In Greek mythology, Aerope (Ancient Greek: Ἀερόπη)[1] was a Cretan princess as the daughter of Catreus, king of Crete. She was the sister to Clymene, Apemosyne and Althaemenes. Aerope's father Catreus gave her to Nauplius, to be drowned, or sold abroad, but Nauplius spared her, and she became the wife of Atreus, or Pleisthenes, (or both?) and by most accounts the mother of Agamemnon and Menelaus. While the wife of Atreus, she became the lover of his brother Thyestes, and gave Thyestes the golden lamb, by which he became the king of Mycenae.[2]

Queen of Mycenae
Member of the Cretan Royal Family
Nosadella Tiestes y Aérope.jpg
Tiestes and Aérope by Nosadella
AbodeCrete then Mycenae
Personal information
SiblingsAlthaemenes, Apemosyne and Clymene
Consort(1) Atreus or Pleisthenes, (2) Thyestes
Offspring(1) Agamemnon, Menelaus, (2) Tantalus and Pleisthenes


Aerope's father was Catreus, the son of Minos, and king of Crete. Catreus had two other daughters, Clymene and Apemosyne, and a son Althaemenes.[3]

According to most accounts, Aerope was the mother of Agamemnon and Menelaus, usually by Atreus, but sometimes Pleisthenes.[4] According to some accounts, Aerope was instead the mother, by Atreus, of Pleisthenes, and when Pleisthenes died young, his sons, Agamemnon and Menelaus, were adopted by Atreus,[5] or in others, Aerope was perhaps the wife of both Atreus and Pleisthenes, having married Atreus after Pleisthenes died, with Atreus adopting her children from the first marriage.[6] Such accounts were perhaps attempts to reconcile separate traditions.[7]

According to Hyginus, Aerope was the mother by Thyestes of two sons, Tantalus and Pleisthenes, and that these were the children that Atreus famously fed to Thyestes.[8] According to some accounts Aerope was also the mother of a daughter Anaxibia.[9]


In CreteEdit

According to the tradition followed by Euripides in his lost play Cretan Women (Kressai), Catreus found Aerope in bed with a slave and handed her over to Nauplius to be drowned, but Nauplius spared Aerope's life and she married Pleisthenes.[10] Sophocles, in his play Ajax, may also refer to Aerope's father Catreus finding her in bed with some man, and handing her over to Nauplius to be drowned, but the possibly corrupt text may instead refer to Aerope's husband Atreus finding her in bed with Thyestes, and having her drowned (see below).[11]

However the mythographer Apollodorus followed a different tradition, with no mention of any sexual transgression. Catreus, having received an oracle saying that he would be killed by one of his children, gave Aerope and her sister Clymene to Nauplius to be sold off in foreign lands (Aerope's brother Althaemenes had found out about the prophecy and fearing that he would be the one to kill Catreus, took Aerope's other sister Apemosyne with him and fled Crete for Rhodes).[12] Here too Aerope ends up as the wife of Pleisthenes.

In MycenaeEdit

From Crete, Aerope was taken to Mycenae. There, while the wife of Atreus, she became the lover of Atreus' twin brother Thyestes and involved in the brothers' power struggle for the kingship of Mycenea, and their blood feud.[13]

Atreus and Thyestes were the sons of Pelops and Hippodamia.[14] Their desire for their father's throne led to the murder of their half-brother Chrysippus, because of which they were banished, and sought refuge in Mycenae.[15] When the Perseid dynasty came to an end, the Myceneans received an oracle saying they should choose a son of Pelops as their king. Aerope stole the golden lamb (a portent linked to the kingship of Mycenae) from her husband Atreus and gave it to Thyestes, so that the Myceneans would choose Thyestes as their king.[16]

From Byzantine period annotations to Euripides' Orestes we learn that, in some unspecified Sophocles work, Atreus cast Aerope into the sea in revenge for her adultery and theft of the golden lamb.[17]



Mentions of Aerope apparently occurred as early as "Homer" and "Hesiod".[18] An Iliad scholium tells us that:

According to Homer, Agamemnon was the son of Pelops’ son Atreus, and his mother was Aerope; but according to Hesiod he was the son of Pleisthenes [and Aerope?].[19]

