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The Phoenissae   


MESSENGER As yet thy sons are living, the pair of them.
JOCASTA God bless thee! How did you succeed in beating off from our
gates the Argive hosts, when thus beleaguered? Tell me, that I may
go within and cheer the old blind man, since our city is still safe.
MESSENGER After Creon's son, who gave up life for country, had taken
his stand on the turret's top and plunged a sword dark-hilted through
his throat to save this land, thy son told off seven companies with
their captains to the seven gates to keep watch on the Argive warriors,
and stationed cavalry to cover cavalry, and infantry to support infantry,
that assistance might be close at hand for any weak point in the walls.
Then from our lofty towers we saw the Argive host with their white
shields leaving Teumessus, and, when near the trench, they charged
up to our Theban city at the double. In one loud burst from their
ranks and from our battlements rang out the battle-cry and trumpet-call.
First to the Neistian gate, Parthenopaeus, son of the huntress maid,
led a company bristling with serried shields, himself with his own
peculiar badge in the centre of his targe, Atalanta slaying the Aetolian
boar with an arrow shot from far. To the gates of Proetus came the
prophet Amphiaraus, bringing the victims on a chariot; no vaunting
blazon he carried, but weapons chastely plain. Next, prince Hippomedon
came marching to the Ogygian port with this device upon his boss,
Argus the all-seeing with his spangled eyes upon the watch whereof
some open with the rising stars, while others he closes when they
set, as one could see after he was slain. At the Homoloian gates Tydeus
was posting himself, a lion's skin with shaggy mane upon his buckler,
while in his right hand he bore a torch, like Titan Prometheus, to
fire the town. Thy own son Polyneices led the battle 'gainst the Fountain
gate; upon his shield for blazon were the steeds of Potniae galloping
at frantic speed, revolving by some clever contrivance on pivots inside
the buckler close to the handle, so as to appear distraught. At Electra's
gate famed Capaneus brought up his company, bold as Ares for the fray;
this device his buckler bore upon its iron back, an earth-born giant
carrying on his shoulders a whole city which he had wrenched from
its base, hint to us of the fate in store for Thebes. Adrastus was
stationed at the seventh gate; a hundred vipers filled his shield
with graven work, as he bore on his left arm that proud Argive badge,
the hydra, and serpents were carrying off in their jaws the sons of
Thebes from within their very walls. Now I was enabled to see each
of them, as I carried the watch-word along the line to the leaders
of our companies. To begin with, we fought with bows and thonged javelins,
with slings that shoot from far and showers of crashing stones; and
as we were conquering, Tydeus and thy son on sudden cried aloud, "Ye
sons of Argos, before being riddled by their fire, why delay to fall
upon the gates with might and main, the whole of you, light-armed
and horse and charioteers?" No loitering then, soon as they heard
that call; and many a warrior fell with bloody crown, and not a few
of us thou couldst have seen thrown to the earth like tumblers before
the walls, after they had given up the ghost, bedewing the thirsty
ground with streams of gore. Then Atalanta's son, who was not an Argive
but an Arcadian, hurling himself like a hurricane at the gates, called
for fire and picks to raze the town; but Periclymenus, son of the
ocean-god, stayed his wild career, heaving on his head a waggon-load
of stone, even the coping torn from the battlements; and it shattered
his head with the hair and crashed through the sutures of the skull,
dabbling with blood his cheek just showing manhood's flush; and never
shall he go back alive to his fair archer-mother, the maid of Maenalus.
Thy son then, seeing these gates secure, went on to the next, and
I with him. There I saw Tydeus and his serried ranks of targeteers
hurling their Aetolian spears into the opening at the top of the turrets,
with such good aim that our men fled and left the beetling battlements:
but thy son rallied them once more, as a huntsman cheers his hounds,
and made them man the towers again. And then away we hastened to other
gates, after stopping the panic there. As for the madness of Capaneus,
how am I to describe it? There was he, carrying with him a long scaling-ladder

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