Oedipus at Colonus: Sophocles, Athens, and the World [Reprint 2012 ed.] 3110193264, 9783110193268

This book aims to offer a contemporary literary interpretation of the play, including a readable discussion of its under

195 92 9MB

English Pages 370 [372] Year 2007

Report DMCA / Copyright

DOWNLOAD FILE

Polecaj historie

Oedipus at Colonus: Sophocles, Athens, and the World [Reprint 2012 ed.]
 3110193264, 9783110193268

Citation preview

Andreas Markantonatos Oedipus at Colonus

w DE

G

Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte Herausgegeben von Gustav-Adolf Lehmann, Heinz-Günther Nesselrath und Otto Zwierlein

Band 87

Walter de Gruyter · Berlin · New York

Oedipus at Colonus Sophocles, Athens, and the World

by

Andreas Markantonatos

Walter de Gruyter · Berlin · New York

© Printed on acid-free paper which falls "within the guidelines of the ANSI to ensure permanence and durability.

ISSN 1862-1112 ISBN 978-3-11-019326-8 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A CIP catalogue rccord for this b o o k is available from the Library of Congress.

Bibliografische Information der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek T h e Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data are available in the Internet at http://dnb.d-nb.de.

©

Copyright 2007 by Walter de Gruyter G m b H & Co. KG, D-10785 Berlin

All rights reserved, including those of translation into foreign languages. N o part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, "without permission in writing from the publisher. Printed in Germany Cover design: Christopher Schneider, Berlin Printing and binding: H u b e r t & Co., Göttingen

For my sons Gerasimos and Emmanuel ώ παίδες, γένοισθε πατρός

ευτυχέστεροι

Preface πάντα πραότερ' εστίν εν δημοκρατία (Demosthenes, Against Androtion 51) It is fair to say that Oedipus at Colonus is one of those works of art that keep you intellectually preoccupied for an entire lifetime. In view of its overmastering power, this is a play that possesses an inner momentum of its own, one linked both to the inexorable processes ofAthenian political change in an age of social upheaval and civic unrest and to steps in Oedipus' personal spiritual journey. The aggregate of scholarship on Sophocles that has accrued in the century since Tycho von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff's path-breaking book on dramatic technique [Die dramatische Technik des Sophokles (Berlin: Weidmann, 4th ed. 1996 with preface by W. Μ. Calder III & A. Bierl, orig. 1917)] has been immense; nonetheless, it is only lately that serious critics have turned their lens of inquiry to the problems surrounding the interpretation of Oedipus at Colonus more fully and intensely. Notwithstanding the new burgeoning of interest in Sophocles' final drama, it should be noted that this is the first full-scale book on Oedipus at Colonus that not only takes stock of most of the recent breakthroughs in the understanding of the play (this is partly done through a scene-by-scene analysis of its content), but also offers original readings of intriguing episodes and includes insights into long-standing critical problems regarding the life of Sophocles and fifth-century Athenian politics. Moreover, this is also the first time that significant space is devoted to the discussion of the mythical matter available to the poet in constructing Oedipus at Colonus, the examination of the potential intertextual connections with Sophocles' other extant works, and the varied reception of the play in modern times. In the course of my research I have accumulated many personal debts. It is a real pleasure to thank Richard Buxton, Edith Hall, Pantelis Michelakis, Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood, Christos Tsagalis and Michael Vickers for their generous encouragement, thoughtful advice and incisive criticism. I have been fortunate enough to have Ben Petre as my copy-editor. His attention to detail and his unfailing precision have been indispensable. Moreover, I would like to acknowledge the valuable assistance of the

VIII

Preface

staff at the Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama at the University of Oxford, who have been most helpful in providing me with essential material regarding the performance histoiy of Oedipus at Colonus. Further, I am especially grateful to Heinz-Günther Nesselrath for supplying me with corrections, supplements, and valuable advice. I could not hope for a more meticulous and courteous critic. Last but not least, I am deeply indebted to Cressida Ryan for letting me see her unpublished work on the reception of Sophocles' last drama in eighteenth-century England and France. On a personal level, I owe much to the stimulating and congenial atmosphere of the Department of Classical Studies at the University of Crete, where I have spent two wonderful years; the excellent library facilities of this important institution have allowed me to gather most of the material for this book without undue difficulty. Moreover, my warmest thanks go to the staff of the Department of Philology at the University of Patras for their inspirational comradeship and generous scholarship. Needless to say, responsibility for all opinions expressed and arguments advanced remains wholly mine. A.M. Rethymnon - Patras August 2006

Contents Introduction

1

Chapter 1 The Poet, the Polis and the Play I.

Introduction

II. III.

Biographical: Sophocles and his Last Play Tradition and Innovation: The Art of Sophocles and Oedipus at Colonus The Great Dionysia: Oedipus at Colonus and the Performance Context The Athenian Grandeur: Oedipus at Colonus and the Historical Context

IV. V.

9 10 21 30 35

Chapter 2 Multiple Stories: The Oedipus Myth I. II. III.

Introduction The Oedipus Myth: From Homer to Euripides Sophocles and Oedipus: A Show for Thebes

41 43 60

Chapter 3 Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens I. II. III. IV. V. VI. VII. VIII. IX. X. XI.

Introduction Prologue Parodos First Episode First Stasimon Second Episode Second Stasimon Third Episode Third Stasimon Fourth Episode Fourth Stasimon

71 72 80 84 91 94 98 99 102 104 Ill

X

XII.

Contents

Exodos

113

Chapter 4 Religion and History: The Future of Athens I. II. III. IV. V.

Introduction Tragedy and Ritual: Not Only a Suppliant Drama Heroic Honour: Helping Friends, Harming Enemies Immortal Glory: Oedipus and Athens Religion and Politics: The Oath of Athens

121 123 140 157 167

Chapter 5 Tragic Intertextuality: Hope and Fear I. II. III. IV. V.

Introduction Intertextual Games Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus Sophocles' Antigone Death and Philia in Sophocles' Theban Plays

195 198 203 216 224

Chapter 6 Influence and Performance: Oedipus and the World I. II. III.

Introduction Influence Performance

231 234 248

Conclusion

257

General Index

349

Index of Greek Words

357

Index of Oedipus at Colonus Passages

358

Introduction

ξύγγνωμον δ' έστί τό άκούσιον: So remarked Cleon, the notorious Athenian demagogue, in an otherwise chillingly matter-of-fact speech delivered in 427 BCE in a desperate effort to persuade his fellow-Athenians to proceed with the execution of the whole adult male population of Mitylene (Thucydides, 3.40.1 [ed. H.S. Jones & J.E. Powell). According to Cleon's reasoning, the revolt of the Mityleneans was the result of assiduous planning; and forgiveness is only reserved for unwitting offenders. Fortunately for the people of Mitylene, on that particular occasion the Athenians were not given over to unreflecting fury and good counsel carried the day; the initial decree to put to death all the men of the island was expediently revoked by means of a speedy, although tension-filled, news-dispatching sea operation. It was rightly noted that this important differentiation between voluntary and involuntary actions is again echoed in Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1109b 30-35:' της άρετής δή περί πάθη τε και πράξεις οΰσης, και έπί μέν τοις έκουσίοις έπαίνων και ψόγων γινομένων, έπί δέ τοις άκουσίοις συγγνώμης, ένίοτε δέ και έλέου, τό έκοΰσιον και τό άκούσιον άναγκαϊον ϊσως διορίσαι τοις περί άρετής έπισκοποΰσιν, χρήσιμον δέ και τοις νομοθετοϋσι πρός τε τάς τιμάς και τάς κολάσεις, [ed. F. Susemihl & Ο. Apelt] Compassion is owed to the unwilling wrongdoer; and there is every need for men to reach a working distinction between accidental misconduct and conscious offence. This was the case in Greece, where for centuries the legitimacy of indiscriminate retaliation passed entirely unchallenged. Such interest in establishing some sort of communal criteria of what constitutes punishable provocation was entirely appropriate in the fifth and fourth centuries, since it was then intensely felt that the relentless application of retribution reduced men to mere pawns in social and political conflicts.

1

See Hornblower (1991), p. 430 (note on 40.1).

2

Introduction

The need for sympathy and cool-headedness is fundamental to Oedipus at Colonus. Here Sophocles applies the effective model of abjuring personal moral responsibility on the strength of unwitting wrongdoing to an especially broader spectrum of relationships. More than this, in a fragment of his lost Tyro, the idea of ethical purity again involves a minimum requirement of unconscious transgression (TrGF vol. iv F 665, p. 471): ά χ ω ν δ' άμαρτών οΰτις άνθρώπων κακός

The reason why we decided to commence this full-scale study of Sophocles' last play with these ancient qualifications with regard to retaliatory justice is that the recognition of multiple moral standpoints in the numerous debates between the characters offers a deeper background against which to interpret the constant interface between blindly self-righteous invective and hard-won unambiguous judgement. Oedipus at Colonus is deeply concerned with the ultimate choice of an ethical focus powerful enough to stand the test of time - a central moral decision authoritative enough to transform the monstrosity of parricide and incest into something humanly bearable. This is no small task, since an ever more complicated, suspenseful resistance to a resolution persistently matches the drive towards a satisfying resolution. Nonetheless, what is remarkable about this play is that at the closing stages Oedipus' unyielding adherence to his estimates is given absolute validity transcending his partial perspective. His overriding aim to fulfil his own goals in justice establishes a much-needed alternative criterion of moral behaviour not only for fifth-century Athenians, but also for humanity. It is no accident that the same rage at disloyalty that prompts his terrible imprecations on his sons makes Oedipus confer his blessings on Athens - his indignation at ingratitude does not prevent a just assessment of merit. It should be noted, however, that Sophocles is not to be taken as a naive optimist. While it may be true that his message of thoughtful sympathy and insightful even-handedness would have struck resonant chords among the hard-pressed spectators of 401 BCE, his is a play that offers profound meditations on the questions of how things should be with Athens and the world. This is not to say that Oedipus at Colonus indulges in wishful thinking; the ideal images of everlasting prosperity and grandeur are consistently projected with a warning sign of cancellation. From that point, Sophocles focuses not only on human responses but also on divine power. Although the play ends on a positive note of personal fulfilment

Introduction

3

and communal happiness, he makes abundantly clear that the tangle of dreadful forces with which Oedipus was implicated might as well have remained unconquered. In a way Oedipus is shown to be θεοφιλής ('beloved by the gods'). In order to get a measure of the divine kindness granted to Oedipus, we should bring into focus the well-known story of Adrastus, which Herodotus tells so vividly in the first book of his Histories. The story of Adrastus makes emphatically clear that the gods do not invariably pardon involuntary deeds; some men are overwhelmed by their cruel destiny. In a case such as this, taking one's own life is deemed by many to be preferable or at least less intolerable than living a life of shame. In Herodotus 1. 34-45, we are told that his own father sent Adrastus into exile for killing his brother unwittingly ( 1 . 3 5 . 3 , φονεύσας δέ άδελφεόν έμεωυτοϋ άέκων [ed. C. Hude]). Then Adrastus was given refuge in the palace of Croesus; the Lydian king cleansed him from his guilt. All the same, Adrastus killed Croesus' son by accident and committed suicide afterwards (1. 45. 2, εί μή δσον άέκων έξεργάσαο [ed. C. Hude]). Returning to the story of Oedipus, the analogies with Adrastus' fate are not hard to emphasize. Adrastus is another Oedipus, but in his case everything has gone terribly wrong. While Oedipus is shown to be θεοφιλής, Adrastus is proven to be utterly βαρυσυμφορώτατος (1. 45. 3, 'struck down by ill luck like no other man before him'). There seems to be no unwavering policy on the part of the gods towards men - no fixed rules of conduct. In this context, an involuntary deed does not necessarily call for immediate pardon. Nonetheless, people are anxious to discern a pattern behind the inexplicable workings of the gods. In the fourth stasimon, Sophocles wishes to see in Oedipus' heroic death a token of divine justice for actions suffered, but not committed (1567, πάλιν σφε δαίμων δίκαιος αύξοι). The use of the optative demonstrates that the Chorus knows full well that it is entirely in the hands of the gods to be merciful and kind at the critical moment of Oedipus' slipping away. According to Sophocles, in the eyes of a just god Oedipus deserves to be θεοφιλής on account of his unwitting actions and his nobility of spirit.2 The modest aim of the preceding discussion was to highlight the extraordinary thematic complexity of Oedipus at Colonus. I have examined 2

Cf. Stahl (1975); Said (1978); Manuwald (1992); Hornblower (1994), pp. 13-33; Gould (2000), pp. 63-85; Harrison (2000), pp. 102-121; Ortolä, Redondo & Sancho (2000); Catenacci (2000); Mikalson (2003).

4

Introduction

only a limited part of this intricacy in my book Tragic Narrative: A Narratological Study of Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus (Berlin & New York: de Gruyter, 2002), in which I have focused on the play's narrative structures, without losing sight of its intertextual filiations. More specifically, this detailed study of the play's labyrinthine ramification of narrative patterns called for severe economy in my treatment of the possible historical resonance. At the risk of some reduction, I blocked out protracted excursions into political, social and theological concerns so that I could concentrate on some prominent narratological themes more closely. This is not to say, of course, that I proposed to get a strict meaning on an exclusively narratological interpretation. I am fully aware of the fact that we cannot tie up Oedipus at Colonus in a parcel and label it; it is my unwavering conviction, nonetheless, that Sophocles' last drama revolves around a specific narrative strategy, which puts the language of the play into a purely mystical manner. More than this, I am of the opinion that the lines of the play are stiff with glaring intertextual cues, which invite the critic to focus on potential connections with other Sophoclean works. Thus, I felt justified in using some intertextual and religious elements, which were useful towards a more conscious understanding of the play's narrative construction. In the light of the inevitable limitations of my narratological analysis, the questions of historical relevance were asked, but not fully answered, swallowed up instead in my wide-ranging exposition of several significant narrative devices. This second book acknowledges the fact that Oedipus at Colonus was played to an audience full of memories of the Peloponnesian War, its preludes and aftermaths. In a sense, Sophocles' final work is a re-enactment of the moral situation in this major crisis of Athenian history. I cannot help feeling that my narratological explication of this tragedy's constant counterplay of imperfect perspectives on dreadful past actions against moods and moments inspired by the awareness of hopeful future events cast light on certain aspects of Athenian life at the turn of the fifth century BCE and the post-war sensibility that was here involved. There seems to be common consent on at least one point of the key concerns of narrative theory: narratologists study how stories help people make sense of the world. The present, heavily historicized analysis of Oedipus at Colonus reveals further moral, social, religious, patriotic and intertextual issues with which the play abounds; all of these are subordinated to a mighty narrative structure from which an urgent message of political harmony and

Introduction

5

civic concord persistently ensues. Indeed, Sophocles' last drama offers a wide range of strategies for navigating principal elements of Athenian fifthcentury experience, especially end-of-the-war anxieties and expectations. On a more fundamental level, the play's vibrant reception suggests that it remains a valuable way of thinking about human crises in modern times. In this respect the present book is a continuation of the first. As was to be expected, it soon became clear to me that Sophocles' final drama deserves even more attention. Despite the recent upsurge of critical interest, complex issues of the kind fleetingly treated in this introduction remain seriously underrated - not to mention the numerous commonplaces about Sophocles' final tragedy ranging from the sympathetic to the hostile, or even the considerable reservations expressed by various critics about the play's unity and coherence. I strongly believe that there is room for a full-scale examination of the play's political, social, intellectual, and mythical background, with the object of offering a comprehensive assessment. Of course, as has already been mentioned, my previous treatment of narratological and intertextual problems will serve as a springboard for further investigation of the underlying moral and religious concerns, a starting point for deeper insight into the beauty and richness of Oedipus at Colonus. In my view, there is every need to elaborate on earlier interpretative approaches, with an eye to solving long-standing problems. Thus a historicizing elucidation will function as a refreshingly new critical process into which a wide range of viewpoints will be fittingly integrated. At the risk of tedium, let me very briefly indicate the leading ideas that this book embodies. My main conviction is that the second Oedipus play marks the culmination of Sophocles' dramatic output; this is an exceptional play, made even more remarkable and absorbing by the extraordinary conditions of its production and its intricate historical context. In Oedipus at Colonus Sophocles stretches his dramatic means to breaking point so as to convey an authoritative message of civic harmony and political consensus, in the face of the degenerative force of Athenian historical circumstances. In his effort to protect the integrity of democracy, family, religion and indeed language, he is profoundly concerned with both the establishment of fair dealing and the pressing need to explain, revive, and promote it. Despite the ruthless competition for personal gain and the prevailing influence of cynicism and complacency in Athens in late fifth century BCE, his urgent call for intelligent resourcefulness, fortified determination and constant self-control is rendered even more

6

Introduction

compelling through numerous effective devices. The innovatory adaptation of the legendary material; the eager safeguarding of ritual normality; the vigilant endorsement of divinely sanctioned compromises and securely reliable pledges; the persistent evocation of recognizable patriotic motifs commemorated in Attic historiography and oratory; and the intertextual reversal of familiar pessimistic arguments - all of these reinforce the principal idea of national unity and political temperance. Moreover, although there is much more to be done in the way of the play's modern literary reworkings and theatrical interpretations, the thorough examination of its long afterlife strengthens the suggestion that the effectiveness of Oedipus at Colonus depends on its remarkable and sustained tension between altruistic aspiration and vengeful self-righteousness, hopeful resistance to devastating suffering and cynical indulgence in devious calculations of personal advantage. We may indeed say that the Oedipus myth with all its φόνοι, στάσεις, ερις, μάχαι/και φθόνος {Oedipus at Colonus 12341235) is a mirror-image of the historical circumstances of Athenian politics at the turn of the fifth century BCE; it offers a thematic response to the essentially political challenge of establishing order and regularity in the world. In the true spirit of theatrical education and enlightenment, Sophocles' final dramatization of Theban passions provides a much-needed place and occasion for deeply-felt reflection on the democratic culture of the Athenian city-state. Therefore, this book is designed to serve as a comprehensive and stimulating in-depth discussion of Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus for those reading, studying and seeing the play performed. My aim is to lead the reader to want more and penetrate deeper. In other words, my purpose is to get the reader to see the play from both long-established and new angles, and to explore its various elements in fresh juxtapositions. I have made every possible effort in this study to concentrate on the text itself, with its wealth of immediate suggestiveness alongside its more elaborate or hidden meanings. It should be said, however, that Sophocles is first and foremost a man of the theatre. We are humbled by the feeling that we are merely in possession of a play-script, not the work in its entire performative splendour. Thus, apart from providing a political and social context for the play during Sophocles' own lifetime, what I am seeking in this study is a sharper impression and a clearer understanding of the main dramatic concerns, the basic mythological preoccupations and the major themes that inform this most perplexing of Athenian tragedies. As we shall see in chapters

Introduction

7

3 and 4, Oedipus at Colonus presents the reader with a rich pattern of recurring preoccupations and motifs, thereby establishing a powerful series of echoes and correspondences. We shall argue in chapter 5 that these images, which echo earlier images within and beyond the play, offer unexpected insights into both the ever-moving spectacle on stage and earlier dramatic presentations of the Theban legend, especially Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus and Antigone. Moreover, given the broad influence that Oedipus at Colonus has had upon later poets and artists - no doubt seriously compounded by the powerful presence of so famous an Attic drama as Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus - the question of how much celebrated and lesser-known works of world literature and art have been affected by Sophocles' last play will be thoroughly examined in a separate chapter. Far from seeking to resolve all the questions surrounding the play, this investigation hopes to show that the shape of a story pattern of animosity and reconciliation, unthinking vengeance and thoughtful justice drives a particularly compact combination of themes that is not only central to the action of Oedipus at Colonus, but also revealing of fifth-century Athenian sensibility.

