Thebes was a principal city in the valley of southern Boeotia, between north of Cithaeron Mountains and southeast of Lake Copaïs (Copais). The city was originally named Cadmeia, after Cadmus, it founder and first king. It was later named Thebes, after wife of Zethus. It was the scene of the famous war, Seven Against Thebes.
Thebes was also one of the prominent cities during classical period, where it enjoyed a brief supremacy in Greece during the 4th century, under military leadership of Epaminondas and Pelopidas, where they defeated the Spartan armies in Leuctra (371 BC) and Mantinea (362 BC). The best known writer from Thebes was the lyric poet Pindar, who wrote the odes to Olympic and Pythian Games (early 5th century BC).
Before you read about Cadmus and descendants, you may want to take the time to read about Europa in the Minoan Crete page, because it is related to why Cadmus had left his father’s kingdom in the Phoenician city of Sidon. Original the myth of Europa was found in this page, but I have finally decided to move this to a new page, called Minoan Crete. I would like to apologise if this had caused you any inconvenience.
|Abduction of Europa, see Europa in Minoan Crete|
|Amphion & Zethus|
|Eteocles and Polyneices|
|Seven Against Thebes, see Seven Against Thebes|
|Epigoni, see Seven Against Thebes|
|After the War|
House of Thebes
|When Zeus abducted his daughter Europa, Agenor (Ἀγηνωρ) send his sons to find her, with the order not to come back, until Europa was returned to him (see Minoan Crete, for her myth). Agenor’s favourite child was Europa. Agenor was quite besotted over his daughter, ready to banish his sons if it meant bringing his daughter back to him. His wife, Telephassa (Τηλέφασσα or Argiope), was so angry at the order from her husband, that she accompanied her sons during their search of her daughter.
Phoenix (Φοινιξ) did not go very far from home. The land Phoenix settled in was named after him: Phoenicia. CilixΚίλιξ) settled in the land that became Cilicia, while Thasus stayed on the island that was named after him. PhineusΦινεύς migrated to Thrace. Cadmus had also stayed in Thrace, until his mother died.
Only Cadmus (Κάδμος) continued his search for his sister. Cadmus and his followers went on to Delphi, to seek help from the oracle in finding his sister. The Pythia (Πυθία, high priestess of Delphi) told him to instead seek a new home. He was told by the oracle to find a heifer and follow it until the cow lay down. He spotted a cow and followed it all way to southern Boeotia, where it lay down. There, Cadmus decided to build a city that he named after himself, Cadmeia.
Cadmus killed a dragon that guarded the spring of Dirce, which was sacred to the war god Ares. The goddess Athena told him to sow the dragon teeth into the earth. Armed men sprang out of the earth, and fought one another until only five of them survived. These five men – Echion (Ἐχίων), Chthonius (Χθονίος), Hyperenor, Pelorus and Udaeüs or Udaeus – became known as Sparti (Σπαρτοί – “Sown-Men“). The Sparti were Cadmus most important allies.
For killing the dragon, Cadmus was punished, where he has to serve Ares for 8 years. After his time, the gods honoured Cadmus by arranging and attending his wedding with Harmonia (Ἁρμονία), daughter of Ares and Aphrodite. They received many gifts from the gods. Among the wedding presents given to the couple was necklace that was cursed. The necklace of Harmonia brought disaster to owners in later generations. (See Seven Against Thebes).
Cadmus ruled Thebes for many decades. Harmonia bore him Agave (Ἀγαυή), Autonoë (Autonoe), Ino (Ἰνώ), Semele (Σεμέλη), and one son, Polydorus (Πολύδωρος). Unfortunately most of their children and grandchildren were met with tragic ends.
Diodorus Siculus, a Greek Sicilian historian of the 1st century BC, had credited Cadmus of bringing the Phoenician alphabets with him from Phoenicia to Greece. The Phoenician alphabets was adapted and transformed by the Greeks; but Diodorus’ claim is unsubstantiated fabrication.
