Main Text


Note that line numbers refer to the standard numbering of the Greek texts, not to the lines of this translation.


1 ancient land of Thebes: the powerful city of Thebes, with its ancient walls and their celebrated seven gates, was conspicuous in the plain near the southern edge of the large, relatively fertile area called Boeotia (see Map 1). In tragedy it is often called 'the city of Cadmus', as it is here in the Greek, after its legendary founder some four generations earlier.

3 suppliant branches: leafy branches tied round with bands of wool were often carried as a token of the ritual, when suppliants put themselves at the mercy of a person, or more often at the altar of a god.

5 Paean: this was a title of Apollo, in his role as a god of healing. Some songs in honour of Apollo were known as 'Paeans'.

20–2 before the double temple … of Apollo: literally 'the double-temples of Pallas [Athena] and the prophetic embers of Ismenus'. Ismenus (probably more correctly Hismenus) was a special Theban cult-title of Apollo, and was also the name of the river that flowed past one side of the city. These lines may suggest a certain fascination with real Theban institutions.

30 a profiteer in groans and tears: Hades, the god of the Underworld, was sometimes known as 'Ploutos', which means 'Wealth', so this is a kind of word-play.

36 that cruel singing lynx: here and several times elsewhere the Sphinx is alluded to by a riddling phrase, as though it might be bad luck to speak her name. The only time she is directly named is by Creon at 130.

56–7 A city's like a ship … but a hulk: I agree with those scholars who argue that these two rather leaden lines have been added to Sophocles' text.

70–1 Creon, brother of my wife, to Delphi: the father of both Iocasta and Creon was Menoeceus, who was, like Laius, a descendent of Cadmus. Thebes was nearer to Delphi and its famous pan-Hellenic oracle than most Greek cities, but it still involved some difficult terrain round the southern flank of Mt Parnassus (see Map 1). (In 71 the oracle is given the grand periphrasis of 'the Pythian house of Phoebus'.)

103 Laius: this is the first allusion to Laius in the play, and his name will be heard again and again before it is finally found to be that of Oedipus' father. In this translation, as in Greek, Laius has three syllables, not two (as is often mispronounced in English): more or less 'La-ee-us'.

122–3 He said … many hands: this surviving eyewitness is the old slave of Laius, who will later be summoned. His false account of the number of those who killed Laius will prove crucial to the difficulties of reconstructing the past.

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124–5 how could any bandit … here?: highway robbery was not a widespread phenomenon in ancient Greece, and Oedipus thinks first of a politically motivated payment, as he will later with Tiresias.

150–1 [SD] The Priest and young people … from the city: as the Priest and suppliants depart, the Chorus of Theban elders arrive and embark on their long opening song (the technical term "parodos" is sometimes applied). They are in effect the response to Oedipus' summons in 144, even though they have gathered unrealistically quickly. A similar choral licence allows them to have heard already that there has been an oracle from Delphi, although they do not know what it says.

151–8 What are you … and let me hear: the first stanza (strophe) is addressed to Apollo, mainly through the device of addressing the voice of his oracle. At 153 he is called Paean (see note on 5) with the epithet "Delian" because he was born on the small Aegean island of Delos.

159–67 First I summon … now come: the second stanza (antistrophe) calls on Athena and Artemis as well as Apollo. As often in Greek prayers, help is asked for now on the precedent of previous favours. The Greek includes further elaborations of cult: Artemis has a "circular throne" in the centre (agora) of Thebes, and Apollo is given an epic epithet thought to mean "who shoots from far off" (omitted in the translation).

190–201 Ares, war god … thunder blows: Ares is usually the god of war, and a patron of Thebes; but here, although it is not explained, he is portrayed as the alien and hostile plague-god. They want him to be banished either to "the great hall of Amphitrite", an ornate way of referring to the Atlantic in the far west, or to the dangerous Thracian Sea, which probably means the Black Sea to the east. The words of 198–9 ("Anything surviving … set to right."), though plain, remain mysterious.

203–8 Arrows from your golden bow … in her hands: in the Greek Apollo is called "Lycian" and Artemis is said to leap through "the mountains of Lycia", so the association seems to be with their cults in Asia Minor. I have omitted both these ornamental flourishes.

209–15 Come too … every other god: finally the chorus calls on Dionysus (here called "Bacchos" in the Greek) to help against the plague god. Dionysus, son of Zeus, was born at Thebes to Semele, daughter of Cadmus; the chorus even say he "shares his name" with Thebes. He is here, as often, associated with wine and with torchlight rites accompanied by his possessed Maenads.

216 ff. At prayer …: Oedipus' abrupt intervention may make him seem almost godlike; but, taken in context, this is more likely a sign of his absolute authority rather than any more-than-human presumption. His proclamation echoes several features of Athenian murder investigation and prosecution. In Athens it was the task of blood-kin to pursue the judicial procedures; and this gives a special irony—characteristic of this play, of course—to Oedipus' making himself out to be the surrogate son of Laius (264).

222–3 it's only later I've become a citizen: Oedipus' emphasis on not being a native citizen, but a late arrival, will turn out to be ironically false. The same point is implied by Tiresias at 452–4.

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246–51 I pray the guilty party … down on them: I agree with editors who have cut these lines out as a weaker duplication of the preceding curse in 236–43 and a diminishing addition to Sophocles' text. They may well have been added by an actor who wrongly thought that the curse was only on people who concealed the culprit and not on the actual agent. In these added lines the irony about Oedipus' own household is too heavy-handed and is exploited too early in the play.

267–8 Laius.… Agenor long ago: this solemn genealogy makes Oedipus seem like some kind of honorary successor to the royal line; he will in fact he turn out to be the direct blood-successor.

300 ff. Tiresias …: the blind prophet, affiliated to Apollo (see 284–5), was an awesome figure in several Theban myths. Oedipus is characteristically impatient in demanding a response from Tiresias, and addresses him on his arrival without giving him space to exchange courtesies. Throughout their whole confrontation Oedipus speaks in public terms, insistently invoking "the city" (polis), while Tiresias speaks in private, spiritual terms.

324 thought: I have translated a variant text rather than the more usually accepted "speech".

337–8 You criticize.… your life with you: the first riddling phrases from Tiresias. The word translated as "temperament" (orge) means passion, temper, disposition; and in a way, it is Oedipus' passionate temper that has led to his living in his incestuous house.

376 ff. Creon! …: it seems to be Tiresias' use of the word "fall" which sets Oedipus thinking in terms of a political coup plotted by Creon. It is a characteristic of Oedipus to work out alternative explanations; and here he turns to his strong sense of political insecurity.

413 ff. you have your sight …: it is with this speech that Tiresias gets into his full prophetic stride. And there is a shift of enigmatic gear at 417 ff., where the curse that will dog Oedipus is called deinopous, "fearful-footed". This surely plays with the name Oidipous ("swollen-footed"). For further word-play with Oedipus' name, see p. 5.

420–3 There is no anchorage … voyage fair: Cithaeron is the long mountain range some 15 km to the south of Thebes (see Map 1), and it will prove to have an important place in Oedipus' life-story. But at this first naming it is wrapped up as part of Tiresias' strange, riddling prophesy of the terrible things that will be discovered before the end of this play. These four particularly strange and haunting lines interweave three threads: (i) entering the harbour, which hints at Oedipus entering his marriage-bed and his own mother's womb (see on 1207–10); (ii) Oedipus' cries of distress when he discovers the truth, cries which will be a distortion of his wedding-song; (iii) the mountain whose harbour-like hollows will echo with lamentation.

425 crush: an editorial conjecture which makes stronger sense than the verb in the manuscripts, which means "level".

447–62 I'll go then once I've had my say …: some scholars, especially Bernard Knox, have made much of there being no response from Oedipus at the end of this powerful and intriguing speech, and of the way that he does not come pg 296to the "obvious" conclusion that it is all about him. They have even proposed that Sophocles had Oedipus exit after line 446, leaving the blind Tiresias pontificating to thin air. But this is to miss the point that it is all in the form of riddles—at 456 even echoing the riddle of the Sphinx ("probing for his footsteps with a stick"). Oedipus does not realize that these are also literal facts; that while the answer to the Sphinx's riddle was "mankind", the answer to Tiresias' is "you, Oedipus, but literally, not figuratively". His silent departure shows that he is, for now, unable to meet Tiresias' challenge to "go inside and work that out".

458–60 And he shall be revealed … who begot him: in these three lines Tiresias sets up a kind of incantation: each contains a riddling pair of nouns: [he shall be revealed as] "both a and b", and in each the second term is a two-syllable word beginning in Greek with a p.

463–82 Who has the chanting crag … tormenting flies: the first pair of stanzas dwell on the oracle and the unidentified murderer, who is envisaged as a desperate fugitive. There are several high-flown poetic allusions: "chanting crag" (463) because Delphi is perched high on the southern flank of Mt Parnassus (see also 475); "Zeus' own son" (470) meaning Apollo, who can deploy his father's armoury; "Earth's primordial navel" (480) alluding to the sacred "omphalos" stone at Delphi which was held to be the navel of the world.

483–512 How shaken I am … evil by my mind: in the second pair the chorus is deeply disturbed over how to interpret Tiresias' personal attacks on Oedipus. They know of no reason why he should have wanted to kill Laius ("the royal line of Labdacus", 489). In view of Oedipus' great benefit to Thebes in confronting the Sphinx ("the feathered girl", 508), they are more inclined to doubt the authority of Tiresias, since seers are not necessarily infallible.

490 Polybus: the king of Corinth, believed to be the father of Oedipus, will have his place in the story explained at lines 774 ff. and later. It is difficult to know whether this allusion to him here is because he was already well known from previous versions of the myth, or if it is merely a circumstantial detail in preparation for a new version of Oedipus' early life. The point is that the chorus believe that Oedipus' ancestry had no connection with Labdacus, the father of Laius.

600 A mind … corrupt: it is widely agreed that this line is a sententious addition to Sophocles' text.

624–5 Now you have shown … when I see one.>: something has gone wrong with the text here, and there must be at least one line missing; but there is no agreed solution among editors. I have given two consecutive lines to Creon, and then made up a line of my own for Oedipus, but this is mere guesswork.

649–97 [Lyric Dialogue]: the emotional atmosphere becomes so tense that Oedipus and the chorus break into a stanza in lyric dialogue in 649–68 (see p. xvii on this kind of mode). Then, after a few lines of spoken dialogue, ending with the departure of Creon, there is a matching lyric stanza in 678–97, but with Iocasta replacing the lines of Oedipus. This unusual sequence of dramatic technique marks the important transition between the Creon part and the Iocasta part in the middle of this very long act, which lasts from 513 pg 297to 862. With this the whole emphasis turns from the problems of the city (636 is the last allusion to the plague) to the reconstruction of Oedipus' personal past.

716 where three wagon-tracks converge: the reported detail of the three wagon-tracks, dropped in circumstantially, turns out to be true (unlike the plural "bandits"), and to be a crucial piece of the jigsaw. The exact location will soon be pinpointed: see note on 733–4. It is important to be aware that in the mountainous terrain of Greece (as opposed to the fertile plains), tracks that could be managed by wagons were quite few and far between. They needed to have negotiable gradients, and were often engineered with ruts in the rock.

733–4 The country is called Phocis … from Daulia: this locates a specific place on the route over the mountains between Thebes and Delphi (see Map 1). About 25 km east of Delphi at the bottom of a long ravine descending from the Delphi direction lies a small upland plain, where one valley heads north to the town of Daulis, and another continues east towards the plain of Boeotia. Every traveller between Thebes and Delphi (in modern no less than ancient times) had to go past that junction, the "split road"-it became a site for tourists. Any Athenian pilgrim to Delphi travelling along this route, called a "Sacred Way", would know this spot, an ominous place where the world of myth and the present world of the audience eerily brush by each other.

758–64 I know he's not …: the old eyewitness was so keen to be far from the city because of his guilty secret: he knows the new king is the very man who murdered Laius. He also gives the deliberately false information that there were several robbers, not just a single man. His complicity and his lying, however well meant, are crucial to the misinformation on which the whole tragedy is built.

774–5 Polybus … Merope: Corinth (see Map 1) was an ancient and wealthy city, located at the trading "crossroads" of the isthmus which joins mainland Greece with the Peloponnese. Polybus may be an invention of Sophocles—it was a common mythological name—but he has been already mentioned at 490 (see note). It is implied that he is the chief power at Corinth rather than a hereditary king. Merope may also be invented for this play, and it is not clear what it means that she is said to be "from Doris".

780 not my father's true-born son: the insult slurs his paternity; it does not imply, let alone allege, that Merope is not his mother.

788 to Delphi: it is only a short voyage down the Gulf of Corinth to the port below Delphi (see Map 1).

794–7 On hearing this … oracle fulfilled: Oedipus is keen to make sure he never again goes anywhere near Corinth. His random route takes him north-eastward round the southern flank of Parnassus through Phocis (see Map 1).

811 my stick: the Greek word skeptron is used both of rough sticks and of formal regal sceptres (long staffs, often with an eagle on top). There is no explicit indication that Oedipus was holding one in this play, but if he was, then the skeptron wielded "by this hand of mine" becomes that much more vivid.

821–2 with these same hands: this physicality of the hands that killed Laius being pg 298the same hands that make love to Iocasta anticipates the almost macabre details of incest that will be explored later (see notes on 1208–13, 1403–9).

842 ff. You said he witnessed …: the plot is suspended on the single thread of the evidence as reported by the eyewitness about numbers (see note on 758–64). It never gets spelled out, however, that he told a direct lie; and the murder of Laius is not revisited, because from now on all attention is going to be focused on the earliest days of Oedipus' life.

863–910 [Choral Song]: in this grand and difficult choral song it is the task of the chorus not to draw authoritative morals but to attempt to make some sort of sense of what it witnesses in the tragedy (see p. xvii on the role of the chorus). Far from linear philosophical reasoning, it produces a tortuous, sometimes contradictory sequence of intuitions and protestations. So what this song does is attempt to make sense of the ways that Iocasta's scepticism about prophesy is sensible yet at the same time irreligious; and that Oedipus is a great ruler yet at the same time possibly the polluter of Thebes.

867 Olympus: from being simply the mountain-home of the gods, Olympus comes to mean the higher cosmic world.

873–83 Proud arrogance … strong shield: the chorus turns in the second stanza to human behaviour and its dangers. They start from the idea of hybris, a word which signifies a range of wrong behaviour allied to presumptuous bullying, here translated as "proud arrogance". After exploring the idea that hybris leads to a fall, it seems that in the closing lines they hope to exempt Oedipus from that implication: he is the beneficial champion-wrestler, not the bully.

873 Proud arrogance begets bad kings: the opening three words in Greek say "hybris begets a tyrannos", which I have translated as 'Proud arrogance begets bad kings'. This is problematic, however. First, tyrannos and related words are generally in this play used of a sole ruler in a politically neutral way. So to take the step of giving it a bad sense here, i.e. dictator/tyrant, while not impossible in the Greek of this period, goes against its usage elsewhere in the play. Secondly, the phrase seems bound to be referring to Oedipus; yet, however dubious some of his behaviour towards Tiresias and Creon, the chorus stays loyal and favourable to him: so neither hybris nor tyrannos (in the bad sense) seem to fit their view of him. A change of punctuation and of one letter would produce the more sententious meaning: "Proud arrogance begets proud arrogance as a tyrant." This is quite an attractive emendation, and would reduce the apparent application to Oedipus personally. I have stuck with the usually accepted reading, but without confidence.

