From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Thebes is a city in Greece, situated to the north of the Cithaeron range, which divides Boeotia from Attica, and on the southern edge of the Boeotian plain. It played an important role in Greek myth, as the site of the stories of Cadmus, Oedipus, Dionysus and others.
The stories of Thebes are mainly tragic tales of death, confusion, war, murder, complete frenzy, and other tragic endings. The record of the earliest days of Thebes was preserved among the Greeks in an abundant mass of legends which rival the myths of Troy in their wide ramification and the influence which they exerted upon the literature of the classical age. Five main cycles of story may be distinguished:
- The foundation of the citadel Cadmeia by Cadmus, and the growth of the Spartoi or "Sown Men" (probably an aetiological myth designed to explain the origin of the Theban nobility which bore that name in historical times);
- The building of a "seven-gated" wall by Amphion, and the cognate stories of Zethus, Antiope and Dirce;
- The tale of Laius, whose misdeeds culminated in the tragedy of Oedipus and the wars of the "Seven Against Thebes," the Epigoni, and the downfall of his house; Laius' pederastic rape of Chrysippus was held by some ancients to have been the first instance of homosexuality among mortals, and may have provided an etiology for the practice of pedagogic pederasty for which Thebes was famous. See Theban pederasty and Pederasty in ancient Greece for detailed discussion and background.
- The immolation of Semele and the advent of Dionysus; and
- The exploits of Heracles.