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House of Thebes
Oedipus to the End of the Line

Related Resources
Cadmus of Thebes
Oedipus Rex
Seneca's Oedipus
House of Atreus
Sophocles' Antigone
Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus
Sophocles' Oedipus the King
Seven Gates of Thebes

Elsewhere on the Web
Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes
Euripides' Phoenissae (Phoenician Women)


Oedipus Becomes King of Thebes

Oedipus became king because he was smart enough to solve the riddle of the sphinx and because the previous king, Laius, had been killed. When Oedipus first heard the story about the attack and murder of Laius he failed to put two and two together. He couldn't see his own guilt. It was only after other details came to light (the prophecy regarding the birth of Jocasta and Laius' son, the attempted killing of the infant, and the subsequent upbringing by adoptive Corinthian parents of the abandoned child) that Oedipus began to realize he might have been implicated. Since Oedipus had already vowed to punish Laius' killer, he was honor bound to do so even when the full, horrible truth came out. When King Oedipus realized he was the one who had not only killed his father, but also married his mother, he blinded himself and gave up the throne.

After Oedipus Steps Down From the Throne of Thebes

Although Oedipus had been filled with remorse and guilt, he didn't kill himself, as his mother-wife Jocasta had. He continued to make demands on other people. He wanted Creon to look after his daughters and he expected respect from his sons. The sons, however, were ashamed of him. They slighted him by imprisoning him or by serving him a haunch (ignoble portion) of meat. Oedipus cursed them for it.

"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]

Results of Oedipus' Curse

As a result of Oedipus' curse, the two young men, Polynices and Eteocles, tried to do what they could to avoid its ominous impact. They thought the best course would be to rule in alternate years, but at the end of the first year, Eteocles would not give up the throne. Polynices sought his father's help, but his father only cursed him further.

"Go with the malediction I now pronounce for you: that you shall never master your native land by force of arms, nor ever see your home again in Argos, the land below the hills; but you shall die by your own brother's hand, and you shall kill the brother who banished you." [Oedipus to Polynices. Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, Robert Fitzgerald's translation]

7 Against Thebes

Polynices then went to the Argive king Adrastus who gave him his daughter Argeia as wife. Adrastus also raised an army for his new son-in-law and made Tydeus, Capaneus, Eteoclus, Hippomedon, Parthenopaeus, Amphiaraus, and Polynices the leaders. They attacked Thebes where Eteocles and Polynices fulfilled their father's curse by killing each other. All the other leaders died, as well, although Adrastus survived. The story of this fight is the subject of Aeschylus' tragedy Seven Against Thebes.

Antigone to the End of the Line

It was also the background for Antigone, at the start of which Oedipus' brother-in-law Creon had again assumed power as regent, buried Eteocles with military honor, and forbidden the burial or mourning of the "traitor" Polynices. Oedipus' daughter Antigone didn't care. She buried her bother and, despite the fact that she was engaged to Creon's son, was imprisoned for her disobedience. Laodamas, Eteocles' son eventually came to the throne.

Ten years later the epigones, the sons of the leaders of the Argive forces that had attacked Thebes, tried again. The leaders included Polynices' son Thersander, under the command of Alcmaeon, son of Amphiaraus. The oracle predicted success, but to make sure their forces were strong enough, the Argives, in a move that led to future alliances, asked Messenia, Arcadia, Corinth and Megara to join them.

The troops marched into Boeotia and attacked villages until the Thebans came to meet them at the field of Glisas. There Alcmaeon killed King Laomadas. The Theban forces fled, first within the walls, and then away from Boeotia, so the Argives easily took control of the city, installing Thersander as king.

Thersander married Demonassa, sister of Alcmaeon, and took part in the first expedition against Troy. He was killed by Telephus, a son of the Theban-born Hercules who had chosen to fight on the side of the Trojans. Thersander's son Tisamenus eventually came to the throne of Thebes, but his son Autesion, haunted by the Erinyes, fled to Sparta. The next king was from a different line. He was Damasichthon, a descendant of Boeotus, after whom the Boeotians were named, and also of Peneleus who had led but never returned from a second Theban expedition to Troy.

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