896 why should I dance and sing in the sacred chorus?: this stanza has been largely spent on trying to establish some firm ground in the sphere of divine sanctions. If people behave appallingly, then surely, the chorus claims, they should incur punishment. And if such actions thrive, they conclude, "why should I participate in choruses?" The self-referentiality of the chorus-members questioning whether what they are doing at that very moment is justified has appealed to modern sensibilities. But, while that level of reference is surely there, it is clear in the context that participating in a chorus is thought of as primarily a pious religious observance. And there were other forms of pg 299choral participation that are more obviously religious, e.g. hymns, processions, dithyrambs, and paeans.

897–910 If these signposts … and religion's going: the fourth and final stanza is even less confident. The first part is covered by a conditional if: if oracles are not true, people will no longer have good reason to go to Delphi ("navel" of the earth—see note on 463–82), nor Abai, an oracle not far from Thebes, nor the great sanctuary of Zeus and Hera at Olympia. But towards the end they suspect unconditionally that the oracles concerning Laius and his family are proving false. And in that case, they conclude with the ominous fear that the significance of the divine is fading away—which it is not, of course, because the oracles will turn out to be true.

919 Apollo … house: there was probably a sacred stone of Apollo actually represented on-stage. Iocasta prays to him as "closest", which has an ominous further significance.

924 ff. [SD] Enter the Old Corinthian …: this new character has been conventionally known as the 'Messenger', but, since he does not even deliver a standard eyewitness report (unlike the proper Messenger at 1223 ff.), this label is more than usually unhelpful. He seems to be a welcome "answer" to Iocasta's prayers, but in fact he supplies knowledge which precipitates horrible recognitions of the past. It is not an absurd coincidence or stroke of Fate that the shepherd who gave the baby Oedipus to Polybus at Corinth should be the one who some thirty years later hurries to Thebes with the news that Polybus is dead, and that Oedipus has been proclaimed the new king. He has a personal interest in Oedipus; he is familiar with the drove-road over the mountains (see note on 1026); and he hopes for a reward in return for what he takes to be good news (explicit at 1006). Nor is it is implausible that Oedipus should become king of Corinth (the word used in line 939 is tyrannos): nearly everyone at Corinth and everyone at Thebes believes Polybus to have been his father.

924–6 where … where: the old man is also misleadingly amusing, at least at first. His opening three lines all end with the syllable pou, and exploit the word-play on the way that the name of Oidipous is close to oid- pou, "know where"—see p. 5.

969–70 unless perhaps … because of me: the idea that Polybus might have died from missing Oedipus is not merely frivolous, since oracles were sometimes believed to have symbolic rather than literal applications. It also shows Oedipus' characteristic ability in finding ways of explaining away unwelcome evidence.

977–83 Why should we humans … life most easily: Iocasta's almost jubilant speech verges on a kind of anarchic creed of living in a haphazard, day-by-day fashion. Her claim is that men dreaming of sex with their mothers is as unimportant and random as oracles, and this is made to seem sensible. Yet it was these very lines that Freud made central to his Interpretation of Dreams (1900). The suggestion that it is good psychology to come to terms with this fantasy has an ironic resemblance to Freud's own ideas about therapy.

1022 these hands of mine: there is emphasis throughout the play on hands and pg 300exchanges between hands, and I have hazarded the conjecture of adding one letter to the Greek—from ton emon to tond' emon—so that it comes to mean "from these hands of mine" instead of simply "my hands".

1026 forest glens of Mount Cithaeron: this is only the second time that the mountain has been named in the play (see note on 420–3), but from now on it will become a more and more significant location. Corinth is a good distance away, some 50 km over harsh terrain across Mt Geranos, but there is archaeological evidence that Corinthians actually did take their transhumant flocks to Cithaeron for summer grazing in the upland valleys, and that there was an ancient track over the mountains. This route was intrepidly traced on foot by N. G. L. Hammond in 1953: the modern journey by road, via Eleusis, is about double the distance.

1034 take your name from that misfortune: the derivation of the name Oidipous from words meaning "swell" and "foot" is evidently taken as familiar here. But not a lot is made of this in the play as a whole.

1042 the slave of Laius: Iocasta has been standing by in silence ever since the Old Corinthian intervened at 989 ff. At some stage during this dialogue she must be supposed to have realized the whole terrible truth. It is impossible for us to pin down a precise moment: perhaps the mention of the ankles at 1032 ff.; or perhaps here, when the slave who took the baby to the mountain is identified. Iocasta knows well the trusted man who was given that task (left vague at 719). A much-reproduced vase from Sicily painted about 100 years later captures this moment in her silent gesture as she raises her robe to her face—whether or not this is how Sophocles himself staged it.

1062–3 Take heart … lowly born: Oedipus supposes that Iocasta is trying to put him off searching further because she is ashamed of his humble origins. He unwittingly twists the knife, because she knows well that, far from his having a slave for a mother, she is herself his mother.

1080–3 But I regard myself as born … as great: in rather exhilarated and high-flown terms Oedipus claims that, contrary to Iocasta's snobbish prejudices, he is not ashamed of his origins, because he is "the child of Fortune (Tyche)". Metaphorically this rings true; but while Oedipus talks of Fortune "with her generosity" (literally, "who gives well"), he is actually the child of Fortune who is malign. He then goes on, because Fortune changes with time, to invoke the Months as his close relations, who have raised him from humble origins to greatness: in truth time will, in the course of this play, have reduced him the other way round, from the highest to the lowest.

1084–5 other than I am: I have translated the transmitted text. An emendation (atimos instead of pot'allos) would produce the arguably stronger sense: "I'll never shall turn out dishonoured, and never rest …"

1086–97 If I trust my intuition … healing god, we sing: in this jubilant and fanciful song, a false celebration before the full horror strikes, the chorus take their cue from Oedipus' final speech of proud assertion. As they try to make sense of the new revelations, they move in completely the wrong direction, hoping that Oedipus' mysterious origins will be a matter of wonder, and even of divine birth. They pin their optimism on the local mountain of Cithaeron, pg 301where Oedipus was handed over as a baby. In the first stanza they envisage that it will become the site of future religious cult, instituted to celebrate its place in his story. Choral singing and dance during the night of a full moon (1090) was a common occasion for Greek cult celebrations. In the Greek at the end of the stanza, they call on Apollo with the epithet ieie (four syllables), an invocation which seems to be associated with his role as Paean.

1098–1109 Oedipus, who was your mother … company for play: in the second stanza the unsubstantiated exhilaration becomes even more fanciful. With a strange blend of high-flown cult-titles and rather explicit sexual language, the chorus speculate that Oedipus might be the fruit of a union between a named male god and an anonymous mountain-nymph. They think of Pan (who lived in the wild and was apt to rape); Apollo (Loxias); Hermes, called "Lord of Cyllene", the mountain in the Peloponnese where he was born; and finally "the Bacchic god". While regularly accompanied by nymphs on the mountains, Dionysus is not usually portrayed as fathering children with them.

1108 with sparkling eye: the reading in our manuscripts describes the nymphs as "of Mount Helicon". Since Helicon is in a different part of Boeotia and completely distinct from Cithaeron, and since this whole song is so centrally focused on Cithaeron, this word cannot be right. Fortunately the great scholar Wilamowitz hit on the emendation to an epic poetic epithet meaning something like "with glancing eyes".

1110 ff. [SD] Old Slave of Laius: this old man has usually been known as "Herdsman" or "Servant", but the defining role of his life was to have been a close and loyal slave to Laius. This is why he was given the sensitive task of exposing the royal baby; and he was one of the small band who accompanied Laius on his fatal trip to Delphi. Since then he has tried to live securely and quietly, away from the city, and from the king whom he alone knows was the killer of Laius.

1145 he is the man who was that little babe: the old Corinthian is rather pleased to recall that event so many years ago: as Oedipus stands between the two old shepherds it is a kind of re-enactment. Yet it turns out to be the last line spoken by this character. Far from being a source of pleasure, it is enough to make the old slave of Laius realize the truth about Oedipus' life-story, that the baby he gave away on Cithaeron has grown up to be the same man whom he saw kill Laius at the place where three roads meet.

1154 when you're in pain: it was standard practice in ancient Greece to interrogate slaves under torture. This is what Oedipus unhesitatingly threatens as he senses he is getting near the truth.

1171–2 But she inside … your wife: in the Greek word-order the old slave says "the woman inside …", and then adds " … your wife", knowing full well that she was also the wife of Laius.

1186–96 Human generations … human blest: the word broton, which comes in the opening and closing words of this powerfully sombre stanza, covers all of humanity and is not gendered. The chorus take Oedipus as their paradigm (the Greek word used in 1193 actually is paradeigma) for the "moral" that nothing human can aspire to a blessed state, which is secure only for the gods.

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1208–13 you have made the voyage twice … crying out aloud?: here the chorus confront in lyric expression the sexual implications of Oedipus' incest, tapping metaphors which verge on the lurid. First they figure Iocasta's womb as a "harbour" (foreshadowed by Tiresias—see 420–3), twice visited by Oedipus, because this is where he was gestated as a baby and where he "plunged" as an adult. They then switch from sea to land, and invoke the image of the wife's womb as fertile furrows, a metaphor used in the ancient Greek formulae of marriage. They suggest, however, that Iocasta's womb should have screamed out rather than endure such horrible abuse. I have tried not to cloak these rather macabre expressions in euphemisms.

1209 as a husband: I have accepted the textual change from "father" (patri) to "husband" (posei), since this makes stronger sense.

1227 the mighty river Danube or the Dnieper: the Istros (modern Danube) and Phasis (modern Rioni) are two of the great rivers that flow into the Black Sea and from there into the Mediterranean. For the latter I have substituted the more familiar river Dnieper.

1258–60 And as he raged … some guide: although there is very little suggestion in OT of any direct intervention by a superhuman power (see pp. 6–8), the messenger makes it clear here twice that, in his perception, there was some strange external agent leading Oedipus on (the word used in 1258 is daimon, which is less distinct than "god").

1260–2 he hurled himself … into the room: it is hardly a heady excursion into Freudian symbolism to recognize in this narrative a re-enactment of Oedipus' incestuous displacement of his father. He forcefully breaks the closed doors of his parents' marital bedroom, and "plunges in"—the same image as was recently used at 1210 by the chorus of his entering his mother's "harbour". Also note the same "mother-soil" image at 1257 as the chorus had used at 1212 of his "father's furrows".

1278–9 and kept on spattering … thick as hail: these two lines are rejected by the Oxford Classical Text edition (OCT) on the grounds that this goriness is over-the-top, the kind of thing a fourth-century ham actor might have added. But there is no shortage of gory passages in fifth-century tragedy, and no evidence of a special taste for it in the fourth century. There are undeniably, however, textual uncertainties in all three lines, 1278–80.

1295 watchers of a spectacle: the Greek word for "spectacle" is theama, which is closely related to theatron and theatai, spectators. So these lines come close to a theatrical, or metatheatrical, allusion: the doors are to be opened to reveal "to you as well …" (1294). The messenger's mixture of revulsion with sympathetic emotion is quintessential of tragedy. The chorus also capture this contradictory state at 1303–6: they cannot bear to look, and yet they are eager to find out and even to see ("much to observe").

1297 ff. [SD] Oedipus emerges …: some have thought that the ekkyklema was used here (see p. xix); but Oedipus is not merely revealed, he is groping his way for himself, even though, as is emphasized, he has no one to guide him. The emotion and horror are too much to be contained in iambic speech, and in 1297–1311 both the chorus and Oedipus use anapaests, a chant-metre, pg 303somewhere between speech and song. After that, between lines 1313 and 1366, Oedipus expresses himself in song with the chorus responding with occasional spoken lines.

1329 ff. Apollo, friends, Apollo …: on the allocation of responsibility, see pp. 7–8. While Apollo has, in the long view, brought Oedipus' life-story to this horrible shape, it was his own decision to blind himself. He also goes on to explain why in his speech at 1379 ff.

1372 down in Hades: Oedipus supposes that he will take his blindness with him after death. But in general the Greeks had indistinct ideas about the physicality of the dead in the underworld.

1380 though raised … in Thebes: this intrusive line was probably added by someone else: Oedipus had, after all, been brought up in Corinth, not in Thebes.

1389–90 both blind … beyond the reach of pain: it is probable that these two lines were added later to Sophocles' text. They do not add much—nothing, after all, can be "sweet" now to Oedipus—and they weaken the conclusion of this part of his self-hating speech.

1391–1403 O Mount Cithaeron …: Oedipus constructs a kind of mental map of his life-story, and revisits the key places in it: Cithaeron; Corinth: the place in Phocis where the three roads meet, where further detail about its narrowness and oppressive vegetation give it an extra sinister quality. Finally Thebes is not named, but simply reached as "here". For the locations see Map 1.

1403–9 O wedding, joining … wrong to act in deeds: the Greek o gamoi, gamoi is conventionally translated "marriage, marriage". But this too polite: gam-words are associated with sex, and are, indeed, used of sex in non-marital contexts. The whole emphasis in these lines is on actions; and those actions are not celebrating weddings, but having sex. I have tried to reflect this explicitness. There seems to be a certain relish in the expression of these incest-distortions, including the recurrent motif about Oedipus' "seed" being sown in his mother's "field" (see note on 1261–2). This almost prurient explicitness may be one of the factors that drew Freud so powerfully to Sophocles' play: the suppressed fascination of son–mother incest is made explicit in words.

1411–12 throw me … or hide me: the transmitted text has "hide me outside … or throw me in the sea …"; I have followed some editors in reversing these two verbs.

1416 ff. [Scene 11 to end]: there is quite a concentration of problematic passages of one sort or another in the final 100 lines of the play. So much so that one scholar (R. Dawe) has recently argued that nearly all of this entire section is not by Sophocles, and that it replaces the original ending. This is, in my opinion, too drastic a solution, and it condemns much that is fully worthy of Sophocles. But, at the same time, it should not be denied that there are some real questions to be raised: see the notes on 1424–9, 1457, 1463–5, 1485 (on 1482–5), 1510, 1515–23, 1524–30.

1424–9 〈Yet I am shocked … inside the house immediately: there is a substantial problem with the text at this point. The verbs in these lines are plural ("even if you've lost your sense of shame...." etc.), and so cannot be addressed to Oedipus alone. Most scholars have supposed that Creon is addressing some pg 304attendants that he has just brought on with him. But this cannot be right: who are these anonymous lackeys that they should be addressed in such portentous and reproachful terms? It is most likely that the lines are addressed to the chorus, and, in view of the reproach, to Oedipus himself as well. But if this is right then there must have been some lost transitional lines in between lines 1422 and 1423, bringing the chorus into the picture. For the sake of completeness I have made up a couple of lines. The command at 1429 ("accompany him inside") might then be addressed to the trusted elders of the chorus, or to a couple of personal attendants.

1451–4 No, let me go and live … meant to kill me: these lines are the culmination of the Cithaeron motif. The mountain exerts a kind of magnetic pull on Oedipus, and the idea that he should end his days where his parents meant him to die as a baby is so powerful that in some ways the postponement of his departure there is a disappointment (see further on pp. 11–12). And there is another level to this invocation of the mountain which is not commonly appreciated. Oedipus calls it "my Cithaeron" and says that it is "called" that: the Greek word even implies that it is "famed" as that. But it has only been a very short while since it was discovered, thanks to the old Corinthian shepherd, that Cithaeron had played any part at all in his life-story. Within the time of the play it cannot yet be famous, strictly speaking, for its connection with Oedipus (the deluded song at 1086 ff. is not enough for that). It is, rather, through mythical narratives that the connection between Oedipus and Cithaeron became celebrated. So a kind of complicity is set up between Oedipus and the audience of the play. It is for the public of future story-telling that Cithaeron becomes known as "Oedipus Mountain", so to speak.

