Seven Against Thebes was the third play in a 467 b.c.e. trilogy that also included the tragedies Laius and Oedipus, both of which are now lost. At its first performance, Seven Against Thebes would have provided a climax, summarizing themes that the poet had been developing through two previous tragedies. In this way, Seven Against Thebes would have been similar to the Eumenides (458 b.c.e.; English translation, 1777) in presenting the final results of a curse that had long afflicted a particular family.
The political situation of Athens in Aeschylus’s own day had an important effect upon Seven Against Thebes. First, though the tragedy is set in Thebes and deals exclusively with Theban characters, neither the word “Thebes” nor “Thebans” appears anywhere in the tragedy. Aeschylus is careful always to replace these terms with the Homeric expressions “city of Cadmus” and “Cadmeans,” recalling the name of the mythical founder of Thebes. Aeschylus did that because Thebes had gone over to the enemy in the Persian Wars. Direct reference to the city was thus likely to offend his audience. The recent end of the Persian Wars also helps to explain why the chorus refers to the invading army as “foreign-tongued” (line 170, one of Aeschylus’s characteristic compound adjectives), even though, according to legend, this army was...
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