital needs, needs for security, for love and belonging, for self-esteem, and for realisation or personal accomplishment, since it is a need of the soul.
Aspiration can lead to a variety of experiences of union with the Absolute, but both the liberation into spirit – the end of desire and ego – which is the result of a process of purification – and to an even greater extent the liberation of nature, remain tied to a progression within the mind till a certain point. Expressed by the fundamental movement of yoga of ascension and integration, this link constitutes quite a complex problem. In fact the seeker can progress quite far in a specific area even while leaving behind other parts of the being, which will eventually force him to turn back. In mythology this link is marked by unions between heroes and heroines of different lineages, by the participation of the heroes of these lineages in Panhellenic adventures or by ‘visits’ and gifts exchanged by characters from different lineages. The number of generations within each lineage adds an element of complexity to this problem.
Pindar describes Tantalus as one who is on familiar terms with the gods and even as an immortal, reflecting a seeker who is familiar with the powers of the overmind and who has possibly even attained a state of non-duality in the spirit. Marking the origin of the lineage, this accomplishment therefore presupposes a very advanced stage of mental progression.
However, the sacrifice of his only son offered to the gods shows that the researcher, although very dedicated, think to have reached the end of yoga since no more yoga work would be necessary (the death of the only son). There is then the need to go back to achieve a more complete mastery; it will be the union of Pelops and Hippodamia.
This is why the order of descendance described by Apollodorus and Hyginus, which is apparently drawn from ancient sources, seems coherent. It associates this remarkable aspiration to a great development of the higher mind, represented by the Pleiad Sterope, ‘a vision in lightening flashes’. Hence the mention of Hippodamia, ‘the mastery of vital force’, as a daughter of Oenomaus and Sterope or granddaughter of the god Ares and Sterope.
We can understand therefore that the seeker has to come down from the higher planes of the mind to complete purification which would then be started from the higher mind.
Sterope, a symbol of the higher mind plane, quite logically sets in place the Atrides in relation to the royal Trojan lineage, which according to a number of Greek authors originated from Zeus and the Pleiad Electra, the illumined mind. In fact the Trojans, a people of the East, represent a part of the being that is more advanced in the ascension process than that symbolised by the Achaean coalition.
Tantalus represents the culmination of an aspiration that put the seeker on the path, symbolised by Deucalion “the one who calls the union”, son of Prometheus.
Since the link with the higher mind is only through a maternal ancestry, the Tantalus lineage is therefore considered in this work separately from the two main paths of ascension and purification, while keeping in consideration the parallels and links drawn by the initiates of ancient Greece between this lineage and the two main paths.
When associating Hippodamia with the mastery of the vital, one must remember the distinction between on the one hand the ‘control’ imposed by the ego, and on the other the principle of mastery, the responsibility of which must be progressively transferred from the personal will to the psychic being as the ego progressively disappears. In this case, ‘mastery’ comes to signify ‘liberation’, and it is the progressive quest for a ‘true mastery’ which Hippodamia represents. This is the reason for the infamous punishment of Tantalus in Hades, which expresses an aspiration which has ‘descended’ into the body, the corporeal inconscient, or an ‘aspiration of the cells’. In other words, the symbol of Hippodamia’s union with Pelops, son of Tantalus, is that of the beginning of a quest for the power of transformation.
While a great mastery of the vital and mental planes leads to a state of ‘liberated’ seeker – a liberation from desire, ego and suffering linked to the mind and the vital – this stage must be transcended to allow a progression to the next stage of yoga. This reversal is illustrated by the story of Pelops the son of Tantalus, and then by the Trojan War led by the Atrides.
The significance of the name Tantalus is difficult to ascertain. Through its structuring characters it could be a symbol of the evolution of aspiration towards the Absolute in the heights of the spirit. If considering only the single word root ‘Tal’, endurance, then this aspiration would be linked to the principle of endurance.
This character’s origins are obscure. Some relatively weakly supported sources (Diodorus and Pausanias) describe him as a son of Zeus and Pluto, ‘wealth’, sometimes considered to be a daughter of Atlas or a nymph of Mount Sipylus, ‘the doorway’ or ‘frontier of the human’.
As a son of Zeus he symbolises an impulse of the supraconscient aiming at a major realisation to be carried out through his descendants, Agamemnon and Menelaus.
As Pluto’s son, Tantalus was famous for his wealth, obtained through a very advanced degree of spiritual evolution. This is why he was said to be on familiar terms with the gods, which is to say that he represented a seeker who had attained the level of the overmind, at least up to a certain extent.
In her representation as a nymph of Mount Sipylus ‘the door out of human consciousness’, Pluto is the symbol of a spiritual force at the height of the process of personal yoga, before the latter is transferred to the Divine.
Several names are given to the wife of Tantalus. These are Euryanassa, (‘a vast mastery’), Eurythemis, (‘obedience to the supreme law’ and daughter of the river Xanthos, ‘golden yellow’, symbol of the accomplishment of detachment and inner development, current of consciousness/energy linked to liberation from dualities), Klytia (‘she of great renown’, daughter of Amphidamas, ‘everything which concerns mastery’), or Dione, (‘the evolution of union in consciousness’ and daughter of Atlas).
All of these names express the aspiration and the work of the seeker in view of a vast mastery which has no constraint, rejection nor denial.
The punishment of Tantalus
Tantalus is most well known for the punishment that he underwent in the kingdom of Hades. To thoroughly understand this story, one must go back to those who endured other forms of punishment in the underworld, namely Tityus, Sisyphus and Tantalus. All three of these characters represent elements which have been useful in evolution, but which are still at work in the body, and must be vanquished there or must achieve their accomplishment during the last stage of yogic progress (See Volume 1 Chapter 4 of this work).
The first character, Tityus, is a son of Gaia, and therefore represents a process generated at the source by the principle of Existence. He symbolises the fundamental distancing of man from his divine origin, or the sense or awareness of separateness.
In Hades his body was spread over a distance of about fifty acres, and vultures devoured his liver. He had been slain by Apollo and Artemis for his attempted abuse of their mother Leto.
This awareness of separateness must be vanquished, not only in the mind, but also within the vital and finally within the body down to the level of the cells. It must be noted that the power of union brought forth by the psychic is incompatible with separation but not with differentiation.
It is therefore necessary for the belief of separation symbolised by the liver to progressively disappear at the corporeal level as well. In the Caduceus the liver can be attributed to the Sephiroth Netzach, centre of consciousness in which one can also situate the liver, while reason rests on Hod, the other pillar. The liver of Tityus thus symbolises the belief in separation.
The second character to be punished in the underworld was Sisyphus, father of Bellerophon the conqueror of the Chimera. It therefore seems apparent that he had served his role in evolution. But when all illusions have been vanquished in the mind and in the vital it is still necessary for the body to abandon its illusions as well, which are linked to millions of years of evolution and the evolutionary logic of which form an impregnable bastion. It is then a matter of transforming the paradigms linked to the past, going against the sense of logic, through a total abandonment to what is Real and to the supramental action. The illusions of the body are those which seem like ‘impossible’ to us. But already at the cellular level – without even considering the molecular and corpuscular levels, the first paradigms of which science is just beginning to discover – these impossibilities can begin to be banished.