His grandson, Actaeon (Ἀκταίων), son of Autonoë and the Thessalian Aristaeüs (Aristaeus), was killed when he was still a young man. Actaeon was a great hunter, like his father (Aristaeüs) and his grandmother (Cyrene). One day, Actaeon saw Artemis when the goddess was bathing. I am uncertain whether Actaeon saw the naked goddess was deliberate or an accident. Either way, Artemis punished Actaeon by turned him into a stag. His own hounds tore the young hunter to pieces.
Cadmus’ other daughter, Semele (Σεμέλη), was seduced by Zeus and became pregnant. The jealous goddess Hera tricked the girl into asking Zeus to appear to her in his real form. Since Zeus had given her any boon the princess could ask of him, he reluctantly agreed. Doing so as god of thunder, he appeared as lightning. Semele died being burnt alive by the lightning. Zeus, however, managed to save their unborn son, Dionysus, by sewing the baby to his thigh. When Dionysus was ready to be born, Zeus opened his thigh to deliver Dionysus. Semele’s sisters spread lies that her lover was mortal, who would later be punished by Dionysus.
Ino (Ἰνώ) became the second wife of Athamas, king of Orchomenus. Her jealously over stepchildren (Phrixus and Helle) was such that she plotted to have them murder. However, her plot failed and her stepchildren escaped. She and husband tried to raise Dionysus by trying to disguise the infant as a girl. Hera, however, saw through the deception. The goddess Hera punished Athamas and Ino, by causing them to murder their own sons, during a brief spell of madness. Ino tried to kill herself by throwing herself into the sea. (See Athamas in the Aeolids for more details about Athamas and Ino.)
She was however turned into a minor sea-goddess named Leucothea (Λευκοθέα). As Leucothea, she had saved Odysseus, the hero of the Odyssey, after he left the island of Calypso. Ino was often referred to as the White Goddess. In Laconia, she has a sanctuary, where she answer a person’s question in a dream. This is her form of the oracle.
During Pentheus’ short reign, Dionysus had become god of wine and ecstasy. When his divine cousin, Dionysus, came to Thebes and wanted to establish his centre of worship in the city, Pentheus had not only refused, he forbade any man or woman to participate in their rite.
Since Dionysus’ jealous aunts had spread maligned rumour about his mother’s pregnancy, Dionysus caused Pentheus’ mother Agave and her sisters (Ino and Autonoë) to join the Bacchants in their rites. Pentheus had imprisoned some of the Bacchants. When Pentheus went to the woods to spy on Dionysus’ followers, Dionysus caused Pentheus’ own mother and aunts to attack the young king. They tore the young king to pieces, thinking Pentheus was a wild beast, a lion or a wild boar (depending on the sources).
Apollodorus say that Cadmus and Harmonia left Thebes to their children or grandchildren, and went to Illyria, and helped the Encheleans against the Illyrians in a war. Cadmus was made king of the Illyrians, and they had another son named Illyrius. At the end of their lives, their bodies were transformed into snakes, but Zeus sent their souls to the Elysian Fields.
According to Ovid, it was the fate of Ino and her son that made Cadmus leaves his kingdom with his wife (see Athamas, in the Aeolids). Cadmus and Harmonia were upset over the tragedy of their children and grandchildren. They went into self-exile to Illyria, and in their old age, they were transformed into snakes.
|Polydorus (Πολύδωρος) was king of Thebes and the only son of Cadmus. Polydorus married Nycteïs (Nycteis), who bore him a son, Labdacus (Λάβδακος). His reign was brief. Labdacus was only a child when he became king, so Nycteus (Νυκεύς), son of the Sparti Chthonius and the king’s grandfather, ruled Thebes as his regent.
Nycteus, however, discovered that his other daughter Antiope (Ἀντιόπη) was seduced and impregnated by Zeus. Zeus had come to Antiope in the guise of a satyr. Antiope ran off to Sicyon, and married the Sicyonian king, Epopeus (Ἐπωπεύς). Nycteus died of either grief (or shame) or he was killed in the battle against Sicyon. Nycteus’ brother, Lycus (Λύκος), became regent to Labdacus. He killed Epopeus in battle and brought his niece Antiope back to Thebes.
