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The War of the SEVEN AGAINST THEBES

Eteocles 1 on his way to confront his brother Polynices. sch217: Engraving from G. Schwab's Die schönsten Sagen ... 1912.



"Many are the homes and cities once prosperous that Ambition has entered and left, to the ruin of her worshippers. It is better to honor Equality, who always joins friend to friend, city to city, allies to allies; for Equality is naturally lasting among men ... Lay aside your violence, my sons, lay it aside; two men's follies, once they meet, result in very deadly evil." (Jocasta. Euripides, Phoenician Women 532).

"Wealth is most valued by men, and of all things in the world it has the greatest power. This I have come to secure at the head of my great army; for a man well-born but poor is worth nothing ... The words of truth are naturally simple, and justice needs no subtle interpretations, for it has a fitness in itself; but the words of injustice, being sick in themselves, require clever treatment." (Polynices. Euripides, Phoenician Women 440, 470).

"If all were at one in their ideas of honor and wisdom, there would be no strife to make men disagree; but, as it is, fairness and equality have no existence in this world beyond the name ... I will not yield the blessing of kingship to another rather than keep it for myself; for it is cowardly to lose the greater and to win the less." (Eteocles 1. Euripides, Phoenician Women 500, 509).


The war of the SEVEN AGAINST THEBES was an Argive intervention in a Theban conflict.

Oedipus' curse

When Oedipus was found guilty of both murder and incest, he was forced to abdicate. Thus the man who unwittingly had killed his father and slept with his mother, found himself, not only deprived of his throne and reputation, but also despised by his sons, who kept him isolated, afraid of showing this walking family shame. Oedipus requited this outrage by cursing his sons Polynices and Eteocles 1 so that they never would come to terms as to who would become Oedipus' successor on the throne of Thebes.

"When I was thrust from hearth and home; when I was banned and banished, they never raised a hand. Then may the gods never quench their fatal feud. That neither he who holds the sceptre now may keep his throne, nor he who fled the realm return again." (Oedipus. Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 425).

Brothers' compact

In order to avoid their father's curse, Polynices and Eteocles 1 made at first an agreement, deciding that each should rule alternately for one year at a time. But this deal did not last long, and Oedipus had not yet died when Polynices was already raising an army to march against his younger brother Eteocles 1, who having seized power and refusing to share the throne, had banished him.

Renewed curse

When Polynices met the exiled Oedipus at Colonus, asking for his father's support (since an oracle had said that he who counted Oedipus as an ally would win), he received a renewed curse from his father, who doomed them to kill each other and never rule:

This curse I leave you as my last bequest: Never to win by arms your native land, nor return to Argos, but by a kinman's hand to die and slay." (Oedipus to Polynices. Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 1385).

Help from abroad

Betrayed and banished by his brother, Polynices took with him the Robe & Necklace of Harmonia 1, a Theban treasure, and came to Argos. Arriving by night to the palace of King Adrastus 1, he met another exile, Tydeus 2, who had fled from Calydon, and engaged in a fight with him, waking up the king, who came out and parted them. Some affirm that Adrastus 1 compared them to wild beasts because they came to blows about a bed. But others say that when he later examined the boar and lion in their shields, he remembered the words of a seer who had told him to yoke his daughters in marriage to a boar and a lion. And interpreting the seer's words as well as he could, Adrastus 1 married these two exiles to his daughters, promising that he would restore them both to their native lands, Polynices first. This is how the Theban conflict turned into an affair between different kingdoms.

Different opinions about the Theban crisis

But just as there are always those who find high reasons to intervene in what they feel is the concern of all, there are also those who are always reluctant to engage in what they feel should not concern them. So, on the matter of intervention in Thebes, the opinions of the Argives were almost as divided as Argos itself, for at that time there were in Argos three kingdoms, the kings being Adrastus 1, Amphiaraus, and Iphis 1. And while Adrastus 1 had already promised the exiles to make war, Amphiaraus, who was a seer and knew that the expedition against Thebes would fail, refused to participate. But as he who has disorder at home is weaker, Amphiaraus was at last forced to join the coalition, betrayed by his own wife Eriphyle, who let herself be bribed by the party that advocated war. That Amphiaraus was not taking counsel only from his own peaceful nature is proved by the fact that, on leaving for Thebes, he instructed his sons to slay their mother and march against Thebes once they were grown up.