Within the deep subconscient or the inconscient, the personal effort sustained by the mind and represented by Sisyphus can no longer bear fruits; everything is to be ceaselessly begun again, for nothing is acquired in a definitive way.
Placed at the origin of the lineage of the Atreides, Tantalus represents the tertiary process which first allows an access to divinity in the Spirit and a certain degree of proximity with the psychic being, but which must reorient itself towards a purification and liberation of the lower nature down till the level of the body. It is for this reason that Homer writes of his ‘old age’, a phase in which aspiration or the will for progress cannot cease till man has been rendered divine.
According to Homer, when Ulysses descended into the kingdom of Shadows he beheld Tantalus amongst the damned.
Then in his old age, the latter stood in a lake of water which rose till his chin. Although parched with thirst, he could not reach the water which was being continually absorbed by the soil. Around his feet then appeared a dark earth which was being dried out by a god.
And when his hand reached for one of the succulent fruits which hung above his head, the wind would push it away into the shadowy clouds.
Other texts which describe this myth evoke an initial state in which the seeker has managed to reach, at least temporarily, a level of the overmind, for Tantalus sits at the table of the gods. According to some Greek authors Tantalus had even attained immortality, which symbolises a seeker who exists as a spirit within Spirit, rather than as a mind within a body. Immortality must be understood as described by Sri Aurobindo in his Essays on the Gita, in The Creed of the Aryan Fighter. There he writes that ‘by immortality is meant not the survival of death, – that is already given to every creature born with a mind, – but the transcendence of life and death. It means that ascension by which man ceases to live as a mind-informed body and lives at last as a spirit and in the Spirit. Whoever is subject to grief and sorrow, a slave to the sensations and emotions, occupied by the touches of things transient cannot become fit for immortality. These things must be borne until they are conquered, till they can give no pain to the liberated man, till he is able to receive all the material happenings of the world whether joyful or sorrowful with a wise and calm equality, even as the tranquil eternal Spirit secret within us receives them.’
Tantalus therefore represents ‘aspiration’ or ‘a will for yogic progress’, marked by an at least partial ascent to the overmind, the plane of the gods. This is why Agamemnon, his most renowned descendant, was described by Homer as ‘the greediest of the Greeks’, he whose aspiration and will for progress is strongest.
This aspiration occurs within the body when the corresponding yogic process begins, but it never allows an enjoyment of the fruits which the adventurer of consciousness beholds close at hand. On the contrary, he must face a progressive aridity in the body, the crepuscular cellular matter in which the vital becomes less and less involved, in relation to his capacity to come face to face with it (the dark earth is dried by a god).
Tantalus’ ‘old age’ in the kingdom of Hades confirms the fact that this points to the end of a process.
In the version recounted by Athenaeus (second century BCE), Tantalus was on familiar terms with the gods and used to dine at their table, so that he in his turn invited them to a feast. Zeus promised to fulfil any wish Tantalus would make, and the latter asked to live as one of the gods. Zeus was obliged to accede to his request, but hung a rock over his head so that he would be unable to enjoy all that which was presented to him.
A number of elements in this version of the myth had already been alluded to by Pindar six centuries earlier, but in his account the rock did not threaten to crush Tantalus, but only kept him from accessing full enjoyment. In the present version, the author insists on the essential lack, the need for something else, as the motor of the lineage
In other versions, Tantalus was punished either because of sacrificing his son Pelops, or because he had shown arrogance or had divulged the knowledge of mysteries which were to remain secret.
The sacrifice of Pelops
Two main versions of this story exist.
In the most well known one, Tantalus slew his son, and presented his flesh as part of a feast for the gods. While this version seems to draw elements from an archaic tradition and was mostly picked up again by the Greek tragic playwrights, it would seem that Pindar was probably not keen to support the misunderstandings which would interpret this story as a cannibal repast offered to the gods. This author in fact rejected this as a fiction of mortals, and proposed an alternative version in his First Olympian. He left a number of elements unexplained, including that of Pelops having been placed within a cauldron and given a shoulder of ivory.
The most common version can be summarised as follows:
Tantalus was on familiar terms with the gods, whose meals he often shared. One day he slew his young son Pelops, and served him as a repast to the gods. Recognising the nature of the dish the gods brought Pelops back to life, according to some sources by boiling his remains in a giant cauldron under Rhea’s attentive gaze. However, Demeter, distraught by grief at the disappearance of her daughter Persephone, had in her distracted state eaten one of Pelops’ shoulders. (This version appeared with Lycophron in the fourth century BCE.) Realising her mistake, she replaced it with a shoulder of ivory – or this was said to have been done by the gods unanimously in certain accounts.
It is sometimes attributed to the sacrifice of his son and to the resulting cannibal feast that Tantalus was later punished in Hades.
All Greek writers who recounted this myth were in agreement regarding Tantalus’ familiarity with the gods. Pindar even affirms that he had been rendered immortal by consuming nectar and ambrosia. It is therefore improbable that he would have wished to ‘test’ the gods or even to trick them as Prometheus had attempted to do, for here the seeker’s relationship with the worlds of the Spirit is no longer the same.
It must be remembered that the nourishment of the gods consisted of nectar and ambrosia.
The immortal ambrosia is the nourishments which maintains a state of non-duality (a-brosios: that which is not mortal). According to Homer it had been brought by doves from the Far West; it is what maintains peace or a perfect equality. Homer (Iliad 5.369) adds that Iris used to feed ambrosia to the divine horses of Ares; the current of consciousness-force, which links the powers of the overmind to each other or to human consciousness, gives ambrosia to nourish and dynamise the vital forces which work towards a renewal of forms for the right evolution.
The word nectar is made up of the same structuring characters as Actor and the ‘divine’ Hector. It is therefore a question of ‘that which in manifestation allows the evolution of the right movement of the opening of consciousness towards the spirit’ (Ν+ΚΤ+ΩΡ). Like ambrosia, it comes from the origins of life (far West), nourishing from behind the veil the supraconscient that guides humanity. While ambrosia is linked to the principle of Unity in the spirit, nectar, which is a beverage, is more strongly linked to the principle of Joy.
Tantalus offering his son as food for the gods is the image of a seeker who offers as a sacrifice to the divine everything which results from his aspiration, assuming that he has come to the end of his yogic progress. In fact, the slaying of his own son actually ends his descendance, and therefore halts the movement of aspiration.
But for the states of consciousness of the overmind, it cannot be a matter of putting an end to the yogic process as long as the external nature has not been transformed.
The versions of this myth in which the gods partake of the meal offered by Tantalus would therefore seem to be the results of a gradual misunderstanding.
Pindar does not mention the feast, but only describes that Pelops had been thrown into a cauldron and then given a shoulder of ivory, without however specifying whether he had been killed or cut into pieces beforehand:
Tantalus was highly esteemed by the gods, and had even been rendered immortal by nectar and ambrosia. When his young son Pelops was rescued from the cauldron by Clotho, he emerged resplendent and ivory-shouldered, and Poseidon fell in love with him.
Then, while Tantalus was inviting the gods to partake of a feast on Mount Sipylus, Poseidon abducted young Pelops, brought him to the palace of Zeus and made him into one of cup-bearers of the gods. (This task would later on be ascribed to the Trojan Ganymedes, son of Tros in the lineage of Electra).