Chapter 1

The Poet, the Polis and the Play Introduction Οΰτω δέ φιλαθηναιότατος ήν ώστε πολλών βασιλέων μεταπεμπομένων αΐιτόν ουκ ηθέλησε την πατρίδα καταλιπειν. (TrGF vol. i v A 10, p. 33)

However fanciful, or for that matter implausible, the ancient biographical tidbits contained in the anonymous Life of Sophocles may be, the constant emphasis on Sophocles' deep involvement in the political and religious affairs of the Athenian polis reveals an unbreakable bond between the poet and his city.1 In the extravagant manner of the compiler of the Life of Sophocles, we hear that many foreign rulers had vied for his poetic services, but Sophocles laudably remained loyal to his beloved Athens. Apart from the exciting, and indeed flattering, implication that he set himself apart from his most famous contemporaries and did not follow his two celebrated compeers Aeschylus and Euripides in pursuing his luck in the courts of faraway dynasts, his biographer seems to suggest that Sophocles was no less an embodiment of the Athenian ideal than the Parthenon itself.2 It is therefore well to begin such a literary study of one of his most historically responsive tragedies with the recognition that Sophocles is inextricably related to the social, political and indeed cultural milieu of ' On Sophocles' life and related biographical information, see principally Letters (1953), pp. 36-67; Ehrenberg (1954), pp. 117-140; Lesky, (1979), pp. 94-97 and (1983); Webster (1969), pp. 1-17; Lefkowitz (1981), pp. 75-87; Buxton (1984), pp. 3-7; Lloyd-Jones & Wilson (1990a), pp. xiv-xv; Lloyd-Jones (1994a), pp. 6-15 and (1996), pp. 1-9; Edmunds (1996), pp. 137 & 163-168; Griffith (1999), pp. 1-4; Flashar (2000), pp. 30-41; Hesk (2003), pp. 12-14; OCD' s.v. Sophocles (J. Gould). Cf. also Brown (1951); Robert (1964); Thomas (1975). 2 See also Post (1912), p. 127; Norwood (1942), p. 182; Woodard (1966b), p. 6; Segal (2001), p. 128 with qualifications.

10

Chapter 1

the Athenian city-state. At the same time as keeping an eye open for possible associations with Oedipus at Colonus, in the following sections we will attempt to construct a convincing synthesis out of what one may fittingly describe as a tantalizing accumulation of assorted data in connection with Sophocles' life, his artistic preoccupations and his glorious but ill-fated polls.

Biographical: Sophocles and his Last Play The latest theoretically aware readings of Greek tragedy, which seek to interpret the plays from a distinctively historical viewpoint, render the examination of Sophocles' political and religious activities within the context of the Athenian polis all the more imperative. In particular, a distinguished exponent of modern critical trends typically associated with New Historicism in the field of the interpretation of Athenian drama has recently drawn special attention to the political and religious aspects of Sophocles' public persona. Despite a prevalent tendency to ignore, or at best to downplay, relevant sources on the dramatist's political influence and his tragedy's topical references, she has rightly urged that readers must always be on guard against the misguided notion of Sophocles as a historically unengaged figure, who in his almost otherworldly lack of involvement ultimately fails to acknowledge the strain of contemporary circumstances more than other less celebrated authors.3 There is, of course, another side to this, and some scholars have fittingly chosen to concentrate upon it. This is the idea, especially popular in fifth-century Athens, of the tragedians as instructors of the people; in point of fact, the didactic function of tragedy is inextricably connected with the widespread recognition among Athenians of the important role allotted to the dramatists as teachers, who must set an example of conscientious administration and unselfish ethic through their own unimpeachable conduct.4 An attempt must thus be made to discuss the main features of Sophocles' political and religious engagement in the Athenian city, if one is to have any due sense of the social consciousness, so to speak, of 3 4

Goff (1995b), pp. 21-22. See also the thought-provoking discussion in Vickers (2005a). See especially Euben (1990); Gregory (1991), pp. 1-17; Seidensticker (1995), pp. 166167; Boedeker & Raaflaub (2005).

The Poet, the Polis and the Play

11

Oedipus at Colonus - of the contemporary message conveyed within his final work. Therefore, from the start it would be good to get some sense of how far we are willing to proceed with the so-called 'autobiographical' elements in the second Oedipus play. Aside from merely trying to find connections between the total political pattern that emerges when we put all the biographical variants together into a single, composite story and certain preoccupations of Oedipus at Colonus, we believe that it is important to set the poet and the play into a larger frame. There is more than a kernel of truth in the notion of Sophocles' final drama as an 'apologetic' response to the chaotic events of the end of the Peloponnesian War; we have also right to assume that specific episodes in the poet's life are intimately associated with his last tragedy.5 But we hope to show that Sophocles responds to these issues only fleetingly and indirectly. There is some point to the suspicion that not only the biographical tradition should be treated with extreme caution, but also certain unflattering aspects of the political story are not strictly necessary to the theme of the play. For the moment it is relevant to emphasize the need to keep an open mind with regard to the final impression of Oedipus at Colonus. Although little is known of the minutiae of Sophocles' personal life, there is enough evidence to substantiate a public persona frequently engaged in the service of the community. One can perhaps see the reasons, or some of the reasons, for his regular holding of high offices, especially after the age of fifty. Both his reputation as a well-established dramatist of extraordinary poetic powers and his widely acknowledged grace must have contributed to his social accomplishments. According to his ancient biographer and related pieces of information including epigraphical evidence, apart from serving on various embassies, he was elected to the most respected positions of chairman of the board of treasurers and general. He served as state treasurer of the tributes (Hellenotamias) in 443/2 BCE, at a time when a particularly important reassessment was under way; in fact, apart from bearing out his distinguished background, his engagement in an imperial administrative function makes him unique for his political attainments amidst his fellow-dramatists. 6 More to the 5

6

For a concise treatment of the autobiographical echoes in the play, see most recently Edmunds (1996), pp. 91-92 & 163-168. See Ehrenberg (1954), pp. 120-140. For a sceptical view, see principally Avery (1973). Cf. also Fischl (1912); Fairweather (1974) and (1983); Finkelberg (2002).

12

Chapter 1

point, shortly afterwards he held public office as one of the ten generals accountable for military matters for the year 441/0 BCE, and had the privilege of serving with Pericles in a campaign against the island of Samos, with the special commission of quelling the revolt therein. Though we do not recall its being noticed anywhere, it is fascinating to think that Sophocles, in his capacity as general, and his fellow-commanders might have poured the customary libations to the god in the theatre of Dionysus at the Great Dionysia in the year of his first generalship. 7 As will become apparent in the following sections on the social and historical conditions for the performance of Oedipus at Colonus, and in the thorough discussion of the wider historical field in chapter four, the alleged part played by the octogenarian Sophocles in the oligarchic revolution of 411 BCE is even more important for the interpretation of his final tragedy's unique situation. The revolution paved the way for the abrogation of the democratic constitution and the installation of the Council of the Four Hundred, with the special commission of forming a larger body of Five Thousand to wield power in Athens. We do not wish to burden the reader with the arguments of scholars about Sophocles' assumed appointment as one of the ten special advisers (Probouloi) in 413 BCE, in the aftermath of the Athenian disaster in Sicily - Aristotle being the only ancient source on the matter {Rhetoric 3, 18, 1419a25 = TrGF vol. iv Τ Gd 27, p. 46):8 κ α ι σ υ μ π ε ρ α ι ν ο μ έ ν ο υ , εάν ε ρ ώ τ η μ α π ο ι | ) τ ό σ υ μ π έ ρ α σ μ α , τ ή ν α ί τ ί α ν ε ι π ε ί ν (sc. δει)· ο ί ο ν Σ ο φ ο κ λ ή ς έ ρ ω τ ώ μ ε ν ο ς ΰ π ό Π ε ι σ ά ν δ ρ ο υ εί ε δ ο ξ ε ν 7

On the pre-play ceremonies at the City Dionysia and the ritual and political part of the ten generals therein, see the excellent analysis in Pickard-Cambridge (1988), pp. 95-96; Goldhill (1990a), pp. 100-101. Moreover, there is some evidence to suggest that Sophocles also served on the board of generals two more times, with such distinguished fellowcommanders as Nicias and Thucydides, the son of Melesias; however, both traditions have been treated as very doubtful. See particularly Webster (1969), pp. 11-13; Ehrenberg (1954), p. 117 n. 1; Westlake (1956); Woodbury (1970), pp. 211 -217, who is particularly sceptical of a second generalship; Lefkowitz (1981), pp. 81-83; Lloyd-Jones (1994a), p. 12; Hamel (1998), p. 89.

8

On Sophocles' serving on the committee of the ten advisers in view of his significant experience and social prominence, see Webster (1969), p. 13; Jameson (1971), pp. 541546; Calder (1971), pp. 172-174; Kirsten (1973), p. 15 n. 19; Karavites (1976), pp. 363365; Rhodes (1981), pp. 372-373; Ostwald (1986), p. 340; Hammond (1986), p. 401; Lloyd-Jones (1994a), p. 12; Edmunds (1996), p. 137 n. 120. For the opposite view, see principally Haigh (1896), p. 130; Avery (1973), pp. 513-514.

The Poet, the Polis and the Play

13

α ύ τ ώ ώσπερ και τοις άλλοις προβούλοις, καταστήοαι τους τετρακοσίους, εφη. 'τί δέ; ού π ο ν η ρ ά σοι τ α ΰ τ α έδόκει είναι;', εφη. ' ο ΰ κ ο ϋ ν σϋ τ α ΰ τ α ε π ρ α ξ α ς τ ά πονηρά;', 'ναι' εφη· 'ού γ ά ρ ήν άλλα βελτίω'.

It is important, however, to dispel a very common misconception concerning what some regard as Sophocles' most embarrassing moment on account of his involvement in antidemocratic procedures. In fact, the long-lasting awkwardness or perhaps bafflement among critics over his supposedly compromised democratic credentials is fundamentally misguided and at times seriously confusing. It would be poor literary judgment to treat Oedipus at Colonus as indisputable evidence of Sophocles' disillusionment with democratic institutions, viewing his unstinted praise of Colonus and Theseus' horsemen as theoretically oligarchic markers. 9 The same holds true for the continuing attempts at salvaging Sophocles' impeccable democratic record by attributing the controversial public office of the advisory commissioner or proboulos to a like-named contemporary. There is no need here to trace in detail the complex of events attending the oligarchic movement in the wake of the Sicilian catastrophe; suffice it to say that in view of the dire economic conditions after the defeat of the Athenian expeditionary force in southern Italy, there was a pressing need for tighter financial management. The ten senior persons thus appointed to report on the state of the economy and contrive strict measures of financial control were highly respected elder statesmen, with no obvious partisan agenda other than their country's safety at a time of crisis.10 Admittedly, their appointment facilitated the establishment of the Four Hundred later at Colonus, the birthplace of Sophocles and the setting of his last drama, where a meeting of the Assembly was held to decide on matters of governance, but their initial political engagement stems - to 9

10

See most recently Wilson (1997), pp. 198-199, who unconvincingly argues for a discontented Sophocles. Oddly enough, Ostwald (1986), p. 413 gives credence to the idea of a disenchanted Sophocles in view of his disappointing experiences in political affairs; he goes so far as to suggest that Sophocles' 'somber resignation' is clearly reflected in his Philoctetes of 409 BCE. Cf. also Zak (1995), pp. 255-275; Beer (2004), p. 168. See especially Post (1952-1953), who, in spite of his otherwise unsubstantiated historical guesswork, rightly draws special attention to Sophocles' apparent aversion to intrigue based largely on his extant plays; Ehrenberg (1954), p. 138 n. 4; Hammond (1986), pp. 400-408; Hornblower (1991), pp. 144-149; CAH1 vol. v, pp. 471-481 (A. Andrewes); on the notion of safety, see the important discussion in Edmunds (1996), pp. 142-146.

14

Chapter 1

repeat what we have already said - from the consideration of a democratic emergency. It is not without significance to observe that Thucydides himself, a fierce critic of the oligarchic movement, does not shy away from openly praising the resultant constitution of the Five Thousand after the collapse of the Council of the Four Hundred, on account of its welcome moderation and fine judgment following a period of continual political uncertainty and civil unrest (8. 97):" και ούχ ήκιστα δή τόν πρώτον χρόνον έπί γε έμοΰ 'Αθηναίοι φαίνονται εΰ πολιτεύσαντες- μετρία γάρ ή τε ες τούς ολίγους και τοϋς πολλούς ξΰγκρασις έγένετο και εκ πονηρών των πραγμάτων γενομένων τοϋτο πρώτον άνήνεγκε τήν πόλιν. (8.97.2.28-32) [ed. H.S. Jones & J.E. Powell] As we shall see in chapter four, at the end of the fifth century Athens yearned for strong leadership and lucidpolis-based strategy. The atmosphere of doubt and fear that kept gathering since the Sicilian disaster was conducive to recurrent nostalgic calls for the immediate reinstitution of the ancestral laws (πάτριοι νόμοι) that had once achieved a stable political equilibrium in the city.12 The fragmented and contentious Athenian politics did little to 11

In his Lysistrata, dated early in 411 BCE, Aristophanes presents an unidentified proboulos being ridiculed by the rebellious women (387-610); the caricature of the commissioner leaves no room for a hidden antidemocratic agenda, in spite of his authoritarian selfimportance and conceit. His main tasks are the reasonable management of the Athenian finances and the continuation of the war effort (486-497). It is worth noting that this unnamed senior adviser displays a keen patriotism in talking about Athenian safety (497) and the need for the women to be most careful about evoking past resentments (590). See especially Moulton (1981), pp. 50-53; Henderson (1987), pp. xxiii & 117-118; Sommerstein (1990), note on line 421; MacDowell (1995), pp. 234-235; Hornblower (2002), p. 145. In Thesmophoriazusae of the same year, Aristophanes appears to be particularly critical of the appointment of the new standing board (808-809), but the lines are highly ambiguous. See mainly Sommerstein (1994), note on lines 808-9; Austin & Olson (2004), note on lines 808-9. Further, on the constitution of the Five Thousand and related problems, see Rhodes (1972b), pp. 115-127; Connor (1984), pp. 228-230; Ostwald (1986), pp. 395-411; Orwin (1994), pp. 191-192; Heftner (2001), pp. 328-342; Hornblower (2002), pp. 146-147.

12

It should be pointed out that this board of elderly councillors constitutes a unique instance of civic enthusiasm for a gerontocracy in Athenian history. It would not be overbold to suggest that we can catch a glimpse of this Athenian eagerness to pay heed to the counsels of old men in contradistinction to the reckless passions of the young in Sophocles' final play, in which aged Oedipus not only vehemently rebuffs the

The Poet, the Polis and the Play

15

boost the sagging morale of the people and promote the good of the whole state. The harmful effects of this climate of suspicion were intensely felt among the populace; effective leaders were considered necessary to bring about the eagerly awaited unity and consensus with their prudence, incorruptibility and persuasiveness. Therefore, one cannot deny that the possible participation of elderly Sophocles in the selected board of the advisory commissioners must be solely attributed to his genuine concern for the welfare of his much-loved Athens, in spite of the subsequent oligarchic but generally restrained constitutional changes.13 Another aspect of Sophocles' public persona, which, as will be noticed in further detail in chapter four, is possibly associated with the distinctly contemporary dimension in Oedipus at Colonus, is his committed engagement in priestly functions and other religious activities. It is not an overinterpretation to suppose that the poet's experiences in hero-cult had been very valuable for the thought of his final drama.14 Aside from the unavoidable misrepresentation of the evidence in later times, one cannot help being aware that there must be some kind of structural relation between Sophocles' assumed appreciation of heroic beneficence and Oedipus' elevation to the level of protecting daemon. In particular, Sophocles is said to have held the priesthood of the healing-hero Halon (or less probably Alon), who enjoyed the tutelage of the wise centaur Cheiron in the company of Asclepius, the physician deity (TrGF vol. iv Τ A 39, p. 33: Έ σ χ ε δέ και την τοϋ Ά λ ω ν ο ς ίερωσύνην, δς ήρως μετά Ασκληπιού παρά Χεί,ρωνι). Apparently, in consideration of his special connection with those divine

13

14

pretentious arguments of his thoughtless son, but also instructs well-meaning Theseus in the principles of pragmatic governance. Cf. also Garland (1990), pp. 283-284; Strauss (1993), pp. 179-211, who overstates the struggle between 'fathers' and 'sons' in Athens after the Sicilian debacle. Notwithstanding the notion of Oedipus as a fatherly figure of undeniable authority and penetrating wisdom, any effort at tracing a contemporary echo in the play exclusively based on a clear-cut distinction between level-headed elders and irresponsible young men should take into account the barefaced lies of elderly Creon and the genuine kindness of young Antigone. It is worth pointing out that in Aristotle, Rhetoric 3, 18, 1419a25 (= TrGF νol. iv Τ Gd 27, p. 46) Sophocles expresses his strong disapproval of the Council of the Four Hundred, regarding it as a necessary evil. For the opposite view, see recently Vickers (2005a), p. 38, who treats Sophocles as 'a moderate oligarch'. See Mikalson (1991), p. 218, who notes that 'Sophocles seems to have been particularly drawn to hero cults'. Cf. also Clay (2004).

