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THE Boeotians generally, throughout the historical age, though well-endowed with bodily strength and courage, are represented as proverbially deficient in intelligence, taste and fancy. But the legendary population of Thebes, the Kadmeians, are rich in mythical antiquities, divine as well as heroic. Both Dionysus and Heracles recognize Thebes as their natal city. Moreover, the two sieges of Thebes by Adrastus, even taken apart from Cadmus, Antiope, Amphion and Zethus, etc., are the most prominent and most characteristic exploits, next to the siege of Troy, of that preexisting race of heroes who lived in the imagination of the historical Hellenes.

It is not Cadmus, but the brothers Amphion and Zethus, who are given to us in the Odyssey as the first founders of Thebes and the first builders of its celebrated walls. They are the sons of Zeus by Antiope, daughter of Asopus. The scholiasts who desire to reconcile this tale with the more current account of the foundation of Thebes by Cadmus, tell us that after the death of Amphion and Zethus, Eurymachus, the warlike king of the Phlegyae, invaded and ruined the newly-settled town, so that Cadmus on arriving was obliged to refound it. But Apollodorus, and seemingly the older logographers before him, placed Cadmus at the top, and inserted the two brothers at a lower point in the series. According to them, Belus and Agenor were the sons of Epaphus, (son of the Argeian Io), by Libya. Agenor went to Phoenicia and there became king: he bad for his offspring Cadmus, Phoenix, Kilix, and a daughter Europa; though in the Iliad Europa is called daughter of Phoenix. Zeus fell in love with Europa, and assuming the shape of a bull, carried her across the sea upon his back from Egypt to Crete, where she bore to him Minos, Rhadamanthus and Sarpedon. Two out of the three sons sent out by Agenos in search of their lost sister, wearied out by a long-protracted as well as fruitless voyage, abandoned the idea of returning home: Kilix settled in Cilicia, and Cadmus in Thrace. Thasus, the brother or nephew of Cadmus, who had accompanied them in the voyage, settled and gave name to the island of Phasus.

Both Herodotus and Euripides represent Cadmus as an emigrant from Phoenicia, conducting a body of followers in quest of Europa. The account of Apollodorus describes him as having come originally from Libya or Egypt to Phoenicia: we may presume that this was also the statement of the earlier logographers Pherekydes and Hellanikus. Conon, who historicizes and politicizes the whole legend, seems to have found two different accounts; one connecting Cadmus with Egypt, another bringing him from Phoenicia. He tries to melt down the two into one, by representing that the Phoenicians, who sent out Cadmus, had acquired great power in Egypt—that the seat of their kingdom was the Egyptian Thebes — that Cadmus was dispatched, under pretense indeed of finding his lost sister, but really on a project of conquest—and that the name Thebes, which he gave to his new establishment in Boeotia, was borrowed from Thebes in Egypt, his ancestorial seats.

Cadmus went from Thrace to Delphi to procure information respecting his sister Europa, but the god directed him to take no further trouble about her; he was to follow the guidance of a cow, and to found a city on the spot where the animal should lie down. The condition was realized on the site of Thebes. The neighboring fountain Areia was guarded by a fierce dragon, the offspring of Ares, who destroyed all the persons sent to fetch water. Cadmus killed the dragon, and at the suggestion of Athena sowed his teeth in the earth, there sprang up at once the armed men called the Sparti, among whom he flung stones, and they immediately began to assault each other until all were slain except five. Ares, indignant at this slaughter, was about to kill Cadmus; but Zeus appeased him, condemning Cadmus to an expiatory servitude of eight years, after which he married Harmonia, the daughter of Ares and Aphrodite—presenting to her the splendid necklace fabricated by the hand of Hephaestus, which had been given by Zeus to Europa. All the gods came to the Cadmeia, the citadel of Thebes, to present congratulations and gifts at these nuptials, which seem to have been hardly less celebrated in the mythical world than those of Peleus and Thetis. The issue of the marriage was one son, Polyderus, and four daughters, Autonoe, Ino, Semele and Agave.

From the five who alone survived of the warriors sprung from the dragon’s teeth, arose five great families or gentes in Thebes; the oldest and noblest of its inhabitants, coeval with the foundation of the town. They were called Sparti, and their name seems to have given rise, not only to the fable of the sowing of the teeth, but also to other etymological narratives.

