Lecture 9 (Content after second term test)
Oedipous and the Myths of Thebes
• Thebes, in Boeotia, north west of Attica
• Two foundation stories for Thebes:
1. Cadmus and the dragon
2. Amphion and Zethus
- a city associated with oracles and riddles. Riddles in particular mean that there is
a meaning that exists that just needs to be deciphered.
- all the myths related to Thebes have violent family problems and pollution
- Thebes has been traditionally associated with the invention of writing.
- Very close to Athens and is a rival to Athens as well. It is capital of Boeotia
(associated with a cow) as Athens is capital of Attica.
- Thebes is the city under siege, one that must be protected and defended.
1 Foundation Story -Cadmus and the Dragon
• Phoenician king Agenor asks his sons (Cilix, Phoenix, Cadmus) to go and
search for their lost daughter Europa (the princess abducted by Zeus in the
shape of a bull and taken to Crete.) Europa disappeared over the sea on the
back of a bull.
• Agenor asks his sons to find Europa, none of them can find them because
none can trick Zeus. All 3 sons are associated with regions that surround the
Mediterranean sea. Their father told them not to return without her. When
Cilic and Phoenix gave up, they settled in permanent colonies (named after
• Cadmus at Delphi – Pythia at Deplphi tells him that he will never find Europa
but he should follow a cow with special markings and where the cow stops,
that will be his new city.
• The cow gets tired and lies on the ground. Cadmus and his companions
choose that space to build a city. Founds Thebes on a hill in southern Boeotia
• The first step to building a prosperous city is to make a sacrifice. The
comrades go to a spring nearby to get water. The spring is protected by a
dragon. *(THEME- dragon that protects ). Killing the dragon is associated
with building a foundation in Greek myth. Cadmus realizes his comrades
haven’t returned and he goes and slays the man-killing dragon. Athena
instructs that he knocks out the dragon’s teeth, plows the ground and sow
half the teeth. The other half she would later give to Aeetes in the story of
Jason. The teeth rise up as warriors. Cadmus threw stones among them,
Thinking they were being attacked, they fight against each other until only 5 remain. They are the Sparti(not related to spartans) “sown men” - in greek
means armed men, they are the ancestors of Thebes
• *** pg 477-479 passage by Ovid- Metamorphoses
• *** Picture on page 476 of Cadmus and serpent
• Cadmus and the Dragon, red-figure crater, 4 c. BC
Cadmus killing the dragon with a stone.
He is carrying a pitcher of water.
Athena is next to him, as always protecting heroes
The plate she is holding has teeth in it.
• Cadmus slays a man-killing serpent at a spring sacred to Ares and is punished
by Ares to serve for him for eight years
• Once purified, after he paid his penance, Cadmus marries Harmonia,
daughter of Ares with Aphrodite. The wedding is a very important event (just
like that of Thetis and Peleus), symbolizing the connection between
Phoenicians and Greeks. She received wedding gifts from Aphrodite
(necklace made by Hephaestus, a peploi- robe that gave its owner royal
dignity). These gifts although wonderful, will bring unhappiness to the
following generations, to all children who wear them. Their daughters: Ino,
Semele, Agave, Autonoe (mother of Acteon who looked at Artemis bathing
and was killed) and son Polydorus . (ex Ino killed her own children then
jumped off a cliff, Semele was burned to a crisp by a thunderbolt, Agave
ripped her son Pentheus to bits.)
• It seems that Cadmus was comdemned through his life for the murder of the
dragon. He would have to pay for his sin.
• At death Cadmus and Harmonia leave Thebes (to escape his sin or killing the
dragon) and he goes to Illyria. He is still punished by the gods. He said
something along the lines of “If serpants are so important, than I wish I would be a serpant” and him and Hermonia, who also wished so, turn into
serpents, then are sent by Zeus to the Elysian fields
• It is thought that Cadmus brought the alphabet to Greece. Greek word for
letters are Cadmiun letters. The greeks were very enthusiatic and shocked by
the civiliazational aspects of the letters.
