Not a critical or
scholarly text but a reading text for a seminar
Gratefully adapted from
Theoi Greek Mythology
http://www.theoi.com/ 26 May 2010
Changes may include paragraph
spelling updates, bracketed annotations, &
(marked by ellipses . . . )
Translated by H. W. Smyth
The "Seven Captains" of the "Seven
[Armies] against Thebes"
swearing their oath over a sacrificed
bull—see l. 39 below.
Seven Against Thebes
was the third of a trilogy of tragedies by Aeschylus. The
other two tragedies,
and Oedipus, are lost along with a satyr play,
Relative to Sophocles's Theban plays, the action
of Seven Against Thebes concerns the battle between Oedipus's sons Eteocles and Polynices,
thus occuring after Oedipus the King
Oedipus at Colonus but before
Antigone. Following the popularity of
Antigone, the ending of
Seven Against Thebes was
rewritten 50 years after Aeschylus's death to refer more directly to Antigone's tragic conflict.
Order of Composition / Performance (earliest to latest
467 BCE: Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes
420s BCE: Sophocles, Oedipus the
406, 401 BCE: Sophocles,
Oedipus at Colonus
Order of Dramatic Action in retelling the story of Oedipus's family (House of Labdacus):
Oedipus the King
Oedipus at Colonus
Seven Against Thebes
Frustrations of Seven Against Thebes for a
modern audience or classroom:
Very little dramatic action, as repression of
seems carried to an extreme.
A great battle is
on for control of Thebes, with opposing forces led by the Oedipus's sons Eteocles and
Polynices, who end by killing each other.
the battle is never directly shown.
Instead, the audience mostly sees and hears a "Chorus of Theban Maidens" who
review the situation and become frightened over their fate.
Aside from the chorus,
dramatic dialogue occurs mostly between
the Chorus of Maidens and a single speaker: Eteocles, a Scout, and a Messenger who report on
the progress of the battle. Thus in some respects the play appears more as narrative
(someone directly telling a story) instead of drama (a direct
of the story). This situation may be a holdover from the early limits
of tragedy to a single actor interacting with the chorus, which we saw early
in Aeschylus's Agamemnon.
An Athenian audience familiar with the story of
Thebes would naturally enjoy the building details of the battle more than a
Appeals or themes of Seven Against Thebes for a modern audience or
of Eteocles (son and / or brother to Oedipus, Polynices, Antigone, Ismene) who
does not appear in other three extant Theban plays.
Importance of the city (= civilization) as a citadel
or stronghold of order and liberty
Polynices's forces (the "Seven against Thebes") come primarily from Argos, an
ancient rival-state of Thebes and home to Agamemnon, Clytaemnestra, etc.
Tension, terror of a battle we can't see, heightened by fear of the chorus of Theban maidens
regarding war and potential captivity. (Compare Cassandra in Agamemnon.)
Women as casualties of war, subjects of tragedy (women
caught between private and public worlds, cf. Ismene and Antigone)
impatience at women "acting out" may resemble Creon in Antigone or
Pentheus in The Bacchae. However, women in chorus are given a voice to
respond and speak for their position. (Advantage of
Moral complexity of both sides being right in dialogue between Eteocles and Chorus.
Fulfillment of curse(s) surrounding Oedipus in a
brother-against-brother fight. Aristotle's Poetics
"[W]hen the tragic incident occurs between those who are near or dear to one
another—if, for example, a brother kills, or intends to kill, a brother, a son
his father, a mother her son, a son his mother, or any other deed of the kind is
done—these are the situations to be looked for by the poet."
(Compare characterizations of USA's Civil
War as a tragic battle of "brother against brother.")
Will the tragic hero (Eteocles) fall to the familiar
tragic flaw of "a man's got to do what a man's got to do" while hardening
his heart and resisting better impulses, or will he learn and adapt? Compare Polynices in Oedipus at Colonus
and similar "hardenings" as tragic flaws, e.g. Agamemnon's execution of
daughter, Creon's inability to listen to Hemon or Antigone? Definition of insanity: you keep doing what's not working. Also
compare to other tragic heroes' tragic flaw of resisting input, becoming hardened or dehumanized.
presence of altars at the opening
setting (comparable to Oedipus the King and Agamemnon) and Eteocles's
reassurances to the Chorus of Theban Maids that "It is the man's duty to offer
victims and sacrifices to the gods when they test their enemy; your duty is to
be silent and to remain inside the house" [part 230] and his
vow that Thebes's "citizens shall redden the gods' altars with the blood of
sheep and sacrifice bulls to the gods" [part 271] make the brothers' killing of
each other a sacrifice to satisfy the gods and fulfill Oedipus's curse. The
narrative of tragedy, rising from religious ceremonies, may thus resemble a
sacrificial ritual of redemptive suffering.
Since Antigone was a popular favorite for
audiences then and now, Seven Against Thebes actually revisits that
play with a tacked-on ending added 50 years after the death of the play's
original author Aeschylus. This new ending sets up Seven Against Thebes
as a "prequel" to Sophocles's Antigone, even though it was written
in the generation before Sophocles wrote Antigone.
DRAMATIS PERSONAE (cast of
ETEOCLES, son of Oedipus, King of
A MESSENGER (Scout).
CHORUS of Theban Maidens
Ruins of the Cadmea, the ancient fortress of Thebes
SCENE.—The Acropolis of
Thebes, in which stand
altars and images of
various divinities. ["Acropolis" =
fortress or citadel at high place in a city]
performed: 467 B.C., at the City Dionysia.
It had been thrice foretold by
Apollo, the lord of
Laïus, the King of the Cadmeans, that
would save his kingdom he must die without offspring. But
Laïus followed the
perverse counsels of his nature and disobeyed the voice of god: he begat a son,
whom he would have exposed to his death on Mount Cithaeron; but the babe was
rescued by a shepherd who bore him to Corinth, where he grew to manhood,
believing himself to be the son of the king of that land, although in fact he
had only been adopted by him being childless. But coming to misdoubt his
parentage, Oedipus journeyed to
Delphi to seek the truth; and when
declared that he should slay his own father and marry his own mother, he sought
to flee such a fate and betake himself far from the land wherein he thought his
father and his mother dwelt. But it befell as the god had said: on the way he
met and slew, unbeknown to himself, his father Laïus: he came to Thebes,
destroyed the monster Sphinx that made havoc on the land, married the Queen, even
his mother, and begat two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, and two daughters,
Antigone and Ismene. But when the truth stood revealed, his mother-wife hung
herself, and Oedipus stabbed his eyes that they might not look on the misery he
had wrought. And it came to pass that his sons, who ruled in his stead
alternately, each the space of a year, treated him sore ill, so he cursed them
and declared they should divide their inheritance by the sword.