1457 some fearsome doom: Oedipus asserts that he has somehow been preserved from death for some reason. But what is this? His actual words say merely "… for some terrible evil". These plain words are enigmatic, to say the least. Most critics have taken this as a prophetic forward-reference to his future sufferings, ending with his redemptive death and hero-cult at Colonus, as dramatized by Sophocles many years later in Oedipus at Colonus. But how is that invoked by "some terrible evil"? The vague phrase seems to be an inexplicable and disappointing anti-climax. It is not impossible, I think, that it may have been corrupted and/or shortened in its textual transmission, conceivably from something about the fate of a lonely death on the mountain.

1459 the males: the way that Oedipus' two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, quarrelled with each other, and brought down curses from their father, was an essential and well-known part of the whole myth. These future conflicts are, however, only lightly hinted at here.

1462 But for my girls …: the two daughters, Antigone and Ismene (neither actually named in this play), are still little, too young to understand according to Oedipus at line 1511. Their fame, especially that of Antigone, may well have been largely the invention of Sophocles himself through the impact of his "hit" tragedy Antigone, and of this very scene here. He also makes them important in Oedipus at Colonus. Fourth-century sources take them for granted as integral; and that includes, interestingly, the Sicilian vase-painting (see on 1042), where their presence even acts as a kind of identifying signal for this play.

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1463–5 (whose dinner-table … put my hands to): these three lines on how inseparable Oedipus has been from his daughters at mealtimes seems rather over-emphasized, and, assuming they are by Sophocles, they may be textually corrupted.

1485 ploughman: this word (aroter) is an excellent emendation of the manuscripts, that merely repeat "father" (pater). There is, however, some strange wording throughout lines 1482–5: and in 1482 I have omitted the baffling epithet "gardening" from before "father's eyes".

1510 [SD] Creon does so: it only makes sense for Oedipus to continue his speech if and when Creon agrees; and this must be done in a way that he, though blind, can register. This means Creon must put his hand on Oedipus, not the girls (the Greek could mean either). But it is strange that this gesture is not expressly acknowledged.

1515–23 That is long enough … life through: the metre changes to "recitative" trochaics, and most of the lines are divided between Oedipus and Creon. This is peculiar technique but would not in itself be good reason doubt the authorship of this dialogue. But there are also undeniable problems in content and expression. Except for the last two lines, they are disappointingly thin and awkward for such a climactic context. And four out of the eight lines are spent on pointlessly going over the same ground as has already been more clearly dealt with at 1434–45. It is hard to believe that Sophocles is responsible for this scrappy dialogue. But supposing that someone has added these inferior lines, then why? The best answer would seem to be to ensure that at the end of the play Oedipus goes into the house. (A possible motive for this might be to square the ending of this play with Oedipus at Colonus—see note on OC 433–40.) But does that suggest that in Sophocles' original play Oedipus did not go into the house, but went off into exile? This is discussed further in the Introduction, pp. 12–13.

1523 [SD] An attendant … city: assuming that Oedipus goes into the house, helped by an attendant, as expressly indicated by Creon at 1515 ("time to go inside the palace"), this leaves a difficult problem for the staging of the end of the play. Since Creon has now taken over the rule of the country, and since he is now responsible for the children, it might be expected that he would go with them into the background building, the royal palace of Thebes. But this is surely out of the question: it would make terrible theatre for them to go off the same way as Oedipus, whether in front of him or behind. So the best that can be salvaged is for Creon to take them off by a side-road, presumably towards his own house. All this is, however, poorly indicated, which is not at all the way that Sophocles usually manages significant stage-action. If Sophocles had his original play end with Oedipus' departure into exile, in the direction of Cithaeron, then Creon and the girls would simply have gone into the palace: for the attractions and drawbacks of this radical solution, see pp. 12–13.

1524–30 Look at this, my fellow-Thebans … without disaster: it is highly unusual to have the chorus-leader address the rest of the chorus in this way, yet is out of the question that the lines should be spoken by Oedipus himself (as has sometimes been supposed). Most modern editors are agreed that these pg 306closing lines are not by Sophocles, and that they have displaced his ending, which was probably in anapaests not trochaics. The two main arguments raised against them are: (i) that some of the lines are found in Euripides, suggesting that they somehow existed independently; and (ii) that the text is heavily corrupted—the translation given here requires at least two substantial emendations. At the same time, it has to be said that the lines are a good deal better (or less bad) than the preceding lines 1515–23. The sentiments are generally appropriate to the play, and are less trite than the closing lines of many other Greek tragedies. If they replace genuine Sophoclean lines, they may still have been based on them.

pg 307AIAS

1 [SD] Odysseus comes on … watching: the setting is usually described as Aias' "tent", but it is clear that the quarters where he (like the other Greek leaders) has been living for the last nine years are envisaged as more substantial than that.

There has been much dispute over how Athena was presented in this scene, mainly because of the phrase "even if you are invisible" in line 15. But if it once recognized that the point of that wording there is to emphasize how intimate Odysseus is in his relationship with the goddess, and not her visibility or invisibility, then it seems far the most likely staging is that she was simply on the ground close to him. It may still be, though, that Odysseus is supposed to be unable to see her. Or perhaps he does not even need to turn round in order to recognize her?

4 at the fringes of the fleet: this picks up an account of the layout of the Greek camp in the Iliad 11. The two most powerful heroes, Achilles and Aias, are allocated the end positions because those are the sectors which are most vulnerable to attack, and so need the strongest defenders. Those who know something of Troy and the entrance to the Dardanelles (Hellespont—see Map 3) would be aware that Achilles' famous tomb was at the western end of the shore, clearly implying that Aias was encamped at the eastern end.

17 trumpet's brazen mouth: the trumpet was for the Greeks primarily a battlefield instrument. It is the given epithet "Etruscan" here (its invention was often attributed to them), omitted in the translation.

19 the famous shield: Aias' huge and uniquely tower-like shield is prominent in the Iliad.

26 all our captured flocks: all the livestock that had been captured to provision the besieging army was evidently penned under some communal guard.

41 Achilles' armour: this is the first allusion to the competition mounted for possession of the god-made armour of Achilles after his death. This is taken as the already-known background to the play.

49 the twin command: the two Sons of Atreus, Agamemnon and Menelaus, are often spoken of a pair.

97 all bloody: I have adopted a conjecture that, by changing two letters, produces "bloodied your hand" rather than "armed your hand".

110 I'll lash: there is no sign that Sophocles had Aias bring the whip on in this scene. But at some stage in the performance history, probably during the fourth century bc, it became customary for Aias to appear here carrying one. The play even acquired the subtitle "carrying a whip".

118–31 You see, Odysseus …: this key dialogue conveys vividly the unbridgeable divide between gods and humans. Set beside the immortals, humans, however great and powerful in their own microcosm, are puny and ephemeral. This may make Athena appear rather impersonal and sententious in human terms (and her words in 132–3 are scarcely the "moral" of the play), but the point is that the gods are not to be understood in human terms. Odysseus, by contrast, comes across as relatively magnanimous in his pity for Aias and his pg 308realization of the changeability of human fortune; although he makes it clear that this sympathy is not because he has any love for the man but because he feels his own vulnerability. At the same time Odysseus' insight here prepares for the importantly humane role he will play in the final scene of the play (see further p. 80).

133 [SD] Athena and Odysseus … of the camp: it is an interesting (but unanswerable) question whether Sophocles had Athena and Odysseus depart together, which would show Athena's closeness to the man, or separately, emphasizing the chasm between gods and humans that has opened up in the closing dialogue. Odysseus presumably departed towards the camp.

[Choral Entry Recitative]: for nearly forty lines (until line 171) the men deliver anapaests, a chanted metre, before they embark on the lyric part of their first contribution.

134–5 son of Telamon … wave-surrounded Salamis: the chorus immediately introduce two crucial names. Telemon, Aias' father, was an important old warrior, and he looms continually in the background of this play, as a figure of emulation and fear to both Aias and Teucros. Salamis is Aias' island, close to the coast of Attica (see Map 2). It is important in the play, both as the location of home and for its close relationship with Athens – see pp. 84–5 and note on 861.

172 Artemis: in their first lyric stanza the chorus search for an explanation for Aias' alleged strange behaviour; they suspect that a god has been acting out a grudge against him, but do not rightly guess which. Their first shot is Artemis, called "Tauropolos" (omitted in the translation). She was given this strange cult-title ('connected with bulls'?) in several sanctuaries.

179 bronze Ares: the Greek says "Enyalios with the bronze breastplate". Enyalios is often equated with Ares, but sometimes treated as a separate god.

189 bastard brat / of low Sisyphus: detractors of Odysseus liked to bring up to the allegation that his mother was already pregnant before she married Laertes of Ithaca. The rumour was that his real father was Sisyphus, king of Corinth, who was celebrated as the greatest trickster of all time.

201 [SD] Tecmessa: the chorus have called on Aias to respond, but it is his "war-wife" Tecmessa who comes to the door. The emotional tension is such that she chants in anapaests, rather than speaking iambics; the chorus also chant in reply at first, but then at 221 ff. become so upset that they sing. The relative calm of sustained speech is not reached until lines 263 ff.

202 earthborn stock of Athens: the high-style periphrasis used here says literally "from the race of the earth-born descendants of Erechtheus". Erechtheus was a founding king of the city, who was claimed to have no human parentage. People from Salamis were not, strictly speaking, Athenians, but in this play the distinction becomes blurred.

209 night … daytime: a couple of words must be missing from the text, but this reconstruction is probably along the right lines.

210 child of Phrygian Teleutas: Aias captured Tecmessa when fighting against the Phrygians, Trojan allies to the south, where Teleutas was presumably king. Aias evidently lives monogamously with her as his "concubine", and would pg 309officially marry her if they ever were to get home to Salamis. There is some discussion later by Teucros about the status of such wives, at 1288 ff.

237 two white rams: if these two animals are to be equated with anyone in particular, they would seem to refer to Agamemnon and Odysseus.

245 ff. Now it is high time …: the chorus are so closely associated with Aias that they fear that they will share his punishment; and they foresee a danger of communal stoning. Their first priority is to get safely home from the war (see further note on 900).

301–4 Then finally he darted … their insults: it is strange but rather effective narrative technique to have Tecmessa give her inside perspective on the scene that we, the audience, have witnessed outside in the prologue. Thus, while she is baffled, we know that what she regards as an inexplicable "shadow" was in fact Athena. There was no indication of Aias' mad laughter during the prologue, and it is an interesting question whether he did (in Sophocles' production) laugh at the time, or whether this is a slightly inconsistent new twist to the narrative.

314 and also asked … in this: most editors reject this line as a dilute addition to the original Sophocles, but I do not consider the case for this is strong.

327 as that is what … portend: most editors reject this dragging line, with good reason in this case.

340 Eurysaces: this is the first allusion in the play to the son that Aias has with Tecmessa. He will later be brought on stage at 545 ff. (see note). On the hero-cult of Eurysaces at Athens, see p. 84.

342 Teucros: this is the first allusion to Aias' half-brother, who will have an important role to play later. It is conveyed without exposition that he is away attacking some neighbour or ally of Troy in order to acquire booty.

348–429 [SD] Aias is revealed …: this is clearly an occasion for the use of the stage-machinery known as the ekkyklema, the "roll-out" (see p. xix). The macabre scene that is revealed, of Aias sitting blood-spattered among the slaughtered animals, has been fully prepared for by Tecmessa's description.

In the heat of his distress Aias expresses himself in lyric. There are three pairs of stanzas interspersed with spoken—hence calmer—lines from Tecmessa and the chorus-leader. The first pair (348–55) is brief and simple; the second (356–93) is a more complex dialogue with Aias' lyric divided into three parts in each stanza (I have attributed all the spoken lines to Tecmessa, whereas most editions give some to the chorus). Finally, in 394–429, Aias has a longer lyric, almost an "aria", followed by a spoken couplet.

379 hear: this small emendation, made in the OCT, improves on the transmitted "always".

387–91 Ancestor Zeus …: Zeus was claimed to be the great-grandfather of Aias. I have tried in these lines (and at 380) to bring out the strange and virulent invective of Aias against Odysseus (to promote this I have omitted "and the twin-ruling kings" from lines 389–90 of the Greek).

395 underworld: the Greek has Erebos, another name, particularly associated with darkness, for the realm of Hades.

pg 310

401–2 The daughter of Zeus: the chorus did not know which god had thwarted Aias, but he is well aware that it is Athena.

405–6 So if … to dust: the text is badly corrupted here, but this may give the gist of what it said.

412–13 Tracks … by the brine: I have taken these "tracks" to be on land rather than in the sea, in which case all of these three locations refer to the shoreline. This is where Aias will go to his death.

418–20 Scamander's streams: one of the two rivers which flow across the plain of Troy and into the sea at the mouth of the Dardanelles (see Map 3). It is "kindly to the Greeks" because it keeps them supplied with fresh water. This appreciation of the Trojan landscape is in keeping with the fine preceding lines—see further p. 79. (The OCT makes the false step of changing "kindly" to "unkindly".)

421–6 no longer … come from Greece: in making this boast he is guilty of some self-aggrandizement, since it was well known that Aias was the second-best in the Greek army, second only to Achilles, as is expressly said in the Iliad (and by Odysseus at 1341).

430–2 Aiai … redoubled: aiai is a common interjection of grief in Greek. Aias dwells on the way it fits his name to his sad state (the same name-play recurs at 904). This is far from a joke: the Greeks often took seriously such word-plays with names.

433 and tripled … that I'm in: this weakening line was surely added by an actor wanting to pile on the agony.

435–6 prize for highest bravery: this is an allusion to Telamon's winning Hesione, princess of Troy. She was the mother of Teucros—see further the note on 1302.

476 a move … and now away: the image may be of life as a board-game.

485–524 Aias, my lord …: the whole speech is pervaded by echoes of that which Andromache makes to Hector in Iliad 6 while they dandle their young son. In several ways the Iliad situation is very different—Hector is a much-loved leader, not a humiliated outsider—but there are two important links: Hector, like Aias, is doomed to an early death; and Andromache, like Tecmessa, is totally dependent on her strong-willed husband. The affinity is particularly close in lines 500–4, where demeaning words are put into the mouth of a future observer, gloating over the woman who has fallen from prosperity into drudgery.

545 [SD] Eurysaces is led on by an attendant: scenes involving children (usually not speaking parts) are not rare in Greek tragedy. It is likely, but not certain, that they were played by real children. It is not clear what age Eurysaces is supposed to be—perhaps between three and five, since he is neither a baby nor yet fully aware. "Lift him" in 545 suggests that he is actually lifted up and put on to the ekkyklema beside Aias.

555 for being … ill: this line, which seems to be an empty duplicate of 554, is omitted in all editions. But it is hard to see how it got added, and it might be the vestige of more serious textual disruption.

pg 311

571 until … the god below: most editors insist that this line has been added to the Sophoclean original, but for no adequate reason that I can see.

573 and not … ruined me: text and sense unfortunately not clear.

574–6 the armour that explains … Eurysaces: the name means "broad shield". Since Aias' famous shield was enormous, it seems most unlikely that he literally handed it over on stage.

595 [SD] Aias is shut inside … taken away: it is unclear what Tecmessa should do. She is on-stage in the next scene (see 652), and yet it seems unlikely that she should go inside with Aias, not after this closing dialogue with his determination on suicide and his rejection of her pleas.