16

Chapter 1

healers, he was deemed qualified enough to welcome the worship of Asclepius by receiving the god's statue (or more controversially the god's sacred serpent)15 into his private house, and founding an altar to him when the new cult was solemnly introduced into Athens from Epidaurus by one named Telemachus, most likely in 420/19 BCE.16 Tradition has it that his hosting of the newly arrived 'doctor god', in anticipation of the completion of the relevant sanctuary on the south slope of the Acropolis, resulted in the establishment of a hero-cult after his death, under the new but allegedly meaningful name Dexion (Δεξιών) - that is, the 'Receiver' (TrGF Τ Μ 69, pp. 57-58; see also 67, 68, 70, 71, 72, 73a-b):17 Δεξίων: οϋτως ώ ν ο μ ά σ θ η Σοφοκλής υ π ό 'Αθηναίων μετά την τελευτήν. φ α σ ί ν οτι Α θ η ν α ί ο ι τ ε λ ε υ τ ή σ α ν τ ι Σ ο φ ο κ λ ε ΐ βουλόμενοι, τ ι μ ά ς αίιτω π ε ρ ι ποιήσαι ήρώϊον αύτω κατασκευάσαντες ώνόμασαν αυτόν Δεξίωνα, άπό τ η ς τ ο ϋ Α σ κ λ η π ι ο ύ δ έ ξ ε ω ς . κ α ι γ ά ρ ύ π ε δ έ ξ α τ ο τ ό ν θ ε ό ν έν τ η α ΰ τ ο ϋ ο ι κ ί α κ α ι β ω μ ό ν ί δ ρ ύ σ α τ ο · εκ τ η ς α ι τ ί α ς ο ύ ν τ α ύ τ η ς Δ ε ξ ί ω ν ε κ λ ή θ η .

Interestingly enough, the discovery of two decrees of the late fourth century BCE has produced evidence for the operation of an organization of orgeönes closely related to the healing-cults of Amynos, Asclepius and Dexion.18 The orgeonic inscriptions show that we cannot escape the conclusion that

15 16

17

18

See also Hurwit (1999), p. 219. Edmunds (1996), pp. 163-166 drawing on Beschi (1967-1968), pp. 422-424. On the new cult of Asclepius and the heroization of Sophocles, see also Beschi (1982); Garland (1992), pp. 116-135; Parker(1996), pp. 175-185, (2005), pp. 411-415 with relevant bibliography; Flashar (2000), pp. 37-39. See Kearns (1989), p. 154-155, who treats the tradition as plausible. For the opposite view, see recently Connolly (1998). It should be noted, for all it is worth, that Emily Kearns discusses the obscure mythology of another institutor-hero, Hypodektes (= the 'Receiver'), who may have been the first recipient of the Eleusinian 'sacred objects' (p. 75; see also p. 202); in particular, following a suggestion by Robert Parker [cf. also Parker (1996), pp. 110], she draws attention to the apparent uniqueness of the hero's orgeonic club, which may have played a wider public role in a major city cult by receiving the ιερά of Eleusis in Athens before the Mysteries. Further, see Clinton (1994b), who brings a celebratory ritual of reception and initiation of Asclepius attested in IG II2 3195 of the first century CE into relation with Sophocles' hosting of the healing-god. For a bracingly critical view, see primarily Lefkowitz (1981), pp. 83-84; Lloyd-Jones (1994a), p. 13. IG IF 1252, 1253 (= TrGF vol. iv Τ Μ 70, 71, p. 58). See also the concise analyses in Parker (1996), pp. 184-185, (2005), p. 448; Edmunds (1996), pp. 164-165; Flashar (2000), pp. 37-39.

The Poet, the Polis and the Play

17

there was a separate shrine of Dexion distinguished from the shrine of Amynos and Asclepius, in view of two different stelae prepared to be established in each place of worship (esp. IG II2 1252 = TrGF vol. iv Τ Μ 70. 8-10, p. 58: άναγράψαι δέ τόδε τό ψήφισμα έν στήλαις λιθίναις δυοίν και στήσαι την μεν έν τω τοϋ Δεξίονος ιερω, την δέ [έ]ν τω τοΰ Άμύνου και Ασκληπιού). Robert Parker advances the plausible hypothesis that Sophocles served as priest of the healing-hero Amynos before the introduction of the non- Attic Asclepius into Athens; moreover, he goes so far as to suggest that the distinct shrine of Sophocles/Dexion was perhaps located in the poet's own house.19 The inscriptional record renders attractive the theory that it was in fact Amynos' group of orgeönes, which featured the eminent tragedian among their ranks, unless the source attesting to Sophocles' priesthood of the healer hero Halon is sound.20 At any rate, it is a wise precaution to add to such suggestion the recognition that Sophocles may have enjoyed at least two priestly functions in Athens. More than this, an impressive double-sided relief mounted on a column was built in the Athenian shrine of Asclepius. Apparently, Telemachus, the man reputed to have founded the new cult of the healing-god in Athens, wished to commemorate the coming of Asclepius to Attica and keep annual records of the early phases of the sanctuary - the concise account of the cult was fittingly inscribed on the column. Luigi Beschi cautiously argues that a figure depicted on the Telemachus monument should be identified with Sophocles as Dexion.21 Even more ambitiously, Lowell Edmunds suggests that 'Dexion is the heroization not only of Sophocles the receiver of Asclepius but also of Sophocles the poet'. The surprising depiction of a lyre in the relief strengthens the probability that, as Oedipus at Colonus may have been influenced by Sophocles' experience in the founding of the new cult of the physician hero-god Asclepius in Athens, the same tragedy may in turn have played a significant role in the conception of the healer cult of Sophocles the Poet/Dexion. 22 19 20

21

22

Parker (1996), p. 185 n. 115. See especially Ferguson (1944), p. 86 n. 34, who argues in favour of Koerte's correction of the manuscript reading 'Άλωνος into Ά μ ύ ν ο υ in the Life of Sophocles (TrGF vol. iv T A I . 39, p. 33); but see Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1931-1932), vol. 2, p. 222; Kearns (1989), p. 146. Beschi (1967-1968), pp. 422-428 and (1982). See also van Straten (1995), pp. 70-71; Parker (1996), p. 185 n. 116. For an intensely critical approach, see Aleshire (1989), pp. 10-11. Edmunds (1996), p. 165 drawing on Lefkowitz (1981), p. 84 and Segal (1981), p. 389.

18

Chapter 1

There are many points of correspondence between Sophocles' reception of Asclepius and Theseus' reception of Oedipus - most of them expertly recounted in Lowell Edmund's thorough discussion.23 Taken in a more general way, however, the poet's active membership in orgeonic associations adds a further dimension of political meaning and theological force to the arguments of his final drama.24 The associations of the orgeones are religious companies that mostly favour kinship ties and draw strength from their restricted focus on a particular heroic figure or minor god. Perhaps Sophocles' energetic engagement in the cult of a deity with strong heroic ties could explain his strong emphasis on Oedipus' ambiguous status as superhuman agent bordering on tutelary divinity - as we shall see in chapter four, a quality mostly reserved for such heroes as Heracles and Theseus, who enjoyed Hellas-wide prominence. Besides, the impression of Oedipus as hero-god chimes well with the play's general tendency to represent local religious tradition as more important than is commonly true.25 The dire historical circumstances must have prompted Sophocles to overstate the accomplishments of the Attic pantheon of divinities so as to create an impressive image of an Athens untarnished by military failure and social disunity. It is no accident that both Asclepius as a new divine healer and Oedipus as a new divine protector meet most emphatically the pressing contemporary need for sacral guardians in the face of extreme adversity, be it the Great Plague of 430 BCE and the subsequent resurgence of the pestilence in 427/6 BCE, or the grim prospect of total defeat in the Peloponnesian War.26 Once more knowledge of the historical context of the fierce confrontation between Athens and Sparta is essential

23

24

25 26

Edmunds (1996), p. 164. Nonetheless, one should always be on guard against pressing the evidence in support of doubtful analogies between Sophocles' religious engagements and the play's ritual aspect. Suffice it to say that Asclepius does not share the terrible side of the hero Oedipus; in fact, he is renowned for the complete lack of any maleficent traits. In light of his purely beneficent personality, it is not too much to suggest that his remarkable accessibility to mortal preoccupations marks the gradual disintegration of polis religion in favour of more personal cultic affections. See especially Burkert (1985a), p. 267; Bremmer (1994), p. 91; Parker (1996), p. 184; OCD5 s.v. Asclepius (F. Graf). On orgeonic organizations, see especially Ferguson (1944); Kearns (1989), pp. 73-77; Aleshire (1991); Parker (1996), pp. 109-111 & 337-340. See Markantonatos (2002), pp. 170-197. On the notion of the Athenian Asclepius-cult as partly arising from the Great Plague, see mainly Mikalson (1984), p. 220; Parker (1996), p. 180.

The Poet, the Polis and the Play

19

for our more conscious understanding of the close communion between the human votaries and their divine patrons. It is a fair conclusion that the strain of the prolonged war effort facilitated the Atticization of Asclepius and Oedipus. Apparently, Sophocles expressed his deep concern over Athenian hardships in cult through his sponsorship of a healing hero-god and in art through the contextualization of the Oedipus myth in Attica. Similarly his fellow-Athenians must have been profoundly affected by their horrible sufferings during the protracted struggle with the resilient Spartan Alliance. The extraordinarily far-spread diffusion of the Asclepiuscult and the constant yearning for miracle-cures are persuasive proof that the religious disposition of the Athenian people was not such as to engender an atmosphere hostile to the rapid growth of many heroic custodians. While the coming of Asclepius makes provision for more personal anxieties through the welcome thaumaturgy of Epidaurus, the heroic elevation of Oedipus plays a more public role in appropriating the ancient luster of the Theban tradition with the purpose of turning the awful and mysterious power of the spirit-world against relentless invaders. This does not mean, however, that Sophocles' appreciation of the newly hallowed cult of Asclepius per se constitutes an integral and contributing part of the dramatic arrangement of Oedipus at Colonus. In light of the ragged evidence, this way of explaining the play's profound religiosity is likely to appear as a deplorable leap in the dark. As we shall see in chapter four, the religious sentiments of the play are far more complicated than they seem at first sight. Besides, priestly functions of the kind administered by Sophocles abound in Athens, an ancient community renowned for its multiple stratifications in groups and sub-groups serving a particular religious purpose. For that reason, a critical reader could very well suggest that Sophocles' implication in the management of healing-cults may simply be attributed to an impulsive expression of gratefulness for benefits received in time of distress (again the menace of the Great Plague presents itself as an attractive possibility). We have presented all the pieces of evidence that appear to us relevant; and the working hypothesis that they suggest for dealing with Sophocles' religious preoccupations and his last play is this: not unlike the philanthropic aspect of the popular healing-cults, the apotheosis of Oedipus afforded some hope to the earliest audience touching the cruel destiny of their own souls. Therefore, even though one should be very cautious in giving credence to such stories and others associating the dramatist with another prominent Panhellenic hero, Heracles Informer (Ηρακλής Μηνυτής), it remains

20

Chapter 1

true that, aside from recognizing his exceptional background and the personal glamour associated with controlling a city-cult, Sophocles' fellow-Athenians regarded him as a pious poet, who was willing to treat the traditional religious assurances with due reverence.27 Despite a certain measure of exaggeration, especially in the Hellenistic age, during which much of the existing biographical evidence was distorted or even supplemented with further conjecture deriving from his own plays, Sophocles showed a genuine appreciation for religious issues. However, a caveat is in order here. In the past, such eminent scholars as Ulrich von WilamowitzMoellendorff and E. R. Dodds treated Sophocles' supposed theological conservatism as a mere 'regression' in an age of religious challenges, in an attempt to illuminate his works based on such cultic engagements. On the other hand, modern critics rightly disparage the surviving highly doubtful sources, finding fault with the idealized image of the contentedly unperturbed poet observing humanity from a lofty empyrean - his life being allegedly stripped of complexity, unburdened by uncertainty.28 The aim of this section was simple - to offer only a preliminary step towards understanding the possible connections between the poet and his final play. Thus, we have put together the picture of certain aspects of Sophocles' life in the only way we could - piecemeal, with such crosslights and shadows as we could offer from extremely diverse biographical data. Some of the pertinent political and religious associations here will be looked at later in this book; it is important firstly to register our awareness of the elusive play of suggestion and connection in Oedipus at Colonus. Also, we should think that the preceding discussion offered good reasons for keeping a rather cautious approach as a frame of reference for understanding the biographical tradition. These points are relevant to a critical consideration since they confirm an impression of the profoundly 27

28

On Heracles Informer and Sophocles, see TrGF vol. iv Τ A 1 12. 41-46, p. 34; cf. also Lefkowitz (1981), pp. 83-84. Cf. Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1931 -1932), vol. 2, pp. 232-233; Dodds (1973a), p. 193. See the sobering comments in Buxton (1984), pp. 4-5; Kirkwood (1994), pp. 25-26; Auffarth (1995), p. 345-346; Parker (1996), p. 185, who is moreover particularly alert to the irony that Sophocles assisted in the introduction of a 'foreign' god to Athens - an act potentially detrimental to time-honoured ritual tradition. Nonetheless, he is right to downplay Sophocles' assumed boldness in entertaining a non-Attic deity in his own private house, taking into consideration the remarkably rapid expansion of the healingcult and the Athenians' relative familiarity with the divine newcomer (p. 186).

The Poet, the Polis and the Play

21

democratic consciousness and the altruistic piousness of the poet. Indeed, the notion which still underlies much modern thinking, notwithstanding our frequently well-founded scepticism at generalizations, is that in his poetic distinction, statesmanlike ability, incessant watchfulness and anxious concern for democratic institutions, Sophocles so uniquely crystallized the fifthcentury Athenian network of artistic excellence, civic-mindedness and respect for order and contracts. Sophocles shared deeply in the general temper of his time; as he was in the vanguard of the monumental social and intellectual changes that were taking place at an accelerating rate in his country, in spite of certain views to the contrary, the world of Athens was his all. He was profoundly aware of the Athenian achievement and this shines most powerfully through Oedipus at Colonus. His final drama is indicative of the Athenian mood of the end of the fifth century BCE, in which proud recognition of matchless accomplishment goes hand in hand with fearful reflection on inevitable danger. In the following sections we propose to trace the play's unique position in the context of Sophocles' art, Athens' highly political drama festival, and the events before and after the city's defeat in the Peloponnesian War.

Tradition and Innovation: The Art of Sophocles and Oedipus at Colonus The extraordinary carefulness of Sophocles' final project highlights some of his strengths as a dramatist. In particular, Oedipus at Colonus not only reflects a great deal of his astounding accomplishment, but also opens new avenues of enterprising experimentation. Sophocles brought about considerable improvements to the number of actors and Chorus members employed in a play, as well as the further development of the single independent dramatic composition to the gradual abandonment of the trilogy form.29 Even though there are incompatible accounts in the ancient sources regarding the introduction of a third actor (Aeschylus is another possible candidate), it has always to be remembered that, whatever the case

29

See Haigh (1896), pp. 137-142; Flickinger (1936), pp. 162-195; Letters (1953), p. I l l ; Lefkowitz (1981), pp. 77-78; Pickard-Cambridge (1988), pp. 135-156; Csapo & Slater (1994), pp. 221-238; Lloyd-Jones (1994a), pp. 9-10. On the dramatic system of the

22

Chapter 1

might be, the employment of a third speaking part reached the highest point of its development in the extraordinary frankness and straightforwardness so thoroughly displayed in fierce altercations between Sophoclean characters, especially when faced with an unforeseen complication. A clear demonstration of this point is afforded by a consideration of such a tension-filled scene as the ferocious confrontation between mistreated Oedipus and arrogant Creon that is watchfully attended by civically minded Theseus in Oedipus at Colonus (887-1043). Here the expedient of the third actor allows ample room for a highly structured rotation of contrasting perspectives, which are ultimately reduced to a common understanding between Oedipus and Theseus, powerful enough to efface Creon's conflicting viewpoint. Nonetheless, it should be noted that the same play apparently stretched the three-actor rule to breaking-point, by leaving open the possibility of a fourth actor in the closing scene (1579-1779), where the Messenger, Antigone, Ismene and Theseus seem to hold the stage all at once.30 Apart from the important addition of a third actor, which, moreover, allows the dramatist wider scope to manage the turmoil of uncontrollable feeling in the mind of the characters through an ampler range of short, rapid thrusts and parries, or long-winded charges and counter-charges, the alleged enlargement of the tragic Chorus from twelve to fifteen choristers must have also provided a particularly significant expedient. The potential division of the Chorus into groups of seven choristers and the consequent emergence of the Chorus-leader as an almost independent actor made for more dialogic interaction, thereby encouraging further tension between the more

tetralogy, see Sommerstein (1996a), pp. 53-70. Cf. also Wolf (1910); Moore (1938); Post (1947); Sheppard (1947); Nuchelmans (1949); Kitto (1958); Spira (1960); Tsitsoni (1963); Murray (1966); Woodard (1966a); Diller (1967); Jens (1971) passim; Nicolai (1992); Poe (1992); Coray (1993); Segal (1995b) and (1995c); Pfeiffer-Petersen (1996); Wohl (1998); Jacob (1998) passim·, Sullivan (1999); Levevre (2001); Hourmouziades (2004); Storey & Allan (2005), pp. 111-131. 30

On the possible distribution of parts in the Oedipus at Colonus, see Flickinger (1936), pp. 180-182; Ceadel (1941); Kamerbeek (1984), p. 23; Pickard-Cambridge (1988), pp. 142-144. On the considerable significance of the three-way interaction in Greek tragedy, see Jones (1962), p. 272, who rightly stresses on the importance of the introduction of the third actor, following the pioneering remarks in Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1917). On conflicting perspectives in Sophocles, see principally Markantonatos (2002), pp. 13-19 and passim with relevant bibliography.

