Pelops

This animation is based on the myth of Pelops' race against Oenomaüs for the hand of his daughter.  It is made using a late archaic black figure cup.

The story was developed by pupils from Kendrick School, Reading.

about the animation

For this animation, the pupils at Kendrick School showed ingenuity in interpreting an unspecified scene of four-horse chariots as a representation of the Pelops myth.  Other vases presented scenes that were explicitly marked as depictions of this contest.  Click here for the Oenomaüs painter’s image of preparations for the race.

Some traditions say that Oenomaüs always gave the suitors a head-start, waiting behind to sacrifice a ram while the suitors sped off.  In the Ure Discovery animation, Oenomaüs starts behind because he’s drinking wine.

about the myth

The myth of Pelops relates to an early time even by mythological standards.  Oenomaüs 'proposed a contest for any who wished to marry [his daughter, Hippodameia], the conditions being that the defeated suitor must die, but whoever should win would have the girl in marriage’ (Diodorus of Sicily, 4.73.3).  Many suitors died in losing the race, but Pelops won.  After his victory he married Hippodameia and ruled the area.  The whole of the southern part of Greece is named after Pelops; it is the Island of Pelops - the Peloponnese.

Some traditions made Pelops’ race the origin of the Olympic Games.  He appeared with Zeus, Oenomaüs, and Hippodameia in a group of sculptures on the east end of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia.  Pelops’ grandson was the famous mythical High King, Agamemnon, who was said to wield the royal sceptre that was made for Pelops by the god Hephaestus (Iliad 2.100-110).  Pelops is a relatively rare example of a Greek hero with a disability.  A childhood incident left Pelops without a shoulder and he wore an ivory replacement, as described by the Roman poet Ovid in Metamorphoses 6.405+.

How did Pelops win?  It depends who you ask.  In some traditions, Pelops defeated Oenomaüs because Poseidon gave him a chariot with winged horses (e.g. Pindar, Olympian Ode 1).  Apollonius of Rhodes describes the hero Jason wearing a cloak that depicts Oenomaüs’ chariot falling apart, allowing Pelops to win (Argonautica 1.752 (in Greek)).   Some traditions made the fatal accident a result of treachery.  Diodorus has Pelops bribing Oenomaüs’ charioteer, Myrtilus, to sabotage his chariot.  Apollodorus has Hippodameia persuading Myrtilus (Epitome, 2. 3–10).  Most traditions agree in having Myrtilus curse Pelops, with the curse affecting many generations (see e.g. Euripides, Oresetes, lines 988-1012).  As a result of the curse, the mythical events of the Trojan War and its aftermath are all bound up in the myth of Pelops’ race.

Photo by H.R.Goette, from Barringer 2005

These sculptures, as described by the travel-writer, Pausanius, are from the centre of the east pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia.  Oenomaus’ wife, Sterope (far l), Oenomaus (l), Zeus (c), Pelops (r), Hippodameia (far r).  See Pausanius, Guide to Greece, 5.10.6.

Some traditions say that Oenomaüs always gave the suitors a head-start, waiting behind to sacrifice a ram while the suitors sped off (Diodorus, 4.73.4).  The National Museum of Athens houses a black figure lekythos vase (CC968) which appears to show Oenomaüs sacrificing while Pelops departs on a chariot of winged horses.  In the Ure Discovery animation, Oenomaüs starts behind because he’s drinking wine.

These are the remains of the shrine of Pelops at Olympia, where he was worshipped as a hero.

Photo by S. Nevin, 2004

Kendrick school pupils' storyboard compared frame-by-frame with the animation

vase details

Attic, black figure skyphos cup, each side depicting a four-horse chariot (quadriga).  Late Archaic, c.500-475BCE.  Ure Museum (Accession Number: 11.10.31)

music

The music used on this animation comes from the chariot scene in Euripides’ Hippolytos, as performed by the Thiasos Theatre Company.  It was composed by Jamie Masters.  Find out more about ancient music through our blog post on the subject and on the Thiasos website: www.thiasos.co.uk.

© Ure Museum (11.10.31)

further reading

J. M. Barringer, 'The Temple of Zeus at Olympia, Heroes, and Athletes,’ Hesperia, vol. 74.2 (2005), pp. 211-241.  (Professor Barringer argues that the tradition of Pelops cheating was probably not the version of the myth that was told at Olympia)

J. Davidson, 'Olympia and the Chariot-Race of Pelops,’ in Sport and Festival in the Ancient Greek World, ed. DJ. Phillips & D. Pritchard (I.B. Taurus, 20011)

W. Hansen, 'The Winning of Hippodameia,’ TAMPA, vol. 130, (2000) pp.19-40

H. Shapiro, Myth Into Art: Poet and Painter in Classical Greece (Routledge, 1994) pp.78-83

follow-up activities

1)  Ask your pupils to storyboard a new race – what else could happen with these chariots?

2)  Some traditions depict Oenomaüs making a delayed start in order to sacrifice a ram, while this one has him delayed by drink.  Encourage your pupils to discuss the different affect each version has on the viewer.  Which version do they prefer and why?

3)  Ask your pupils to work in groups to design chariots (or even build them in miniature).  Encourage them to use the images on the vase as a guide and ask them to explain how it works.  These images of another quadriga vase offer a useful point of comparison, as does the quadriga in the Amazon animation.

BM 1836.0224.179, Late Archaic black figure lekythos.

© Courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum

Ure Discovery

Ure Discovery was an innovative Arts Council funded project run at the University of Reading’s Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology in 2013.

Steve worked with staff and students at the University of Reading helping local secondary school groups interpret and respond to the Ure Museum collection.

The pupils created stories, storyboards, and other artwork based on a selection of vases and each storyboard was transformed into an animation made from images of the vase which inspired it.  Ancient art, digital artistry, and teenage imagination combine to retell ancient myths and present new stories.  The Ure Discovery and Ure View animations can be seen alongside their vases via a tablet trail that visitors can take around the museum.

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Except where otherwise noted, content on www.panoply.org.uk by S.Simons & S.Nevin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.