601 under Ida: the mountain range of Ida was closely associated with Troy. It is nine years now since the chorus knew the comfort of house and home.

627–31 cry ailinon … piteous trill: the lament of Procne, who was turned into the nightingale, crying for her dead son, was often cited as the poetic archetype of mourning in song. Some editors claim that the text contrasts the song of the nightingale with the screeching cries of Aias' mother, but the quotation of the lament-motif ailinon, ailinon would surely not be included in order to be not applicable.

645 your high stock: the Greek says "one of the descendants of Aeacus". Aeacus was the legendary father of Telemon, and son of the nymph of the island of Aegina. He is alluded to only here in this play, where Aias is connected with Salamis rather than Aegina.

646–92 Long and incalculable time …: the previous scene clearly raised the expectation that Aias was about to kill himself inside amid the carnage of the animals. So it is a dramatic surprise when he re-emerges, delivers a long and complex speech—the so-called 'deception speech'—and then sets off elsewhere by himself. The interpretation of this speech is one of the greatest challenges of Sophoclean criticism. For a brief discussion see pp. 80–1.

651–2 but now … this woman here: the awareness of Tecmessa's presence shows that this is not a totally self-absorbed soliloquy. The word in 651 translated as "edge" also means "mouth", an ambiguity hard to convey.

658 this sword of mine: the first time in the play that attention is drawn directly to this significant object—see further p. 78. Aias might, however, have been holding it already during the scene with the slaughtered animals at 359 ff., foreshadowing its later use. He goes on in the following lines to recall that it was a gift from Hector, a touch derived from their inconclusive duel in Iliad 7, which ended with the chivalrous exchange of gifts.

667 to bow before the Sons of Atreus: it is hard to see how this rather extravagant turn of phrase can be delivered without some sarcasm; the verb translated as "bow before" could even mean "revere".

670 proper place: the Greek word, which is timai, has a wide range of meanings circulating around the notion of "honour", "authority". This passage is remarkably like Ulysses' discourse on "degree" in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida.

695 Arcadia: the Greek specifies Cyllene, a mountain in Arcadia in the central Peloponnese, associated with Hermes, father of the wild god Pan.

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699–70 steps that you have found: the dance-steps are specified as "Mysian and Cnossian", but the significance of these epithets remains uncertain.

720 Mysia: an area in northern Asia Minor, traditionally allied to Troy.

746 Calchas: the much-respected seer who accompanied the Greek expedition to Troy.

756 this single day alone: it might be objected that, to be strictly realistic, if Aias had stayed inside he would already have killed himself by now. The main point of this time-limitation on the danger to a single day seems to be to inject an extra, futile, urgency into the imminence of Aias' death.

805 the bays … others to the east: this east–west alignment of the camp and the shore, reiterated by the chorus when they return at 874–8, maps onto the actual topography of Troy: see Map 3 and p. 83.

812 not if we want … hastening to death: most editors believe that this line has been added, but the arguments seem to me far from conclusive.

814 [SD] Exit Teucros' man …: this clearing of the scene, with the chorus leaving the stage in mid-play, is extremely unusual technique for Greek tragedy. It clearly signals that something very extraordinary is about to happen: this turns out to be the solo suicide scene of Aias. It is also very unusual for the chorus to divide into two parts like this. This both creates a sense of urgency, and makes it clear that the empty stage marks a change of scene to the place where Aias has gone after his exit at 692: "along the shore to where the meadow washing-places are …" The change of scene may have been reinforced by some change of setting or of scene-painting; this is a subject we know little about. One obvious move would have been to fix the stage-building doors open to signify that they no longer represent a habitation.

815 [SD] Aias enters …: the staging of Aias' death and of the subsequent display of his body is a complicated problem and much disputed. Many scholars have insisted on observing the convention that the display of violent death in view of the audience is to be avoided in Greek tragedy. As a consequence they have to maintain that the sword, and hence Aias' fatal fall on to it, must have been out of sight, either behind a stage screen or inside the door of the stage-building. They also argue that, since the actor of Aias is needed to play other parts later in the play, his substitution could be more easily managed this way; but there are other solutions to this bit of stage-management (see note on 916), and such a small practicality should not dictate such an important piece of theatre.

I maintain that, on the contrary, Sophocles has employed highly unconventional dramatic techniques here precisely in order that Aias can be seen falling on his sword in view of the audience (of course, some sort of illusion, such as a collapsible blade, would have to be devised). It seems to me essential that the sword itself, which is so repeatedly emphasized, should be fully visible to the audience (and indeed, this was already an emblematic fixture in earlier iconography). The sword would need, in that case, to be planted towards the back of the stage-area, near the door of the skene, because the body is first found by Tecmessa, who emerges from "this copse nearby" (892). Also, when the chorus first re-enter they do not see the pg 313body: if they were at the front of the acting-area this would be no problem to stage convincingly.

It is possible that the sword was already fixed in the ground "behind the scenes", and that it was somehow revealed by the removal of a screen or something of that sort. It would, however, make far stronger theatre if Aias fixed the weapon with his own hands, even though that requires a "dumb-show". Most scholars have advocated that he must have made his entrance from the skene door, which then will turn out to represent the "copse", in order to keep the "dumb-show" as brief as possible. I believe it is important, however, that Aias should enter from the side of the camp in order to convey his journey eastward along the shore. This would call, then, for some very unusual dramatic action: Aias enters, crosses the stage, and fixes the sword in the ground, all done in silence without any accompanying words of explanation. This would admittedly be highly exceptional stage-technique, but on any account Sophocles has done something very unconventional in changing the scene at this "hinge" in the middle of the play. The re-entry of Aias on to an empty scene is already so exceptional that the extended action without words is all part of this unique coup-de-theatre.

816 if there is … calculate: this rather pedestrian line is probably a later addition. The celebrated death speech appears to have been a favourite for expansion by actors: see also notes on 839–44, 855–8.

832 Hermes: Hermes, the psychopompos, was the god who escorted the spirits of the newly dead to the underworld.

837 Erinyes: the Erinyes (four syllables, something like "e-reen-you-ess") were primeval non-Olympian goddesses (often Englished as "Furies" through their Latin translation as Furiae). They were especially associated with cosmic order, punishment, and revenge (see also 1389–92). Their naming is often held up until towards the end of the sentence, as if there was some reluctance to utter these dangerous sounds.

839–44 And may they … dearest offspring: these four lines are rightly regarded by most editors as a later addition. As well as containing some awkward turns of phrase, they dilute the powerful invocation of the Erinyes by over-prolonging it.

846 the whole damned army: Aias curses them all because they have in effect supported the Sons of Atreus by not protesting against them. Achilles takes a similar stance in the Iliad.

855–8 and yet I'll meet … more again: editors are surely right to cut out these four lines as overblown padding contributed by an actor; they are repetitious, and contradict Aias' determination to be quick. Many also exclude line 854 ("Now, death … tend to me"), but this is not so obviously weak (contrast 855!).

861 glorious Athens: Aias lays special emphasis on the close connection between his ancestral home and Athens. For the island of Salamis, and the assimilation of Aias into the Athenian social fabric, see pp. 84–5.

879–973 [Lyric Dialogue]: this elaborate lyric dialogue structure, during which Tecmessa always speaks and the chorus mostly sings, is ordered in two long corresponding "stanzas": (a) 879–924 and (b) 925–73.

pg 314

884 Bosphorus: given the setting of the play, this must refer to the Dardanelles (Hellespont), not the straits at present-day Istanbul. The mountain in the previous line is called "Olympus", and this must refer to a range near Troy, not the mountain of the gods in northern Greece.

890 whose mind is mad: most manuscripts have an archaic word which means "feeble", but I have preferred this alternative text.

900 my journey home: there is a poignant realism about the way that the chorus' first thought is for their own future. Because they are his dependants, Aias' death means disaster for them too—unless he can somehow be rehabilitated.

915–16 I shall … this enfolding cloak: this explicit covering of the dead man (already represented on an earlier vase-painting), and the subsequent uncovering by Teucros at 1003 ff., are further indications that the body was visible to the audience. I go along with those who surmise that, under cover of the cloak, the actor of Aias gets off (to play other parts), and is replaced by another man costumed to look as similar as possible.

956 much-enduring: this epithet (polytlas) is frequently used of Odysseus in the Odyssey, and is all that is needed to invoke him. While it is a word of praise in the epic, its use here implies ruthlessness.

966–73 For me his death's … and of tears: editors have found various problems in the expression of several of these eight lines (the OCT cuts 969, "Why … laughing over him?). For myself, I have doubts about the authenticity of 971–3 ("So let Odysseus … and of tears"). The lines make a weaker ending to Tecmessa's last contribution than line 970, and they disrupt the symmetry between this speech and 915–24.

1013 the bastard-son: Teucros' mother was Hesione, a captured Trojan princess, as is more fully set out later at 1299 ff.

1019 cast out from my land: Teucros's lengthy anticipation of his father's hostile response on his return home (1008–20) culminates in his prediction that he will be expelled in exile. There was indeed a tradition that this is what eventually happened, and that Teucros went off and founded a city in Cyprus, a second Salamis.

1028–39 Consider, by the gods … keep these: the OCT (followed by Finglass) is firmly of the opinion that this entire twelve-line passage consists of later additions, and is none of it by Sophocles. But without some further closing lines after 1027 Teucros's speech as a whole would be over-dominated by the passage about Telemon; some lines are needed in order to bring full attention back to Aias and his fate. Apart from minor complaints about some expressions, the cutting editors maintain that the bombast of these lines is characteristic of later ham actors and not of Sophocles. Since this comes down to a matter of aesthetic taste, I feel, on the contrary, that there is some strikingly artful and unpredictable language here that cannot be plausibly attributed to anyone other than a highly practised poet. The padding which is characteristic of line-swelling actors is much more the kind of verbiage that is found in the last two lines (1038–9). The previous two lines (1036–7) are also pretty banal. I am, therefore, inclined to believe that the last four lines are not by Sophocles. In that case, Teucros' speech would have ended with the rather pg 315grand couplet about the Erinys and Hades (1034–5), a much stronger ending than line 1027.

1102 king of Sparta: this is the only time the great city of the Peloponnese, and authoritarian antithesis to Athens, is explicitly named in the play. Menelaus' discourse on the rule of fear (1173–86) might, however, be regarded as typically Spartan.

1105–6 You sailed here …: these two lines, which do not fit well in the argument, were probably interpolated.

1111–17 It wasn't for … kind of man you are: there are some incoherences in these seven lines, and some editors go so far as to cut them. But Teucros is expressing fierce anger, and there are good, authentic-sounding touches. Furthermore, his speech would be too short without them. The "oath" in 1113 alludes to a traditional story that all the suitors for the hand of Helen (including Aias) swore to stand by the successful one.

1020 bow-and-arrow-man: Teucros is already portrayed as an archer in the Iliad. The Greeks, who fought mainly with spear and sword, were often ambivalent about the use of bow and arrow.

1135 the crooked vote: the rights and wrongs of the vote over the arms of Achilles are never explored in the play.

1142–58 One day I saw … the moral of my fable clear?: Menelaus tells a kind of fable, and Teucros improvises one in return. Such moral tales, best known to us from Aesop, were familiar in Greek culture, but they were rather too "folksy" to occur much in tragedy. Once Menelaus has come down to this level, Teucros' response is rather closer to a description than a fable.

1163–7 There is bound … mortals evermore: these lines are delivered in the anapaestic metre, possibly chanted, marking the change in tone. They include two small but telling indicators of what is at stake in the issue of whether or not Aias is buried: the Iliadic resonance of the phrase "hollow grave-trench" (repeated at 1403), and the bearing of "memorial for mortals evermore" on future hero-cult are both discussed on pp. 83–4.

1171–81 My boy, come here … and hold tight: Teucros spends some time solemnly setting up a tableau with the boy and his mother sitting beside the corpse. This will be held still for more than 200 lines until the final procession at 1402 ff. It is explicitly given symbolic significance, since the corpse is assigned the kind of sacred power of protection that would be normally the property of a tomb or an altar. The language of ritual supplication is repeated three times in the four lines 1172–5. Also Teucros utters a solemn ritual curse (1175–9) on anyone who does not respect the power of asylum that the body supplies, praying they may be cut down as he cuts his hair. This reinforces the sense that the dead Aias will have more-than-human powers.

1184 [SD] Exit Teucros …: since it is the direction of the camp that threatens danger, Teucros must surely set off in the other, eastwards. This means that, when he returns at 1223, he must be supposed to have seen Agamemnon in the distance, across the stage-space, so to speak. It does not make theatrical sense for him to go in search of a suitable burial-place in the same direction as Menelaus' departure and Agamemnon's approach.

pg 316

1220 Sounion's headland: the first mainland approached by anyone sailing to Athens across the Aegean from the east was (and is) the headland of Sounion, crowned with the celebrated temple of Poseidon (see Map 2). It was, therefore, the token "gateway" to Athens (and it is said that from there sailors could sometimes see the tip of the spear of the huge statue of Athena on the Acropolis, created in about 450 bc). Here, then, the Salaminian chorus in their despairing nostalgia reassert their close affiliation with Athens – see p. 84.

1273–9 Can you really … reach the hulls?: this exploit of Aias corresponds broadly, but not exactly, with the battle narrated towards the end of book 15 and beginning of book 16 of the Iliad. There, if Hector could manage to set fire to the ships, the Greeks would be deprived of their only means of escape; but Aias almost single-handedly manages to fend off the Trojan attack.

1283–7 Another time … the helmet's bowl: this account of single combat against Hector is also based broadly on an episode in the Iliad, this time in book 7. Several potential champions put lots into a helmet, and, when the helmet is shaken, the one selected is the man whose lot is the first to jump out. There is, however, no suggestion in Homer that anyone cheated by putting in a sticky clod of earth.

1291–7 You must be well aware … by the hungry fish: Teucros has plenty of invective material, since the saga of Agamemnon's family included no shortage of unsavoury elements. His grandfather, Pelops, father of Atreus and Thyestes, came from Asia Minor, and was sometimes denigrated for barbarian practices. Thyestes committed adultery with Aerope, his brother's wife, and in revenge Atreus served him the "Thyestean feast" of his own children cooked in a pie. Aerope was herself promiscuous even before marriage; her father condemned her to be drowned at sea, but she survived to be mother to Agamemnon and Menelaus.

1302 the daughter of Laomedon: Hesione was awarded to Telamon as a kind of trophy, a practice also found in the Iliad: it is by implication the case with Tecmessa also. The story alludes to the relatively little-known earlier expedition against Troy, led by Heracles.

1311–12 your woman … your brother's: there seems to be an innuendo here, implying that Agamemnon had had some dalliance with Helen. It is not, in that case, a familiar myth, and is pretty low invective.

1366 works for himself: the shallowness of Agamemnon is made especially clear by his inability to see that Odysseus is speaking about universal patterns of changeability in human life, and not merely out of self-interest.

1402 ff. That's enough …: the metre changes to anapaests, probably chanted rather than spoken, to mark a turn toward action, and to signal the imminent ending of the play. Teucros now organizes the funeral procession which will betoken the restitution of Aias' honour. He had gone off earlier (1184) to organize a burial place (note "hollow grave-trench" in 1403, as in 1165). This will been further along the shore, away from the main encampment; and the audience might well think of the famous tomb near Rhoeteum – see also pp. 83–4. Teucros gives a series of instructions in 1402–8. It is possible that pg 317members of the chorus carried these out, but it is more likely that there were extras available for this. Then the chorus could, as most appropriate, form part of the final, solemn procession.

