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Aegisthus

In a dynasty noted for its skeevy, bloodthirsty characters, Aegisthus son of Thyestes probably ranks among the slimiest of all.  This sliminess begins with his conception, but first we have to go back a little, to when Atreus and Thyestes, the brothers Pelopides, vied with each other for the vacant throne of Mycenae. 

Atreus discovered a golden lamb among his flock, strangled it, and gave the fleece to his wife Aerope to safeguard.  Problem was, Aerope lusted for Thyestes, who took advantage of his sister-in-law's raging hormones to obtain the fleece.  Having done so, he then suggested to Atreus that whoever possessed the fleece should be king.  Alarm bells should have gone off in Atreus's head at this point, but didn't.  Thyestes produced the fleece, became king, then lost the throne to his brother when an oracle determined that Thyestes had cheated.

Atreus did away with his adulterous wife, but was left gnawing on his rage for his exiled brother.  So he wrote to Thyestes, offering to forgive him, and even share half his kingdom.  Thyestes foolishly accepted his invitation to Mycenae--and worse, he brought his three young sons along.  So while Atreus and Thyestes hunted, Atreus's henchmen took the boys, murdered them, and boiled them in a stew.  That night, Atreus served his brother a tasty dish, a delicacy, he said, and after Thyestes ate his fill, servants brought out the animal which had provided the repast--the heads and hands of the young boys, arranged on platters. 

Thyestes vomited, cursed Atreus and all his descendants, and fled into the night.  Swearing vengeance, he consulted an oracle (presumably the same one who gave him the go-ahead to sleep with his brother's wife and steal his throne), who advised him to lie with his own daughter Pelopia and conceive a son who would avenge his half-brothers.

The deed was done.  Aegisthus's mother was also his half-sister, his father also his grandfather.  Pelopia later committed suicide in shame.  In time, Aegisthus murdered Atreus.  Then he seduced Agamemnon's wife Clytemnestra and helped her murder her husband.

In the Greek dramas, Aegisthus never says much; he plays second-fiddle to Clytemnestra.  He's a wine drinker, a hedonist, a beguiler and schemer who strikes from the shadows, not heroic at all.  He's also the younger man to Clytemnestra's older woman.  In Greek art, he's portrayed either stabbing Agamemnon at Clytemnestra's urging, or getting stabbed by Orestes.



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