[<action of Oedipus at Colonus]
not suffer his brother to have his time to rule; and to enforce his right
Polynices, who had fled to Adrastus, King of Argos, and married the daughter of
that prince, mustered a host and sought to take his native town.
At this point the action of the play begins. Warned by the
seer Tiresias that the Argives are preparing for a supreme assault, Eteocles heartens
the townspeople, quells the outcries of the daughters of
Thebes, frantic at their impending danger, and
receives the tidings from a scout that the enemy is advancing against the seven
To each of the opposing chieftains
against Thebes] as they are described by the scout,
Eteocles announces a worthy antagonist, nor will he himself hold back from
encountering his brother when he learns that Polynices is to attack the seventh gate.
The curse of his father must not stand before a soldier’s honor.
And so the
brothers fall, each by the other’s hand, and the curse of Oedipus and the
warning of Apollo to Laïus are fulfilled.
[A large gathering of citizens of
Eteocles with attendants.]
 Men of Cadmus's city,
he who guards from the stern
concerns of the State and guides its helm
with eyes untouched by sleep must
speak to the point. [compare Creon's "ship
of state" language in
Antigone] For if we succeed, the responsibility is heaven's; but
if—may it not happen—disaster is our lot, Eteocles would be the one name shouted
many times throughout the city in the citizens' resounding uproars and laments.
From these evils may Zeus the Defender, upholding his name, shield the city of
the Cadmeans! [Cadmus = forebear of Laius, Oedipus,
etc.—"The House of Cadmus"]
 But now you—both he who is still short of his youthful
prime, and he who, though past his prime, still strengthens the abundant growth
of his body, and every man still in his prime, as is fitting—you must aid the
State and the altars of your homeland's gods so that their honors may never be
obliterated. You must aid, too, your children, and Mother Earth, your beloved
nurse. For welcoming all the distress of your childhood, when you were young and
crept upon her kind soil, she raised you to inhabit her and bear the shield, and
to prove yourselves faithful in this time of need. And so, until today, God has
been favorably inclined, for though we have long been under siege, the war has
gone well for the most part through the gods' will. But now, as the seer, the
herdsman of birds
[Tiresias], informs us, using his ears and his mind to understand with
unerring skill the prophetic birds unaided by sacrificial fire—he, master of
such prophecy, declares that the greatest Argive attack is being planned in
night assembly and that they will make plans to capture our city.
Tiresias in Antigone performing auguries or prophecies based on birds'
behavior] Hurry each of
you to the battlements and the gates of our towered walls! Rush with all your
armor! Fill the parapets and take your positions on the platforms of the towers.
Stand your ground bravely where the gates open out, and do not be afraid of this
crowd of foreigners. God will bring it to a good end.
 I myself have dispatched scouts and men to observe their
army, and I am confident that their going is not in vain. Once I have heard
their report, I will not be taken by any trickery.
[Enter a Scout.]
[first mention of 7 warriors]
 Eteocles, mighty prince of the Cadmeans, I have
returned with a sure report of the army outside the walls; I myself am an
eyewitness of their actions. Seven warriors, fierce regiment-commanders,
slaughtered a bull over a black shield, and then touching the bull's gore with
their hands they swore an oath by Ares, by Enyo
[mother of Ares, god of war],
and by Rout
of Ares] who delights in blood, that either they will level the city and sack
the Cadmeans' town by force, or will in death smear this soil with their blood.
And on Adrastus' chariot they were placing remembrances of themselves for their
parents at home, and were shedding tears while so doing, but no piteous wailing
escaped their lips. For their iron- hearted spirit heaved, blazing with courage,
as of lions with war in their eyes. Your knowledge of these things was not
delayed by fearfulness; for I left them casting lots to decide how each
commander, his post assigned by chance, would lead his regiment against the
gates. Therefore, choose the bravest men of the city and station them quickly at
the outlets of the gates. For nearby already the Argive army in full armor is
advancing in a flurry of dust, and glistening foam splatters the plain in drops
from the horses' pantings. So you, like the careful helmsman of a ship, secure
the city before Ares' blasts storm down upon it; for the wave of their army now
crashes over the dry land. Seize the first opportune moment for doing this. For
all else, I, on my part, will keep a reliable eye on the lookout, and you, by
learning from my certain report what happens beyond the gates, shall remain
 O Zeus and Earth, and gods that guard our city, and
potent agent of my father's vengeance, do not destroy my city, ripping it up
from its foundations, captive of the enemy, a city that speaks in Greece's
tongue, and do not destroy our hearths and homes.
May they never hold the free
land and city of Cadmus beneath the yoke of slavery! Be our
protection! I am certain that what I ask is in our common interest; for a State
that prospers pays honors to its gods.
[Exit Eteocles, with citizens. The
Chorus of Theban maidens enters in fearful agitation.]
CHORUS of Theban Maidens:
 In terror I wail loud cries of sorrow. Their army is
let loose! Leaving camp,—look!—the mounted throng floods swiftly ahead. The dust
whirling in the air tells me this is so—its message is speechless, yet clear and
true. And now the plains of my native land under the blows of hooves send a roar
to my ears; the sound flies and rumbles like a resistless torrent crashing down
 Ah, ah, you gods and goddesses, raise your war cry over
our walls to drive away the onrushing evil! The army of the white shield, ready
for battle, rushes at full speed against the city. Who then will rescue us,
which of the gods or goddesses will help? Or shall I fall in supplication at the
feet of our ancestral gods' statues?
 Ah, blessed gods, firmly enthroned, the time has come to
hold fast to your statues. Why do we delay, who are much to be lamented? Do you
hear the clash of shields, or does it escape you? When, if not now, shall we
place sacred robes and wreaths on the statues to accompany our prayers?
 I see the clash—it is not the clatter of a single spear.
What will you do? Will you betray your own land, Ares, where you have dwelt
since long ago? God of the golden helmet, look, look upon the city that you once
 Oh come all you gods who guard our city and its land!
See this suppliant band of maidens praying to be saved from slavery. A torrent
of men, their helmet plumes tossing, crashes around the city, sped on by the
blasts of Ares. No! Father Zeus, all-accomplishing, fend from us altogether
capture at the hands of the enemy.
 The Argives encircle the citadel of Cadmus. Terror of
their weapons of war shakes us, as the bridles in the horse's jaws rattle the
sound of death. Seven bold captains, conspicuous among the army in
spear-wielding harnesses, at the seven gates . . . take their stand each
according to his lot.
