Seven Against Thebes Study Guide | Characters | Terms to Know | Study Questions | Summary
Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes (Hepta epi Thēbas; Latinized as Septem contra Thebas) was originally performed at the City Dionysia of 467 B.C., as the final tragedy in a trilogy about the family of Oedipus (aka the House of Labdacus). Aeschylus won 1st prize for his tetralogy (the trilogy and a satyr play). Of these four plays, only Seven Against Thebes has survived.
Polynices (a son of the famous Oedipus), leading a band of Greek warriors from Argos, attacks the city of Thebes. There are 7 gates in the protective walls of Thebes and 7 valiant Greeks fight on either side of these entry points. Polynices' attack on his native city fulfills a paternal curse, but the action that precipitated it was his brother Eteocles' unexpected refusal to surrender the throne at the end of his year. All action in the tragedy takes place inside the city walls.
There is controversy about whether the last episode in the play was a later interpolation. Among other issues, it requires the presence of a third speaker, Ismene. Sophocles, who introduced the third actor, had already defeated Aeschylus in the preceding year's dramatic competition, so her presence is not necessarily anachronistic and her part is so small that it might have been taken by one of the otherwise non-speaking performers not listed among the regular, speaking actors.
The divisions of ancient plays were marked by interludes of choral odes. For this reason, the first song of the chorus is called the parodos (or eisodos because the chorus enters at this time), although the subsequent ones are called stasima, standing songs. The episodes, like acts, follow the parados and stasima. The exodus is the final, leaving-the-stage choral ode.
This is based on Thomas George Tucker's edition of Aeschylus' The Seven Against Thebes, which includes Greek, English, notes, and details on the transmission of the text. The line numbers do do match the Perseus online edition, especially at the point of the funeral dirge.
- Prologue 1-77
- Parados 78-164
- 1st Episode 165-273
- 1st Stasimon 274-355
- 2nd Episode 356-706
- 2nd Stasimon 707-776
- 3rd Episode 777-806
- 3rd Stasimon 807-940
- Threnos (Dirge) 941-995
- 4th Episode 996-1044
- Exodus 1045-1070
The acropolis of Thebes in front of the royal palace.
(Eteocles, the Spy or Messenger or Scout)
Eteocles says that he, the ruler steers the ship of state. If things go well the gods are thanked. If badly, the king is blamed. He has ordered all the men who can to fight, even those too young and too old.
The Spy enters.
The Spy says that the Argive warriors are at the walls of Thebes about to choose which gate to man.
The Spy and Eteocles exit.
The chorus of Theban maidens is in despair hearing the charging army. They behave as though the city is collapsing. They pray to the gods for help so they don't become slaves.
Eteocles chides the chorus for shrieking by the altars saying it doesn't help the army. He then criticizes women in general and these in particular for spreading panic.
The chorus says it heard the army at the gates and was afraid and is asking the gods for help since it is in the power of gods to do what humans can't.
Eteocles tells them their noise will bring the ruin of the city. He says he will post himself and 6 other men at the gates.
Still worried, they pray to the gods to spread panic among the enemy. They say it would be a pity were the city to be enslaved, sacked, and dishonored, the maidens raped.
(Eteocles, the Spy)
The Spy informs Eteocles of the identity of each of the Argives and allies who will attack the gates of Thebes. He describes their characters and their matching shields. Eteocles decides which of his men is best suited to go against the specifics of shield + character flaw of the Argives. The chorus responds fearfully to the descriptions (taking the shield device to be an accurate picture of the man carrying it).
When the last man is named, it is Polynices, whom Eteocles says he will fight. The chorus begs him not to.
The Spy exits.
The chorus and reveal the details of the family curse.
The Spy enters.The Spy brings news to the chorus of the events at the gates. He says the city is safe thanks to the single-handed combat between the men at each gate. The brothers have each killed each other.
The Spy exits.
The chorus reiterates the conclusion of the boys' father's curse.
The funeral procession comes in.
This is the antiphonal dirge sung by the funeral procession, notably Antigone and Ismene.They sing about how each brother was killed at the hand of the others. The chorus says it was at the instigation of the Erinyes (Furies). The sisters then plan for the burial of the brothers in an honored spot by their father.
The Herald enters.
The Herald says that the council of elders have decreed an honorable burial for Eteocles, but that his brother, a traitor, may not be buried.
Antigone responds that if none of the Cadmeans will bury Polynices, then she will.
The Herald warns her not to be disobedient to the state and Antigone warns the Herald not to order her about.
The Herald exits.
The Chorus reviews the situation and decides to go help Antigone with the illicit burial of Polynices.