Amphiareos


So I’m re-reading Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes, and I’ve found myself quite interested in one character in particular: Amphiareos. He is an ally of Polynices, brother of the chief protagonist, Eteocles. He is also King of Argos.

His name means something akin to “doubly Ares”, or “twice cursed” (both “Ares” and “curse” take their root from AR-A/E, “to harm”). He is a successful warlord and renown oracle/seer. His character intrigues me because of his seership and the possible source for this power. Wikipedia (dubious, ,I know) has it attributed to Zeus or Apollon, both of whom championed Amphiareos. My hypothesis, however, is that Amphiareos   is actually an oracle of Ares.

This can be a contentious claim. Both Zeus and Apollon are oracular deities, and it would make sense that any oracular ability would stem from them. However, given that Ares is also an oracular deity, specifically one which concerns himself with the affairs of war, national security, and justice (especially from the perspective of Aeschylus), it can logically follow that this power can stem from Ares.

More specifically, it is the words and demeanor of Amphiareos (not to mention the etymology of his name) that leads me to this hypothesis. Railing against Tydeus, whom Amphiareos accuses of goading him to war, he declares,

“Murderer, maker of unrest in the city, principal teacher of evils to the Argives, summoner of vengeance’s Curse, servant of Slaughter, [575] counselor to Adrastus in these evil plans.”

I think, given Aeschylus’ penchant for Ares in this play, as well as the allusion to Ares as the curse both early in the play (Line 70, meant to foreshadow) and later on the shield of Polynices, it is possible in my mind that he is also addressing Ares. Many of the elements integral Ares’ epithets are present, i.e. Murderer, Summoner of vengeance’s Curse (Ares is often paired, at least in Aeschylus’ plays, with the Erinyes), and Maker of Unrest (Ares as a god of civil strife).

Amphiarios’ death was pretty epic, too. Chased away on his chariot, Zeus struck the ground before him and he was all swallowed up. The most interesting thing, in my mind, is that this is the exact opposite of the birth of the Spartoi of Thebes, who sprang up from the earth and founded the dynasties of Thebes with Cadmus. I can’t help but feel that this, though it is contained in Apollodoros’ account, is almost more Aresian than Zeus-related.

Anyway, those are just some of my musings on the subject. I’m sure I could be reading too much into things and of course showing my bias, but it’s fun to think about nonetheless. Hail Ares!

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4 comments on “Amphiareos

  1. ladyimbrium says:

    Even if you’re drawing all the wrong conclusions, it makes for a very interesting way of looking at the story. It also makes a great deal of sense, so I wouldn’t be too quick to discount your hypothesis.

  2. henadology says:

    Great post, and I do really enjoy your blogging. Regarding the name “Amphiareus”, I note that amphi- plus the genitive has the sense of “for the sake of” or “concerning”; and when I looked it up in Liddell & Scott, my eye was drawn immediately to the example from the Odyssey (8. 267): “the minstrel … sang of the love of Ares and Aphrodite [amph’Areos philotêtos … t’Aphroditês]”. So “Amphiareus” I would say probably means “concerned with Ares” or “for the sake of Ares”.

    Nice how you point out here the echo of the Spartoi in the death of Amphiareus; the significance of the motif of the “earth-born” men in the Theban cycle is underestimated, I feel. It’s present, also associated with Ares, in the Argonautika; and then plays an important role in Plato. First, Socrates argues in the Republic that the city’s guardians ought to be taught to believe that they are earth-born men, so that they will feel no partiality towards a certain family; and then in the Statesman, the Eleatic stranger posits that all creatures were “earth-born” in the age of Kronos, when the Gods administered the cosmos directly.

    • pthelms says:

      As far as the linguistic part of your comment, I honestly thought the same thing when I looked in my dictionary, which is what lead me to my hypothesis in the first place. I didn’t really include it though because I know about enough Greek words to write on my hand, and none of the grammar, so I figured I’d skip over it.

      As for the philosophers, I haven’t quite gotten there yet. I’ve decided that since I’m burning out on Aeschylus I’d tackle philosophy next, because it’s easier for me to read than poetry. I’ll definitely have to keep an eye out for those passages, thanks!

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