[Athena], Zeus-born power
delighting in battle, prove yourself the savior of the city! And you, lord of
steeds, ruler of the deep, Poseidon, with your fish-striking weapon grant us
release from our fears, grant us release! You too, Ares—pity us!—guard the city
named for Cadmus and make evident your closeness3
to us! And Cypris, you who are the first mother of our race, defend us who are
sprung from your blood. We come to you, crying out in prayers for your divine
ears. And you, Apollo, lord of the Wolf,4
be a wolf to the enemy force and give them groan for groan! You too, maiden
child of Leto, ready your bow!
 Ah! Ah! I hear the rattle of chariots encircling the
town. O lady Hera! The hubs are creaking beneath the axles' load. Beloved
Artemis! The air rages at the shaking of spears! What is happening to our city?
What will the future bring? And where does God finally lead us?
 Ah! Ah! A hail of stones strikes
our battlements from afar. O beloved Apollo! There is the clang of bronze-bound
shields at the gates. O son of Zeus, in whom dwells the sacred power to decide
in battle war's outcome! And you, blessed queen Onca,5
on behalf of the city, defend your seven- gated home!
 All-powerful divinities, you gods and goddesses who
wield the power to guard the towers of our land, do not betray our city that now
toils under the spear to an alien-tongued army. Hear us, hear, as is right, the
prayers we maidens offer with outstretched hands.
 Beloved spirits, encompass the city to deliver it from
ruin and show that you love it. Consider the people's offerings, and as you
consider, help us. Remember, I beg, our city's worship, rich in sacrifice..
 You intolerable things! I ask you, is this the best
way to save the city? Does it hearten our army here besieged, when you fall
before the images of the gods that guard the city and shout and shriek—behavior
that moderate people despise? May I never share my home with the female race,
neither in time of evil nor in pleasant prosperity! When things go well for her,
her boldness is unbearable, but when she is afraid, she is an even greater evil
for home and city. So now your cries as you rushed here and there in panicked
flight have rattled the citizens into dispirited cowardice. The cause of the
enemy outside our gates is excellently strengthened by your behavior, while we
inside are ruined by our own people. This is the sort of trouble you will have
if you dwell with women. Now if anyone fails to obey my authority—whether man or
woman or something in between—a sentence of death will be decreed for him and by
no means whatsoever will he escape destruction by stoning at the people's hands.
It is for the man to take care of business outside the house; let no woman make
decrees in those matters. Keep inside and do no harm! Do you hear me or not? Am
I speaking to the deaf? [Compare Pentheus in
Bacchae scolding women for being out of control, going Dionysiac.]
CHORUS of Theban Maidens
 Dear son of Oedipus, I grew afraid when I heard the
clatter of the crashing chariots, when the hubs screamed as they whirled around
the wheel, and when I heard the sound of the steering gear, fire-forged bits, in
the horses' mouths.
 Well, then, has a helmsman ever found a way to safety
by fleeing from stern to prow, when his ship is foundering in high seas?
 But trusting in the gods I came in haste to their
ancient statues, when the deadly blizzard of falling stones thundered against
the gates. Just then I set out in fear to pray to the Blessed Ones that they
spread their protection over the city.
 Pray that the rampart withstand the enemy spear. Yes,
the outcome is in the gods' hands—but then, it is said that the gods of a
captured city abandon it.
 Never so long as I live may this divine assembly
abandon us, nor may I live to see the city overrun and the army seizing it with
 When you invoke the gods, do not be ill-advised. For
Obedience is the mother of Success, wife of Salvation—as the saying goes.
 So she is, but the power of god is supreme, and often
in bad times it raises the helpless man out of harsh misery even when
storm-clouds are lowering over his eyes.
 It is the man's duty to offer victims and sacrifices
to the gods when they test their enemy; your duty is to be silent and to remain
inside the house.
 By the will of the gods we inhabit an unconquered
city, and the rampart withstands the enemy throng. What indignation makes you
 I do not begrudge your honor of the divine race; but
lest you make the citizens cowardly, be calm and do not be overly fearful.
 When I heard the strange and jumbled clashes, I came
in trembling fear to this citadel, our seat of worship.
 If, then, you hear that men are dying or wounded, do
not seize on the news with loud wailing. For this is the food of Ares, human
CHORUS of Theban Maidens:
 Oh, but I hear horses snorting!
 Hear them, then, but not too clearly.
 The city groans from deep in the earth, as though we
 Surely it is enough that I am making plans for this?
CHORUS of Theban Maidens:
 I am terrified—the crashing at the gates is increasing.
 Won't you be silent, and speak none of this
throughout the city?
CHORUS of Theban Maidens:
 Divine company, do not betray our fortifications!
 Damn you! Will you not endure these events in
CHORUS of Theban Maidens:
 Gods of our city! Do not let my fate be slavery!
 You would enslave both me and all the city.
 Almighty Zeus, turn your missile against the enemy!
 O Zeus, what a breed you have made for us in women!
CHORUS of Theban Maidens:
 A breed steeped in misery, just like men whose city
 Why are your words ill-omened, when you still grasp
the gods' statues?
 In my weakness fear controls my tongue.
 If only you would grant my plea for a small service.
 Please state it as quickly as possible, and I will
quickly know what to do.
 Be silent, wretched woman; do not terrify your own
 I am silent. I will suffer what is destined together
with the others.
 I welcome this sentiment of yours over what you said
before. And in addition, keep your distance from the gods' images and make a
stronger prayer, that the gods fight on our side. And once you have heard my
prayers, then sing the victory song, the sacred cry of joy and goodwill, our
Greek ritual of shouting in tribute, that brings courage to our friends and
dissolves fear of the enemy.
Eteocles makes his vow.] And now to the gods who
guard our city's land, both those who dwell in the plain and those who watch
over its meeting-place, to Dirce's springs and the waters of Ismenus, I vow
that, if things go well and the city is saved, the citizens shall redden the
gods' altars with the blood of sheep and sacrifice bulls to the gods—this is my
vow—and offer trophies, while I will crown their holy temples with the spoil of
the enemy's spear-pierced garments.
 Make this kind of prayer to the
gods, without your previous lamentation, nor with wild and useless panting; for
you will not escape your destiny any the more. As for me, I will go station six
men, with me as the seventh, as champions to oppose the enemy in proud fashion
at the seven exits in the wall, even before speedy messengers or swift-rushing
reports arrive and inflame us with urgent need.
CHORUS of Theban Maidens:
 I heed him, but through terror my heart finds no
repose. Anxieties border upon my heart and kindle my fear of the army
surrounding our walls, as a trembling dove fears for her children in the nest
because of snakes that are dangerous bed-fellows. For against our fortifications
some are advancing with all their men, all in formation. Ah, what will become of
me? Others are hurling jagged boulders at the citizens on all sides. O Gods born
of Zeus, by every means rescue our city and people, sprung from Cadmus!
