Barker, Elton T. E., and Joel P. Christensen. 2019. Homer's Thebes: Epic Rivalries and the Appropriation of Mythical Pasts. Hellenic Studies Series 84. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_BarkerE_ChristensenJ.Homers_Thebes.2019.
4. Doubling Down On Strife 
Strife and the Age of Heroes
Proclus’ identification of the cause of the Trojan War represents the transposition of strife among the gods (Eris, herself a goddess, personifies the effects to which she gives rise) to the human realm. The language that Proclus uses and the pattern that he establishes for this transposition are telling. Conflict (neikos), the physical manifestation of strife (eris), is envisaged as deriving from rival divine claims to receiving honor in a social setting (a wedding); this is, in turn, resolved by a judgment (krisis) that has the effect of disrupting human codes of honor through another marriage (of sorts). These underlined words—eris, neikos, and krisis—are metonyms for other story patterns. Using them we can isolate interformulaic and intertraditional resonances that are critical in the formation of the epics we have from Homer and Hesiod, and, as we will see, also important for what we know of the lost Theban epics. That is to say, they encapsulate patterns significant to understanding not only the poems we have but also the competitive environment that shaped both them and, relatedly, the poems that we no longer have. 
The Eris Revolution
Among the many elements of the cosmos that Hesiod’s Theogony establishes and catalogues is the origin of strife (223–232):
Νὺξ ὀλοή· μετὰ τὴν δʼ Ἀπάτην τέκε καὶ Φιλότητα
Γῆράς τʼ οὐλόμενον, καὶ Ἔριν τέκε καρτερόθυμον.
αὐτὰρ Ἔρις στυγερὴ τέκε μὲν Πόνον ἀλγινόεντα
Λήθην τε Λιμόν τε καὶ Ἄλγεα δακρυόεντα
Ὑσμίνας τε Μάχας τε Φόνους τʼ Ἀνδροκτασίας τε
Νείκεά τε ψευδέας τε Λόγους Ἀμφιλλογίας τε
Δυσνομίην τʼ Ἄτην τε, συνήθεας ἀλλήλῃσιν,
Ὅρκον θʼ, ὃς δὴ πλεῖστον ἐπιχθονίους ἀνθρώπους
πημαίνει, ὅτε κέν τις ἑκὼν ἐπίορκον ὀμόσσῃ.
After she bore Nemesis too, a pain for mortal men,
Ruinous Night then gave birth to Deception and Sex
And destructive Old Age, and also strong-hearted Strife.
Then hateful Strife gave birth to grief-causing Toil,
And Forgetfulness, and Hunger, and tearful Pains,
Battles, Wars, Murders, and Man-killings,
Conflicts, Lies, Arguments, Doubletalk,
Bad-government, Blindness, each other’s bosom companions,
And Oath, who pains mortal men the most of all
Whenever someone willingly swears falsely.
In this rogue’s gallery, Strife, “strongwilled” (καρτερόθυμον) and “hateful” (στυγερή), is identified as the daughter of “destructive Night,” along with her ugly sisters Deception, Sex, and destructive Old Age. Far more fecund than her mother, she gives birth to Toil, Forgetfulness, Hunger, and Pains, as well as “Battles and Wars and Murders, and Man-killings, / Conflicts and Lies and Arguments and Doubletalk, / Bad-government and Deception,” and finally Oath. While the sources of strife are thus general ills that afflict humans (dishonesty, desire, and mortality), its results manifest themselves in both individual and societal struggle, including both physical and verbal violence. While the rest of the poem addresses the remaining problem of Strife among the gods (as befits its theogonic perspective), this passage on her birth and affiliations demonstrates forcefully the extent to which Strife is thematically linked to conflict, specifcally the total wars of the age of heroes.
εἰς ἕτερον γάρ τίς τε ἴδεν ἔργοιο χατίζων
πλούσιον, ὃς σπεύδει μὲν ἀρόμεναι ἠδὲ φυτεύειν
οἶκόν τ’ εὖ θέσθαι· ζηλοῖ δέ τε γείτονα γείτων
εἰς ἄφενος σπεύδοντ’· ἀγαθὴ δ’ ῎Ερις ἥδε βροτοῖσιν.
καὶ κεραμεὺς κεραμεῖ κοτέει καὶ τέκτονι τέκτων,
καὶ πτωχὸς πτωχῷ φθονέει καὶ ἀοιδὸς ἀοιδῷ.
She awakens even those who are lazy to do work:
For a man who shirks work sees another
Who is wealthy, who hastens to plow and plant
And order his house well. Neighbor envies his neighbor,
The two of them hastening to wealth. This is the good Strife for men.
