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Memory in Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes Jerome Mazzaro 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 inter­ pretative difficulties and arguments, there has been, since Wilamowitz ’ Aischylos lnterpretationen (1914), controversy about whether the concluding Antigone-Ismene scenes are later inter­ polations 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 Euri­ pides (Medea 523) and Aristophanes (Frogs 1022) support an epic interpretation, as do recent readings by Otto Kern (1935), Thomas Rcsenmeyer (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. JEROME MAZZARO teaches at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He is the author of five books of criticism, the latest being The Figure of Dante: An Essay on the ‘Vita Nuova’ (Princeton, 1981). 118 Jerome Mazzaro 119 From what can be constructed of the earlier plays out of fragmentary remains, references to their events in Seven Against Thebes, and other statements of the Theban story, one can safely conclude that the trilogy is somehow rooted in a refusal by Laius to heed Apollo’s warning not to have children. Perhaps, as some critics believe, the warning was the consequence of Laius’ violations of hospitality in seducing Chrysippus, the son of his host Pelops, but the violation may be, as John Finley argues in Pindar and Aeschylus (1955), an intellectual chal­ lenge to Zeus by the Labdacans.2 The impression created by the chorus (745-49) is that there was a specific danger to Thebes either from within or without that prompted the three consultations that Laius disregards. In any event, he conceives a son Oedipus, whom he exposes on Mt. Cithearon (fr. 122N) and who later kills Laius “at a place where three roads meet” (fr. 173). In what must have been the second segment, Oedipus pronounces the curse upon his sons that precipitates the present action. The curse concerns the division of the inheritance. Two accounts exist for the curse, neither of which may have been ultimately used by Aeschylus. One account tells of an ancestral cup which Eteocles and Polyneices set before their father and which, for reasons of paricide, Oedipus is forbidden to use. A second account mentions the hip-joint of a sacrificial animal that the sons send him instead of the shoulder-joint which is his due. In the first instance, Oedipus in fury pronounces upon them perpetual wars and battles over their patrimony and, in the second case, death at each other’s hands. It is Eteocles’ response to the onset of these wars and battles that the audience witnesses as Polyneices with the help of his father-in-law Adrastus and the other Argive warriors challenges Thebes, family, and the earlier division of the inheritance. As in other of Aeschylus’ dramas, very little actually hap­ pens on stage. The play’s major dramatic conflicts involve unseen forces, and the audience is asked to use physical events as tokens for imagining larger, narrated conflicts. These narrated conflicts include both the adumbrated worldly counterorder of the Argives...


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