As the child did not return to his mother, an envious neighbour was said to have spread the rumour that the gods had dismembered, boiled and eaten him. This Pindar clearly denounces as pure falsehood.
The author then adds that Tantalus was punished in Hades for his pretentiousness, for he had dared to share nectar and ambrosia with his other guests of his age. Kept from enjoyment in Hades, he ceaselessly struggled to remove the heavy stone which Zeus had suspended above him.
And as to his son Pelops, he was sent back amongst mortals by the gods.
In this version of the myth Pindar presents the bend in the yogic progression a little differently, without however clearly specifying the sense of having reached personal yoga achievement. There is only mentioned the arrogance of having wished to prematurely extend the state of non-duality to the being as a whole. In fact, the pretence of being beyond duality because it has been realised in the spirit must not be used as a protective screen for those who have not yet freed themselves from the hold of the ego. The perception of good and evil is necessary till this liberation takes place so as not to run the risk of indulging one’s weaknesses or tendencies.
The seeker then reaches a very advanced stage of yoga in Knowledge, even taking part in the non-duality of the spirit (the spiritualisation of the being, or spiritual transformation); Tantalus partakes of the nectar and ambrosia meant for the gods.
The name of his son, Pelops, can be understood as ‘one whose vision is darkened’, a sign of a loss of direction on the path. Other interpretations could be ‘he who draws near to vision’ (one who is on the point of becoming a seer in Vedic tradition), or ‘he who possesses the vision of darkness’.
However, the seeker maintains a degree of self-importance which, according to some sources, brings upon Tantalus his punishment in the kingdom of Hades. This assurance of being more advanced on the path than he truly is will be confirmed later on by the story of the children of Niobe the daughter of Tantalus, who were killed by Artemis and Apollo as a punishment for Niobe’s claims to being more fertile than Leto, symbol of the psychic being.
The seeker has been put through a very deep process of purification by spiritual forces (Pelops was plunged into a cauldron). For this he has undergone an alchemical-like process, with a separation of elements, purification and final reunion, which is perhaps what was meant to be symbolically expressed by the dismemberment and the boiling of Pelops in the archaic myth. But Pindar gives no explanation or details regarding this purification, noting however that it reaches a point at which the seeker has advanced halfway through ‘the doorway of the gods’. This is symbolised by the ivory shoulder given to Pelops by Demeter, the force watching over the process of union. This image then expresses the fact that the liberation of the spirit only constitutes half of the path.
Let us remember that the ‘doorway of the gods’ of the Tree of Sephiroth is situated at the level of the clavicles within the body, and constitutes the passage towards non-duality that is permanently in the Spirit. In fact, ivory is the most beautiful and pure of bone matter.
The shoulder is also symbolic of a ‘power of realisation’ flowing from the Will.
It was the goddess Clotho, ‘she who threads the fabric of life’, one of the Moirai and a daughter of Themis and Zeus, who rescued the child Pelops from the cauldron. Knowing however that Pelops was sent back to live amongst mortals, we find ourselves confronted by two elements which suggest a complete reversal of the spiritual path, a radical modification of the general framework. While the totality of aspiration was till this point entirely oriented towards a union with the Divine within the realm of Spirit, the adventurer of consciousness must henceforth plunge into the foundations of life and corporeal matter to strive for a more complete union. But this will not be carried out without difficulties.
The seeker has arrived to the ultimate point of his personal yoga, symbolised in this myth by Mount Sipylus, ‘Σ (sigma)’, which is to say ‘the doorway of man’. Beyond this point, he must abandon his personal will in the yogic process to give himself up exclusively to the hands of the Divine. This signifies that he is connected not only to the higher light of the spirit but also to the psychic being, indicating exactness in all of its movements.
At the end of this extended purification the seeker goes through a phase in which he is filled with joy resulting from his aspiration without however perceiving the exact origin of it as it is brought up by the subconscious. Pelops is abducted by Poseidon to be made into one of the cup-bearers of the gods. He precedes Ganymedes in this role, the latter being ‘he whose aim is joy’ and who was himself abducted by Zeus.
As the lineage of Tantalus is linked to the higher mind while the Trojan lineage is linked to the illumined mind, this refers to a progression in divine joy. This first experience is however only temporary (Pelops is sent back amongst mortals), for joy is only definitively established with the advent of the illumined mind when the Absolute takes charge of the direction of yoga (when Zeus gives the divine horses in exchange for Ganymedes of Troy).
According to ancient traditions this moment of personal liberation is also the point at which there is no longer a need for reincarnation. Pelops’ return amongst mortals would therefore also be the choice of the highest subconscious aiming to carry on the process of yoga for humanity.
As the personal process of yoga reaches its culmination, it is in the body that the aspiration or will for progress is to be henceforth inscribed (Tantalus is cast into Hades). It is not a question of a mental aspiration imposed on the body externally, but of an aspiration which must be born in the cells themselves so that they discover the joy of union and access their own power, for instance the power over illness. It is therefore a question of the rendering divine of corporeal matter.
Pindar, who rejected the version recounting the cannibal feast, had to find another reason for Tantalus’ banishment. To do so he supported himself on the seeker’s wish to extend non-duality and joy to all parts of his being prior to their being sufficiently purified (Tantalus shared nectar and ambrosia with the other guests of his age). According to Pindar Tantalus was full of pretentiousness.
In the kingdom of Hades Tantalus did not seem to fear the fall of the rock but to perceived it simply as a permanent obstruction hovering above his head; the seeker experiences an inability to connect to the worlds of the Spirit to which he was previously close. In contrast to the joy which he was used to taste in those worlds, he entered into an existence that is stripped of it (Tantalus looses the joys of Olympus).
The process of Yoga is often filled with these numerous reversals, in which that which has been enjoyed during a certain period is suddenly taken away.
It would make sense that the wife of Tantalus expresses through her name this complete personal liberation. However, none of the early sources give such an indication, even though they are all in general agreement in indicating a high degree of mastery.
She is given different names depending on the secondary source:
– Euryanassa, ‘a vast mastery’.
– Klytia, ‘she of great renown’, daughter of Amphidamas, ‘a complete mastery’ (Pherecydes).
– Sterope, ‘vision in lightening flashes’, a Pleiad and daughter of Atlas.
– Dione, ‘the evolution of union in consciousness’. According to Hyginus she was a Pleiad, but this is not corroborated by other authors.
The children of Tantalus: Pelops and Niobe
We have already discussed the story of Niobe, ‘the incarnation of consciousness in evolution’, in the second chapter as part of the discussion on the founding of Thebes. Here we will only repeat what occurs at the end of this process.
Niobe had six sons and six daughters, all in the full bloom of their youths, and she boasted of being Leto’s superior because of her many children. Offended, Leto asked her children to avenge this insult, and so Apollo slew Niobe’s sons, and Artemis her daughters. Their corpses remained unburied and lay in their own blood for nine days, for according to some sources Zeus had turned the entire world to stone. But on the tenth day the Ouranian gods were appeased and buried the dead themselves. Niobe was turned into a stone upon Mount Sipylus, where she underwent the mourning inflicted upon her by the gods.
