IAXS Project #174
By Nusi P. Dekker (nush@itsa.ucsf.edu)
Copyright © 1997 held by author
2068 words


The mysteries of Xena's family are many, and Ms. Dekker attempts to postulate a theory which would unravel the mystery of Xena's father.



Xena's father...or not?


[01] The identity of Xena's father is revealed in the episode, TIES THAT BIND (#20), when Ares, desperate to win Xena back into the ways of war, disguises himself. Evidently able to morph into any human shape, he takes on the form of a man named Atrius. Xena has very little memory of her father since he left when she was only 3 or 4. Ares spends considerable time and effort to convince Xena that this returned and reformed Atreus actually is her father. But who was Atreus? Was he a mercenary warrior passing through Amphipolis on his way to another battle somewhere, or was he Prince Atreus (alternate spelling of Atrius and the common spelling in English for this mythological character), black sheep of the royal family of the Pelopids, a descendent of Ares himself?

[02] We know very little about Xena's heritage. A few hints have been given, including her title as 'Warrior Princess'. Some say that the title refers to her skill with weapons being almost as great as Ares', and suggests a blood connection to Ares. Others claim it is because she has royal blood. The quotes from the Xena collectibles listed below offer some hints of a royal past:

"Her father is said to have been a Spartan King, but no one knows her origins for certain."
--- Card #6 of the Hercules Trading Cards

"A princess by birth, Xena used her wisdom of battle and spirit of courage to protect the innocent of her land."
--- 5-inch Xena II doll package

[03] The history of Prince Atreus and his royal family have been the subject of stories by several well-known ancient Greek writers. These stories are based on events that may have taken place 3,000 years ago, and re-enforced by findings in tombs dating to that time. The following is a brief history of the classical Atreus' life, a hypothetical scenario of his involvement with Xena's mother, and clues from XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS episodes which provide intriguing suggestions of Xena's connection to Atreus, and through him, Ares.


[04] Pelops, son of Tantalus, who was the patriarch of a family that was destined to greatness, became High King of the entire Peloponese (named after him) at a young age. The territory at that time included Mycenae, Corinth, Argos, and Sparta. While visiting a neighboring king, Oinomaos, he developed a desire for Oinomaos' daughter Hippodameia. King Oinomaos was said to be a son of Ares, as he possessed extraordinary skills of warfare. His greatest skill was as a charioteer. No one in Greece had ever beat him in a chariot race. Pelops wagered that he could beat Oinomaos. If he won, he would take Hippodameia as his wife. If he lost, he would give up his own kingdom to Oinomaos. Pelops asked his good friend, the god Poseidon, for help. Poseidon lent Pelops his own pair of horses for the race and Pelops won.

[05] Pelops and Hippodameia were the parents of Niceppe (mother of Eurystheus, uncle of Hercules), Atreus, Thyestes, Pleisthenes, and Pittheus (grandfather of Theseus). In addition, he had a son, Chrysippius, by Hippodameia's best friend and companion Melissa, and Pelop's sometime concubine. Atreus, being the first-born son, was the crown prince.



Well, you can kinda see the family resemblance...

[06] Atreus grew up learning the arts of war and leadership. But there were also indications of mental disturbances which were attributed to the blood of Ares which coursed through his veins. He was said to be aggressive, temperamental, and cunning (some say that he was adept at cheating while gambling).

[07] Pelop's son Chrysippius, meanwhile, also became adept at warfare and became a well-loved general in Pelops' army. Pelops doted over him and showered him with gifts and favors. Atreus became consumed with jealousy and hatred, and convinced himself that Chrysippius would get the crown of Pelops instead of himself. He conspired with his brother Thyestes to kill Chrysippius. The plan went awry when he was caught in the act of murdering Chrysippius at a royal banquet.

[08] Pelops did not execute Atreus, but evidently stripped him of his succession to the throne, placed a curse on him that would someday lead to his own death at the hands of a family member, and exiled him from Mycenae, along with Thyestes and their companions and servants.


[09] There is a gap here of several years in the telling of the story of Atreus after his exile. After being chased out of Mycenae by Pelops' army, ancient texts state that he moved on to Tryphilia with his brother. But Atreus and Thyestes could have been at odds with each other stemming from the botched murder, and Atreus may have decided to push on alone (with his servants and companions) as far as Thrace. He may have stopped in the trade village of Amphipolis at one end of a fertile valley on the banks of the Strymon River. When he met the beautiful Cyrene, a daughter of the local ruler, he fell in love and married her. He then lost no time in securing the village for himself. He had a large house built which could accommodate his entire household, including his companions. He probably stayed for about four years, during which time he could have had the three (or four, according to HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS, WARRIOR PRINCESS, #09) children by Cyrene: Toris, then Xena, then Lyceus.

[10] Perhaps around the third year of his stay in Amphipolis, Atreus became restless and felt the need to reclaim his birthright and return to Mycenae.

[11] It was at this time that he may have begun a relationship with another woman, Aerope, who was the opposite of the headstrong and independent Cyrene. Cyrene, who had devoted her life to Atreus, could do nothing, as wives were pretty much regarded as property only (remember that Pelops won his wife in a wager). Atreus divorced Cyrene and married Aerope, who was well into pregnancy. They then left for Tryphilia, so that Atreus might reconcile with his brother. He left word that he would send for his children to join him in Mycenae when they were grown, but once he left the wild country of Thrace, he never thought of them again. Xena would be about three years old.