When Antiope gave birth to twins, Amphion (Ἀμθίων) and Zethus (Ζήθος), her uncle had ordered the twin infants to be exposed in the mountains of Cithaeron. The two infants were discovered by a cowherd, who brought the twins up as if they were his own sons.
Labdacus ruled briefly until he was killed in battle against Pandion of Athens. However, Labdacus left a son Laïus (Laius or Laios), who was too young to rule, so Lycus became regent again.
Lycus gave Antiope to his wife Dirce (Δίρκη), who cruelly mistreated his niece for many years, until she escaped and found her sons. Amphion and Zethus avenged their mother’s tormentor and had Dirce killed, by binding their stepmother to a bull.
When Amphion and Zethus, avenged his mother’s ill treatment upon Dirce, they forced Lycus out of Thebes (or they had killed Lycus), and the brothers became co-rulers of Thebes. When the brothers usurped throne, Laïus was spirited away to Pisa.
But according to geographer Pausanias, Antiope’s suffering didn’t end with Dirce’s death. Dirce was a faithful worshipper of Dionysus. Dionysus inflicted madness upon Antiope, who wandered all about Greece, until she met Phocus, son of Ornytion and grandson of Sisyphus. Phocus cured and married Antiope. When they had died, they were buried in the single grave.
Though, they were twins, they had different skills and attitudes. Zethus was the strongest man at the time, and enjoyed manly actions that required physical strength, such as fighting and hunting. He couldn’t understand Amphion’s love for music, who excelled with the lyre and singing.
It was Amphion and Zethus who had built the walls and the seven gates of Thebes. When the wall of Thebes was under construction, Zethus carried the heavy stones to build the wall from the mountains of Cithaeron. Here, Amphion showed what his music could do. While playing his lyre, the stones were charmed by the music that they followed Amphion. They had also renamed the city to Thebes, after Zethus’ wife, Thebe.
On the other hand, Amphion had married Niobe, daughter of Tantalus. They had seven sons and seven daughters. Niobe boasted that her children were more beautiful than those of the goddess Leto were. Apollo and Artemis avenged the insult to their mother, by killing all of Niobe’s children. Niobe wept so much that she was turned into a weeping stone. See the Folly of Niobe for a more detailed account on the fate of Niobe in the Wrath of Heaven page.
When Amphion and Zethus died, the young prince returned to Thebes and Laïus (Λάιος) became king.
|Laïus (Laius or Laios; Λάιος) became king of Thebes, after the death of Amphion and Zethus. He married Jocasta (Ἰοκάστη; some authors call her Epicasta), daughter of Menoeceus and sister of Creon.
Laius had at one time visited Pelops, king of Pisa, as a guest. Pelops had an illegitmate son, named Chrysippus, by a nymph named Astyoche or Axioche. Because of Chrysippus’ beauty, Laius fell in love with the youth. When Laius was training Chrysippus in driving the chariot, he abducted the boy and raped him. Feeling shame from his rape, he fell on his sword. Of all his sons, Chrysippus was dearest to him. Pelops laid a curse upon the Theban king that would eventually be fulfilled.
When a son Oedipus (Oidipous; Οἰδίπους) was born to the royal couple, Laïus learned from the oracle that his son will one day kill him and have children by his mother. Horrified of the possible future, he ordered his shepherd to expose the infant child in the mountain. The shepherd, however, didn’t have the courage to abandon the infant in the wild, gave Oedipus to Merope or Periboea, wife of Polybus, the king of Corinth. They brought up Oedipus in Corinth as if the child were their own.
When Oedipus grew to manhood, however, he had also learned from the oracle in Delphi, that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Thinking that Polybus was his real father, Oedipus decided to never return to Corinth, hoping to avoid this horrible fate.
As he travelled, he encountered Laïus in his chariot with his armed escorts on their way to Delphi. For some unknown reason the king attacked Oedipus. Oedipus, however, unknowingly killed his father and all but one bodyguard. Creon, Laïus’ brother-in-law became king of Thebes, upon hearing of Laïus’ death.
