In this, the only extant tragedy from Aeschylus' trilogy about the House of Oedipus, Thebes is under siege from Polynices, a former prince of Thebes. After King Oedipus left his city and cursed the princes, Polynices and his brother, Eteocles, decided to rule alternately, switching at the end of every year.
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However, at the end of his year as king, Eteocles refused to turn power over to his brother and exiled him, fulfilling his father's curse that the two brothers could not rule peacefully. In the action of the play, Polynices and a group of Argive soldiers are attacking Thebes so that he can take his place as ruler.
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Eteocles must combat both the foreign forces outside the walls and the crazed, frightened women within. Note: The ending of this play is suspect.
The lines Antigone and Ismene's entrance to the end may have been added later, either after Sophocles' Theban plays became popular or in the Middle Ages. Play The reigning king, his brother Eteocles , appears and warns the people, calling them to arms. He appoints Theban commanders Creon, Megareus, Poriclymenus, Melanippus, Polyphontes, Hyperbius, Actor, Lasthenes and himself to defend the seven gates of the city against the seven attacking leaders.
When his brother Polynices is revealed to be one of the seven attacking captains, Eteocles resolves to meet him in single combat.
The other six attacking chieftains are all slain, and the enemy beaten off. The bodies of the two princes are brought on stage, and the Chorus mourns them, as do the sisters of the killed men, Antigone and Ismene , who alone are left of the royal house. It was first performed in BCE when it won first prize in the annual City Dionysia drama competition, as the third play in a Thebes trilogy. It also contains the first passage of general reflexion of life which later became a regular feature of tragedy , where Eteocles muses on the fate which involves an innocent man in the company of the wicked so that he unjustly has to share their deserved fate.