Unfortunately, the majority of the texts describing the Epigonoi–the “born afters”–are lost, existing only as fragments, titles and summaries. So much of what follows is necessarily my own invention to match what little we know of the vengeance of the sons of the Seven against Thebes. But the tale itself is very old, having been mentioned in the Iliad. Unfortunately, due to different sources, there are more than seven names recorded for the original Seven, and in making my choices about which to include, I left out one that I should have used; consequently, one of the Argives in the Iliad doesn’t get to be one of the Epigonoi in this version. (Not that the Iliad mentions him as having joined Diomedes and Sthenelos in taking Thebes. It just gives him a glass jaw during the boxing match at the funeral games of Patroclos…)
Adrastos returned to Argos nearly alone; a few of his troops had also escaped, but the majority of his Argive army died around the walls of Thebes. The widows of the other leaders of the Argive army wept and most of them heaped curses upon Polynices for having led their husbands into that futile war, and upon Adrastos for helping, and for his cowardly survival.
Those widows raised up their sons–some of whom had not even yet been born when their fathers died–in the memory of the fathers who had been stolen away from them by the Theban defenders. And as the sons grew towards manhood, they frequently spoke of the idea of avenging their fathers. The sons of Amphiaraos spoke most loudly on the topic, being old enough to remember their father.
But one night, nearly eighteen years after the failure of the Argive army to defeat Thebes, as the sons of the fallen champions were beginning their serious plans to invade Thebes, Alkmaion, elder son of Amphiaraos, dreamed of his father.
In the dream, Amphiaraos appeared before his son in a darkened cave, looking much older than he had when he left, as though he was not dead, but lived still beneath the earth that had swallowed him so many years earlier. “If you obey their signs and dictates as we did not, then the gods will permit you victory where we were defeated. But first you must keep your word to me and obey my final request!”
When he woke from the dream, Alkmaion thought back to the day when his father left their home to depart for the fatal war at Thebes. Alkmaion and his brother had heard the whole argument earlier, of course, when their mother Eriphyle coerced their father into agreeing to help Polynices attempt to regain his throne, and it had made both boys reluctant to see their father ride off to the battle. But for some reason, until today Alkmaion had forgotten his father’s parting words to himself and his brother Amphilochos:
“Boys, if I don’t come back, kill your mother for me.”
Eriphyle still prized the necklace she had been given by Polynices, the bribe he had given her to force her husband to take part in the battle he had known would cost his life. She had valued that bit of gold and jewels above her own husband’s life! The more he thought about it, the more Alkmaion realized that his mother might as well have killed her husband herself. It was Eriphyle, more than the Thebans, who needed to die for Amphiaraos to be avenged.
The question was if Alkmaion should undertake the terrible task himself, or if he should include his brother in it. Their father had been speaking to both of them, but surely it was better for him to protect his younger brother from having to take part in the killing of such close kin.
Having made up his mind, Alkmaion reminded his brother of the part Eriphyle had played in their father’s death, then sent him to join up with Aigialeus, son of Adrastos, and Diomedes, son of Tydeus, who were planning their assault on Thebes in vengeance for the fallen Argive heroes buried before its walls.
Once only Eriphyle and a few slaves were in the house, Alkmaion confronted his mother with her complicity in the death of Amphiaraos, then drew his sword and slew her. While the slaves were panicking, Alkmaion ran out of the house and left the city as quickly as he could. He didn’t want to bring the pollution of murder–especially matricide!–upon Argos, or the noble venture to raze Thebes.
Unaware of Alkmaion’s actions, Amphilochos and the others laid out their plans for the assault on Thebes. They knew that its king had only recently come to his throne on the death of Creon, the regent, and the king–Laodamas, son of Eteocles–was no older than most of their own champions. Having been raised by the elderly Creon, Laodamas was sure to have gotten an insufficient training as a warrior, all the young heroes were convinced, and would be unable to lead his troops to victory.
Though everyone was shocked when the report came in that Alkmaion had murdered his own mother, Amphilochos was able to explain his brother’s actions to avenge their father’s death, and everyone agreed that–brutal as it had been–Alkmaion had acted correctly. Though Thersander, son of Polynices, agreed somewhat less than the others, since Eriphyle’s sin implicated his late father as well.
The planning continued for many weeks, as the young men trained themselves hard, and gathered an army to avenge their fathers. It was a smaller army than the one that had marched with Polynices, but they were confident that they would succeed where their fathers had failed.
Soon, they were marching on Thebes, each son planning to assault the gate that had foiled his father. Diomedes was thus to take the Gate of Proitos, where Tydeus had fallen in battle, and–though Diomedes didn’t know it–Athene marched by his side to aid him towards victory.
Sthenelos, son of Capaneus, marched for the Gate of Electra, where Zeus himself had struck down his father. But he had made many offerings of apology to the king of the gods to make up for his father’s behavior, so he was confident that he would not meet his father’s fate.
Aigialeus, son of Adrastos, marched on the Neis Gate, but he felt keenly the shame that his father still lived, having turned and fled from the battle in a most craven manner. He was determined that nothing could ever compel him to leave the field while his enemies still stood.
Promachos, son of Parthenopaios, was to take the Northern Gate, and he bore a shield decorated with his grandparents Meleager and Atalanta killing the Calydonian Boar. Amphilochos was planning on laying siege to the Homoloian Gate that had foiled his father Amphiaraos, and Thersander was marching on the seventh gate, where his father and uncle had slain each other in equal combat.
As they forded the Asopos River, they were surprised to find Alkmaion waiting for them. “I’ve been purified by the gods,” he explained, “because I was acting on my father’s orders to avenge him. The oracle was clear that I must take part in this expedition, too,” he added.
Amphilochos was glad to have his brother rejoin them, and everyone agreed that this was a favorable omen for their success.
The Thebans were seemingly taken by surprise by the army as it arrived, and one the gates stood open, blocked only by the defending army. This changed the entire strategy the Argive army had planned, and they all focused their attention on defeating that army and passing through the open gate beyond.
The young king Laodamas himself led the defense, and struck down Aigialeus, son of Adrastos, but was quickly killed in retribution by Alkmaion, who then was the first one through the gates into the city.
But as the Argive army was looting the city before burning it to the ground, they were surrpised to see not a single woman or child within to take as slaves and add profit to their venture. Eventually, they came across a lone woman, sitting before the altar to Zeus.
“Who are you?” Alkmaion asked her warily. “Where is everyone else?”
“I am Manto, daughter of Tiresias,” she told him, with a smirk. “My father saw your attack coming, and knew that it would succeed. So he led the civilians in fleeing the city to safety, though he told me that he would die before they reach their destination.”
“Why didn’t you go with him, then?”
“He said my destiny required me to be captured by your army, of course,” Manto laughed. “I don’t mind a brief slavery, considering what the gods have in store for me afterwards.”
With that, she rose, and accompanied him out of the temple of her own will, allowing him to enslave her and bring her before Thersander, who was just pronouncing himself the new king of Thebes. Thersander quickly ordered riders to pursue the Theban civilians, offering to take them back as his citizens, but also demanding that they enslave any who resisted. Manto laughed so at the futility of his command that Thersander couldn’t stand having her around, and sent her off to Delphi as a thank offering to the gods. As this was exactly what her father had predicted, Manto was glad to hear the command, and offered no resistance as she was led away.
Uh…yeah, that one didn’t work. Sorry. And Diomedes barely even got mentioned, which sucks.
Okay, I owe this one a new re-telling later, once I know what I’m doing.