Niobe was the wife of Amphion, kind of Thebes. Amphion had laid the foundations of Thebes with his brother, which is to say that he had set the bases of the process of purification. But at this point it is the personal will which is at work rather than the psychic being, irrespective of the number of realisations accomplished. At a certain point on the path, the psychic being quite violently halts all the developments of this process of purification (Leto’s children, Apollo and Artemis, slay Niobe’s sons and daughters), for the seeker is too confident of being on the right path due to the accomplishments already obtained whilst following only his own ideas and personal will (Niobe presumed to be Leto’s superior).
This myth highlights the fact that spiritual progression is most often not measured by the number of accomplishments or realisations that are obtained and spread out in full sight. Many amongst these can if fact be the results of the resurgence of ancient progresses of humankind or of long-lasting traditions, without the evolutionary process having been necessarily correctly integrated. The Mother insists on this point repeatedly when Satprem complains of a lack of visible realisations or achievements, and also gives this explanation in regards to the disciple’s Tantric guru.
In fact, the six sons and daughters of Niobe are expressions of perfectly balanced yogic works and realisations, obtained through a process of purification led by the personal will. But the personal will, which prides itself on bearing more fruits than the psychic being and even subtly boasts of this, must give way to the guidance of the psychic being in the yogic work (Niobe had boasted that she was more fertile than Leto).
This myth confirms what was underlined by the story of Tantalus, which shows a seeker wishing some parts of himself to access non-duality before having been appropriately purified (Tantalus sought to share with his comrades the divine nectar and ambrosia).
Henceforth it is no longer the personal will for progress which can on its own carry out the work, and the instruments of the psychic being take its place so as to govern the nature as a whole. Pelops and Niobe then roughly correspond to the stage of psychic transformation.
The seeker is then deprived of the corresponding realisations and accomplishments, which are not erased from consciousness however (the corpses lay unburied, resting in their own blood).
So as to clearly mark the fact that this is a radical transformation, there emerges from the supraconscient an upheaval in the awareness of the process which renders the seeker unable to recognise and honour what had been useful at a certain point of the path, but which must henceforth give way (the corpses lay unburied for nine days).
It is also the supraconscient which, after a period of integration, imposes this understanding on the being (on the tenth day the gods were appeased and buried the dead themselves).
Mount Sipylus marks the final limit of the yogic process led by the personal will (the doorway or gateway of the human).The process of consciousness represented by Niobe cannot be continued beyond this point, for it is immobilised at the ‘threshold of human consciousness’ (Niobe is turned into a stone upon Mount Sipylus).
This myth therefore evokes a fundamental reversal in the yogic progress, preparing the ground for the Trojan War with the will for a more intensified transformation of the external nature.
In fact in the cases of Tantalus and his son Pelops one can consider that spiritual transformation (Tantalus is on familiar terms with the gods) and psychic transformation (Pelops is married to Niobe) are at play.
This phase of yoga is therefore an unavoidable passage, for it must allow a going beyond what constitutes the ultimate goal of past forms of yoga. The symbolic time lapse of nine days corresponds to a stage of gestation which cannot be avoided or shortened by the personal will (for it was the gods who finally buried the corpses on the tenth day).
The allusion to the Ouranian gods may perhaps refer to the transition from the static Self to the dynamic Self, which is according to Sri Aurobindo controlled by the Supramental.
In the experience of Self in which the ego consciousness disappears, the seeker loses the awareness of himself as a separate entity, bringing about a state in which there is no longer any desire to take part in the affairs of the world. The identification with the body, the vital and the mind ceases, and the seeker discovers the impersonal source of his being standing in silence. The seeker then enters into ‘an emptiness with is full of light, peace and immensity, escaping all form or definition. This is a void, but one which is real and the existence of which can continue eternally’. This understanding removes one from time, and therefore from becoming. The first stage gives an appearance of unreality to life and consequently the seeker has no desire to implicate himself, to the point of wishing to irreversibly escape into the Absolute. He can also go through the experience of Nirvana, the ‘extinction’ or dissolution of individuality in consciousness, a cosmic or transcendent Being. But there is a second realisation which leads to the perception not only of the static aspect but also of the dynamic aspect of Self, and opens the doors to a complete reorientation of the yoga towards a terrestrial transformation. There is in fact a gap to be traversed between the realisations of the static Self and the dynamic Self, breached by the supramental that is simultaneously static and dynamic.
Pelops is therefore the symbol of the end of the ‘personal yoga’ and of the beginning of the yoga pertaining to humanity as a whole.
To begin with the seeker must accept that the work of mastery has not yet been completed. This is exemplified by the story of the conquest of Hippodamia, ‘mastery of force’, by Pelops, ‘the veiled vision’ or ‘he who draws near to vision’. It is a stage of the path in which the seeker, not satisfied by personal liberation alone, wishes to acquire the power of transformation for humanity as a whole.
We have seen that after the deep purification carried out by the forces of the Spirit and the partial passage through the threshold or ‘doorway of the gods’ (when Pelops is boiled in a cauldron and given a shoulder of ivory), the seeker temporarily dynamises the powers of the spirit within himself through the joy of his being liberated from desire and ego (Pelops becomes the cup-bearer of the gods on Olympus).
(If the first ivory shoulder corresponds to the liberation of the spirit, then the second is to be associated with the liberation of Nature, in keeping with the distinctions described by Sri Aurobindo, and placed at the beginning of a supramental transformation. This presupposes a prior ‘liberation of mental, vital and physical preferences; a solid peace and an absence of all perturbations or cloudiness; a pure spiritual and inner joy and an unchangeable spiritual ease in one’s natural being; a clear joy and a laughter from the soul which embraces life and existence’.)
It is at this point that the ‘aspiration for union’ must begin to work on corporeal matter, whilst the seeker is deprived of the proximity and support of the powers of the spirit: Tantalus is banished into Hades, and Pelops is sent back to Earth. This therefore indicates that a double process is to take place within the conscient and corporeal inconscient.
When Pelops’ beard had grown, he thought of getting married. He chose to wed the daughter of Oenomaus, king of Pisa and Elis, who had sometimes been said to be a son of Ares and Sterope. Oenomaus had organised chariot races and announced that he would give his daughter’s hand in marriage to the winner. He was the owner of excellent horses, for they had been gifted to him by his father Ares. He therefore cunningly allowed the participants to take the lead long enough to offer a sacrificial sheep to Zeus, and then caught up with them and speared them in the back.
‘Alone in the darkness’, Pelops was aware that he would have to face Oenomaus and sought Poseidon’s protection, asking for his assistance in this venture. Poseidon, who had previously fallen in love with Pelops and had brought him to mount Olympus, offered him a golden chariot and indefatigable winged horses.
When Pelops presented himself at the race, Oenomaus had already slain twelve or thirteen suitors.
Hippodamia begged her father’s driver, Myrtilus the son of Hermes, to favour the victory of Pelops, for she had fallen in love with him. Pelops then emerged triumphant, Myrtilus having tampered with the chariot and thus having brought about the death of Oenomaus. According to other sources, it was Pelops himself who slew him.
