The story

Seven Against Thebes

Seven Against Thebes

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Seven Against Thebes is the third part of a trilogy written by one of the greatest of the Greek tragedians, Aeschylus in 467 BCE, winning first prize in competition at Dionysia. Unfortunately, only fragments of the first two plays, Laius and Oedipus and the accompanying satyr drama Sphinx remain. Based on the well-known ancient Greek myth surrounding King Oedipus of Thebes, Seven Against Thebes centers on this rivalry between Eteocles and Polynices, the two sons of Oedipus, fulfilling the curse of their father, never being able to settle their dispute and, in the end, falling by each other's hand. As evident with his most famous work Oresteia, Aeschylus may well have been the only tragedian to treat his trilogies as a single drama. This practice is evident in Seven Against Thebes where he makes a number of references to events from the first two plays.


Considered the father of Greek tragedy, Aeschylus was born around 525 BCE into an aristocratic family of Eleusis, an area west of central Athens. A proud Athenian, he fought against the Persians at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE where his brother was killed. Some scholars claim he may have also fought at the Battle of Salamis in 480 BCE. He began writing about this same time, winning his first victory in 484 BCE. Of his over 90 plays only six have survived – the authorship of a seventh Prometheus Bound is in question. He was best known for his use of the chorus and introduction of a second speaking actor thereby allowing plot development to be given more freedom. His two sons, Euaion and Euphorion, were both playwrights.

Historian Norman Castor in his book Antiquity said that the purpose of Aeschylus's dramas was not to tell a story but to explore a problem. Classicist Edith Hamilton in her The Greek Way said he was the first poet to grasp the “bewildering strangeness of life” (182). She added that he was profoundly religious but somewhat radical, pushing aside the trappings of traditional Greek religion. The gods in his plays are seen as shadows, “questioning how a god can be considered just when people are allowed to suffer” (193). Late in life, Aeschylus traveled to Sicily where he would continue to write. He died there around 456 BCE.

The Myth

Most people in the audience would have been well-aware of the myth surrounding Oedipus and the curse of King Laius. However, to fully understand and appreciate the play the casual observer had to understand the plight of the doomed family of the king and the legend surrounding the tragedy of Oedipus. Prior to his birth, his father, King Laius, is foretold by an oracle that his son will one day kill him. To avoid this tragedy the baby Oedipus is sent away with orders to be killed. Unfortunately, the soldier sent to perform the deed could not, and by a stroke of luck, the child is raised by the king of Corinth and his wife. Years later, an adult Oedipus returns to his birthplace of Thebes and unknowingly fulfills the prophecy – killing his father and marrying his mother. Eventually, Oedipus, now the king of Thebes, learns of his sinful deed, blinds himself, and goes into exile. Along with his daughter, Antigone, he wanders as an outcast for many years until settling in Athens at the request of King Theseus. Prior to his death, he places a curse on his two sons; they will never be able to settle their differences and will die in battle. Seven Against Thebes centers on this rivalry between Eteocles and Polynices, the two sons of Oedipus. Although mentioned by name, Polynices does not appear or speak in the play.

Eteocles, the last hope of Thebes, fights his brother at gate seven where both are killed.

After the exile of Oedipus, the brothers agree to share the throne of Thebes; each would serve alternate one-year reigns. Eteocles chose to rule first, but at the end of his year refused to relinquish the throne to his brother, forcing Polynices to go into exile. In retaliation for his brother's treachery, Polynices aligns himself with King Adrastus of Argos, and a war ensues. Surrounded by the Argives, Eteocles is forced to do battle, and one by one, he sends his seven bravest champions outside the seven gates of Thebes against the best seven of Argos. With the war at a stalemate, Eteocles, the last hope of Thebes, fights his brother at gate seven where both are killed. The attackers are repelled, and the war ends. As with the Sophocles play, Antigone attempts to bury her brother Polynices (he is considered a traitor), despite the warnings of the Theban leadership. Although not mentioned in the play, according to the legend, the next generation of Argos returns to battle Thebes and is victorious.

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Until the very end when Antigone and Ismene make their appearance, much of the play is spent with Eteocles speaking to the chorus. Therefore, there are relatively few characters:

  • Eteocles
  • Antigone
  • Ismene (non-speaking)
  • a messenger
  • a herald
  • and, of course, the chorus.

The Plot

The play opens with Eteocles confronting a large crowd of concerned Thebans. It is obvious that Polynices and his fellow Argives are gathered outside the walls of Thebes preparing for battle. The citizens have come to their king for reassurance. He speaks to them in a tone of comfort. He pleads with them to keep the altar, help the children, and lastly to help mother Earth. He informs them that a prophet has foretold that the enemy plans an assault, so they must tend to the gates and towers. In an attempt to ease their worries, he has sent spies and scouts to the enemy.

