39 pages 1 hour read


The Seven against Thebes

Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 467

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The Horrors of War

Aeschylus’s Seven Against Thebes was the war play of ancient Greece: In the late fifth century BCE, the comic playwright Aristophanes described the play as “full of Ares” (Frogs, 1021), Ares being the Greek god of war. The tragedy explores both the heroics of war and the cruelty and destruction war brings in its wake.

The crisis in which Thebes finds itself is clear from the very opening lines of the play, where Eteocles addresses the citizens and tells each of them to do their part to protect the city. Eteocles himself never wavers in his courage and his commitment to fight for Thebes, and his heroic attitude is mirrored in the series of single combats between the champions of Thebes and the “Seven Against Thebes” stationed at the seven gates of the city. The famous “Shield Scene,” in which the Messenger reports the shield devices of the attackers and Eteocles responds by selecting the most suitable champion to fight against each of them, embodies the heroic ideal of the Homeric epics, where wars were decided by hand-picked elite warriors while the rest of the army remained largely irrelevant.

Balancing and undercutting these idealized heroic elements, however, is an emphasis on the horrors of war that runs throughout the play.