Right and Force

RI.1-0473: Death of Archemorus (Opheltes). Relief in Palazzo Spada. The snake was killed by the Seven Against Thebes. Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher (Göttingen, 1845- Dresden, 1923), Ausfürliches Lexikon der griechisches und römisches Mythologie, 1884.

In this way the coalition was formed that marched against the town of the seven gates. And while Eteocles 1 sat in his precarious throne at Thebes, and was suspected of being a man who breaks his promises because of his power ambitions, his brother Polynices, who succeeded in raising an army to defend his own rights, was now suspected of wishing to cause his own native land's destruction.

Antigone 2: Turn back your host to Argos with all speed, and ruin not yourself and Thebes as well.
Polynices: That cannot be. It is a shame to live in exile, and shall I, the elder, bear a younger brother's flouts?
Antigone 2: But brother, what profit from your country's ruin comes? Will you then bring to pass the prophecies of he who threatens mutual slaughter to you both?
(Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 1416).

The brothers' arguments

Polynices argued that

"After consenting to our deal and calling the gods to witness his oath, Eteocles has performed none of his promises, but is still keeping the sovereignty in his own hands together with my share of our heritage. And now I am ready to take my own and dismiss the army from this land, receiving my house in turn to dwell in, and once more restore it to him for an equal period, instead of ravaging our country and bringing scaling-ladders against the towers as I shall attempt to do if I do not get my rights." (Polynices. Euripides, Phoenician Women 480).

And Eteocles 1 replied:

"I am ashamed to think that Polynices should gain his object by coming with arms and ravaging the land; for this would be a disgrace to Thebes, if I should yield my scepter up to him for fear of Argive might. He ought not to have attempted reconcilement by armed force. Still, if on any other terms he cares to dwell here, he may; but power I shall never willingly let go. Shall I become his slave, when I can rule? I will not give up government to him. For if we must do wrong, to do so for government is the fairest cause, but in all else piety should be our aim." (Eteocles 1. Euripides, Phoenician Women 510).

Face to face

When war had already broken, the brothers met during a short truce and harshly declared their views to each other:

Polyneices: Once more I demand back my scepter and share of the land.
Eteocles: I admit no demand; I will live in my own house.
Polyneices: And keep more than your share?
Eteocles: Yes. Leave the country!
Polyneices: O altars of my fathers' gods ...
Eteocles: Which you are here to destroy.
Polyneices: ... Hear me ...
Eteocles: Who would hear you after you have marched against your fatherland?
Polyneices: I am being driven from my country ...
Eteocles: Yes, for you came to destroy it.
Polyneices: You have become unholy ...
Eteocles: But I have not, like you, become my country's enemy.
Polyneices: By driving me out without my portion. (Euripides, Phoenician Women 601ff.).

Meeting in Nemea

As the brothers could not be reconciled, the Argive army, with Theban Polynices as one of its seven commanders marched against Thebes. The army of the SEVEN came first to Nemea where they sought for water. King of Nemea was at the time Lycurgus 3, son of Pheres 1, son of Cretheus 1, son of Aeolus 1, son of Hellen 1, son of Deucalion 1, the man who survived The Flood. Lycurgus 3, who some call Lycus 11, was father of the child Opheltes 1, and in charge of this child as his nurse was Hypsipyle. This Hypsipyle had been queen of the Lemnian women, but was afterwards sold into slavery by them, the reason being that when the Lemnian women decided to kill their husbands and all men in Lemnos because of their having taken Thracian wives, Hypsipyle secretly spared her father. But this was not yet public when the ARGONAUTS arrived to Lemnos, and their capitain Jason fell in love with her, and had children by her. One of them, Euneus 1, became later king of Lemnos, and is remembered for having sent ships from the island with cargoes of wine for the Achaeans during the Trojan War. But now, years after the expedition of the ARGONAUTS, and years before the Trojan War, when the SEVEN came to Nemea looking for water, Hypsipyle showed them the way to a spring, and doing so she left behind the little prince Opheltes 1, who was killed by a serpent, or as some say, devoured by a dragon.

