Translated by Ian
Seven Against Thebes
written by Aeschylus (525-456 BC), the oldest of the three famous
ancient Greek writers of tragedy whose work has survived, is the third
play in a trilogy which tells the story of the battle between the sons
of Oedipus for control of Thebes (the other two plays are lost). The
first production (in 467 BC) won first prize in the annual competition
for tragic drama.
In the play, Eteocles, king of Thebes, is defending the city against the
forces fighting on behalf of his brother Polyneices, and he is called
upon to choose seven of his best warriors to defend the city gates. Much
of the play celebrates the traditional warrior ethic from the Trojan War
and earlier, but it also contrasts this with a more civic-minded concern
for the safety of the entire polis, rather than for the glory that comes
with heroic individuality in the
face of danger.
Central to the play is the character of Eteocles, who, as king of
Thebes, is responsible for the well being of the city but who, as a son
of Oedipus, is obsessed by the nature of the curse upon his family and
the need to assert his own heroic qualities, even though that will bring
about his death and continue the series of disasters which have
afflicted Thebes since the days of Laius and Jocasta, the parents of
The play is remarkable for the formal patterning of the speeches, the
moving quality of its lyrics, and the sense it conveys of human life
lived out under the watchful and ominous scrutiny of the divine forces
which rule the world.
Ian Johnston's new translation is accurate, fluent, and vivid. It
conveys beautifully the tragic eloquence of this ancient play and is
especially recommended for public reading or performance.