A number of characters, Aithra, Iphis, and - uniquely in all tragedy - the female chorus, are elderly,(8) while the protagonist Theseus and the subsidiary chorus, sons of the Seven, are characterized as youthful.(9) The dead Seven themselves are treated retrospectively as young men, whose actions are traceable to their immaturity Adrastos attempts to transfer the blame for his errors to a group of young followers (160); and these neoi would naturally include the two sons-in-law for whose sake he had mounted the expedition ([Characters Omitted], 132).
Adrastos, in his first speech to Theseus (162-92), never mentions the word hubris; but the moral analysis with which he supports his plea fits the framework described above.
Although Theseus and Adrastos raise several topics marginally associated with hubris, the word itself does not appear until the first of Theseus' political excursuses (231-37).
phthonos, resentment of others' gains.(22) The inconsequence with which Theseus passes from the sins of the young men to class conflict complicates the view of Adrastos and justifies some speculation about contemporary political correlatives to his case.
Adrastos' age is uncertain; but he might seem, as a gray-haired (166) but vigorous warrior, to fall midway between the younger characters, represented by Theseus and the Seven, and the very old, among which we must count lphis, Aithra, and the chorus.
The quiet (hesuchoi) cities do dim (skoteina) deeds, and they look dimly too, in their caution." The reaction of Athens to mockery only confirms the charge of the mockers, that she acts without thought.(47) The bright glare of the enraged nation is contrasted with the ingloriously dim glance of the meek cities that practice caution and hisuchia.(48) Irrational pride, hasty reactions, and a concomitant fear of mockery and shame would seem to be just the qualities that might send a man or a nation into ill-planned aggressive activity; and Aithra's praise of a rash Athens contrasts very much with the intellectualism of her son, who rebuked Adrastos for neglecting euboulia (161).
The correlation of democratic politics and imperialism, patent in the history of the fifth century, is blocked to some extent in Theseus' own case by his rebuke of Adrastos and by his conservative political stance, while the positive defense of imperialist politics is assigned to an old woman, who expresses doubt about her right to self-assertion.
Young men are a locus of political and military hubris; and the tyrant's actions against them may seem almost justified, since even Adrastos, himself nominally a turannos, was overmastered by the uproar of his youthful followers.
By intervening on behalf of Corcyra, Plataea, or Egesta, Athens took the position of helping the weaker party against a bully, just as Theseus does in helping the unfortunate Argives.(69) While there is something anachronistically compelling to modern Americans in Theseus' conduct of a "limited war," the problems in limiting military objectives and the difficulty of restraint once aggressive action has begun are derivable from the traditional accounts of Xerxes' folly.(70) There is also a striking parallelism between what Theseus does and what Adrastos did, in attempting to make good the "just" claims of Polyneikes (152-54).(71) In order to keep himself clear of the pitfalls, Theseus must make some strong distinctions and achieve miracles of restraint.