Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome
Page: 142Seven leaders were now chosen, each at the head of a separate detachment of troops. These were Adrastus the king, his two brothers Hippomedon and Parthenopæus, Capaneus his nephew, Polynices and Tydeus, and Amphiaraus.
When the army was collected they set out for Nemea, which was at this time governed by king Lycurgus. Here the Argives, being short of water, halted on the outskirts of a forest in order to search for a spring, when they saw a majestic and beautiful woman seated on the trunk of a tree, nursing an infant. They concluded from her noble and queenly appearance that she must be a goddess, but were informed by her that she was Hypsipile, queen of the Lemnians, who had been carried away captive by pirates, and sold as a slave to king Lycurgus, and that she was now acting as nurse to his infant son. When the warriors told her that they were in search of water, she laid the child down in the grass, and led them to a secret spring in the forest, with which she alone was acquainted. But on their return they found, to their grief, that the unfortunate babe had been killed during their absence, by a serpent. They slew the reptile, and then collecting the remains of the infant, they buried them with funereal honours and proceeded on their way.
The warlike host now appeared before the walls of Thebes, and each leader placed himself before one of the seven gates of the city in readiness for the attack. Eteocles, in conjunction with Creon, had made due preparations to repel the invaders, and had stationed troops, under the command of trusty leaders, to guard each of the gates. Then, according to the practice of the ancients of consulting soothsayers before entering upon any undertaking, the blind old seer Tiresias was sent for, who, after carefully taking the auguries from the flight of birds, declared that all efforts to defend the city would prove unavailing, unless the youngest descendant of the house of Cadmus would offer himself as a voluntary sacrifice for the good of the state.
When Creon heard the words of the seer his first thought was of his favourite son Menœceus, the youngest scion of the royal house, who was present at the interview. He therefore earnestly implored him to leave the city, and to repair for safety to Delphi. But the gallant youth heroically resolved to sacrifice his life for the benefit of his country, and after taking leave of his old father, mounted the city walls, and plunging a dagger into his heart, perished in the sight of the contending hosts.
Adrastus now gave his troops the word of command to storm the city, and they rushed forward to the attack with great valour. The battle raged long and furiously, and after heavy losses on both sides the Argives were routed and put to flight.
After the lapse of some days they reorganized their forces, and again appeared before the gates of Thebes, when Eteocles, grieved to think that there should be such a terrible loss of life on his account, sent a herald into the opposite camp, with a proposition that the fate of the campaign should be decided by single combat between himself and his brother Polynices. The challenge was readily accepted, and in the duel which took place outside the city walls, in the sight of the rival forces, Eteocles and Polynices were both fatally wounded and expired on the field of battle.