A messenger enters to tell Eteocles of the “fierce” seven commanders approaching the gates and advises him to “barricade your town before the blast of Ares strikes it in storm: we already hear the roar of the armed land wave” (Grene, 72). The nervous king prays to the gods to protect his city. The chorus is troubled, asking who will protect them, who will be their champion. What god or goddess will shelter them? Speaking of the approaching enemy, they exclaim:

Seven proud captains of the host, with harness and spear, have won their place by lot; they stand champions at seven gates. (75)

They shout to Zeus, to Apollo and to Athena. Speaking to the chorus, Eteocles is angry and says there are many in the city who are afraid, accusing them of being spiritless cowards. He insults them by calling them all a tribe of women. The enemy is gaining strength. If the people fail to obey his orders - both men and women - they will be sentenced to death. “Obedience is mother to success and wife of salvation.” (78) He charges the chorus not to allow the citizenry to become cowards, pray that the towers hold them off, be quiet and not overly fearful. The chorus leader is concerned and frightened:

Our city groans from its foundation, we're surrounded. ... I'm afraid: the din at the gates grows louder. (79-80)

Eteocles tries to console him, telling him that it is not for him to worry and, again, asks him not to speak of what he hears to the city. The chorus leader remains fearful, adding that he will not be a slave. To the chorus Eteocles speaks of his plans:

I will take six men, myself to make the seventh, and go to post them at the city's gates, opponents of the enemy, in gallant style. (81)

He exits. The chorus speaks aloud of the chaos behind the city walls; screams, roving bands of pillagers. Eteocles returns just as a messenger arrives with news of the enemy; each Argive champion stands at his appointed gate. He asks the king who shall be sent to the first gate, who deserves their trust. Eteocles listens as the messenger speaks of the might of first enemy champion but quickly dismisses the threat, no equipment of man will make him tremble. He chooses his first champion to face the enemy.

One by one, Eteocles selects the champions to face the enemy. They all watch as the men do battle at the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth gates. Finally, the messenger speaks to Eteocles. At the seventh gate is his brother, Polynices.

Hear how he curses the city and what fate he invokes on her. He prays that once his foot is set upon our walls, once he is proclaimed the conqueror of this land, once he has cried a paean of triumph in its overthrow, he then may choose to fight with you and killing encounter his own death beside your corpse. (93)

Eteocles cries out that his father's curse has been fulfilled. He asks for his greaves to shield him. Although the chorus leader begs him not to go, Eteocles insists that he must. Eteocles exits. The messenger soon returns. At the seventh gate, the brothers have died by each other's hand; the curse has come true.

With brothers' hands they achieved their mutual murder. The city is saved, but of the royal pair the ground has drunk the blood shed each by each. (101)

Attendants bring in the bodies of the two slain brothers. A herald remarks:

It is duty to declare to you counselors of the people, the resolves already taken … Our lord Eteocles for his loyalty it is determined to bury in the earth he so loved. (108)

However, the traitor Polynices must be cast out unburied. As with Sophocles' play Antigone declares:

… yet will I bury him and take the danger on my head alone when that is done. He is my brother. I am not ashamed of this anarchic act of disobedience to the city. (109)

The herald stands fast, forbidding her, but she remains resolute. Antigone, with half the chorus, stands with the body of Polynices while Ismene, with the second half, stands with the body of Eteocles. They all leave to bury the bodies.


Aeschylus's influence would live long after him, even having a profound effect on his fellow tragedians. References to Seven Against Thebes appear in both Aristophanes' Frogs and Euripides' Phoenician Women. The play would survive well into the Byzantine and Renaissance eras. Unfortunately, its present-day form may not be the same one penned by Aeschylus. Many scholars believe that parts of the play were rewritten years later to keep it in line with Sophocles' Antigone, a play presented 15 years after Aeschylus's death. This is quite evident is the climax; Antigone only appears in the final lines of the play to voice her concern about Polynices' unburied body. Despite this rather abrupt conclusion, the play has stood the test of time and influenced not only his fellow tragedians but others well into the Renaissance.

Plot Summary of Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus

Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes (Hepta epi Thēbas Latinized as Septem contra Thebas) was originally performed at the City Dionysia of 467 B.C., as the final tragedy in a trilogy about the family of Oedipus (aka the House of Labdacus). Aeschylus won 1st prize for his tetralogy (the trilogy and a satyr play). Of these four plays, only Seven Against Thebes has survived.

Polynices (a son of the famous Oedipus), leading a band of Greek warriors from Argos, attacks the city of Thebes. There are 7 gates in the protective walls of Thebes and 7 valiant Greeks fight on either side of these entry points. Polynices' attack on his native city fulfills a paternal curse, but the action that precipitated it was his brother Eteocles' unexpected refusal to surrender the throne at the end of his year. All action in the tragedy takes place inside the city walls.

There is controversy about whether the last episode in the play was a later interpolation. Among other issues, it requires the presence of a third speaker, Ismene. Sophocles, who introduced the third actor, had already defeated Aeschylus in the preceding year's dramatic competition, so her presence is not necessarily anachronistic and her part is so small that it might have been taken by one of the otherwise non-speaking performers not listed among the regular, speaking actors.

The divisions of ancient plays were marked by interludes of choral odes. For this reason, the first song of the chorus is called the parodos (or eisodos because the chorus enters at this time), although the subsequent ones are called stasima, standing songs. The episodes, like acts, follow the parados and stasima. The exodus is the final, leaving-the-stage choral ode.

