Memory in Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Despite a recent increase in scholarly attention to Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes (467 B.C.), certain textual and contextual problems remain irresolvable. Besides the usual verbal and interpretative difficulties and arguments, there has been, since Wilamowitz' Aischylos Interpretationen (1914), controversy about whether the concluding Antigone-Ismene scenes are later interpolations and, since the play divides between tragedy and epic, the play's unity. These difficulties are increased by the work's being the last of a trilogy, the first two segments of which have been lost. One does not know, consequently, which of the versions of the Theban story Aeschylus chooses for his Laius and Oedipus or how much the imagery and themes of these plays contribute to an understanding and unification of Seven Against Thebes. Near contemporary uses of the play by Euripides (Medea 523) and Aristophanes (Frogs 1022) support an epic interpretation, as do recent readings by Otto Kem (1935), Thomas Rosenmeyer (1962), and Helen Bacon (1973). These readings link the Argive champions to "the Persians of recent historical memory" and the expedition of Hippias in 490 B.C. to regain rule of Athens.1 The Theban victory momentarily obscures the town's future destruction by the Epigoni. Arguing for unity are the overarching figure of Eteocles, the curse of Oedipus, and a complex imagery of shipping and husbandry that scholars relate variously to individual, social, and cosmic order. The play's uses of "outside" and "inside" and Eteocles' emphasis on property seem to suggest, moreover, a substructural interest in memory processes, lending to the already troubled text the possibility of an added unifying emphasis in number, magic, and ancient memory structures.

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