King Amphiaraus (AM-fee-uh-RAY-us, "doubly cursed") of Argos sailed with the Argonauts and was one of the Seven Against Thebes, the warriors gathered by King Adrastus and Polynices to reclaim the throne of Thebes for the latter. He was the son of King Oicles and Hypermnestra. A descendant of the seer and healer Melampus, like his ancestor he was a prophet. He was married to Eriphyle, sister of Adrastus, and both men ruled Argos together.

Amphiaraus knew that the expedition against Thebes was bad news (he was a prophet, after all) and refused to participate. But, like so many other reluctant Greek warriors, he was tricked into it. His wife bribed him with the magical necklace of Harmonia, which apparently was incentive enough to risk his neck for, no pun intended. The necklace was from Polynices, handed down from Cadmus, the first king of Thebes and husband of Harmonia.

When the siege of Thebes went badly, as he expected, he turned his chariot around and bolted. Poriclymenus, a Theban defender, was hot on his trail, but Zeus split the earth open and swallowed Amphiaraus, Amphiaraus’ chariot, and his charioteer Baton and sent them to the underworld before Amphiaraus could be killed by the warrior.

Before he left, he made his sons Amphilochus and Alcmaeon swear to avenge his death, and to kill their mother for getting him killed to boot. They joined the Epigonoi and succeeded fulfilling their father’s wishes.


The son of Oecles and Hypermestra (for his descent and breeding, see Table 1). His sons were Alcmaeon and Amphilocus, to whom other traditions add three heroes of Roman legend, Tiburtus, Coras and Catillus, the founders of the town of Tibur near Rome, the modern Tivoli.

Amphiaraus was a seer, under the protection of Zeus and Apollo. He was also a warrior renowned for his integrity and courage, as well as his piety. In the quarrels which marked the beginning of his reign in Argos Amphiaraus killed Talaus, the father of Adrastus, and drove out Adrastus. Later on the two cousins made up their differences, but while Amphiaraus was sincere about it, Adrastus harboured a sense of resentment. Adrastus gave Amphiaraus his sister Eriphyle in marriage, stipulating that if the cousins quarrelled, the issue should be settled by referring the matter to the girl's judgement, and it was this agreement that brought about the death of Amphiaraus. After Adrastus had promised Polynices to restore him to the throne of Thebes he asked his brother-in-law Amphiaraus to take part in the expedition which he was preparing against the town. Amphiaraus, warned by his powers of divination of the disastrous outcome of this war, tried to dissuade Adrastus from the enterprise. But Polynices, on the advice of Iphis, offered Eriphyle the necklace of Harmonia (see Cadmus). Swayed by this gift, Eriphyle, when called on to arbitrate between Adrastus and Amphiaraus, pronounced in favour of the war, and Amphiaraus, bound as he was by his promise, had reluctantly to march against Thebes. Before leaving, he made his two young sons swear to avenge him later by killing their mother and raising a second expedition against Thebes which could not fail to be victorious (see Alcmaeon: this was called the expedition of the Epigoni).

On the road to Thebes they met with their first adventure. While they were passing through Nemea the heroes asked Hypsipyle, the slave girl who was in charge of Opheltes, the infant son of the king, to show them a stream where they could quench their thirst. Hypsipyle momentarily put down the baby, whom an oracle had ordained must not be laid on the bround before he could walk, near a spring whose guardian serpent immediately attacked the infant and stifled it. Amphiaraus explained to them that this deadly omen meant that the expedition was doomed to disaster and that the chiefs would die. Nonetheless, the heroes continued on their way, after founding games in honour of Opheltes, who they called Archemorus or the star of Fate. They themselves took part in these games which were later called the Nemean Games, and Amphiaraus won prizes for jumping and throwing the discus. His skilful talk and his wisdom succeeded in securing a pardon for Hypsipyle from the parents of Opheltes. The Seven then reached Thebes.

Amphiaraus played a leading part in the fighting which developed in front of the town's seven gates. When one of the Seven, Tydeus, had been wounded in the stomach by Melanippus, Amphiaraus killed Melanippus, beheaded him, and carried the bleeding head to Tydeus who broke it open and ate the brains. Athena, who had intended to make Tydeus immortal, was so shocked by this cannibalism that she gave up her intention. In the rout which marked the end of the campaign, Amphiaraus fled to the banks of the Ismenus. Just as he was about to be joined by Periclymenus, Zeus, with a clap of thunder, caused the earth to open beneath him and swallow up Amphiaraus, with his horses, his chariot and his driver. As late as Pausanias' day, the spot where this happened was still pointed out. Zeus granted Amphiaraus immortality and he continued to utter oracles at Oropus in Attica.


Table of Sources:
- Apollod. Bibl. 1, 8, 2; 3, 6, 3ff.
- Virgil, Aen. 7, 670; 11, 640
- Horace, Odes 1, 18, 2; 2, 6, 5
- Hom. Il. 15, 245ff.
- Pind. Nem. 9, with schol.
- Aeschylus, Septem 568ff., Stat. Theb. passim
- Diod. Sic. 4, 65, 5ff.
- Paus. 1, 34, 1ff.; 5, 17, 7ff.; 9, 41, 2
- Hyg. Fab. 73f
- Bacchyl. 8, 10ff.
- Tzetzes on Lyc. Alex. 1066
- Ovid, Ibis 427ff.; 515ff.

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