The Poet, the Polis and the Play

23

numerous individual accounts. Despite the fact that the Sophoclean origin of the innovation is disputed - though no compelling arguments have been offered to substantiate an earlier date -, it is essential to remember when getting to grips with Oedipus at Colonus that both the employment of a third actor and the increase of the number of the Chorus performers allowed Sophocles to construct happily economical plots. This was achieved by weaving the secondary material of what must have been an unwieldy accumulation of lore integrally into the tragedy, and by focusing the audience's attention on certain, mostly asymmetrical, echoes of dominant themes that gave the distinct treatment of a mythological tale coherence and solidity within the bounds of a single, self-contained presentation.31 Here again we need not accumulate examples; it is sufficient to observe that although Sophocles never completely discarded the trilogic manner of dramatic composition - in point of fact, there is inscriptional evidence of at least one sequence of related plays on an individual topic (TrGF vol. i DID Β 5, p. 39) - he nevertheless followed the widespread practice of producing four unconnected plays at the dramatic competitions. Contrary to ancient testimonies, Aeschylus was one of the first who had a hand in establishing the exhibition of four unrelated plays, as is so marvelously demonstrated in the theatrical production of 472 BCE, which featured the historically oriented Persians, but no one can deny that Sophocles developed the type of self-sufficient monodrama to the full measure of its possibilities. As a matter of fact, Sophocles moulded the unwieldy mass of saga into a selfreliant unity with such an unambiguous sense of purpose that the composition of a single play attained an unparalleled pitch of artistic excellence in the second half of the fifth century BCE.32 Aside from the aforementioned crucial innovations and improvements, which were apparently accompanied by further minor but nevertheless ground-breaking alterations concerning tragic music, scene-painting and

31

32

See principally Taplin (1977), p. 323 n. 3, who throws serious doubt on the usefulness of the change from twelve to fifteen Chorus members, and maintains that in all probability 'the tragic chorus always numbered 15', but he is adequately refuted by Lloyd-Jones (1994a), p. 10. More to the point, Rehm (1992), p. 151 n. 10 offers a more mundane explanation for the expansion of the Chorus in suggesting that the change might have been seriously influenced by 'the desire to include a larger number of citizens in tragic productions.' See Lloyd-Jones (1994a), p. 10 and (1996), pp. 4 & 33.

24

Chapter 1

other purely technical matters of theatrical production, Sophocles showed himself to be an admirable draftsman of plot. Later in this book we will have ampler room to elaborate on the extraordinary adaptability of Sophocles' plot constructions to a dauntingly massive concentration of legendary material - Oedipus at Colonus essentially being an exceptional instance of a labyrinth of narrative interfacings binding character to character in an Athenian context. Here it may be suggested that, when one considers more closely the refractions of the mythical events through the prisms of his storytelling stratagems, it will be seen that Sophocles displays a formidable competence not only in giving a purposeful narrative form to a vastly intricate web of characters and episodes, but also in imposing causality and concordance upon an array of seemingly disparate events. It is especially interesting to observe that the masterful treatment of plot is inextricably related to a profound awareness of the complicated issues of stagecraft tragedy fundamentally being a stage spectacle, a work in performance, not by any means a mere play-script to be read in the privacy of one's study. To the invariably approving ancient audiences, it must have been clear that Sophocles, no less a practical man of the theatre than an inspired poet, was fully alert to the intricacies of theatre's element of spectacle. It is commonly accepted that the visual element in Sophoclean drama falls short of the impressively extravagant but powerfully effective spectacle of Aeschylean exhibition. Yet a more valid view, and one based on a highly theoretical but plausibly argued reconstruction of the tragic productions themselves, is that in a manner similar to his illustrious older compeer, Sophocles shows a preference for the outlandish and the ceremonial in order to play upon the sight of his dramas in performance, relegating much more spectacular material to embedded narratives. The inference seems stronger still if we remember that in both Aeschylus and perhaps less so Sophocles, the striking stage effects thereby produced are considerably intensified by a particular power of visual imagery.33 On the other hand, no one would maintain that we are in a position to recover such purely technical parameters of the dramatic performance as masks, costumes, props and theatrical equipment, or even such external features as delivery, gesture and movement with any degree of certainty. Whatever the case may be, apart from certain misgivings that are occasionally advanced in

33

See Goheen (1951); Seale (1982); Conacher (1996), pp. 115-149 with further bibliography.

The Poet, the Polis and the Play

25

connection with the lamentable paucity of relevant evidence, it is not going too far to suggest that, as we may gather from the existing plays and modern stagecraft scholarship, the dramatic technique of Sophocles is distinguished by nothing so much as by its strong emphasis on the interplay of vision and non-vision, inside and outside, which is considerably magnified in its implications by the frequently unanticipated focus on the avidly commented exits and entrances of the characters.34 We do not wish to burden the reader with well-known examples that have been regularly drawn from so renowned an Attic tragedy as Oedipus Tyrannus, in which the blindness and frailty of mankind is painfully reflected in the agonizing downfall of self-blinded Oedipus, as he enters and then after some time exits from the palace in the wake of the silent final entry of his suicidal wife-mother. Another case in point is the special use of sacred and profane stage space in Oedipus at Colonus, where beneath all the tumult of the action, the same pervading sense of an incessant crossing of boundaries is persistently present. To take one telling example, there is Theseus' recurrent hasty entering and leaving the orchestra against the backdrop of off-stage ritual activities at the adjacent altar of Poseidon (887-890, 897904, 1156-1159, 1491-1495). Here the Athenian ruler repeatedly departs from the stage, only to exit at long last into another religiously significant space, the inviolate sanctuary of the Eumenides, surprisingly guided by sightless Oedipus in a spectacular demonstration of divinely inspired determination and foresight. More to the point, the dramatic taste and discrimination of Sophocles is powerfully exemplified in the effectiveness of his character-drawing; the frantic resentment of Ajax, the relentless balefulness of Electra, the marble steadfastness of Antigone, the deviousness and self-importance of Creon, the injudicious gentleness of Deianeira, the straightforwardness and open-heartedness of Philoctetes, the vehemence and fortitude of Oedipus - all these character-traits remain deeply etched in our memory. Despite the fact that an extensive body of critical opinion has grown up around the controversial issue of tragic character and personality, in which contrasting but for the most part refreshingly probing lines of thought have brought a number of novel insights into the plays and disputed the

34

See especially Shields (1961); Taplin (1978), pp. 40-50, 109-114 & 127-134 and (1983), pp. 155-183; Segal (1977), (1980) and (2001), pp. 123-130; Buxton (1980); Seale (1982).

26

Chapter 1

soundness of long-standing scholarly problems, most critics have seen something distinctive about Sophocles' mode of portraiture.35 In fact, there are excellent grounds for believing that Sophocles had a predilection for representing his principal characters as commanding and unyielding types trapped inside a brutally inflexible framework of fatality. No clearer example is needed than such tormented but uncompromising figures as Ajax, Antigone and Oedipus in their eponymous plays - no less remarkable is the extraordinary prominence enjoyed by female characters in contradistinction to their social obscurity and political insignificance in fifth-century Athens. It should be noted, however, that precisely what the central dramatic fact of each Sophoclean play is may be highly debatable, especially in view of the astounding diversity of tragic persons and the overwhelming multiplicity of circumstances. It is not too much to say that Sophoclean scholarship has been sharply divided on numerous occasions, in its intense effort to come to grips with the intricacy and complexity of the leading heroic figures. There has constantly been a pronounced streak of scholarly opinion running through the modern critical literature on Sophocles that has sought to defend those wilful and single-minded personalities who determinedly demand their due in the face of an oppressively arbitrary divine order. Thus, the aptly named 'hero-worshippers' stand at the antipode of the so-called 'pietist' critics, who argue that the chief persons of Sophoclean drama consistently come to share a profound understanding of the defenselessness and fallibility of the human condition, through wide and horrible experience at the hands of all-powerful and all-knowing gods.36 Whatever the case may be with regard to this central question of dramatic criticism, there is a further observation to be made concerning the interaction of characters in Sophocles. Apart from the towering personalities of the heroic figures, who regularly dominate the stage in either their predetermining foreknowledge or their lacerated high-mindedness, there is an admirably wide range of minor characters. The introduction of these secondary figures aims at offering emphatic relief, by contrast to the un-

33

36

On the current status of the debate about character in tragedy, see principally Gould (1978); Easterling (1990); Goldhill (1990). On character-drawing in Sophocles, see Webster (1969), pp. 83-100; Gellie (1972), pp. 201-222; Easterling (1977); Kirkwood (1994), pp. 99-180. On the not always clear distinction of the critics into 'pietists' and 'hero-worshippers', see Kirkwood (1994), pp. 171; Friis Johansen (1962), pp. 152-162; Winnington-Ingram (1980), pp. 5-10 & 14; Lloyd-Jones (1994a), pp. 1-5.

The Poet, the Polis and the Play

27

containable turmoil raging inside the human heart of the leading characters.37 It should be pointed out, however, that we do not at all mean to imply that such persons, who serve as foils to the often almost superhumanly audacious and intransigent heroes and heroines inhabiting the Sophoclean stage, are any more lacking in distinctiveness and heartiness. The opposite would be nearer the truth. Again Oedipus at Colonus can be a useful guide in our exploration of Sophocles' dramatic technique. By contrast with her feeble and timid nature in the earlier Oedipus Tyrannus, Ismene is depicted as particularly courageous in the later play, in view of her decisive role as overseer of her father's Theban affairs and unshaken although more practical adherent of her sorely tried sister. A similar corrective applies to the Sophoclean Chorus, which should without doubt be seen as not an unengaged agent in the plot, but rather as a group of performers. Although, in the words of Rush Rehm, 'not bound to strict determinants of identity or character', in their distinct collectivity they constitute an essential dramatic device for providing an indispensable narrative mirroring of the tragic situation on a highly emotional lyrical scale on the one hand, and a constant inspection and criticism of the play's value-system on the other.38 Despite the obvious fact that the scarcity of extant plays is a serious obstacle to any ambitious overview, it is at least surely permissible to argue that in Sophocles, apart from throwing varied light on the action, the Chorus effects arresting culminations of an almost play-long process of unresolved conflict and unhealed tension. A typical example of choral engagement in the moral of Oedipus at Colonus is the persistent, yet at the same time sincerely compassionate calls for ritual reverence so fervently voiced by the elders, in the face of the girls' unmanageable mournful energy in the concluding scene (1670-1750). It is not at all accidental that in Sophocles' last drama, in which the choral involvement goes hand in hand with political authority represented 37

38

By contrast with Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1917), who argues that the portraiture of the minor figures is slight in Sophocles, most modern critics agree that the lesser characters in Sophoclean drama are adequately drawn to have a distinct personality and a significant effect on the action. See Weinstock (1948), pp. 17-18; Webster (1969), pp. 78-80; Kirkwood (1994), pp. 100-101. Rehm (1992), p. 60. On the Chorus in Greek tragedy, see principally PickardCambridge (1988), pp. 232-262; Rode (1971); Csapo & Slater (1994), pp. 349-368. On the Sophoclean Chorus, see Kirkwood (1994), pp. 181-214; Gellie (1972), pp. 223-244; Burton (1980); Gardiner (1987). On choral dance, see Lawlor (1964); Lonsdale (1993).

28

Chapter 1

therein by resolute Theseus, the old men of Colonus show themselves to be fearless defenders of Oedipus' safety against the brutality of Creon, to the point of preventing the exit of the Theban aggressor with their bare hands (856-857) - a unique instance of the Chorus' physical intrusion in the action.39 More to the point, it is perhaps not superfluous to remark that the intermixture of dance, music and verse in the lyrical parts must have carried a very strong affective charge; here again Sophocles proved himself to be extraordinarily resourceful and talented. Indeed, modern critics have rightly suggested that his final drama offers an outstanding illustration of choral music making, to the point where such an authority on tragedy's musical dimension as William Scott argued that Oedipus at Colonus 'is the most complex, carefully structured, and expressive example of musical design from surviving fifth-century theater.'40 It remains true, however, that we are in possession of only so much of the technical aspect of Sophoclean drama as to make us wish for more, and to wonder how Sophocles precisely managed his stage effects.41 We should not at any time despair of our ignorance, since an interesting light can always be thrown upon Sophoclean dramaturgy by meticulous analysis of the play-scripts. Apart from highly debatable issues of stagecraft, which nonetheless have been adequately addressed by a close reading of the texts, other aspects of the art of Sophocles have been more than efficiently furnished by a painstaking textual examination.42 As a matter of fact, the works of Sophocles give us sufficient clues to understanding his dramatic skill, especially in matters of diction and irony. Even though the present state of dramatic criticism is not particularly conducive to a thorough discussion of questions pertaining to Sophoclean language, the

39 40 41

42

See recently Singh Dhuga (2005). Scott (1996), p. 250. See also Taplin (1985); Willink (2003). Additionally, it is worth noting that Sophocles is also credited with the invention of scene-painting, the crooked staff, the white half-boots worn by both actors and Chorus and the introduction of the Phrygian mode into tragic music. See Lefkowitz (1981), pp. 78-79; Brown (1984); West (1992), p. 181; Lloyd-Jones (1994a), pp. 9-10. On Sophoclean fragments, cf. Pearson (1917); Post (1922); Carden (1974); Kiso (1985); Radt (1991); Sommerstein (2003). On stagecraft criticism and its discontents, see principally the ground-breaking discussion in Taplin (1977) and (1978); see also the thorough but bracingly critical analysis in Goldhill (1997c), pp. 336-340. For further approaches to the controversial issue of stagecraft, see Wiles (1997) and (2000).

The Poet, the Polis and the Play

29

awareness of the subtlety and elaborate gracefulness of his phraseology helps readers feel the pulse of the ancient performance more vividly than any other sort of controversial reconstruction - perhaps at times more vividly than the actual sight of the play in modern but every so often infelicitous exhibitions.43 At any rate, the recent emphasis on the ironic involutions of the tragic phrase and the rhetorical concentration of theatrical communication is bound to remain unconvincing without a proper schooling in the delicate intricacies and the circumlocutory expressions thriving in dramatic diction.44 The style of Sophocles has been profusely praised for its masterful supremacy - and rightly so. It is not only his felicitous choice of words, which carry unmistakable echoes of Homeric and Aeschylean formations, but also, and perhaps more powerfully, the refinement and suggestiveness of the utterances, which heighten the doubt and suspense that are maintained throughout most of his plays. As many critics have already suggested, Sophocles has a fondness for repetition, in an effort to intensify the meaning of the reiterated word, or even to vary and extend the range of signification by means of recurrently offering unmarked metaphorical applications within a short textual space.45 His predilection for condensed expressions and double-edged formulations has not passed unnoticed by modern scholarship; the ominous allusiveness and disturbing indistinctness of his language have given rise to a fruitful highlighting of the polyvalence of tragic diction. The pervading irony of Sophocles, so remarkably exemplified in king Oedipus' unconscious statements in his famous name-play, is a vigorously critical concept that allows ample room for the audience to relate to the action via hindsight and expectation.46 One cannot hope to fully recapture the mood to which this sort of tragic vagueness and inconclusiveness appealed, or satisfactorily recreate in the imagination the intellectual climate that made it theatrically engaging. That being said, it is hardly fanciful to suggest that the ironical diction of Sophocles, fully demonstrated in the

43

44

45 46

See especially Campbell (1879), pp. 1-107; Earp (1944); Long (1968); Moorhouse (1982); Budelmann (2000); de Jong & Rijksbaron (2005). On the ambiguities inherent in tragic communication, see especially the sensitive discussions in Goldhill (1986), pp. 1-56, (1992), pp. 53-60 and (1997b). See Easterling (1973); Daly (1990). On tragic irony in Sophocles, see the succinct comments in Markantonatos (1973) and (1975). For further discussion, see Kirkwood (1994), pp. 247-287.

30

Chapter 1

sharply conflicting viewpoints that grow in serial proliferation through the exuberant intricacy of his language, artfully leads the spectators to a more conscious understanding of their own situation, against a larger, undesirably impenetrable scheme of things. It can be seen from the characteristic example of the Oedipus at Colonus, in which the self-deception of such main characters as Creon, and more sadly still Polynices, is set against the heavenly granted prescience of Oedipus, that the delicate implication and skilful misdirection invite the audience to reflect on the fallibility of human nature. Indeed, this last observation, with regard to the Sophoclean inclination towards ambiguous and pregnant allusions that place forceful stress on the frailty and failure of mankind, brings us to our next point of discussion. In the following section we will examine the exceptional ways in which the contradicting perspectives abounding in Greek tragedy, and more particularly in Sophocles' final play, produced a powerful impression upon the Athenian citizens within the ideologically-charged context of the Great Dionysia.

The Great Dionysia: Oedipus at Colonus and the Performance Context Even though the Great Dionysia constituted one religious festival among many that were celebrated year by year in classical Athens, the carefully observed pattern of ritual ceremonies, state-funded processions and poliscontrolled procedures spanning the fervidly competitive events offered the most fully developed and motivated concentration of social, political and religious particularities recognized as such in fifth-century Athens.47

47

On the competitive spirit of the Dionysia and other play-festivals, see the interesting analysis in Osborne (1993). On Athenian ideology and the Dionysia, see especially the incisive discussions in Wilson (2000a); Goldhill (1990a) and (2000); Connor (1989). Cf. also Detienne (1981) and (1989); Finley (1983); Euben (1986); Hall (1989) and (2006); Sourvinou-Inwood (1990b), (2003) and (2005); Meier (1993); Boegehold & Scafuro (1994); Goff (1995a); Rosenbloom (1995); Gould (1996); Silk (1996); Vickers (1997) and (2005b), who offers stimulating insights into the intricate connection between Athens and drama; Cartledge (1998), pp. 219-249 (E. Hall); Goldhill & Osborne (1999); Easterling & Hall (2002); Mendelsohn (2002); Carter (2004); Further, see Wallace

The Poet, the Polis and the Play

31

Thus, one may plausibly suggest that the distinctive organization of the most essential drama festival at Athens provides a particularly significant civic context, within which modern critics should approach Sophocles' last drama interpretatively. Before proceeding with a brief delineation of the notion of the Great Dionysia as a major civic occasion of Athenian self-fashioning and self-advertisement, let us recount the main distinctly democratic pre-play ceremonials. These served as an important backdrop to the various instantiations of tragic scripts in theatrical terms, but also predisposed the large spectating body, consisted mostly of male, enfranchised Athenian citizens, towards making sense of the performance with their ideologically determined identity in mind. The search for uniformity across ancient spectators has been rightly viewed as a perilously impoverished way of interpreting the multifarious responses of what was in effect not an undifferentiated collectivity, but a highly variegated audience. Nevertheless, it is hardly fanciful to argue that such all-important considerations as nationality, religious associations and tribal affiliations would have allowed significant room for potential stratification of the spectators into largely uniform groups.48 Apart from certain preliminary rituals involving the conveyance of the statue of Dionysus Eleuthereus from the god's sacred precinct adjacent to the theatre to a temple in the vicinity of the Academy, and thence back to the theatre on the south slope of the Acropolis, the festival proper opened with a colourful procession attended by a multitude of participants, comprising among others the impressively clad wealthy funders of the different performances. There is no uncertainty whatever that, aside from the various dithyrambic competitions, the focal point of the Dionysia was the dramatic exhibitions. Previous to the actual performance of the tragedies, on an exceptional occasion of shared action, the ten generals as the chief military and political representatives of Athens poured libations

48

(1979); Daly (1986a) and (1986b); Vidal-Naquet (1990a) and (1990b); Easterling (1997a) and (1997b); Gregory (2005); Duncan (2006); Farenga (2006). On audience response in Greek tragedy, see, for example, the thought-provoking observations in Lada (1993), (1996a) and (1996b). For a brief overview of the current state of research with further bibliography, see Markantonatos (2002), pp. 19-25. On the participation of women, see (e.g.) Gould (1980); Winnington-Ingram (1983); Just (1989); Goldhill (1994); Further, see Loraux (1995); Sourvinou-Inwood (1995b); Bassi (1998); McClure (1999).

