The Theban Epics

  Davies, Malcolm. 2015. The Theban Epics. Hellenic Studies Series 69. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Chapter 4. Epigoni

The Relationship of the Epigoni to the Thebais

Just as several scholars have supposed the Iliupersis to be part of a larger epic called the Ilias Parva and have sought thereby to resolve a number of apparent anomalies, so some critics would have the Epigoni be the latter portion of a more general work entitled the Thebais. [1]

The last two passages, together with Σ Aristophanes Peace 1270’s attribution of Epigoni F1 to an Antimachus, have led more recent scholars (Bethe 1891:36–38; cf. Robert 1915:1.183–184) to very much the same conclusion as Leutsch. Since a “cyclicus poeta” called Antimachus is elsewhere credited with a poem embracing the expedition of the Seven against Thebes (Porphyrio on {107|108} Horace’s Ars Poetica 146: see page 111 below), Bethe infers (1891:37) “dass es ein dem Homer ebenso wie dem Kykliker Antimachos von Teos zugeschriebenes Epos gab, welches sowohl den Zug der Sieben gegen Theben, als auch den der Epigonen besang, und dass dasselbe zwei Titel führte Θηβαίς und Ἐπίγονοι.” But again, the phenomena (in particular the attribution to Antimachus) are capable of a different explanation (see page 111 below).

Finally, it is hard to see how anything is solved by M. B. Sakellariou’s notion (La migration grècque en Ionie [Athens 1958] 157–158) that our fragment derives from the Thebais of Antimachus of Colophon: as Wyss in his edition (p. XI) sees, there is no cause to suppose this poem extended to the exploits of the Epigoni (so too Prinz [1979:171]: pages 110–111 below). The safest conclusion (though even this is by no means certain) would seem to be that, to the individual responsible for the contents of the present note, the Thebais and the Epigoni were so closely connected that the former’s name was used by him to refer to an event in the latter. Whether he possessed any formal justification for this or whether pure and simple error is to be blamed we cannot tell; but it would be rash to infer any {108|109} far-reaching deductions about the relationship between the two epics on the evidence of this baffling testimony.

The question of when the tradition arose of a second avenging and successful expedition against Thebes has been much debated. On a general level, Howald (1939:4) is doubtless right to maintain that “diese Weiterführung nur erdacht werden konnte zu einer Zeit, wo man sich über die Niederlage der Sieben grämte und sie wettmachen wollte; dies kann aber erst erfolgt sein, nachdem die Hauptsage längst ausgebildet war und sich durchgesetzt hatte.” Friedländer’s paradoxical attempt to argue the exact reverse (1914:328 = 1969:42), on the ground that success must be a primary motif, and defeat secondary and derivative, is refuted by Howald’s explanation of the significance of the Seven’s defeat (see page 68 above). One passage implies Homer’s knowledge of the tradition:

τὸν δ’ υἱὸς Kαπανῆος ἀμείψατο κυδαλίμοιο.
“Ἀτρεΐδη, μὴ ψεύδε’ ἐπιστάμενος σάφα εἰπεῖν.
ἡμεῖς τοι πατέρων μέγ’ ἀμείνονες εὐχόμεθ’ εἰναι.
ἡμεῖς καὶ Θήβης ἕδος εἵλομεν ἑπταπύλοιο,
παυρότερον λαὸν ἀγαγόνθ’ ὐπὸ τεῖχος ἄρειον,
πειθόμενοι τεράεσσι θεῶν καὶ Ζηνὸς ἀρωγῆι.
κεῖνοι δὲ σφετέρηισιν ἀτασθαλίηισιν ὄλοντο.
τῶ μή μοι πατέρας ποθ’ ὁμοίηι ἔνθεo τιμῆι.”

Iliad IV 403–410

Such passages, however, have not always been accepted at their precise face value. Scholars of an analytic frame of mind endeavored to separate and distinguish those strata of the Iliad which knew of the second expedition against Thebes, and those which were ignorant of it. Thus Robert, for instance (1915:1.185–191), could hardly deny that Iliad IV 406–410 showed awareness of the Epigoni, but he argued that book V of the poem was perfectly oblivious of them. The terms in which Athena’s inspiration of Diomedes is described at the beginning of that book convinced him that the hero was conceived as previously unversed in war. Likewise, he supposed, the prayer-formula in Iliad V 116–117 (εἴ ποτέ μοι καὶ πατρὶ φίλα φρονέουσα παρέστης | δηΐωι ἐν πολέμωι, νῦν αὖτ’ ἐμὲ φῖλαι, Ἀθήνη) would never have been used unless Diomedes himself had no previous martial assistance from Athena by which to appeal. And again (p. 195), would Diomedes have chosen to rally the Greeks at Iliad XIV 114–132 by recalling his father Tydeus’ exploits had he any of his own to brandish about?