This is based on Thomas George Tucker's edition of Aeschylus' The Seven Against Thebes, which includes Greek, English, notes, and details on the transmission of the text. The line numbers do match the Perseus online edition, especially at the point of the funeral dirge.

  1. Prologue 1-77
  2. Parados 78-164
  3. 1st Episode 165-273
  4. 1st Stasimon 274-355
  5. 2nd Episode 356-706
  6. 2nd Stasimon 707-776
  7. 3rd Episode 777-806
  8. 3rd Stasimon 807-940
  9. Threnos (Dirge) 941-995
  10. 4th Episode 996-1044
  11. Exodus 1045-1070

Seven Against Thebes

This is the third and only surviving play of a connected trilogy, presented in 467 bc , that dealt with the impious transgressions of Laius and the doom subsequently inflicted upon his descendants. The first play seems to have shown how Laius, king of Thebes, had a son despite the prohibition of the oracle of the god Apollo. In the second play it appears that that son, Oedipus, killed his father and laid a curse on his own two sons, Eteocles and Polyneices. In Seven Against Thebes (Greek Hepta epi Thēbais) Eteocles is shown leading the defense of the city of Thebes against an invading army led by his brother Polyneices and six chieftains from the south of Greece who are bent on placing Polyneices on the Theban throne. Eteocles assigns defenders to each of six of the seven gates of Thebes but he insists on fighting at the seventh gate, where his opponent will be Polyneices. There the brothers kill each other, and the Theban royal family is thus exterminated, bringing to an end the horrors set in motion by Laius’ defiance of the gods.


Seven Against Thebes opens with Eteocles calling forth every man in the city, whether child or aged, to the fight and the threat, which is at hand. Everyone must be ready to defend the city in battle. At that moment, the Scout enters with news that the enemy is just outside the walls and is preparing for battle. There are seven commanders ready to attack the seven gates of Thebes. After delivering the news, the Scout departs, and Eteocles prays to Zeus for his favor in the battle to come. The Chorus, which has entered as the Scout has related his news, begins a lament as they hear the approach of the armies. They beg their gods to protect them and their city. Eteocles hears the Chorus’ fearful pleadings as he enters and chastises them for their fear, which he says will not help their beloved Thebes. Instead, Eteocles promises that the Chorus will be stoned to death for their mindless fear, as their fear will incite the city’s residents into an instinctive fear of their own, which will disable and defeat the city. But the Chorus is not appeased, and they continue with their warnings as Eteocles warns them of the risk they create with their wailing. Eteocles again warns the Chorus to remain inside and to hold back their panic. At their continued warnings and fearful exclamations, Eteocles responds with attacks on the nature of women, their weaknesses, and their fears. Finally the Chorus promises to restrain their fear and remain silent, and Eteocles again prays to the gods, with promises of sacrifices and trophies if Thebes is successfully defended. After Eteocles leaves the stage, the Chorus continues to voice their worry at the coming battle and the risk they face if they are taken and become slaves.

When the Scout enters, he brings news of who will lead the attack at each of the city’s gates. At the news of each opponent’s assignment, Eteocles assigns one of his men to defend that particular gate. When Eteocles is told that his brother, Polyneices, will lead the attack on the seventh gate, Eteocles decides that he will defend that gate. At this news, the Chorus warns Eteocles that he should not shed his brother’s blood, but Eteocles is beyond listening to warnings. He acknowledges the curse of his father, Oedipus, but Eteocles says that fate will determine the outcome, and if the gods are determined that he shall be destroyed, then this will happen. The chorus is dismayed at Eteocles departure and cry out that if each bother slays the other, there will be no family to see to a proper burial. The Chorus then begins to remind the audience of the story of Oedipus and the curse that followed his father, himself, and now his sons. At that moment, the Scout again enters with the news that Thebes has crushed her enemy, and the city is victorious. Six of the seven gates have withstood the onslaught of the enemy’s armies, but the battle at the seventh gate has ended in tragedy. Both Eteocles and Polyneices are dead, each at the others hand. The Scout reminds the Chorus that the city must mourn the death but also celebrate the end of the curse. The Chorus asks is they should mourn these deaths or celebrate the triumph of Thebes’ victory. With the arrival of the brother’s bodies, the Chorus acknowledges the tragedy that has unfolded. The bodies are followed closely by Ismene and Antigone, who have come to bury their brothers. The Chorus addresses the sisters, with grief and with sadness at the resolution of the curse. The two sisters respond to the Chorus with their own grief, as they lament the curse that damned both brothers. As Antigone wonders where they will bury the brothers, a Herald enters with an announcement that the council has met. The council has determined that Eteocles is a hero and will be accorded an honorable burial. However, Polyneices would have laid waste to Thebes, and thus, his corpse is to lie unburied, to be picked apart by the birds of prey. Antigone promises that she will bury her brother, as she will not be bound by the Theban council’s ruling. A brief argument with the Herald ensues, but Antigone will not be threatened, and finally, the Herald leaves to report to the council. The play ends with the Chorus divided. Half will accompany Eteocles to his grave half will accompany Polyneices to his burial.

War Against Thebes

When they arrived in Thebes, Adrastus send Tydeus into the city as embassy. Tydeus demand Eteocles to surrender and challenged any Theban to single combat. He defeated all Theban who faced him. Eteocles sent fifty men to ambush Tydeus outside the city, but Tydeus killed them all except Maeon. Maeon was to tell Thebes and their king what had happened.