• Also theory that Egyptians invented alphbet and writing and brought it over
• Greeks used venetian alphabet at the beginning, but used letter to rep a
syllabus. Greeks used this writing in the beginning. Our alphabet today comes
from Venetian alphabet.
2 foundation of Thebes- Amphion and Zethus
• After Cadmus, his grandson Pentheus (from the story of Dionysus)became
king in Thebes
• After Pentheus dies, a separate tradition reports that another son of Cadmus,
Polydorus, who marries Nycteis, daughter of Nycteus.
• Antiope, the other daughter of Nycteus, is impregnated by Zeus with the
twins Amphion and Zethus. Nycteus is upset because of the dishonor of his
daughter and commits suicide after asking his brother Lycus to avenge the
family honour Antope was driven out by Nycteus and went to Thebes.. The
born twins are found by shepherds and are raised in the wilderness.
• Antiope’s uncle and aunt, Lycus and Dirce, in Thebes persecute Antiope- she
was locked and persecuted. Antiope later meets her twins by chance in a hut
in the woods after she escapes from her tormenters.
• The twins avenge their mother and kill Dirce and Lycus.
• The twins are associated to a second foundation of Thebes; building the walls
of the city.
• Zethus is a cattle breeder. He is the one who starts carrying the large stones
for building the wall and is prepared to do all the necessary work. He is
practical, a man of action.
• Amphion is a lyre-player and by singing about the foundation/walls of
Thebes. The stones magically lifted themselves and created the seven walls of
Thebes with their seven gates. This is showing the power of art. Here is the
pattern associated with Thebes, there must be a message decoded. The first
thing one does when founding a city is building protective walls.
• Zethus marries Thebe
• Amphion marries Niobe(commits hubris agains Leto and killed by Letos
children), daughter of Tantalus. Parallel story of twins who get revenge
against those who persecuted their mother.
• *** picture on 482 of Death of Dirce and Lycus.
Oedipus - Most important story of Thebes, he is a clever hero.
• Polydorus and Nycteis had another son, Labdacus, who had a son Laius
• Laius is confused with the political problems in Thebes and asks for asylum
in Elis, Peloponnesus, and falls in love with and rapes Chrysippus, son of
Pelops. Pelops curses Laius and exiles him away for this violation of xenia.
• Laius returns to Thebes, marries Iocasta (Homer calls her Epicasta),
descendent of the Sparti and became king An Oracle said that he would die
by his own son so he avoided having intercourse with anyone. However,
when he was drunk, he has intercourse with Iocasta and she becomes
• Iocasta gives birth to a son who is exposed to die on the mountain
Cithaereon. If the father didn’t recognize the baby as his own, he would not
lift the baby from the ground. Killing the baby was unacceptable, but not
lifting it from the ground and leaving it on the ground for the forces of nature
was more acceptable.
• The child left in Mount Cithaereon (most wild place around Thebes) near
Thebes is found by a shepherd who gives him to Polybus and his childless
wife Merope, king and queen of Corinth. They raise him as their own child.
• They call the baby Oedipus (swollen foot). He is always connected with foot.
• As a young adult, he feels that something is wrong about his birth and so he
goes to Delphi to find out the truth about his birth. Pythia tells him that he
will kill his father and marry his mother.
• Oedipus avoids going back to Corinth (thinking that his adoptive parents are
the ones Pythia meant), goes to Thebes instead. Laius is on his chariot and
they accidently hit Oedipus on his foot. Oedipus kills this unknown charioteer
(Laius) and everyone in the chariot except for one who escapes.
• The Sphinx kills travellers and passersby. The Sphinx asks people to answer a
• Oedipus arrives to Thebes, and solves the riddle of the Sphinx (“What goes on
four legs in the morning, two at midday, and three in the evening?”). Oedipus
is represented as a clever hero. He said that the answer is a human being.