Then Myrtilus was in his turn killed by Pelops for attempting to rape Hippodamia, who he had also fallen in love with. As he lay dying Myrtilus damned Pelops’ entire race, but the latter was later purified of the act of murder.
Marking a turning point in the yogic process, this story probably has its place between the slaying of Niobe’s children and the time when the Ouranian gods finally buried them. It takes place in Elis, the province of victory in which is found the city of champions, Olympia, symbol of those who accomplished liberation, who came to the end of the personnel yoga (the two-fold psychic and spiritual transformation, and the access to the overmind).
During this period the seeker has involved himself further in an unknown path, has acquired a more penetrating vision of the nature of darkness or has drawn nearer to vision (Pelops’ beard had grown).
Mastery has already been largely acquired in the preceding phases of yoga on the mental and the vital planes. Hippodamia, literally ‘she who tames the horse’, represents in this myth ‘the mastery of force’, which united to Pelops becomes the power of transformation.
That which within the seeker ‘intensely desires divine intoxication’, symbolised by Hippodamia’s father Oenomaus, is associated with the higher mind, Sterope being his spouse. Hyginus and Pausanias, who identified Oenomaus as a son of Ares, place this quest for joy within the framework of the progress of exactness through a rapid renewal of forms. It is an indication for the seeker to avoid remaining riveted to forms that are no longer useful.
According to Sri Aurobindo, to be able to accomplish the transition of personal liberation and of the joy of cosmic unity towards complete transparency, it is necessary for the mind to have widened and to have entered into union with the Spirit, so that its instruments, Knowledge, Will and Joy, may begin to act. These three symbols of realisation appear in the myth of Pelops: Tantalus shares meals with the gods, Pelops is endowed with a shoulder made of ivory, and Oenomaus, ‘he who intensely desires intoxication’, fathers Hippodamia.
There comes a moment in which the ‘force of progress’ stimulate the seeker to acquire a power of transformation over his lower nature (Pelops, son of Tantalus, wishes to wed Hippodamia). But this aspiration alone is unable to ensure victory, for the elements within the seeker which are attached to the quest for divine enjoyment do not accept to orient the yogic process in any direction but the highest one (Oenomaus, ‘he who intensely desires divine intoxication’, will only give his daughter to one capable of winning in a chariot race with him).
The seeker then seeks the assistance of the power which governs the subconscious, and which has shown him an unflinching support in leading him to liberation of the spirit (Pelops seeks the support of Poseidon, who is in love with him and had brought him to Mount Olympus).
According to Pindar, Pelops progresses ‘alone in darkness’ to seek Poseidon’s help; the seeker goes forward without knowing the right path.
It must however be noted that Poseidon does not always appear to be as well-intentioned, for he represents a force at the service of the soul rather that of the ego personality.
But emerging from a struggle for exactness through the renewal of forms (the spiritual warrior), this quest for joy acquires the support of vital forces that have originated from the same source (Oenomaus’ horses excelled because they had been gifted by his father Ares).
In other words, the seeker cannot imagine a higher aim than that of the pursuit of Joy or one that can bring about a higher level of mastery (some sources state that Oenomaus was in love with his daughter). He therefore progressively eliminates all other paths of yoga which present themselves. The only enumerations of the latter – constituted of the names of Hippodamia’s suitors – are given by Pindar and the historian Pausanias, but are not reliable and therefore not worth noting.
During a certain period the seeker allows these paths to express themselves though he knows them to be ineffective, and then eliminates them one by one. (Oenomaus allowed the suitors to ride past him, and then slew them).
But at this stage the pursuit of a personal ‘divine enjoyment’ cannot constitute a sufficient goal for some individuals, for they aspire to a transformation of humanity as a whole.
To surpass this quest sustained by the forces of the supraconscient working for the ultimate aim of exactness, the seeker must appeal to his highest subconscient. In response, he receives the support of a liberated vital force capable of great endurance. This willpower can act in the mind in a form perfectly adapted to the path (Poseidon gifts indefatigable winged horses and a golden chariot to Pelops).This is a sign that the seeker has attained a level of great detachment and equality which allows him to stay focused on his yogic goals with a high level of constancy and efficiency. At a more practical level, there exists a stage of yoga in which the seeker is no longer tired by activity.
The golden chariot ought most probably to be understood as a personality purified of all its attachments, desires, preferences and repulsions.
As a matter of fact, these gifts are the results of a lengthy work of purification carried out both by the seeker and by spiritual forces (Pelops was scalded by the gods).
For the reversal to be entirely carried out Pelops must wed Hippodamia, which is to say that the will for purification and mastery must be turned away from a purely personal striving for ecstasy (Oenomaus) to focus itself on the work of the external nature in the archaic vital and physical layers of the body.
In some of the more elaborate versions it is not only the horses gifted by Poseidon which allow Pelops to win the race, for Hippodamia asks her father’s coach driver Myrtilus, ‘myrtle’, to bring about his master’s death.
Myrtle was carried by priestesses and mystics of the temples of Demeter and Persephone during the Eleusinian mysteries; the initiates of the mysteries of Dionysus used to crown themselves with this favourite plant of the god.
Although this detail is unverified, it has been said that myrtle berries were used by drinkers to delay intoxication. This matches with the meaning of the myth.
Myrtle must not be confused with myrrh. Myrtle is a tree symbolically linked to those who choose the path of ecstasy, or at least with those who aim not only at liberation, but also at a cosmic enjoyment of the power of Spirit.
As a son of Hermes, Myrtilus represents a specific development in the overmind.
Till this point it was the highest part of the mind which had directed the quest towards the development of divine intoxication (Myrtilus was Oenomaus’ coach driver), and in this sense he occupied his rightful place for he was a son of Hermes.
But in this reversal it is necessary for the part of the overmind that had until that point devoted itself to the quest for ecstasy, however illuminated and intuitive it may be, to accept to participate in the change of objective of the yogic process. It may then even be necessary for it to be removed from the direction of the yogic path, for the direction of the quest can no longer depend on its lead.
Certain authors justify its elimination by stating that Myrtilus had attempted to rape Hippodamia; this aspect of the overmind attempts to seize the direction of the work of mastery by force.
This is why Pelops was later purified of the murder, as his action was in agreement with the right path.
Henceforth the path can no longer be motivated by a personal quest for divine enjoyment (Myrtilus), and only two specific aspects of aspiration can then lead the quest, which under the symbols of Atreus and Thyestes, appear to be contradictory and difficult to reconcile, the throne being passed repeatedly from one to the other.
The murder of Myrtilus is at the origin of the curse cast upon Pelops’ race (As he lay dying Myrtilus damned Pelops’ entire race). It is in fact from this moment onwards that the seeker agrees to enter into the path of the purification of his lower nature, and the real difficulties then begin.
But this curse is in synchrony with the appearance of true power, emerging from the highest intelligent consciousness and transmitted by the overmind. The symbol of this is the sceptre of Agamemnon crafted by Hephaestus, which confirms the significance of the ivory shoulder. It was given by Zeus to Hermes, who in his turn gifted it to Pelops, and was then passed on to Agamemnon through Pelop’s sons Atreus and Thyestes. According to Homer this sceptre was ‘hereditary’, being passed on by Pelops and therefore a sign of a royal status not only individually merited by Agamemnon, but also one that was ‘indestructible’, a sign of a definite acquirement.
