Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Oedipus (EHD-ih-puhs), a king of Thebes. By the time the Thebaid opens, he has killed his father and married his mother, has blinded himself, and has been deposed. He does not appear often in the work, but he is important as a motivating force, for it is his curses on his ungrateful sons that set the action of the story in motion. Traditionally, Oedipus has been viewed as a kind of demigod, made more than human by the depths of his fall from glory and by his terrible suffering. The Thebaid follows the tradition, surrounding Oedipus with an aura of the more-than-human. Oedipus shows little personality beyond an all-consuming rage.


Jocasta (joh-KAS-tuh), the mother and wife of Oedipus. She plays a small role, but her legendary status makes her larger than life. In book VII, she attempts to arrange a meeting and reconciliation between her two sons, but she fails. Later, she attempts to stab herself over their bodies. If Oedipus is presented almost entirely in terms of rage, Jocasta is the image of grief.


Eteocles (eh-TEE-oh-kleez), one of the two sons of Oedipus. His unwillingness to surrender the throne at the end of his one-year term is the cause of the invasion led by his brother, Polynices. He is presented as the Greek stereotype of the tyrant—greedy, suspicious, cruel, arrogant, and bad-tempered. He is more a type than a person.


Polynices (pol-ih-NI-seez), the exiled son of Oedipus. He leads the Argive invasion of Thebes. Although presented as proud, resentful, and envious, he seems a little less self-assured than his brother. It is...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Butler, H. E. Post-Augustan Poetry from Seneca to Juvenal. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1909. This standard work establishes the context and explains the intentions and aesthetic values of a literary era very alien to modern tastes and expectations.

Mendell, C. W. Latin Poetry: The Age of Rhetoric and Satire. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1967. Covers much of the same ground as Butler’s, but may seem less remote in style and approach than the older work.

Statius. Thebaid. Translated by A. D. Melville. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. This very accurate translation is written in a graceful and formal blank verse that preserves the poetic quality of the original. An introduction explains and justifies the Thebaid with enthusiasm.

Tillyard, E. M. W. The English Epic and Its Background. New York: Oxford University Press, 1954. Deals with a number of epics from the ancient world and the Renaissance. Places the Thebaid in the large context of a tradition extending well over two thousand years.

Vessey, David. Statius and the “Thebaid.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1973. This is the largest and most comprehensive study of the Thebaid in recent times by an enthusiast of the poem.