• Another version of the riddle is who is the brother of one’s sons, or who is
the husband of one’s mother?
• Incestual relationships are overly complicated riddles. You should connect
incestual relationships with the story of Thebes, violence in relationships.
• Because he was able to answer the riddle and save the city, Oedipus marries
the queen, Jocasta (incest) and becomes king and they have four children:
Polynices, Eteocles, Antigone, Ismene (last two are daughters, the first two
• Jocasta is called Epicaste in Homer’s Odyssey
Oedipus and the Sphinx, interior of an Attic drinking cup, 490 BC Oedipus is answering the riddle of the sphinx
The sphinx is a women with the lower half of her body as a lion and with
Sophocles’ Oedipus the King (430 BC)
- *** important passage from Homer’s Odyssey on page 485
- 486-488 – Sophocles Oedipus the King passage.
• Plot main events:
• After the people escaped the Sphinx, the people suffer from a plague in
• Oracle at Delphi says that there is blood pollution (miasma- remember, like
women are the only ones that can touch children because of miasma.) in the
city; Laius’ murderer hasn’t been found because everyone was focusing on
the plague. Oedipus starts searching for the murderer
• The messenger (Tiresias) tells Oedipus that his adoptive father, Polypeus
died. Oedipus was relieved because he thought he couldn’t fulfill the
prophecy. However, the messenger tells Oedipus that he was the one that
gave him as a baby to Polypeus and that he was only an adoptive father.
• Iocasta hangs herself as a refusal to her new husband’s son (hanging-
associated with virgin women, not Jocasta. Adult women who kill themselves
use either swords to stab themselves or poison). She hangs herself as a sign
of sexual rejection of Oedipus..
• A rule for tragedy- you can only have 3 characters on stage- max. The
messenger from the chariot is Tiresias.
• The shepherd, also the only survivor of the chariot driven by Laios, comes
and confirms the truth, Oedipus blinds and exiles himself
- Oedipus is usually called a hero, although he does not have divine parents. He
does however have an unusual birth, a journey to save the world from monsters, encounters with the deadly dangers of a woman, all familiar elements. This story
is an example of the ironic distinction between appearance and reality.
Aeschylus, The Seven against Thebes (467 BC)
• Eteocles “true glory” and Polynices”filled with contention” share the power
• Eteocles later decides he doesn’t want to share and he drove his brother
Polynices out of the city. He finds refuge in Argos, in the court of Adrastus.
Adrastus because of an oracle chooses them to be his sons in law. The oracle
that Adrastus had heard said that he would yoke his daughters to a boar and
a lion. When he saw Polynices and Tydeus (king of Calydon) fighting, on
their shields was a lion and a boar.As a father in law he realizes he has to
fight the two cities that they come from, Thebes and Calydon.
• Then they proceed to Thebes to overthrow Eteocles. and Calydon to restore
power to Polynices and Tydeus. The seven who lead were: from Argos
Adrastus, Amphiaraus (seer married to Adrastus’ sister Eriphyle- has the
necklace of Harmonia), Capaneus, Hippomedon; from Thebes Polynices; from
Calydon Tydeus; from Arcadia Parthenopeus(related to word of Maidens) . ---
(POlynices offered Eriphyle the necklace of Harmonia if she would dcide any
disputes in the coming war in Adrastus’ (and his own) favor) *** picture on
• This shows the theme of companionship among males for a specific purpose.
• Amphiarus is a seer and he predicts that Adrastus is the only one that will
survive. He didn’t want to go but Adrastus convinced him by marrying him to
Adrastus’ sister Eriphyle who had the necklace from Harmonia.
Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus, 406 BC The army of seven marches to Thebes
• Oedipus is a cast out at this point. There was an oracle that whichever city
had the bones of Oedipus would never be defeated. The army of seven
marches to Thebes
• Oedipus and his daughter Antigone seek refuge in the Grove of the Furies at
Colonus, near Athens