 What more fertile plain will you find in place of ours,
if you abandon to the enemy this deep-soiled land and the water of Dirce which
is the most nourishing of the streams that earth-encircling Poseidon and Tethys'
children pour forth? Therefore, divine guardians of the city, hurl murderous
destruction on the men outside our walls and panic that makes them throw away
their weapons, and so win glory for these citizens. Defend the city and remain
in possession of your home and throne in answer to our shrill, wailing prayers!
 It is a great cause for grief to hurl a primeval city to
Hades in this way, quarry and slave of the spear, ravaged shamefully in the
dusty ashes by an Argive man through divine will. And grief, too, to let the
women be led away captive—ah me!—young and old, dragged by the hair, like
horses, with their cloaks torn off them. A city, emptied, shouts out as the
human booty perishes with mingled cries. A heavy fate, indeed, my fear
 It is a lamentable thing that modest girls should be
plucked unripe, before the customary rites, and should make a loathsome journey
from their homes. What? I declare that the dead will do better than the
captives; for when a city is subdued—ah, ah!—many and miserable are its
sufferings. Man drags off man, or kills, or sets fires; the whole city is
defiled with smoke. Mad Ares storms, subduing the people and polluting
 Tumults swell through the town, and against it a
towering net is advancing. Man falls before man beneath the spear. Sobs and
wails over gore-covered babes, just nursed at their mothers' breasts, resound.
Rape and pillage of those fleeing through the city are the deeds of one's own
blood. Plunderer joins up with plunderer; the empty-handed calls to the
empty-handed, wishing to have a partner, each greedy for neither less nor equal
share. Reason exists for imagining what will come after this.
 The earth's varied fruits,
fallen to the ground, give pain, a bitter sight for the maid-servants. In
jumbled confusion the abundant gifts of earth are carried away by reckless
looting waves. Young women, enslaved, suffer a new evil: a bed of misery, prize
of the conquering enemy's spear, as though of a prospering husband—they can
expect the coming of the nightly rite, which gives aid to tears and anguish!6
[The Scout is seen approaching from
one side; Eteocles from the other.]
LEADER OF THE FIRST HALF-CHORUS
 The scout, I believe, is bringing some fresh news of
the army to us, my friends, since the joints of his legs are hastily speeding as
they carry him on his mission.
LEADER OF THE SECOND HALF-CHORUS
 And, indeed, here is our lord himself, the son of
Oedipus, at the right moment to hear the messenger's report. Haste makes his
stride uneven, too.
 It is with certain knowledge that I will give
account of the enemy's actions, how each man according to lot has been posted at
the gates. Tydeus is already storming opposite the Proetid gates; but the seer
will not allow him to ford the Ismenus because the omens from the sacrifices are
not favorable. Yet Tydeus, raging and eager for battle, shouts like a serpent
hissing at high noon, and lashes skilled Oecles' son, with the taunt that he
cringes in cowardice before death and battle. With such cries he shakes three
overshadowing plumes,his helmet's mane, while from under his shield, bells
forged of bronze therein ring out a fearsome clang. He has this haughty symbol
on his shield: a well-crafted sky, ablaze with stars, and the brightness of the
full moon shining in the center of the shield, the moon that is the most revered
of the stars, the eye of night. Raving so in his arrogant armor, he shouts
beside the river-bank, craving battle, like some charger that fiercely champs at
the bit as he waits in eagerness for the trumpet's war-cry. Whom will you send
against him? Who will be capable of standing as our champion at the Proetid gate
when its bars are loosened?
 I would not tremble before any mere ornaments on a
man. Nor can signs and symbols wound and kill—crests and bell have no bite
without the spear. And regarding this "night" which you describe on his shield,
sparkling with heaven's stars—perhaps the folly of it might yield to one some
prophetic understanding. For should night fall on this man's eyes as he dies,
then to its bearer this arrogant symbol would prove rightly and justly named;
and it is against himself that he will have prophesied this outrageous violence.
Now as for me, against Tydeus I will station the trusty son of Astacus as
defender of this gate, since he is full noble and reveres the throne of Honor
and detests proud speech. He is slow to act disgracefully, and he has no
cowardly nature. His race springs from the men sown of the dragon's teeth, from
one of those whom Ares spared, and so Melanippus is truly born of our land. Ares
will decide the outcome with a throw of the dice; but Justice, his kin by blood,
indeed sends this man forth to keep the enemy spear from the mother that gave
 May the gods grant success to our champion, since he
rises up in a just cause, to battle for his city! But I shudder to watch the
bloody deaths of men cut down for the sake of their own people.
 Yes, may the gods so grant success to this man.
Capaneus is stationed at the Electran gates, another giant of a man, greater
than the one described before. But his boast is too proud for a mere human, and
he makes terrifying threats against our battlements—which, I hope, chance will
not fulfil! For he says he will utterly destroy the city with god's will or
without it, and that not even conflict with Zeus, though it should fall before
him in the plain, will stand in his way. The god's lightning and thunderbolts he
compares to midday heat. For his shield's symbol he has a man without armor
bearing fire, and the torch, his weapon, blazes in his hands; and in golden
letters he says “I will burn the city.” Against such a man make your
dispatch—who will meet him in combat, who will stand firm without trembling
before his boasts?
 Here too gain follows with interest from gain.7
The tongue proves in the end to be an unerring accuser of men's wicked thoughts.
Capaneus makes his threats, ready to act, irreverent toward the gods, and giving
his tongue full exercise in wicked glee, he, though a mere mortal, sends a loud
and swollen boast to Zeus in heaven. But I trust that the fire-bearing
thunderbolt will justly come to him, and when it comes it will not be anything
like the sun's mid-day heat. And against him, even though he is a big talker, a
man of fiery spirit, mighty Polyphontes, is stationed, a dependable sentinel
with the good will of guardian Artemis and the other gods. Now tell me about
another one allotted to other gates!
 Death to him who exults so arrogantly over the city!
May the thunderbolt stop him before he leaps into my home and plunders me from
my maiden chambers with his outrageous spear!
 Now I will tell you about the man who next drew
station at the gates. The third lot leaped out of the upturned bronze helmet for
Eteoclus, to hurl his band against the Neistan gates. He whirls his horses as
they snort through their bridles, eager to fall against the gate. Their muzzles
whistle in a barbarian way, filled with the breath of their haughty nostrils.
His shield is decorated in great style: an armored man climbs a ladder's rungs
to mount an enemy tower that he wants to destroy. This one, too, shouts in
syllables of written letters that even Ares could not hurl him from the
battlements. Send a dependable opponent against this man, too, to keep the yoke
of slavery from our city.
 I would send this man here, and with good fortune. [Exit
Megareus.] Indeed, he has already been sent, his
only boast in his hands, Megareus, Creon's seed, of the race of the sown-men.
