Eteocles, son of Oedipus and ruler of Thebes as a result of his father’s exile, has sent out a call for every man of every age to arrive in the city prepared for battle. The enemy is just outside the gate to the city, waiting for the fight to commence. The scout delivering this news takes leave, Eteocles prays to Zeus and the Chorus laments and begs for protection from the gods. This pleading results in chastisement from Eteocles and a quick promise of stoning if they do stop inciting ear and panic in the citizenry.
The Chorus rejects this attempt at appeasement proceed with their wails of warning. Eteocles warns them again to restrain their panic and then goes off a tangent about the weakness of women. This apparently does the trick and the Chorus finally agrees to hold back. Eteocles prays to the gods again and promises to offer sacrifices and trophies in the event Thebes is defended from the attackers. Eteocles takes his leave and the Chorus launches into lamentations and wailings again.
The scout enters with news about which of the attackers will lead the attack against each of the city’s seven gates. Eteocles responds by deciding who will be in charge of defending each of those gates. Upon learning that the person in charge of attacking the seventh gate is his own brother Polyneices, Eteocles announces he will be the defender there even as the Chorus warns against shedding the blood of his brother.
Eteocles acknowledges the curse upon his father, but decides to allow fate have its day. If the fates rule against him, so be it. This philosophy astounds the Chorus who lament the possibility of each brother being slayed and leaving no one behind to oversee a proper burial for both.
. He acknowledges the curse of his father, Oedipus, but Eteocles says that fate will determine the outcome, and if the gods are determined that he shall be destroyed, then this will happen. The chorus is dismayed at Eteocles departure and cry out that if each bother slays the other, there will be no family to see to a proper burial.
The scout returns with news that Thebes has successfully defended six of the gates, but the seventh gate was the scene of a tragic encounter that took the life of both sons of Oedipus. The Chorus is reminded that while they mourn both brothers, there is also cause for celebration: the curse of Oedipus is now over. The bodies arrive, followed by Ismene and Antigone, sisters to each other and to both the dead brothers.
Meanwhile, a council meeting has determined that Eteocles will receive a hero’s burial, but the body of Polyneices—who would have lain waste to Thebes—will be left to rot unburied and food for scavenging birds. Antigone makes a vow to bury Polyneices in direct violation of the order of the council. The herald who arrived with the news of the council vote argues against Antigone’s plans and exits to report back to the council of this development.
The play concludes with a split within the Chorus. Half go off to accompany the body of Eteocles and half choose to follow Antigone with her plans to disregard the council ruling and bury her other brother.