In Thebes, Teiresias announced that Thebes would fall, unless Menoeceus, son of Creon, sacrifice himself to Ares. Creon refused to allow anyone to kill his son, but Menoeceus having overheard the prophecy, killed himself, so Thebes would win the war.

When fighting began, each Argive leader attacking one of the seven gates of Thebes. But each gate was defended by Theban champion. Astacus, a Theban noble, has four sons, named Amphidocus (Asphodicus), Ismarus, Leades and Melanippus. Each of his sons was more than a match for the Argive hero. And there was Periclymenus, the mighty son of Poseidon.

Capaneus, who was the first to breach the wall, boasted that not even Zeus could prevent him from burning the city. Zeus killed Capaneus with a thunderbolt for this impious boast. The Theban Melanippus had killed Mecisteus, while Hippomedon was killed by Ismarus, and Eteoclus was slain either by Leades or his brother Megareus. Parthenopaeüs (Parthenopaeus) was killed either by Periclymenus or Amphidocus (or Asphodicus).

Tydeus managed to kill Melanippus, but he was fatally wounded in the encounter. The goddess Athena would have saved his life and made him immortal because she was his favourite, but Amphiaraüs duped the hero into devouring Melanippus’ brains, thinking that it would heal his wound. When Athena returned with drug to heal she saw Tydeus devouring his enemy’ brains, the goddess was horrified. Disgusted by the sight, Athena left Tydeus to die.

Periclymenus pursued Amphiaraüs, each in their own chariots. Zeus realising that Periclymenus was about to hurl his spear at Amphiaraüs’ back. Because Amphiaraüs was his favourite seer, the god took pity on the seer. Zeus split opened the earth in front of the chariot, swallowing Amphiaraüs and his charioteer alive.

Polyneices and Eteocles faced one another in single combat. On this fateful day, Oedipus’ curse was about to fulfilled. They fought and died from each other’s sword. In Aeschylus’ play, Seven Against Thebes, Eteocles went to defend the seventh gate, and knew that he would die by his brother’s hand, as he knew from the prophecy that he would slay his own brother. Rather than avoid his fate and be branded as a coward, Eteocles chose to meet his death with his brother.

Seven Against Thebes
Painter of Bolonia
270 BC
Archaeological Museum, Ferrara

The Seven Against Thebes, II: Mythological Background

Let us turn to the story of the play, which draws upon the same mythological background as Sophocles Theban plays, written a generation later. The Seven is the third play of trilogy, a set of three plays, in this case, as in the Oresteia, forming a coherent and interrelated whole.

The story is a central part of a mythical cycle set in Thebes. Now, if you read a conventional history of ancient Greece, the main focus is on Athens, her rise to power, her defeat at the hands of the Spartans and their allies, and her great cultural achievements. Secondarily, we shall read of Sparta as a bizarre variant on the Greek cultural pattern, and thirdly, some account would be given of the Ionian cities on the islands and the coast of Asia Minor, where science and philosophy were born. Naturally we should hear of other major cities—Argos, Thebes, Corinth, Aegina, Megara—and peoples like the Thessalians and Phocians—but it is the rare historian who troubles himself to attempt a coherent account of even great cities like Corinth and Thebes, much less to present their point of view.

And Thebes most decidedly had a point of view. Thebes had been a great city in the Bronze Age and in the Archaic Period—the centuries leading up to the Persian Wars—she remained a powerful force in central Greece and a competitor with Athens. Because of her hostilities with Athens, Thebes “medized” during the conflict with the Persian conflict, that is, she was a collaborator with the enemy of her enemy as she was later, during the Peloponnesian War, an ally of Sparta against the common enemy. The great lyric poet Pindar was a Theban and trod warily around his city's policies. Basil Gildersleeve, America's greatest classical scholar, wrote a school commentary on Pindar and invoked him as a model. In talking about Thebes in the context of the War Between the States, during which he rode with Jeb Stuart, the Charleston bred Gildersleeve comments--in a passage his editors begged him to remove:

The man whose love for his country knows no local roots is a man whose love for his country is a poor abstraction and it is no discredit to Pindar that he went honestly with his state in the struggle. It was no treason to Medize before there was a Greece, and the Greece that came out of the Persian War was a very different thing from the cantons that ranged themselves on this side and on that of a quarrel which, we may be sure, bore another aspect to those who stood aloof from it than it wears in the eyes of moderns, who have all learned to be Hellenic patriots. A little experience of a losing side might aid historical vision.

From the Theban perspective, Athens, while an ancient city, was something of an upstart. Athenian historical legends are rather thin, and her greatest hero, Theseus, has clearly been remodeled in imitation of Heracles. Thebes, the home of Heracles and the House of Labdacus, had no need to borrow from anyone.