And potter begrudges potter, and carpenter carpenter—
And beggar envies beggar, and singer singer.
In its very insistence on disambiguation, Hesiod re-creates a figure of some ambiguity, a Strife whose role doubles up in the world of men both as the destructive propagator of arguments and war and, it seems, as a stimulus to compete in more constructive ways.  The reason for this doubling is complex and uncertain, though it must have something to do with Hesiod’s supplementary biography for the goddess. By explicitly locating this second Eris on earth, Hesiod emphasizes her connection to mankind, and perhaps even more directly to his Works and Days, which addresses the epic endeavor facing the everyday man working the land. 
Σισύφωι ἠδ’ Αἴθωνι τανισφύρο[υ εἵ]νεκα [κούρης,
ο]ὐδ̣’ ἄρα τις δικάσαι [δύ]νατο βροτός…
And soon strife and conflict arose for them both,
Sisyphus and Aithon, over the fair-ankled girl.
No mortal was able to make a judgment for them.
Preserving a glimpse into another story of conflict that centers, this time, on an unnamed girl, the fragment again presents the formulaically matched pair eris and neikos (ἔρις καὶ ν[εῖκος]). Furthermore, the conflict worsens in the absence of someone who can resolve it through judgment (ο]ὐδ̣’ ἄρα τις δικάσαι [δύ]νατο βροτός). In this case, however, the warring parties agree to entrust the conflict to Athena, who settles the case by pronouncing proverbial wisdom on the importance of honoring agreements and not taking back what had been given.  That combination of the use of proverbial wisdom to resolve conflict also fits a pattern of Hesiodic poetry more generally, whereby destructive conflict tends to be avoided or negotiated, or sublimated in the poetic representation of a law court case.
Managing Strife in Hesiod’s Cosmos
Though we have just said that Hesiod tends to defer strife, we are really only talking about its manifestation on earth in the form of total war among men. Some of the essential features of the Iliad’s treatment of conflict—the language of strife (neikos, eris); the thematic conflict over prizes and honors (gera, timai); the structural distribution of social position (dasmos)—are explored first (conceptually) on Olympos in the Theogony. In many ways this poem, which projects its priority in the early Greek hexameter corpus by narrating the origins of the cosmos, helps to establish a poetic baseline for the deployment of the eris story pattern in the rival Theban and Trojan traditions. Although the basic plot of the Theogony narrates the genealogical succession from Ouranos and Gaia to Zeus, large-scale conflicts largely associated with Zeus, once he’s already assumed power, punctuate and give structure to narrative. Significantly these conflicts largely manifest themselves as political issues, giving rise to questions about leadership, social organization and in particular the proper distribution of honor. 
Τιτήνεσσι δὲ τιμάων κρίναντο βίηφι,
δή ῥα τότ’ ὤτρυνον βασιλευέμεν ἠδὲ ἀνάσσειν
Γαίης φραδμοσύνῃσιν Ὀλύμπιον εὐρύοπα Ζῆν
ἀθανάτων· ὁ δὲ τοῖσιν ἐὺ διεδάσσατο τιμάς.
Then, when the blessed gods accomplished their toil
and achieved a judgment of honors with the Titans by means of strength,
They went and urged the Olympian, wide-seeing Zeus, to be king
And to rule the immortals at the advice of Gaia.
Then he divided the honors among them well.
Although the lexical items eris and neikos are absent, perhaps reflecting Zeus’ uncontested primacy at this point in the narrative, cognate terms such as toil (πόνον) and strength (βίηφι) provide an echo of former troubles. Toil is harshly juxtaposed midline with the gods’ epithet “blessed” (μάκαρες), while it is through a trial of strength (βίηφι) that the gods receive judgment (κρίναντο). After their battle with the Titans, the gods look to a new world order, namely the (now legitimized) kingship of Zeus.  Connecting these two moments is honor, over which the gods received judgment (in their conflict with the Titans), and for which they now turn to Zeus.
ὅσσ’ ἔλαχεν Τιτῆσι μέτα προτέροισι θεοῖσιν,
ἀλλ’ ἔχει, ὡς τὸ πρῶτον ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς ἔπλετο δασμός.
Neither did Kronos’ son do violence to her nor deprive her of the rights,
All those which she was allotted among the Titans who were the gods from before,
But she possesses what she did from the beginning at the first division.
Latent in the possibility that Zeus might deprive Hekate of her timê is a threat of eris—a threat that is hinted at by the description of Zeus not doing violence to Hekate. Equally, Zeus is careful not to disturb a prior distribution (dasmos). In the Theogony Hesiod attributes the success of Zeus’ rule, particularly its persistence, to his ability to negotiate the nexus of associations between strife, judgment, and division. He uses his powers of judgment to secure the latter and avoid the former.