Since Aerope is not in Homer's Iliad or Odyssey (where Agamemnon and Menelaus were the sons of Atreus, with no mother mentioned),[20] the scholiast is presumably taking the Homeric reference from somewhere in the Epic Cycle, which was also attributed to Homer.[21]

Fragmentary lines from the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women seem to make Aerope, (without naming a father) the mother of three sons Agamemnon, Menelaus (and Anaxibios?).[22] While the Byzantine scholar John Tzetzes says that according to "Hesiod", Aerope was, by Atreus, the mother of Pleisthenes.[23]

Fifth century BCEdit

The story of Aerope, Atreus and Thyestes, was popular in Greek tragedy, however no complete plays on the story survive.[24] Aeschylus' play Agamemnon, contains several obscure allusions to the story, which indicate that, by at least 458 BC, the story was well known.[25] In that play, Cassandra hints at Aerope's affair with Thyestes, where he is referred to as "the one who defiled" his "brother's bed".[26]

There are many references to Aerope in the plays of Euripides. She was apparently an important character in his lost tragedy Cretan Women.[27] The play told how Aerope was "secretly violated by a servant", and that when her father discovered this, he gave her to Nauplius to be drowned, but instead Nauplius gave her in marriage to Pleisthenes.[28] According to the scholiast on Aristophanes' Frogs 849, her behavior in the play was "like a whore's".[29] This, along with Euripides treatment of other "profligate women" suggests that the play dealt with Aerope's seduction of Thyestes, rather than Thyestes' seduction of Aerope.[30] Although she was given to Pleisthenes as his wife, in his Cretan Women, in his plays Orestes, and Helen, Euripides has Agamemnon and Menelaus as the sons of Aerope and Atreus.[31] Also in his Orestes, he refers to the "treacherous love of Cretan Aerope in her treacherous marriage",[32] while in his Electra, he tells us that Thyestes, "persuaded Atreus' own wife to secret love, and carried off to his house the portent; coming before the assembly he declared that he had in his house the horned sheep with fleece of gold."[33] Euripides possibly also wrote a play Thyestes.[34]

Sophocles, in his play Ajax, refers to Aerope being found in bed with a lover, and ordered drowned by someone's "father". As the text stands, the "father" is Aerope's, and the reference is to Catreus giving her to Nauplius to be drowned, as in Euripide's Cretan Women.[35] However, a small "correction" to the text would make the father Agamemnon's, and the reference would then be to Atreus finding Aerope in bed with Thyestes.[36] There were several other plays by Sophocles, all lost, which presumably also dealt with the story: Atreus, Thyestes (possibly more than one), and Thyestes in Sicyon.[37] Byzantine scholia to Euripides' Orestes 812, possibly referring to the passage from the Ajax noted above, say that in some (unnamed) play by Sophocles, Atreus "revenged himself on his wife Aerope (both because of her adultery with Thyestes and because she gave away the lamb) by casting her into the sea".[38]

Agathon, wrote a play titled Aerope (and a Thyestes), and perhaps so did the younger Carcinus.[39] We are told that in some such play, Alexander of Pherai was moved to tears by the performance of the actor Theodorus as Aerope, suggesting a sympathetic portrayal.[40]


The Roman mythographer Hyginus, has Agamemnon as the son of Aerope and Atreus,[41] and Tantalus and Plethenes as the sons of Aerope and Thyestes, with these being the children that Atreus fed to Thyestes.[42]

In Ovid's Ars Amatoria, Aerope is given as one of several examples showing that "women's lust", is "keener" than men's and having "more of madness":[43]

Had the Cretan woman abstained from love for Thyestes (and is it such a feat to be able to do without a particular man?), Phoebus had not broken off in mid-career, and wresting his car about turned round his steeds to face the dawn.

