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The Seven against Thebes

Oedipus, king of Thebes, had pronounced a curse upon his sons Eteocles and Polynices that they should die at one another's hand. (See Oedipus.) In order to make the fulfilment of the curse impossible by separating himself from his brother, Polynices left Thebes while his father was still alive, and at Argos married Argea, the daughter of Adrastus (q.v.). On the death of his father he was recalled, and given by Eteocles, who was the elder of the two (Eurip. Phoen. 71), the choice between the kingdom and the treasures of Oedipus; but, on account of a quarrel that arose over the division, he departed a second time, and induced his father-in-law to undertake a war against his native city. According to another legend, the brothers deprived their father of the kingdom, and agreed to rule alternately, and to quit the city for a year at a time. Polynices, as the younger, first went into voluntary banishment; but when, after the expiration of a year, Eteocles denied him his right, and drove him out by violence, he fled to Argos, where Adrastus made him his son-in-law, and undertook to restore him with an armed force. Adrastus was the leader of the army; besides Polynices and Tydeus of Calydon, the other son-in-law of the king, there also took part in the expedition the king's brothers Hippomedon and Parthenopaeus (q.v.), Capaneus, a descendant of Proetus, and Amphiaraüs (q.v.), the latter against his will, and foreseeing his own death. The Atridae were invited to join in the expedition, but were withheld by evil omens from Zeus.

When the Seven reached Nemea on their march, a fresh warning befell them. Hypsipylé, the nurse of Opheltes, the son of King Lycurgus, laid her charge down on the grass in order to lead the thirsty warriors to a spring; during her absence the child was killed by a snake. They gave him solemn burial, and instituted the Nemean Games in his honour; but Amphiaraüs interpreted the occurrence as an omen of his own fate, and accordingly gave the boy the name of Archemorus (i. e. “leader to death”). When they arrived at the river Asopus in Boeotia, they sent Tydeus (q.v.) to Thebes in the hope of coming to terms. He was refused a hearing, and the Thebans laid an ambush for him on his return. The Seven now advanced to the walls of the city, and posted themselves with their troops one at each of its seven gates. Against them were posted seven chosen Thebans, among them Melanippus and Periclymenus. Menoeceus (q.v.) devoted himself to death to insure the victory for the Thebans. In the battle at the sanctuary of the Ismenian Apollo they were driven right back to their gates; the giant Capaneus had already climbed the wall by a scaling-ladder, and was presumptuously boasting that even the lightning of Zeus should not drive him back, when the flaming bolt of the god smote him down, and dashed him to atoms. The beautiful Parthenopaeus also fell, with his skull shattered by a rock that was hurled at him. Adrastus desisted from the assault, and the armies, which had suffered severely, agreed that the originators of the quarrel, Eteocles and Polynices, should fight out their difference in single combat. Both brothers fell, and a fresh battle arose over their bodies. In this all of the assailants met their death, except Adrastus, who was saved by the speed of his black-maned charger. According to the older legends, his eloquence persuaded the Thebans to give the fallen due burial. When the bodies of the hostile brothers were placed on the pyre, the flames, which were meant to destroy them together, parted into two portions. According to the version of the story invented by the Attic tragedians, the Thebans refused to bury their foes, but at the prayer of Adrastus were compelled to do so by Theseus; according to another version, he conquered the Thebans and buried the dead bodies at Eleusis in Attica. For the burial of Polynices, see Antigoné; and also Epigoni. The story forms the subject of one of the extant plays of Aeschylus. See Aeschylus.

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