32

Chapter 1

in the theatre of Dionysus, before a large but without doubt highly attentive crowd of Athenian citizens, resident aliens, foreigners, dignitaries, and perhaps women. There followed a proclamation of crowns awarded to all those citizens who had rendered beneficial services to the state; the preliminary proceedings continued with the especially moving parade in full hoplite armour of those war orphans that had reached the age of adulthood after having been educated at state expense. There is also good reason to believe that after 454 BCE, the tribute money annually exacted from the Athenian allies was piously displayed in the orchestra of the theatre, as a powerful sign of widespread influence and undeniable authority. The point of interest in the notion of the Dionysia as a value-enforcing institution is not, of course, merely the dramatic self-presentation of Athens in the theatre of Dionysus, a function that may well apply to the other numerous religious festivals of the crowded Athenian calendar, but the fact that the plays become profoundly engaged in a constant dialogue with the civic ideology so assiduously upheld in the ceremonies framing the City Dionysia. This particular insight into the intricate relationship between the social conditions of theatrical production and the plays themselves has been extremely important in the formulation of a very influential theory, which seeks to investigate the special ways in which tragedy debates civic frameworks for determining Athenian distinctiveness. In view of the indomitable power and pervasive influence of polis ideology in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE, the students of the French school, most notably Jean-Pierre Vernant and Pierre Vidal-Naquet, have suggested that the Great Dionysia be examined as another civic institution in the context of the Athenian democratic polis. They have placed strong emphasis on the apparent affinity between the most prestigious drama festival and such allimportant institutions of the democracy as the Assembly and the lawcourts, where there was a dominant civic discourse underpinning the city's projection of what defines an Athenian citizen. According to such a view, the highly complex relation of tragedy with Athenian ideology should be treated not as one of reaffirmation and endorsement, but as one filled with tensions and ambiguities. In other words, in view of the fiery natures of their tragic and comic persons and the constant interaction of conflicting interests, the dramatic presentations subject the prevalent themes of the democratic ideology to a mercilessly thorough critique. This is particularly so in view of the distinctly Athenian dimension of certain dramatic performances as is

The Poet, the Polis and the Play

33

precisely the case with the ideologically-charged preoccupations of Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus.49 There can be no doubt as to the entertainment value of dramatic competitions, or their overall significance as welcome occasions for public leisure and party holding. Yet in the present context, it is also worth noting that the preliminary proceedings surrounded the performances with ritual assertions of Athenian self-projection. These served to reinforce specific commitments of civic ideology of the type that have been recognized as especially prevalent in the second Oedipus play.50 However, a caveat is in order here. It is a well-known fact that the Great Dionysia served to highlight the interrelations between the tragic stage and such dominant notions as Athenian imperishability through divine protection, military supremacy on account of undisputed authority over the allied states, political constancy in view of never-relaxing civic dutifulness and watchfulness, and constitutional firmness in consideration of democratic awareness and personal self-effacement. Yet the singular conditions surrounding the posthumous exhibition of Sophocles' last drama, at a time of urgent social restructuring in the wake of an unprecedented national devastation, mark a widely acknowledged paradox. For one thing, there is the apparent contradiction between the extraordinary Athenian vision of perpetual military and political achievement, and the dishearteningly pressing need for reorganization of a constitutionally unstable and financially weakened state following a humiliating defeat at the hands of an anti-democratic power. Though this can always be explained away bearing in mind the posthumous conditioning, an attempt must be made to appreciate the distinctive impact that the play had on the original audience at the Dionysia of 401 BCE. This is particularly so if we consider the centrality of the Athenian vision to the inner structure of Oedipus at Colonus. In the following section and in chapter four, we shall discuss the specific parameters of the post-war production of Sophocles' final drama and the play's status as an intriguing response to the cataclysmic

49

50

On the French school with special emphasis on its figurehead, Jean-Pierre Vernant, see the concise presentation in Zeitlin (1991). On the dramatic performance as entertainment, see the sobering but at times rather partisan comments in Taplin (1978), pp. 159-171. A typical example of the current debate over the distinctively political and social bearing of Attic drama is the dispute between two eminent scholars, Richard Seaford and Jasper Griffin. On this controversy, see Griffin (1998) and (1999); Seaford (2000a).

34

Chapter 1

events after 411 BCE in further detail. It is therefore important to bear in mind that the civic uniqueness and ritual magnificence of the greatest drama festival in Athens, so expressive of democratic accomplishment and military preeminence, must have been seriously compromised in the turbulent year of 401 BCE. In addition to the loss of a massive territorial domain, there was the widespread weariness among Athenian attendants no doubt stemming from prolonged fighting and internal disunity. It is a safe guess to assume that there would have been a modest re-enactment of what was formerly a lavishly arranged procession towards the holy sanctuary of Dionysus next to the theatre, though this time grimly lacking in resident-aliens - massively killed in the protracted conflict with Sparta - and foreign luminaries. Moreover, the glamorous disposal of the tribute money from the states of the Athenian hegemony in the orchestra, after having been divided into talents, was no longer an essential part of the preliminary procedures. Additionally, it is possible to argue that, if it occurred at all, the parade of fully-armoured young men whose fathers had fallen in battle must have been an alarmingly long one, given the enormously extended list of casualties in the relentless struggle with the Peloponnesian Alliance.51 It is always difficult to enter imaginatively into the mind of the ancient spectator, but that is no reason for shutting one's eyes to the general acceptance among modern critics of the harsh reality surrounding Sophocles' last play. Here we cannot but remind the readers once again of the considerably modified circumstances of dramatic exhibition, which would have brought out most emphatically the force of what many Athenians in the audience must have felt as an unmanageable sweep of disastrous events.52 For the moment it is relevant to emphasize that with its broad panorama of national accomplishments and its hopeful vision of eternal safety, Sophocles' final drama would have pulled at the heartstrings of the Athenian spectators, so nostalgic of the remote but glorious past.

51

52

See Strauss (1986), p. 81, who argues for some 60% citizen population loss; Singlair (1988), pp. 223-224 with relevant bibliography. Cf. also Gomme (1933) and (1959). Despite the anticipated disbelief in potential reconstructions of an overwhelming multiplicity of audience responses, it should be noted that subtler methods are today in use for a more conscious understanding of the intricate connection between the tragic plays and the political, social, philosophical and religious contexts of fifth-century Athens. See Markantonatos (2002) and (2004a) with relevant bibliography.

The Poet, the Polis and the Play

35

Regarded from a cynical point of view, the confident message of endless supremacy woven into the texture of the tragedy may have rendered the posthumous dramatic presentation of Oedipus' heroic exaltation at Colonus lamentably incongruous with the insuppressible feelings of disillusionment and frustration arising from the latest unconditional surrender and the bitterly resented abrogation of democratic rule. Yet even if this were the case, the exultant evocation of the former widely acknowledged and profoundly respected imperial achievement would have been treated as an important reminder of communal commitment, political unity and social cohesion. It is as though Sophocles, speaking from the grave, were putting to his audience the question of civic continuity and democratic responsibility within the context of the most ideology-laden drama festival in Athens. In effect, the posthumous production of Oedipus at Colonus at the City Dionysia of 401 BCE, under the watchful eye of Dionysus, a god especially connected with ambiguity and paradox, turned a play of communal enthusiasm and political reflection into both an exceptionally praiseful requiem of the Athenian empire and an extraordinarily promising revelation of national salvation. But further consideration of this complex issue will be left until later in this study.

The Athenian Grandeur. Oedipus at Colonus and the Historical Context It has been one of the tenors of this book that Sophocles and his final drama are inextricably associated with a web of social practices, institutional constraints and historical circumstances typical of contemporaiy democratic Athens. One cannot deny that it is even more difficult for us to grasp the mighty issues revolving about the tragic scene without sufficient knowledge of the astounding rise and crushing fall of the Athenian empire in the fifth century BCE. At the risk of tedium, let us very briefly remind the reader that in the previous sections particular focus was given to those pieces of evidence that help us construct Sophocles' public and artistic persona acting within a wider social framework; we will now attempt to broaden the discussion to include the fifth-century historical field, focusing on the period immediately after Athens' defeat in the war. In what follows, having no space to explain at all adequately the extremely complex historical background, we shall confine ourselves principally to recalling

36

Chapter 1

those events that have been recognized as relevant to the cultural importance of Oedipus at Colonus. We are not particularly well served by the existing sources, especially on the events following Sparta's victory over Athens. On the whole, therefore, we must rest content with certain interlinked scraps of evidence about the post-war situation in the Athenian polis and the stern problems facing Sparta as the dominant state in Greece.53 One must admit that the dating of Sophocles' last play to the author's final years is not beyond criticism.54 For lack of information other than the Plot-Summary of the play and other relevant biographical data, it is possible only to guess that Sophocles may have written the Oedipus at Colonus after 409 BCE - the year of the victorious staging of his Philoctetes - but never came round to producing it at the City Dionysia before he went to his grave in 406/5 BCE.55 Not unlike Euripides' Bacchae, Alcmaeon at Corinth and Iphigenia at Aulis, which were put on the stage by the dramatist's like-named son (or nephew), Euripides the Younger, the second Oedipus play was staged posthumously in 401 BCE by Sophocles' grandson and namesake, Sophocles the Younger, the son of Ariston. Though we do know that it won the first tragic prize at the Dionysia, the complete lack of a didaskalia renders any attempt at determining the other plays in the trilogy mere guesswork.56 Moreover, it seems not the less true to argue that the biographical tidbits concerning the bitter quarreling between Sophocles and his son, the distinguished playwright Iophon, perhaps stem from comic presentations, since in Aristophanes' Frogs of 405 BCE it is said that aged Sophocles was kind to Iophon in giving him some assistance in tragic composition (78-79, ου, πριν γ' άν Ί ο φ ώ ν τ ' απολαβών αυτόν μό-

33

54

55 56

On post-war Athens, see especially Mosse (1973); Krentz (1982), (1984), (1986) and (1995); Strauss (1986); Loening (1987); Raaflaub (1992); Davies (1993), pp. 134-150; Schwenk (1997). On Oedipus at Colonus and Athens, see Kirsten (1973); Kukofka (1992). See Campbell (1879), p. 278, who argues for an earlier date following 413 BCE; it is worth noting that in a later book, Campbell is more precise in dating the play's composition to 411 BCE [(1891), p. 209]. For other views on the issue of dating, see the interesting discussion in Jebb (1900), pp. xlii-xliv. See also Nemeth (1983); Müller (1999a). Cf. also Kapsomenos (2004a). For the attractive hypothesis of aTheban trilogy comprising Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone, see mainly Müller (1999b); it should be pointed out, however, that this is bound to remain speculative because of the complete lack of evidence.

The Poet, the Polis and the Play

37

νον,/άνευ Σοφοκλέους δτι ποεΐ κωδωνίσω [ed. Κ. Dover]). Following Alan Sommerstein in his ingenious observation that Iophon possibly passed away between 405 and 401 BCE, his untimely death might indeed have been the reason why the posthumous exhibition of Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus was ultimately staged by his nephew, Sophocles the Younger.57 This is all the more likely given the fact that play-scripts formed an extremely important part of family archives after an author's death.58 If the production of Oedipus at Colonus is firmly anchored in 401 BCE, while the date of its composition may be reasonably referred to the time between 409 and 406 BCE, there is every need for us to continue with the tentative reconstruction of the events spanning this turbulent period in Athenian history. There is good reason to believe that, once the oligarchic government of the Four Hundred and the Five Thousand was overthrown and democratic institutions were restored, intense war preparations were under way in Athens, since the democrats were unwavering in their belief in final victory, in spite of persistent calls for moderation.59 The spirit of vindictiveness among radical democrats was such that over the following years, relentless prosecutions were carried out against oligarchic opponents, on the accusation that they were enemies of the democracy. Evidently, after the collapse of the oligarchic movement, party strife was rampant and the main divisions between the rival leaders became even more prominent, thereby weakening the Athenian cause in the ruthless clash with Sparta. More specifically, at the start hopes were high in Athens, especially on account of the triumphant return of Alcibiades, the charismatic but controversial figure of Athenian politics, in 407 BCE. After a number of naval setbacks, the Athenians won an important victory over the Spartan fleet at Arginusae in 406 BCE, which was, however, gravely marred by a long casualty list and subsequent internal rivalry. They met with crushing defeat at Aegospotami the next year. A brief yet tortuous siege of Athens followed, but the formerly formidable 57

58 59

Sommerstein (1996b), p. 163 (note on line 73). On the implausibility of the story pertaining to Iophon's lawsuit against his father for senile dementia, see principally Lefkowitz (1981), pp. 84-85; Lloyd-Jones (1994a), pp. 13-14. On the story's association with Sophocles' last play, see the concise discussion in Edmunds (1996), pp. 166-168. Cf. Easterling (1997b), pp. 216-217. See Davies (1993), p. 135.

38

Chapter 1

Greek power was in no state to offer successful resistance, and was forced to yield to the humiliating terms of surrender dictated by the Spartans in March 404 BCE. This came manifestly not without some relief, in view of the incessant urging from various quarters for the city's enslavement or even annihilation. At the moment of military dissolution, the Athenian polis was in a state of growing restlessness and uncertainty over the effectiveness of democratic government, and no less of time-honoured moral and religious assurances. It was therefore inevitable that under Spartan pressure and the public's emotional strain, no doubt compounded by the horrors of the prolonged conflict and acute economic crisis, democratic traditions fell into disrepute. As in 411 BCE, so in the late summer of 404 BCE democracy was overthrown and an oligarchic regime of thirty men, commonly known as the Thirty Tyrants on account of their absolute rule and authoritarian administration, was appointed to power at Athens under the sponsorship of Sparta. In their oppressive governance, the Thirty and their henchmen established an unprecedented reign of terror far exceeding the brutality and vindictiveness of the judicial reign of terror previously installed by the extreme democrats. Even Thebes, a prominent enemy of Athens in the Peloponnesian War, offered shelter to the persecuted. The tyrannical proSpartan regime was short-lived, and after much severe internal discord Athenian democracy was again restored in the autumn of 403 BCE, but this time the democratic leaders acting in unison with the oligarchic moderates exercised prudence in proclaiming complete amnesty for political crimes committed during the civil war. Even though the proclamation of general amnesty must have softened the impact of constitutional change and removed the ever-present prospect of internal disunity, in the following years personal animosities and party enmity would be a stock trait of political life at Athens - democrats being obsessively on the lookout for possible oligarchic threats.60 Still, it is not overbold to argue that by the turn of the fifth-century BCE, the Athenians cherished some hopes of a brighter future on account of a more vigilant political direction and financial management. As was already indicated, given the distinctly Athenian bearing of

60

See also Loening (1987) passim·, Loraux (1998), pp. 83-109. Cf. Altmeyer (2001), pp. 280-283.

The Poet, the Polis and the Play

39

Sophocles' last drama, it is plausible to argue that the ever-moving spectacle on stage is connected with a network of contemporary circumstances by a thousand subtle and invisible strands of fifth-century sensitivity and reflection. In this chapter, an attempt was made to understand the broader social, political and indeed historical framework within which a motley audience, well-versed in the special ways of theatrical production so much improved by Sophocles' ingenious innovations and advances, watched the Athenian Oedipus and his eponymous drama at the Dionysia of the year 401 BCE. The second Oedipus play is singular in the Sophoclean corpus for its posthumous staging, a fact that may render suspect even an extremely cautious assessment of its historical particularity. Yet we may feel entitled to believe that with its calm foresight of everlasting Athenian glory and continuously ascending scale of political interest, Sophocles' final tragedy gives taut expression to the undeniable interface between the legendary stories of the Greek past and a wide range of historical realities. The biographical data of the author himself, his articulate dramaturgy and the social conditions of fifth-century dramatic performance are by no means excluded in this investigation. But we will examine in more detail possible points of contact between the mythic stories informing Oedipus at Colonus and the especially eventful historical backdrop in its proper place, in chapter four. In the meantime, let us first turn to a thorough discussion of some of the mythical and literary sources possibly appropriated by Sophocles in conceiving his final drama, with the purpose of showing that the playwright from Colonus cast a softening light over the relentless application of uncontrollable retribution.

Chapter 2

Multiple Stories: The Oedipus Myth Introduction Greek mythology is an astounding treasure trove of stories, each of which comes in the form of myriad and occasionally conflicting versions. However, it should be noted that in some respects this wealth of variables owes much to the creative imagination of the playwrights, who in their own way and after going to a great deal of effort made substantial innovations to a protean body of lore - occasionally even to the degree of virtually reinventing the legendaiy tradition, or at least certain branches of it.1 Therefore, in the following assessment of the sources available to Sophocles in structuring his final play examples will be scattered and not at all complete, in view of the ragged evidence; our purpose is to illustrate a number of individual related points, not to treat these aspects of Sophocles' dramatic art in their entirety. There are a good many significant elements in other authors, be they in Homer, Hesiod, the Epic Cycle, Stesichorus, Pindar, Aeschylus and Euripides, ready to be utilized by Sophocles in the Oedipus at Colonus. Since each and every play implies a constant inspection and criticism of the literary tradition, it is almost impossible to keep mythological considerations completely out of our minds in this historically oriented study. There will, eventually, be connections to be made, meanings to be pondered and deepened through the exploration of literary allusions to previous works, not least to such earlier plays of Sophocles as Antigone and Oedipus Tyrannus.

1

See especially Burian (1997a). Cf. also Graf (1993); Sommerstein (2005); on the problems arising from a potential definition of the term 'myth', see the excellent discussion in Buxton (1994), pp. 9-17. On non-mythical material dramatized in Greek tragedy, see the succinct presentation in Bowie (1997), pp. 39-45; Kapsomenos (2004b). Cf. also Vickers (1973), pp. 165-209; Knox (1979a); Segal (1986a); Bremmer (1987a); Veyne (1988); Burn (1990); Carpenter (1991); Dowden (1992); Shapiro (1994).