All the four daughters of Cadmus are illustrious in fabulous history. The, wife of Athamas, the son of Aeolus, has already been included among the legends of the Aeolids. Semele became the mistress of Zeus, and inspired Here with jealousy. Misguided by the malicious suggestions of that goddess, she solicited Zeus to visit her with all the solemnity and terrors which surrounded him when he approached Here herself. The god unwillingly consented, and came in his chariot in the midst of thunder and lightning, under which awful accompaniments the mortal frame of Semele perished. Zeus, taking from her the child of which she was pregnant, sewed it into his own thigh: after the proper interval the child was brought out and born, and became the great god Dionysus or Bacchus. Hermes took him to Ino and Athamas to receive their protection. Afterwards, however, Zeus having transformed him into a kid to conceal him from the persecution of Here, the nymphs of the mountain Nysa became his nurses.

Autonoe, the third daughter of Cadmus, married the pastoral hero or god Aristaeus, and was mother of Aktaeon, a devoted hunter and a favorite companion of the goddess Artemis. She however became displeased with him—either because he looked into a fountain while she was bathing and saw her naked—or according to the legend set forth by the poet Stesichorus, because he loved and courted Semele—or according to Euripides, because he presumptuously vaunted himself as her superior in the chase. She transformed him into a stag, so that his own dogs set upon and devoured him. The rock upon which Aktaeon used to sleep when fatigued with the chase, and the spring whose transparent waters had too clearly revealed the form of the goddess, were shown to Pausanias near Plataea, on the road to Megara.


Agave, the remaining daughter of Cadmus, married Echion, one of the Sparti. The issue of these nuptials was Pentheus, who, when Cadmus became old succeeded him as king of Thebes. In his reign Dionysus appeared as a god, the author or discoverer of the vine with all its blessings. He had wandered over Asia, India and Thrace, at the head of an excited troop of female enthusiasts—communicating and inculcating everywhere the Bacchic ceremonies, and rousing in the minds of women that impassioned religious emotion which led them to ramble in solitary mountains at particular seasons, there to give vent to violent fanatical excitement, apart from the men, clothed in fawn skins and armed with the thyrsus. The obtrusion of a male spectator upon these solemnities was esteemed sacrilegious. Though the rites had been rapidly disseminated and fervently welcomed in many parts of Thrace, yet there were some places in which they had been obstinately resisted and their votaries treated with rudeness; especially by Lycurgus, king of the Edonian Thracians, upon whom a sharp and exemplary punishment was inflicted by Dionysus.

Thebes was the first city of Greece to which Dionysus came, at the head of his Asiatic troop of females, to obtain divine honors and to establish his peculiar rites in his native city. The venerable Cadmus, together with his daughters and the prophet Teiresias, at once acknowledged the divinity of the new god, and began to offer their worship and praise to him along with the solemnities which he enjoined. But Pentheus vehemently opposed the new ceremonies, reproving and maltreating the god who introduced them: nor was his unbelief at all softened by the miracles which Dionysus wrought for his own protection and for that of his followers. His mother Agave, with her sisters and a large body of other women from Thebes, had gone out from Thebes to Mount Cithaeron to celebrate their solemnities under the influence of the Bacchic frenzy. Thither Pentheus followed to watch them, and there the punishment due to his impiety overtook him. The avenging touch of the god having robbed him of his senses, he climbed a tall pine for the purpose of overlooking the feminine multitude, who detected him in this position, pulled down the tree, and tore him in pieces. Agave, mad and bereft of consciousness, made herself the foremost in this assault, and carried back in triumph to Thebes the head of her slaughtered son. The aged Cadmus, with his wife Harmonia, retired among the Illyrians, and at the end of their lives were changed into serpents, Zeus permitting them to be transferred to the Elysian fields.


Polydorus and Labdakus successively became kings of Thebes: the latter at his death left an infant son, Laius, who was deprived of his throne by Lykus. And here we approach the legend of Antiope, Zethus and Amphion, whom the fabulists insert at this point of the Theban series. Antiope is here the daughter of Nykteus, the brother of Lykus. She is deflowered by Zeus, and then, while pregnant, flies to Epopeus king of Sicyon: Nykteus dying entreats his brother to avenge the injury, and Lykus accordingly invades Sicyon, defeats and kills Epopeus, and brings back Antiope prisoner to Thebes. In her way thither, in a cave near Eleutherae, which was shown to Pausanias, she is delivered of the twin sons of Zeus—Amphion and Zethus—who, exposed to perish, are taken up and nourished by a shepherd, and pass their youth amidst herdsmen, ignorant of their lofty descent.