1411–13 livid fluid: some have thought that this detail of still-flowing blood, which is not physiologically realistic, is somehow significant. But in context it seems to be nothing more than a reason for lifting the body carefully.

1416–17 No one … I assert that: these two lines are either so corrupted as to be beyond correction, or, more likely, they are incompetent additions.

1418–20 After they've seen … can forecast: many tragedies end with choral words of this sort, not specific to the particular play. They serve as a kind of frame, marking a move from the world of the play to the world of the audience. Scholars who have supposed that they are banal later additions have failed to appreciate their function.

The final procession means not only an honourable burial for Aias, it also stands for the future security of his dependants. Throughout the play there have been fears for the safety of Tecmessa, the boy, Teucros, and the chorus; their participation in this procession signifies their survival and a secure future. On the suggestion that they are in effect inaugurating a hero-cult, see pp. 83–4.


1–3 Lemnos isle: Lemnos (in Greek the 'e' is a long vowel, and the 'o' short) is quite a large island with the best harbour in the northern Aegean, an important port on the trade-route between Greece and the Dardanelles (see Map 4). It featured in various myths (e.g. Jason and the Argonauts), and is alluded to as a supply-source in the Iliad. So it is inconceivable (to my mind) that Sophocles could, as is usually supposed, be asking his audience to think of the whole island as uninhabited. It is this remote "shore" that is an uninhabited part of the island. Since he is marooned there, and unable to move far because of his infirmity (see 41–2), the island as known by Philoctetes is, in effect, uninhabited.

4 son of Achilles: his father's name is placed before that of Neoptolemus himself; it will recur some twenty times in the play, an index of how this association with his father is crucial for his role.

4–5 the man from Malis, son of Poias: Philoctetes is not actually named here (not until 54); his homeland comes prominently first, and then his father Poias, a relatively minor hero. Malis and Trachis form the area around the gulf to the south of Thessaly (see Map 4), homeland of several Homeric heroes, including Achilles. The river Spercheius flows into the Aegean here, and the dominant mountain of the area is Oeta, the site of the funeral pyre of Heracles. These significant localities are "name-checked" at 490–2 and 724–9 (see notes).

6–19 double-entrance cave: this detail about two entrances is alluded to again, and it may have some special significance which is lost on us. The main point may simply be that, as explained, this makes for an unusually "commodious" cave, which stays ventilated in the heat, and has places to sit facing both east and west to catch the sun in winter. It seems unlikely that both entrances were made visible in the stage-setting. Similarly, while it is hard to say just what the actor of Neoptolemus did during the following lines, especially as we know so little about set construction and painting back at the time of Sophocles, I think it unlikely that the references to "higher" and "lower" were translated into actual stage movement, rather than left to the audience's imagination.

29 footprints at the entrance: the text accepted by most editors says "and there is no sound of a footstep". But this seems inappropriate to the context: what is called for is some evidence that he has found the right cave. A nineteenth-century scholar took out two letters to produce a reading which means "and there is the imprint of footsteps on the threshold". This makes such appropriate sense that I have accepted it.

68–9 if that man's bow is not acquired: the spiel that Odysseus' has spun for Neoptolemus is a characteristic mixture of falsehood and truth; most notably, the Greeks really did award him the unique armour of Achilles. There is an important uncertainty lurking in these two lines: is it only the bow that is needed, and is it Neoptolemus alone who will take the credit for the sack of Troy? See further p. 146.

72–3 you were not bound by oath: the leaders of the expedition had (except for pg 319Achilles) taken an oath when they were suitors for Helen's hand. Odysseus tried to evade this, but was still made to go.

102 persuasion: Neoptolemus raises the third "option" after force and deceit. It will recur.

114 as you have claimed: Odysseus had evidently been economical with the truth when he got Neoptolemus to come along with him in the first place.

126–31 and if I think … leaving things to you: rather elaborate preparation for the so-called "false merchant scene", which is put into effect at 539–628. (I have some sympathy with editors who cut out line 128 as too laboured.)

134 also Athena … keeps me safe: it is very likely that this line is an addition to Sophocles, probably to make Odysseus' prayer seem a bit less unscrupulous. It is not only that Athena is given two distinct cult-titles together, and that one of these (Polias, "of the city") was specifically and irrelevantly Athenian, it is even more that the previous line makes such a strong and appropriate ending to the scene, implicating both Odysseus and Neoptolemus under the banner of Hermes, the god who is patron of trickery.

135–218 [Choral Entry with Lyric Dialogue]: instead of being purely choral, this entrance-song, consisting of three pairs of stanzas, is interspersed with responses from Neoptolemus in chanted anapaests. Similar dialogue structures, though unusual, are found in the entrance-songs of other plays (including OC). While this reduces the autonomous detachment of the chorus, it does, on the other hand, integrate them in the action and emphasizes their role as followers of Neoptolemus.

147 comes back here: the Greek includes the additional phrase "from [or "of"] these halls" which I have omitted as it does not seem to fit the context at all. It may be corrupt, or possibly added in a mistaken attempt to clarify.

176 O gods: I have here followed the widely accepted emendation of "humans" to "gods", but without feeling sure that this change is justified.

194 Chryse's raw cruelty: this is the first allusion in the play to the cause of Philoctetes' malady, which is, in fact, never fully explained—see also p. 145. It transpires that the sanctuary of the Nymph of the island Chryse was guarded by a snake, which had bitten Philoctetes. It is possible that the story was well known and taken for granted.

201–18 Hush, keep quiet …: throughout this last pair of stanzas Philoctetes' cries of pain get nearer and nearer. He is probably coming into sight for some time before he speaks at 219.

217–18 maybe he hates … no boats: rather obscure: maybe they think how bitterly Philoctetes must lament when for so long he has seen no ships by his shore.

219 [SD] Philoctetes has been slowly …: there has been much dispute over the staging of Philoctetes' entry here. Most scholars think that a sudden entry from the central door, i.e. the cave, would be most dramatic; and in support they cite the words in 211 (here translated as "not so far away, he sounds closer by'). I believe, however, that a long, slow, increasingly visible entry from the side-entrance would be far more effective. If so, this would be the one and only time that the "wild" path is used in the entire play. That direction stands pg 320for Philoctetes' way of life on the island, while the other pulls towards the ship and departure.

220 and from what land: this is the text in all the important manuscripts. Because the same phrase is repeated two lines later, almost all editors accept a variant, "with your sailors' oars', which is found in some late manuscripts. I find the repeated question rather effective, however, in bringing out Philoctetes' anxiousness and loneliness.

225–30 [SD] (silence) …: there are occasions where the wording of tragedies clearly indicates a silence; and this is particularly frequent in this play. Here the silence betokens shock at Philoctetes' appearance, but also Neoptolemus' reluctance to embark on the planned deceit. There was probably also a silence at 225 (as indicated in my stage-direction), and it may be there should also be one after line 221 (i.e. after "no inhabitants").

239–41 I am from Skyros … everything: Neoptolemus' speech blurts out four short sentences, the first and third true, the second and fourth false (Philoctetes certainly does not know everything!) The island of Scyros is midway between Lemnos and Achilles' homeland in Thessaly (see Map 4). Achilles was sent there by his mother Thetis to keep him out of harm's way; while there, he married the mother of Neoptolemus, Deidameia, daughter of the king, Lycomedes (named in 243).

261–2 this bow of Heracles: Philoctetes identifies himself through the crucial bow before he even gives his own name. This is the first reference to the emblematic object, which he has been carrying ever since his entrance. I have taken the liberty of making a small change from the standard transmitted text, which says "the bow of Heracles" (ton Herakleion … hoplon), to the deictic word tond(e), drawing direct attention to the bow, "this bow". Otherwise there would be no focus on it until 654 (see note on 668). It might be argued that this delay in its identification is effective; but, since it is referred to as "this bow" at 288, it is preferable to have Philoctetes hold up his special token at this point.

264 lord of Ithaca: the Greek text calls Odysseus "king of the Cephalonians", the people of the larger island next to Ithaca (cf. similar phrase at 791). The pair of generals are (as usual) Agamemnon and Menelaus.

304 No people … voyages here: some editors have felt that this line piles on the agony too far and have rejected it as an interpolation, possibly rightly.

314 Odysseus: here and in some other places Sophocles uses an old epic formula meaning literally "the strength of Odysseus". This suggests "strong Odysseus", but clearly praise is not implied here, and I can find no good way of reflecting this idiom.

321 from the … Odysseus: this repetition is so heavy-handed that we might well suspect that the line is added.

325 Mycene … and Sparta too: the powerful home cities of Agamemnon and Menelaus.

331 Achilles' death: although it is his own father's death he is "playing with", Neoptolemus cleverly speaks as though it is common knowledge. It was, but it is still news to Philoctetes.

pg 321

334–5 arrow of a god, Apollo: the standard story was that Paris, with the help of Apollo, shot Achilles with an arrow in his vulnerable heel. This may be left vague here because it will be revealed later that Philoctetes will kill Paris (see 1426–7).

344 Phoenix: traditionally Achilles' "pedagogue", the male equivalent of a nurse. (It is possible that this line has been added to the Sophocles.)

355 Sigeion: the place at the southern entrance to the Dardanelles which was the site of Achilles' burial-mound – see Map 4.

363 ff. But their response …: up till this point there is nothing patently false in Neoptolemus' story. But in the matter of Achilles' armour Sophocles cleverly plays on the uncertainty of how much is true and how much fabricated: if Neoptolemus really had already been refused the privilege, as he narrates, it would surely be implausible that he should be helping Odysseus like this?

384 bastard of the low: an allusion to disparaging tales about Odysseus' legitimacy–see note on 417. At 64–6 Odysseus' explicitly gave Neoptolemus permission to be as abusive about him as he wished.

385–8 And yet I don't … from their leaders: the OCT is surely right to reject these four sententious lines as an addition. There is no good reason why Neoptolemus, who is in full flow with his abuse of Odysseus, should suddenly start letting him off the hook. In any case, Odysseus is one of "those in charge", and hardly needs any "teaching" from the less intelligent Sons of Atreus. The lines may well be transplanted from some other context.

391–402 All-feeding Mother Earth …: the extremely long spoken scene between Neoptolemus and Philoctetes, lasting all the way from 219 to 538, is given some variety by two emotional lyric outbursts from the chorus, first here and then in the corresponding stanza at 507–18. They seem to be so passionately caught up in Neoptolemus' story that they recall—or pretend to recall—the indignation they felt back at Troy. The chorus call on the Great Mother: this is Cybele, a special divinity in Asia Minor, and sometimes (as here) identified wirth Rhea, mother of Zeus.

394 Pactolus: the river runs through Lydia past the city of Sardis; it was famous for carrying gold-dust.

410–11 the greater Aias: the catalogue of the good old-type heroes who are now past and gone is inaugurated with Aias, who, as told in Sophocles' own play, killed himself at Troy. He is here called "the greater Aias" to distinguish him from another, less noble warrior of the same name; in the Iliad they are sometimes "the pair of Aiantes".

416–17 Sisyphus … Laertes: Odysseus is contemptuously called the son of Sisyphus, a king of Corinth and the master-trickster of Greek mythology. The allegation was that he had made Anticleia pregnant and then somehow got Laertes to pay handsomely for the privilege of marrying her. Diomedes, called here "the son of Tydeus", was not a disreputable hero, but he was often partnered with Odysseus in exploits at Troy.

425 Antilochus: in the Iliad Antilochus is a noble young warrior, close to Achilles. pg 322In the minor epic Aethiopis it was told how he was killed by Memnon while rescuing his old father.

442 Thersites: in the Iliad Thersites is a loud-mouthed commoner who irritates both Odysseus and Achilles. In the Aethiopis he was higher-born, but still provoked Achilles so badly that he killed him. Again, it remains unclear whether Neoptolemus is telling the truth or lying.

452 when I investigate divinity: the transmitted text says "when I praise divinity". I do not see how this could make good sense, and I have accepted a slight emendation. Philoctetes' cogent denunciation of the morality of the gods is left unanswered here. To some extent it is met by the final dispensation of Heracles, especially in 1418–22.

453 Oeta: this is the first time that Mt Oeta, Philoctetes' home territory, is named in the play (see Map 4). It will gather more significance, and its connection with the pyre of Heracles becomes a key motif.

480 one whole day: this is an optimistic calculation of the voyage time from Lemnos to Skyros, without even adding the second stage to Malis (see Map 4).

486 [SD] Philoctetes kneels: the usual ritual for a suppliant to another human was to kneel and grasp them by the knees and/or beard. This is physically difficult for the lame Philoctetes, as he says. It may well be that he stays on his knees until Neoptolemus agrees at 526 ff.

489 Chalcedon's … Euboea: presumably this kingdom was in the north of Euboea (see Map 4), and so a better stage en route to Oeta than Scyros would be. For the place-names registered in 490–2 see note on 5.

504–6 A person needs … off his guard: the previous lines have expressed a general sentiment about the changeability of human life, and this further moralizing is excessive for this emotional context. I think that recent editors are probably right to reject the lines as a part-swelling addition.

507–18 Take pity on him … resentment from above: this is the corresponding stanza to 391–402—see the note there. Once again the chorus so passionately support Neoptolemus' deceit that they might almost be sincere. It is notable that they call again on religious sanction in support of Philoctetes: by respecting the Zeus-supported suppliant and taking him home they should avoid divine resentment (the Greek word for "resentment" is nemesis). The implication is that if they do not take him home they may offend the gods. And yet Neoptolemus' real mission is to take him to Troy.

542 ff. [SD] Enter attendant disguised …: the "false merchant" scene. The arrival of the assistant disguised as a merchant skipper was elaborately prepared for by Odysseus at 126–31, where he also paves the way for the improvised role-playing that this will need. It is ironic that he arrives just as Neoptolemus is doing so well with his deceit. But the scene does still serve to cement the bond between him and Philoctetes yet more firmly, and to inject a new sense of urgency.

549 Peparethos: modern Skopelos; so a route from Troy via Lemnos is perfectly plausible.

562 Phoenix and the sons of Theseus: for Phoenix see note on 344; the sons of pg 323Theseus seem to be arbitrary nominations, except possibly for an Athenian connection.

603–21 Well, since you may not … get a move on quick: the "merchant" says at the beginning and end of his speech that he is telling "everything". But he is not, of course; and—characteristically for this play—it is impossible to disentangle what is true and what false. The Trojan seer Helenus and his prophecies about the fall of Troy were a well-known story, but within this play it remains unknown, at this stage at least, whether he specified that Philoctetes was needed as well as the bow; whether he said "by power of persuasive words" (612); and whether Odysseus promised "against his will", if necessary. Helenus' prophesies are more seriously restated by Neoptolemus towards the end of the play at 1332 ff. See also p. 146.

607 That man … reputation: this over-the-top line may be an addition.

619 cut off his head … succeed: it is a nice touch that the unusual oath "cut off my head if not …" is used twice by Odysseus in Homer.

624–5 like … Sisyphus: Sisyphus (see note on 417) was said to have somehow tricked his way out of the underworld for a prolongation of his life.

637–8 Come on then … once the work is done: there has been no talk of exhaustion, and editors who think this couplet was added might be right.

660–1 I long for that … then let it be: the reply is rather abruptly phrased, either because Neoptolemus is so sincerely reverend, or because he is guiltily inarticulate—a nice critical divergence! The latter interpretation would be confirmed if it is Philoctetes, and not Neoptolemus, who speaks 671–4—see below.