42

Chapter 2

More importantly, this review of the various lines of evidence gives us further reason for rejecting what may still be called a highly influential view that Oedipus at Colonus 'is careful to avoid all political allusions'.2 In response to the cataclysmic events of the Peloponnesian War, Sophocles was eager to bring certain understressed, or yet unrecognized aspects of the Oedipus legend into a clearer light so as to enhance his central concern with the all-important distinction between motive and crime. Moreover, by contrast with previous treatments of the story, he sought to deepen the reconciliatory message of his dramatic composition by placing even stronger emphasis on Oedipus' profound solemnity and royal dignity, personal courage and intellectual clarity. Numerous circumstances of the tale appear to have been highlighted by Sophocles with the intention of elaborating on the potential historical associations. Aside from his abiding interest in the religious and ethical significance of the Athenian setting, much weight was attached to the generous and indomitable nature of Oedipus through carefully effected changes and adaptations of the mythological matter. In displaying before the earliest audience so vividly Oedipus' elevation to the rank of divinity, he threw direct light on previously unexamined characteristics and undeveloped themes of his earlier Theban plays. This is not to say, of course, that Sophocles took no notice of the great compulsion working on his characters from without, exerting influence on their decisions and concerns. Although there was considerably less mention of the inexorable effects of a mighty family doom, the interposition of a wide range of moving episodes flashed the strangeness of the situation upon the mind of the fifth-century spectators. Nonetheless, Sophocles was preoccupied with the task of taking the edge off the legend's fiercest aspects; he was eager to soften the harshness of certain aspects of the tale so as to rework the moral issues most of them suggested. It is certainly true that he managed to break free from the tradition by pushing the tension of his earlier compassionate insights into the story to its height. Perhaps the most important single fact about his genuinely humanistic interpretation was just this, that he wished to direct attention away from Oedipus' wrathful disregard of the limits proper to mortal man. The mysterious disappearance of Oedipus' body after death was treated as an acknowledgement of something more than ethical integrity. So it came about that although the dramatic interest was largely centred on the purity of Oedipus' purposes, Sophocles 2

Reinhardt (1979), p. 214.

Multiple Stories: The Oedipus Myth

43

really intended his last play to highlight the previously underestimated effectiveness of ordinary rational thinking, in the face of obsessive vindictiveness recurrently compounded by genuine shock and injured pride. Against a background of Athenian disharmony and conflict, moral decline and social divisiveness, Oedipus at Colonus was primarily a warning of the danger of allowing the closed circle of lawless violence to remain unbroken. Therefore the source of the impulse to write the play is propably to be found in Sophocles' realization that the great man stays above the hopeless series of calculated crimes and unthinking revenges. In light of so radical a redefinition of the Labdacid story, no tragic drama conveys a more politically urgent message than the Oedipus at Colonus. As we have already suggested, this daringly innovative approach is all the more impressive, in view of the multiple remodellings of the Oedipus myth over the course of time. Yet what strikes one as remarkable is not only a collection of mythical components that lends itself to a different selection and elaboration of significant details each time it is told, thereby reaching a climactic reconfiguration in Sophocles' final tragedy, but also the strong echoes of persistent motifs and enduring principles in a varied continuum of related texts. Without losing sight of correspondences and disparities in this wide-ranging material, we shall therefore discuss the extant literary sources with the aim of preparing the ground for a scene-by-scene analysis of the political, religious and social constitution of the myth in the second Oedipus play in the following chapter.3

The Oedipus Myth: From Homer to Euripides As one might expect, the first known snippets of information about the Oedipus myth are found in Homer's Iliad 23. 677-680, where Euryalus readies himself to face mighty Epeius in a boxing contest at the funeral games in honour of Patroclus: ω ς ε φ α θ ' · οϊ δ ' ά ρ α π ά ν τ ε ς ά κ ή ν έ γ έ ν ο ν τ ο σ ι ω π ή ι.

3

On the Oedipus myth, see especially Preller & Robert, II.3.877-908; Robert (1915); Edmunds (1984) and (2006); Bremmer (1987b); Cingano (1992); OCD' s.v. Oedipus (A. L. Brown); Henrichs (2000). On related iconography, see mainly Moret (1984); LIMC vol. 7 (1994), part 1, 1-15 and vol. 7 (1994), part 2, 6-15 (plates) [I. Krauskopf],

44

Chapter 2 Εύρύαλος δέ οί οίος άνίστατο, ίοόθεος φώς, Μηκιστήος υίός Ταλαιονιδαο άνακτος, δς ποτε Θήβασδ' ήλθε δεδουπότος Οίδιπόδαο ές τάφον ένθα δέ πάντας ένικα Καδμείωνας. (ed. Μ. L. West)

By way of compliment, Homer mentions Euryalus' renowned father king Mecisteus, who in a manner similar to his son had once come to Thebes from Argos for the burial of Oedipus, and had defeated all the Cadmeans at the funeral games there. Even though the above Homeric passage is nothing but a passing reference, we can deduce much from what must have been an important source of the mythological tradition, perhaps a preHomeric one. Most importantly, in this version of the story, king Oedipus carried on living in Thebes, and on his death he was honoured with splendid funeral games that attracted the princely folk of Greece. It is highly probable that the participle used to denote Oedipus' passing away (679, δεδουπότος, 'after Oedipus' death') implies that the Theban king met a warrior's end, fighting valiantly and eventually falling in battle. Regrettably, no more is revealed about Oedipus' obscure yet apparently violent death. 4 Furthermore, in her comprehensive survey of the Oedipus legend, Jennifer March has put forth the idea that since Mecisteus was amidst the leaders who accompanied Polynices in his fatal expedition against Thebes, it would be safe to assume that Oedipus did not live long enough to witness the disastrous strife between his sons Eteocles and Polynices. 5 By contrast with the allusive character of the Iliadic passage, Homer's Odyssey 11. 271-280 comes closer to what one may call the canonical version of the Oedipus saga.6 Here we find all the basic elements of the myth, which were to become the stock traits of most of the subsequent enactments of the story in the context of Greek tragedy: μητέρα τ' Οίδιπόδαο ϊδον, καλήν Έπικάοτην, ή μέγα έργον έρεξεν άϊδρείτ]σι νόοιο γημαμένη ω υιϊ· ό δ' δν πατέρ' έξεναρίξας γήμεν άφαρ δ' άνάπυοτα θεοί θέσαν άνθρώποισιν. άλλ' ό μέν εν Θήβη πολυηράτψ άλγεα πάσχων Καδμείων ήνασσε θεών όλοάς διά βουλάς· 4 5 6

Cf. Richardson (1993), p. 243 (note on lines 679-80); March (1987), p. 122 n. 10. March (1987), p. 123. See Heubeck & Hoekstra (1989), note on lines 271-80.

Multiple Stories: The Oedipus Myth

45

ή δ' εβη εις Άΐδαο πυλάρταο κρατεροΐο, άψαμένη βρόχον αίπύν άφ' ύψηλοϊο μελάθρου ώ άχεϊ σχομένη· τω δ' άλγεα κάλλιπ' όπίσσω πολλά μάλ', δσσα τε μητρός ερινύες έκτελέουσι. (ed. Ρ. Von der Mühll) In his descent to Hades, Odysseus met among others Oedipus' mother, fair Epicaste, who is said to have fallen into misfortune though not of her own volition. According to the Homeric account, Oedipus killed his father and married Epicaste, his own mother. When the dreadful truth was finally discovered, Epicaste hung herself, distraught with grief at the enormity of the transgression. Oedipus continued to rule in Thebes, but his mother's Erinyes, or Furies, who brought many sorrows upon him, forever haunted his life. There is a host of problems and objections to the full impact that those Homeric lines have had on our critical consideration of the legendary tradition. Yet this is no doubt an important passage for our understanding of the Oedipus myth, since it contains the essential components of what eventually became the standardized account of the legend, especially among tragic poets. Here we are presented with the earliest extant version of the story in brief outline: the parricide, the incest, the eventual discovery of the miasma, and the suicide of Oedipus' mother in shame over the monstrous deeds. More to the point, we hear of the actions of Oedipus and Epicaste, who committed hideous crimes totally oblivious to the truth. In the same way as the Iliadic reference to Oedipus' allegedly violent passing, endless debate has gone on as to whether the involuntary deeds of Oedipus came to the fore immediately (άφαρ) after the incestuous union, thereby eliminating the possibility of procreation in matrimony. More conveniently, but less likely, did the gods perhaps make them known in a completely unanticipated fashion? Critics remain divided over the exact interpretation of the passage, but it should be noted that the latter view presupposes a slight bending of the meaning of the Homeric line {Od. 11. 274, άφαρ δ' άνάπυστα θεοί θέσαν άνθρώποισιν). 7 As a matter of fact, the ancients themselves felt the discrepancy between the version advanced here and later variants treated by the tragedians. This is apparent in the plethora of wives ascribed to Oedipus. In discussing the passage, so bookish a writer as Pausanias (9.5.11) summons his knowledge of earlier 7

See especially March (1987), p. 121 n. 3, who rules out the possibility of children from the incestuous match; for a contrary view, see Heubeck & Hoekstra (1989), note on line 274.

46

Chapter 2

epic and says that the four children of Oedipus were born of Euryganeia (or elsewhere Eurygane, though she may be a different person), who appears to be the sister of Epicaste. In addition to Jocasta, who is known to us from Greek tragedy, we also hear of Eurycleia and Astymedusa, the latter possibly being an alternative name for Euryganeia. 8 Despite the ambiguity of the passage, what matters for us as students of Sophoclean drama is the fact that in this fragment Homer offers an extremely important variable in the Oedipus myth, which may eliminate the prospect of incestuously conceived children from the marriage of Oedipus and his mother. On no account does this archaic version of the story point towards the self-blinding of Oedipus, his subsequent exile from Thebes, or the fratricidal slaughter of his sons. That aside, we do hear of many sorrows brought forth by Epicaste's inexorable avenging spirits, the socalled Erinyes or Furies, which plague King Oedipus for the rest of his life. It is interesting that in subsequent treatments of the myth the theme of the dead mother's curses is not given a sufficiently sharp pointing. Hence it would be too much to say, as has been suggested by some, that the brief Homeric description of Epicaste hints at Oedipus' self-blinding, his troubles away from Thebes or even the reciprocal fratricide of Eteocles and Polynices. Perhaps given the chthonic aspect of the encounter between Odysseus and Epicaste, it is all too natural that the Furies are invoked as merciless and relentless administrators of justice. Above and beyond them, the enormous suffering brought on Oedipus by those avengers of a wronged parent may well be the mere knowledge, tormenting enough as it is, that crimes so heinous as parricide and incest were committed in ignorance of mind.9 The so-called Epic Cycle, an important storehouse of mythic narratives, affords more glimpses of an archaic handling of the Oedipus myth, extending until the time of the Epigoni, the sons of those leaders engaged in the first unsuccessful attack against Thebes. We have already seen that Pausanias was all set to take advantage of his familiarity with earlier epic, so as to support his statement about the existence of Oedipus' second wife, Euryganeia. Nonetheless, it should be emphasized for the sake of our discussion that the Cycle's epics, which include the Oedipodeia, the 8

9

For the view that Pausanias simply made a mistake in treating Euryganeia as a different person from Oedipus' wife-mother, see mainly Davies (1989), pp. 20-21. See principally March (1987), p. 122.

Multiple Stories: The Oedipus Myth

47

Thebais and the Epigoni among many others, are all but lost to us. What remains is a handful of scattered fragments preserved by the curiosity of later authors.10 These tantalizing fragments and partial glimpses make us all the more aware of an inaccessible and disembodied legendary tradition, which is felt all the more intensely when we come across the highly controversial Pisander Scholion, a mythographic note found in the scholia on Euripides' Phoenician Women that is said to offer a valuable epitome of the Oedipodeia (Σ on Eur. Phoen. 1760 Schwartz = FGrHist Peisandros 16 F 10 = pp. 17-19 Bernabe). In view of the scanty evidence with regard to earlier epics, we shall have to ignore this thorny problem for the most part. We may do so more readily because it seems that despite recent attempts to trace this scholiastic comment to an archaic literary source, its narrative is without doubt heavily influenced by reflections of later dramatizations of the myth; it purportedly echoes a poem by Pisander - an otherwise unidentifiable author, some critics maintain he is no poet, but a shadowy Hellenistic mythographer." However, should the Pisander Scholion be accepted as reliable, it anticipates certain events in the Oedipus story which will resurface all the more potently later in tragedy. In a nutshell, the scholiast's account makes reference to the rape of young Chrysippus by Laius; the curse of his father, Pelops; the retribution brought on the head of Laius in the form of the terrible Sphinx; the subsequent killing of Laius by Oedipus at the famous crossroad; the incestuous union of Oedipus and Jocasta; the discovery of the horrible truth; the suicide of Jocasta and the self-blinding of Oedipus. Unlike the account given in Greek tragedy, mention is made of the fruitful marriage with a second wife, Eurygane, by whom Oedipus fathered Eteocles, Polynices, Antigone and Ismene. Be that as it may, it should be noted that the one great hindrance to supposing that this was the outline of the lost Oedipodeia is our disappointingly inadequate knowledge of the earliest stratum of Greek mythology. On the other hand, we are on safer ground in the Thebais, where we learn of Oedipus' wrath at his sons, which brought about the dreadful curses heaped on Eteocles and Polynices. In actual fact, the Thebais offers 10 11

See the concise discussion in Davies (1989). On the Pisander Scholion, see principally Mastronarde (1994), pp. 31 -3 8, who treats the scholium as 'a learned conflation of earlier motifs' (p. 32). Lloyd-Jones (2002b) offers further arguments in favour of the scholium's reliability, but fails to refute West (1999). See also de Kock (1962); Collard, Cropp & Gilbert (2004), p. 107 η. 1; Collard (2005), p. 60 n. 22.

48

Chapter 2

two different yet not entirely unrelated causes of the malediction, which paved the way for the expedition of the Seven against Thebes also known as the Theban Wars: (a) αύτάρ ό διογενής ήρως ξανθός Πολυνείκης πρώτα μεν Οίδιπόδηι καλήν παρέθηκε τράπεζαν άργυρέην Κάδμοιο θεόφρονος· αύτάρ επειτα χρύσεον εμπλησεν καλόν δέπας ήδέος οϊνου. αύτάρ ο γ' ώς φράσθη παρακείμενα πατρός έοϊο, τιμήεντα γέρα, μέγα οί κακόν εμπεσε θυμωι, αίψα δέ παισίν έοΐσιν έπ' άμφοτέροισιν έπαράς άργαλέας ήρατο· θοήν δ' ού λάνθαν' Έρινΰν ώς οΰ οί πατρώϊ' ένηέι φιλότητι δάσσαιντ', άμφοτέροισι δ' αεί πόλεμοι τε μάχαι τε (fr. 2 Bernabe) (b) ίσχίον ώς ένόησε, χαμαί βάλεν είπέ τε μΰθον 'ώ μοι έγώ, παίδες μέγ' όνειδείοντες επεμψαν...' *

εϋκτο Διί βασιλήϊ και άλλοις άθανάτοισι χερσίν ύπ' άλλήλων καταβήμεναι 'Άιδος εϊσω. (fr. 3 Bernabe) According to the fragments quoted by later writers and commentators, the two brothers showed thoughtless negligence in their failure to observe certain rules of conduct laid down by their father. Despite that, one further point should be raised in connection with Oedipus' vengeful spirit, so rashly unleashed upon his sons. There is uneasiness in later writers with the trivial motivation for the curses in the ancestral tradition. Even in tragic presentation, the harshness of the imprecation is such that it has come under serious scrutiny by modern critics, who have seen in the curses the workings of Oedipus' violent and at times hopelessly intractable nature. In particular, Athenaeus, author of the sympotic dialogue Scholars at Dinner, makes no effort to conceal his disapproval, speaking of terrible curses on account of mere goblets (11, 465e, ό δέ Οιδίπους δι' έκπώματα τοις υΐοΐς κατηράσατο [ed. G. Kaibel]). Once in feebleness of mind, Polynices sets beside his father a silver table, and on it a fine gold cup filled with wine. Oedipus takes exception to the use of Laius' possessions, which apparently put him in mind of his former crimes, and lays terrible curses on his sons. From a scholiast's comment even more deprecatory in

Multiple Stories: The Oedipus Myth

49

tone than Athenaeus' note (Σ on Soph. OC 1375 de Marco: ό δέ μικρόψυχος και τελέως άγεννώς, ομως γοΰν άράς εθετο κατ' αυτών, δόξας κατολιγωρεϊσθαι), we also learn that Eteocles and Polynices have merely failed to send their father the proper portion of the sacrificed animal. Enraged at their carelessness, Oedipus prays to Zeus for the mutual fratricide of his sons. Unimportant as they may seem, the transgressions lead up to the fratricidal strife between Eteocles and Polynices, when the latter is driven away from his native land and the former seizes power over the Thebans.12 There could hardly be a more patent example of a curse carrying over to the next generation of heroes - that is, the sons of the first leaders who laid siege to Thebes, but whose way disaster came. In the Thebais, Oedipus prescribed that his kingdom be divided among his heirs on no friendly terms. Bitter memories of an abortive expedition continued to haunt the offspring of the Seven, who were to become the sackers of Thebes. But this second ferocious attack against Thebes, which is treated in the Epigoni, need not concern us here. By contrast with the relatively rich harvest of clues with regard to the Oedipus myth in the Epic Cycle, Hesiod does not prove to be an equal match to earlier epics, mainly on account of his poems' special subject matter. Apart from a fleeting reference to the deadly Sphinx in the Theogony (326-327, ή δ' άρα Φΐκ' όλοήν τέκε Καδμείοισιν δλεθρον,/ Ό ρ θ ω ύποδμηθεΐσα, Νεμειαΐόν τε λέοντα [ed. Μ. L. West]) and a possible allusion to the disastrous Theban Wars over the kingdom of Oedipus in Works and Days (161-163, και τους μεν πόλεμος τε κακός και φΰλοπις αίνή/τούς μέν ύφ' έπταπύλω Θήβη, Καδμηίδιγαίη,/ώλεσε μαρναμένους μήλων ενεκ' Οίδιπόδαο [ed. Μ. L. West]), there is only a passing mention of the splendid funeral rites held in honour of Oedipus in The Catalogue of Women (192 Merkelbach & West, και Ησίοδος δέ φησιν έν Θήβαις αυτοί] άποθανόντος Αργείαν την Αδράστου συν άλλοις έλθεϊν έπί την κηδείαν τοϋ Οιδίποδος; see also 193 Merkelbach & West). However, it should be noted that the heroic genealogies of The Catalogue of Women might not reveal Hesiod's knowledge of the ancestral tradition, since modern scholarship has cast serious doubt on their authorship.13 12

13

It is worth noting that in the words of Mastronarde (1994), p. 23 n. 1 'the incidents in which Oedipus is angered by his sons perhaps reflect some sacral power'; moreover, on cultic connotation, see Edmunds (1981), p. 229 n. 31; Lloyd-Jones (2002b), p. 11. See principally West (1985); Athanassakis (2004), pp. xi-xvii; Hirschberger (2004).