Antiope is conveyed to Thebes, where, after undergoing a long persecution from Lykus and his cruel wife Dirke, she at length escapes, and takes refuge in the pastoral dwelling of her sons, now grown to manhood. Dirke pursues and requires her to be delivered up; but the sons recognize and protect their mother, taking an ample revenge upon her persecutors. Lykus is slain, and Dirke is dragged to death, tied to the horns of a bull.

Amphion and Zethus, having banished Laius, become kings of Thebes. The former, taught by Hermes, and possessing exquisite skill on the lyre, employs it in fortifying the city, the stones of the walls arranging themselves spontaneously in obedience to the rhythm of his song.

Zethus marries Aedon, who, in the dark and under a fatal mistake, kills her son Itylus: she is transformed into a nightingale, while Zethus dies of grief. Amphion becomes the husband of Niobe, daughter of Tantalus, and the father of a numerous offspring, the complete extinction of which by the bands of Apollo and Artemis has already been recounted in these pages.

Here ends the legend of the beautiful Antiope and her twin sons—the rude and unpolished, but energetic, Zethus and the refined and amiable, but dreamy, Amphion. For so Euripides, in the drama of Antiope unfortunately lost, presented the two brothers, in affectionate union as well as in striking contrast. It is evident that the whole story stood originally quite apart from the Cadmeian family, and so the rudiments of it yet stand in the Odyssey; but the logographers, by their ordinary connecting artifices, have opened a vacant place for it in the descending series of Theban myths. And they have here proceeded in a manner not usual with them. For whereas they are generally fond of multiplying entities, and supposing different historical personages of the same name, in order to introduce an apparent smoothness in the chronology—they have here blended into one person Amphion the son of Antiope and Amphion the father of Chleris, who seem clearly distinguished from each other in the Odyssey. They have further assigned to the same person all the circumstances of the legend of Niobe, which seems to have been originally framed quite apart from the sons of Antiope.


Amphion and Zethus being removed, Laius became king of Thebes. With him commences the ever-celebrated series of adventures of Oedipus and his family. Laius forewarned by the oracle that any son whom he might beget would kill him, caused Oedipus as soon as he was born to be exposed on Mount Cithaeron. Here the herdsmen of Polybus king of Corinth accidentally found him and conveyed him to their master, who brought him up as his own child. In spite of the kindest treatment, however, Oedipus when he grew up found himself exposed to taunts on the score of his unknown parentage, and went to Delphi to inquire of the god the name of his real father. He received for answer an admonition not to go back to his country; if he did so, it was his destiny to kill his father and become the husband of his mother. Knowing no other country but Corinth, he accordingly determined to keep away from that city, and quitted Delphi by the road towards Boeotia and Phocis. At the exact spot where the roads leading to these two countries forked, he met Laius in a chariot drawn by mules, when the insolence of one of the attendants brought on an angry quarrel, in which Oedipus killed Laius, not knowing him to be his father.

On the death of Laius, Kreon, the brother of Yokasta, succeeded to the kingdom of Thebes. At this time the country was under the displeasure of the gods, and was vexed by a terrible monster, with the face of a woman, the wings of a bird, and the tail of a lion, called the Sphinx—sent by the wrath of Here, and occupying the neighboring mountain of Phikium. The Sphinx had learned from the Muses a riddle, which she proposed to the Thebans to resolve: on every occasion of failure she took away one of the citizens and ate him up. Still no person could solve the riddle; and so great was the suffering occasioned, that Kreon was obliged to offer both the crown and the nuptials of his sister Yokasta to anyone who could achieve the salvation of the city. At this juncture Oedipus arrived and solved the riddle: upon which the Sphinx immediately threw herself from the acropolis and disappeared. As a recompense for this service, Oedipus was made king of Thebes, and married Yokasta, not aware that she was his mother.