He will not withdraw from the gate in fear of the thunder of the horses'
furious snorting; but either he will die and pay the earth the full price of his
nurture, or will capture two men and the city on the shield, and then adorn his
father's house with the spoils. Tell me about another's boasts and do not
begrudge me the full tale!
 O champion of my home, I pray that this man will have
good fortune, and that there will be bad fortune for his enemies. As they boast
too much against the city in their frenzied mind, so, too, may Zeus the Requiter
look on them in anger!
 Another, the fourth, has the gate near Onca Athena
and takes his stand with a shout, Hippomedon, tremendous in form and figure. I
shuddered in fear as he spun a huge disk—the circle of his shield, I mean—I
cannot deny it. The symbol-maker who put the design on his shield was no lowly
craftsman: the symbol is Typhon, spitting out of his fire-breathing mouth a
dark, thick smoke, the darting sister of fire. And the rim of the hollow-bellied
shield is fastened all around with snaky braids. The warrior himself has raised
the war-cry and, inspired by Ares he raves for battle like a maenad, with a look
to inspire fear. We must put up a good defense against the assault of such a
man, for already Rout is boasting of victory at the gate.
 First Onca Pallas, who dwells near the city, close by
the gate, and who loathes outrageousness in a man, will fend him off like a
dangerous snake away from nestlings. Moreover, Hyperbius, Oenops' trusty son, is
chosen to match him, man to man, as he is eager to search out his fate in the
crisis that chance has wrought—neither in form, nor spirit nor in the wielding
of his arms does he bear reproach. Hermes8
has appropriately pitted them against each other. For the man is hostile to the
man he faces in battle, and the gods on their shields also meet as enemies. The
one has fire-breathing Typhon, while father Zeus stands upright on Hyperbius'
shield, his lightening bolt aflame in his hand. And no one yet has seen Zeus
conquered. Such then is the favor of the divine powers: we are with the victors,
they with the vanquished, if Zeus in fact proves stronger in battle than Typhon.
And it is likely that the mortal adversaries will fare as do their gods; and so,
in accordance with the symbol, Zeus will be a savior for Hyperbius since he
resides on his shield.
 I am sure that Zeus's antagonist, since he has on his
shield the unloved form of an earth-born deity, an image hated by both mortals
and the long-lived gods, will drop his head in death before the gate.
 Let it be so!
Next I describe the fifth man who is
stationed at the fifth, the Northern gate opposite the tomb of Amphion, Zeus's
son. He swears by his spear which, in his confidence, he holds more to be
revered than a god and more precious than his eyes, that he will sack the city
of the Cadmeans in spite of Zeus. He says this, the beautiful child of a
mountain-bred mother—a warrior, half man, half boy, and his beard's first growth
is just now advancing on his cheeks, his youth in first bloom, thick,
upspringing hair. But now he makes his advance with a savage heart and a
terrifying look, not at all like the maidens he's named for.9
Nor does he take his stand at the gate unboasting, but wields our city's shame
on his bronze-forged shield, his body's circular defence, on which the Sphinx
who eats men raw is cleverly fastened with bolts, her body embossed and
gleaming. She carries under her a single Cadmean, so that against this man
chiefly our missiles will be hurled. He does not seem to have come to do any
petty trading in the battle, nor to shame the making of his long journey—he is
Parthenopaeus of Arcadia. Such is the man, and aiming to make full payment for
the fine support given him in Argos, his adopted land, he now threatens our
fortifications—may God not fulfil his threats!
 If only they would get from the gods what they wish
for, because of those unholy boasts of theirs, then surely they would perish in
utter ruin and misery. There is a man for this one, too, whom you name an
Arcadian, a man who does not boast, but who knows the thing to do—Actor, brother
of him I named before. He will not allow words that lack deeds to overrun his
gate and increase fear, nor will he let in a man who carries on his hostile
shield the image of the ravenous, detested beast. That beast outside his shield
will blame the man who carries her into the gate, when she has taken a heavy
beating beneath the city's walls. If the gods are willing, what I speak may
 His words penetrate to my heart, my hair stands on
end as I hear the loud threats of these loud-boasting, impious men. May the
gods destroy them here in our land!
 The sixth man I will name is of the highest
moderation and a seer brave in combat, mighty Amphiaraus. Stationed at the
Homoloid gate, he repeatedly rebukes mighty Tydeus with evil names “Murderer,
maker of unrest in the city, principal teacher of evils to the Argives, summoner
of vengeance's Curse, servant of Slaughter, counselor to Adrastus in these evil
plans.” And next, with eyes looking upward, he addressed your own brother,
mighty Polynices who shares your blood, and called him by name, dwelling twice
upon its latter part.10
These were his words: “Will such a deed as this be pleasing to the gods, fine to
hear of and to relate to those in the future—that you sacked the city of your
ancestors and your native gods and launched a foreign army against them? What
justice is it to drain dry the font of your existence?11
And how shall your fatherland, captured by the spear for the sake of your
ambition, be won over to your cause? As for me, I will enrich this earth, a seer
interred beneath enemy soil. Let us fight! I anticipate no dishonorable death.”
So the seer spoke as untroubled he held his all-bronze shield. No symbol was
fixed to his shield's circle. For he does not wish to appear the bravest, but to
be the bravest, as he harvests the fruit of his mind's deep furrow, where his
careful resolutions grow. I advise you to send wise and brave opponents against
him. He who reveres the gods is to be feared.
 Ah, the pity of fate's omen when it makes a just man
associate with the irreverent! In all things, nothing is more evil than evil
partnership. Its fruit should not be gathered in: the field of recklessness
yields a harvest of death. For it may be that a pious man, embarked shipboard
with sailors hot for some crime, perishes along with the sort of men hated by
the gods; or, a man, though upright himself, when among fellow-citizens who hate
all strangers and neglect the gods, may fall undeserving into the same trap as
they, and be subdued, struck by the scourge of God that strikes all alike.
 Just so the seer, Oecles' son,
although a moderate, just, noble, reverent man and a great prophet, mixes with
impious, rash-talking men against his own judgment, men stretching out in a
procession that is long to retrace,12
and, if it is Zeus's will, he will be be dragged down in ruin along with them.
 So then, I expect that he will
not even charge the gates: not because he lacks courage or is weak-willed, but
because he knows that he must meet his end in battle, if the prophecies of
Loxias are to come to fruition—the god usually either holds silent or speaks to
the point. Just the same, I will station a man against him, mighty Lasthenes, a
gate-keeper who hates foreigners. He has the wisdom of an old man, but his body
is at its prime: his eyes are quick, and he does not let his hand delay for his
spear to seize what is left exposed by the shield. Still it is God's gift when
 Gods, hear our just prayers and fulfil them, that the
city may have good fortune! Turn aside the evils suffered in war onto those who
invade our land! May Zeus strike them with his thunderbolt outside the walls
and slay them!