Additional details have been added by other authors:
Hippodamia had fallen in love with Pelops and stood by his side in the chariot: from the moment in which the ‘will for progress which goes forward in darkness’ and ‘the mastery of force’ which gives the capacity for transformation meet one another they begin to immediately work together.
It was said that an oracle had predicted that Oenomaus would be slain by his son-in-law: the seeker intuited that the entry into this new phase of yoga would put an end to the quest for personal enjoyment.
According to Pindar, Pelops was the first to emerge victorious at Olympia due to the speed of his horses: the stage of yoga corresponding to Pelops is that of the end of the personal yoga.
The Olympic games
Pelops established the Olympic games to mark his victory over Oenomaus and his conquest of Hippodamia, and Pindar affirms that he became the first winner due to the speed of his horses. These games took place in Olympia in the province of Elis, symbol of the union in the spirit and of liberation (the stage of the ‘liberated’ seeker).These games therefore preceded the great reversal of yoga, the seeker being under the complete governance of the psychic – for the children of Niobe, who thought herself to be Leto’s superior, are dead – and the descent into the body.
These games mark the last great victory of the personal yoga, for the yoga of the body is a yoga carried out for and by the Divine, and for humanity as a whole.
However, there are different stories behind the founding of the Olympic games in the ancient world, and the story of Pelops is not unanimously agreed upon.
According to other Greek authors the games were established by a Dactyl Cretan deity, Heracles of Ida, which is to say the completion of the work of purification carried out for the aim of union, which also corresponds to the end of the heroes’ labours.
According to other authors they were organised by Zeus himself in honour of Heracles. Alternatively, it has also been said that Heracles had established them in honour of Zeus after his victorious expedition against Augeas the king of Elis, an event which would seem to have clearly taken place before the Trojan War.
Finally, some authors drew a parallel between theory and practice, claiming that the games were established by Pelops and renewed by Heracles.
These games conclude the series of the four great games of Ancient Greece, beginning with the Isthmian games of Sisyphus, ‘the entry into the path’, followed by the Nemean games, ‘the becoming aware of the task and the beginning of the work of purification’, the Pythian games, ‘the conscious contact with the psychic light’, and finally the Olympic games.
It is interesting to note that almost all of Pindar’s work was written for the winners of these games. This detailed study would therefore probably contain this great initiate’s recommendations for the four great phases of the path described by the Greeks, and the corresponding reversals or reorientations.
The children of Pelops, including Atreus and Thyestes
There is no earlier text than Sophocles’ which clearly supports the belief that Atreus and Thyestes were in fact children of Pelops. However this was confirmed by Apollodorus. According to different writers Pelops fathered a varying number of children, the lists of which diverge whilst maintaining a number of names common to all: Atreus, Thyestes and Pittheus (Theseus’ grandfather). Other authors add to this list Chrysippos, ‘a purified or golden vital energy’, who was often described as an illegitimate son of Pelops. Other names to be cited repeatedly are Alcathoos, ‘a great speed on the path’, and Plisthenes, ‘the force of navigation’ or ‘one who is filled with force or strength’.
The daughters of Pelops, Astydamia, ‘mastery of the city (of external life)’, and Nicippe, ‘the victorious force’, are mentioned in the Catalogue of Women and described as being courted by the three sons of Perseus. This element would suggest a link with the genealogical branch that symbolises a victory over fear.
Chrysippos ‘golden vital energy’, an illegitimate son of Pelops who Laios had fallen in love with, has already been discussed in the second chapter of this work. He died either by suicide, by a murder instigated by Hippodamia or by a plot directed by Atreus.
In the classical version of this myth, Pelops favoured this first-born child. Hippodamia and her children Atreus and Thyestes consequently plotted for his death, fearing that he would be given the throne. When Pelops discovered this awful plot he exiled his sons and cursed them along with all of their descendants.
In a rarer version of the myth it is Hippodamia herself who slew Chrysippos.
Let us remember that this story was evocative of a premature will to pursue the effort for a complete purification of the vital (Chrysippos signifies ‘a golden vital’), before the work of liberation is appropriately deepened and completed by the two sons of Hippodamia, Atreus and Thyestes.
This curse cast by Pelops reiterates the one cast by Myrtilus before he died.
The conflict between the two brothers is not described by Homer, in whose account the transfer of power was a peaceful one, the sceptre being passed on from Atreus to Thyestes and then on to Agamemnon. Only later authors described the rivalry between the two brothers, the throne going from one to another and then back again according to some sources.
The tragic playwrights also give divergent accounts of some key details.
We can understand this myth not as the indication of mutually exclusive paths, but rather as a hesitation on the exactness of the movement.
According to Homer it is a question of an ascension or of an alternation of movements without any particular indecision. The bloody episodes added to this story seem to be in fact only there for dramatic effect.
The general development of the myth from Pelops to Orestes can be understood in the following way:
With Atreus and Thyestes, two elements indispensable for the reversal of the yogic process take form. Then, after a period of maturation, a ‘powerful aspiration turned towards the highest wisdom’ initiates the reversal (Agamemnon weds Clytaemnestra, and sets out on the Trojan War). When the reversal is well engaged, a power of elevation is developed, still situated within the framework of a search for the betterment of mental man (while the war is reaching its end, Aegisthus forms a union with Clytaemnestra, and together they plot the death of Agamemnon upon his return to Mycenae. After the murder Aegisthus rules for eight years). The power or impulse of elevation finally comes to an end when the Divine begins to take possession of nature as a whole, the work of exactness in the body then claiming the upper hand (Orestes eventually slays Aegisthus and Clytaemnestra).
It is this progression which we will take up in detail here, from the succession or alternation of power and the conflict of the two brothers Atreus and Thyestes.
The name Atreus is built around the root ΤΡ, which can be found in the opposing Trojan lineage in the name Tros, great-grandfather of Priam, as well as in Katreus, son of Minos and father of Aerope, herself the wife of Atreus. It could signify ‘he who does not tremble, who does not seek to escape incarnation’, and therefore the end of fear. This understanding is strengthened by his sisters’ marriage to the sons of Perseus.
Through its structuring characters this name would signify ‘he who does not pursue the right movement towards the heights of the spirit’. He would therefore symbolise the prelude of the Trojan War, an inner conflict between that which strives to transform man for the sake of his perfection in incarnation, and that which negates this possibility.
Atreus therefore expresses ‘equality’ (fearless), and a ‘powerful determination’ which supports the will for transformation. He is linked to a great capacity for endurance, or even of resistance within the body. It is this determination which allows, thanks to his sons Agamemnon and Menelaus, a victory over the Trojans and thus the definite reorientation of the yogic process. In short, he is the incarnation of ‘an intensity of aspiration for Becoming’.
The name Thyestes is linked to the root Θυω, and is therefore associated with the ‘perfume-maker’, or ‘he who mans the pestle for the sacrifice’, representing the action of grace for the divine perfection of creation at each moment, the ‘joyful, passive, and thankful acceptance of what Is (ecstatic)’.
The conflict between Atreus and Thyestes
The conflict between the two brothers Atreus and Thyestes expresses the extreme difficulty of differentiating between the two attitudes so as to achieve exactness in every detail.
