Seven Against Thebes – Greek Mythology

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Many authors have shared the stories of Greek mythology with the world through their tragedies, and several plays narrate the events of the Seven Against Thebes. The myths of the seven fighters who stormed the gates of Thebes are worth knowing. Here’s a closer look.

Who Are The Seven Against Thebes?

The Seven Against Thebes is the third part of Aeschylus’ trilogy about Thebes. The play tells the story of the conflict between Eteocles and Polynices, sons of Oedipus, who fought over the throne of Thebes.

Unfortunately, the first two plays of the trilogy, called Laius and Oedipus, are mostly lost, and only a few fragments remain in existence. These two parts led to the events and ultimately the war of the third section.

As the story goes, Oedipus, the king of Thebes, unknowingly had killed his father and married his mother, fulfilling a prophecy in the process. When the truth came out, his mother/wife killed herself in shame, and Oedipus was exiled from his city.

Oedipus’ Curse Against His Sons

The line of succession after Oedipus’ downfall was unclear. Both Eteocles and Polynices, sons of Oedipus, wanted the throne, and could not decide who should have it. In the end, they decided to share the throne, with Eteocles taking the first turn. Polynices left for Argos, where he would marry Princess Argeias. When the time came for Polynices to rule, Eteocles refused to leave the throne, and the conflict began.

According to the myths, neither Eteocles nor Polynices supported Oedipus when the people of Thebes decided to cast him out. Hence, Oedipus cursed his sons to die at the hands of the other in their fight for the throne. Other stories tell that after Eteocles refused to leave the throne, Polynices went looking for Oedipus so that he could help him. Then, Oedipus cursed them for their greed.

Seven Against Thebes

It’s at this point that the Seven Against Thebes enters the play.

Polynices went back to Argos, where he would recruit the seven champions who would storm the seven gates of Thebes with him. In Aeschylus’ tragedy, the seven fighting against Thebes were:

  1. Tydeus
  2. Capaneus
  3. Adrastus
  4. Hippomedon
  5. Parthenopeus
  6. Amphiarus
  7. Polynices

On the side of the Thebans, seven champions were defending the gates. The seven protecting Thebes were:

  1. Melanyppus
  2. Poliphontes
  3. Megareus
  4. Hyperbius
  5. Actor
  6. Lasthenes
  7. Eteocles

Polynices and his seven champions died in the fight. Zeus struck Capaneus with a lightning bolt, and the others perished at the sword of the soldiers. The brothers Polynices and Eteocles met and fought against each other at the seventh gate. In Seven Against Thebes, Eteocles remembers his father’s curse just before delving into the mortal fight against his brother.

In Aeschylus’ play, a messenger appears telling that the Theban soldiers could repel the attack. At this moment, the lifeless bodies of Eteocles and Polynices are seen on the stage. In the end, they could not escape their fates, dying according to the prophecy of Oedipus.

Influence of the Seven Against Thebes

The fight between the two brothers and their champions has inspired a variety of plays and tragedies. Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles all wrote about the Theban myths. In Aeschylus’ version, the events end after the death of Eteocles and Polynices. Sophocles, on his part, continues the story in his tragedy, Antigone.

From King Laius to the downfall of Eteocles and Polynices, the story of the royal family of Thebes faced several misfortunes. The myths of Thebes remain as one of the most widespread tales of ancient Greece, offering endless opportunities for scholarly studies of the differences and similarities in the plays from the authors of antiquity.

The story is another example of the Greek worldview that fate and destiny can’t be thwarted, and what is to be will be.

In Brief

The fate of the seven champions who tried to assault the city became a famous story in Greek mythology. Notable writers of Ancient Greece focused their works on this myth, emphasizing its importance. Fratricide, incest, and prophecies are ever-present themes in the Greek myths, and the story of the Seven Against Thebes is no exception, containing elements of all this.