These main tragic circumstances—that Oedipus had ignorantly killed his father and married his mother—belong to the oldest form of the legend as it stands in the Odyssey. The gods (it is added in that poem) quickly made the facts known to mankind. Epikasta (so Yokasta is here called) in an agony of sorrow hanged herself: Oedipus remained king of the Cadmeians, but underwent many and great miseries, such as the Erinnyes, who avenge an injured mother, inflict. A passage in the Iliad implies that he died at Thebes, since it mentions the funeral games which were celebrated there in honor of him. His misfortunes were recounted by Nestor, in the old Cyprian verses, among the stories of aforetime. A fatal curse hung both upon himself and upon his children, Eteokles, Polynikes, Antigone and Ismene. According to that narrative which the Attic tragedians have rendered universally current, they were his children by Yokasta, the disclosure of her true relationship to him having been very long deferred. But the ancient epic called Oedipodia, treading more closely in the footsteps of Homer, represented him as having after her death married a second wife, Euryganeia, by whom the four children were born to him: and the painter Onatas adopted this story in preference to that of Sophocles.

The disputes of Eteokles and Polynikes for the throne of their father gave occasion not only to a series of tragic family incidents, but also to one of the great quasi-historical events of legendary Greece—the two sieges of Thebes by Adrastus, king of Argos. The two ancient epic poems called the Thebais and the Epigoni (if indeed both were not parts of one very comprehensive poem) detailed these events at great length, and as it appears, with distinguished poetical merit; for Pausanias pronounces the Cyclic Thebais (so it was called by the subsequent critics to distinguish it from the more modern Thebais of Antimachus) inferior only to the Iliad and Odyssey; and the ancient elegiac poet Kallinus treated it as an Homeric composition. Of this once-valued poem we unfortunately possess nothing but a few scanty fragments. The leading points of the legend are briefly glanced at in the Iliad; but our knowledge of the details is chiefly derived from the Attic tragedians, who transformed the narratives of their predecessors at pleasure, and whose popularity constantly eclipsed and obliterated the ancient version. Antimachus of Kolophon, contemporary with Euripides, in his long epic, probably took no less liberties with the old narrative. His Thebaid never became generally popular, but it exhibited marks of study and elaboration which recommended it to the esteem of the Alexandrine critics, and probably contributed to discredit in their eyes the old cyclic poem.

The logographers, who gave a continuous history of this siege of Thebes, had at least three preexisting epic poems—the Thebais, the Oedipodia, and the Alkmaeonis,— from which they could borrow. The subject was also handled in some of the Hesiodic poems, but we do not know to what extent. The Thebais was composed more in honor of Argos than of Thebes, as the first line of it, one of the few fragments still preserved, betokens.


The legend, about to recount fraternal dissension of the most implacable kind, comprehending in its results not only the immediate relations of the infuriated brothers, but many chosen companions of the heroic race along with them, takes its start from the paternal curse of Oedipus, which overhangs and determines all the gloomy sequel.

Oedipus, though king of Thebes and father of four children by Euryganeia (according to the Oedipodia), has become the devoted victim of the Erinnyes, in consequence of the self-inflicted death of his mother, which he has unconsciously caused, as well as of his unintentional parricide. Though he had long forsworn the use of all the ornaments and luxuries which his father had inherited from his kingly progenitors, yet when through age he had come to be dependent upon his two sons. Polynikes one day broke through this interdict, and set before him the silver table and the splendid wine-cup of Cadmus, which Laius had always been accustomed to employ. The old king had no sooner seen these precious appendages of the regal life of his father, than his mind was overrun by a calamitous frenzy, and he imprecated terrible curses on his sons, predicting that there would be bitter and endless warfare between them. The goddess Erinnys heard and heeded him; and he repeated the curse again on another occasion, when his sons, who had always been accustomed to send to him the shoulder of the victims sacrificed on the altar, caused the buttock to be served to him in place of it. He resented this as an insult, and prayed the gods that they might perish each by the hand of the other. Throughout the tragedians as well as in the old epic, the paternal curse, springing immediately from the misguided Oedipus himself, but remotely from the parricide and incest with which he has tainted his breed, is seen to domineer over the course of events—the Erinnys who executes that curse being the irresistible, though concealed, agent. Aeschylus not only preserves the fatal efficiency of the paternal curse, but even briefly glances at the causes assigned for it in the Thebais, without superadding any new motives. In the judgment of Sophocles, or of his audience, the conception of a father cursing his sons upon such apparently trifling grounds was odious; and that great poet introduced many aggravating circumstances, describing the old blind father as having been barbarously turned out of doors by his sons to wander abroad in exile and poverty. Though by this change he rendered his poem more coherent and self-justifying, yet he departed, from the spirit of the old legend, according to which Oedipus has contracted by his unconscious misdeeds an incurable taint destined to pass onward to his progeny. His mind is alienated, and he curses them, not because he has suffered seriously by their guilt, but because he is made the blind instrument of an avenging Erinnys for the ruin of the house of Laius.