Last I will tell of the seventh champion, him at the
your own brother [Polynices], and of what fate he prays for and calls down on
the city. His prayer is that after he mounts the battlements and is proclaimed
king in the land, and shouts the song of victory in triumph over its capture, he may then meet you in
combat, and once he kills you, that he may perish at your side, or, if you
survive, make you pay with banishment in the same way as you dishonored him with
exile. Mighty Polynices shouts such threats and invokes his native gods, the
gods of his fatherland, to watch over his prayers in every way. He holds a
shield, a perfect circle, newly-made, with a double symbol cleverly fastened on
it: a woman modestly walking in the fore leads a man in arms made, it appears,
of hammered gold. She claims to be Justice, as the lettering indicates, “I will
bring this man back and he will have his city and move freely in his father's
 Such are the inventions fixed to their shields. [Quickly
determine yourself whom you think it best to send.] Know that you will find no
fault with me in the substance of my report, but you yourself
determine on what
course to pilot the city.
 O my family sired by Oedipus, steeped in tears,
driven to madness by the gods and by the gods detested! Ah, now indeed our
father's curses are brought to fulfillment.
But neither weeping nor wailing is
proper for me now, lest a grief even harder to bear is brought to life. As for
him whose name is so very fitting, Polynices, we shall know soon enough what the
symbol on his shield will accomplish, whether the babbling letters shaped in
gold on his shield, together with his mind's wanderings, will bring him back. If
Justice, Zeus's maiden daughter, were attending his actions and his thoughts,
this might be so. But as it is, neither when he escaped the darkness of his
mother's womb, nor in childhood, nor at any point in his early manhood, nor when
the beard first thickened on his cheek, did Justice acknowledge him and consider
him worthy. And even now I do not think that she is standing by his side to aid
the destruction of his fatherland. Indeed, Justice would truly be false to her
name, if she should ally herself with a man so utterly audacious in his plans.
Trusting in this fact I will go and stand against him—I myself in person. Who
else has a more just claim? Commander against commander, brother against
brother, enemy against enemy, I will take my stand. Quick, bring my greaves* to
protect against spears and stones!
[*greaves = armor for shins]
CHORUS of Theban Maidens
 No, son of Oedipus, most dear of our men, do not be
like in temperament to him who is called by such an evil name. It is enough that
Cadmeans are advancing to close combat with Argives. That bloodshed can be
expiated. But when men of the same blood kill each other as you desire, the
pollution from this act never grows old.
 If indeed a man should suffer evil, let it be without
dishonor, since that is the only benefit for the dead. But you cannot speak of
any glory for happenings that are at once evil and held in dishonor.
 For what are you so eager, child? Do not let mad lust
for battle fill your soul and carry you away. Reject this evil passion while it
is still young.
 Since God hastens the deed so urgently, let the whole
race of Laius, hated by Phoebus, be swept on the wind to Cocytus' destined
 A savage desire eats away at you, drives you to
murder, blood-sacrifice proscribed by divine law, whose only fruit is
 True, my own beloved father's hateful, ruinous curse
hovers before my dry, unweeping eyes, and informs me of benefit preceding
 No, do not let yourself be driven to it. You will not
be called a coward if you retain life nobly. Will not the avenging Erinyes in her
dark aegis leave your house, when the gods receive sacrifice from your hands?
 The gods, it seems, have already banished us from
their care, yet they admire the grace we offer them when we perish. So then, why
should we cringe and shy away from deadly fate?
 It is only at this moment that death stands close by
you, for the divine spirit may change its purpose even after a long time and
come on a gentler wind. But now it still seethes.
 Yes, the curses of Oedipus have made it seethe in
fury. Too true were the phantoms in my sleeping visions, predicting the division
of our father's wealth!
 Obey us women, although you do not like to.
 Recommend something that can be accomplished; your
request need not be lengthy.
 Do not yourself take the road to the seventh gate!
 Let me assure you, you will not blunt my sharpened
purpose with words.
 And yet any victory, even a cowardly one, is
nonetheless held in honor by God.
 A soldier must not embrace that maxim.
 But are you willing to harvest the blood of your own
 When it is the gods who give you evils, you cannot
 I shudder in terror at the goddess who lays ruin to
homes, a goddess unlike other divinities, who is an unerring omen of evil to
come. I shudder that the Erinyes invoked by the father's prayer will fulfil the
over-wrathful curses that Oedipus spoke in madness*. This strife that will
destroy his sons drives the Erinyes to fulfillment.
[*See Oedipus at
Colonus, line 1512ff.]
 A stranger distributes their inheritance, a Chalybian
immigrant from Scythia, a bitter divider of wealth, savage-hearted iron that
apportions land for them to dwell in, as much as they can occupy in death when
they have lost their share in these wide plains.
 But when both have died, each killing the other in
mutual slaughter, and the earth's dust has swallowed the black streams of their
blood, who could offer sacrifice that might make purification? Who could cleanse
them of their pollution? O, the new troubles of this house mixed with its evils
 Indeed I speak of the ancient transgression, now swift
in its retribution. It remains even into the third generation, ever since
Laius—in defiance of Apollo who, at his Pythian oracle at the earth's center,
said three times that the king would save his city if he died without
offspring—ever since he, overcome by the thoughtlessness of his longing,
fathered his own death, the parricide Oedipus, who sowed his mother's sacred
field, where he was nurtured, and endured a bloody crop. Madness united the
frenzied bridal pair.
 Now it is as if a sea of evils pushes its swell onward.
As one wave sinks, the sea raises up another, triple-crested, which crashes
around the city's stern. In between a narrow defense stretches— no wider than a
wall. I fear that the city will be overthrown along with its kings.
 For the compensation is heavy when curses uttered long
ago are fulfilled, and once the deadly curse has come into existence, it does
not pass away. When the fortune of seafaring merchants has grown too great, it
must be thrown overboard.
 For whom have the gods and divinities that share their
altar and the thronging assembly of men ever admired so much as they honored
Oedipus then, when he removed that deadly, man-seizing plague from our land?
 But when, his sanity regained, he grew miserable in his
wretched marriage, then carried away by his grief and with maddened heart he
accomplished a double evil. With the hand that killed his father he struck out
his eyes, which were dearer to him than his children.
 Next he launched brutal, wrathful words against the sons
he had bred—ah! curses from a bitter tongue—that wielding iron in their hands
they would one day divide his property. So now I tremble in fear that the
swift-running Erinyes will bring this to fulfillment.
