The Seven Against Thebes (Epigoni Wars) Explained
Two generations of war between two powerful cities: Argos and Thebes. The first war took shortly after the quest of Jason and the Argonauts and after the reign of Oedipus in Thebes. The second war was set just before the Trojan War began.
|Seven Against Thebes|
Facts & Figures about the Seven Against Thebes and the Epigoni.
The Seven Against Thebes was the famous war between the Argive army led by seven champions and the city of Thebes. The war was set after the reign of Oedipus in Thebes, and a generation before the Trojan War.
The tales were popular in the time of classical Greeks period. Paintings and sculptures of this event were also favourite subjects of the ancient Greeks.
|Origin of the War|
|War Against Thebes|
|Oedipus went into exile after he learned of his involvement of his father’s death. Only his daughters, Antigone and Ismene, were loyal to their father. Antigone acted as her father’s guide, as he wandered through Greece, while Ismene brought news to them of home (Thebes).
Oedipus’ two sons were more interested in power and the kingdom of Thebes.
According to Sophocles’ play, Oedipus at Colonus, Oedipus died in Colonus, a town in Attica. Oedipus befriended the Athenian hero, Theseus. There are other versions of Oedipus’ wandering and death. In most versions he cursed both his sons, because they could not settle their quarrel peacefully.
See Oedipus in the House of Thebes.
The Thebans decided that his two sons, Eteocles (Ἐτεοκλἣς) and Polyneices (Πολυνείκης), would rule Thebes in alternate years, when Oedipus was in exile. Eteocles ruled in the first year at Thebes. However after his term ended, Eteocles refused to let his brother rule Thebes. He banished Polyneices from Thebes.
Polyneices fled to Argos, seeking help from King Adrastus.
|Polyneices (Πολυνείκης) went to Argos as a suppliant. At the same time another prince named Tydeus (Τυδεύς), son of Oeneus, king of Calydon, and of Periboea. Tydeus had also been exiled by Agrius, for killing either his uncle or brother.
Both princes arrived in Argos at night, got into a quarrel with one another, and fought. Adrastus (Ἄδραστου), king of Argos, looked outside of the palace and saw two men in armour fighting. One has a lion depicted on his shield, while the other shield had a wild boar. Polyneices’ shield had a lion to represent his father’s expulsion of the Sphinx, part-lion part-woman creature. While the boar on Tydeus’ shield represents the Calydonian Boar.
Adrastus immediately recognised the signs he received from a seer that he should marry his daughters to a lion and a boar. Both exiled princes became guests of Adrastus. The two guests married Adrastus’ daughters, and the king promised to restore both son-in-laws in their respective kingdom.
Tydeus married Adrastus’ other daughter, Deïpyle (Deipyle), who became the mother of the hero Diomedes. Tydeus was described as a short warrior. Tydeus’ device was a wild-boar, probably the image of the Calydonian Boar.
The problem was that Adrastus’ brother-in-law, Amphiaraüs (Amphiaraus or Ἀμφιάραος), a warrior seer, did not want to go to Thebes because he knew the expedition was doomed to fail and only Adrastus would survive the war.
Amphiaraüs was the son of Oicles and Hypermnestra, and descendant of one of the greatest seers, Melampus. Amphiaraüs was one of the heroes who sailed on the Argo with Jason (see the Argonauts), and he was the second hero to wound the boar in Calydon, after Atalanta drew the first blood (see Calydonian Boar Hunt). He married Eriphyle, sister of Adrastus.
Adrastus and Amphiaraüs had previously had argument, which resulted in Adrastus losing the throne. When Adrastus was restored to the throne, brother and husband decided to let Eriphyle settle any future quarrel between the two men.
To make Eriphyle decide in his favour, Polyneices bribed Eriphyle with the necklace from Harmonia. This necklace was a wedding gift to Harmonia, made by the god Hephaestus, which was a curse to later owners. Amphiaraüs had no choice but to joined his brother-in-law in the futile war. Amphiaraüs made his sons, Alcmeon and Amphilochus, promised to avenge his death upon both the Thebans and his wife (their mother).
