Source: MECW, p. 572
Written: September 1837
First published: Marx/Engels, Gesamtausgabe, Abt. 1, Bd. 2, 1930.
Transcribed: Andy Blunden;
Why do the companies of the Greeks and their swift horses march through the great city of the mighty sons of Cadmus? And why throughout the plain do men with white shields move in polished arms around the long walls?
There comes against the city of the stout son of Agenor an army of Argive men for a mighty prize, there come the leaders of the Danaans, bringing war to Thebes, Tydeus, Capaneus and Parthenopaeus, King Amphiaraus, the godlike might of Hippomedon, King Adrastus, and Polynices, king of men; all march together with horse and car.
There glitter in the field iron lances and bossy shields and silver-studded swords. just as when a serpent suddenly coils round a sheep and envelops it, enclosing all its limbs, so did the Danaans surround the scat of Thebe.
But when all the ranks had taken up their position, spear in hand, men came out from the city, helmeted in flashing bronze, and among them was Eteocles, the stout son of Oedipus and a bold warrior. And when the leaders of the Bocotians and the soldiers of the Argives met together, they clashed together their shields, their spears and the might of bronze-breast plated men: and there arose a dreadful din. Bloody flowed the stream of famous Dirce, bloody the Ismenus, as man threw down man.
And in the forefront raged Eteocles with his bronze spear; and many were the warriors who fell to the ground, vanquished by his keen shaft. And the son of Agenor, descrying mighty Polynices
striding among the Argives, prayed to Athena: “Pallas, daughter of aegis-bearing Zeus, Atrytone, hear me. If ever I have burned for you fat thighs of oxen and of goats, grant me this prayer. Let me sink my long-shadowing spear in the breast of that man, of the race of famed Oedipus who, though he is my brother, goodly Polynices, yet has come from thirsty Argos with the rulers of the Argives to devastate his native land.”
So he spoke, and then addressed winged words to his brother: “Son of Oedipus, Polynices of the loud voice, it is with thee that my heart within my breast bids me fight: come hither as champion of all against the godlike Eteocles.”
So he spoke; and his brother prayed to the lady Hera: “Hear me, Hera, sister and spouse of Zeus, for thine I now am, since I have wedded an Argive woman, the daughter of Adrastus, who rules over the Argives, grant me now to slay with my spear stout Eteocles, because he did not respect his oath of loyalty in Thebes.” So he spoke, and then Eteocles, king of men, came over into the mid field, held back the ranks in the field. And to both sides he spoke such words: “Listen to me, Danaans and well-greaved Achaeans, that I may tell you what my spirit within my breast bids me. The Argives and the peoples of Boeotia are dying in hard-fought strife. And the business is not accomplished. My spirit bids me fight with my brother. This I declare and may Zeus be my witness. If he overcomes me with his long-bladed bronze, so let him rule over the Cadmeians among the people. But if I overcome him, and Athena gives me her spear, mine will be the dignity and the kingdom of my father, and you Argives may go back again to your home.”
So he spoke. And Achaeans and Boeotians rejoiced, and they drew up their horses in ranks, and dismounted themselves, and took off their suits of armour and laid them on the ground near one another, and there was little space round about.
Now Eteocles hurls his long-shadowing spear, and the lordly son of Agenor, seeing it approaching, avoided black Death, and the bronze spear flew over him.
And the godlike Polynices, swiftly drawing his gold-studded sword, rushed upon his adversary, and they clashed together like two savage lions, brothers and siblings of one blood. And as he hastened, by his golden belt........... darkness. And he pressed upon him, relying on his heavy hand. At once black blood began to flow from the wound. And at the same time the keen sword of Polynices, king of men, drove through breastplate and breast of Eteocles. And they both fell to the ground, and darkness covered their eyes. They lay there, brother having slain brother with long-bladed bronze. So perished the race of noble Oedipus.