ἣ γὰρ καὶ βασιλεῦσιν ἅμʼ αἰδοίοισιν ὀπηδεῖ.
ὅν τινα τιμήσωσι Διὸς κοῦραι μεγάλοιο
γεινόμενόν τε ἴδωσι διοτρεφέων βασιλήων,
τῷ μὲν ἐπὶ γλώσσῃ γλυκερὴν χείουσιν ἐέρσην,
τοῦ δʼ ἔπεʼ ἐκ στόματος ῥεῖ μείλιχα· οἱ δέ τε λαοὶ
πάντες ἐς αὐτὸν ὁρῶσι διακρίνοντα θέμιστας
ἰθείῃσι δίκῃσιν· ὃ δʼ ἀσφαλέως ἀγορεύων
αἶψά κε καὶ μέγα νεῖκος ἐπισταμένως κατέπαυσεν·
τοὔνεκα γὰρ βασιλῆες ἐχέφρονες, οὕνεκα λαοῖς
βλαπτομένοις ἀγορῆφι μετάτροπα ἔργα τελεῦσι
ῥηιδίως, μαλακοῖσι παραιφάμενοι ἐπέεσσιν.
ἐρχόμενον δʼ ἀνʼ ἀγῶνα θεὸν ὣς ἱλάσκονται
αἰδοῖ μειλιχίῃ, μετὰ δὲ πρέπει ἀγρομένοισιν·
τοίη Μουσάων ἱερὴ δόσις ἀνθρώποισιν.
Kalliope is the Muse who attends kings worthy of reverence.
Whomsoever of the god-raised Kings the daughters of great Zeus
Honor and look upon when he is born,
On his tongue they pour sweet dew
And gentle words flow out of his mouth. Then the people
All look upon him as he separates out the laws
With straight judgements. He speaks securely
And swiftly halts even a great conflict with skill.
For this reason kings are sensible, so that whenever the people
Are harmed they may accomplish retributive actions in the assembly
Easily, persuading everyone with gentle words.
When he walks into the contest ground people propitiate him
Like a god with gentle reverence, and he stands out among the assembled.
Such is the sacred gift of the Muses for men.
(trans. after Evelyn-White)
In this passage we find a fully expressed articulation of the interrelationship between conflict (eris, neikos), judgment (krisis, dikê), and distribution (dasmos). Central to this account of what it is to be the good king (the one who is honored by the Muses and Zeus) is an anatomization of how to control strife. Managing strife depends on both the king’s innate persuasive abilities (“On his tongue they pour sweet dew / And gentle words [ἔπεα μείλιχα] flow out of his mouth”) and his performance within a rudimentary institutional framework.  The latter involves the king not only judging laws (διακρίνοντα θέμιστας) but also interceding in the agora to exact punishments that reflect the crimes (μετάτροπα ἔργα) and being honored in his community’s contest space (ἀγῶνα). Thus, even should a great conflict (μέγα νεῖκος) arise and cause harm for the people (laos), the king’s performance of remunerative—or, perhaps better, redistributive—acts would forestall the emergence of the kind of destructive Eris that will be documented exhaustively in the cosmogonic narrative of the Theogony. Honored by the Muses and Zeus, the king acts as a kind of surrogate for Zeus on earth.
Honor, Division, and Strife: A Theban Tale
From our survey of Hesiod’s cosmos, it has become apparent that the thematization of Eris, along with its attendant associations of division (dasmos), honors (timai, gera) and judgment (krisis), is fundamental at a compositional level in early Greek hexameter poetry. Viewed in the context of cosmic construction, the Theogonic treatment of strife “sets the table” for poetic feasting. The allotment of proper honors for the gods, no less, is explored and reified at the foundational scene of sacrifice described in the Theogony, suggesting an indelible thematic connection between the sacrificial feast (δαίς) and the proper apportionment of “cuts” (δάσσαντο is the iterative form of the verb δαίομαι).  Transgressions arising from unjust divisions result in strife and war; as we saw from Proclus, Eris attends banquets and portions out conflict.
πρῶτα μὲν Οἰδιπόδηι καλὴν παρέθηκε τράπεζαν
ἀργυρέην Κάδμοιο θεόφρονος· αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα
χρύσεον ἔμπλησεν καλὸν δέπας ἡδέος οἴνου.