After the death of Oedipus and the celebration of his funeral games, at which amongst others, Argeia, daughter of Adrastus (afterwards the wife of Polynikes), was present, his two sons soon quarreled respecting the succession. The circumstances are differently related; but it appears that, according to the original narrative, the wrong and injustice was on the part of Polynikes, who, however, was obliged to leave Thebes and to seek shelter with Adrastus, king of Argos. Here he met Tydeus, a fugitive, at the same time, from Aetolia: it was dark when they arrived, and a broil ensued between the two exiles, but Adrastus came out and parted them. He had been enjoined by an oracle to give his two daughters in marriage to a lion and a boar, and he thought this occasion had now arrived, inasmuch as one of the combatants carried on his shield a lion, the other a boar. He accordingly gave Deipyle in marriage to Tydeus, and Argeia to Polynikes: moreover, he resolved to restore by armed resistance both his sons-in-law to their respective countries.


On proposing the expedition to the Argeian chiefs around him he found most of them willing auxiliaries; but Amphiaraus—formerly his bitter opponent, but now reconciled to him, and husband of his sister Eriphyle—strongly opposed him. He denounced the enterprise as unjust and contrary to the will of the gods. Again, being of a prophetic stock, descended from Melampus, he foretold the certain death both of himself and of the principal leaders, should they involve themselves as accomplices in the mad violence of Tydeus or the criminal ambition of Polynikes. Amphiaraus, already distinguished both in the Kalychinian boar-hunt and in the funeral games of Pelias, was in the Theban war the most conspicuous of all the heroes, and absolutely indispensable to its success. But his reluctance to engage in it was invincible, nor was it possible to prevail upon him except through the influence of his wife Eriphyle. Polynikes, having brought with him from Thebes the splendid robe and necklace given by the gods to Harmonia on her marriage with Cadmus, offered it as a bribe to Eriphyle, on condition that she would influence the determination of Amphiaraus. The sordid wife, seduced by so matchless a present, betrayed the lurking-place of her husband, and involved him in the fatal expedition. Amphiaraus, reluctantly dragged forth, and foreknowing the disastrous issue of the expedition both to himself and to his associates, addressed his last injunctions, at the moment of mounting his chariot, to his sons Alkmaeon and Amphilochus, commanding Alkmaeon to avenge his approaching death by killing the venal Eriphyle, and by undertaking a second expedition against Thebes.

The Attic dramatists describe this expedition as having been conducted by seven chiefs, one to each of the seven celebrated gates of Thebes. But the Cyclic Thebais gave to it a much more comprehensive character, mentioning auxiliaries from Arcadia, Messene, and various parts of Peloponnesus; and the application of Tydeus and Polynikes at Mycenae in the course of their circuit made to collect allies, is mentioned in the Iliad. They were well received at Mycenae; but the warning signals given by the gods were so terrible that no Mycenaean could venture to accompany them. The seven principal chiefs however were Adrastus, Amphiaraus, Kapaneus, Hippomedon, Parthenopaeus, Tydeus and Polynikes.

When the army had advanced as far as the river Asifipus, a halt was made for sacrifice and banquet; while Tydeus was sent to Thebes as envoy to demand the restoration of Polynikes to his rights. His demand was refused; but finding the chief Cadmeians assembled at the banquet in the house of Eteoklus, he challenged them all to contend with him in boxing or wrestling. So efficacious was the aid of the goddess Athene that he overcame them all; and the Cadmeians were so indignant at their defeat, that they placed an ambuscade of fifty men to intercept him in his way back to the army. All of them perished by the band of this warrior, small in stature and of few words, but desperate and irresistible in the fight. One alone was spared in consequence of special signals from the gods.