Embassy

After celebrating the Nemean games in honor of the dead prince, the army came to Cithaeron (the mountain between Boeotia and Attica) whence Tydeus 2 was sent as ambassador to Thebes to tell Eteocles 1 to cede the kingdom to Polynices as they had previously agreed.

The Army ad portas

Since this embassy had no effect, the army approached the walls of Thebes, and each commander was stationed facing each of the seven gates, with the whole host behind them. Now, when the sight becomes blurred in face of growing troubles, some think that resorting to divination might help them to see clearer, and so did Eteocles 1 and his government, who decided to listen to what the famous seer Tiresias had to say, and the seer was of the opinion that the Thebans should be victorious if Menoeceus 2, son of Creon 2, would sacrifice himself voluntarily. And that is why Menoeceus 2, a firm believer in SEERS, slew himself before the gates.

Oedipus' curse fulfilled

As the fight was taking many lives, Capaneus' one of the first, the armies decided that the brothers should fight in single combat, and in that fight Polynices and Eteocles 1 slew each other, thus fulfilling Oedipus' curse.

Barbaric behavior does not lead to immortality

During the fight Tydeus 2 killed the Theban Melanippus 1, but was himself mortally wounded by him in the belly. As Tydeus 2 lay almost dead, Athena approached with a medicine she had received from Zeus, and by which she intended to make him immortal. But then Amphiaraus cut off the head of Melanippus 1 and gave it to Tydeus 2, who opened it and gulped up the brains. So when Athena saw this utterly disgusting scene, she withheld the intended privilege.

RIII.2-2675: Fight of Polynices and Eteocles. Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher (Göttingen, 1845- Dresden, 1923), Ausfürliches Lexikon der griechisches und römisches Mythologie, 1884..

Amphiaraus vanishes

Shortly after, when Amphiaraus was about to be killed, Zeus cleft the earth with a thunderbolt, and Amphiaraus vanished, chariot and charioteer included.

Greatest war in Hellas

Some have noticed that the war of the SEVEN was the first war in Hellas that caused an army to make a long march; for wars had before taken place among neighboring states only. But the Argives marched from Peloponnesus to Boeotia, collecting allies out of Arcadia and Messenia, while the Thebans were assisted by mercenaries from Phocis and other places. It is said that after a first encounter in an open field, the Thebans, having been worsted, retired within their fortifications. And since the Argives, though attacking fiercely, could not assail the walls properly, many of them were killed by the missiles hurled by the Thebans, who afterwards sallied forth and defeated the weakened army.

Thebes survives and so do its troubles

All commanders died except Adrastus 1, but the defeat of the SEVEN did not put an end to Thebes' troubles. Creon 2 came to power after the death of Eteocles 1, and because he forbade to bury the dead enemies, an Athenian intervention under the command of Theseus took place that forced him to carry on the regular funeral practices. But Antigone 2, Oedipus' daughter, who resisted Creon 2's unholy edict, and in secret buried her brother Polynices, was detected and interred alive. Ten years after these events, the sons of the SEVEN, called the EPIGONI, marched against Thebes and were victorious.


The SEVEN AGAINST THEBES: Commanders 

Adrastus 1. King of Argos and son of Talaus. He married his daughters to the two exiles: Argia 1 to Theban Polynices and Deipyle to Calydonian Tydeus 2, and having promised his sons-in-law to restore them both to their native lands he raised an army in order to march first against Thebes. Adrastus 1 lost the war and Thebes could not be taken but of all seven chiefs he was the only one who survived, saved by his horse Arion 1. Ten years after, his son Aegialeus 1, one of the so called EPIGONI, was killed at Thebes by Laodamas 1, son of Eteocles 1 and king of Thebes. Adrastus 1 died because of Old Age and the fate of Aegialeus 1. Some say that he threw himself into the fire when he learned about his son's fate.