 Take heart, you daughters who were nurtured by your
mother. Our city has escaped the yoke of slavery; the boasts of the powerful men
have fallen to the ground.The city enjoys fair weather and has taken on no water
even though it has been buffeted by many waves. The walls hold, and we have
fortified the gates with champions fully capable in single-handed combat. For
the most part all is well, at six of the gates. But lord Apollo, the reverend
leader of the seventh,15
took for himself the seventh gate, accomplishing upon the children of Oedipus
the ancient follies of Laius.
 What novel happening will further affect the city?
 The city is saved, but the kings born of the
 Who? What did you say? I am out of my mind with fear
of your report.
 Control yourself now and listen. The sons of Oedipus—
 Ah, miserable me, I am prophet of these evils.
 In truth, beyond all question, struck down in the
 Are they lying out there? This is hard to bear, but
say it just the same.
 The men are dead, murdered by their very own hands.
 Then with hands so fraternal did they each kill the
 Yes, so all too equal was their destiny to them both.
All alone, in truth, it consumes the ill-fated family. We have cause in this for
joy and tears—the one because the city fares well, the other because the
leaders, the two generals, have divided the whole of their property with
hammered Scythian steel. They will possess only that land they take in burial,
swept away as they were in accordance with their father's curses. [The
city is saved, but through their mutual murder the earth has drunk the blood of
the two kings born of the same seed.]
 O great Zeus and the divine powers that guard our
city, you who indeed protect these walls of Cadmus, should I rejoice and shout
in triumph for the unharmed safety of the city, or should I lament our leaders
in war, now wretched, ill-fated and childless? Indeed, in exact accordance with
their name and as “men of much strife,” they have perished through their impious
 O black curse on the family,
Oedipus' curse, now brought to fulfillment! A chill of horror falls about my
heart. In frenzy like a maenad I make my song for the grave as I hear of their
corpses dripping with blood, how they died through the workings of cruel fate.
This song of the spear, sung to the flute, is indeed born of an ill omen.16
 The curseful utterance of their father has done its work
and not fallen short. Laius' plans, made in disobedience, have kept their force.
I am anxious for our city; divine decrees do not lose their edge.
[The funeral procession with the
bodies of the brothers comes into view.]
Eteocles and Polynices carried in procession (19c
 O bringers of immense grief, you have done in this a
deed beyond belief, yet lamentable troubles have indeed come. The events are
self-evident; the messenger's report is plain to see. Twofold is our
distress—double disaster of kindred murder, this double suffering has come to
fulfillment. What shall I say? What else indeed than that sorrow born of sorrows
surround this house's hearth?
 But sail upon the wind of
lamentation, my friends, and about your head row with your hands' rapid stroke
in conveyance of the dead,17
that stroke which always causes the sacred slack-sailed, black-clothed ship to
pass over Acheron to the unseen land where Apollo does not walk, the sunless
land that receives all men.
here come Antigone and Ismene
to do their bitter duty, the dirge over their brothers both. With all sincerity, I think, will they
pour forth their fitting grief from their lovely, deep-bosomed breasts. But it
is right for us, before their singing, to cry out the awful hymn of the Erinyes
and thereafter sing the hated victory song of Hades.
Ah, sisters most unfortunate in your kin of all women
who clasp their girdle about their robes, I weep, I groan, and there is no
feigning in the shrill cries that come straight from my heart.
 Ah, pity you senseless men, whom friends could not
persuade and evils could not wear down! To your misery you have captured your
father's house with the spear.
 To their misery, indeed, they found a miserable death in
the outrage done their house.
 Ah, you brothers who were poised to cast over the walls
of your home and looked—to your sorrow —for sole rule, now you have been
reconciled by the iron sword.
 The great Erinyes of your father Oedipus has fulfilled it
all truly. Pierced through your left sides, pierced indeed—through those sides
that were born from one womb!
 Ah, strange ones! Ah, the curses that demand death for
death! Right through, as you say, were they struck, with blows to house and body
by an unspeakable wrath and by the doom, called down by their father's curse,
which they shared without discord.
 Groaning spreads throughout the
city, too: the walls groan; the land that loves its sons groans. But for those
who come after them there remains their property, on which account the strife of
those terrible-fated men came to fulfillment in death. In their haste to anger
they apportioned their property so that each has an equal share. To those who
loved them their reconciler is not blameless, nor is Ares agreeable. Under
strokes of iron they are come to this, and under strokes of iron there await
them— what, one might perhaps ask—shares in their father's tomb.18
 Our shrill, heart-rending wail goes with them—product of
lamentation and pain felt of its own accord—a wail from a distressed mind,
joyless, pouring forth tears from a heart that wastes away as I weep for these
 Over these poor men it can be said that they did much to
harm our citizens and also the ranks of all the foreigners who died in abundance
in the fighting.
 Ill-fated beyond all women who are called by the name of
mother is she who bore them. After she made her own child her own husband, she
gave birth to these sons, who have thus ended their lives with kindred hands
giving death for death.
 Of the same seed, in truth, they were utterly destroyed
in unloving divisions, in maddened discord, in the ending of their strife.
 Their hatred has ceased. Their life has been mingled in
the blood-soaked earth. Now truly their blood is one. Ruthless is that which
resolved their strife, the stranger from across the sea, sharpened iron rushed
from the fire.
 Ruthless, too, was Ares, the cruel divider of their
property, who made their father's curses come true. They hold in misery their
allotted portion of god-given sorrows. Beneath their corpses there will be
boundless wealth of earth.
 Ah, you have wreathed your race with many troubles! In
the final outcome the Curses have raised their piercing cry, now that the family
is turned to flight in all directions. A trophy to Ruin now stands at the gate
where they struck each other and where, having conquered them both, the divine
power stayed its hand.
[The following antiphonal dirge is
sung by the two sisters—Antigone standing by the bier of Polynices, Ismene by
that of Eteocles.]
 You were struck as you struck.
 You died as you killed.
 By the spear you killed—
 By the spear you died—
 Your deed made you wretched.
 You suffering made you wretched.
 Let the lament come.
 Let the tears come.
 You are laid out for mourning—
 Though you did the killing.
 Ah me!
 Ah me!
 My heart is mad with wailing.
 My heart groans within me.
 Ah, the grief, brother all-lamentable.
 And you also, brother all-wretched.
 You perished at the hands of your nearest and
 And you killed your nearest and dearest.
 Twofold to tell of—
 Twofold to look upon—
 Are these sorrows so close to those.
 Fraternal sorrows stand close by fraternal sorrows.
 O Fate, giver of grievous troubles, and awful shade
of Oedipus, black Erinyes, you are indeed a mighty force.
 Ah, me
 Ah, me
 Sorrows hard to behold—
 He showed me when he returned from exile.
 But he made no return after he had killed.
 He was saved, but lost his life.
 He lost it, all too truly.
 And took this one's life away.
 Wretched family!