Adrastus and Amphiaraüs raised the Argive army, and five other Argive leaders joined the rank: his brother Mecisteus (Μηκιστεύς); Capaneus (Καπανεύς), son of Hipponoüs and Astynome; his cousin or nephew (?), Hippomedon (Ἱππομέδων); and Eteoclus (Ἐτεοκλυς), son of Iphis. Parthenopaeüs (Parthenopaeus or Παρθενοπαἳος) was either the son of Atalanta, or the son of Talaus, which would also make him the brother of Adrastus. Tydeus also agreed to join them, provided that Adrastus helped him later in Calydon.
Note that Polyneices and Tydeus were foreigners; they were not counted as two of the seven Argive champions by most writers, though they took a very active role in the war. Though, some writers do counted Polyneices and Tydeus, then most authors, would leave out Mecisteus and Adrastus in the list of seven.
|The Argive army had stopped at Nemea for water and encountered a nurse and the infant Opheltes. As the nurse left the infant in the crib outside, she showed the Argives where the spring was. The infant died from snakebite. Amphiaraüs (Amphiaraus) saw this as the doom of the expedition. They held funeral games for infant that became known as the Nemean Games.
When they arrived in Thebes, Adrastus send Tydeus into the city as embassy. Tydeus demand Eteocles to surrender and challenged any Theban to single combat. He defeated all Theban who faced him. Eteocles sent fifty men to ambush Tydeus outside the city, but Tydeus killed them all except Maeon. Maeon was to tell Thebes and their king what had happened.
In Thebes, Teiresias announced that Thebes would fall, unless Menoeceus, son of Creon, sacrifice himself to Ares. Creon refused to allow anyone to kill his son, but Menoeceus having overheard the prophecy, killed himself, so Thebes would win the war.
When fighting began, each Argive leader attacking one of the seven gates of Thebes. But each gate was defended by Theban champion. Astacus, a Theban noble, has four sons, named Amphidocus (Asphodicus), Ismarus, Leades and Melanippus. Each of his sons was more than a match for the Argive hero. And there was Periclymenus, the mighty son of Poseidon.
Capaneus, who was the first to breach the wall, boasted that not even Zeus could prevent him from burning the city. Zeus killed Capaneus with a thunderbolt for this impious boast. The Theban Melanippus had killed Mecisteus, while Hippomedon was killed by Ismarus, and Eteoclus was slain either by Leades or his brother Megareus. Parthenopaeüs (Parthenopaeus) was killed either by Periclymenus or Amphidocus (or Asphodicus).
Tydeus managed to kill Melanippus, but he was fatally wounded in the encounter. The goddess Athena would have saved his life and made him immortal because she was his favourite, but Amphiaraüs duped the hero into devouring Melanippus’ brains, thinking that it would heal his wound. When Athena returned with drug to heal she saw Tydeus devouring his enemy’ brains, the goddess was horrified. Disgusted by the sight, Athena left Tydeus to die.
Periclymenus pursued Amphiaraüs, each in their own chariots. Zeus realising that Periclymenus was about to hurl his spear at Amphiaraüs’ back. Because Amphiaraüs was his favourite seer, the god took pity on the seer. Zeus split opened the earth in front of the chariot, swallowing Amphiaraüs and his charioteer alive.
Polyneices and Eteocles faced one another in single combat. On this fateful day, Oedipus’ curse was about to fulfilled. They fought and died from each other’s sword. In Aeschylus’ play, Seven Against Thebes, Eteocles went to defend the seventh gate, and knew that he would die by his brother’s hand, as he knew from the prophecy that he would slay his own brother. Rather than avoid his fate and be branded as a coward, Eteocles chose to meet his death with his brother.