50

Chapter 2

Happily, recently discovered papyrus fragments of a long poem by Stesichorus, the Greek lyric poet of the sixth century BCE, have allowed more information to emerge in connection with the Oedipus saga.14 The fragmentary work, which comes close to a lyric narrative of epic proportions, a kind of another ' Thebais\ is particularly important for our discussion in serving as a possible literary model for Euripides' Phoenician Women, a play that is closely associated with Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus. In the longest surviving piece, Oedipus' widow, either the incestuous Jocasta or in all probability the second, non-incestuous wife, attempts to arrange a reconciliation between Eteocles and Polynices in view of Tiresias' prophecies, which have spelled disaster for the quarrelling brothers and the city of Thebes.15 According to the proposed plan, after having taken a generous share in the wealth of Oedipus, Polynices goes his own way to Argos, and Eteocles becomes the new Theban king. Apart from the exiguous fragments of Stesichorus'epic-like narrative, which must have described the terrible strife between Eteocles and Polynices and the resulting destructive Theban Wars in great detail, archaic poetry offers some more distant glimpses of the Oedipus story, though these are few and far between: we are told that Corinna, a lyric poetess probably from Boeotia, presented Oedipus slaying not only the Sphinx, but also a terrible monster known as the Teumessian vixen (fr. 672 PMG). More importantly and yet more controversially, there is evidence to suggest that the exile of Oedipus was not in any way a late invention by the tragedians, but formed part of the legendary tradition at least by the time of Pindar, the famous Greek lyric poet who flourished in the first half of the fifth century BCE. Among the numerous references to Oedipus and the Expedition of the Seven in Pindaric poetry, there is a possible allusion to Oedipus' wandering away from Thebes in Pythian 4. 263-269: 14 15

See especially March (1987a), pp. 126-133; Rocco (2003). In favour of Jocasta as the speaker, see Burnett (1988a); Segal (2001), p. 45 n. 4. On the contrary view of a Euripidean innovation, which keeps Jocasta alive after the discovery of her incestuous marriage, see principally March (1987), pp. 126-133. See also Mastronarde (1994), pp. 22 η. 1 & 25-26 and Griffith (1999), pp. 4-12, esp. p. 5 n. 17, who in spite of their extreme scepticism seem inclined to accept March's thesis. It should be noted that the theory of Euripidean innovation reinforces the notion that Jocasta's action was not really culpable, since it was done in ignorance (cf. Phoenician Women 53-54) and thus her suicide is purposely delayed to a more dramatic moment the mutual killing of her sons.

Multiple Stories: The Oedipus Myth

51

γνώθι νΰν τάν Οίδιπόδα σ ο φ ί α ν ει γάρ τις δζους όξυτόμψ πελέκει έξερείψειεν μεγάλας δρυός, αίσχύνοι δέ οί θαητόν είδος, και φθινόκαρπος έοϊοα διδοϊ ψ α φ ο ν περ' αΐιτας, εϊ ποτε χειμέριον πυρ έξίκηται λοίσθιον, ή σϋν όρθαΐς κιόνεσσιν δεσποσύναισιν έρειδομένα μόχθον άλλοις άμφέπει δύστανον έν τείχεσιν, έόν έρημώσαισα χώρον. (ed. Β. Snell & Η. Maehler)

If we accept that the passage does not merely suggest the wisdom patently shown by Oedipus in solving riddles, in these lines we receive the new information that his exile was a well-known motif in ancestral tradition, or at the very least an already established theme, thereby reflecting to a great extent Aeschylus' distinctive slant on the myth. This was first specified in his tragic play Oedipus, staged together with Laius, Seven Against Thebes and the satyr-drama the Sphinx in 467 BCE, i.e. five years before the composition of the Pythian Ode (462 BCE). There remains to consider one special and unique feature of the Pindaric poem, its intense call for the non-violent restoration of political order and social harmony. The question to be raised is one of vital interest for our general appreciation of the mythical material employed by Sophocles in his final play. In a superficial sense we may say that the particular context of the Ode does little to preclude the possibility that Pindar had Oedipus' banishment in mind when he pleaded with Arkesilas IV, the recipient of the poem and powerful ruler of Cyrene, to allow Damophilus, who had been driven away from Cyrene on political grounds, to return in peace to his native country.16 At a deeper level, however, we may have here a glimpse of the later connection between the Oedipus story and hopeful paradigms of restoration and forgiveness. It would be futile, of course, to search for indisputable evidence of this association in the Ode. When we are speculating on so intricate a poem as Pythian 4, it is wise to admit the possibility that certain tendencies that we discern at work in the later periods with reference to the Oedipus legend may not have been operative in the earlier. Similarly we have the right to believe - and this appears to be a most 16

Cf. Gildersleeve (1885), pp. 278-304; Giannini (1979); Segal (1986c); Braswell (1988) with informative introduction; Jacob (2000), pp. 226-258. Further, see Griffith (1996).

52

Chapter 2

helpful hypothesis - that the implication of the Oedipus-argument in a remarkable story of exile and integration through compassion and reconciliation may have weighed on the conscience of Sophocles. Whichever view we take, we must reckon with the fact that there is an undeniable thematic analogy between the Ode's extraordinary peace-offering finale and the reconciliatory tone of the Sophoclean play. The multiplicity of stories about Oedipus and his family, with all their remarkable diversity from the gruesome to the spectacular and from the gory to the unexpected, demonstrates the unparalleled versatility of the Greek myth-making continuum. Even so, some elements of the Oedipus story remain unchanged in the otherwise overlapping or at times conflicting variants. In particular, all variables before Aeschylus' paradigmatic treatment of the myth appear to concur along the following broad lines: Oedipus killed his father and married his mother, who took her own life on becoming aware of the incestuous union. The terrible crimes notwithstanding, Oedipus remained ruler in the palace of Thebes and fathered Eteocles, Polynices, Antigone and Ismene by a second wife. On the occasion of his death, he was honoured with magnificent funeral rites, which attracted members of royal families. Disaster struck once more when his wrangling sons went to war against each other over the kingdom of Thebes. Yet in view of the scanty evidence, we should always bear in mind that the above pre-Aeschylean general outline of the Oedipus legend is far from being certain. It is in such a context that there emerges the exciting possibility of fresh finds, which might throw new light on some of the highly debated issues arising from the available sources. The above discussion has therefore shown that the parameters of the ancestral tradition regarding the Oedipus myth are easy enough to draw, but that detailed negotiations between the multiple variants prove to be extremely complex. That being the case, although the range of potentially relevant material is immense, we shall complete this section by offering a brief analysis of the special ways in which Sophocles' two illustrious compeers, Aeschylus and Euripides, have drawn and embroidered upon the history of the family of the Labdacids. It should be immediately obvious that Aeschylus exercised an unprecedented influence on the future reception of the story, by recasting crucial points of the ancient tradition or even focusing sharply on specific aspects of the myth to serve his dramatic intentions. His Theban tetralogy, first performed in Athens in 467 BCE and duly awarded first prize in the City Dionysia of that year,

Multiple Stories: The Oedipus Myth

53

comprised the tragedies Laius, Oedipus, Seven against Thebes and the satyr play Sphinx. It is regrettable that while the Seven against Thebes has come down to us fully extant, we are only in possession of a meager number of fragments from Laius and Oedipus. Details of the Sphinx remain obscure, in spite of the plausible guesses occasionally advanced as to its plot, though we will not be way off the mark if we agree with G. O. Hutchinson's confident assertion that 'the Sphinx plainly dealt with Oedipus' deliverance of Thebes from that monster." 7 For reasons of economy, we will begin our account of the Aeschylean reshaping of the Oedipus legend with what is most striking and unparalleled. For that reason, it should be noted that in the following review of existing fragments of information, references to the lost plays will be scattered and at times incomplete, our purpose being to illustrate a number of individual related points, rather than to treat all aspects of Aeschylus' Oedipustetralogy exhaustively. Regardless of the exiguous evidence pertaining to the basic story line of the Laius, critics have rightly argued that the climax of the play must have been the killing of Laius by an unsuspecting Oedipus. Certain surviving fragments of the play, consisting of mere words (TrGF vol. iii, 121-122a, pp. 231-232), and the tantalizing account of the Labdacid legend in the second stasimon of the Seven against Thebes (720-791, esp. 742-757), prompt us to surmise that, as a minimum, the first instalment of the Aeschylean tetralogy must have included reports of the Delphic oracle foretelling Laius' ill-fated end, if he should refuse to die childless. We need not labour the point of this, but it is no doubt wise to add to such a theory the proviso that the cause of the Apolline prophecy remains obscure. There is nevertheless good reason to think that the punishment of Laius, who is alive at the beginning of the play and in all probability held responsible for the exposure of infant Oedipus, must have been attributed to a previous transgression. Possibly but very far from conclusively, this may have been the rape of Chrysippus, the son of Pelops, which gave rise to his father's terrible curses upon the Labdacid race.18 17 18

Hutchinson (1985), p. xxvii. According to Lloyd-Jones (1983), pp. 113-121, the main thematic concept of Aeschylus' lost play must have been the seduction of Chrysippus by the young Laius in the court of Pelops. Although in our view evidence to substantiate this view is insufficient, it has the merit of connecting the play with the Euripidean Chrysippus; see also Lloyd-Jones (2002). For a more convincing analysis of the ancient sources, see the seminal discussion in Hutchinson (1985), pp. xxiii-xxiv; further, see Stinton (1990), pp. 460-464; Mastronarde

54

Chapter 2

Further, it may be helpful to recall in a sentence or two what has been arrived at concerning the second play of the Aeschylean tetralogy. Both G. O. Hutchinson and Jennifer March have paid particularly close attention to the matter, devoting several pages to the reconstruction of Aeschylus' Oedipus and his possible bearing on Seven against Thebes.19 Precisely what the central moment of the lost play is may be debatable, but it would be a safe guess to assume that much of its interest depends on the highly dramatic sequence of discovery - self-blinding - curse, which is delineated so vividly in the second stasimon of the Seven against Thebes (720-791, esp. 772-791): τίν' α ν δ ρ ώ ν γ ά ρ τ ο σ ό ν δ ' έ θ α ύ μ α σ α ν θεοί τε ξυνέστιοι (πόλεως) π ο λ ύ β α τ ό ς τ' ά γ ώ ν βροτών, δσον τ ό τ ' Ο ί δ ί π ο υ ν τίον τάν άρπαξάνδραν κήρ' άφελόντα χώρας; έπεί δ ' ά ρ τ ί φ ρ ω ν έγένετο μέλεος αθλίων γ ά μ ω ν , έ π ' άλγει δ υ σ φ ο ρ ώ ν μαινομέναι κ ρ α δ ί α ι δ ί δ υ μ ' α κ ά κ ' έτέλεσεν π α τ ρ ο φ ό ν ω ι χερί, τ ω ν κρεισσοτέρων γ ν ω μ ά τ ω ν έπλάγχΟη, τέκνοις δ ' | ά ρ α ί α ς | έφήκεν έπίκοτος τ ρ ο φ α ς , αίαΐ, πικρογλώσσους άράς, κ α ι σφε σ ι δ α ρ ο ν ό μ ω ι

(1994), pp. 35-36; Conacher (1996), p. 37; West (1999). For a bolder, but far from conclusive, discussion of the surviving evidence, see Sommerstein (1996a), pp. 121-130, who tries to reconstruct both the Laius and the Oedipus to a greater extent than previously attempted; nonetheless, it is extremely difficult to find confirmation in the fragments of the tetralogy for his judgments, and therefore we may well hesitate to regard them as accurate. For other ways out of these difficulties, see Gantz (1993), pp. 490-492. " See Hutchinson (1985), pp. xxiv-xxvii; March (1987), pp. 139-148; further, see Baldry (1956), pp. 30-32; Sommerstein (1989b) and (1996a), pp. 121-130; Conacher (1996), pp. 37-39.

Multiple Stories: The Oedipus Myth

55

διά χερί π ο τ ε λ α χ ε ΐ ν κτήματα- ν ΰ ν δέ τ ρ έ ω μή τελέσηι κ α μ ψ ί π ο υ ς Έ ρ ι ν ύ ς . (772-791) [ed. Μ. L. West]

Even though there is some ambiguity with the choral narrative, there are, in our view, good reasons for keeping the stasimon as a frame of reference for understanding the dramatic core of the Oedipus. The play must have dealt with Oedipus' discovery of his parricide and incest after several years of happiness in the company of his wife-mother. Upon learning the awful truth, Oedipus must have put out his eyes and cursed Eteocles and Polynices in anger at their incestuous breeding, condemning them to divide their substance with the sword. What Aeschylus made abundantly clear was that with the right modifications, the Oedipus story could make an admirable plot for so demanding a theatrical production as a tetralogy. An attempt was thus made to throw a distinctively tragic colouring over the terrible events of the Labdacid past, in treating Oedipus' offspring as born of the same incestuous match. This new gruesome slant on the myth makes all the difference when we consider the fact that after the discovery of the miasma Oedipus blinded himself and laid curses on his sons in his frenzy of mind at their evil procreation. Thus, as is born out by the evidence, Aeschylus was able to keep before his audience the sense that wicked deeds are always visited by condign punishment at the hands of the gods. This is especially obvious in the invention, or at the very least the unprecedented foregrounding of the self-blinding, which not only makes for powerful drama on the stage, but also presents Oedipus himself totally alive to the enormity of his crimes. The novel connection of the frantic malediction with the incestuous origin of Eteocles and Polynices also offers compelling motivation in comparison to the feeble excuses provided by the mythographers.20 It is thus likely that when Aeschylus turned the focus of the action on Oedipus' poignant realization of his guilt, he was making a startling innovation, on which Sophocles was to elaborate later in both Oedipus Tyrannus and Oedipus at Colonus. This is all the more so in view of the previous, mostly epic, versions of the story, in which such impersonal divine agents 20

The self-blinding motif may be older, though this is highly disputed. For a preAeschylean tradition with reservations, see Mastronarde (1994), pp. 22-23; Griffith (1999), p. 5 n . 18.

56

Chapter 2

as the pitiless and implacable Furies were the guardians of justice or, in the Iliadic variant, where the full impact of Oedipus' culpability is not intensely felt. Indeed, nothing but the close-knit sequence of discovery self-blinding - son-cursing that is from this point on the hinge upon which the Oedipus legend turns, could more forcibly bring before the spectators the awful power of inherited guilt, hanging over and dominating the lives of men. It is no accident that, as Aeschylus feels his visionary way towards the arresting climax of the Seven against Thebes, where Oedipus' sons eventually divide their heritage in mutual hatred and reciprocal bloodshed, he is eager to place repeated emphasis on how the pendulum swings in human affairs. Yet this he does without turning a blind eye to the heavy burden of responsibility carried by the human agent, be it defiant Laius, father-murdering Oedipus, or spiteful Eteocles and Polynices.21 The analysis of existing evidence made above leads to the inescapable conclusion that Aeschylus reinvented the legendary tradition, and that in doing so he set higher standards of literary achievement, drawing together and moulding all sorts of fluctuant and often shadowy tales about the royal House of the Labdacids. In the light of this, Aeschylus, so deservedly treated by Gilbert Murray as 'the creator of tragedy', should be credited with the dramatically effective transformation of the Oedipus myth. In his hands it becomes a story of blood-guiltiness and pollution pursuing the members of the Theban royal family, until the burden is somehow purged away - sadly in ways that would make the members of the audience shudder at the sheer size of the recompense for crimes committed of old.22 It is against a background such as this that both Sophocles and Euripides went on to uncover a wealth of new understanding of the Oedipus story for the Athenian audience. As a detailed discussion of the Sophoclean remodelling of the myth will occupy the entire next section and occasionally the scene-by-scene analysis of Oedipus at Colonus in chapter three, we shall now turn our attention to the three Euripidean plays that draw extensively

21

22

It should be pointed out that the final scene of the Seven against Thebes with Antigone and Ismene has been condemned as a later ineffective remodelling of the play under the influence of Sophocles' Antigone. On the problem of the ending of the Seven against Thebes, see Hutchinson (1985), pp. xliii-xlv; Taplin (1977), pp. 176-191; Sommerstein (1996a), pp. 130-134; Conacher (1996), pp. 71-74 with relevant bibliography. Murray (1940). On the fundamental recasting of the myth in Aeschylus, see March (1987), p. 145. For a sceptical view, see mainly Mastronarde (1994), p. 18 η. 1.

Multiple Stories: The Oedipus Myth

57

from the inexhaustible well of Theban history, without however adhering to every line of the legend of Oedipus and his doomed progeny. Phoenician Women, Oedipus and Antigone all offer innovatory alterations of the previous handlings of the myth; this is especially true of the first, most probably staged some time between 411 and 409 BCE. In the play, apart from sorrowful Jocasta, blinded Oedipus has been kept alive in the palace, only to be expelled from Thebes by the new regent, Creon, for fear of divine retribution after the mutually destructive battle between Eteocles and Polynices.23 Even though several lines have incurred some suspicion for textual corruption, it might not be wholly nonsensical to argue that in view of the aforementioned Pindaric variant on the myth, which leaves open the possibility of Oedipus' banishment from Thebes, the curious allusion to the prospective exile of the Theban king and his stay at the Athenian Colonus in the company of Antigone does derive from local legend (1703-1709):24 Οι. ν ϋ ν χρησμός, ώ παΐ, Λοξίου περαίνεται. Αν. ό ποιος; άλλ' ή π ρ ό ς κ α κ ο ϊ ς έρεΐς κ α κ ά ; Οι. έν ταϊς Α θ ή ν α ι ς κ α τ θ α ν ε ΐ ν μ' άλώμενον. Αν. π ο ϋ ; τίς σε π ύ ρ γ ο ς Α τ θ ί δ ο ς προσδέξεται; Οι. ιερός Κ ο λ ω ν ό ς , δ ώ μ α θ ' ί π π ί ο υ θεοΰ. άλλ' εια τ υ φ λ ω ι τ ω ι δ ' ύ π η ρ έ τ ε ι πατρί, έπεί π ρ ο θ υ μ ή ι τήσδε κ ο ι ν ο ϋ σ θ α ι φ υ γ ή ς . (ed. J. Diggle)

Thus, most possibly from the tragic branch of the tradition, Euripides inherited the Aeschylean thematic concept of the inescapably recurring

23

24

On the date of the production, see Mastronarde (1994), p. 14. It is noteworthy that the play was a favourite among actors in Hellenistic times; on the popularity of Phoenician Women in the Hellenistic period and later, see Craik (1988), p. 52. See Mills (1997), pp. 161-162, who is against the excision of the disputed lines; further, in support of this view, see Craik (1988), note on lines 1703-7; Mastronarde (1994), note on lines 1703-7. For a sceptical view, see mainly Kearns (1989), p. 208 with relevant bibliography; Collard, Cropp & Gilbert (2004), p. 110. Also, for a tragic precedent of a similar movement towards Colonus, we should mention the hypothesis advanced by Arnott (1989), p. 137, that the procession in the closing scenes of Aeschylus' Eumenides is heading towards the sacred grove of the 'Kindly Ones' at Colonus. We should, however, note that the assumed spectacular change of location would strike one as an unnecessary readjustment of Athenian topography.