On the one hand, Thyestes represents a perfectly carried out adherence (acceptance) to all things, including the worst calamities, because they are the divine will and nothing exists but the Divine. This attitude leads to a static state of ecstasy.
On the other hand, Atreus represents an intensity of aspiration for a perfection of creation which is to come, and which imposes action so as to differentiate between what must be and what must cease.
According to the Mother this experience is one of going ‘from one to the other, or one is in front and the other behind, one active and the other passive. With the feeling of perfect joy comes an almost static state (certainly the joy of movement is also there, but all anticipation of the goal stays in the background).Then, when the aspiration of the Becoming is there, the joy of divine perfection at each moment withdraws into a static state. And this very going back and forth is the problem.’ (Mother’s Agenda Volume 3, entry from 6th February 1962.)
Untold by Homer, the various accounts of the conflict between Thyestes and Atreus can be summarised in the following way:
Atreus had pledged to sacrifice to Artemis the most beautiful animal to be born in his herds. But when a golden lamb was born, Atreus felt unable to separate himself from it, and so smothered it and kept it locked in a chest.
Thyestes then seduced his sister-in-law Aerope, who gave him the lamb without Atreus’ knowledge (Aerope was a daughter of Katreus of the lineage of Minos). Resorting to trickery, he declared before the people that the one to own the golden lamb was the rightful king of Mycenae, and so seized the throne.
But Zeus considered Thyestes to be an unlawful usurper of power, and sent Hermes to speak with him. The latter made Thyestes agree that he would give up power if the sun reversed its course, and once Thyestes accepted, the sun did in fact set in the east. Atreus then reclaimed the throne and sent his rival into exile.
Later on, upon learning of the adulterous liaison between Thyestes and Aerope, Atreus pretended to seek for reconciliation and summoned him back to Mycenae. He then slew the children which a nymph had borne of Thyestes, and dismembering them prepared a feast for his brother. Once he had eaten it, Atreus revealed the nature of the repast to his brother and again sent him into exile.
Eager for revenge, Thyestes consulted the oracle, who predicted that the son he would father with his own daughter Pelopeia would avenge him (according to some sources this act of incest was carried out behind the veil of darkness, Thyestes not knowing that the woman who shared his bed was in fact his daughter).
Upon reaching manhood, Aegisthus learned that Thyestes was his father, and reinstituted him to power after having slain Atreus.
Later on Agamemnon and Menelaus ousted Thyestes from power and sent him into exile again, this time to Cythera.
Agamemnon then became the ruler of Mycenae, and some time later organised the Trojan campaign.
In considering the various incidents surrounding the Mycenaean throne, it must be remembered that this city was founded by Perseus (the hero to triumph over the Gorgon, and therefore a symbol of the victory over fear), and that his grandson Eurystheus, ‘a great inner power’ and also a king of Mycenae in his own time, had been at the origin of the twelve labours of Heracles. It is therefore coherent to consider that these labours had already been completed at the beginning of the story, which confirms the achievement of a personal liberation.
According to Aeschylus, who discards the notion of an incestuous liaison between Thyestes and his own daughter, Aegisthus was simply one of Thyestes’ numerous children. Aeschylus thus skips a generation.
But according to Hyginus, the incest was an act of rape carried out by Thyestes without his identity being revealed. Then a priestess of Athena, Pelopeia committed suicide when she learned that the perpetrator of this crime had been her own father.
It should also be mentioned that Clytaemnestra, the wife of Agamemnon, had had a first marriage with a homonymous Tantalus, a son of Thyestes who had escaped the cannibal feast. It was said that Agamemnon had slain him and his sons.
Having renounced the path of ecstasy (Oenomaus), and then the personal quest for divine enjoyment to orientate the quest (Myrtilus) and the pretension to a complete vital purity (Chrysippos), the seeker beholds a first experience of “revival” in a perfect transparency (a golden lamb was born). The yogic work in fact offers at every stage experiences which herald future realisations and achievements.
But the seeker is neither capable of giving thanks, nor of detaching himself or even of maintaining this experience alive within himself (Atreus slays the lamb and keeps its corpse in a chest), so that it is only preserved in his memory.
The beginning of this myth rests on a correct understanding of the symbolism of the lamb, or more specifically of the golden lamb.
We have already come across the story of a hero who refused to sacrifice an animal to the gods despite his pledge to do so. In this other instance it was a bull, symbol of the ‘power of the luminous mind’, which Minos kept in his herds, a sign that the seeker could not give up his attachment to his works and the fruits borne by them.
In this case, the animal to be sacrificed is a golden lamb. The lamb is generally understood as a symbol of revival, of victory over death. The golden lamb would therefore be symbolic of the first manifestation of the undeniable possibility of this victory, the consequence of a perfect sincerity down to the level of the body, a complete transparency in the face of the Absolute. This passage therefore refers to an experience in the body.
But this realisation cannot be sustained, for the seed of separative appropriation endures. As the ego, the will to enjoy for one’s own sake rather than for that of the Divine has already been eradicated at the individual mental and vital levels, and so this incident points to the existence of its roots within the body.
The seeker is therefore not entirely ready for integral purity, for the presence of the physical ego is still too strong (the promise to sacrifice the most beautiful animal to Artemis). From the moment in which transparency appears, it is nipped in the bud first by ‘the intensity of aspiration for transformation’ (Atreus kills the golden lamb), and then claimed by the attitude of ‘ecstatic acceptance’ (Thyestes steals the dead lamb).
But both of these orientations, ‘the power of aspiration for transformation beyond fear’ as well as ‘joyful acceptance’, demand to be the leaders of the entire being, each seeking the approval of the whole being (the people of Mycenae). They both believe themselves to be at the origin of this first experience of which the seeker only maintains a memory (the throne will belong to the one who possesses the lamb, which has been killed and locked in a chest).
The seeker first convinces himself that a ‘passive and joyful acceptance’ is better able to achieve the goal (Thyestes becomes the lover of Atreus’ wife Aerope, who gives him the lamb).
But the supraconscient is aware that the change of direction of the yogic process must be led by a ‘determination for transformation’ (Zeus considers Thyestes to be an usurper). Because of this he ensures that the seeker anticipates a manifestation of the supramental, which is then carried out; Zeus sends Hermes to Atreus to persuade his brother that if Helios was to invert his course across the sky his power would be restored, and this does then take place). It must be remembered that Helios symbolises the supramental light, existing beyond the plane of the overmind represented by Hermes and more generally represented by the world of the gods. The supramental therefore furnishes the seeker with the visible proof that he has taken the right direction, and shows him that the path is the complete opposite of every principle which he had till that point followed. It thus establishes itself as the supreme source of the directional changes of the yogic process, marking a fundamental reversal of the laws of evolution (Helios sets in the east).
(According to some authors this inversion of the sun’s course took place after the cannibal feast rather than before it.)
The murder of Thyestes’ children and the cannibal feast
The attitude of ‘passive and joyful acceptance’ ceases to develop, for Atreus slays the three eldest sons of his brother Thyestes and this lineage is only to ascend to the throne again through Aegisthus, the son of Thyestes, following the death of Agamemnon.
