Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus.

Eteocles and Polynices being carried away, dead, after the Battle of Thebes
by Alfred John Church.
I've been wanting to read and write about Aeschylus for quite a while now, but the truth is I find him a very difficult read. I have read the first part of the OresteiaAgamemnon, but I was absolutely lost with it so always intended to re-read (it's on my 2016 Challenges list) and hope for a better experience. Until then, I thought I'd try Seven Against Thebes: at least with this I have a little background knowledge.

In Sophocles' Theban Plays, Oedipus Rex (429 B.C.), Oedipus at Colonus (406 B.C.), and Antigone (441 B.C.) we learn of the fall of Oedipus - how he inadvertently married his own mother, blinded himself, and left his kingdom, Thebes, to his two sons Eteocles and Polynices, who, by the time Antigone begins, have died having killed each other in a battle. In Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes (Ἑπτὰ ἐπὶ Θήβας, 467 B.C.) the action follows the two brothers who were to share the kingdom by ruling alternate years. However Eteocles refuses to stand down and forced Polynices to flee to Athens. There he plots to usurp his brother with the help of other leaders and captains: Tydeus, Capaneus, Eteoclus, Hippomedon, Parthenopaeus, and Amphiaraus. Along with Polynices, these are the "seven" of the title. Eteocles prepares for battle, and has the seven gates of Thebes guarded, but when he learns one of the 'seven' is his own brother he agrees to do battle with him alone.

As with the Theban plays, there is in Aeschylus' play the 'family curse', which at the start of the play had already cost Oedipus his life, and by the end had cost the two brothers their lives. There is also the question of fate and prophecy, and that though Polynices and Eteocles chose to fight, Eteocles felt as though the curse was already upon them and that by fighting, they were acting out their destiny. The Chorus offers another point of view - that their fate is in their own hands, though the curse is very real.

The theme effectively ends not in Seven Against Thebes but Sophocles' Antigone, though Seven Against Thebes was itself the end of Aeschylus' 'Oedipodea' trilogy (beginning with Laius, then Oedipus, however these two plays are lost). I did find it particularly difficult. With Sophocles' plays, the matter was tough, but reading not so; with Aeschylus, its style and matter were particularly tricky. It was a beautiful play, but very easy (I found) to get lost. Had I not have read Sophocles, I think I would have stumbled very quickly. But it is a very short play, just over 1,000 lines, so I dare say it was a good introduction.

Nevertheless I won't give up on Aeschylus. I have all the surviving plays: The PersiansThe Suppliants, Prometheus Bound, as well as the Oresteia. I imagine I'll be trying again with the Oresteia in January. 

Further Reading
Aeschylus - Seven Against Thebes | Classical Literature

Surviving Plays of Aeschylus ♔
Prometheus Bound | The Suppliants | The Persians | Seven Against Thebes
The Oresteia (458 B.C.)
 Agamemnon | The Libation Bearers | The Eumenides


  1. Yes, this one is quite hard, probably the most difficult. That scene where the brothers are displaying their shields one by one! Prometheus Bound and The Persians are not half as difficult.

    1. Ah, so not a good introduction, then? :) Well, I'll go for PB or Persians next.

  2. Have you read The Iliad yet? For me, I found it gave a good base to further understanding of everything that came after, whether it was content or simply behavioural. Sometimes I've felt that it's helped me understand something better, yet there is no reason. It's rather eerie.

    On another note, I am having difficulties searching on your blog, and my blog, and other Blogger blogs. Is it my computer, or is something up? Could you try it out for me?

    1. I have read The Iliad but I do need to re-read it - I'll have to get round to that soon - I know it would help :)

      As for searching - I looked up "Jane Austen" on both our blogs - the page sort of jumped and nothing came up, so I clicked on here to reply to you, but then I checked and the results did actually show up on both our blogs. If you're really stuck, try Google Advanced Search: I used the advanced search on your blog for Jane Austen again (don't ask why Jane Austen, no idea!) and this came up.

      If that doesn't work let me know, I'll see if I can come up with anything to help :)

  3. I have Seven Against Thebes lying and gathering dust in my library and much as I love Homer, I could not, simply could not get on with the Greek plays. But I am inspired thanks to you...will try it soon!

    1. I'm getting on fairly well with the Greek plays, but I haven't read many at all. I ADORE Sophocles, and like Euripides. Beyond that, I've not read so many but I am enjoying reading through them :)


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Getting up on Cold Mornings by James Henry Leigh Hunt.

The Prevention of Literature by George Orwell.

Moments of Being: Slater's Pins Have No Points by Virginia Woolf.