668 to give it back again: this passing phrase foreshadows the events later at 924 ff., when Neoptolemus refuses to return the bow. Some have claimed that the bow is at this juncture briefly handed over and returned, but there is not enough indication in the wording for such a momentous event. Contrast 763–78, which clearly mark the crucial actions that are lightly prepared for here. These lines are, indeed, referred to as a "request" at 764.

670 It was by … first came by it: the bow was first introduced as "the bow of Heracles" at 262; but this is the first allusion to how it came to be passed on to Philoctetes. The story, as will be elaborated later (see 801–3), was that he was the one who agreed to light the pyre on Mt Oeta, even though Heracles was still alive, thus saving him from unending agony.

671–5 I am so pleased … stand firm by my side: I have accepted the usual division of these last five lines of the scene between the two of them, but this allocation is far from certain. If it were not for the apparent dialogue in the (textually uncertain) line 674 (' "Now go in." "And I shall take you in as well." '), it might have made better sense for Philoctetes to continue after line 670 and thus speak all of 662–75. That would mean that Neoptolemus would remain awkwardly silent for all of the rest of the scene after his rather stammering words in 660–1. (There is a light word-play in 673, impossible to translate, between the name of Philoctetes and the words for "possession" (ktematos) and "friend" (philos).

676–85 I've heard … so full of tears: in this first stanza of the song the chorus try to pg 324think of someone who has suffered as grimly as Philoctetes. They hit upon the story of Ixion, who, as a punishment for attempting to rape Hera, even after Zeus had granted him a favour, was bound in the underworld to a perpetually turning wheel. They go on to recognize, however, that the treatment of Philoctetes is even worse, because he had led a morally unobjectionable life, and was guilty of no ingratitude or unjust offence. (This and the corresponding second stanza are full of textual problems, but their gist is clear.)

719–29 Now by meeting … above Mount Oeta: this fourth stanza is generally regarded as highly problematic, because the chorus seem to endorsing the deceit—that Philoctetes is about to be taken home—when there is no point in doing so because he is off-stage and inside the cave. Some scholars have even claimed that Philoctetes and Neoptolemus must have silently come back on stage after the third stanza: but this would be totally unlike the open dramaturgy of Greek tragedy. There may, I suggest, be a way out of this problem implicit in the phrase (722–3) "after many months of waiting". This is usually taken to refer simply to the long time Philoctetes has been away from home. But that has been years not months; and, since the chorus are interpreting the situation in the rosiest possible light for Philoctetes, it makes sense for this phrase to anticipate that he will eventually get home, even if only after the months that it will take to conquer Troy.

In 724–9 Philoctetes' homeland is again evoked through place-names (see note on 5): the region (Malis), river (Spercheius), and mountain (Oeta). This time, however, Oeta is glorified in somewhat enigmatic terms as the site of Heracles' pyre: he ("the man with the bronze shield" in the Greek) was placed on the pyre, and, as he burned, was supernaturally fetched to join the gods on Olympus. The "nymphs of Malis" may suggest a story that the pyre was extinguished with water poured by the nymphs, and this water eventually re-emerged, still hot, as the sulphurous mineral springs at Thermopylae, another important landmark of this area.

730–820 [SD] Philoctetes is in pain: during ninety lines Philoctetes is in excruciating pain. The Greek text quite often spells out his cries of agony, sometimes containing them within the spoken metre, sometimes not. It is, however, quite possible that Sophocles meant these to be indications of even more and longer cries. I have not thought it helpful to transliterate the Greek interjections, and have indicated cries by stage-directions only where they are included or clearly indicated in the Greek text.

749 do not hold back: the transmitted text says "do not spare my life". But Philoctetes is begging for his ulcered limb to be cut off, not to be killed, so I have adopted a small emendation which means "do not spare any force".

776 pray to keep resentment off: at the very moment that the bow changes hands Philoctetes plants the notion that it is somehow dangerous for its possessor, that it might attract jealousy or resentment (the Greek word is phthonos). This might even come from the gods, because the supernatural weapon has more power than human goods should properly have. He and Heracles can both witness to this danger.

794 you … instead of me: this line looks very like a badly worded expansion, as the OCT and other editors have concluded.

pg 325

800 famous fire of Lemnos: Lemnos is a volcanic island, and one of the active vents, possibly Mt Moschylus (now submerged?), was known as the "Lemnian Fire", which figured in both myth and ritual. Philoctetes must gesture towards this as he draws the parallel with the way that he set light to Heracles' pyre on Oeta (see notes on 670 and 724–9).

814–17 Now take me there … touch will murder me: strangely enigmatic and frantically broken-up lines. Where does Philoctetes want to be taken? Why does Neoptolemus refuse, at least until Philoctetes seems less delirious? Some have suggested that he wants to go to his cave, and some that he wants to throw himself off the rocks, but neither of those impulses would particularly fit the context. The most usual suggestion is that that he has a vision of flying up to the sky in death: but the Greeks generally thought of death as being a downward direction. If there is a specific reference at all, I suspect that that he is supposed to be looking up towards the volcano of Lemnos (see note on 800). In a brief fit he seems to think that he can somehow "fly" there, if only Neoptolemus' hand were not restraining him.

827–64 Come … most powerful: this choral song, which consists of one pair of stanzas and a free-standing third (epode), involves at least two very unusual dramatic techniques which contribute to its strangeness. First, instead of the conventional exit of a character before it and an entry after it, Philoctetes makes an "exit" and "re-entry" out of and back into consciousness. This means that it forms a continuation of the scene rather than a division between scenes. Secondly, there is a spoken (or chanted) intervention from Neoptolemus after the first stanza—see further note on 839–42.

827–38 Come, Sleep …: the song begins with a soothing invocation of sleep that may well draw on traditional lullaby, while also echoing the genre of paean. Then there is an abrupt change at 832 ("Think, son …), as the chorus turn to Neoptolemus and urge him to take advantage of this opportunity. While the lullaby is more likely to be taken as calculating rather than sentimental, this is nonetheless a very sudden and rather shocking change of tone.

835 Look, he is deeply asleep: the transmitted text says "you see now". While this makes reasonable sense, the emendation is so attractive that I have incorporated it.

839–42 His ears hear nothing … patched with lies: Neoptolemus responds with four lines in which he rejects the chorus' urgent advice. But instead of these being in the usual spoken iambic metre they are in dactylic hexameters. These are, in fact, the only unmixed speech in this metre in the whole of surviving tragedy; and, whether they were spoken or chanted, this gives them a very different tone. The two main associations of the hexameter are epic (like Homer) and oracles, and it is primarily the oracular that is tapped into here. The impression is given that Neoptolemus is having some kind of "revelation", and newly sees the truth that the bow without the man is no good. "A god" said as much, he claims—possibly an oblique reference to Helenus? The chorus still respond, however, with a less scrupulous attitude.

849–54 That thing … insoluble strains: there are unfortunately several unsolved textual problems in these lines, so their sense remains pretty uncertain.

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859 forgetful: a corrupt word here (alees) is usually emended to adees, meaning "without fear". But adaes, "forgetful" (the word also comes in the first line of the song at 827) makes even better sense.

895 Ah, ah! What am I going to do? What next?: the line begins with the interjection papai, a sound of pain which occurs several times during Philoctetes' agony in the previous scene. This suggest an affinity between the physical and mental pain. Neoptolemus' distress at betraying Philoctetes' trust, brought to a head by the physical contact, has reached the crisis, so that he does not know which way to turn, neither in his movements nor his words.

931–3 By capturing … my bow, my life: these lines exploit an ambiguity of the Greek word bios, which, with a slight difference of pronunciation, means both "life" and "bow". Philoctetes exploits this to make clear how essential the bow is to his whole existence. The word-play recurs at line 1282.

961–2 To hell then … die in agony: line 960 would make a strong ending to this powerful speech. These last two lines, with their rather laboured "no, not yet …", might possibly be a later addition by an actor wanting to keep the spotlight on himself for longer.

974 [SD] Neoptolemus begins … behind Philoctetes: the abruptness of Odysseus' intervention, just in the nick of time to stop the bow from being handed over, is emphasized by the extremely unusual device of his entering in the middle of a line (in the Greek). While the exact staging is bound to remain uncertain, it seems clear that at first Philoctetes cannot see Odysseus, perhaps because of the difficulty of his turning round; but he can still immediately recognize that hated voice after all these years.

987 fire created by Hephaestus: the god Hephaestus was connected with volcanic places like Lemnos. It was here that he landed when thrown off Olympus, as recalled in Iliad 1.

1000–2 I'll throw myself …: there is no way of knowing whether this suicidal threat was in any way conveyed by use of the stage space.

1011–12 But now … my sufferings: is Philoctetes referring back to Neoptolemus' crisis of conscience at 965 ff., before Odysseus intervened? Or does he mean that Neoptolemus is displaying silent signs of his regrets at this stage? Perhaps both.

1025 a trick and force: there were stories of how Odysseus tried to evade recruitment for the Trojan expedition but was tricked into compliance.

1034 since that … me ashore: the OCT regards this line as an interpolated addition, but for no good enough reason that I can see.

1057 we have Teucros: the half-brother of Aias, was celebrated in epic for his bowmanship (and taunted for it at Aias 1022). Odysseus' skill with the bow is, of course, crucial in the Odyssey.

1080 [SD] Odysseus and Neoptolemus … depart together: it is one of the greatest questions in the interpretation of this play whether this departure, leaving Philoctetes behind to rot on Lemnos, is supposed to be genuine or a bluff. See also the discussion on pp. 142–3. If it is a pretence, to play for time while some other way is contrived to lure Philoctetes, then Odysseus' sudden pg 327concession at 1053 ff. is false—that is easy to believe. And so too—less easy to believe—would be Neoptolemus' complicity with him in the final speech of the scene (1074–80). In favour of the belief that they genuinely intend to leave him, in the hope that the bow will be enough, and despite earlier indications to the contrary, it is notable that Neoptolemus does not address Philoctetes directly in that final speech. This mask of impersonality may indicate a suppressed discomfort. The great objection to regarding the desertion as a bluff is that, if the audience is made fully aware of this, it would bleed all the emotional power out of Philoctetes' lyrics in the following highly crafted and emotional scene.

1081 ff. [Lyric Dialogue]: in earlier tragedy there would have been a purely choral ode at this juncture, between the two "acts". In keeping with the way that later Sophocles diminishes the detachment of the chorus, while at the same time increasing its integration, there is here instead an exceptionally long lyric dialogue. The first two pairs of stanzas are dominated by Philoctetes, with tail-pieces sung by the chorus. In these Philoctetes descants in an almost delirious way on the obsessive motifs of his fate: his slow death in his cave; the reciprocity of his past food feeding on him; the degradation of his bow; the villainy of Odysseus. There is then a long, more quick-fire dialogue with no stanza structure, lasting all the way from 1169 to 1217.

1135 man of many / devices Philoctetes does not even need to name Odysseus during these invectives; the epithet here, polymechanos, is one of the standard terms beginning 'many-' (poly-) that are used of him in Homer.

1143–5 That person … defended: text and sense are unsure, but it seems that "that person" refers to Odysseus. Philoctetes pays no attention to the chorus' attempt to defend his hated enemy.

1181–3 I call on … don't abuse: it seems that Philoctetes calls so frantically on "Zeus of curses" that it alarms the chorus. He goes on to make a sort of apology in 1193–5.

1217 [SD] Philoctetes goes into the cave: on this as a possible, if dark, ending, see p. 147.

1218–21 I would have long ago … towards us: it is highly unlikely that these lines go back to Sophocles. There is no one on stage for them to be addressed to, and they are expressed in clumsy Greek. The transition between the exit of Philoctetes and the re-entry of Odysseus and Neoptolemus is exceptionally abrupt, and it looks as though some later performer wanted to buffer it with some lines of "filler".

1222 ff. I'd be obliged …: the wording of the opening speeches is made to suggest that this dialogue has already begun before they enter. This helps to convey what is an extremely daring and unusual occurrence in Greek tragedy: a major decision taken off-stage, unwitnessed by the audience.

1251–2 I do not dread … threat of force.>: it looks probable that a line spoken by Odysseus has dropped out of our transmitted text. The line given him here is a reconstruction of the kind of thing he is likely to have said.

1293 [SD] Odysseus comes out … bow changes hands: Neoptolemus stretches out his hand to return the bow, as he had done earlier at 974 (see note). But there pg 328he hesitated and Odysseus successfully intervened. This time he goes through with the action, and so Odysseus' attempt to stop him is in vain. For the staging of the ambush, it is notable that, as at 976–7, Philoctetes recognizes Odysseus by his voice even before he makes himself visible to him.

1327 the guard of Chryse: see note on 194.

1333 Asclepius' sons: the two sons of the semi-divine physician are warriors and healers in the Iliad.

1338 Helenus: the duplicitous "merchant" had already deployed his prophesies at 604 ff. Neoptolemus speaks with far more integrity, of course, but it remains necessarily impossible to sort out a definitive version of exactly what Helenus said—see also p. 146.

1365 rating … your father's arms: editors are agreed that this bit of story-filling was added and damagingly holds up the flow of Philoctetes' speech. Without this addition Philoctetes is referring back to the events as told by Neoptolemus at 360 ff.—an account of dubious truth, though never contradicted.

1367 as you have promised me: Philoctetes reiterates at 1398–9 this claim that Neoptolemus had sworn on oath that he would take him home. He had, in fact, never done so, but he did swear that he would stay with him (810 ff.). It seems that he accepts that he has, in moral effect, made this promise.

1395 The time has come: the transmitted text would mean "It is easiest …"; this emendation makes stronger sense.

1402–8 If you're certain …: the metre changes from the usual iambics to more agitated trochaics, which indicate the initiation of movement. They are in long lines (in the Greek), each split between the two speakers.

1407–8 Very well … this island: unfortunately the text of these closing lines of the trochaic dialogue is seriously corrupted (but it is unlikely that there is interpolation as supposed by the OCT).

1409 [SD] the vision of Heracles appears above them: Heracles' epiphany is very sudden, and it is debatable whether he "flew" on with the crane-type machine (the mechane–see pp. xix–xx), or whether he simply stepped out onto the roof of the stage-building.

1409 ff. [Scene 9]: Heracles' first lines (1409–17) are in anapaests, possibly chanted; this metre often marks the move towards the end of a play. He then changes into standard spoken iambics at 1418, before the metre finally reverts to anapaests at 1445 ff. On this juncture as a fully fledged possible ending, see pp. 147–8.

1420 immortal status: there were conflicting accounts of what happened to Heracles after his death. While some said that he went as a mortal to Hades, it was by this time widely accepted that from his pyre on Oeta he was raised to immortality on Olympus (as celebrated by the chorus at lines 727–9). His supernatural epiphany here visibly confirms his apotheosis.

1426 taking life away from Paris: this particular achievement of Philoctetes at Troy has not been prophesied until this moment.

1432 my pyre-mound: throughout Classical times there was an annual festival at pg 329the huge mound of ashes which marked the site of the pyre of Heracles, and further offerings were added. It has been excavated not far from the modern village of Pavliani, at a height of 1800 m (see Map 4).

1437 Asclepius: Helenus had prophesied that the sons of Asclepius would heal Philoctetes (see 1333); but Heracles "trumps" that with the semi-divine father himself.

1439 a second time: this refers back to the less celebrated earlier expedition against Troy and its king, Laomedon, led by Heracles.