Such observations reveal an undeniably sharp intelligence, but are in fact as inappropriately applied here as their fellow objections in the Thebais. To take them in the reverse order, no one has any right to be surprised at Diomedes’ {109|110} failure to mention his earlier successes before Thebes in view of the emphatic apologia by which the whole speech is prefaced (XIV 111–113): μή τι κότωι ἀγάσησθε ἕκαστος | οὕνεκα δὴ γενεῆφι νεώτατός εἰμι μεθ’ ὑμῖν. | πατρὸς δ’ ἐξ ἀγαθοῦ καὶ ἐγὼ γένος εὔχομαι εἶναι | κτλ. The reference to Diomedes’ father in the prayer at Iliad V 116–117 is perfectly in keeping with the whole poem’s use of Tydeus as a παράδειγμα οἰκεῖον for his son (on which see Andersen 1976:41). Finally, Iliad V 1–8 conveys Athena’s intervention on Diomedes’ behalf in a way perfectly appropriate for an introduction to the ἀριστεία of a warrior whom we have yet to see engaged in battle in the Iliad. But the manner in which Homer shows us the hero busy at war for the first time in the epic must not be taken to imply ignorance of Diomedes’ activities before the walls of Thebes, any more than it is meant to indicate that Diomedes spent the first nine years of the Trojan War in total inactivity!


T2 (see page 144 for text)

On the alleged reference to the Epigoni foisted on the Tabula Borgiana by Wila-mowitz’s supplement see McLeod (as cited on pages 1–2 above) 162: the relevant entry “has the wrong gender or number (masculine singular or neuter plural), the wrong author (an anonymous Milesian), and the wrong length (9,500 lines) to refer to” our poem.


F1 (see page 144 for text)

ἡ ἀρχὴ τῶν Ἐπιγόνων Ἀντιµάχου: the formula’s use by the scholion on Aristophanes’ Peace is also an ἀρχὴ κακῶν. Several intractable problems have become mixed up here and it is essential to distinguish them:

(i) Who is the Antimachus mentioned by Σ Aristophanes Peace 1270 as author of the Epigoni? Antiquity knew of two epic poets with this name, one from Colophon and the other from Teios. But the Colophonian of that name is nowhere credited with a poem that included the expedition of the Epigoni. We know too little of the Teian epic poet to be dogmatic as to whether he could be meant; cf. Powell, Collectanea Alexandrina (Oxford 1925) 247, Wyss ad Antimachus fr. dub. 150. Kranz (“Sphragis: Ichform und Namensiegel als Eingangs- und Schlussmotiv antiker Dichtung,” Rheinisches Museum 104 [1961]: 7 = Studien zur antike Literatur und ihrem Fortwirken [Heidelberg 1967] 30) automatically concludes that the Teian is referred to here. Note at this stage that, whatever the identity of Antimachus, he is not described, here or anywhere else, as the author of the cyclic epic called the Thebais.

This small accommodation seems infinitely preferable to the idea (which we owe in particular to Bethe [1891:36–37], following but going much further than Wilamowitz [1884:345–346n26]) that the cyclic poet of these commentators is Antimachus of Teios. Important consequences would then follow: this man must be credited with the cyclic Thebais (and the Epigoni, of course, which must be interpreted as a part of that larger whole: see page 108 above), an immense work which covered twenty-four books before reaching the Seven’s arrival at Thebes!

The difficulties of reconciling this hypothesis with the number of lines variously at-tested for Thebais and Epigoni (seven thousand a piece) are well brought out by Robert (1915:1.183), closely followed by Wyss (p. VI). Besides, it cannot be stressed too much that the cyclic Thebais (as opposed to the Epigoni) is nowhere attributed to the poet of Teios.

The ἡ ἀρχή + genitive formula (on which see Davies and Finglass on Stesichorus fr. 90.8) tells against Bethe’s vision of a single epic embracing Thebais and Epigoni, as O. Crusius (“Ansichten über die Echtheit homerischer Dichtungen,” Philologus 54 (1895): 724n31) saw.

