Home » III. Olympia » a. Ritual Worship of Pelops and Oinomaos

a. Ritual Worship of Pelops and Oinomaos

Pausanias 5.13.1–7; 5.20.6–8

Pelopeion

[5.13.1] Within the Altis there is also a sacred enclosure consecrated to Pelops, whom the Eleans as much prefer in honor above the heroes of Olympia as they prefer Zeus over the other gods. To the right of the entrance of the temple of Zeus, on the north side, lies the Pelopium. It is far enough removed from the temple for statues and other offerings to stand in the intervening space, and beginning at about the middle of the temple it extends as far as the rear chamber. It is surrounded by a stone fence, within which trees grow and statues have been dedicated.

[5.13.2] The entrance is on the west. The sanctuary is said to have been set apart to Pelops by Heracles the son of Amphitryon. Heracles too was a great-grandson of Pelops, and he is also said to have sacrificed to him into the pit. Right down to the present day the magistrates of the year sacrifice to him, and the victim is a black ram. No portion of this sacrifice goes to the sooth-sayer, only the neck of the ram it is usual to give to the “woodman,” as he is called.

[5.13.3] The woodman is one of the servants of Zeus, and the task assigned to him is to supply cities and private individuals with wood for sacrifices at a fixed rate, wood of the white poplar, but of no other tree, being allowed. If anybody, whether Elean or stranger, eat of the meat of the victim sacrificed to Pelops, he may not enter the temple of Zeus. The same rule applies to those who sacrifice to Telephus at Pergamus on the river Caicus; these too may not go up to the temple of Asclepius before they have bathed.

[5.13.4] The following tale too is told. When the war of the Greeks against Troy was prolonged, the soothsayers prophesied to them that they would not take the city until they had fetched the bow and arrows of Heracles and a bone of Pelops. So it is said that they sent for Philoctetes to the camp, and from Pisa was brought to them a bone of Pelops – a shoulder-blade. As they were returning home, the ship carrying the bone of Pelops was wrecked off Euboea in the storm.

[5.13.5] Many years later than the capture of Troy, Damarmenus, a fisherman from Eretria, cast a net into the sea and drew up the bone. Marvelling at its size he kept it hidden in the sand. At last he went to Delphi, to inquire whose the bone was, and what he ought to do with it.

[5.13.6] It happened that by the providence of Heaven there was then at Delphi an Elean embassy praying for deliverance from a pestilence. So the Pythian priestess ordered the Eleans to recover the bones of Pelops, and Damarmenus to give back to the Eleans what he had found. He did so, and the Eleans repaid him by appointing him and his descendants to be guardians of the bone. The shoulder-blade of Pelops had disappeared by my time, because, I suppose, it had been hidden in the depths so long, and besides its age it was greatly decayed through the salt water.

[5.13.7] That Pelops and Tantalus once dwelt in my country there have remained signs right down to the present day. There is a lake called after Tantalus and a famous grave, and on a peak of Mount Sipylus there is a throne of Pelops beyond the sanctuary of Plastene the Mother. If you cross the river Hermus you see an image of Aphrodite in Temnus made of a living myrtle-tree. It is a tradition among us that it was dedicated by Pelops when he was propitiating the goddess and asking for Hippodameia to be his bride.

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The Pillar of Oenomaus

[5.20.6] What the Eleans call the pillar of Oenomaus is in the direction of the sanctuary of Zeus as you go from the great altar. On the left are four pillars with a roof on them, the whole constructed to protect a wooden pillar which has decayed through age, being for the most part held together by bands. This pillar, so runs the tale, stood in the house of Oenomaus. Struck by lightning the rest of the house was destroyed by the fire; of all the building only this pillar was left.

[5.20.7] A bronze tablet in front of it has the following elegiac inscription:–

Stranger, I am a remnant of a famous house,
I, who once was a pillar in the house of Oenomaus;
Now by Cronus’ son I lie with these bands upon me,
A precious thing, and the baleful flame of fire consumed me not.

In my time another incident took place, which I will relate.

[5.20.8] A Roman senator won an Olympic victory. Wishing to leave behind, as a memorial of his victory, a bronze statue with an inscription, he proceeded to dig, so as to make a foundation. When his excavation came very close to the pillar of Oenomaus, the diggers found there fragments of armour, bridles and curbs.

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