BMCR 2003.12.05

I Sette a Tebe. Dal mito alla letteratura. Atti del Seminario Internazionale, Torino 21-22 Febbraio 2001

, , I Sette a Tebe : dal mito alla letteratura : atti del seminario internazionale, Torino, 21-22 febbraio 2001. Pubblicazioni del Dipartimento di filologia, linguistica e tradizione classica / Università degli studi di Torino ; 18. Bologna: Pàtron, 2002. 307 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 8855526901 EUR 20.00.

This collection presents sixteen conference papers divided into four sections: “I Sette a Tebe dal mito al teatro,” “I Sette a Tebe sulla scena ateniese,” “I Sette a Tebe nella letteratura latina,” and “La trasformazione del mito dalla tarda antichità ai giorni nostri.” Almost every contributor draws on the most current research, there is little repetition between the papers, and some of the papers represent original and substantial contributions. There are very few misprints in the volume, and the bibliography is unified, useful, and up to date. The brief introduction (7-9) by two of the editors (Aloni and Cecchin) indicates the diversity of the opportunities for research occasioned by the myth of the Seven against Thebes. Including papers on the use of the Theban saga in the literature of late antiquity and the twentieth century as well as of the classical period, the collection as a whole reflects the breadth of the editors’ vision.1 However, an editorial statement clarifying the connections between the papers would have been a welcome addition, particularly with regard to the group of papers that consider various aspects of Aeschylus’ construction of space in Seven Against Thebes. In the absence of editorial guidance, it is also difficult to account for the presence of a few papers which seem to have only a nominal connection to the stated theme.

Gioachino Chiarini, “Il ritorno della Sfinge. Immagini e simboli nei Sette a Tebe di Eschilo” (11-25).

Chiarini investigates the symbolic associations between the seven planets and Aeschylus’ seven heroes and gates. He proposes an orientation for the gates based on a clockwise progression through the planetary sequence (in contradistinction to the anticlockwise progression in Nonnos’ Dionysiaca) and reviews uses of planetary symbolism in classical and Near Eastern literature.

Ettore Cingano, “I nomi dei Sette a Tebe e degli Epigoni nella tradizione epica, tragica, e iconografica” (27-62).

Cingano examines the variable lists of heroes thought to have taken part in the two expeditions against Thebes. Archaic epic consistently associates a canonical group (Adrastus, Polynices, Tydeus, Amphiaraus, Capaneus, and Parthenopaeus) with the first Theban expedition. Subsequent additions, deletions, and substitutions to this list occur in the literature and iconography of the archaic and classical period as well as in Apollodorus. Cingano also investigates the genealogical discrepancies in the lists of the Seven and of the Epigoni, observing that some members of the latter group are not directly descended from the former. Factors such as the influence of Athenian tragic representations of the Theban saga and the shifting alliances between Thebes, Argos, Athens, and Sparta may have given rise to the inclusion or exclusion of particular heroes or to the promotion of particular genealogies. The level of detail and cogency of argument make this paper one of the strongest contributions to the collection.

Giulio Guidorizzi, “Uno scudo pieno di sangue” (63-72).

Guidorizzi analyzes the famous shield ritual at Aesch. Sept. 42-56 from various mythical, symbolic, and religious perspectives. The shield takes on multiple functions and associations, including a symbol of identity, a sacrificial cup, a magic device creating ritual bonds between the warriors, and a bothros. Having identified the ritual as chthonic, akin to the offering of blood in the Homeric nekyia, Guidorizzi also suggests parallels in legal and military contexts, including the oath ritual at Xen. Anab. 2.2.9 and the deuotio of P. Decius Mus.

Giorgio Ieranò, “La città delle donne. Il sesto canto dell’ Iliade e il Sette contro Tebe di Eschilo” (73-92).

This paper contrasts Eteocles and the Chorus of Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes with their counterparts in the sixth book of Homer’s Iliad. For Ierano, Eteocles is a Hector dimidiatus who unsuccessfully attempts to conduct himself like the Homeric hero, while the women of Thebes are parodies of Homer’s Andromache and Hecuba. Though both Aeschylus’ Thebes and Homer’s Troy are “cities of women” whose men have left to fight, the Theban women’s disorderly invasion of public space contrasts with the Trojan women’s obedient worship in response to Hector’s command.

Antonio Aloni, “La colpa di Eteocle. Immedesimazione e straniamento. La fruizione dei Sette a Tebe” (93-103).