νῦν: for the word’s use “in passing to new subjects” see West on Hesiod Theogony 963. This feature is not, of course, an argument against our line’s presumed position at the start of its poem: cf. the proem to the Σίλλοι of Timo Philiasius (fr. 775 Suppl. Hell.) ἔσπετε νῦν μοι ὅσοι πολυπράγμονες κτλ. and Cratinus fr. 237 KA (PCG 4.242) ἔγειρε δὴ νῦν Mοῦσα, Κρητικὸν μέλος (cf. Apollonius of Rhodes 1.20 νῦν δ’ ἂν ἐγὼ γενεήν τε καὶ οὔνομα μυθησαίμην). See further Davies and Finglass on Stesichorus fr. 100.9. αὖθ’: this word is a regular component of initial invocations to the Muse(s): see Davies and Finglass on Stesichorus fr. 90.9. Its appearance here, then, does not indicate that several verses originally preceded the present as Bethe (1891:38) presumes in keeping with his theory that the Epigoni was merely the concluding portion of the Thebais (see page 108 above). Nor does it even necessarily “imply another poem preceding” (West, OCD 2 p. 389), or serve to prepare the reader “ad brevem et concisam orationem” as Wyss (Antimachus p. VI) seems to infer. ὁπλοτέρων ἀνδρῶν ἀρχώµεθα: for a poem’s subject-matter expressed in a genitive dependent upon ἄρχεσθαι at the start of the given poem see West’s note on Hesiod Theogony 1. The significance of ὁπλότεροι might have been clarified (as Bethe 1891:38 is obliged to admit) in the following lines: {111|112} compare Sthenelus’ remarks at Iliad IV 405–409 ἡμεῖς τοι πατέρων μέγ’ ἀμείνονες εὐχόμεθ’ εἶναι. | ἡμεῖς καὶ Θήβης ἕδος εἵλομεν ἑπταπύλοιο |…|…| κεῖνοι δὲ σφετέρηισιν ἀτασθαλίηισιν ὄλοντο.

ἀρχώµεθα: such a subjunctive expresses resolve: compare Hesiod Theogony 1 and West’s note ad loc. (p. 152). The same note gives examples of first-person plurals for singulars, but it is impossible to tell whether our own specimen is an instance of this, or is meant to include the poet and the Muses together, as Kranz (“Sphragis,” 7 = Studien zur antike Literatur und ihrem Fortwirken 30) assumes.

Mοῦσαι: on the variation between one and a plurality of Muses in such invocations see West on Hesiod Theogony 60.

Kranz, as cited above, ingeniously supposes that the next line began οἳ τότε κτλ. The relative would certainly be most idiomatic (see on ἔνθεν in Thebais F1).

F2 (see page 145 for text)

On references to the Hyperboreans in these two and other passages in Greek literature see J. D. P. Bolton, Aristeas of Proconnesus (Oxford 1962) 22–26 and subject index s.v.; J. Romm, The Edges of the Earth in Ancient Thought (Princeton 1992).

Huxley (1969:47) ingeniously reminds us that according to Herodotus V 61.2 ἐπὶ τούτου δὴ τοῦ Λαοδάμαντος τοῦ Ἐτεοκλέος μουναρχέοντος ἐξανιστέαται Καδμεῖοι ὑπ’ Ἀργείων καὶ τρέπονται ἐς τοὺς Ἐγχελέας. The reference is to Illyria (see below page 129).

F3 (see page 145 for text)

The great difficulty here, of course, lies in the attribution of a story concerning the Epigoni to a work alluded to by the phrase οἱ τὴν Θηβαΐδα γεγραφότες. This is surprising, not because of the plural οἱ … γεγραφότες (on which see page 1 above). Numerous attempts have been made to remove the inconcinnity. None of them convinces. Thus:

