Seven Against Thebes
Translated by Robert Emmet Meagher
Seven Against Thebes captured first prize for its playwright in its premier performance at the 467 BC Athenian drama festival. A veteran soldier who lost a brother in combat, Aeschylus vividly evokes the tangible terror, the scent of slaughter and the complete rout of the body and spirit that are the awful spoils of war. From the heart of the battle to the heart of the city, the cost of bloodshed is devastating and inescapable.
Few plays have captured the delirium of war as precisely and poignantly as does Seven Against Thebes. Meagher's translation was commissioned by acclaimed actress Irene Papas and features notes on the text. This edition is an affordable presentation for the general reader, the college student, the director, and performer alike.
Meagher's very stageable translations of ancient Greek drama have won critical acclaim from actors, directors, and scholars.
Robert Emmet Meagher has won critical acclaim from actors, directors, and scholars who have commissioned, read and performed his translations of ancient Greek plays in the United States, Great Britain, and Ireland. His unmatched skill in eliciting the power and passion of Greek drama is a synthesis of innate dramatic sensibilities, academic brilliance, and an interdisciplinary approach. Since completing his doctoral studies at the University of Chicago, Meagher has taught literature, drama, epic, comparative religion, theology, and philosophy as a visiting professor, a guest lecturer, and a full-time professor. Actress Irene Papas, who has commissioned three translations from him, praises Meagher's "true sense of dramatic construction...his dialogue is always sharp, frequently daring, and invariably extremely actable." The late Michael Joyce, of Dublin's Samuel Beckett Center and the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain, called him "the finest living translator of ancient Greek Drama." Other books include: Euripides Helen, Mortal Vision: The Wisdom of Euripides, Euripides Iphigenia at Aulis & Iphigenia in Tauris, Helen: A Study in Myth and Misogyny, Euripides Bakkhai, Euripides Hekabe, and Aeschylus Seven Against Thebes.
Comments and Reviews
After the banishment of Oedipus, his twin sons Eteocles and Polyneices were elected co-kings of Thebes. They agreed to reign for alternate years, but Eteocles would not relinquish the throne at the end of the first year, accusing his brother of having an evil disposition and banishing him from the city. Eventually Polyneices would return with six other champions to lay siege to the city. "The Seven Against Thebes" expedition ends with both Eteocles and Polyneices dead, killed by each other before the walls of Thebes. After that, the defenders crushed the besiegers and the seven proud generals were all killed, except for Adrastus, who managed to escape thanks to his divine horse, Arion. However, the defenders of Cadmeia, the acropolis of Thebes, had so many losses that from then on any victory which looked more like a defeat was called a Cadmeian victory.
The Aeschylus tragedy, Seven Against Thebes, is the only surviving play of a connected trilogy dealing with the sins of Laius (father of Oedipus) and the curse subsequently brought down upon his descendants. Aeschylus focuses on a prophecy that had been made regarding the sons of Oedipus: "They shall divide their inheritance with the sword in such a manner as to obtain equal shares." The play begins with Eteocles in command of the city and Polyneices arriving with his army of Argive soldiers. It begins with Eteocles making a call to arms and is followed by a description of the oath taken by the seven generals of the attacking armies. When the brothers kill each other during the battle by the walls of Thebes, it becomes clear their "equal shares" refers to their common graves. The tragedy ends with a brief appearance by Antigone, who declares her intention to bury her brother Polyneices in defiance of the command of Creon, who now becomes king of Thebes.
This tragedy comes after the events related by Sophocles in "Oedipus at Colonus," but obviously before what happens in his "Antigone." What is interesting here is the psychological portrait that Aeschylus presents of the two brothers, even though only one of them appears in the play (the idea of having two different settings was apparently too much of a radical idea for drama at that time). Such insights are nominally something we would expect from Sophocles, but this is Aeschylus who is developing the split between the brothers in terms of oppositional pairs of characteristics. Clearly the idea is that one cannot exist (live) without the other, which makes their dying together justified by logic as well as the curse on the House of Oedipus.
It is difficult to judge this play and appreciate it as the climax to this particular trilogy without knowing much more about the preceding plays dealing with the two earlier generations of the house of Cadmus. What is clear is that Eteocles does not deserve much sympathy from the audience given that he has a greater culpability in his demise than either his father or his sister, at least in terms of what we know from the plays of Sophocles, which is the flaw in this assessment.
— Lawrance M. Bernabo