The mythographer Apollodorus gives the following account:

Catreus, son of Minos, had three daughters, Aerope, Clymene, and Apemosyne, and a son, Althaemenes. When Catreus inquired of the oracle how his life should end, the god said that he would die by the hand of one of his children. ... And Catreus gave Aerope and Clymene to Nauplius to sell into foreign lands; and of these two Aerope became the wife of Plisthenes, who begat Agamemnon and Menelaus.[44]

However elsewhere he says that Agamemnon and Menelaus were the sons of Aerope and Atreus[45] and that

the wife of Atreus was Aerope, daughter of Catreus, and she loved Thyestes. And Atreus once vowed to sacrifice to Artemis the finest of his flocks; but when a golden lamb appeared, they say that he neglected to perform his vow, and having choked the lamb, he deposited it in a box and kept it there, and Aerope gave it to Thyestes, by whom she had been debauched.[46]

Similarities with Auge and DanaeEdit

The stories told about Aerope, share elements with those told about Auge and Danae. These elements include, foretold killings, sexual impurity by daughters, and their subsequent punishment by their fathers, by being cast into the sea, or given away to be sold overseas.[47]

Auge was the daughter of Aleus, king of Tegea, and the mother of the hero Telephus. According to one version of the story, Aleus had received an oracle that his sons would be killed by the son of Auge, so Aleus made Auge a priestess of Athena, requiring her to remain a virgin on pain of death. Nevertheless, she became pregnant by Heracles.[48] Then, by various accounts, she was either cast into the sea,[49] or given to Nauplius to be either drowned[50] or sold overseas,[51] however in all these accounts she ended up in Mysia as the wife of King Teuthras.

Danae was the daughter of Acrisius, king of Argos, and the mother of the hero Perseus. An oracle told Acrisius that he would be killed by the son of Danae, so he locked her away. Nevertheless, Danae became pregnant, by Zeus according to most accounts, and was cast into the sea by her father, but survived through the intercession of Zeus.[52]