Aloni’s paper analyzes the degree of involvement of the Athenian spectator of Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes. He argues that the tragedy initially suspends the audience between the extremes of identification and estrangement but that the estranging features will become more significant as the action proceeds. Aloni examines the statues of the gods encircling the orchestra,2 suggesting that the presence of figures with marginal roles in Athenian cult such as Ares and Aphrodite serves to distance the Athenian spectator, while the presence of significant Athenian gods such as Athena and Poseidon underlines the differences between Thebes and Athens. The autochthony theme also reflects the polarities of identification and estrangement: though both cities are imagined to have autochthonous origins, Athens’ mythical origins are humane and peaceful while Thebes’ are bloody and incestuous.

Lowell Edmunds, “Sounds off stage and on stage in Aeschylus, Seven against Thebes” (105-115).

Edmunds’ paper discusses the use of sound to create space in Aeschylus’ Seven against Thebes. After brief readings of references to sound in the parodos and the dialogue with the Messenger, Edmunds provides a dramaturgical analysis of the conflict between Eteocles and the Chorus. The paper concludes with an appendix listing the kinds of space in Greek theater, including categories such as “physical” and “non-physical,” and “verbally” and “non-verbally” defined.

Bernhard Zimmermann, “Coro e azione drammatica nei Sette contro Tebe di Eschilo” (117-124).

Observing that there has been insufficient discussion of Aeschylus’ choruses, Zimmermann briefly and cogently introduces three modes of analysis of the chorus of Seven against Thebes. These include appreciating Aeschylus’ choruses as agents who can influence the action and locating them in the context of the various choral performances of the Dionysia; tracing the Chorus’ oscillation in Seven against Thebes between the roles of dramatis persona and cultic chorus; and the same Chorus’ oscillation between an immanent and an extraliterary system of communication (both specific to Seven against Thebes and part of the Dionysia’s total system of communication).

Angela M. Andrisano, “La definizione dello spazio scenico nei Sette” (125-144).

Andrisano’s paper examines the verbal construction of scenic space in the prologue and choruses of Aeschylus’ Seven against Thebes. The paper considers the drama’s definition of its spatio-temporal coordinates and the contribution of spatial oppositions to the construction of the spectacle. References to the gods, the city walls, and the encircling army evoke the opposition between vertical and circular dimensions.

Giuliana Besso, “I Sette e i nuovi valori eroici delle Supplici di Euripide” (145-154).

Besso reads Adrastus’ epitaphios logos in Euripides’ Suppliants as a portrait of Athenian civic virtue. The emphasis on the fallen heroes’ moderation contrasts with the rage and excess attributed to them in Aeschylus’ Seven against Thebes. Rather than representing particular Athenian statesmen, Euripides’ heroes offer typologies of citizenship, and Adrastus’ speech functions as an implicit criticism of the degeneration of the democracy.

Giancarlo Mazzoli, “Giocasta in prima linea” (155-168).

Mazzoli characterizes Seneca’s Phoenissae as an unfinished experiment that reflects the immaturity of the playwright’s early style. He interprets the figure of Jocasta as Seneca’s most radical innovation on the Euripidean model. In her efforts at peacemaking, Jocasta recalls the Sabine women and Livy’s Veturia; by invading a masculine public sphere, she opposes her own furor to the brothers’. The paper concludes with a series of speculations about the identity, function, and moment of entrance of the play’s missing chorus.

Giuseppe Aricò, ” Crudelis vincit pater. Alcune note su Stazio e il mito tebano” (169-184).

In six brief sections, Aricò examines various aspects of Statius’ engagement with the literary tradition. The first two sections consider Seneca’s Oedipus as a model for Statius’ and the theological contrasts between Jupiter’s judgment of Oedipus and the concilia deorum of Vergil and Ovid. In the third section, Aricò suggests that Statius’ Oedipus offers greater psychological and narrative credibility in his rediscovery of his humanity upon the deaths of his sons than does his counterpart in Euripides’ Phoenissae. The fourth and fifth sections discuss the positive values exemplified by Adrastus and Amphiaraus in the larger context of furor‘s triumph over the values of justice and pietas. The final section considers aspects of Statius’ doctrina.

Federica Bessone, “Voce femminile e tradizione elegiaca nella Tebaide di Stazio” (185-217).

