Brothers At War
Seven Against Thebes
Dear Classical Wisdom Members,
There is no reason to think the story of the Theban brothers fighting to their deaths did not happen.
After all, myths are often rooted in history - something of which we have been writing about at length of late. Sure, there are fanciful elements of these ancient stories that certainly stretch our credulity. The Sphinx, the female headed lion bent on murder and riddles, springs to mind.
But what if... for instance... She became a monster? But started as a very clever highway robber?
And of course the roles of the gods and their fateful influences can be understood by nature, egos and superstition...
Either way, the Theban cycle, beginning with Oedipus’ fulfillment of his tragic Delphic telling that he will marry his mother and kill his father... and ending with the tragic death of Antigone, is a fundamental myth to Western culture.
So this week’s Classical Wisdom Member’s in depth article will delve into the moment when Oedipus’ sons start their epic conflict... the starting point that sets the course for Seven Against Thebes.
This chapter is generously provided by Stephen Dando-Collins and it is an excerpt from his upcoming book, Seven Against Thebes: The Quest of the Original Magnificent Seven.
Paul Cartledge, the A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture emeritus at Cambridge University, author of Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece, as well as our FIRST speaker at tomorrow’s event, described the book as the:
“latest mythographic extravaganza, squarely based as it is on the complex multiplicity of enthralling ancient written sources.”
So with that introduction, enter the historical fiction world and be reunited with Oedipus, his wife Jocasta and their four children, the brothers Polynices and Eteocles and their sisters Antigone and Ismene, below.
All the best,
Founder and Director
P.S. You may have noticed that we are breaking from routine! Yes, you are receiving your Member’s In-depth article today, dear reader, instead of tomorrow.
The reason is simple enough, I think you will enjoy tomorrow’s live event on the Story of Thebes even more if you have had the chance to delve into the Theban world a bit before it begins... If you haven’t registered already, do so below, then read on!
Seven Against Thebes
By Stephen Dando-Collins
This work is an exploration of myth, legend, and origin stories that passed down through many generations, initially sung in verse and later committed to written form via histories and ancient poems and plays, to arrive at a historical narrative concerning one of the greatest military adventures of all time. This adventure was equal in the minds of Greeks and Romans with the siege of Troy as told in Homer’s epic The Iliad, an event which it predated by a generation. And while the story, like the Iliad, has mythical elements, there is no factual, historical, or archaeological reason to suggest that the military campaign described in this story did not take place much as described.
Brothers At War
In the Audience Hall of the Cadmea, the children of Oedipus and Jocasta came together for a meeting with their uncle Creon and the Governors, the most senior members of the Spartoi of Thebes. Tall, dark Polynices was there, with his shorter, younger brother Eteocles and their sisters Antigone and Ismene. Looking glum, Polynices sat on the steps to the throne, his chin on his hand. Unconsciously, he was replicating the thoughtful pose of his father. Polynices’s elder sister Antigone stood with her arm around little sister Ismene, who sobbed uncontrollably. Younger brother Eteocles paced back and forth.
“A decision must be made,” said Eteocles, “to either slay or banish Oedipus. The decree came from his own lips. And once he is dealt with, the oracle from Delphi will be fulfilled. The blight to our lands will end, the plague will be lifted from our city.”
“Yes, but we cannot allow them to kill our father,” Antigone countered.
“Our father, or our brother?” Eteocles contemptuously returned. “Which is he?”
“Both, or so it seems from yesterday’s shocking revelations,” said Polynices with a sigh. “But this is no time to be particular. Father or brother, it must be banishment he suffers.”
“To where?” asked Antigone.
“Wherever he chooses,” said Eteocles, “just so long as the pollution is removed to well beyond the borders of Thebes. The sooner Oedipus goes, the sooner we will all benefit.”
“Yet, he is still our king,” said Antigone.
“In name only,” Eteocles countered. “No man will bow to him now, let alone obey his commands.”
“Oedipus is no longer sovereign of this land,” came a new voice—that of Creon, as he strode into the hall followed by the senior Governors Astacus and Oenops. “He has laid down his crown.” Creon held aloft the simple golden crown in his right hand.
“Then who should rightfully succeed him?” asked Polynices.
“And decide his fate?” Eteocles added.
“That is what we must discuss and agree upon,” said Creon, walking to the throne, where he reverently placed the crown…
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