1440–1 respect the province of the gods: this closing advice to avoid sacrilege when sacking Troy is bound to bring to mind the notorious act of Neoptolemus: he slaughtered old King Priam, even though he had taken refuge at the altar of Zeus. Eventually he will be killed at Delphi as a punishment by Apollo. So, while Heracles brings a promise of glory and safe return home for Philoctetes, he lightly but unmistakably casts a shadow over the future of Neoptolemus. See further p. 144.

1443–4 that's Zeus … it's indestructible: this couplet is so lame that it is hard to attribute it to Sophocles. It is impiety, not piety, that Heracles has been talking about, and all that this addition does is to weaken the telling allusion to Neoptolemus' ambivalent future.

1459 Mount Hermaion: probably the north-east cape of Lemnos.

1461 Lycian well-head: this spring, which might have been associated with Apollo Lycius, is not otherwise known. All the watery places alluded to in these lines are not inconsistent with Philoctetes' own poor sources of drink, if it is supposed that he knows about the rest of the island even though he has no way of ever reaching it himself.

1471 back to home: the Greek word nostos ("return home") in the last line of the play surely refers not to a safe return to Troy, as it has usually been taken, but back to Greece. The chorus have been sensitive to Philoctetes' longing to see his homeland and his old father again. And for themselves (like the chorus of Aias), it is the return home after the war that matters most.


14–15 quite far away: Colonus was actually less than 2 km from Athens (see Map 2). The structures most visible from there would be those up on the Acropolis. There may have been some scene-painting—see p. xix.

16–18 clearly sacred: while the most obvious sign of a sacred place would be a temple, a flourishing yet uncultivated grove might also indicate a place set apart for divinities.

19 unchiselled ledge of rock: this "seat", presumably represented by a painted stage-prop, carries significance: it is a kind of landmark step on Oedipus' journey in between the human and the sacred.

42 Eumenides … goddesses benign: the cult-title here at Colonus was the euphemistic "Eumenides" (Benign Ones). (The third play of Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy was also known by this title, but the word does not actually occur in our text of the tragedy.) They are equated with, or are at least closely associated with, the group of divinities most commonly known as "Erinyes" (cf. note on Aias 837), fearsome underworld goddesses of cosmic order, revenge, and punishment. That was, however, a name that people did not say lightly, and they were spoken of by several other, less sinister titles, including Semnai (Solemn Ones) and Potniai (Queenly Ones), as well as Eumenides.

46 password of my destiny: Oedipus will recount at 84 ff. how Apollo had prophesied that he would reach his final resting-place when he came to a sanctuary of goddesses such as these. So he recognizes their naming as a kind of "key", although enigmatic at this stage.

55–6 Poseidon … Titan-god: Poseidon was an important deity at Athens (see the song at 708 ff.); his nearby altar figures later in the play. Prometheus was a rebel Titan, not an Olympian: he was represented as holding a flare, the gift of fire that he gave humans. An annual torch-relay took this statue as its starting-point.

56–7 bronze-stepped threshold: evidently there was nearby a fissure in the earth which was believed to be one of the entries to the underworld. This place will figure again at lines 1590–1, when Oedipus is going to his death.

58–61 this horse-rider Colonus: Colonus was not a pan-Hellenic god, but a hero in the cultic sense (see p. 212), unique to this place. To judge from the deictic "this", it looks quite likely that a statue of him on horseback was actually represented on-stage; but possibly it was to be imagined as close by. Lines 62–3 offer a kind of "apology" for the relative obscurity of this figure and his story, but it is touchingly put in terms of local pride.

66–9 The ruling power: there is a monarchy, as usual in tragedy, not a democracy, even at Athens. It emerges, however, that some authority lies with the local elders.

89–90 Solemn Goddesses: Oedipus implies that this was the "password" that had been used by Apollo's oracle. This was one of the titles by which the Erinyes were known: see note on 42 above.

100 no wine: the Erinyes were never made offerings of wine; the austerity of Oedipus' life supplies an affinity with this.

pg 331

116 [SD] Antigone helps Oedipus hide …: it is likely that the background skene building, with its doors left open, was taken to represent the sacred grove. In that case Oedipus and Antigone would move and hide just inside the doorway.

117–236 [Choral Entrance-song, with Lyric Dialogue]: this long first song, also known as the "parodos", starts with choral lyric, but soon becomes a lyric dialogue between the chorus and Oedipus (and occasionally Antigone). This means that the chorus does not really establish itself in the usual way before it becomes engaged with the action. With Oedipus' interruption at 138 the metre changes from sung lyric to chanted anapaests; and then returns to the matching stanza of lyric at 150 ff. Then at 207–36 the lyric dialogue, which includes many short-line exchanges, becomes "free-form", without any ordering into stanzas.

176–202 [SD] During the following lyric …: there is a slow and long-drawn-out stage movement during the course of this pair of stanzas. Oedipus moves laboriously from the entrance of the sacred grove to a seat in the "secular" world; and with this he moves from a kind of sanctuary into the ambit of social interaction, and of having to face questions.

183–4 […]: because this stanza should be metrically matching with that at 192–206 there must have been around here some lines of sung dialogue between Oedipus and Antigone that are now missing. But their exact place in the exchange is not certain.

220 son of Laius: the notorious name of his father, Laius (three syllables), is enough to enable the chorus to identify Oedipus. The family was also often alluded to also by the name of Laius' father, Labdacus.

226 ff. Go away. Leave my country! …: as soon as the chorus realize Oedipus' identity they go back on the undertaking they made at 176–7, that no one would remove him against his will from this place of refuge. They go on to plead that they were deceived in the first place, and that this justifies their repudiation because, they imply, the presence of Oedipus would bring pollution on Colonus and Athens.

237–53 Strangers, men of respect … break free: the long lyric sequence is brought to a close by an unusual kind of "aria" sung by Antigone. It is full of tender pathos, and the young woman succeeds in restraining the first violent response of the chorus to her father's identity.

260–2 Why bother … the persecuted stranger: it was a conventional praise of Athens that she went to exceptional lengths to protect foreign suppliants. This is, indeed, sometimes exemplified in tragedy, e.g. Euripides' Suppliants.

278–9 Don't grant the gods … benighted. Text uncertain and disputed.

312–14 pony … hat: the specifications of horse and headgear are there simply to add convincing detail. Similarly, it is explained at 334 that she has one faithful attendant to protect her on her travels. Her travelling like this has called for bravery.

330 kindred sisters: there may be a hint of the incestuous kinship here.

337–41 the way they do in Egypt: this reversal of gender roles evidently featured in pg 332the Greek popular anthropology of Egypt. The account here is so close to that in Herodotus (2.35) that direct influence from the historian/ethnographer is quite likely.

367 leave the throne for Creon: I have adopted the most plausible emendation of a disputed text. Creon, first named here, seems to be regarded, as in OT, as the sensible older relation, by marriage, not by blood. But later in the play he will turn out to be a nasty piece of work.

371–2 god … minds: the way that the two brothers' fatal conflict is "doubly motivated" (see p. 7), both by a higher power and by their own flawed thinking, is made particularly explicit here.

374–6 elder brother, Polynices: in OC it is insisted that Polynices is older than Eteocles (see also 1292–8). In other versions it is the other way round; they agree to rule alternately, but Polynices reneges and goes off to recruit foreign support to invade Thebes. In both Aeschylus' Seven against Thebes and Sophocles' own Antigone Eteocles is regarded as the "good" brother, while in this play it is Polynices' case that is treated with relative sympathy—see further pp. 215–6.

381 smoking to the sky: the text and interpretation of this line is disputed.

411 beside your tomb: the danger that Oedipus' tomb threatens against the Thebans is vague at this stage. Oedipus will later spell it out more fully (see note on 607 ff.).

420 bring this message: this is an emendation of the transmitted text, which says "hear this message".

433–40 Back on that day … by force: this account of the past events recurs with variations in the play (see also 765–71 and 1354–64). This insistence on Oedipus not going into immediate exile fits with the final scenes of OT as we have them. Some scholars believe, however, that OT has been tampered with precisely to reconcile it with this account in the later play. See further p. 12 and note on OT 1515–23.

460 this country's enemies: this is an emendation of the transmitted text, which says "my enemies".

486 name them 'Benign': for the Eumenides and their titles see note on 42.

510–48 [Lyric Dialogue]: at this juncture there would conventionally have been a fully choral song, in some way stepping back from the mainstream of the play. Here there is, instead, this highly charged, rapid lyric dialogue of two pairs of stanzas in which the chorus relentlessly interrogate Oedipus on his past story. So, while dividing two scenes, those of Ismene and of Theseus, this song is also part of the continuum of the plot.

521 ff. Bad things I have endured …: this exchange directly introduces an important motif (already raised in 240): Oedipus pleads (in contrast with OT) that he is not guilty, because his acts of parricide and incest were not deliberate. See also note on 960 ff.

521–2 excessively: the transmitted text has Oedipus say "I have endured against my will", but this must be corrupt, if only for metrical reasons, and I have adopted this emendation.

539–41 I received … never won: the text is uncertain, but it makes good sense for pg 333Oedipus to reiterate that he did not choose Iocasta as his wife: she was the reward given him by Thebes for ridding them of the Sphinx.

547–8 He tried … innocence: the text here is most uncertain. I have followed the heavily emended solution favoured by Jebb (better than that in the OCT). Fortunately the important claim, "pure before the law … innocence", is not in dispute: Oedipus claims that in legal terms he is not guilty of murder.

554 look at you: this is an emendation of the transmitted "hearing you".

562–4 I have in mind … as any man: Theseus makes the most of the rather tenuous similarities in their life-stories. Although his father Aegeus was king of Athens, Theseus was brought up in Trozen, like (and unlike) the way Oedipus was brought up in Corinth. And he had a series of heroic adventures as he made his way to Athens and on his arrival there, like (and unlike) the way that Oedipus had adventures on his way between Corinth and Thebes.

607–28 My dearest son of Aegeus …: Oedipus' speech here unveils a scope and power that have been no more than glimpsed in the play so far. His sentiments on changeability and time are reminiscent of Aias in his "deception speech", and in a different way of Oedipus at OT 1076 ff. His predictions of future warfare, and of the Athenian defeat of Thebes with the help of his vengeful corpse, go far beyond anything communicated by Ismene: they verge on the autonomously prophetic.

658–60 Angry threats … evaporate.: these three lines do not seem particularly apposite here. It is probable, as is held by some editors, that they have been imported from another tragedy by a reader who was reminded of them by Oedipus' talk of "threats".

668–94 This country, guest … with gold harness: the first pair of stanzas of this first purely choral song of the play are devoted to praise of Colonus, where Oedipus has now been assured of his safe haven. Some of the features are typical of praise-poetry (such as the victory odes of Pindar): the locally special divinities, the unfailing rivers, and the fertile farmlands. Here there is also, however, an emphasis on the flora and fauna (nightingales, ivy, wild fruits, narcissus, crocus), creating an appealing kind of "nature poetry" which is quite rare in ancient Greek.

675 of the gods: the transmitted text has the singular "god", and this is usually taken to be Dionysus. But this does not fit with the way that he is freshly introduced in the following lines, so I have adopted the small change to plural; presumably this alludes to the Eumenides, whose sacred grove was introduced in similar terms by Antigone at 16–18.

683 two great goddesses: this refers to Demeter and her daughter Persephone (often known simply as Kore, 'Girl').

687 Cephisus: this was one of the two main rivers near Athens, flowing to the north-west and west of the city, not much further out than Colonus. (It is now covered and channeled, and far from "unpolluted"!) The wording seems to allude to agricultural irrigation.

691–3 The Muses … song and dances: I have slightly expanded the original, which says literally, "And the Muses' choruses do not abhor it [the place]". There pg 334were many kinds of choral dance-song (choroi), not least tragedy. Sophocles of Colonus has, it appears, worked in a touch of self-praise.

693 Aphrodite's golden harness: Aphrodite is similarly associated with the river Cephisus in the song in praise of Athens at Euripides' Medea 835–6. Her golden harness can tie humans, no less than the birds of her conventional chariot.

695–719 There is a thing … skim with ease: the second pair of stanzas turn from Colonus to Athens and Attica as a whole. Behind them lies the mythical contest between Athena and Poseidon over who should be the city's patron god. This was eventually won by Athena, who gave the olive, over Poseidon, who gave the horse. But, rather than the competition, Sophocles emphasizes the favours granted by both gods. So the first stanza is devoted to the olive and its protection in Attica by Zeus, the second to the horse and to seafaring.

695–8 Asian land … isle of Pelops: the point is not that olives do not grow in Asia Minor or the Peloponnese (they do, of course), but that the original sacred olive grew spontaneously at Athens. Indeed, its descendant was still to be seen on the Acropolis.

699 feared by attackers' spear: the allusion is probably to certain sacred olive trees that were protected by the gods.

719 Nereids: the sea-nymph daughters of Nereus were often envisaged as gambolling alongside ships. (The text here is disputed, but the general picture is clear enough.)

738 through kinship: Creon was the brother of Iocasta, and hence uncle to her two sons with Oedipus. It transpires, however, that he is in effect the agent of Eteocles, the one who has seized the throne.

760 has more … long ago: this line surely does not go back to Sophocles. Thebes was not Oedipus' "nursery", since he was sent off to be exposed when three days old; even Creon could not have got away with such a distortion. It was probably added to fill out the rather elliptical previous line.

775–82 (What is this great delight … foul in deed.): these lines seem uncharacteristically rambling, and it might be felt that the play would not suffer harm if they were not included. (Perhaps Sophocles died before he had purged them in revision!)

788 my curse: the Greek word, alastor, is something like a spirit of vengeance.

789–90 land enough … no more: Oedipus' curse on his two sons, as reflected in Aeschylus' Seven against Thebes for example, was that they should be granted enough earth to be buried in.

830 what is mine: Creon claims that he is responsible, legally speaking, for his nieces, since their father has no civic rights.

834–86 [Lyric Dialogue Sequence]: as Antigone is being actually manhandled, the emotional pitch reaches the point where an exchange in lyric, instead of spoken dialogue, breaks out. This is matched, after more spoken lines, by a second stanza of emotional lyric dialogue at 876–86.

848 crutches: the same Greek word, skeptron, means both a sceptre, symbol of pg 335power, and a staff to support weak limbs. Sophocles plays on this ambiguity and the way that one sense applies to the sons of Oedipus, the other to his daughters.

862 unless … to stop me!: this line, if spoken by Creon, must be sarcastic; but it is possible that, with the alteration of just one letter, it should be spoken by the chorus, and should say "… is going stop you".

882 〈But Zeus knows〉: there is a small gap in the text, and this is a plausible guess at the missing words.

900–1 two highroads to Thebes converge: it is not clear exactly where Theseus means, but it is clearly a strategic point on the way to Thebes, perhaps the dip in the hills between Athens and Eleusis (modern Daphni)—see Map 2.

919 ff. And yet it is not Thebes …: on the portrayal of Thebes in OC see pp. 218–9.

926 without … your lord: this rather pointless line might be an addition.

947–9 Areopagus: a hill sacred to Ares, near the Acropolis, which was the meeting-place of an ancient Athenian court. Creon uses Athenian patriotic cliché as part of his polemic.

954–5 For anger … by pain: this banal and inapposite couplet is rightly regarded as an interpolation by some editors, including the OCT.

1028–33 You won't have … to a single man: in these lines Theseus makes it clear that he is aware that Creon must have further forces in reserve, possibly corrupt Athenians; but he will make sure that these are overpowered. "You won't have anybody else to help …" is a rather odd way of introducing this, but not odd enough to justify the compex reordering of lines adopted in the OCT.

