Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
THE BROTHERS' QUARREL
 THE misfortunes of Thebes had not come to an end with
the banishment of Œdipus, and fate was still against
the unhappy city. The plague it is true, had stopped;
but the two young princes were quarreling about the
possession of the throne.
Both wanted to reign, and neither wished to share the
throne with his brother. After much dispute, they
agreed at last that each should reign a year in turn.
Eteocles, the elder, was of course allowed to rule
during the first year; while Polynices went to pay a
visit to Adrastus, king of Argos. Here he was warmly
welcomed and hospitably entertained; but when the year
was ended, he hurried back to Thebes to reign in his
When he came to the city, however, Eteocles refused to
give up the scepter, and, calling out his guards, made
use of his power to drive Polynices out of the town.
This was very wrong, for a promise should always be
kept; and it made Polynices so angry, that he said he
would return with an army, and force his brother to act
Polynices therefore hurried back to Argos, and soon
persuaded Adrastus, with five other kings and noted
warriors, to go with him to Thebes, and help him take
the throne by force.
When Eteocles heard that seven kings were coming with a
large army to make him give up the throne of Thebes, he
made up his mind to fight hard to keep it. After
strengthening the city walls, laying in a great
 stock of provisions, and securing the help of seven brave
allies, Eteocles closed the gates of Thebes, and calmly
awaited the arrival of the enemy.
Meanwhile the seven chiefs were marching from Argos to
Thebes. They came at last to the forest of Nemea, where Hercules, the chief hero of Argos, had once slain
a terrible lion. This monster had long lived in the
forest, filling the hearts of all the people with
dread; and when Hercules came out of the forest,
wearing the skin of the lion, they had greatly
Hercules and the Nemean Lion.
In honor of Hercules' victory over the Nemean lion,
the seven chiefs stopped in this spot to celebrate
games, which they said should be held in that
neighborhood every three years. This festival was ever
after celebrated thus; and when the people gathered
together there to see the racing and boxing, they loved
to recall the memory of the brave lion slayer, and of
the seven kings who had first celebrated the Nemean
When Polynices and his allies came at last to Thebes,
they found all the gates closed; and although they
fought bravely, and tried hard to enter the city, they
were kept at bay for seven long years. At the end of
that time the people inside the city, and those
 equally tired of this long siege: so it
was finally agreed that the two armies should meet on a
neighboring plain and fight it out.
The armies were led by the two brothers, who now hated
each other so bitterly, that, instead of waiting for
the signal for battle, they rushed upon each other, and
both fell before any one could interfere.
This terrible end of their quarrel filled the hearts of
both enemies with fear, and they agreed to make a truce
in order to bury their chiefs. As it was customary at
that time to burn the bodies of the dead, both corpses
were laid upon the funeral pyre side by side. When the
wood was all burned, the ashes were put into separate urns,
for the Greeks used to tell their children that these
brothers hated each other so much that even their ashes
would not mingle.
This story of Œdipus and his family is only a myth,
but it is a very celebrated one. The Greeks wrote
stories, poems, and plays about it, and it is on that
account that it should be known by every one who wishes
to study the history of Greece.