Study Guide

Atreus and Thyestes Themes

  • Violence

    To say that the myth of Atreus and Thyestes is horrifically, awfully, terribly violent would be an understatement. Let's see, you've got suicide, forced incest, the brutal murder of children, and those children being fed to their own father. Yeah, that's about as violent as it gets. The grisly, no-holds-barred feud between Atreus and Thyestes makes every other tale of sibling rivalry look like a kid's story. Ultimately, it seems this blood-spattered tale is out to warn us all about just how out of control things can get when we let the destructive sides of our nature take over.

    Questions About Violence

    1. What would you consider to be the most violent action in the story? Why do you think so?
    2. Do you think Atreus or Thyestes is more violent? Explain your answer.
    3. What is the reason for all the violence in the tale?
    4. Are any of the violent actions in the story justified? Why, or why not?
    5. Is violence ever a good thing? Explain your answer.
  • Revenge

    Uh, yeah, this myth has definitely got a little bit of revenge going on. In fact, when Atreus kills Thyestes' sons and feeds them to him, he probably wins the award for most twisted revenge ever. Thyestes does of course start the blood-feud by having an affair with Atreus's wife, stealing his golden fleece, and trying to take the throne, but Atreus's payback is pretty extreme to say the least. In the end, however, the cycle of revenge is passed on to the next generation, when Thyestes' son, Aegisthus, kills his uncle, Atreus, while later on, Atreus's sons, Agamemnon and Menelaus, banish and/or kill their uncle, Thyestes.

    Questions About Revenge

    1. What vengeful acts does Thyestes take against his brother?
    2. What do you think this story is trying to say about revenge? Explain your answer.
    3. Is revenge ever justified? Why do you think so?
    4. If vengeance were a cheeseburger, what topping would it have on it? Explain your answer. For real.