1044 ff. [Choral Song]: instead of a messenger-speech describing the victory of Theseus' men over Creon and his forces (it is left vague whether they are Theban or treacherous Athenians), the battle is imaginatively envisaged by the chorus in this song of two pairs of stanzas. This device also has the advantage of covering the considerable period that the pursuit and battle would have taken in "real time". There are, unfortunately, several places where the text is very unsure, e.g. 1068–9, 1076–8.

1044–58 I wish I were … triumphant and brave: in the first two stanzas the chorus envisage where the clash might be happening and how the battle might be fought. In this stanza it is imagined as happening in the area of the coast around Eleusis, where the route from Athens towards Thebes first heads before turning north across the mountains (see Map 2). The topography is given an ornate dressing of high poetry. The "Pythian" location (1048–9) must refer to a shrine of Apollo, probably halfway to Eleusis near modern Daphni (see also note on 900–1). Eleusis is invoked through the celebrated Mystery rites of Demeter and Kore ("the Goddesses"). Initiates were bound to secrecy, and the cult was officiated by an Athenian priestly family; this is elaborated in the original (not translated in full) as, "on whose tongues is set the golden key of the attendant Eumolpid family".

1059–61 the snowy high-ground: the topography of this stanza is more debatable. The text as transmitted refers to "west of the snowy rock in the region of Oea [or Oe]". This might suggest a less obvious alternative route towards pg 336Thebes, which would go north and then east without going down to the coast at Eleusis. But there is no reason why this should be near a landmark called "snowy". This epithet would be more appropriately used of the high pass between Attica and Boeotia at Oenoe (see Map 2), which leads me to take seriously the change of Oiatidos (of Oea) in 1061 to Oinatidos, meaning "of Oenoe". In that case they envisage a mountain skirmish at a strategic spot considerably further away from Athens and nearer to Thebes.

1070–3 all those … resource: this simplifies the more elaborate original, which says literally, "who revere the horse-goddess Athena and the marine, earth-holding, dear son of Rhea". In theogonies Rhea was the mother of Poseidon as well as Zeus, Hera, and Hades.

1081–4 If I could only … the battlefield: by wishing they could have a dove's-eye view, the chorus can diminish the time and distance that would be covered in real time and place, while also stimulating the mental vision of the audience.

1096–7 faulty prophets: the chorus are pleased that they (Oedipus' "watchers") have proved right in their lyric prophesying at 1075 ff.

1132 ff. But stop! …: the Greeks had a strong sense of pollution, although it was often treated as intuitive rather than objective. In this case Theseus does not dispute that he should avoid physical contact with Oedipus.

1156–9 the altar of Poseidon: Polynices is first introduced here as a suppliant, like Oedipus himself. And he has placed himself at an altar which is an important local cult-site, as Theseus will emphasize at 1179–80. The ethical assessment of Polynices is far from simple—see pp. 215–6.

1167 at Argos: this is enough to identify Polynices: Ismene had told at 373–81 how he went there in exile and set about building up alliances.

1220 The helper: this is not a standard title of Hades, but is, rather, a riddling way of referring to Death.

1221–2 no tune, no dance, no wedding march: the piled-up negatives come back in 1236–7 as well. There is similar phrasing in Antigone's farewell lament at Antigone 876. They might be a feature of poetic laments.

1234–5 Resentment, killings, strife: in the Greek there are five nouns, not three: resentment, factions, conflict, battles, and killings.

1236–8 no friend retained: after this the Greek adds "where all evils of evils live together", omitted for the sake of concision.

1245–8 some … arctic night: after three fairly straightforward indications of west, east, and south, the last is the more oblique: literally "from Rhipae covered in night". Rhipae was a semi-legendary mountain range in remote northern Scythia.

1249 [SD] Polynices approaches from the 'city' direction: it is carefully indicated that Polynices comes from the local altar of Poseidon. This was where Theseus was sacrificing before he came to the rescue at 887, and so it must lie in the unthreatening "home" direction of Athens. So Polynices comes from the opposite direction to that used by Creon. Also, the approach of Polynices, in sorrow and by himself ("without attendants", 1250), pg 337contrasts with the bold approach of Creon and his henchmen ("with an escort", 723) – see further p. 216.

Does Antigone go over and embrace her brother, or does she stay by Oedipus' side? It seems impossible to be sure which way Sophocles staged it, but the decision of staging would make a considerable difference to the emotional dynamics of the whole scene. If Antigone does stand beside Polynices then she will remain there all the time until he detaches himself from her clinging at 1432 ff., and she would probably return to Oedipus only when he calls on his daughters at 1457. If, on the other hand, she stays with her father this creates a kind of distancing of Polynices.

1268 But Zeus has Mercy throned by him: in reply to this appeal by Polynices to Aidos, ("Mercy"), Oedipus will counterclaim that Zeus has Dike ('Justice') sitting by him (1381–2). Aidos (often translated as "shame") is, at root, a sense of restraint or compunction that stops people from behaving in ways that they know are wrong: in this context "Mercy" probably best reflects this. Throughout this speech Polynices' language has been high-flown and vivid, even when sordid. Some critics consider this to be a sign of his self-indulgent fraudulence; others see it as evidence that his regret is keen and sincere. It is, at least, to his credit that he sees the state of things for himself, and that he unreservedly admits his own neglect and guilt.

1270 though no undoing them: the transmitted Greek text says, "though no increasing them". I find it hard to see what this is supposed to mean, and have adopted a slight emendation.

1299 your curse: the Greek word is "Erinys" (on the Erinyes, cf. note on 42). At this stage Polynices may be alluding to the curse on Oedipus' whole life and family, rather than his paternal curse on his sons, since he has yet to hear that. Alternatively, he is leading up to Oedipus' potential demonic power over the outcome of the war, made explicit at 1331–2. It may be that the next line, 1300, is an addition, as accepted in the OCT. It is also possible, however, that the textual problems are more complex, since the connection between Oedipus' curse in 1299 and the narrative in 1301 ff. is not at all clear.

1304 the Peloponnese: in the Greek this is given the circumlocution "the land of Apis", after a mythical early king.

1305 sevenfold command: the numeral "seven" is by itself enough to bring to the foreground the ill-fated expedition of the "Seven against Thebes". Six commanders, plus Polynices as the seventh, set themselves to attack the legendary seven-gated walls of Thebes.

1313–25 They comprise … versus Thebes: this ten-line catalogue enumerates the six allied leaders, before devoting three lines to Polynices himself. It is a kind of potted lecture on the Seven, touching on the most familiar mythical details: Amphiaraus was a prophet; Capaneus boasted about burning Thebes; Parthenopaeus was so called because his mother Atalanta had done her utmost to remain a virgin (parthenos), etc. Reeve has argued, mainly from some clumsiness of expression, that this whole passage is an intrusion into the Sophocles, perhaps added by an actor to swell the role. This bold conjecture seems to me very plausible: the numeral sequence is pedantically laboured, and the catalogue is easily detachable. This is an issue of considerable consequence pg 338for the interpretation of Polynices. If the lines are authentic they portray him as a conceited power-broker, insensitive to Oedipus' situation: for why should Oedipus give damn about these alien military leaders? If the lines are added, however, then Polynices' plea remains much more personal and, arguably, more honest.

1342 establish you in your own house: is this a lie? Creon had no intention, of course, of taking the polluted Oedipus back to Thebes: but is Polynices equally duplicitous? When Ismene reported the determination to keep Oedipus out of the city at 396 ff., she specified Creon and the Thebans. Polynices' sincerity may, then, remain an open question. Oedipus does not, however, recognize any mitigating considerations.

1370 the god: Oedipus does not say which god (the Greek has daimon, which is not specific), but he presumably implies that it is his avenging Erinys, which is a superhuman power, supported by the sanction of Zeus.

1381–2 if venerable Justice takes her seat: Oedipus sets up Dike in direct opposition to Polynices' appeal to Aidos—see note on 1268.

1389–90 Tartarus: thought of as the punitive "dungeon" of the underworld. (I have omitted the epithet "paternal" which the Greek text gives it here, since I can make no sense of it.)

1410 proper funeral rites: the story of how Antigone chose death in order to give Polynices proper burial was immortalized in Sophocles' own earlier Antigone—indeed, it is likely that he invented the story. The play was such a huge success that he is able to allude to it and take it for granted that the irony would not be lost. In a sense he, the playwright, is responsible for granting Antigone her double "praise" (1411), both as the companion of Oedipus in exile and as the champion of her brother to the death.

1414–46 I beg you, Polynices …: in the dialogue that follows the workings of double motivation (see p. 7) are particularly clear; it may be influenced by a similar situation, on a greater scale, with Eteocles in Aeschylus' Seven against Thebes. Polynices is doomed to death by the supernatural power of Oedipus' curse; at the same time he is determined to go and fight at Thebes of his own volition. He has an understandable motive, because he feels he cannot let down the allied expedition that he has started.

1418–19 lead these men again … fright?: Polynices' argument here is particularly weak: since he is doomed to die, there can be no future opportunities. He seems to betray a forlorn hope that Oedipus' curse might not actually be fulfilled (cf. "that rests with the god …" in 1443–4).

1434 avenging demons: in the Greek, Oedipus' Erinyes.

1447 ff. [Choral Song]: the unusual context produces unusual technique: in between each of the four stanzas of choral lyric there are five spoken lines, in the pattern Oedipus (2), Antigone (1), Oedipus (2). The first stanza embarks on the usual kind of choral conceptualizing, but as soon as thunder begins to sound (see note on 1456), the song changes to matter closely consequential on the immediate situation.

1456 [SD] (thunder): suddenly, with no warning, there is thunder; the noise is not (of course) marked by a stage-direction in the Greek text (see p. xxxii). We do pg 339not know whether a special thunder-machine had been developed this early in the history of the Greek theatre, but clearly there must have been some sort of sound-effect. It is repeated several times in the following scene. Oedipus recognizes it straightaway as the promised signal that his end is near, as predicted back at 94–5.

1492–3 in that recess: the text is unfortunately corrupt, but it seems to refer to a vale where the local Colonus altar of Poseidon was located.

1534 soldiers sown from teeth: this alludes to the myth that when Cadmus founded Thebes he sowed the teeth of the dragon he killed, and that the Theban warrior-elite were descended from the five survivors of the warriors that grew from these. The following lines insist that Thebes, although friendly at this mythical time, may turn hostile, as expounded at 607 ff. (see note).

1547–8 Hermes … leading me: Hermes psychopompos escorted newly dead souls to the underworld, whose goddess was Persephone, wife of Hades.

1555 [SD] Oedipus makes his way off … Theseus and his attendants: where within the stage-space does this extraordinary procession go as it follows behind Oedipus' lead? If it were to depart by one of the side-entrances it would have be the one in the direction of Athens, since this is a deeply Athenian event. But it would, in my opinion, be much more effective for it to depart into the sacred grove which forms the background to the setting. This would then be the first time in the entire play that this route has been taken (though Oedipus and Antigone probably hid there—see note on 114–16). This sacred "path" will lead, as is narrated by messenger at 1586 ff., to various special and numinous locations on the way to the mysterious disappearance of Oedipus. Some scholars have objected to this staging because so much has been said in the early scenes of the play about the grove being ground that should be untrodden by any human foot. But that then becomes part of the point about the supernatural strangeness of Oedipus' departure: this not a chosen route, but one he is led on by the gods, as he fully expounds in lines 1544–8. All those who follow him into the sacred grove also have a kind of special dispensation because they are with him.

1556–60 Goddess … Aidoneus: the chorus invoke Persephone and Hades, who is here given the rarer alternative name "Aidoneus" (duplicated in the invocatory Greek).

1564 dead lie hid: the Greek has in addition, "and the Stygian home", derived from the underworld river, Styx.

1568–78 Goddesses … to you I pray: the invocations in this second stanza are not easy to disentangle. First, it is not obvious what goddesses are meant here at the beginning—maybe the Erinyes. There is then a surprisingly elaborate invocation of Cerberus, the guard-dog who allowed only the new dead in through the doors of Hades, and would let none out. After that, in 1574–8, it is something of an enigma which underworld god is being called on. He is addressed as son of Earth and Tartarus (so it is not Hades), and as "the ever-sleep" (here "long Sleep): the answer may be simply Thanatos, Death.

1590–7 Well, when he came … took his seat: these lines specify a whole series of landmarks, giving the impression that they were familiar, even though we pg 340know of no reference to them anywhere else, except for the cleft in the earth with bronze steps, already been singled out by the local man at 56–8. The "basin" is a memorial to Peirithous and Theseus, who went down to Hades together: this emphasizes Theseus' reputation for reliability. The epithet "Thorician", used of a certain rock in 1595, is obscure and may be corrupted. I do not consider it by any means inconceivable that these numinous-sounding spots (and even the hill of Demeter at 1600–1) were fictions created to lend appropriate atmosphere for this mythopoeic occasion.

1603 customary robes: this must mean that, while still alive, Oedipus was clothed in the white robes that were traditionally put on corpses before burial.

1606 Zeus beneath the earth: this epithet (Zeus Chthonios) is occasionally used of Hades, brother of the Zeus above on Olympus. Here it may prepare for the way that Oedipus' passing is somehow shared between the two, cf. 1653–62.

1615–18 one small word: this word is philein, "to love". It is tempting to nudge these beautiful lines towards some universal doctrine of the redemptive power of Love, but, in context the sentiment is strictly personal. (A possible change of one letter, from taut' to tout', would slightly shift the sense to "but there's this one small word / redeems all of the sufferings".)

1626 because … called out to him: I agree with those who think that this rather heavy line is a histrionic addition: the call is supposed to be urgent!

1654–5 we saw him … both at one time: the Greeks directed their worship either down towards the powers of earth and underworld or upwards towards the canonical gods. So this simultaneous combination is indicative of the exceptional mystery of Oedipus' end.

1670–1750 [Scene 10—Lyric Dialogue]: the first two stanzas (1670–1723) of this extended lamentation are dominated by Antigone, with contributions from Ismene and the chorus. The briefer second pair (1724–50) is made up entirely of short interchanges, between the two sisters in the first, and between the chorus and Antigone in the second.

1718–19 […]: we can tell from the matching stanza that a couple of lines are missing here from Ismene's contribution.

1733 […]: two short phrases are missing.

1751 ff. [Scene 11]: the closing lines of the play are, as is usual, in the more dynamic anapaests, whether spoken or chanted.

1766 our god here: probably Poseidon, or possibly the hero Colonus.

1779 [SD] Antigone and Ismene … depart in the 'foreign' direction, towards Thebes: while it is not unthinkable that Sophocles had them all depart in the direction of Athens, with the notion that the girls would go to Thebes in the future, it is much more likely that they head off immediately in the "foreign" direction. The return of the daughters to "home" has already been raised in 1741 ff., and with her last words Antigone refers directly to the imminent battle between her two brothers. This inevitably recalls her agreement to the plea of Polynices that he should be properly buried (see note on 1410). This imparts a rather bitter twist to this closing scene: Theseus, in doing what he supposes pg 341will "benefit" Antigone, is actually helping her to the fatal events of her own tragedy, Antigone. Oedipus had himself made Theseus promise that he would always do what was best for them (as reported at 1631–7). So even Oedipus, for all the redemptive wonder of his ending, cannot foresee that, through the fallible enactment of this request, he will be sending his beloved Antigone to her death. This final irony casts something of a dark shadow across what might otherwise seem to be a purely silver-lining conclusion to Oedipus' life—see further pp. 216–7.

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