This attitude is even pushed to the point of ‘mourning’ in a definite way its own realisations, most probably the joys of contemplation, which it had been constrained to abandon under the pressure of the ‘determination for transformation’ (not satisfied with having slain Thyestes’ children, Atreus dismembered their bodies and invited his brother to a feast in which he fed Thyestes their flesh before revealing its origin).
But from the time in which ‘joyful acceptance’ enters into union with the darkness which it has itself unveiled it produces a power useful for the new orientation of Yoga (Thyestes entered into a union with his child Pelopeia, ‘the vision of darkness’, and engendered Aegisthus, ‘the inner rising man’). In fact, this ‘orientation of acceptance’ will twice again take the lead of the yogic process. For Thyestes’ lineage ascended to the Mycenaean throne two more times, the first when Aegisthus, after having slain Atreus, returned the power to his father Thyestes, who maintained his rule till Agamemnon seized power. Then Aegisthus ruled over Mycenae again for seven years after having seduced Agamemnon’s wife, Clytaemnestra, and killed Agamemnon upon his return from Troy.
A number of shifts of power therefore took place from one genealogical branch to another till the final vengeance of Orestes, the son of Agamemnon, and the consequent death of Aegisthus. These two attitudes, an aspiration for transformation and a passive ecstatic acceptance, were predominant at different times.
During the Trojan War itself the path represented by Thyestes and Aegisthus remained in the background while aspiration laboured in incarnation to affirm the primacy and truth of this new path (when Agamemnon, ‘he who desires intensely’ and the ‘greediest of all Achaeans’ according to Homer, fought at Troy to reclaim Helen who had been abducted by Paris).
Several Greek writers included in the lineage of the Atreides a character named Plisthenes, ‘he who fills lack with power’ or ‘ he who is filled with power’ or ‘he who possesses the power to navigate’, symbolising a seeker who goes forward without pause irrespective of the challenges faced in the process of transformation.
His genealogy seems to be a relatively confused one with variations in different sources. Some considered him to be the son of Atreus and the father of Agamemnon and Menelaus through Aerope or Cleolla, ‘a renowned liberation in two planes’, herself the daughter of a sister of Atreus, Dias, ‘a union in consciousness’. But as he died young, it was said that his children were brought up by their grandfather Atreus. According to other sources he is only important in lending his name to the lineage, as did the Atreides. Menelaus is consequently known as a Plisthenid or an Atreid by the Greek poet Bacchylides. According to Aeschylus, Thyestes cursed all of the Plisthenid race after having learned of the contents of the cannibal feast he had partaken of.
The only interesting remark regarding him is given in a fragment by Hesiod, who describes him as a lame man or a hermaphrodite wearing a woman’s cloak. These clues would seem to indicate that the seeker is in the process of reunifying the feminine and masculine polarities within himself, or that he is working on them (he is described as a hermaphrodite or a lame man). He wears the cloak of receptivity, or a true submission to what is Real.
Other children of Pelops
Amongst Pelops’ other children let us first cite Pittheus, the maternal grandfather of Theseus. Placed within the lineage of aspiration, he allows a link to be forged between the growth of aspiration and an inner evolution supported by the inner master (the lineage of the Athenian kings). This link between the lineages, which situates Atreus and Thyestes at a time preceding the birth of Theseus, demonstrates that the lack of the sacrifice of the lamb is considered to be an error in yoga, one which Theseus will combat later on (Theseus is the great ‘redresser’).
Several daughters of Pelops are also mentioned, including Astydamia, ‘mastery over the personality (over the city)’, Lysidice, ‘liberated action’, Nicippe, ‘victory over the vital’, and a homonymous Eurydice, ‘a right manner of acting’. All four entered into unions with sons of Perseus, who symbolise yogic strivings rendered possible by a victory over fear (Perseus had previously slain the Gorgon).
The descendants of Atreus
Leaving aside Plisthenes we will now consider the most commonly given genealogy which identifies Atreus as the father of Agamemnon and Menelaus. (If Plisthenes is introduced, Atreus is only their grandfather.)
Agamemnon, son of Atreus and part of the lineage of Tantalus, is an expression of the synthesis of a great determination or will for transformation (Atreus), and of a ‘powerful aspiration’ (Tantalus). According to Homer, he was in fact ‘the greediest of all Achaeans’. Even though the etymology of his name is relatively obscure, it covers in this context the principles of discerning will and intelligence. The liaison between Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra indicates that this ‘intelligent will’ is oriented towards ‘the highest wisdom’. The ancient form of Clytaemnestra’s name does not include the character ‘Nu’ (Κλυταιμηστρα), and this name is therefore linked to the verb μηδομαι.
This well-known couple, an essential pillar of the Trojan War, must therefore be understood as a ‘unified intelligence’, an expression of the concentrated mind which not only has knowledge but also decides and persists in its decision. It includes the two aspects of knowledge and will; he is symbolic of ‘unified intelligent will fixed on the illuminated soul’, at the service of a powerful aspiration for Becoming. (According to Sri Aurobindo, this is the meaning of the term buddhi in the Bhagavad Gita. See Sri Aurobdindo’s Essays on the Gita.)
As long as this intelligence considered itself to be the highest and legitimate leader of the yogic process, a reorientation towards greater freedom cannot be achieved. This only becomes possible once Agamemnon accepts to efface himself in the face of the new striving represented by Achilles, which will complete the liberation by addressing the most minute movements of consciousness in the apparently insignificant details of life in the depths of consciousness, up to the root (Achilles is the king of the Myrmidons ‘the ants’).
Agamemnon leads the army against Troy to support his brother Menelaus, ‘he who dwells determined in his vision’, towards a greater freedom symbolised by Helen.
(The name Menelaus, the etymology of which is uncertain, is associated with the verb λαω (to see) by the radical λα. Another interpretation could be made through the name λαος (people, as in populace), thus suggesting ‘humility’, but the validity of this interpretation seems unlikely.)
Without the aspiration for an intelligent will calling for a response from above, the vision of what must be would in fact be incapable of leading on its own a reorientation of the yogic process.
Aside from these two great heroes, Apollodorus mentions a daughter of Atreus, Anaxibia, whose name could indicate ‘power over strength, force or life’.
Agamemnon fathered numerous children, the most well-known being Iphigenia, ‘that which is born with force’ (not mentioned by Homer), Chrysothemis, ‘golden law, or obedience to divine law’, Laodice, ‘she who sees in a just manner’, Iphianassa, ‘she who possesses great power’, and Orestes, ‘he who stands on the mountain’ or ‘he who develops rectitude or integrity’.
Through his union with Helen Menelaus engendered Nicostratus, ‘the victorious warrior’, as well as Hermione, ‘the right evolution of consecration in the movement of aspiration’, homonymously similar to the overmind represented by Hermes.
Thyestes’ three sons are only noteworthy in having been slain by Atreus, this act of murder putting a temporary end to the active aspect of this lineage, an aspect which itself arose from a ‘passive ecstatic acceptance’.
Thyestes conceived Aegisthus with his own daughter Pelopeia, and Aegisthus later became the lover of Clytaemnestra who in her turn gave birth to Erigone and Aletes; through the integration of darkness new possibilities are opened.