Amphiaraus. Being a seer and foreseeing that all who joined Adrastus 1 against Thebes would perish, Amphiaraus refused at first to join the expedition but was finally forced to go to war. He was the assailant of the Homoloidian Gate at Thebes. When about to be killed by Periclymenus 3, Zeus saved him by splitting the earth. Amphiaraus vanished for ever and Zeus made him immortal. Amphiaraus was the son of Hypermnestra 2, either by Oicles, who sometimes is said to be his son instead, or by Apollo. He married hateful Eriphyle and had children by her: Alcmaeon 1, Amphilochus 1, Eurydice 9, Demonassa 4, Alexida, and perhaps Oicles. Amphiaraus joined the expedition of the ARGONAUTS and was among the CALYDONIAN HUNTERS (see also Robe & Necklace of Harmonia 1). Aes.Sev.569; Apd.1.8.2, 1.9.13, 1.9.16, 3.6.2-3, 3.6.6-8, 3.7.2; Cic.ND.2.7; Dio.4.32.3; Hyg.Fab.70, 73; Pau.5.17.7, 8.45.7, 9.5.15; Pin.Nem.9.24, 10.9; Pin.Oly.6.13; Pin.Pyth.8.39ff.; Plu.GQ.23; Stat.Theb.3.470, 7.818ff., 8.1.

Capaneus. Capaneus was the husband of Evadne 2, the daughter of the third king of Argos, Iphis 1. It is said that Zeus smote him with a thunderbolt when he was climbing the walls of Thebes, and that his wife threw herself on the funeral pyre and was burned with him. Capaneus, so they say, was raised from the dead by Asclepius. Capaneus, counted as the assailant of the Electran (Ogygian) Gate at Thebes, was son of Hipponous 1 and Astynome 1, daughter of King Talaus of Argos. His son by Evadne 2, Sthenelus 2, is found among the EPIGONI, the SUITORS OF HELEN, the ACHAEAN LEADERS, and among those who hid inside the WOODEN HORSE. Aes.Sev.423ff.; Apd.3.6.3-7, 3.7.1-2, 3.10.3; Eur.Phoe.1172ff.; Hyg.Fab.68, 70, 97; Pau.10.10.3; Stat.Theb.10.927.

Eteoclus. King Iphis 1 did not join the expedition himself, but sent his son Eteoclus, who was killed by Leades. Eteoclus was the assailant of the Neistan Gate at Thebes. Aes.Sev.458; Apd.3.6.3, 3.6.8; Pau.10.10.3.

Hippomedon 1. Assailant of the Oncaidian Gate at Thebes. Hippomedon 1, who some call son of Aristomachus 1, others son of Talaus, and still others son of Mnesimachus, also perished in this war, killed by Ismarus 1, a brother of Leades (see above). Hippomedon 1 is father, either by Evanippe or by Nealce, of Polydorus 1, counted among the EPIGONI.

Parentage (three versions)

Aristomachus 1 & unknown

Talaus & Lysimache 1

Mnesimachus & Metidice


Aristomachus 1 is son of Talaus & Lysimache 1.
Talaus was king of Argos.
Lysimache 1 was daughter of Abas 3, son of Melampus 1, a king of Argos, also counted among the SEERS.
Metidice is daughter of Talaus.


Aes.Sev.488; Apd.1.9.13, 3.6.3, 3.6.6, 3.6.8; Hyg.Fab.70, 71; Stat.Theb.9.519ff., 12.122.

Parthenopaeus. Parthenopaeus was the Assailant of the Borraean (Electran) Gate at Thebes. Some say that Parthenopaeus was son of Talaus & Lysimache 1, but others call him son of Atalanta (either by Meleager, Melanion or Ares). It is not clear who killed him at Thebes: it could have been Amphidicus, Periclymenus 3 or Dryas 9. Dryas 9, who died mysteriously in battle, was a chieftain from Tanagra who came to defend Thebes with one thousand archers. Parthenopaeus is one of those whom Aeneas met in the Underworld (see Map of the Underworld). Aes.Sev.547; Apd.1.9.13, 3.6.6, 3.6.8, 3.7.2, 3.9.2; Eur.Phoe.1157; Hyg.Fab.70, 71; Pau.9.18.6, 9.19.2; Stat.Theb.4.309, 9.885; Vir.Aen.6.480.

