Places: Seven Against Thebes

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First produced: Hepta epi Thēbas, 467 b.c.e. (English translation, 1777)

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Tragedy

Time of work: Antiquity

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Thebes

*Thebes Seven Against Thebes (theebz). Largest city in the ancient Greek region of Boeotia. In Greek mythology, Thebes is a central location in tales of Oedipus, Antigone, Pentheus, and Teiresias and is particularly important as a location of meetings connecting mortals and the gods. Thebes had unusual connections with the East, as its founder, Cadmus, was believed to have come from Phoenicia. In drama, Thebes is often marked by archetypal conflicts between gods and humans, young and older generations, brothers, and, most notably, between self and other, inside and outside.

Throughout Seven Against Thebes, Thebes is presented as a ship buffeted by a storm at sea, despite its actual physical distance from the sea. Eteocles strives to retain control of the ship of state but ultimately fails in the face of more powerful forces. As in most plays by Athenian poets, such as Aeschylus, the city of Thebes is on many levels a substitute for Athens, and the drama presents issues of philosophical and intellectual concern to citizens of the Athenian democracy.


*Agora. Greek term for a city’s central business and meeting area. The agora of Thebes is the place where King Eteocles plans the defense of his city and explains his actions to the citizens. In this play, the agora is the site of battle-planning, an unusual activity for a place normally associated with ordinary business matters.

*Seven Gates

*Seven Gates. Entrances to Thebes. In ancient culture, the number seven had ritual and religious significance and the seven gates of Thebes represent the portals to power. It is only when Eteocles and Polyneices clash at the seventh gate that the royal House of Laius finally falls. The gates are like holes in the ship of state, as more are opened, the doom of Eteocles and his city is assured.

BibliographyCameron, H. D. Studies on the “Seven Against Thebes” of Aeschylus. The Hague: Mouton, 1971. One of the few books to concentrate specifically on this early and often slighted work of Aeschylus. Not a good starting place.Herington, John. Aeschylus. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986. An excellent starting point. Stresses how the play depicts the conflict of two active principles by means of the struggle between Eteocles and Polynices. Notes that the play helped establish tragedy as a form.Podlecki, Anthony J. The Political Background of Aeschylean Tragedy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1966. Relates the action of the play, which concerns conflicts between two would-be leaders of a Greek city-state, to the political disputes occurring in the Athens of Aeschylus’ own time. Occasionally dated, crude analysis, but offers insights not readily available in other sources.Rosenmeyer, Thomas. The Art of Aeschylus. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982. Examines the play from a linguistic, stylistic, and aesthetic standpoint. Does not require any knowledge of ancient Greek to profit from its insight.Winnington-Ingram, R. P. Studies in Aeschylus. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Contains a compelling description of Eteocles as the “first man” of the European stage. Sheds light on Aeschylus’ transmutation of his mythological sources and examines the conflict between the playwright’s temperamental conservatism and the theme of conflict in the play. Occasionally abstruse and specialized.
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