Theban Queen


Dirce by Antonio Canova

Dirce by Antonio Canova (1820–1824)

Royal Collection Trust, LondonPublic Domain


Dirce was the daughter of Ismenus and the wife of Lycus, king of Thebes. Dirce and Lycus were both known for their cruelty toward Lycus’ niece Antiope. Antiope had been impregnated by Zeus and bore him twins, Amphion and Zethus, but she was forced to abandon them at birth. 

After mistreating Antiope for many years, Dirce and Lycus finally turned her over to the grown Amphion and Zethus to be put to death. But the twins recognized their mother and turned the tables, making Dirce suffer the punishment she had intended for Antiope: they tied her to a bull, who dragged her to death.

Dirce’s body was thrown into a river near Thebes, which was subsequently named after her. She was later given a tomb by the river, where a nocturnal rite was performed by outgoing Theban officials known as hipparchs.[1]