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Article

The shield as pedagogical tool in Aeschylus’ Seven against Thebes

Hypothekai. 2020. No. 4. P. 121-170.

The article analyzes the descriptions of warriors in Aeschylus’s tragedy Seven against Thebes that are given in the “shield scene” and determines the pedagogical dimension of this tragedy. Aeschylus pays special attention to the decoration of the shields of the com-manders who attacked Thebes, relying on two different ways of dec-orating the shields that Homer describes in TheIliad. According to George Henry Chase’s terminology, in Homer, Achilles’ shield can be called “a decorative” shield, and Agamemnon’s shield is referred to as “a terrible” shield. Aeschylus turns the description of the shield decoration of the commanders attacking Thebes into a core element of the plot in SevenagainstThebes, maximizing the connection be-tween the image on the shield and the shield-bearer. He created an elaborate system of “terrible” and “decorative” shields (Aesch. Sept.375-676), as well as of the shields that cannot be categorized as “ter-rible” and “decorative” (Aesch. Sept. 19; 43; 91; 100; 160). The analysis of this system made it possible to put forward and prove three hypothetical assumptions: 1) In Aeschylus, Eteocles demands from the Thebans to win or die, focusing on the fact that the city cre-ated a special educational space for them and raised them as shield-bearers. His patriotic speeches and, later, his judgments expressed in the “shield scene” demonstrate a desire to justify and then test the educational concept “ἢτὰνἢἐπὶτᾶς” (“either with it, or upon it”) (Plut. Lacae. 241f.10); 2) Aeschylus turns the description of the dec-oration of the “decorative” or “terrible” shields into a core element of the plot. The decorated shields of all the attackers on Thebes de-scribed in the “shield scene” form a kind of single “mixed” shield, similar in complexity to the decoration on Achilles’ shield, which in-cludes elements of intimidation, as it was on Agamemnon’s shield; 3) Eteocles wants to establish himself as the king-mentor for the peo-ple, which will most clearly appear in the “shield scene”, where he solves a series of military riddles. These riddles require him to cor-rectly decipher what is depicted on the decorative or terrible shields of each of the attackers. Aeschylus uses the shield as pedagogical tool in the tragedy SevenagainstThebes, to which Euripides and Sta-tius will later offer their alternatives by referring to the decoration of the shields of the leaders who attacked Thebes.