Outside of Thebes, a monster known as the Sphinx (Σφίγξ) has been killing travellers, who couldn’t answer her riddle. The riddle was “What creature walk on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three in the evening?” The Sphinx had head and chest of woman and body of lion, and in many Greek paintings, she may also have wings of eagle. Oedipus arrived and correctly answered the Sphinx’ riddle, saying that it was man. Man, because as infant would crawl on it hands and feet; in most of his life, he would walk on two legs; but when he was old, he would have to rely on a walking stick. The Sphinx drowned herself.
When the Thebans heard that Oedipus had solved the riddle and got ridded of the monster that had troubled their land, Creon gave the kingship to the young hero and unwittingly married his sister Jocasta to her own son. Jocasta became mother of Eteocles, Polyneices, Antigone and Ismene.
They were happily married and over the years Thebes prospered under Oedipus’ reign. Oedipus was known as a wise and just king.
After two decades, the land began suffered from the drought and famine or plague. Oedipus was determined to learn the truth of what was causing the woes to his kingdom. He learned that plague was caused by the murder of Laïus, and his killer went unpunished. At the same time, heard that Polybus had died of natural causes in Corinth.
Oedipus consulted the blind seer, Teiresias, and questioned the shepherd and bodyguard. Teiresias was reluctant to tell the truth. Gradually, Oedipus found out that Polybus wasn’t his real father, nor that was Merope was his mother. They had adopted him from the shepherd. From the shepherd, he learned that his father was Laius, and he was left to die in the wild.
Oedipus and Jocasta realised that fulfilment of the horrible oracle had occurred. To his horror, Oedipus realised that he had killed his father and married his mother. Unable to deal with it, Jocasta hanged herself, while Oedipus put out his own eyes.
When Oedipus first came to Thebes as a stranger, they welcomed him as their saviour, but with blood of his father’s on his hands, Thebes drove Oedipus out as a murderer. Oedipus went into exile; and his brother-in-law and uncle, Creon became regent to Oedipus’ two sons, Eteocles (Ἐτεοκλἣς) and Polyneices (Πολυνείκης). But the two brothers fought over the rule of Thebes, and war erupted between Thebes and Argos. Eteocles became king, while his brother was exiled. Polyneices sought refuge in Argos.
Oedipus wandering through the land, friendless and sightless; as a suppliant, he sought a place for his final rest. His daughter, Antigone (Ἀντιγόνη), acted as his guide during Oedipus’ journey. While Ismene (Ἰσμήνη) travelled between Thebes and to her father, with news about kingdom.
According to another Athenian tragedy by Sophocles, Oedipus found a place to rest in Colonus, near Athens. Both Eteocles and Polyneices found out that if one of them managed to receive a blessing or support from their father, that son would win the war. Instead of a blessing, Oedipus cursed both of his sons for not settling their differences. The curse would later have them kill one another, in single combat.
Creon (Κρέων), Oedipus’ uncle, had men to kidnap Antigone, hoping to force Oedipus into supporting Eteocles in the war, but Theseus, the Athenian hero and king, rescued her. Theseus allowed the king to die peacefully and had Oedipus buried in Colonus. Theseus returned Oedipus’ daughters to Thebes. There are other versions of Oedipus’ exile and death, which I won’t go into.
In the battle that followed, Thebes defeated the Argives army, but the war ended with death of Eteocles and Polyneices. They had killed one another, fulfilling their father’s curse. (See Seven Against Thebes for details about the war).
Creon ruled again, in Thebes, either as king or as regent to Laodamas, the son of Eteocles. Since Polyneices and the seven Argive leaders had attacked their city, no burial was allowed for their enemies. Antigone disobeyed Creon’s order and buried her brother Polyneices. The other seven leaders were also given decent funerals, because of the suppliant of Adrastus to Theseus, king of Athens. Theseus and his army forced Creon and the Thebans to give up the bodies of their enemies.
