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Ritual Appropriateness in Seven Against Thebes. Civic Religion in a Time of War

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This paper explores the themes and tensions of the first part of the Seven Against Thebes, against the background of Athenian civic religion. The confrontation between Eteocles and the Chorus can be seen as an opposition between two gender-related religious attitudes. Eteocles describes his religious behaviour as ritually appropriate whereas he rebukes that of the women as inappropriate and disruptive. Thus, sacrifice and euchê-prayer stand against supplication and lamenting prayer (litê). In partial opposition to other interpretations, this paper views Eteocles as more concerned about the religious behaviour of the Chorus—what they do and how they pray—than with their religious views; in other words he castigates them for their heteropraxy, not their heterodoxy. In the background it is possible to make out the needs of a society of soldier-citizens to contain the ritual and emotional expression of fear and lament in order to avoid demoralizing the troops.

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