  1. ^ Smith, s.v. Aerope.
  2. ^ Grimal, s.v. Aerope; Tripp, s.v. Aërope; Bell, pp. 9–10; Smith, s.v. Aerope; Parada, s.v. Aerope.
  3. ^ Hard, p. 354; Apollodorus, 3.2.1. For Catreus as the son of Minos see also Diodorus Siculus, 4.60.4. Pausanias, 8.53.4 says that, while the Cretans claim Catreus was the son of Minos, according to the Tegeans, Catreus was the son of Tegeates.
  4. ^ Gantz, p. 552; Hard, pp. 355, 508; Collard and Cropp 2008a, p. 517; Tzetzes, Allegories of the Iliad Prolegomena 508–511. Sources which have Aerope as the mother of Agamemnon and Menelaus include: (by Atreus) Euripides, Helen 390–392, Orestes 16; Hyginus, Fabulae 97; Apollodorus, E.3.12; Scholia on Iliad 1.7 (citing "Homer" = Hesiod Catalogue of Women fr. 137a Most) and Scholia on Tzetzes' Exegesis in Iliadem 1.122 (citing "Homer" = Hesiod Catalogue of Women fr. 137c Most); and (by Pleisthenes) Apollodorus, 3.2.2, Dictys Cretensis, 1.1; (no father mentioned) Sophocles, Ajax 1290–1297. Without naming a father, fragmentary lines from the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women (Hesiod Catalogue of Women fr. 138 Most = fr. 195 MW) seem to make Aerope the mother of three sons Agamemnon, Menelaus (and Anaxibios?), see Gantz, p. 552. See also Scholia on Iliad 1.7 (= Hesiod Catalogue of Women fr. 137a Most), which says that, "according to Hesiod", Agamemnon was the son of Pleisthenes, with Aerope possibly implied as the mother (see below). Compare with Tzetzes, Exegesis in Iliadem 1.122 (= Hesiod Catalogue of Women fr. 137b Most), which says that, "according to Hesiod, Aeschylus, and some others," Cleolla, the daughter of Dias, was the mother (by Pleisthenes) of Agamemnon and Menelaus.
  5. ^ Gantz, p. 552; Hard, p. 508; Tzetzes, Exegesis in Iliadem 1.122 (= Hesiod Catalogue of Women fr. 137b Most); Compare with Scholia on Iliad 2.249, which has Pleisthenes dying young and his sons raised by Atreus; Hyginus, Fabulae 86, which has Aerope as Atreus' wife and Pleisthenes as Atreus' son; Scholia on Iliad 1.7 (= Hesiod Catalogue of Women fr. 137a Most), which says that, according to Hesiod, Agamemnon was the son of Pleisthenes; and Dictys Cretensis, 1.1, which has Agamemnon and Menelaus, as the sons of Aerope and Pleisthenes, being adopted by Atreus.
  6. ^ Gantz, pp. 552–553. According to Webster, p. 38, Euripides' Cretan Women probably had "Pleisthenes die young and leave his sons (and his wife) to Atreus".
  7. ^ Collard and Cropp 2008b, pp. 79–80; Fowler, p. 435 n. 28; Grimal, s.v. Aerope.
  8. ^ Gantz, pp. 546–547; Hyginus, Fabulae 88, 246; For Atreus feeding the children of Thyestes to him, see Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1219–1222, 1590 ff.; Euripides, Orestes 15, 810 ff., 995 ff.; Sophocles, Ajax 1293–1294; Plato, Cratylus 395b. Gantz, p. 547, suggests the possibility that Aerope was also the mother of these children in Euripides' lost Cretan Women. See also Webster, p. 38.
  9. ^ Parada, s.vv. Aerope, Anaxibia 3; Pausanias, 2.29.4; Compare with Tzetzes, Exegesis in Iliadem 1.122 [= Hesiod Catalogue of Women fr. 137b Most], which says that Agamemnon, Menelaus, and Anaxibia were the children of Pleisthenes and Cleolla, the daughter of Dias, see Gantz, p. 552.
  10. ^ Hard, p. 355; Gantz, p. 271. Euripides' treatment of the story is according to the Scholia on Sophocles, Ajax 1297, citing Euripides' Cretan Women, see: Collard and Cropp 2008a, pp. 520, 521; Webster, pp. 37–38; Jebb's note to Ajax 1295 Κρήσσης.
  11. ^ Gantz, pp. 554–555; Jebb's note to Ajax 1296 ὁ φιτύσας πατήρ. The possible Sophoclean reference is found in lines 1295–1297, spoken by Teucer to Agamemnon. Here, by way of insulting Agamemnon, Teucer malign's Agamemnon's mother Aerope as having been found in bed with a strange man, by a "father" who then has her drowned. The difficulty arises in knowing whose "father" is meant, Aerope's , or Agamemnon's. Compare Jebb's: "a Cretan mother, whose father (i.e. Catrues) found ... ", with's Lloyd-Jones's: "a Cretan mother, whom your father (i.e. Atreus), finding ...".
  12. ^ Collard and Cropp 2008a, pp. 516–518; Apollodorus, 3.2.
  13. ^ Gantz, pp. 545– 556. For Aerope as lover of Thyestes, see Gantz, pp. 546–547; Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1191–1193; Euripides, Electra 719–720, Orestes 1009–1010; Apollodorus, E.2.10; Hyginus, Fabulae 86; Ovid, Ars Amatoria 1.327–330, 1.341–342. A small "correction" of the text would make Sophocles, Ajax 1295–1297 a reference to the adultery of Aerope with Thyestes, see Gantz, pp. 554– 555.
  14. ^ Gantz, pp. 543–544. For Apollodorus' account of their story see E.2.10–12.