The Argive army was destroyed. The only surviving Argive leader, Adrastus, fled upon his immortal horse Arion, to Athens.
|Antigone was daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta. She accompanied her father during his exile until he died in Colonus. With the death of her two brothers, Antigone and her sister, Ismene, mourned for both of their brothers.
After the war, Creon, who had either become king of Thebes or regent for Eteocles’ son Laodamas, who was too young to rule the kingdom. Creon gave Eteocles a hero’s funeral, while he decreed that Polyneices and the other Argives leaders, not to be given any burial, for attacking Thebes. The bodies were to be left to the dogs and vultures.
Antigone pleaded with her uncle and regent, Creon, to allow her brother’s body to be buried; she was refused. Creon, who lost his second son in the war, adamantly decreed again that anyone burying Polyneices or the other Argive leaders, that person would be put to death.
Ismene was afraid to help Antigone bury their brother. Knowing she would face a possible death sentence, Antigone secretly buried her brother, but was caught by Creon’s men. Ismene, who was afraid to help Antigone, now also claimed responsibility for burying Polyneices. She said this, because she could not bear to lose the last member of her family, she wanted to die with her sister. Antigone, however, persuaded Ismene to live. Creon had Antigone entombed alive.
Creon’s third son, Haemon, who was betrothed to Antigone, went to Antigone’s tomb and killed himself. Eurydice, Creon’s wife, who heard the news of her son’s death, couldn’t bear her grief of losing her last child; she cursed her husband, before she hanged herself. Creon’s stubbornness and pride resulted in the death of not only his niece, but also caused tragedy to fall upon his own family.
According to the Fabulae, Hyginus tell of different story to that of Sophocles’ play, Antigone. Antigone with the help of Argeia, Polyneices’ wife, buried Polyneices, despite Creon’s edict. Argeia managed to escape, but Antigone was captured for defying his law. Creon ordered his son, Haemon, to kill his niece, but Haemon was in love with Antigone. They were actually lovers, and she was pregnant.
Haemon disobey his father, and gave Antigone to trusted shepherds to hide her. Haemon returned to his father and claimed that he had killed and buried Antigone.
Years later, the son of Haemon and Antigone, whose name was not given, came to Thebes to take part in the annual games. Creon immediately recognised the youth, because he bore the mark of a Sparti, and he resembled his own son and his niece, Antigone. Creon realised that Haemon had defied his order. Creon ordered his son to kill Antigone in front of him. Haemon was a friend of young Heracles (Hercules), and was still living in Thebes at the time. Heracles unsuccessfully pleaded to spare Antigone, but the king refused.
Haemon obeyed his father, and killed Antigone with his sword. But in front of his father, he took his own life.
Adrastus, the only surviving leader of the Seven, fled to Athens. He sought Theseus’ aid, as a suppliant. His request to Theseus was that he wanted to bury the other Argive leaders who fell in the war. Theseus agreed to help.
When the Thebans refused to release the bodies of the enemy leaders, Theseus attacked Thebes until they surrendered them for burial. Theseus did not enslave or imprison the Thebans, nor did he allow his army occupied or loot Thebes. He was only there for one reason only, to bury the fallen Argive leaders.
Adrastus returned to Argos with the other bodies for burial. During the funeral, as they fired the pyres of the fallen leaders, Evadne threw herself on her husband’s (Capaneus) pyre.
|At the funerals of the seven fallen leaders, their sons could not rest until they have avenged their fathers’ death. They vowed that some day they would conquer Thebes. The only survivor of the Argive chieftains was Adrastus, king of Argos.
Adrastus had a son named Aegialeus, while Amphiaraüs (Amphiaraus) had Alcmeon and Amphilochus. Other leaders each had only one son, except Eteoclus who had died childless. Mecisteus was the father of Euryalus; Capaneus was father of Sthenelus; Hippomedon of Polydorus; and Parthenopaeüs (Parthenopaeus) of Promachus. Polyneices was the father of Thersander, while Tydeus of Diomedes. (See Facts and Figures.)