The Cadmeians, assisted by their allies the Phocaeans and the Phlegyae, marched out to resist the invaders, and fought a battle near the Ismenian hill, in which they were defeated and forced to retire within the walls. The prophet Teiresias acquainted them that if Menoekeus, son of Kreon, would offer himself as a victim to Ares, victory would be assured to Thebes. The generous youth, as soon as he learnt that his life was to be the price of safety to his country, went and slew himself before the gates. The heroes along with Adrastus now commenced a vigorous attack upon the town, each of the seven selecting one of the gates to assault. The contest was long and strenuously maintained but the devotion of Menoekeus had procured for the Thebans the protection of the gods. Parthenopaeus was killed with a stone by Periklymenus; and when the furious Kapaneus, having planted a scaling-ladder, had mounted the walls, he was smitten by a thunderbolt from Zeus and cast down dead upon the earth. This event struck terror into the Argeians, and Adrastus called back his troops from the attack. The Thebans now sallied forth to pursue them, when Eteokles, arresting the battle, proposed to decide the controversy by single combat with his brother. The challenge, eagerly accepted by Polynikes, was agreed to by Adrastus: a single combat ensued between the two brothers, in which both were exasperated to fury and both ultimately slain by each other's hand. This equal termination left the result of the general contest still undetermined, and the bulk of the two armies renewed the fight. In the sanguinary struggle which ensued the sons of Astakus on the Theban side displayed the most conspicuous and successful valor. One of them, Melanippus, mortally wounded Tydeus — while two others, Leades and Amphidikus, killed Eteoklus and Hippomedon. Amphiaraus avenged Tydeus by killing Melanippus; but unable to arrest the rout of the army, he fled with the rest, closely pursued by Periklymenus. The latter was about to pierce him with his spear, when the beneficence of Zeus rescued him from this disgrace—miraculously opening the earth under him, so that Amphiaraus with his chariot and horses was received unscathed into her bosom. The exact spot where this memorable incident happened was indicated by a sepulchral building, and shown by the Thebans down to the days of Pausanias—its sanctity being attested by the fact, that no animal would consent to touch the herbage which grew within the sacred inclosure. Amphiaraus, rendered immortal by Zeus, was worshipped as a god at Argos, at Thebes and at Orepus —and for many centuries gave answers at his oracle to the questions of the pious applicant.

Adrastus, thus deprived of the prophet and warrior whom he regarded as “the eye of his army”, and having seen the other chiefs killed in the disastrous fight, was forced to take flight singly, and was preserved by the matchless swiftness of his horse Areion, the offspring of Poseidon. He reached Argos on his return, bringing with him nothing except “his garments of woe and his black-manned steed”.


Kreon, father of the heroic youth Menoekeus, succeeding to the administration of Thebes after the death of the two hostile brothers and the repulse of Adrastus, caused Eteokles to be buried with distinguished honor, but cast out ignominiously the body of Polynikes as a traitor to his country, forbidding everyone on pain of death to consign it to the tomb. He likewise refused permission to Adrastus to inter the bodies of his fallen comrades. This proceeding, so offensive to Grecian feeling, gave rise to two further tales; one of them at least of the highest pathos and interest. Antigone, the sister of Polynikes, heard with indignation the revolting edict consigning her brother’s body to the dogs and vultures, and depriving it of those rites which were considered essential to the repose of the dead. Unmoved by the dissuading counsel of an affectionate but timid sister, and unable to procure assistance, she determined to brave the hazard and to bury the body with her own hands. She was detected in the act; and Kreon, though forewarned by Teiresias of the consequences, gave orders that she should be buried alive, as having deliberately set at naught the solemn edict of the city. His son Haemon, to whom she was engaged to be married, in vain interceded for her life. In an agony of despair he slew himself in the sepulcher to which the living Antigone had been consigned; and his mother Eurydike, the wife of Kreon, inconsolable for his death, perished by her own hand. And thus the new light which seemed to be springing up over the last remaining scion of the devoted family of Oedipus, is extinguished amidst gloom and horrors—which overshadowed also the house and dynasty of Kreon.