  15. ^ Gantz, pp. 489, 544–545; Thucydides, 1.9; Plato, Cratylus 395b; Hyginus, Fabulae 85.
  16. ^ Gantz, p. 547; Hard, p. 506; Euripides, Electra 699–725, Orestes 810 ff., 995 ff.; Plato, Statesman 268e; Apollodorus, E.2.10–11; Pausanias, 2.18.1. The golden lamb was perhaps included in Sophocles' Atreus, and Euripides' Cretan Women, see Gantz, p. 546, and, regarding Cretan Women, Webster, p. 38. For a discussion of the golden lamb, with many other sources, see Frazer's note to Apollodorus, E.2.12.
  17. ^ Byzantine scholia at Orestes line 812, see Gantz, pp. 548, 555 and Jebb's note to Ajax 1296 ὁ φιτύσας πατήρ.
  18. ^ For a discussion on sources on Aerope's story see Gantz, pp. 545–550, 552–553.
  19. ^ Scholia on Iliad 1.7 (= Hesiod Catalogue of Women fr. 137a Most). Compare with Scholia on Tzetzes' Exegesis in Iliadem 1.122 (= Hesiod Catalogue of Women fr. 137c Most), which says the same thing. That the scholiast means that Aerope was also the mother in Hesiod, is assumed by Armstrong, p. 12, while Gantz, p. 552, simply says that according to the scholium, "while Homer makes Agamemnon the son of Atreus and Aerope ... in Hesiod he and his brother are the sons of Pleisthenes". Collard and Cropp 2008b, p. 79, says that in the Hesiodic tradition, "Pleisthenes and (probably) Aerope ... were the parents of Agamemnon and Menelaus".
  20. ^ Gantz, p. 552. Although Atreides, the standard Homeric epithet for Agamemnon or Menelaus, normally understood to mean "son of Atreus", can also mean simply "descendant of Atreus", in some places Homer specifically refers to Agamemnon or Menelaus as a "son" of Atreus ("Ἀτρέος υἱέ") e.g. Iliad 11.131, Odyssey 4.462, see also Iliad 2.104 ff..
  21. ^ Gantz, p. 552; Armstrong, p. 12.
  22. ^ Gantz, p. 552; Hesiod Catalogue of Women fr. 138 Most = fr. 195 MW.
  23. ^ Gantz, p. 552; Tzetzes, Exegesis in Iliadem 1.122 [= Hesiod Catalogue of Women fr. 137b Most], which also cites "Aeschylus, and some others".
  24. ^ Gantz, pp. 546–547; Wright, pp. 83–84; Armstrong, p. 12, with n. 40. However, the story seems not to have been popular for the visual arts, and no representation of Aerope is found in the Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, see Armstrong, p. 12 n. 38.
  25. ^ Gantz, p. 546; Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 1191–1193, 1219–1222.
  26. ^ Gantz, p. 546; Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1191–1193 with Weir Smyth's note.
  27. ^ Collard and Cropp 2008a, p. 516. For discussions of the play, see Collard and Cropp 2008a, pp. 516–527 (including testimonies and fragments); Webster, pp. 37–39.
  28. ^ Collard and Cropp 2008a, p. 516; Webster, pp. 37–38; Euripides, Cretan Women test. iiia.
  29. ^ Collard and Cropp 2008a, p. 516.
  30. ^ Gantz, pp. 546, 547; Webster p. 38.
  31. ^ Euripides, Orestes 16, 390–392.
  32. ^ Euripides, Orestes 1009–1010.
  33. ^ Euripides, Electra 719–725.
  34. ^ Gantz, p. 546; Armstrong, p. 12, n. 40.
  35. ^ Gantz, pp. 554–556; Sophocles, 'Ajax 1295–1297, (Jebb): [Teucer addressing Agamemnon] "you yourself were born from a Cretan mother, whose father found ...".
  36. ^ Gantz, p. 555; Jebb's note to Ajax 1296 ὁ φιτύσας πατήρ; Sophocles, 'Ajax 1295–1297, (Lloyd-Jones): "you yourself are the son of a Cretan mother, whom your father, finding ...". The Greek text has Aerope being found in bed with an epaktos ('alien'), which, as Gantz points out, "would more naturally refer to an adulterer".
  37. ^ Gantz, p. 546; Armstrong, p. 12, n. 40.
  38. ^ Gantz, pp. 548, 555; Jebb's note to Ajax 1296 ὁ φιτύσας πατήρ.
  39. ^ Gantz, pp. 546–547; Wright, pp. 83–85 110–111; Armstrong, p. 12, n. 40.
  40. ^ Gantz, pp. 546–547.
  41. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae 97.
  42. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae 246.
  43. ^ Armstrong, pp. 112, 114–115; Ovid, Ars Amatoria 1.327–330, 1.341–342.
  44. ^ Apollodorus, 3.2.
  45. ^ Apollodorus, E.3.12.
  46. ^ Apollodorus, E.2.10–11.
  47. ^ For a discussion of these themes in Greek myth and literature, see McHardy (2008).
  48. ^ Alcidamas, Odysseus 14-16 (Garagin and Woodruff, p. 286); Apollodorus, 3.9.1.
  49. ^ Euripides, Auge (Webster, p. 238; Strabo, 13.1.69); Hecataeus (Pausanias, 8.4.9).
  50. ^ Alcidamas, Odysseus 15 (Garagin and Woodruff, p. 286); Pausanias, 8.48.7. Diodorus Siculus, 4.33.8.
  51. ^ Apollodorus, 2.7.4.
  52. ^ Apollodorus, 2.4.1; Hyginus, Fabulae 63. For Zeus being the father of Perseus see, for example, Homer, Iliad 14.312, Sophocles, Antigone 944 and Diodorus Siculus, 4.9.1 4.9.1].