OEDIPUS AND THE THEBAN WARS

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The myth of Oedipus and the wars of Thebes illustrate the process of purification of energy centers to make the body transparent to the penetration of divine forces.

Oedipus and the Sphinge - Louvre Museum

Oedipus and the Sphinge – Louvre Museum / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oedipus_sphinx_Louvre_G417_n2.jpg

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The Fiend was visible but cloaked in light;
He seemed a helping angel from the skies:
He armed untruth with Scripture and the Law;
He deceived with wisdom, with virtue slew the soul
And led to perdition by the heavenward path.

Sri Aurobindo
Savitri Book II Canto VII

While Oedipus has become widely known through Freud’s work, the Oedipus myth only constitutes, through a reversal of consciousness, an introduction to the process of purification illustrated by the Theban Wars.
In the preceding volume a study of the descendants of Oedipus was presented down till the children of Cadmus, and this will now be outlined again.

See Family tree 21 and Family tree 22

The wedding of Cadmus and Harmonia indicates a path of incarnation of the inner being (Thebes) through which a work of mastery and purification aiming at the ‘transparency’ of the being takes precision or exactness as its aim. For Cadmus is the son of Agenor and either Telephassa or Damno, and Harmonia, through the structuring characters of her name, also implies ‘an evolution of consciousness towards the right movement of consecration’.
This couple parented a son and four daughters:
– Ino, the excessive asceticism of seekers at the beginning of their paths.
– Autonoe, or the deviations of an overly-perfectionistic seeker.
– Agave and her son Pentheus, or an attachment to effort and suffering (the path of darkness).
– Semele, ‘appropriate submission or surrender’ or ‘exactness’ in the growth process of love, towards which the seeker strives through the path of purification and liberation, and her son Dionysus (the path which embraces the totality of the being to carry out the delight and enjoyment of the Divine).
– Polydorus, the significance of whose name remains uncertain. It may mean either ‘he who gives generously, the gift of oneself’, which is to say the movement of consecration or the path of sacrifice (in Sri Aurobindo’s sense; Chapters IV, V and VI in The Synthesis of Yoga, Part I: The Yoga of Divine Works), or ‘numerous gifts’, which is to say the development of the personality and of its capacities.

While the daughters of Cadmus and Harmonia can be associated with the path of passive consecration, Polydorus can be taken to represent that of active consecration in the domain of an intelligent will for realisation. These two movements must combine so as to accomplish ‘exactness’, which is to say to bring the right vision within the mind, the right impulse and sentiment within the vital, and the right movement and the right habit within the physical. The accomplishment of this ‘exactness’ corresponds to the full submission of the external nature to the psychic being.

No evidence in early myths clearly indicates that Polydorus bore descendants. It is only at the end of the 5th century with Herodotus and the advent of the tragic playwrights that a link was forged between this character and Oedipus. However, this genealogical association seems plausible as Oedipus is also associated with myths addressing purification and re-harmonisation, like the War of Seven against Thebes and the War of the Epigoni.

THE FOUNDING OF THEBES AND ITS FIRST KINGS

There is a collection of myths, unfortunately uncorroborated by earlier sources, which describe the founding of Thebes and therefore the beginnings of the process of incarnation of inner life. They are sometimes linked to Polydorus when Antiope is presented as his sister-in-law, or else are presented independently when the latter is described to be the daughter of the river Asopos. Both versions will be successively discussed here.

In discussing the first version one must go back to the ancestors of Nycteis, the wife of Polydorus; they are considered to be either Poseidon and Alcyone (‘a powerful evolution’, the dynamism of which originates in the subconscious, Poseidon), or Chthonius, ‘the depths of the earth’, issued from one of the dragon’s teeth seeded.

Hyrieus, or an understanding of the path and the preparation for entering the quest through a first reversal

Poseidon and Alcyone parented a son named Hyrieus.
Hyrieus ruled over a city in Boeotia which was named after him.
He possessed a great treasure, which he protected in a fortified shelter designed by two architects of great renown, Agamedes and Trophonios.
(Agamedes has wed a homonymous Epicasta, who had coupled with Apollo and borne Trophonios. Other sources claim that the latter was a son of Erginos of the lineage of Minuas.)
These two architects were said to have previously designed the bridal chamber of Alcmene in Thebes, the temple of Apollo in Delphi and that of Poseidon in Arcadia. They were pilfering fractions of the king’s treasure over time, having secretly arranged to maintain access to it by removing a carefully dissimulated stone. But the king guessed what was happening, and asked Daedalus for advice. The latter designed a trap in which Agamedes was caught. To avoid being denounced by his partner, Trophonios decapitated him, but the earth opened up and engulfed the murderer.
(There is a variation of this myth, in which the king is Augeas rather than Hyrieus.)