Before giving a brief outline of the violent ancestry of Eteocles and Polynices, I should warn readers that we are sailing into dangerous waters. There are huge controversies over, first, what Attic playwrights knew of such tales, and two, how much knowledge they could take for granted in their audience. We hear only a few things about a Theban Cycle of epic poems (as a parallel to the Trojan Cycle) in which the story, which takes place in generations before the Trojan War, of the ruling dynasty of Thebes was told. One important connection between the two cycles is the character of Diomedes (in the Iliad), who is the son of the Aetolian hero and Athena’s favorite Tydeus and the daughter of King Adrastus of Argos. He was among the most celebrated of the seven champions who attacked Thebes in the generation before the Trojan War.

Later mythographers trace the descent of Oedipus and his offspring back to Cadmus, the Phoenician immigrant who taught the Greeks the alphabet, and the goddess Harmonia Harmonia. The children of the match were a tragic lot: Semele, the mother of Dionysus, Agave, and Ino. Agave was the mother of the unfortunate Pentheus who reigned as king until his own mother, in a Bacchic frenzy, killed him. Cadmus’ one son Polydorus succeeded to the throne, which was inherited by his son Labdacus. In one version, Labdacus suffered a fate similar to that of Pentheus and was succeeded by his son Laios, who married Jocasta, a descendant of the Spartoi—“the sown men”, who were sprung up from the soil of Thebes, which Cadmus had sown with dragon's teeth, and thus true sons of the soil.

Laius, king of Thebes, disobeys Apollo’s injunction against having children and exposes his son Oedipus, and the grown Oedipus, after killing an unknown stranger in a quarrel arrives in Thebes and in ignorance marries his mother. He eventually realizes that he has fulfilled the oracle by killing his father and marrying his mother and, after blinding himself, he curses his children, particularly his two sons Eteocles and Polynices, who may or may not have done something additional to offend him. Eteocles expels Polynices, who goes to Argos, marries king Adrastos’ daughter, and assembles an army, led by himself and six other champions, to attack and sack Thebes. The city is defended by Eteocles and six chosen champions. All the heroes fall in battle killing each other.

Kriittinen vastaanotto

Kääntäjät David Grene ja Richmond Lattimore kirjoittivat, että " saksalaisen romantiikan nousu ja siitä seurannut innostus Aeschyluksen arkaiseen tyyliin sekä suorempaan ja yksinkertaisempaan dramaturgiaan " johti Seitsemän vastaisuuteen Thebaa nostamiseen varhaiseksi länsimaisen draaman mestariteokseksi. 1800-luvulta lähtien sitä ei kuitenkaan yleensä ole pidetty tragedian suurten teosten joukossa. Kääntäjät Anthony Hecht ja Helen H. Bacon kirjoittivat, että näytelmää "on syytetty staattisuudesta, dramaattisuudesta, rituaalisuudesta, syyllisyydestä interpoloituun ja alentuneeseen tekstiin, arkaaiseen ja sanalla sanoen tylsään", vaikka he itse eivät olekaan samaa mieltä tällaisesta kuvauksesta. .

Were there literally only seven people fighting or seven nations? Mr. Quertee 22:16, 24 April 2006 (UTC)

Seven generals of the Argive army. john k 00:25, 25 April 2006 (UTC)

That makes more sense. Thanks. Mr. Quertee 01:07, 25 April 2006 (UTC)

It says in the body that Polynices was the cause of the entire conflict. But wasnt it Eteoclese who broke the contract for rulling established in Oedipus' will by not giving up his turn? So then isnt Eteoclese the cause of the entire conflict? Xlegiofalco 05:32, 12 October 2006 (UTC)

Do we have sources or citations for the translation of the text from the play being quoted?
--> "who came back from exile, and sought to consume utterly with fire the city of his fathers," following. Aretemi 09:53, 19 April 2007 (UTC)

Food for thought: The Argives are Greeks just as the Thebans are Greek. A school of thought has developed that Aeschylus calls the Argives "barbarians," "foreign-sounding," etc. in order to evoke the memory of Xerxes' sacking of Athens in 480. FWIW Ifnkovhg 05:22, 16 November 2007 (UTC)

Somebody (who evidently also visited the Aeschylus article) was way off in describing the play's spurious ending. I've corrected it. The new ending of the Septem leads up to the plot of Antigone, but does not contain that plot. Big difference. Also, there is some debate (see Donald Mastronarde's Phoenissae commentary) as to whether Megareus in Aeschylus and Sophocles = Menoeceus in Euripides. I.e., in Aeschylus, Megareus dies in battle, and Sophocles is ambiguous in the matter. Menoeceus kills himself in Euripides. Megareus and Menoeceus might have been conflated at some point, but when? They are separate characters in (e.g.) Statius' Thebaid (1ct cent CE) Ifnkovhg (talk) 00:39, 28 November 2007 (UTC)

This article seems to be about the myth of the Seven Against Thebes in general, not about Aeschylus's play. Shouldn't we separate the play into its own article? john k (talk) 04:19, 31 August 2008 (UTC)

