This article offers a thorough study of Virgil's interaction with the myth of Eteocles and Polynices' war for the throne of Thebes, as represented especially in Athenian tragedy. It demonstrates that allusions to the Theban myth are crucial to the Aeneid's construction of a set of tensions and oppositions that play an important role in Virgil's reflection on the historical experience of Rome, especially in connection with the transition from Republic to Empire. In particular, interaction with Theban stories allows Virgil to explore: (1) the dichotomy between similarity and foreignness in the depiction of Rome's enemies; (2) the tension in differing attitudes towards the state as reflected in antithetical character types—namely, the selfless youth who sacrifices himself for the community and the would-be tyrant prepared to go to any lengths to achieve sole power; and, finally, (3) the dichotomy between opposing notions of time defined by teleology, on the one hand, and circularity and repetition on the other, the two representing the differing temporalities of epic and tragedy, respectively.
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Stefano Rebeggiani; Theban Myth in Virgil's Aeneid: The Brothers at War. Classical Antiquity 1 April 2020; 39 (1): 95–125. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ca.2020.39.1.95
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