‘The right movement of consciousness towards a state of receptivity’, which is fortified in the subconscious in response to a powerful will for evolution, allows numerous realisations and accomplishments; Hyrieus, son of Poseidon and Alcyone, had successfully amassed a great treasure for himself. This treasure is reserved for a future yoga, and protected from danger by an inner organisation established simultaneously by ‘one who has a powerful intention’ aiming towards purification, and by ‘that which nourishes consciousness’ (the structure protecting the treasure had been built by Agamedes and Trophonios, renowned architects of the lineage of Minuas, ‘the evolution of a receptive state aiming at consecration’). Agamedes was wed to Epicasta, and therefore represents a movement which seeks ‘all that is akin to purity’. In the version of this myth in which Apollo couples with Epicasta, this search for purity is ‘appreciated’ and fertilized by the psychic light represented by Apollo. From this union is born Trophonios, ‘he who nourishes the evolution of consciousness’.

This consciousness-structuring movement had already led to a recognition of the important work carried out by the subconscious through life events and of the need for putting forward the psychic light (the two architects had previously built temples to Poseidon and Apollo).
This movement had also prepared those seekers who have developed ‘a powerful soul or personality’ to embark upon the quest for purification/liberation (they had designed the bridal chamber of Alcmene in which took place her union with Zeus, from which was born Heracles).
It had also given the means to avoid wasting the ‘flashes of truth’ or luminous experiences which the seeker had accrued (by safeguarding Hyrieus’ treasure).

Despite all of these accomplishments, it is still ‘a powerful personal intention’ that is at work in this situation, pushing the seeker to try to steal for himself the fruits of these realisations and accomplishments, and thus making them of less benefit (the architects were pilfering parts of king Hyrieus’ treasure).
The movements which strive to organise consciousness must therefore cede their place; it is an advanced element coming from an inner guidance which strive for this goal (it was Daidalos of the royal Athenian lineage who set the trap).
For this to occur, the seeker must in fact use cunning in regards to his own mechanisms, for a reversal is necessary; the energy so far utilised to build the structures necessary to safeguard the acquisitions of yoga henceforth only serve to diminish them, for the ego demands its dues.
Intelligence unveils this loss through its skillful capacities, but it is ‘that which nourishes the evolution of the organisation of consciousness’ which puts an end to the ‘powerful personal intention’ and cuts away its directing element (Agamedes was decapitated by Trophonios). Then, that which has allowed for the organisation of this first phase of yoga disappears in its turn (Trophonios is engulfed by the Earth).

This story illustrates the necessary transformation of a path carried out for personal motivations, even if it is for the sake of the liberation or the perfection of oneself, into one in which the yoga is carried out for the Divine itself. For the seeker must not submit the yogic process to his own conditions nor be preoccupied with his own fulfillment, but rather that of the Divine work. The seeker’s own liberation, his perfection and his spiritual fulfillment should result from and be part of the manifestation of the Divine rather than the aim of his yoga. (On this subject see Sri Aurobindo, Lights on Yoga.)

Hyrieus’ children Nycteus and Lycus, and his grandchildren Nycteis and Antiope.

The version analysed here is of a later date, and is a second-hand account. In fact, it was retold by Hyginus who took it up from a lost work by Euripides.
Hyrieus married Clonia, who bore him two children, Nycteus and Lycus, although according to Apollodorus, Nycteus had originated directly from Chthonius. After having slain Phlegyas they arrived in Thebes, and Nycteus became regent as the Theban heir Labdacus was still a child. Hyrieus wed Clonia who bore him two daughters, Nycteis and Antiope. His brother Lycus wed Dirce.

Later on Antiope was either seduced or raped by Zeus, and became pregnant with twins. To escape the anger of her father Nycteus she fled to the most distant lands of the Corinthian isthmus, where king Epopeus claimed her as his bride. Nycteus died of grief, or according to some committed suicide. On his deathbed he asked his brother Lycus, who was his successor on the Theban throne, to ensure that his daughter and her husband would be punished.
Lycus consequently organised an expedition to the Corinthian lands, where he slew Epopeus and brought Antiope back to Thebes. On the journey back to Thebes she gave birth to the twins Amphion and Zethos, who were abandoned, or exposed, on Mount Cithaeron (or it is sometimes said in Eleutherae), and later rescued and adopted by a goatherd or cowherd.
(‘Exposed’ is a te