[12] Supposing that a few of Atreus' servants and companions remained behind, they would have been instructed by Atreus to maintain the rule of Amphipolis, teach his sons the warrior arts, and educate his children on the ways of Greek aristocracy. Xena carries with her an air of nobility, and is treated with respect and deference from royal Greek counterparts. One example is seen in the dynamics of her friendship with Helen, in BEWARE GREEKS BEARING GIFTS (#12).


[13] Back to the Greek literature: Atreus and Aerope produced two sons: Agamemnon, who was to become one of the greatest kings in Greek history as ruler of Mycenae, and Menelaus, the future king of Sparta and husband of Helen, featured in BEWARE GREEKS BEARING GIFTS.

[14] When Atreus arrived in Tryphilia, he wrested the throne from Thyestes, which precipitated a feud that lasted for decades and ended with the murder of Atreus by Thyestes' son Aegisthes. Pelops had in the meantime died and the cities of the Peloponese were being taken over by his other sons, grandsons, and local warlords. Atreus squandered years fighting with Thyestes in Tryphilia and was involved in several scandals, notably Aerope's purported affair with Thyestes and Atreus' revenge killing of two of Thyestes' children. He had raised an army but was killed before he could lead it to Mycenae. Thyestes was able to reclaim the throne of Mycenae himself for a very short time.

[15] Agamemnon eventually reconquered Mycenae and brought the body of Atreus with him, where he honored Atreus with a royal Mycenaean burial. In his time, Agamemnon was buried in a tomb next to that of Atreus, in a sarcophagus with the likeness of his face (the famous "death mask"?) on the lid. There is a striking resemblance to the sarcophagus Lyceus was buried in ("You always did have trouble keeping your face clean," says Xena as she wipes the dust off of the likeness of Lyceus' face on the lid of his sarcophagus, in SINS OF THE PAST, #01).


[16] After the departure of Atreus from Amphipolis, Cyrene, saddled with three (or four) small children, converted her large and mostly empty house into an inn. She never remarried but was assisted in the raising of her children by the men Atreus left behind.

[17] As they grew up, Toris and Lyceus were instructed in the Greek arts of war by Atreus' old guard: sword, spear, bow and arrow, Greek wrestling and boxing techniques, and horsemanship, including chariot driving. As a female, Xena was not allowed to be trained with her brothers, but she was present at every lesson, watching. She learned these techniques by practicing with her brothers, especially Lyceus.

[18] Xena grew into a strong and athletic beauty. Ares, who was said to have spent much time in his beloved Thrace, probably saw the potential in her and may even have made her his protege. He saw much of himself in Xena and bestowed upon her super-human warrior gifts. Among these are her supersensitive hearing, hawk-like visual acuity, lightening reflexes, and extraordinary sense of balance, as well as her great physical endurance. Because of his commitment to Xena's upbringing, Ares would feel that the daughter of Atreus belonged to him. ("I'm in your blood," Ares says to Xena in THE XENA SCROLLS, #34. What did he mean?)


What would we do with out nerdy little brothers?

[19] When Xena was 17, her life dramatically changed forever. Toris, Lyceus, and Xena, with local villagers and the remainder of Atreus' men, were called upon to defend Amphipolis against the warlord, Cortese. Toris, in a fit of cowardice, ran, leaving Lyceus and Xena to take up the battle alone (as related by Toris in DEATH MASK, #23). Lyceus was overwhelmed and was killed. He was barely 16 years old. By some miracle, Xena managed to survive.

[20] Lyceus was buried Mycenaean style, in an ornately decorated sarcophagus as befitting a royal prince, in a temple/tomb built especially for him. Much later, Xena, with apparent knowledge of her royal heritage, made a request to Gabrielle that she be buried next to Lyceus (THE GREATER GOOD, #21). This is significant since all of the other burials seen in XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS have been funeral pyres (e.g. Marcus, THE PATH NOT TAKEN (#05), Tireas, HOOVES AND HARLOTS (#10), Perdicas, RETURN OF CALLISTO (#29)). Also, since Lyceus is the only family member entombed, it can be presumed that the rest of Xena's family (excepting Atreus) is still alive.


A father-daughter chat via godly intervention

[21] Xena blamed Atreus for his abandonment of her family. Her ten-year reign of terror precipitated by Lyceus' premature death was her legacy from Atreus of the Pelopids and from Ares, her great-great-grandfather and mentor. To make amends for her atrocious acts, she will have to fight this heritage which is instilled in every fibre of her being, for the rest of her life.




Well, DUH!


GREEK MYTHOLOGY: The Creation of the Gods - The Gods - The Heros - The Trojan War - The Odyssey, by Sofia Souli (translated from the Greek by Philip Ramp); EDITIONS MICHALIS TOUBIS S.A., Athens, Greece, 1995.

  1. "The Twelve Gods of Olympus", pg. 22-23
  2. "Apollo, God of Light, Music, and Prophecy", pg. 36-37
  3. "Ares, God of War", pg. 45
  4. "The Royal House of the Pelopids", pg. 122-123

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