Plot : The curse of Oedipus descends upon his two sons, Eteocles and Polyneices, as they battle over the throne of Thebes. King Eteocles is told that the seven gates of his city are to be attacked by the seven generals of the enemy army led by Polyneices. He sends his six best warriors to defend the other gates, leaving the seventh and last gate to himself to personally defend, as Fate would have, against his own brother.
My copy is the Penguin edition covering Aeschylus’ four surviving plays outside his Oresteian Trilogy, edited by Philip Vellacott (ISBN 9780140441123)
My thoughts: More assuredly than The Persians, this is believed to be the single surviving play of a trilogy by Aeschylus, this time dealing with the curse of Oedipus.
Suffice to say that the family has been cursed when the grandfather Laius disobeys Apollo. The son Oedipus kills his father, unknowingly marries his mother, and upon realising his deeds, blinds himself. His anger leads him to curse his sons, and hence the conflict which culminates in Seven against Thebes.
Again Aeschylus sets the action of his play inside the besieged city of a people whom the Athenians could be expected to have little sympathy for, as Thebes had fought on the side of the Persians against the rest of the Greeks in the living memory of the audience. (Indeed, Thebes is repeatedly called by its earlier name of Cadmus throughout the play, with the play’s current title added maybe 60 years after its was written)
The original play starts with the beseiged city facing direct attack and King Eteocles berating the Theban women for wailing and praying hysterically in the open square, and demoralising his troops. Upon the arrival of his spy, Eteocles hears which enemy is attacking each of the city gates, and assigns one of his generals to defend. Of course he leaves the last gate for himself, and upon hearing that his brother attacks there, rushes to meet him and settle the feud. Rather disappointingly, the drama of their confrontation, battle and mutual deaths all happens off stage, and we only have the Chorus’ reaction to the final realisation of the curse. And yet, perhaps the curse is not yet done, as the play ends with their sister Antigone preparing to defy the elders of the city and give her brother Polyneices a decent burial. (The final scene featuring Oedipus’ daughter Antigone is thought to have been tacked on some years later by another author, and the original ending is now lost.)
Eteocles : The gods, I am sure, have already ceased to think of us. The offering they desire from us is that we die. Why any longer shrink from our appointed end?
Eteocles : When the gods send destruction there is no escape.
You can tell he was a glass-half-empty kind of guy.
Diversions/digressions: Sophocles also covered the whole story in his trilogy of plays which do survive, so I will no doubt discover Antigone’s fate in a month or two.
Personal rating: Not as powerful or emotional as The Persians despite the dramatic potential of the doom hanging over the brothers and their city. I can only give it 3/10.
Next : The Suppliants, again by Aeschylus.