The other tale stands more apart from the original legend, and seems to have had its origin in the patriotic pride of the Athenians. Adrastus, unable to obtain permission from the Thebans to inter the fallen chieftains, presented himself in suppliant guise, accompanied by their disconsolate mothers, to Theseus at Eleusis. He implored the Athenian warrior to extort from the perverse Thebans that last melancholy privilege which no decent or pious Greeks ever thought of withholding, and thus to stand forth as the champion of Grecian public morality in one of its most essential points, not less than of the rights of the subterranean gods. The Thebans obstinately persisting in their refusal, Theseus undertook an expedition against their city, vanquished them in the field, and compelled them by force of arms to permit the sepulture of their fallen enemies. This chivalrous interposition, celebrated in one of the preserved dramas of Euripides, formed a subject of glorious recollection to the Athenians throughout the historical age: their orators dwelt upon it in terms of animated panegyric; and it seems to have been accepted as a real fact of the past time, with no less implicit conviction than the battle of Marathon. But the Thebans, though equally persuaded of the truth of the main story, dissented from the Athenian version of it, maintaining that they had given up the bodies for sepulture voluntarily and of their own accord. The tomb of the chieftains was shown near Eleusis even ill the days of Pausanias.


The defeat of the seven chiefs before Thebes was amply avenged by their sons, again under the guidance of Adrastus: Egialeus son of Adrastus, Thersander son of Polynikes, Alkmaeon and Amphilochus, sons of Amphiaraus, Diomedes son of Tydeus, Sthenelus son of Kapaneus, Promachus son of Parthenopaeus, and Euryalus son of Mekistheus, joined in this expedition. Though all these youthful warriors, called the Epigoni, took part in the expedition, the grand and prominent place appears to have been occupied by Alkmaeon, son of Amphiaraus. Assistance was given to them from Corinth and Megara, as well as from Messena and Arcadia; while Zeus manifested his favorable dispositions by signals not to be mistaken. At the river Glisas the Epigoni were met by the Theban in arms, and a battle took place in which the latter were completely defeated. Laodamas, son of Eteokles, killed Egialeus, son of Adrastus; but he and his army were routed and driven within the walls by the valor and energy of Alkmaeon. The defeated Cadmeians consulted the prophet Teiresias, who informed them that the gods had declared for their enemies, and that there was no longer any hope of successful resistance. By his advice they sent a herald to the assailants offering to surrender the town, while they themselves convoyed away their wives and children, and fled under the command of Laodamas to the Illyrians, upon which the Epigoni entered Thebes, and established Thersander, son of Polynikes, on the throne.

Adrastus, who in the former expedition had been the single survivor amongst so many fallen companions, now found himself the only exception to the general triumph and joy of the conquerors: he had lost his son Egialeus, and the violent sorrow arising from the event prematurely cut short his life. His soft voice and persuasive eloquence were proverbial in the ancient epic. He was worshipped as a hero both at Argos and at Sicyon, but with especial solemnity in the last-mentioned place, where his Heroum stood in the public agora, and where his exploits as well as his sufferings were celebrated periodically in lyric tragedies. Melanippus, son of Astakus, the brave defender of Thebes, who had slain both Tydeus and Mekistheus, was worshipped with no less solemnity by the Thebans. The enmity of these two heroes rendered it impossible for both of them to be worshipped close upon the same spot. Accordingly it came to pass during the historical period, about the time of the Solonian legislation at Athens, that Kleisthenes, despot of Sicyon, wishing to banish the hero Adrastus and abolish the religious solemnities celebrated in honor of the latter by the Sicyonians, first applied to the Delphian oracle for permission to carry this banishment into effect directly and forcibly. That permission being refused, ho next sent to Thebes an intimation that he was anxious to introduce their hero Melanippus into Sicyon. The Thebans willingly consented, and he assigned to the new hero a consecrated spot in the strongest and most commanding portion of the Sicyonian prytaneium. He did this (says the historian) “knowing that Adrastus would forthwith go away of his own accord; since Melanippus was of all persons the most odious to him, as having slain both his son-in-law and his brother”. Kleisthenes moreover diverted the festivals and sacrifices which had been offered to Adrastus, to the newly established hero Melanippus; and the lyric tragedies from the worship of Adrastus to that of Dionysus. But his dynasty did not long continue after his decease, and the Sicyonians then reestablished their ancient solemnities.