I'm not sure. To me, Seven against Thebes means the Aeschylus play. If the myth requires separate treatment (i.e., there are significant sources besides Aeschylus), it should probably be at a different title. --Akhilleus (talk) 04:25, 31 August 2008 (UTC) Of course there are other sources. There's the lost Thebaid from the epic cycle, of which fragments and perhaps synopses exist. There's Statius's Thebaid (although the extent to which that should be considered a source on mythology, rather than a literary work based on mythology, might be in question - but the same could be said of the works of the tragedians, as well, which frequently disagree with each other when they treat the same theme). There's occasional references in Homer. There's Sophocles's Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone. There's Euripides' Phoenician Women and Suppliants. There's Apollodorus. There may be some material in other sources, as well (Pausanias? Hyginus?) john k (talk) 21:14, 31 August 2008 (UTC) With the exception of Statius and Apollodorus, I'm not sure that these are narratives of the seven's attempt to sack Thebes, and one could argue that Statius and Apollodorus are not exactly "myth". But there certainly seems to be good reason to have an article or section of an article about the expedition of the seven--I don't think it's this article, though. As I said, when I hear "Seven Against Thebes" I think of the play, and not the myth(s) we can get out of the sources you list. I wonder if there should be a myths of Thebes or something, where this material can be collected and catalogued. --Akhilleus (talk) 04:36, 3 September 2008 (UTC) Apollodorus is a redactor of myths. If he's not myths, then there are no direct mythological accounts of the Twelve Labors of Hercules, for instance, or of Perseus's slaying of Medusa. And Euripides's Phoenician women is about as directly about the war as Aeschylus's play, from what I can gather. I would agree that "Seven Against Thebes" probably best for the play, but that's not what the article does not say that Seven Against Thebes is a play by Aeschylus. It says it's a mythological story whose classic form is the play by Aeschylus. This is like if we had an article Oedipus which was both about Oedipus and about Sophocles's Oedipus Rex. john k (talk) 01:23, 5 September 2008 (UTC) Well, it's hardly surprising that a Wikipedia article isn't what it should be. Someday I'll try to fix this, but I don't think it's going to be this week. If we agree that this article is about the Aeschylus play, under what title should we put the other material on the seven? --Akhilleus (talk) 01:26, 5 September 2008 (UTC) My preference would be to have this article at Seven Against Thebes (play) and to have Seven Against Thebes deal with the myth more broadly. I'm not sure how else to title the generic article. john k (talk) 04:32, 5 September 2008 (UTC) I agree. Paul August ☎ 14:33, 15 July 2020 (UTC) I've given this some more thought recently, and done some research on this issue. From what I've seen, the way this is handled elsewhere is the refer to the play as "Seven Against Thebes", and the seven champions who fought Thebes as the "Seven against Thebes". I propose that we do the same. And in fact Wikipedia already has an article at "Seven against Thebes" which is currently a redirect to this article. @Akhilleus and John Kenney: thoughts? Paul August ☎ 14:55, 26 September 2020 (UTC)

On the page of Adrastus it states: Thus arose the celebrated war of the Seven against Thebes, in which Adrastus was joined by six other heroes, Polynices, Tydeus, Amphiaraus, Capaneus, Hippomedon, and Parthenopaeus. Instead of Tydeus and Polynices other legends mention Eteoclos and Mecisteus.

On the Seven Against Thebes page it states: The Seven Against Thebes were: Eteoclus Amphiaraus Capaneus Hippomedon Parthenopeus Polynices Tydeus Allies: Eteoclus and Mecisteus. Some sources, however, state that Eteoclus and Mecisteus were in fact two of the seven, and that Tydeus and Polynices were allies. This is because both Tydeus and Polynices were foreigners. However, Polynices was the cause of the entire conflict, and Tydeus performed acts of valour far surpassing Eteoclus and Mecisteus. Either way, all nine men were present (and killed) in the battle, save Adrastus.

Where Eteoclus is at the top of the Seven Against Thebes list should that not be Adrastus? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 12:16, 30 October 2009 (UTC)


sing the antiphonal lament 961–1004 (which Aeschylus doubtless wrote for sections, or section-leaders, of the chorus) 19 but did not want to bring them on immediately before it and so break up the continuous sequence of lyric lament. The removal of 861–874 allows the chorus’s lament over the bodies of the two brothers to begin immediately they have been brought on stage (a movement covered by 848–860).

The short anapaestic passage 822–831 may well also be an interpolation 20 it contributes nothing to the reshaping of the ending consequent on the introduction into the play of Antigone and Ismene, and need not (though it may) have been composed at the same time as the other additions.

As a result of these changes to the ending of Seven we seem to have lost a few lines from the very conclusion of the play—though probably no more than a few: already in the last surviving genuine lines the question has been raised (1002) of where the brothers shall be buried, and it has been pointed out (1004) that it would be cruel to lay them near the father who had cursed them once an alternative suggestion has been made and accepted, the chorus—all of it, not two halves separately as in the altered ending—can escort the two corpses to their final home,

Seven Against Thebes - History


Sagas, or legends, are defined as mythological stories that have some basis in history. Greek sagas are grouped in cycles (i.e., clusters of legends concerning a hero, a family, a tribe, a city, or an area) connected with Late Bronze Age communities, which flourished ca. 1600-1100 B.C. (see MLS, Chapter 2, for historical background and chronology of the early Greek world). The richest of these was Mycenae. Other Peloponnesian centers with cycles of saga are Tiryns, Argos, and Sparta, and the rural area of Arcadia. On the Greek mainland, the chief centers are Athens, Thebes, Orchomenus, and Iolcus. Outside the Greek mainland important sagas are connected with Troy and Crete. The saga of Odysseus is unique in extending far outside the Mycenaean world and incorporating many folktales.


