Zethus, Amphion & the City of the Seven Gates

Several generations passed before the lower town was walled. A local river nymph, Antiope, was seduced by Zeus (in one of his least elegant disguises – a satyr) and gave birth to twins. When her uncle, the wolfish Lycus, found out, he exposed them on Cithaeron, and bade his wife Dirce inflict whatever punishments she chose upon Antiope. At last Antiope escaped and fled on to the mountain with Dirce in pursuit. Here she met two strapping cowherds, who initially refused to help her. Almost too late, the old man who was with them revealed the truth: they were Antiope’s long-lost sons, Amphion and Zethus, whom he had reared as his own. Emboldened, the twins rescued Antiope and tied Dirce by her hair to the horns of a bucking bull. She did not survive the experience. Where her broken body fell a spring welled up, which is still called after her.

Zethus, Amphion & the City of the Seven Gates Photo Gallery

Vengefully, the brothers killed Lycus, who was ruling as regent for Cadmus’ great-grandson, Laius. While Laius fled into exile, they strengthened Thebes’ protective walls. As Zethus heaved great boulders, Amphion employed an easier technique. So virtuosic was he on the lyre that he could charm even rocks, which glided willingly towards the wall and slid snugly into place. Soon the ramparts were finished, a fine battlemented wall, punctured by seven well-towered gates.

Later, when Amphion’s wife Niobe boasted that she had more children than the goddess Leto, Apollo and Artemis killed them all. Some say that Amphion committed suicide in grief, though the Roman Hyginus tells how, wild-eyed, he attacked Apollo’s temple at Delphi and was cut down by the god. Zethus was equally unfortunate. When his one son died – perhaps in an accident, perhaps at his mother’s hands – he killed himself. As late as the second century ad the mound that covered Amphion and Zethus’ remains was jealously guarded, as its soil was thought to have magic properties.

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