In Greek mythology, Polynices, sometimes spelled Polyneices, // (Greek: Πολυνείκης, transl. Polyneíkes, "manifold strife") was the son of Oedipus and Jocasta. His wife was Argea. His father, Oedipus, was discovered to have killed his father and married his mother, and was expelled from Thebes, leaving his sons Eteocles and Polynices to rule. Because of a curse put on them by their father Oedipus, the sons Polynices and Eteocles did not share the rule peacefully and died as a result by killing each other in a battle for the control of Thebes.
In the Thebaid, the brothers were cursed by their father for their disrespect towards him on two occasions. The first of these occurred when they served him using the silver table of Cadmus and a golden cup, which he had forbidden. The brothers then sent him the haunch of a sacrificed animal, rather than the shoulder, which he deserved. Enraged, Oedipus prayed to Zeus that the brothers would die by each other's hand. However, in Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus, Oedipus desired to stay in Thebes but was expelled by Creon. His sons argued over the throne, but Eteocles gained the support of the Thebans and expelled Polynices, who went to Oedipus to ask for his blessing to retake the city, but instead was cursed to die by his brother's hand. His son was Thersander.
Quarrel over the rule of Thebes
There are several accounts of how Eteocles and Polynices shared the rule after Oedipus' departure from the city. In Hellanicus' account, Eteocles offers his brother his choice of either the rule of the city or a share of the property. In Pherekydes, however, Eteocles expels Polynices by force, and keeps the rule of Thebes and the inheritance. The Bibliotheca and Diodorus state that the brothers agree to divide the kingship between them, switching each year. Eteocles, however, was allotted the first year, and refused to surrender the crown.
While Eteocles ruled Thebes, Polynices visited first king Theseus in Athens, then king Adrastus in Argos, where he married Argea, the king's daughter, after he raped her. He enlisted Adrastus' help in attacking Thebes. Polynices engendered the support of the prophet Amphiaraus by offering his wife Eriphyle the cursed necklace of Harmonia. The Seven Against Thebes then attacked Thebes, but were ultimately unsuccessful. During the attack on Thebes, Polynices and Eteocles engaged in single combat. Both brothers struck each other down.
In Sophocles' tragedy Antigone, Polynices' story continues after his death. King Creon, who ascended to the throne of Thebes, decreed that Polynices was not to be buried or even mourned, on pain of death by stoning. Antigone, his sister, defied the order, but was caught. Creon decreed death, this in spite of her betrothal to his son Haemon. Antigone's sister, Ismene, then declared she had aided Antigone and wanted the same fate. Creon imprisoned Antigone in a sepulchre; meanwhile the gods, through the blind prophet Tiresias, expressed their disapproval of Creon's decision, which convinced him to rescind his order. He then went to bury Polynices himself, and release Antigone. However, she had already hanged herself rather than be buried alive. When Creon arrived at the tomb where she was to be interred, his son Haemon made as if to attack him and then killed himself. When Creon's wife, Eurydice, was informed of their deaths, she too took her own life.
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- "The Oedipus Plays". SparkNotes. Retrieved December 8, 2012.
- Gantz, Timothy. Early Greek Myth. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993, p. 502
- Gantz, Timothy. Early Greek Myth. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993, p. 503
- Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, lines 1350-1395
- Bibliotheca 3.6.1