Near the Proetid gate of Thebes were seen the tombs of two combatants who had hated each other during life even more than Adrastus and Melanippus the two brothers Eteokles and Polynikes. Even as heroes and objects of worship, they still continued to manifest their inextinguishable hostility: those who offered sacrifices to them observed that the flame and the smoke from the two adjoining altars abhorred all communion, and flew off in directions exactly opposite. The Theban exegetes assured Pausanias of this fact. And though he did not himself witness it, yet having seen with his own eyes a miracle not very dissimilar at Pionis in Mysia, he had no difficulty in crediting their assertion.


Amphiaraus when forced into the first attack of Thebes—against his own foreknowledge and against the warnings of the gods had enjoined his sons Alkmaeon and Amphilochus not only to avenge his death upon the Thebans, but also to punish the treachery of their mother, “Eriphyle, the destroyer of her husband”. In obedience to this command, and having obtained the sanction of the Delphian oracle, Alkmaeon slew his mother; but the awful Erinnys, the avenger of matricide, inflicted on him a long and terrible punishment, depriving him of his reason, and chasing him about from place to place without the possibility of repose or peace of mind. He craved protection and cure from the god at Delphi, who required him to dedicate at the temple, as an offering, the precious necklace of Cadmus, that irresistible bribe which had originally corrupted Eriphyle. He further intimated to the unhappy sufferer, that though the whole earth was tainted with his crime, and had become uninhabitable for him, yet there was a spot of ground which was not under the eye of the sun at the time when the matricide was committed, and where therefore Alkmaeon yet might find a tranquil shelter. The promise was realized at the mouth of the river Achelous, whose turbid stream was perpetually depositing new earth and forming additional islands. Upon one of these, near Eniadae, Alkmaeon settled, permanently and in peace: he became the primitive hero of Acarnania, to which his son Acarnan gave name. The necklace was found among the treasures of Delphi, together with that which had been given by Aphrodite to Helen, by the Phokian plunderers who stripped the temple in the time of Philip of Macedon. The Phokian women quarreled about these valuable ornaments: and we are told that the necklace of Eriphyle was allotted to a woman of gloomy and malignant disposition, who ended by putting her husband to death; that of Helen to a beautiful but volatile wife, who abandoned her husband from preference for a young Epirot.

There were several other legends respecting the distracted Alkmaeon, either appropriated or invented by the Attic tragedians. He went to Phegeus, king of Psophis in Arcadia, whose daughter Arsinoe he married, giving as a nuptial present the necklace of Eriphyle. Being however unable to remain there, in consequence of the unremitting persecutions of the maternal Erinnys, he sought shelter at the residence of king Acheous, whose daughter Kallirhoe he made his wife, and on whose soil he obtained repose. But Kallirhoe would not be satisfied without the possession of the necklace of Eriphyle, and Alkmaeon went back to Psophis to fetch it, where Phegeus and his sons slew him. He had left twin sons, infants, with Kallirhoe, who prayed fervently to Zeus that they might be preternaturally invested with immediate manhood, in order to revenge the murder of their father. Her prayer was granted, and her sons Amphoterus and Acarnan, having instantaneously sprung up to manhood, proceeded into Arcadia, slew the murderers of their father, and brought away the necklace of Eriphyle, which they carried to Delphi

Euripides deviated still more widely from the ancient epic, by making Alkmaeon the husband of Manto, daughter of Teiresias, and the father of Amphilochus. According to the Cyclic Thebais, Manto was consigned by the victorious Epigoni as a special offering to the Delphian god; and Amphilochus was son of Amphiaraus, not son of Alkmaeon. He was the eponymous hero of the town called the Amphilochian Argos, in Acarnania, on the shore of the Gulf of Ambrakia. Thucydides tells us that he went thither on his return from the Trojan war, being dissatisfied with the state of affairs which he found at the Peloponnesian Argos. The Acarnanians were remarkable for the numerous prophets which they supplied to the rest of Greece: their heroes were naturally drawn from the great prophetic race of the Melampodids.

Thus ends the legend of the two sieges of Thebes; the greatest event, except the siege of Troy, in the ancient epic; the greatest enterprise of war, between Greeks and Greeks, during the time of those who are called the Heroes.