In Greek mythology, King
Oenomaus (also Oenamaus; Greek:
Οἱνόμαος) of Pisa, the father of Hippodamia, was the son
of Ares, either by the naiad
Harpina (daughter of the river god
Phliasian Asopus, the armed (harpe) spirit of a spring near
Pisa) or by Sterope, one of the Pleiades, whom some identify as
his consort instead. He married, if not Sterope, then Evarete of
Argos, the daughter of
Acrisius and Eurydice. Yet others give
Eurythoe, daughter of Danaus, either as his mother or consort.
His children besides
Hippodamia were Leucippus (who perished because
of his love for Daphne) and Alcippe (mother of
Marpessa by Evenus).
Pausanias, who is generally skeptical about stories of humans
descending from gods, makes
Oenomaus son of a mortal father,
Tzetzes adduces a version which, in the same vein,
Oenomaus son of a Hyperochus by Sterope. The genealogy
offered in the earliest literary reference, Euripides' Iphigenia in
Tauris, would place him two generations before the Trojan War, making
him the great-grandfather of the Atreides,
Agamemnon and Menelaus. His
name Oinomaos signifies him as a wine man.
Courtship of Hippodamia
King Oenomaus, fearful of a prophecy that claimed he would be killed
by his son-in-law, had killed eighteen suitors of his daughter
Hippodamia after defeating them in a chariot race. He affixed their
heads to the wooden columns of his palace. Pausanias was shown
what was purportedly the last standing column in the late second
century CE; he mentions that
Pelops erected a monument in honor of all
the suitors who preceded him, and lists their names:
Alcathous, son of Porthaon
Acrias of Lacedaemon, founder of Acriae
Tricolonus (descendant of another Tricolonus, who was a son of Lycaon)
Erythras, son of Leucon
Eioneus, son of Magnes
Pelops son of King
Tantalus of Lydia, came to ask for her hand and
prepared to race Oenomaus. Worried about losing,
Pelops went to the
seaside and invoked Poseidon, his former lover. Reminding Poseidon
of their love ("Aphrodite's sweet gifts"), he asked Poseidon for help.
Smiling, Poseidon caused a chariot drawn by winged horses to
Pelops and Hippodamia, very much in love, devised a plan
to replace the bronze linchpins attaching the wheels to the chariot
axle with fake ones made of beeswax. The race began, and went on for a
long time. But just as
Oenomaus was catching up to
Pelops and readying
to kill him, the wheels flew off and the chariot broke apart.
Oenomaus' charioteer, Myrtilus, survived, but
Oenomaus was dragged to
death by his horses.
Pelops then killed
Myrtilus (by throwing him off a cliff into the sea
as he cursed him) after the latter attempted to claim Hippodamia. As
Myrtilus died, he cursed Pelops. This was the source of the curse that
haunted descendents of Pelops', including Atreus, Thyestes, Agamemnon,
Menelaus and Orestes. Also, the burial place of Myrtilus
was a taraxippus in Olympia, a "horse-frightening place" during races.
In memory of Oenomaus, the Olympic Games were created (or
alternatively the Olympic Games were in celebration of Pelops'
victory). Oenomaus' chariot race was one legendary origin of the
Olympic Games; one of its turning-posts was preserved, and round it
grew an Elean legend of a burnt "house of Oenomaus", reported by
Pausanias in the 2nd century CE.
^ In the ancient territory of Pisa lay Olympia.
^ Theoi Project: Harpina.
^ Pausanias, 5.22.6; Diodorus Siculus, 4.73.1.
^ Hyginus, Fabula 84 ("Oenomaus, son of Mars and Asterope, daughter of
Atlas"), Fabula 250 ("Oenomaus, son of Mars by Asterie, daughter of
Bibliotheke 3. 110–111; Pseudo-Hyginus,
Astronomica 2. 21; he was depicted on the pediment of the Temple of
Zeus at Olympia with Sterope, whom Pausanias also took for his wife:
"On the right of Zeus Oinomaos with a helmet on his head, and by him
Sterope his wife, who was one of the daughters of Atlas."
Scholia on Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, 1. 752
Tzetzes on Lycophron, 157
^ Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5. 1. 6
Tzetzes on Lycophron, 149, 219
^ The story of Pelops' chariot race is told by Nestor to Menelaus, in
Quintus Smyrnaeus's continuation of the
^ Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6. 21. 9–11, with a reference to
Megalai Ehoiai fr. 259(a).
^ Pindar, First Olympian Ode. 71.
^ Cicero, Tusculanae Disputationes 2.27.67 (noted in Karl Kerenyi, The
Heroes of the Greeks, 1959:64).
^ Eric L. Brulotte, "The "Pillar of Oinomaos" and the Location of
Stadium I at Olympia", American Journal of Archaeology 98.1 (January
1994), pp. 53-64,
Pindar, Olympian Ode, I (476 BCE)
Sophocles, Electra, 504 (430–415 BCE) and Oenomaus, Fr. 433 (408
Euripides, Orestes, 1024-1062 (408 BCE)
Bibliotheca, Epitome 2, 1–9 (140 BCE)
Diodorus Siculus, Histories, 4.73 (1st century BCE)
Hyginus, Fables, 84: Oinomaus; Poetic Astronomy, ii (1st century CE)
Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.1.3–7; 5.13.1; 6.21.9;
8.14.10–11 (c. 160 – 176 CE)
Philostratus the Elder Imagines, I.30:
Pelops (c. 190 – c. 230 CE)
Philostratus the Younger, Imagines, 9:
Pelops (3rd century CE)
First Vatican Mythographer, 22: Myrtilus;
Atreus et Thyestes
Second Vatican Mythograp