According to the Catalogues of Women (Hesiod?), Oedipus died and was buried in Thebes; there are no mention here of Colonus or Theseus. It mentioned that twice in this work that Argea, daughter of Adrastus and wife of Polyneices, came to Thebes and attended Oedipus’ funeral, so this contradict Sophocles’ version that he was buried in Colonus.
|Eteocles (Ἐτεοκλἣς) and Polyneices (Πολυνείκης) were the sons of Oedipus and Jocasta. They were brothers of Antigone and Ismene. As brothers they were bitter rivals and enemies.
When Oedipus went into exile, as a blind wanderer, Creon, Oedipus’ uncle and brother-in-law became regent, while Eteocles and Polyneices were still too young to rule. It was decided that they would shared the power, each brother would rule in alternate year. Eteocles ruled first but decided not to relinquish power to his brother, when his first term had ended. A bitter feud resulted between the two, which found Polyneices found himself unsupported and in exile.
Polyneices fled to Argos, where he became suppliant to Adrastus, king of Argos. Adrastus agreed to restore Polyneices as king, and gave his daughter Argeia in marriage. Polyneices became the father of Thersander.
Amphiaraüs, brother-in-law of Adrastus, was an Argive seer, who knew that seven Argive leaders would die in Thebes, so he was very reluctant to take part in the war. But Polyneices bribed Eripyle, Amphiaraüs’ wife and the King’s sister, with the cursed necklace of Harmonia. Amphiaraüs had agreed to accept her judgement whenever he and Adrastus have a disagreement. So Amphiaraüs no choice, when Eripyle sided with Adrastus and Polyneices.
While at Thebes, Eteocles prepared the defence of the city. Eteocles in the meantime, had a young son named Laodamas. Eteocles assigned a champion to each gate, but he was to defend the seventh gate. Oedipus had earlier cursed him and his brother would kill one another in single combat, because they both were too selfish and ambitous to settle their difference peacefully. When Eteocles realised that Polyneices would fight at this very gate, he knew that his doom was approaching. Rather than avoid this fate and curse, Eteocles chose to confront it.
The two brothers fell to one another’s sword. See Seven Against Thebes about the full tale of the war.
His uncle Creon (Κρέων) became regent, again, because Laodamas was too young to rule. Creon gave a splendid funeral to Eteocles but his other nephew who brought army to Thebes, his body was left to rot and to the vultures. A new tragedy would strike, the family of Oedipus. Defying her uncle’s harsh law, Antigone buried her brother. She was entombed alive. Creon’s own son tried to save her, because Haemon was in love with Antigone. When Creon refused to listened to his son’s plead, Haemon killed himself. Eurydice cursed her husband, for his stubborn and impious law, hanged herself. See Antigone.
|Ruler and regent of Thebes. Creon (Κρέων) was the son of Menoeceus. Creon was descendant of the Sparti.
He was also the brother of Jocasta or Epicasta, who was first married to Laius, king of Thebes. While Creon was married to Eurydice, and became the father of Megara, Menoeceus and two sons who were named Haemon.
When Laius was killed on the way from Delphi, by a stranger, Oedipus became the new king of Thebes. When Creon was ruling as a king in his own right, he acted as either as a regent to young kings or as a chief adviser. In such plays, as Sophocles’ Oedipus in Colonus or Antigone, he was portrayed as cruel tyrant.
However, Creon said he would give up the throne to anyone who could answer the riddle of the Sphinx.
The Sphinx was a monstrous offspring of Typhon and Echidna, with the head and bust of woman, and with lion’s body and wings of an eagle. The Sphinx would kill anyone travelling along the road pass at Mount Phicium, north of Thebes, who could not answer her riddle. Among those killed by the Sphinx was the elder Haemon. A stranger successfully answered the Sphinx’s riddle, which she thereby destroyed herself.
Creon stepped down from the throne in favour of the stranger, named Oedipus, marrying his widowed sister to the new king of Thebes. Creon, his sister and everyone else, including Oedipus, didn’t realised that their new king had killed his own father and married his own mother, thereby fulfilling the prophecy from Delphi, in which both Laius and Oedipus had tried to avoid.
Oedipus ruled as wise and just king, but when he discovered that he was murderer of his father and had committed incest with his mother. Oedipus gouged out his own eyes. Either Creon or the people of Thebes banished the blind king from the kingdom. In Oedipus in Colonus, Creon abducted Antigone, Oedipus’ daughter, trying to force Oedipus to favour Eteocles in the war against Oedipus’ other son, Polyneices.