By analyzing Statius’ Argia in terms of the literary typology of the relicta, the woman abandoned by a husband or lover who proceeds toward war, Bessone offers a persuasive and original reading of the Thebaid‘s dialogue with the elegiac tradition. For Bessone, Argia exemplifies the conflict between the erotic and military spheres encoded in the elegiac and epic genres. Examples of Argia’s renegotiation of typical relicta motifs include her refusal to condemn her husband for broken promises and her double-edged rejection of feminine cultus — not only a typical sign of elegiac grief, but also her means of drawing Amphiaraus into the conflict through her gift of Harmonia’s necklace to Eriphyle. Argia transcends the models presented by elegiac relictae such as Propertius’ Arethusa and Ovid’s Laodamia by decisively contributing toward the outbreak of the war and by appearing on the battlefield at its end.

Massimo Manca, ” Frangenda est littera : l’allegoria dei Sette a Tebe nello Pseudo Fulgenzio” (219-232).

Manca rehearses the evidence for the date and authorship of the Super Thebaiden, returning to Hays’3 conclusions that the work cannot be by Fulgentius the Mythographer and most likely belongs to the later medieval period. He next considers the extent of the author’s learning, concluding that the author most likely did not have direct knowledge of Statius’ Thebaid, while his etymologies betray ignorance of the Greek language. The paper concludes with two tables of examples of hypertextuality and allegory in Super Thebaiden.

Edoardo Bona, “I Sette negli autori cristiani antichi. Presenza e interpretazioni” (233-256).

Although Bona’s paper begins with the observation that allusions to the Theban saga are not frequent in the early Christian period, his survey shows that Christian authors of Greek and Latin could use this myth for several different rhetorical purposes. For authors as different as Orosius and Clement of Alexandria, the war at Thebes was an important stage to mark in a universal chronology, while Origen and Eusebius of Caesarea used it to investigate questions of the reliability and verisimilitude of myth and the conflict of fate and free will. The Greek section of the survey also includes a discussion of the anonymous Quaestiones ad orthodoxos, which uses the example of Tiresias’ prophecy associated with Menoeceus’ suicide to question the validity of pagan prophecy. Lactantius and Dracontius also used the example of Menoeceus for contrasting purposes; the young man’s exploit represented man’s natural aspiration toward immortality for the former author, while the latter regarded his suicide as a crime. Bona’s survey contains several valuable insights regarding the rhetorical use of myth in general and the reception of this particular myth.

Eleonora Vincenti, “Il tipo ‘Issifile’ e la morte degli innocenti” (257-260).

This very brief paper compares a set of narratives that feature the death of “innocents”. In some of the narratives, such as those of Hypsipyle, Uliva, and St. Guglielma, the innocent is a child who has been entrusted to the heroine’s care. In others, such as Herod’s massacre of the innocents or the death of Elpenor in the Odyssey, the connection between the central figure of the narrative and the “innocent” is more indirect. Vincenti suggests that “the death of innocents” functions as a motif connected either with salvific figures (e.g., Hypsipyle or Christ) or with those (e.g., Odysseus) who have a mission to complete. A more substantial treatment might have rendered the connections between the narratives more visible and the conclusions more persuasive.

Pierpaolo Fornaro, “Polinice, von Ebrennac e il castigo del silenzio. Come e perché risorge un mito” (261-280).

After a review of the themes of the Theban saga as presented in Attic tragedy, Fornaro considers the use of the motifs of silence and “blood and earth” in the works of the French writer Jean (Bruller) Vercors (1902-1991). Vercors’ novel La Silence de la Mer (1942) receives the lengthiest analysis. The German officer Werner von Ebrennac, lodging in a French house during the first days of the Occupation, is condemned by the law of “blood and earth” to reenact the crimes of his ancestors, while the silent French woman represents a symbol of the ground to be conquered. The paper concludes with a review of similar themes in Vercors’ other works, including his autobiography La Bataille du Silence (1967).


1. However, the collection also suffers from a lack of proportion: for example, seven of the sixteen papers focus on Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes, in contrast to only two on Statius’ Thebaid and one apiece on Euripides’ Suppliants and Seneca’s Phoenissae.

2. Cf. David Wiles, Tragedy in Athens: Performance space and theatrical meaning (Cambridge, 1997), 197-200.

3. B.G. Hays, Fulgentius the Mythographer (Diss. Cornell University, 1996).