Manvotional: Report from the Attack on Thebes

by Brett & Kate McKay on October 24, 2009 · 8 comments

in A Man's Life, Manvotionals


In Euripides’ Suppliant Women, a messenger reports the bravery of the seven men who died while trying to take back the city of Thebes. All the men who died were not only great warriors, but they lived exemplary lives of honorable manliness.

Hear, then. By granting me the privilege of
praising friends, you meet my own desire
to speak of them with justice and with truth.
I saw the deeds–bolder than words can tell–
by which they hoped to take the city. Look:
The handsome one is Capaneus. Through him
the lightning went. A man of means, he never
flaunted his wealth but kept an attitude
no prouder than a poor man’s. He avoided
people who live beyond their needs and load
their table to excess. He used to say
the good does not consist in belly food,
and satisfaction comes from moderation.
He was true in friendship to present and absent friends.
Not many men are so. His character
was never false; his ways were courteous;
his word, in house or city, was his bond.

Second I name Eteoclus. He practiced
another kind of virtue. Lacking means,
this youth held many offices in Argos.
Often his friends would make him gifts of gold,
but he never took them into his house. He wanted
no slavish way of life, haltered by money.
He kept his hate for sinners, not the city;
A town is not to blame if a bad pilot
makes men speak ill of it.

Hippomedon, third of the heroes, showed his nature thus:
While yet a boy he had the strength of will
not to take the pleasures of the Muses
that soften life; he went to live in the country,
giving himself hard tasks to do, rejoicing
in manly growth. He hunted, delighted in horses,
and stretched the bow with this hands, to make his body
useful to the city.

There lies the son
of huntress Atalanta, Parthenopaeus,
supreme in beauty. He was Arcadian,
But came to Inachus’ banks and was reared in Argos.
After his upbringing there, he showed himself
as resident foreigners should, not troublesome
or spiteful to the city, or disputatious,
which would have made him hard to tolerate
as citizen and guest. He joined the army
like a born Argive, fought the country’s wars,
was glad when the city prospered, took it hard
if bad times came. Although he had many lovers,
and women flocked to him, still he was careful
to cause them no offense.

In praise of Tydeus
I shall say much in little. He was ambitious
greatly gifted, and wise in deeds, not words.

From what I have told you, Theseus, you should not
wonder that these men dared to die before the towers.
To be well brought up develops self-respect:
anyone who has practiced what is good
is ashamed to turn out badly. Manliness
is teachable. Even a child is taught
to say and hear what he does not understand;
things understood are kept in mind til old age.
So, in like manner, train your children well.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jonathan Frei -- OrdinaryTime October 25, 2009 at 7:22 am

This was great. Sad though how well manliness was understood by the Greeks and Romans of the ancient world, and how we’ve forgotten so much of what it means today.

But I think now things are beginning to swing back the other way. Manliness is in style once again.

2 gen Y Investor October 25, 2009 at 9:08 am

I really love these type of posts that tell old stories or events. Most of these I never heard of or knew exisited, and if it weren’t for AOM I would never have. Great post!

3 Miss Gabriel October 25, 2009 at 2:41 pm

What a fantastic passage. These men are displaying true virtues, and are wonderful role models.

4 Quinn October 26, 2009 at 3:24 am

An interesting passage, but colored by poetic interpretation. In Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes he ascribes the seven defenders of Thebes these qualities, while marking out the attackers as the greediest and most evil of men. I wonder what that says about the interpretation of manliness even in Euripedes’ days?

5 Nik October 26, 2009 at 2:28 pm

What I found most admirable about the whole passage was the speaker’s desire to praise his deserving friends who seemed to all be men who asked for no praise. Obviously the 7 all had very admirable qualities, but I think the messenger’s heartfelt desire to express praise and appreciation is a virtue that is often overlooked and undervalued.

6 Isi October 26, 2009 at 3:07 pm

I am just starting to teach my boys what it is to be a man – assuming that i understand such myself. To read in plain simple terms what that means helps to inspire them to be men. Statements such as these go a long way:

My word is my bond.
Wise in deeds, not words.

I am still not convinced that manliness can be taught outright – but time will tell.

7 Z. J. Kendall October 26, 2009 at 5:22 pm

Not bad content but I didn’t care for it. I bet it reads better in the original Greek :P

8 Pete Miller November 17, 2009 at 2:21 pm

This was very moving: one to send to my brothers.

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