Cadmus and Europa. EUROPA [you-roh'pa], daughter of Agenor of Tyre and sister of CADMUS [kad'mus], or KADMOS, was abducted by Zeus (in the form of a bull) and taken to Crete, where she became (by Zeus) the mother of Minos.

Cadmus went to Greece in search of Europa. The oracle at Delphi told him not to go on with the search but instead to follow a certain cow until she lay down. There he was to found a city. The cow led Cadmus from Phocis to the place (in Boeotia) where he founded CADMEIA [kad-mee'a], or KADMEIA, later called Thebes.

The Spartoi. The companions of Cadmus, needing water for the ceremony of sacrificing the cow to Athena, killed the serpent (child of Ares) that guarded the spring. It killed Cadmus’ men and was itself killed by Cadmus, who obeyed Athena's command to sow its teeth. From them sprang up armed men, who fought and killed each other until there were five survivors. From them were descended the noble families of Thebes, called SPARTOI [spar'toy], “sown men.”

Cadmus and Harmonia. In penance for killing the serpent, Cadmus served Ares for a year and was given HARMONIA [har-moh'ni-a], daughter of Ares and Aphrodite, as wife, to whom he gave as a wedding gift a necklace made by Hephaestus. Their four daughters were Ino, Semele, Autonoë, and Agave (see MLS, Chapter 13).
Cadmus introduced writing and other arts of civilization at Thebes. After a long reign, he and Harmonia went to Illyria and finally were changed into harmless serpents.


Pentheus succeeded his grandfather, Cadmus, as king. After his death (see MLS, Chapter 13), Labdacus founded a new dynasty. When he dies, LYCUS [leye'kus] or LYKOS, son of Chthonius (one of the Spartoi), became regent for the infant LAIUS [lay'us or leye'us], or LAIOS, son of Labdacus.

Antiope and Zeus. The niece of Lycus was ANTIOPE [an-teye'oh-pee], daughter of Nycteus. Zeus made her the mother of the twins AMPHION [am-feye'on] and ZETHUS [zee'thus], or ZETHOS, who were brought up by a shepherd while Antiope was imprisoned by Lycus and his wife, DIRCE [dir'see]. Antiope escaped and after a long time was recognized by her sons, who killed Lycus and tied Dirce to the horns of a bull that dragged her to her death.

Amphion and Zethus. These twin brothers became rulers of Cadmeia and sent Laius into exile. They built walls for the city, whose stones were moved into place by the music of Amphion's lyre. Amphion married Niobe (see Chapter 10), and Zethus married THEBE [thee'bee], after whom the name of Cadmeia was changed to THEBES [theebz].

Laius’ Abduction of Chrysippus. In exile Laius lived with PELOPS [pee'lops], king of Elis, whose son CHRYSIPPUS [kreye-sip'pus], or CHRYSIPPOS, he abducted. For this transgression of the laws of hospitality, Pelops invoked a curse on Laius and his family.

Laius and Jocasta. On the death of Amphion and Zethus, Laius returned to Thebes as king and married JOCASTA [joh-kas'ta], or IOKASTE. Apollo’s oracle at Delphi warned that their son would kill his father as the working out of the curse of Pelops.

Laius ordered a shepherd to expose his infant son on Mt. CITHAERON [si-thee'ron], or KITHAIRON, driving a spike through his ankles. The baby was given instead by the shepherd to a Corinthian shepherd, servant of POLYBUS [pol'i-bus] or POLYBOS, king of Corinth, and Queen MEROPE [mer'o-pee], who called the baby OEDIPUS [e'di-pus or ee'di-pus], or OIDIPOUS, “swellfoot.”

Oedipus at Delphi. As a young man, Oedipus was taunted for not really being the son of Polybus and left Corinth to ask the oracle at Delphi who his parents were. He was warned that he was destined to kill his father and marry his mother.

The Murder of Laius. Oedipus therefore did not return to Corinth, and at a crossroad that led to Thebes, he killed a regal old man in a chariot who had struck him and driven him off the road. The old man, whom he did not recognize, was Laius.

Oedipus and the Sphinx by Gustave Moreau   (1826-1898).

The Sphinx. Thebes was suffering from the Sphinx (“strangler”), a monster that was part woman, part lion, and part bird. It killed those who could not answer its riddle, “What has one name that is four-footed, two-footed, and three-footed?” Oedipus answered “Man, who as a baby crawls on all fours, in his prime he walks on two feet, and in old age he uses a stick as a third foot.” The Sphinx hurled itself to its death, and Oedipus became king of Thebes in place of the dead Laius, and took the widowed queen, Jocasta, as wife.

