The Seven Against Thebes

Polydices and Eteocles dead in the arms of Ares and Athena

This is a tragedy. Just letting you know. I don't do right by it, cuz my writing style is more like my speaking style (which is a little difficult to understand because my tongue is so stuck in my cheek). If you really want to read it, and I recommend that you do - it's a quick read and really good - then you can check it out here, in the Perseus Project.

The story begins before the play starts. See, there were these two sons of Oedipus, and they were given the kingdom to rule over, but instead of sharing it well and equally like they were supposed to, when Eteocles' turn for ruling Thebes was done he wouldn't hand it over to his brother. So Polynices, his brother, who had an equal right to the throne, got pissed and went over the visit the Argives. While he was there, he raised an army, and with this army he returned to Thebes to attack Eteocles, and regain the throne of Thebes he viewed as "rightfully his." As the play begins, Eteocles is already fighting his brother. A messenger soon arrives with word that an army has gathered beyond his gate. In addition to an army, says the messenger, there are seven fearsome looking captains and there is one standing at each of the seven gates into Thebes. Almost immediately the Chorus of women begins to wail. It cries out to Zeus, Athena, Hera, Artemis, Apollo, and even Ares. Especially Ares. For the city of Thebes is the city founded by Cadmus. And Cadmus married Harmonia, the daughter of Ares. But the problem is that the scary seven outside the gate are also chanting the name of Ares - so no one is exactly sure what to do. Basically, the people (the women) are just freaking out.

Eteocles takes one look at them and rolls his eyes.

"Look guys," Eteocles says, "is this any way to defend a city. Get up off your praying butts and let's DO something. Or better yet. You chicks stay inside and let us big tough men do the defending. You just stay out of the way."

Then there's a whole nice conversation between Eteocles and the women of the city. Basically they keep saying that praying isn't such a bad idea, and he keeps responding with something like, "Get in the kitchen, woman, and make me some toast."

Well, he doesn't exactly say that, but it is close enough. This dialogue goes on and on until the women finally agree to be quiet when Eteocles points out that they are scaring the men. Once they've reached an agreement, Eteocles swears to honor the Gods if they will just pull his butt through this. Then he makes arrangements to stand six strong captains and himself on the seven gates to repel the attackers. He leaves as the women continue with very eloquent wailing for their safety.

It is then that the messenger arrives. He has news of the first to come against Thebes. It is Tydeus, and he is storming the Proetid gates. Who will Eteocles send against him? Eteocles sends Melanippus, the son of Atacus, out to defend the gate. Melanippus, one of the descendents of Cadmus, goes forth.

I could continue to describe each of the "goings forth" in detail, but that is really just a waste of time. Let's do it like this instead, in a nice little table.

Theban defender Argive attacker Gate Name
1. MelanippusTydeusProetid Gate
2. PolyphontesCapaneusElectran Gate
3. MegareusEteoclus (not to be confused with Eteocles)Neistan Gate
4. HyperbiusHippomedonGate near Onca Athena's temple
5. ActorParthenopaeusNorthern Gate by the tomb of Amphion
6. LasthenesAmphiarausHomoloid Gate
7. EteoclesPolynicesHighest Gate

Oh no! Everyone is going out to fight! Since this is clearly not a comedy, chances are, lots of people are going to die. Who do you think will win, Eteocles or Polynices? Why do these brothers fight so? Why has faith in the Gods been forsaken? The answer lies not in them, but in their father and their grandfather. For there was a Curse upon the House of Laius that was started the day Oedipus was born (destined, as he was, to lay with his own mother, and produce sons that were also his brothers). With his dying breaths, Oedipus went mad and cursed his sons. Now, Eteocles believed that the Gods had forsaken them, and there was no help to be found there. The women wail because they know that the Erinnyes are coming to exact the Curse. They fret. They moan. They cry. And while they do these things, the battle rages outside.

Until a Messenger arrives. He brings good news, I guess. The city is saved. The women and their prayers were useful after all. But there's bad news, too. It was not Eteocles who held the seventh gate. Nor was it one of his minions. It was the great God Apollo, for Eteocles had already fallen. How fallen? At the hand of his brother, and Polynices fell in the same way. The city is saved, but through their mutual murder the earth has drunk the blood of the two kings born of the same seed.

Enter Antigone and Ismene, the two sisters of the fallen heirs. They are both majorly distraught. And they stand over their fallen brothers and sing a last goodbye. It is so sad . . . it just tears your heart out. But there is not an end yet. First a Herald comes in and announces some seriously upsetting news. He announced that the city's Officials decreed that Eteocles will be buried in honor, but Polynices will be left out to be eaten by dogs. Now, everyone is happy about the city being safe, but NO ONE is happy that Eteocles OR Polynices are dead. They loved both kings. So no one is exactly thrilled about this news about the mistreatment of Polynice's body.

Antigone was not only unthrilled, she was also pissed and she WASN'T going to stand for it. She stepped forward and said,

"Look, this is my brother. I will SEE him buried if I am killed for my disobedience. Basically, that's how it is. Anyone who tries to stop me will seriously regret it."

Then came probably my favorite part. And I'm quoting this straight from the play, now.

Herald: I forbid you to act thus in violation of the city.
Antigone: I forbid you to make useless proclamations to me.

You tell him, girl. That's where this story ends. Annoying, huh? But don't worry. The story is continued in another play. What's that play called? Antigone, of course.

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Last Updated January 15, 2008