During the war of Argos, the Theban seer, Teiresias, said that the only way to win the war, Creon must allow his son, Menoeceus to be sacrificed before the altar of Ares. Creon refused to kill his son. Young Menoeceus, however, took his own life, so that Thebes would win the war.
When Thebes was victorous, Creon acted again, as regent to Laodamas, the young son of Eteocles. Creon brought further tragedy to his own family. Creon arrogantly decreed that the bodies of the seven Argive leaders and that of his own nephew, Polyneices, should be left to rot and for the vultures to feed upon. When Antigone pleaded to Creon allow his brother to be buried, not only did Creon refused, but would sentence anyone to death if anyone gave them decent funeral. Clearly, Creon had broken the divine law, by giving such commandment.
Antigone defiantly buried her brother in a secret location, but she was caught. The younger Haemon, Creon’s own son, pleaded mercy for Antigone’s own behalf, because they were betrothed. Creon ignored his son’s plea, and sentenced that Antigone should be buried alive. Anguished over Antigone’s death, Haemon committed suicide. His wife, Eurydice, blaming and cursing him for their son’s death, hanged herself, completing the tragedy in Creon’s own family.
Adrastus, the king of Argos, and the only surviving leaders of the Seven, went to Athens as suppliant to Theseus. Theseus commanded the Athenian army that defeated Thebes and forcing Creon to give up the bodies for funeral and burial.
See the Seven Against Thebes.
It was around about this time, when Creon was ruling Thebes that Amphitryon had fled from Tiryns, when he accidentally killed his father-in-law, Electryon, king of Tiryns and Mycenae. Amphitryon had married Alcmene, Electryon’s daughter. Creon aided Amphitryon in the war against the Taphian pirates.
During the Amphitryon’s absence, Zeus visited and slept with Alcmene, disguised as Alcmene’s husband. Alcmene then slept with her real husband, so that Alcmene became pregnant with twins – Heracles and Iphicles. One son belonged to Amphitryon, while the other son belonged to a god.
Heracles led a successful rebellion against Erginus, the Minyan king of Orchomenus. Creon rewarded Heracles, by marrying his daughter, Megara, to the young hero. Heracles and Megara had three sons, named Therimachus, Deicoon and Creontiades.
The goddess Hera hated her stepson, Heracles, so she struck him in a sudden fit of madness, where Heracles killed his own sons, and some say that he had also killed his wife as well. It was for this crime that Heracles left Thebes forever, and went to Tiryns to serve his cousin Eurystheus, and performed impossible twelve tasks, which earned Heracles immortality, at the end of his mortal life. See Heracles.
According to a different source, Thebes was invaded by Euboeans, under the leadership of Lycus. Creon was to have died at the hand of Lycus. His death was avenged by Heracles. His nephew, Laodamas, became king at Creon’s death. Laodamas lost the kingdom in the war against the Epigoni, the sons of the Seven. Thersander (Θέρσανδρος), son of Polyneices, became king at the time of the Trojan War. See Epigoni and After the War.
|At the death of Polyneices and Eteocles, Creon again became regent, this time, for Laodamas, the young son of Eteocles. Laodamas’ reign was brief, ruling before a new Argive army returned a second time.
Ten years later after the first war, Laodamas led the Thebans against Epigoni (the sons of the Seven), until he was either killed or driven from Thebes, possibly fleeing with his followers to Illyria. Among those killed in this war was the Theban seer, Teiresias. Teiresias would later reappear as the ghost in the Underworld, to whom Odysseus sought advice from the blind seer.
See the Epigoni for more detail about Thebes’ second war against Argos.
Thersander, son of Polyneices, ruled Thebes after its fall. Like other suitors of Helen of Sparta, Thersander was also one of the leaders who fought in Troy. Thersander brought his warriors in forty ships to Troy, but died early in the war. See the Trojan War.
His young son Tisamenus, by Demonassa, succeeded him.