αὐτὰρ ὅ γ’ ὡς φράσθη παρακείμενα πατρὸς ἑοῖο
τιμήεντα γέρα, μέγα οἱ κακὸν ἔμπεσε θυμῶι,
αἶψα δὲ παισὶν ἑοῖσιν ἐπ’ ἀμφοτέροισιν ἐπαρὰς
ἀργαλέας ἠρᾶτο· θοὴν δ’ οὐ λάνθαν’ Ἐρινύν·
ὡς οὔ οἱ πατρώϊ’ ἐνηέι <ἐν> φιλότητι
δάσσαιντ’, ἀμφοτέροισι δ’ ἀεὶ πόλεμοί τε μάχαι τε.
Then the divine-born hero, blond Polyneikes
First placed before Oedipus a fine silver platter,
A thing of god-minded Cadmus. And then
He filled a fine golden cup with sweet wine.
But, when he discerned that lying before him were the
Honorable gifts of his own father, a great evil fell upon his spirit.
Swiftly he uttered grievous curses against both
Of his own sons—and he did not escape the divine Erinys’ notice—
That they would not divide their inheritance in kind friendship
But that they would both always have wars and battles.
The language of this fragment reveals motifs and structuring familiar from other extant epics.  The term hero (ἥρως) immediately locates these events in a heroic story world, just as in the proem to the Iliad or in Hesiod’s age of heroes. It is fitting too that the emphasis is on conflict,  here manifest in the form of a curse that “that they would not divide their patrimony in friendship, but always wars and battles would be between them” (ὡς οὔ οἱ πατρωίαν εἴη φιλότητι / δάσσοντ᾿, ἀμφοτέροισι δ’ ἀεὶ πόλεμοί τε μάχαι τε). Division and strife are again coupled together, as they had been in Hesiod. A divided patrimony is a latent threat in Homer’s epics too, both with the characterization of the troubled half-brothers, Ajax and Teucer (a story more fully told in Sophocles’ Ajax) and in the very insistence on the uniqueness of the line of descent from Laertes through Odysseus to Telemachus—single sons all.  Nor is fraternal strife far away: in the Odyssey, Nestor recounts how Athena sets strife on both sons of Atreus (ἥ τ’ ἔριν Ἀτρεΐδῃσι μετ’ ἀμφοτέροισιν ἔθηκε, 3.136), the results of which cause the catastrophic division in the Achaean army that fatally compromises the safe returns of the many. It is easy to imagine such a tale of conflict between the Atreidae that, like our Iliad, starts with a problematic assembly (as too in Nestor’s account) and leads to a prolonged exploration of their troubled homecomings.  The conflictual nature of Oedipus’ patrimony, however, seems to be of a different order: just as both Achilles and Odysseus contain the seeds of their stories within their names, so too does Oedipus’ son, Poly-neikes, “much strife.”  The strife between brothers is essential to conflict in the Thebais.
“ὤ μοι ἐγώ, παῖδες μέγ’ ὀνειδείοντες ἔπεμψαν…”
εὖκτο Διὶ βασιλῆϊ καὶ ἄλλοις ἀθανάτοισι
χερσὶν ὑπ’ ἀλλήλων καταβήμεναι Ἄιδος εἴσω.
When he noticed the cut of meat, he hurled it to the ground and spoke a word:
“Alas, my children have sent this as a reproach to me…”
He prayed to King Zeus and the other gods
That they would go to Hades’ home at each other’s hands.
Given the overlap in content, it is quite possible that this fragment comes from a different source and provides an alternative account of Oedipus’ cursing of his sons;  on the other hand, it is equally plausible that what it does is complementary to the previous fragment, in effect doubling the sons’ offense and giving voice to the curse. In either case what exactly provokes Oedipus’ furious response remains unclear, and we should perhaps not discount a sense of the uncanny or inexplicable.  What is apparent from both fragments, however, is the epic theme of strife and, more particularly, its network of associations that we have previously identified in Hesiod—specifically the division or distribution (dasmos) of honors (timai, gera) at a feast.
πλῆξε κάρη, Πηλεὺς δὲ θοῶς ἐνὶ χειρὶ τινάξας
ἀξίνην ἐύχαλκον ἐπεπλήγει μέσα νῶτα.
There, godlike Telamon struck him in the head
With a rounded discus and Peleus raised in his hands
Swiftly a bronze ax to strike him down through the middle of the back.
On the face of it, murdering one’s half-brother hardly seems to rank in the same heroic category as the actions of their sons, the Iliad’s most famous warriors.  But not only is it rather befitting of the savagery attributed to the fighters around Thebes where Tydeus famously eats brains;  it resonates strongly with the theme of fraternal strife and violence that is central to the Thebais. Elsewhere in the corpus of early Greek poetry more generally the idea of Thebes as a locus for strife is also prominent. A very good reason why Thebes proved such rich pickings for the Athenian tragedians relates to its tradition of thematizing internal strife, a particularly charged and fertile idea when explored through an individual (ruling) family.