Theban Cycle

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Detail of clay group with mythological scene from the Theban cycle, from the area of temple A at Pyrgi, mid-fifth century BC.

The Theban Cycle (Greek: Θηβαϊκὸς Κύκλος) is a collection of four lost epics of ancient Greek literature which related the mythical history of the Boeotian city of Thebes.[1] They were composed in dactylic hexameter verse and were probably written down between 750 and 500 BC.

The 9th-century AD scholar and clergyman Photius, in his Bibliotheca, considered the Theban Cycle part of the Epic Cycle; however, modern scholars normally do not.

The stories in the Theban Cycle were traditional ones: the two Homeric epics, the Iliad and Odyssey, display knowledge of many of them. The most famous stories in the Cycle were those of Oedipus and of the "Seven against Thebes", both of which were heavily drawn on by later writers of Greek tragedy.

The epics of the Theban Cycle were as follows:

  • The Oedipodea, attributed to Cinaethon: told the story of Oedipus' solution to the Sphinx's riddle, and presumably of his incestuous marriage to his mother Epicaste or Jocasta.
  • The Thebaid, of uncertain authorship but sometimes attributed in antiquity to Homer: told the story of the war between Oedipus' two sons Eteocles and Polynices, and of Polynices' unsuccessful expedition against the city of Thebes with six other commanders (the "Seven Against Thebes"), in which both Eteocles and Polynices were killed.
  • The Epigoni, attributed in antiquity to either Antimachus of Teos or Homer: a continuation of the Thebaid, which told the story of the next generation of heroes who attacked Thebes, this time successfully.
  • The Alcmeonis, of unknown authorship: told the story of Alcmaeon's murder of his mother Eriphyle for having arranged the death of his father Amphiaraus (told in the Thebaid).

Select editions and translations[edit]

Critical editions[edit]

  • Kinkel, G. (1877), Epicorum Graecorum fragmenta, vol. 1, Leipzig.
  • Allen, T.W. (1912), Homeri opera. Tomus V: Hymni, Cyclus, Fragmenta, Margites, Batrachomyomachia, Vitae, Oxford, ISBN 0-19-814534-9.
  • Bernabé, A. (1988), Poetae epici Graecae, pars i, Leipzig, ISBN 978-3-598-71706-2.
  • Davies, M. (1988), Epicorum Graecorum fragmenta, Göttingen, ISBN 978-3-525-25747-0.



  1. ^ West (2003, pp. 4–11).