The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

After the fall of Oedipus, Eteocles and Polynices, the two sons of Oedipus and Jocasta, are to alternate as rulers. The plan is doomed to failure because Oedipus calls down the wrath of the Furies upon his unnatural sons. The first year of the kingship falling to Eteocles, Polynices goes into temporary exile in Argos. There he quarrels with Tydeus, a great warrior and hero, but King Adrastus, obeying the prompting of an oracle, settles the dispute by betrothing one of his daughters to each of the young men.

At the end of a year, however, Eteocles refuses to step aside in favor of Polynices, according to the agreement between them. Argia, the wife of Polynices, then persuades her father to aid the prince in asserting his right to the Theban throne. Tydeus is first dispatched as an envoy to the city. Jealous of the fame of the young warrior, Eteocles sets an ambush for Tydeus, who kills all of his attackers except one. The survivor, Maeon, returns to tell Eteocles what happened and then kills himself.

The march against Thebes begins. At Nemea the army is halted by a great drought, but the Argives are saved from their distress when Hypsipyle, the one-time queen of Lemnos before the great massacre there and reduced to a slave entrusted with the care of King Lycurgus’s small son, guides them to a stream that still flows. When a snake bites her infant charge, the Argives protect her from the king’s anger and, in observance of the boy’s...

(The entire section is 448 words.)