Oedipus the King. Thebes was afflicted with a plague after many years of Oedipus’ reign. The oracle at Delphi advised the Thebans that the plague had been caused by the pollution of the murderer of Laius living in their city. Oedipus was determined to find out the murderer’s identity, yet he refused to believe the prophet, TIRESIAS [teye-ree'si-as], who told him that he was the murderer. A messenger (who was the same shepherd to whom the infant Oedipus had been given by the Theban shepherd) came from Corinth to announce the death of Polybus and offer the throne of Corinth to Oedipus. He told Oedipus, who refused to return to Corinth because of the prophecy that he would marry his mother, that he was not the son of Polybus. Oedipus sent for the Theban shepherd and the truth was discovered. Jocasta had already silently gone into the palace, where she hanged herself Oedipus rushed into the palace and blinded himself with the brooches from Jocasta’s robe.

Oedipus at Colonus. CREON [kree'on], or KREON, the brother of Jocasta, became king and Oedipus went into exile accompanied by his daughters, ANTIGONE [an-tig'o-nee] and ISMENE [is-mee'nee]. He wandered eventually to COLONUS [ko-loh'nus], or KOLONOS (in Attica), and was kindly received by THESEUS [thee'se-us], king of Athens. At Colonus Oedipus bid farewell to his daughters and then miraculously disappeared from the earth, observed only by Theseus. A hero-cult was established at the place where he vanished.


In another version Oedipus was shut up in the palace at Thebes and cursed his sons, ETEOCLES [e-tee'oh-kleez], or ETEOKLES, and POLYNICES [pol-i-neye'seez], or POLYNIKES, for putting before him one day a less honorable portion of food. He prayed that after his death they might fight to divide the kingdom.
Oedipus died at Thebes (in this version), and his sons quarreled over the throne, agreeing finally that each should reign in alternate years while the other went into exile.

Eteocles and Polynices. After the first year, Eteocles refused to give up the throne, and Polynices raised an army with the help of Adrastus, king of Argos, to march against Thebes. This is the start of the saga of the Seven against Thebes.

The Seven. The names of the seven leaders who attacked Thebes were Polynices, Adrastus, Tydeus, Capaneus, Hippomedon, Parthenopaeus, and Amphiaraüs.

Amphiaraüs and Eriphyle. AMPHIARAÜS [am-fi-a-ray'us] was a seer and knew that the Seven would fail. His wife, ERIPHYLE [e-ri-feye'lee], bribed by Polynices with the gift of the necklace of Harmonia (see above), persuaded him to go. He ordered his sons to avenge his death by punishing Eriphyle.

Hypsipyle and Opheltes. During the march from Argos to Thebes, the Seven met HYPSIPYLE [hip-sip'i-lee] (see Chapter 24), nurse of the infant OPHELTES [o-fel'teez], who was killed by a serpent. In his honor, the Seven founded the NEMEAN [nem'e-an] Games.

The Seven against Thebes. Tydeus, one of the Seven, failed in a peace embassy to Thebes and escaped an ambush set by the Thebans. In the attack on Thebes, each of the Seven stormed one of the city’s gates. Capaneus was killed by Zeus’ thunderbolt Hippomedon, Parthenopaeus, and Tydeus fell in battle Amphiaraüs escaped in his chariot and was miraculously swallowed up by the earth beside the river Ismenus. Hero-cults in his honor were established in Thebes and elsewhere. Polynices and Eteocles killed each other in single combat. Of the Seven, only ADRASTUS [a-dras'tus], or ADRASTOS, returned home.

Antigone. Antigone defied the edict of Creon forbidding the burial of Polynices. Obeying instead the decrees of Zeus, she gave her brother symbolic burial and was condemned to death by Creon. HAEMON [hee'mon], or HAIMON, Creon’s son and her fiancé, shared her death, and Creon, warned by Tiresias, relented too late.

Burial of the Heroes. Theseus helped the widows and mothers of the dead Argive heroes recover the unburied corpses and give them proper funerals. EVADNE [e-vad'nee], widow of CAPANEUS [kap'an-e-us], or KAPANEUS, threw herself into the flames of his pyre.


ALCMAEON [alk-mee'on], or ALKMAION, son of Amphiaraüs, led the EPIGONI [e-pig'o-nee], or EPIGONOI ("the later generation"), in a successful attack on Thebes, which was abandoned by its inhabitants.

Alcmaeon and Eriphyle. Alcmaeon killed his mother, Eriphyle, in obedience to his father’s orders (see above). Pursued by the Furies, he came to Arcadia, where he married the daughter of King Phegeus, to whom he gave the necklace of Harmonia. As a matricide, he was a pollution on the land and was driven out. He came to western Greece and there married Callirhoë, daughter of the river-god Acheloüs, to whom he gave the necklace of Harmonia, having recovered it in Arcadia. His sons became the founders of the Greek district of Acarnania.

Tiresias, the blind prophet, was son of the nymph Chariclo. He was blinded by Hera for taking Zeus’ side in a quarrel and maintaining that the female sex derived more pleasure from the sexual act than the male, for he had been both man and woman. As a recompense, Zeus gave him the gift of prophecy.
Tiresias was consulted by Odysseus at the entrance to the Underworld and revealed his future wanderings (see MLS, Chapter 20). He accepted the worship of Dionysus at Thebes and warned Pentheus in vain of his mistake (see MLS, Chapter 13). He revealed the truth to Oedipus in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and in Sophocles’ Antigone he warned Creon of his errors.
Tiresias died during the Theban exodus after the attack of the Epigoni.

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