Located in the Boeotia region of central Greece, Thebes is a city steeped in the ancient Greek myths and its gods. The city, located 31 miles north of Athens, is situated on a plain bordered by the Cithaeron Mountains and Lake Yliki and is still populated today.
Thebes has been central to the myths of the Greek gods from the time of its founding. The Phoenician king Cadmus first established the city on the advice of the Oracle of Delphi. The Oracle directed Cadmus to follow a cow and build his city wherever the cow stopped. After the cow stopped, Cadmus sent his men to find water. At a nearby spring they encountered a dragon that Cadmus was forced to slay. The goddess Athena then suggested to Cadmus that he bury the dragon’s teeth, like seeds. From the teeth, an army of soldiers sprouted from the Earth and began to battle one another. At the end of the fight, five soldiers remained, and they would help Cadmus build Thebes. They were known as the Spartoi, or sown men, and from them the nobles of Thebes were born.
The construction of the walls and citadel of Thebes are told in another of the city’s myths, connected to more of Zeus’s offspring. The great god had twin sons named Amphion and Zethus. The twins took the throne of Thebes from King Laius and built the city’s fortifications. According to the story, Zethus found it difficult to carry the rocks needed to build the walls, but Amphion simply played his lyre, and the music carried the stones into place. The brothers eventually died or were killed, depending on the story, after building a 7-gated wall; Laius retook the throne.
One of the city’s most infamous myths took place after Laius returned to Thebes. He married a woman named Jocasta, but the Oracle of Delphi advised Laius that if he ever had a son the child would kill him. When Jocasta gave birth to a son, named Oedipus, she gave the baby to a servant to leave on the side of a mountain. Oedipus was eventually adopted and raised by the king and queen of Corinth, unaware that they were not his true parents.
As a young man, Oedipus also visited the Oracle and was told that he would kill his father and marry his own mother. In order to avoid such a fate, he did not return to Corinth, instead traveling to Thebes. Along the way, Oedipus encountered Laius, unaware the king was his true father. Laius instigated a fight and Oedipus killed him in defense. He journeyed on to Thebes where the now widowed Queen Jacosta, his own mother, was holding a contest for her hand in marriage. Oedipus defeated a Sphinx, answering the creature’s riddle, and became the king of Thebes. It would be many years before he and Jacosta would learn that Oedipus was her son, leading to one of Greek mythology’s greatest tragedies.
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