Pelops was the son of Tantalus and the grandson of Zeus. When he was a boy, his father cut him into pieces, stewed his flesh in a cauldron, and served him as a feast for the gods. The gods detected the trick and restored Pelops to life; a single piece of his shoulder had been eaten by Demeter, and this they replaced with ivory. After his restoration, Pelops was an even more beautiful young man than before; Poseidon fell in love with him and gave him a winged chariot.
Later, Pelops wooed Hippodameia, the daughter of King Oenomaus of Pisa. Oenomaus had decreed that any suitor might carry Hippodameia off, but that he himself would pursue them and would kill anyone he was able to overtake. He had already killed twelve or thirteen suitors this way. However Pelops (or Hippodameia in some accounts) persuaded Oenomaus' charioteer, Myrtilus, to remove the linchpins from the king's chariot; Oenomaus was thrown from the vehicle, became entangled in the reins, and was dragged to his death. Pelops then killed Myrtilus by throwing him into the sea, either because he had tried to rape Hippodameia or because Pelops resented sharing the credit for success in the chariot race. Myrtilus, as he was dying, cursed the house of Pelops, and this curse blighted the lives of Pelops' sons (Atreus and Thyestes), and his grandsons (Agamemnon and Aegisthus).

Pelops subdued the area of Greece which became known as the Peloponnesus, and then returned to rule Oenomaus' kingdom in Pisa. During the time of the Trojan War, the Greeks brought his bones to Troy because of a prophecy that only by doing so could they conquer the city.