(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Before the royal palace of Thebes, Jocasta, the mother of King Eteocles, prays to the sun god for aid in reconciling her two sons and avoiding fratricidal war over the kingdom of Thebes. In her supplication she recalls that her family has already suffered unbearable horrors; her husband, Oedipus, plucked out his eyes upon discovering that in marrying her he had married his own mother and had conceived two sons and two daughters by her. At first the sons had confined their father in the palace in order to hide the family shame and had decided to rule the kingdom between them in alternate years. However, Eteocles has refused to yield the throne to Polynices, who, after marrying the daughter of Adrastus, king of Argos, has raised a host from seven city-states and is already at the gates of Thebes to win his rightful place by force of arms.

Antigone, viewing the besieging armies from the palace tower, recognizes the justice of Polynices’ claim but prays that Thebes will never fall. In desperate fear, Jocasta cuts off her hair and dresses in mourning. Then, in the hope that war can be averted, she arranges a meeting under a truce between her two sons. Eteocles is willing to receive Polynices back in Thebes, but not as an equal to share the throne; Polynices, unable to endure exile and equally unable to accept such ignoble terms, remains bent on war.

Eteocles then sends for his uncle Creon to work out battle strategy. The two, agreeing that the situation is grave, finally decide not to attempt any counterattack with their vastly outnumbered troops; instead, they will post men at the seven gates of the city in a defensive action. Creon also sends his son Menoeceus to summon the blind prophet Tiresias for further advice. The prophet, after warning Creon that the means for...

(The entire section is 734 words.)