39 pages 1 hour read


The Seven against Thebes

Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 467

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Symbols & Motifs

Shields and Shield Devices

The devices that the seven heroes warring against Thebes wear on their shields are the most distinctive and important motif of the play. In the second episode—the so-called “Shield Scene”—the Messenger describes the shield devices of the attackers stationed at each of the seven gates of Thebes: Tydeus’s shield has a moon and stars; Capaneus’s has a naked man wielding a torch; Eteoclus’s has a man scaling a tower with a ladder; Hippomedon’s has Typhon; Parthenopaeus’s has the Sphinx; and Polynices’s has Justice leading Polynices himself back home.

Only Amphiaraus’s shield has no device, and in the world of the play this sets him apart, demonstrating that he “is best not at seeming to be such / but being so” (591-92). Indeed, while scholars have suggested various sophisticated interpretations for the devices on the shields, at least one thing is obvious: These shield devices are meant to highlight the arrogance of the attackers, who seek to call attention to their prowess by putting threatening and even blasphemous devices on their shields.

Their strategy does not work, for Eteocles is able to deflect the dangers represented by the ill-omened shields of the attackers by pairing each of the seven with a suitable champion from Thebes.