 Wretched suffering!
 Kindred sorrows full of groans!
 Sorrows steeped in tripled griefs.
 O Fate, giver of grievous troubles, and awful shade
of Oedipus, black Erinyes, you are indeed a mighty force.
 Now you know of the Erinyes by experience—
 And you are made aware no later—
 When you came back to our city.
 Yes, to face him with your spear.
 A tale of destruction!
 Destruction to look upon!
 Oh, the grief—
 Oh, the evils—
 For home and land.
 Above all for me,
 And more also for me.
 Ah I pity your grievous suffering, my king.
 Pity for you both, most lamentable of all men.
 You were possessed by delusion.
 Where shall we lay them in the earth?
 Ah, where their honor is greatest.
 To lie beside their father, a cause for him of
[Aeschylus's original version of
Seven Against Thebes ends here in mourning for Eteocles and Polynices
following passages were added app. 50 years later in response to the popularity of
Sophocles's Antigone. The added-on
Antigone's tragic conflict,
in which Eteocles's body is to be buried with honors but Polynices's body is to
be dishonorably cast out to the animals.]
[Enter a Herald.]
 It is my duty to announce the will and
the council on behalf of the people of this our Cadmean city.
 It is decreed, first, that
Eteocles here, on account of
his goodwill towards the city, is to be buried in a kindly grave in its soil;
for hating the enemy he chose death in the city and driven by piety towards his
ancestral shrines, he died without reproach where it is an honor for the young
to die. This is how I was commanded to speak regarding him.
But as for his
brother, it is decreed that this corpse of Polyneices is to be cast out of the
city unburied to be torn by dogs, since he would have been the destroyer of the
land of the Cadmeans, if one of the gods had not used his brother's spear to
prevent him. Even in death he will retain the stain of his guilt against his
fathers' gods, whom he dishonored when he launched a foreign army against the
city to take it. For this reason it is decreed that he will receive his reward
by being buried without honor beneath the winged birds; and that no labor of the
hands shall attend him by building up a burial mound nor shall anyone offer him
reverence in shrill-sung laments. He is to be refused the honor of being carried
in funeral procession by his loved ones. Such is the decree of the Cadmean
 I at least will say something to the rulers of the
Cadmeans: even if no one else is willing to share in burying him,
I will bury
him alone and risk the peril of burying my own brother.
Nor am I ashamed to act
in defiant opposition to the rulers of the city. A thing to be held in awe is
the common womb from which we were born, of a wretched mother and unfortunate
father. Therefore, my soul, willingly share his evils, even though they are
unwilling, and live in kindred spirit with the dead. No hollow-bellied wolves
will tear his flesh—let no one “decree” that! Even though I am a woman, I will
myself find the means to give him burial and a grave, carrying the earth in the
fold of my linen robe. With my own hands I will cover him over—let no one
“decree” it otherwise. Take heart, I will have the means to do it.
 I forbid you to act thus in violation of the city.
 I forbid you to make useless proclamations to me.
 And yet a citizenry that has escaped evil can be
 Let it be harsh! This man will not be unburied.
 What! Will you honor with burial a man whom the city
 For a long time now the gods have ceased to hold him
 No, he was honored until he put this land in
 He suffered evil and gave evil in return.
But this act was against all the citizens, not only
 Discord is the last of the gods to close an
argument. I will bury him. Put an end to your big talk.
 Well then, follow your own rash plan, but I forbid
 Ah, misery!
[Furies], far-famed destroyers of
families, goddesses of death who have thus laid ruin to the family of Oedipus,
digging it up from the roots! What will happen to me? What should I do? What
plan shall I devise? How can I have the heart neither to weep for you nor escort
you to your tomb? But I am afraid and turn away in terror of the citizens. You,
at least, Eteocles, will have many mourners, while he, wretched man, departs
without lamentation and has a dirge sung only by one sister. Now who could
comply with that?
Let the city take action or not take action against
those who lament for Polynices. We, at all events, will go and bury him with
her, following the funeral procession. For this grief is shared by all our race,
and the city approves as just different things at different times.
We will go with this other corpse, as the city and
justice, too, approves. For after the blessed gods and powerful Zeus,
he it was
who saved the city of the Cadmeans from being capsized and flooded by a wave of
foreign men—he beyond all others.
1. Enyo is a
personification of war, and hence sometimes called the mother or the daughter of
2. The curse
pronounced by Oedipus against his two sons (cp.
785 ff.) is a daemonic power, here identified with the vengeance it calls into
means both “kinship” and “care.” The wife of Cadmus was Harmonia, daughter of
Ares and Aphrodite.
4. See the note on Aesch. Suppl.
5. Onca, the
name of a Phoenician goddess, is identified with Athena (cp.
this highly condensed passage, contrasted with the note of the misery of an
enforced union is an undertone of the happiness of a marriage of love.
is at once “man” and “husband,” telos
“rite” and “consummation,” elpis
“expectation” of sorrow and joy.
7. Tydeus' insolence (l. 387) was “gain” to our cause; to
it is now added that of Capaneus, which is like money put out at interest (tokos).
8. Hermes presided over contests and lots.
9. Parthenopaeus “maiden-faced.” His mother
Atalanta dwelt on Mt.
10. Polynices “much-strife” (polu
literally “separating,” i.e.
dwelling with emphasis on each separate part of the name.
mêtros pêgê strictly means
“source, which consists in a mother.” Having used this expression for “mother,
who is the source of life,” the poet accommodates the verb to the literal sense
of pêgê rather than use
a verb of slaying which would have suited the personal object.
12. The march of the army from distant
Argos is compared to a lengthened-out
13. The ominous “seventh” is substituted for “the Highest” (Hupsistai).
14. Literally “gain coming before death
that comes later.” The curse whispers “slay him, then be slain yourself.”
15. An obscure designation of Apollo,
often referred to the tradition that he was born on the seventh day. The
adjective looks like a military title, but divisions of seven were unknown.
16. This passage has also been taken to
deprecate as inauspicious the previous ode (720 ff.) because it was sung during
the combat of the brothers: “It was for a tomb I framed my song when, inspired
by frenzy, I heard (prophetically) . . . Ill-omened, indeed, the contest of the
spear to such an accompaniment.”
17. As the souls of the brothers are now being conveyed
across Acheron in Charon's boat, the Chorus in imagination aid their passage by
the ritual of mourning. Their song of lamentation stands for the wind, the
beating of their heads by their hands are the strokes of the oars. Contrasted
with the grim vessel that transports all spirits to the sunless land of
is the ship that goes to the festival at Delos, the “clearly-seen” island, the
of light and health.
18. As the brothers were to divide the substance of their
dead father, their equal inheritance was the tomb.
lachai means both “apportioning of possessions” and