These sons of the Seven chieftains became known as the Epigoni (After-Born).
Amphiaraüs’ son, Alcmeon, became the leader of the new army, as the oracle of Delphi had advised them. The aged king, Adrastus, also decided to accompany the Epigoni to Thebes. Amphiaraüs also told his sons to not only avenge him on the Thebans, but also against their mother, Eriphyle, who accepted bribe from Polyneices and forced Amphiaraüs to fight in a war that was doomed to fail. Alcmeon and Amphilochus at first did not want to kill their own mother until she accepted another bribe, this time from Polyneices’ son, Thersander.
Ten years after the first war against Thebes, the Argive army again marched to Thebes. However, it was prophesied that unless the last of the original Seven (Adrastus) die, this war would also end in disaster.
In the battle that followed, Laodamas, the son of Eteocles and king of Thebes, killed Aegialeus. With his only son dead, Adrastus died in grief. With the last of the Seven dead, the tide of the battle turned in favour of the Argives, most of the Thebans fled to Illyria. Some say that Laodamas had fled with the other Thebans, other say that Alcmeon killed Laodamas. Thebes had fallen to the Epigoni.
|Having captured Thebes, Thersander, son of Polyneices and Argeia, daughter of Adrastus, became the new king of Thebes. Thersander married Demonassa, daughter of Amphiaraüs (Amphiaraus). They became parents of Tisamenus.
Thersander was former suitor of Helen and took forty ships to Troy. Thersander was slain by Telephus, son of Heracles, perhaps in Mysia, before arriving Troy. Since the Theban forces were without a leader, one of the five Boeotian chieftains (Peneleus) led the Thebans at Troy. Of the five Boeotian captains, who fought at Troy, only Leitus survived the long war, though he did receive a wound from Hector.
Back at home, Tisamenus had succeeded his father to the throne of Thebes.
With Adrastus and his son dead in the second war, Adrastus’ young grandson, Cyanippus (son of Aegialeus) became king of Argos. Diomedes, Sthenelus and Euryalus, who were also suitors of Helen, went to Troy. Diomedes was leader of the Argive forces, with Sthenelus and Euryalus as his lieutenants. They took 80 ships to Troy. All three return home safely after fighting a ten years war against the Trojans. (See Trojan War.)
When Cyanippus died young and childless, the Argives decided that Sthenelus had better claim to the throne than his friend and comrade, Diomedes. So the crown was either given to Sthenelus or to Sthenelus’ son, Cylarabes. Diomedes was banished from Argos, due to his wife taking Cometes (Sthenelus’ other son) as her lover. According to Vergil’s Aeneid, Diomedes settled in southern Italy, when Aeneas arrived in Latium.
Alcmeon, who led the Epigoni in the second war against Thebes, sent their spoils to Delphi. He took Manto, daughter of the seer Teiresias as his concubine. He became the father of Amphilochus; he had named his son after his brother. The Younger Amphicholus was a seer like his grandfather, Amphiaraüs. Manto had another son, named Mopsus, either by Rhacius or by the god Apollo.
When Alcmeon murdered his mother, he suffered the same fate as Orestes: he was driven mad by the Erinyes (Furies), and wandered for many years before Phegeus purified him at Psophis in Arcadia, and married the king’s daughter, Arsinoe. Alcmeon became the father of Clytius. But the Erinyes and madness still hounded him.
Later he was purified by the river-god, Acheloüs and married the god’s daughter named Callirrhoé (Callirrhoe). They had twin sons, named Acarnan and Amphoterus. Finally the Erinyes and the madness ceased to trouble him, only to be murdered by his brother-in-laws, ordered by his first father-in-law, Phegeus.
When Callirrhoé heard of her husband’s death, she prayed to the gods that her sons would grow to manhood in a single night, and avenged their father’s death. Her infant sons grew into young men, overnight. They went to Arcadia, and murdered Phegeus and his sons.