Theseus (THEE-see-uhs), the young king of Athens, whose aid Adrastus, the king of Argos, seeks in recovering the bodies of the Argive heroes killed in the unsuccessful expedition of the Seven against Thebes. At first he refuses Adrastus’ request. He admits that the Thebans should not have withheld the bodies, but he considers the expedition rash and ill-omened, and he is reluctant to identify himself with the bad cause of the Argives. The supplications of the mothers of the fallen heroes, an appeal to pity based on pure sorrow, and of Theseus’ mother Aethra, an appeal to pride based on the impiety of the Thebans and the need to uphold the law of Greece, are more successful. Theseus agrees to rescue the dead, by force if necessary. When a herald arrives from the Thebans and asks to speak with the “master” of the city, his innocent remark occasions a largely irrelevant debate between Theseus and the herald on the theme of democracy versus tyranny, in which Theseus is the champion of democracy as it is practiced in Athens. The herald finally delivers his message, demands that Adrastus be refused sanctuary in Athens, and announces that the bodies shall not be restored to their families, whereupon Theseus summons his warriors. He defeats the Thebans and returns the bodies; however, as an example of the virtue of moderation, he refuses to enter Thebes or sack the conquered city. He oversees the funeral rites of the heroes. Theseus is more successful as a mouthpiece for the glory of Athens than as a man. Although he shows a great love for his mother, he is proud and contentious.
Adrastus (uh-DRAS-tuhs), the king of Argos, the leader and only...
(The entire section is 724 words.)