Gower Bibliography

Capaneus: Homer to Lydgate

Nau, Robert. "Capaneus: Homer to Lydgate." PhD thesis, McMaster University (Canada), 2005.


"A generation before the war at Troy, king Adrastos led an ill-fated expedition against Thebes. One of his commanders, Capaneus, died so spectacularly that he was virtually guaranteed a lasting place in the myth. He boasted that he would take Thebes whether the gods willed it or not and was subsequently struck from the city's wall by a lightning bolt from Zeus. Despite this simple narrative Capaneus' character is handled in a variety of ways. As would be expected he is at times portrayed as a villain. Thus in Aeschylus' "Septem," Euripides' "Phoenissae," and Statius' "Thebaid," he is an impious, vicious, threatening, and boastful character who is finally punished at Thebes. This portrayal, however, was not the only possibility in handling his character. In Euripides' "Suppliants," Capaneus is held up as a model citizen whose moderate life and tragic downfall should serve as a lesson to others. The earliest artistic depictions of Capaneus show a similar divergence in characterization. An artist could emphasize the villainy of the hero by including elements like a ladder to scale the Theban wall, a torch to burn the town, a lightning bolt to imply his punishment, or conversely portray him as a vulnerable youth struck down suddenly in war. Christian writers of the Medieval period take these lines of development further. Gower presents him as a warning against excessive pride, one of the seven deadly sins, and Dante lets him rage in hell against God under a continuous rain of lightning. In both the French "Le Roman de Thèbes" and Lydgate's "Siege of Thebes" the hero is a noble and beloved knight who, while dying at Thebes, lives long enough to take part in the later Athenian attack on the city." [JGN 25.2]

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information:Dissertation Abstracts International 66.10 (2006)
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Confessio Amantis

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