Polynices. Son of Oedipus in feud with his brother Eteocles 1. They killed each other in single combat. His son Thersander 1 became king of Thebes after the war of the EPIGONI, but was later killed by Telephus, son of Heracles 1 when the Achaean fleet sailing against Troy arrived by mistake in Mysia. Polynices' mother was Jocasta, but some, not believing in the story of the incest of Oedipus, say that his mother was Eurygania, daughter of Hyperphas. Polynices married Argia 1, daughter of Adrastus 1 (see above), and had children by her: Thersander 1, Adrastus 4, and Timeas (see also main text above). Aes.Sev.641, 811; Apd.3.5.8-9, 3.6.1-6,3.7.2; Eur.Phoe.288, 1360ff. and passim; Hyg.Fab.67, 70; Pau.2.20.5; Soph.OC.passim; Stat.Theb.1.681, 11.552ff.;

Tydeus 2. The celebrated Tydeus 2 from Calydon was sent by the SEVEN to tell Eteocles 1 that he must cede the kingdom to Polynices, as they had agreed among themselves, and during his embassy, defending himself from an ambush, killed fifty men in single combat. Tydeus 2 is father of Diomedes 2. Apd.3.6.3, 1.9.13, 1.9.16; Hdt.5.67; Hom.Il.2.565; Pau.9.18.1.

Mecisteus 1. To these commanders some have added Mecisteus 1, son of Talaus (either by Lysimache 1 or by Lysianassa 3), and father of Euryalus 1 (one of the ACHAEAN LEADERS). Mecisteus 1 was killed by Melanippus 1. Apd.3.6.3, 1.9.13, 1.9.16; Hdt.5.67; Hom.Il.2.565; Pau.9.18.1.


Seven authors compared 

Authors

Assailants

Defenders

Gates

Abbreviations: Aes.Sev. = Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes; Apd. = Apollodorus, Library; Dio. = Diodorus Siculus, Library of History; Eur.Phoe. = Euripides, Phoenician Women; Eur.Supp. = Euripides, Suppliants; Hyg.Fab. = Hyginus, Fabulae; Soph.OC. = Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus; Stat.Theb. = Statius, Thebaid.


Aes.Sev.375ff.; Soph.OC.1313ff.:

Apd.3.6.3:

Eur.Phoe.1104ff.:

Assailant

Defender

Gate

Assailant

Gate

Assailant

Gate

Amphiaraus

Lasthenes

Homoloidian

Adrastus 1

Homoloidian

Adrastus 1

Seventh

Capaneus

Polyphontes 2

Electran

Amphiaraus

Proetidian

Amphiaraus

Proetidian

Eteoclus

Megareus 1

Neistan

Capaneus

Ogygian

Capaneus

Electran

Hippomedon 1

Hyperbius 2

Oncaidian

Hippomedon 1

Oncaidian

Hippomedon 1

Ogygian

Parthenopaeus

Actor 5

Borraean

Parthenopaeus

Electran

Parthenopaeus

Neistan

Polynices

Eteocles 1

---

Polynices

Hypsistan

Polynices

Fountain

Tydeus 2

Melanippus 1

Proetidian

Tydeus 2

Crenidian

Tydeus 2

Homoloidian

 

Dio.4.65.2; Stat.Theb.4.62-247; Hyg.Fab.70:

Eur.Supp.860ff.:

Stat.Theb.8.353:

Assailant

Assailant

Defender

Gate

Adrastus 1

Adrastus 1

Creon 2

Ogygian

Amphiaraus

Capaneus

Dryas 9

Electran

Capaneus

Eteoclus

Eteocles 1

Neistan

Hippomedon 1

Hippomedon 1

Eurymedon 6

Hypsistan

Parthenopaeus

Parthenopaeus

Haemon 1

Homoloidian

Polynices

Polynices

Hypseus 3

Proetidian

Tydeus 2

Tydeus 2

Menoeceus 2

Dircean


Related sections Adrastus 1, Amphiaraus, Argos, EPIGONI, Oedipus, Robe & Necklace of Harmonia 1, Tydeus 2  
Sources
Abbreviations

Pau.9.9.1ff.; Stat.Theb. passim; and see lists above.

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