On Manto as the appropriately named daughter of the seer Teiresias see Sulzberger, “ΟΝΟΜΑ et ΠΡΑΓΜΑ” (as cited page 25 above), 394 and 443. For offspring named after their father’s qualities cf. Iliad VI 402–403 and XXII 506–507 (Hector and Astyanax), Ajax and Eurysaces, Oenomaus and Hippodameia, Ixion and Perithous (see Critias TrGF 1.43 F5.20 as supplemented by Housman [“Oxyrhynchus Papyri XVII. 2078,” Classical Review 12 (1928): 9 = Classical Papers 3.1147]); more generally Iliad IX 561–564 (daughter called Halcyone because her mother suffered like a halcyon), J. Th. Kakridis, Homeric Researches (Lund 1949) 31. The tradition that the victorious Argives sent Manto to Delphi together with a portion of the booty recurs in Apollodorus III 7.4, whose explanation of the action (ηὔξαντο γὰρ αὐτῶι [scil. Ἀπόλλωνι] Θήβας ἑλόντες τὸ κάλλιστον τῶν λαφύρων ἀναθήσειν) gives point to our passage’s reference to ἀκροθίνιον (for which see Hutchinson on Aeschylus Seven Against Thebes 278). It is also to be found in Pausanias IX 33.2 (minus the explanation). The sequel involving Rhacius occurs, with less detail and a different sequence of events, in the same passage (προστάξαντος δὲ τοῦ θεοῦ ναυσὶν ἐς τὴν νῦν Ἰωνίαν καὶ Ἰωνίας ἐς τὴν Κολοφωνίαν περαιωθῆναι. καὶ ἡ μὲν αὐτόθι συνώικησεν ἡ Μαντὼ Ῥακίωι Κρητί) and is presupposed by Pausanias VII 3.2 (Μόψος ὁ ‘Pακίου καὶ Μαντοῦς). For a full treatment of the story and its sources see Prinz 1979:18–23.

Our epic seems to have employed two very common motifs, that of the sacrifice, or the similar surrender of the fairest (see my remarks in “ ‘Sins of the Fathers’: Omitted Sacrifices and Offended Deities in Greek Literature and the Folk-Tale,” Eikasmos 21 [2010]: 331–338), and that of the injunction that a princess vel sim. must marry the first man she meets (see e.g. Stith Thompson, Motif-Index T 62 [“princess to marry first man who asks father”] and the analogous motifs cited ad loc. [3.343]). The way in which our scholion postpones mention of this latter injunction reminds one of the technique discussed by Fraenkel on Aeschylus Agamemnon 59 and in appendix A, “On the Postponement of Certain Important Details in Archaic Narrative” (3.805).

On the significance of the epic’s reference to Delphi’s oracle see Parke–Wormell, The Delphic Oracle 1.51–52. The reply is L2 in Fontenrose’s catalogue of responses (The Delphic Oracle, 322). As Fontenrose there observes, “the lost epic account of the response must have included a direction to go to Ionia.”

Lloyd-Jones (2002:6 = 2003:25n41), in his newly acquired eagerness to learn from “Pisander” about the contents of the Oedipodeia (see page 3 above), suggested that Σ Euripides Phoenician Women 854 = Peisander FGrHist 16 F9, naming the offspring of Tiresias and Xanthe as Phanemus, Pherecydes, Chloris, and Manto, was “more likely to come from epic than from a tragedy, and may well come from” that poem. But the Epigoni is another possibility. For other sources that name some of these offspring see Jacoby ad loc. p. 495. {113|114}


Kirchoff’s attribution of the two hexameters to our epic was approved by Dindorf (Poetae Scenici Graeci [London 1830] 5); H. F. Genthe and F. T. Ellendt (Lexicon Sophocleum [Berlin 1872]), e.g., s.v. ποτιμάστιος (p. 649); and Nauck (Mélanges gréco-romains 375), who was, however, perturbed by the disyllabic form κοἴλός, which would be unusual for epic. {114|}


[ back ] 1. K. O. Müller, GGL 14 p. 117 = Engl. trans. 1.96; Bethe 1891:89n16, 122, etc.

[ back ] 2. Similarly Wilamowitz 1914:104.

[ back ] 3. See page 29 above. I can detect no merit or plausibility in Wecklein’s attempt at a compromise, which presents us with a composition “… teils gesondert, teils in Verbindung mit der Thebais verbreitet” (Sitzungsberichte der Philosophisch-philologischen und der Historischen Classe des Königlich Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften 5 [1901]: 678).

[ back ] 4. Cf. Wilamowitz 1914:104: “es gab eine Forsetzung, die Epigonen…”

[ back ] 5. E.g. Aeschylus in his Seven Against Thebes (cf. Dawe, “The End of Seven Against Thebes,” Classical Quarterly 17 [1967]: 19–21; Lloyd-Jones, Justice of Zeus p. 214 [n. on p. 90], and Hutchinson on Aeschylus Seven Against Thebes [Oxford 1985] 749 and 903).

[ back ] 6. Dreadful confusion in J. A. Scott, “Homer as the Poet of the Thebais,” Classical Philology 16 (1921): 21: “Horace [sic] refers to [Antimachus of Colophon] as scriptor cyclicus in Ars Poet. 142.”

[ back ] 7. So too Huxley (1969:47: “this is a loose way [!] of referring to the Theban cycle as a whole”).