58

Chapter 2

pattern of familial guilt and reprisal at the hands of the divine. Yet in freely ranging over the Oedipus saga and contriving some novelty with familiar events, he not only overlaid it with further layers of significance, but also mobilized an especially rich substratum of literary references. As a matter of fact, nothing but Elizabeth Craik's sharply-phrased observation on the crowded circumstances in Thebes before the fratricidal showdown between Eteocles and Polynices could more succinctly capture the alarmingly, and for that reason effectively, abundant incident in the Phoenician Women: '[the cast list] reads like a guest list for a macabre house party of the Theban royal family.'25 Indeed, the play strikes one as a kind of chronicle play on Theban history significantly widening to all the relatives of Oedipus. It is therefore a lamentable loss that we are in mere possession of a few tantalizing fragments from Euripides' Oedipus and Antigone, where time and again strong emphasis is laid on the mutability of human circumstances; this does not necessarily preclude the possibility of a happy ending after the essential twists and turns of plot and emotion, as is the case with the unexpected marital union of Antigone and Haemon in the Antigone. Also, it is worth noting that in the Oedipus, most probably dated between 419 and 406 BCE, by way of a typically Euripidean innovatory adaptation, the blinding of Oedipus is carried out by the angry servants of Laius, most likely in direct contrast to the otherwise skilful Aeschylean and Sophoclean handling of the story. More importantly, there may be here another possible, but far from certain anticipation of Oedipus' suppliant position in Athens.26 According to fragment 554b (= Men. Samia 325-326), attributed to Euripides' Oedipus by a marginal scholium in P. Bodmer 25 ofMenander, someone is invoking Athens: ώ π ό λ ι σ μ α Κ ε κ ρ ο π ί α ς χ θ ο ν ό ς , ώ τ α ν α ό ς αίθήρ, ω < — x >

In his detailed discussion of the evidence, Christopher Collard suggested that this recently assigned passage marks the beginning of Oedipus' apostrophe of Athens, thereby indicating his joy at the perhaps divinely 25 26

Craik (1988), p. 39. See Gomme & Sandbach (1973), pp. 577-578 (note on line 325); TrGF vol. v.l, pp. 569-583; Collard, Cropp & Gilbert (2004), pp. 105-132, esp. 107. Cf. also Di Gregorio (1980); Hose (1990); Jouan & van Looy (2000), pp. 429-458; Collard (2005), pp. 57-62.

Multiple Stories: The Oedipus Myth

59

sanctioned prospect of refuge in Attica.27 One cannot help noting that in Oedipus at Colonus Antigone refers to the Athenian acropolis and the towers of the city-walls, when she and her father arrive at Colonus for the first time (14-15, πάτερ ταλαύπωρ' Οιδίπους, πύργοι μεν οι/πόλιν στέφουσιν, ώς άπ' ομμάτων, πρόσω). Her passing description of the distant citadel and the city's fortification has been treated as evocative of Athenian military and political might.28 Thus, in keeping with this particular line of thought, it is attractive to argue that in the Euripidean play Oedipus sets off on a journey to Athens on the strength of an oracle or a divine command, with the purpose of finding protection among the people of Attica. Perhaps, if the text is sound, it is no accident that in the Phoenician Women there is a reference to Colonus as a tower of Attica in language reminiscent of the Sophoclean play (1706, ποϋ; τις σε πύργος 'Ατθίδος προσδέξεται;). Moreover, in light of fragments 545 and 545a, it has been convincingly suggested that Jocasta survived the horrible revelation and followed Oedipus in his wandering away from Thebes.29 In particular, in fr. 545a, it appears that after Oedipus' self-mutilation, Jocasta is in no way 27

Collard, Cropp & Gilbert (2004), pp. 107, 110 & 132 (note on fr. 554b); Collard (2005), pp. 61-62. It should be noted that Martin Cropp in Cropp & Fick (1985), p. 70 argued that Κεκροπίας may be Menander's substitution for Euripides' Καδμείας (or Θηβαίας), thereby eliminating the possibility of heavenly granted shelter in Athenian territory for soul sick Oedipus. Nonetheless, in the play, there must have been an unexpected reversal of hard luck for Oedipus, especially in view of fr. 550 (έκ των άέλπτων ή χάρις μείζων βροτοϊς/(φανεϊσα μάλλον ή τό προσδοκώμενον}). The motif of reversal of fortune in one's life is also apparent in frs 549 (άλλ' ήμαρ TOL μεταβολάς πολλάς εχει) and 554 (πολλάς γ' ό δαίμων τοϋ βίου μεταστάσεις/εδωκεν ήμΐν μεταβολάς τε της τύχης).

28

See especially Jebb (1900), note on line 15; Markantonatos (2002), pp. 172-173. On the notion of the Athenian ramparts as a powerful sign of military preeminence, see (e.g.) Wycherley (1962), pp. 36-49 and (1978), pp. 7-25; Pollitt (1972), pp. 64-110; Lawrence (1996), pp. 106-124. In the same play, πόλισμα denotes the Athenian city (1496-1497, ό γάρ ξένος σε καί πόλι-/σμα και φίλους έπαξιοϊ); similarly, in Euripides' Medea 771 (μολόντες άστυ καί πόλισμα Παλλάδος) and Iphigenia Among the Taurians 1014 (κομίσαι μ' άγαλμα θεάς πόλισμ' ές Παλλάδος), πόλισμα serves as a poetic variant of the Athenian πόλις. More than this, in Euripides' Heracles 1323 (επου δ' άμ' ήμΐν πρός πόλισμα Παλλάδος), in a gesture of immense compassion, Theseus asks Heracles to follow him to the city of Athens. Significantly, in anticipation of Oedipus' argument in Oedipus at Colonus, in his speech (1316-1339), he places strong emphasis on Heracles' unwilling crimes.

29

See Collard, Cropp & Gilbert (2004), p. 107; Collard (2005), p. 62.

60

Chapter 2

deterred by the pollution, but bravely states her intention of having a share in her husband's misfortune (5-6, σοι δ' εγωγε και νοσοϋντι συννοσοϋσ' άνέξομαι/καί κακών των σων ξυνοίσω, κούδέν εσται μοι πικρόν), thereby possibly preparing the ground for a joint exit on the road to Attica, much to the enjoyment of the Athenian spectators. Therefore, it is not an overinterpretation to suppose that in the latter part of the fifth century the Oedipus myth gradually becomes involved in Athenian preoccupations; as will be obvious in the following section, this is all the more so, in view of recurrent allusions to Oedipus' banishment from Theban territory in Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus. As a matter of fact, since Euripides was so eager to give a particular slant to the recall of certain events to suit his dramatic preoccupations, one cannot but observe that the earlier, most influential Sophoclean recasting of the mythological tradition must have presented an enormous challenge to any dramatist of repute in Athens.30 Through the dominant theme of uncovering and recalling dreadful events buried in the far-off past, Oedipus Tyrannus had not only deepened the chronological perspective of the Theban legend, but had also demonstrated that by means of a masterful management of mystery and suspense, it may be possible for the audience gradually to unravel seemingly unrelated tales and make an orderly chain of them. Further, Antigone had shown that the Labdacid myth could be stated largely in terms of an irresolvable conflict between two main characters, though without ruling out the attractive possibility of continuing to draw from the mingled springs of mythological tradition. It is this that we want to follow up in the concluding section of this chapter.

Sophocles and Oedipus: A Show for Thebes We have already had occasion to comment upon the ways in which Aeschylus invited his audience, most of whom were aware of a considerably large body of poetic legend, to take a fresh look at substantial portions of Theban 30

It should be added that Euripides himself drew extensively on the Theban repository of mythological tales in such plays as Suppliant Women (c. 423 BCE), Eleusinians, Antiope, and Chrysippus. Also, there are ample traces of various handlings of the Oedipus myth by minor dramatists, such as Achaeus, Xenocles, Carcinus, Theodectas, Timocles, Diogenes and Lycophron (cf. TrGF vol. i).

Multiple Stories: The Oedipus Myth

61

history from a different angle. His Seven against Thebes alone, with its unprecedented emotive power and intricate complex of mysteries, would be proof of this. It is a significant fact that the ancient biographer feels obliged to state with perfect confidence that Sophocles 'learned about tragedy from Aeschylus' (TrGF vol. iv A 4. 20, p. 31: Παρ' Αίσχύλφ δέ την τραγωδίαν εμαθε); it is therefore worth observing that the deftly constructed Aeschylean tetralogy must have loomed large in Sophocles' mind, when he repeatedly turned to the Oedipus saga for inspiration. This is not to say that for all his creative genius, Sophocles failed to open a gate to a new path, and one which Athenian spectators would have recognized as his own amidst a great mass of long-established legend. Even so we can still catch fleeting glimpses of the earlier dramatic presentation, especially in the imaginative use that can be made of both the prevalent atmosphere of brooding horror and the painful working-out of the hereditary curse on the House of Laius. There was, however, another factor that undoubtedly contributed to the enormous popularity of Sophocles' Theban plays. As we have already mentioned, once he had abandoned the age-old convention of producing connected series of plays in the form of tetralogies, Sophocles put on plays complete in themselves, thereby highlighting novel ideas about well-worn tales that might otherwise have escaped his attention. That being said, it remains equally true that the newfound technique of compressing a plot of intricate complexity into the narrow space of a monodrama, rather than funneling the action into a lengthy, and for that matter wide-ranging, trilogic sequence, did not prevent Sophocles from producing tragedies on a truly epic scale. These included all the distinctive features such a practice presupposes: a broad apparatus of flashback and foreshadowing; a tightly controlled timescale; a welcome variety of adventure blended with an extraordinary multiplicity of situation, and a constant effort to integrate past, present and future by means of a synthesizing vision of the human condition.31 We think that these considerations partly explain the insistence so amply shown by ancient critics and biographers on recognizing Homeric grandeur in the dramas of Sophocles. It has always to be remembered that Herodotus was not alone in enjoying the rare privilege of being coupled with Homer as an unmistakable tribute to his artistic prominence - Herodotus was said to be 'the prose Homer of history' 31

See especially Lowe (2000), pp. 157-187; Markantonatos (2002), pp. 1-19.

62

Chapter 2

( Ή ρ ό δ ο τ ο ν τόν πεζόν έν ίστορίαισιν Ό μ η ρ ο ν / ή ρ ο σ ε ν [...]) in a newly discovered Hellenistic poem in honour of his native city, Halicarnassus Sophocles was also saluted as 'the tragic Homer' by the third-century BCE philosopher Polemon, who was quick enough to confer the title of 'epic Sophocles' upon Homer himself (TKzFvol. iv Tllb 115a-b, p. 75: Ό μ η ρ ο ν μέν Σοφοκλέα έπικόν, Σοφοκλέα δέ Ό μ η ρ ο ν τραγικόν). 32 It is difficult for us fully to grasp the significant impact that the repeated Sophoclean reworking of the Oedipus story on the smaller scale of the single play would have had upon the members of the original audience. Nevertheless, it seems easier to our mind to suppose that Sophocles offered a window through which the Athenian spectators could look out upon previously undiscovered aspects of the Theban legend. Undoubtedly, in their singularity Sophocles' Theban plays reflect in many mirrors the defenselessness of human beings before the inscrutable divine plan, though without necessarily rendering unbearably cruel the unavoidable interpenetration of human action and divine purpose. In reality, despite the fact that in his programme and outlook Sophocles is closer to the epic vision propounded by Aeschylus in his earlier Theban tetralogy, he is keen to create a tragic universe more of possibilities open rather than of resolutions closed, thereby placing special emphasis on the free will of mythic figures through carefully plotted alterations, or even at times through stunningly groundbreaking adaptations of the mythological matter. In fact, as will become apparent below, the superficial similarities make the essential differences all the more striking. According to Mark Griffith, with the Antigone, which was first enacted some time around 450-440 BCE and was apparently the earliest tragedy with regard to the order of composition of the Theban plays, Sophocles introduced a significant new chapter in the history of the accursed race of the Labdacids. 33 There is no reason to suppose that this sweeping statement is 32

33

On Herodotus as 'prose Homer', see Merkelbach & Stauber (1998), pp. 39-44 [01/12/02, 11. 43-44]; Isager (1998); Lloyd-Jones (1999); Flower & Marincola (2002), p. 1 n. 3. Further, Ulpian, a character in Athenaeus' second-century CE work Scholars at Dinner, speaks of Aeschylus as having once noted that 'his tragedies were slices of fish taken from the great banquets of Homer' (TrGF vol. iii Ο 112a-b, p. 69; trans. A. H. Sommerstein; δς τάς αύτοϋ τραγωδίας τεμάχη λέγων είναι των 'Ομήρου μεγάλων δείπνων); see also Sommerstein (1996a), pp. 337-353. Griffith (1999), p. 8. On the dating of the play, see the recent discussion in Lloyd-Jones (1994a), p. 9.

Multiple Stories: The Oedipus Myth

63

anything but broadly true, though here, as always in Greek tragedy, one must be on guard against taking a single play as decisive evidence of a large-scale remodelling of the Theban myth. Nonetheless, an extensive series of remarkable innovations, all worked over in the direction of a tremendous tragic effect, forces us to the conclusion that Sophocles lavished all the resources of his creative imagination on the Antigone. It is thus hardly fanciful to say that the discussion of his distinctive handling of the story of the House of Laius is instrumental in our more conscious understanding of the subsequent Theban plays. Contrary to what many people suppose, except for her powerful presence in the Sophoclean drama, Antigone remains a shadowy figure in the earlier literary tradition, especially in view of the spurious ending of Aeschylus' Seven against Thebes, in which Antigone laments her mutually slaughtered brothers and vows to contrive a grave for Polynices in defiance of the proclamation forbidding his burial. This is also true of her sister, Ismene, who invariably acts as a mere foil to Antigone, but for her unbidden entrance as bringer of important but disturbing news from the city of Thebes in the much later production of Oedipus at Colonus. In that play, Ismene is therefore too ambiguous a character to be simply written off as another person contrasting with Antigone.34 Thus, far different from previous treatments, in the Antigone it is apparent that Sophocles deliberately foreshortens and excludes great lengths of mythological material, in his effort to write a tragedy in which the central dramatic fact is conveyed in terms of a relentless conflict between Creon and Antigone. In this strikingly smooth, densely packed, and remarkably unified structure, there is not even a fleeting reference to the patriotic story of the fierce controversy between Argos and Thebes over the return of the long-dead bodies of the seven warriors. The tale is propagandistic in the sense that it is only through the forceful but rightful intervention of Athens that the acrimonious dispute is eventually resolved. That being so, instead of the spiteful struggle between rivalling cities, the audience come 34

By contrast with her virtual invisibility in earlier tradition, Antigone enjoys considerable popularity in fourth-century tragedy; see especially the succinct discussion in XanthakisKaramanos (1980), pp. 15-17, followed by Hall (1996), p. 308 n. 24. It is not unreasonable to suppose that Sophocles' Antigone played a significant part in catapulting the mythic figure of Antigone into dramatic prominence. Cf. Rose (1958), p. 193; Howe (1962); Steiner (1984); Brown (1987), pp. 3-5; Zimmermann (1993); Cingano (2003); Markantonatos (2004b), pp. 18-23.

64

Chapter 2

face to face with an extremely ruthless antagonism, precipitated by the vindictive exposure of the corpse of Polynices and further aggravated by the very relation in which the two main tragic figures stand to one another, as members of the same family. All the more remarkable is the skill with which Sophocles succeeded in making the play a moving study of kindred love and unbroken devotion to family and friends, thereby building up stage by stage in the spectators' minds a notion of the conflicting principles that are at work each time kinsman is set against kinsman. In particular, apart from the novel idea of the forbidden burial of Polynices, which results in the immurement of Antigone in a subterranean cavern, Sophocles brings into the foreground previously unnoticed, seemingly slight characters, most notably Haemon and Eurydice, with a view to deepening the central tension of the work. Added to this is the presence of Ismene, an otherwise shadowy existence in Greek mythology, which adds extra meaning and dramatic force to the events; in the words of Mark Griffith, the inclusion of Antigone's pusillanimous sister 'is likely to have been Sophocles' own idea.'35 Furthermore, in order to signal and emphasize the noble isolation of Antigone, Sophocles draws certain incidents preceding the play's action into nearer focus, yet without alerting the audience to a sense of more than a halfglimpsed past. As a matter of fact, the undeniable reference to Oedipus' dishonourable death and subsequent burial in Thebes in the wake of the discovery of his dreadful actions conveys something of the recurring, mournful mood in this play (49-52, 900-902).36 More to the point, it would have been a gross oversight not to draw special attention to the fact that in the earlier play Antigone prides herself on having prepared the burial of Oedipus, Eurydice and her brothers unaided, thus emphasizing the indissoluble association of Oedipus' disgraceful passing with the irregular deaths of other members of his family in the context of Sophocles' Theban plays (897-903). Little need be said in conclusion about the importance of the abovementioned novelties, through which Sophocles increases the impact of the climax in his fundamentally reworked Antigone story. Nonetheless, it should 33 36

Griffith (1999), p. 10. Cf. Griffith (1999), p. 5, who appears hesitant to offer a final verdict, in spite of the fact that Antigone twice refers to the dishonourable death of blinded Oedipus and her treatment of his dead body, thereby ruling out the possibility of a heroic passing in Athens or elsewhere.

Multiple Stories: The Oedipus Myth

65

be noted that in the Aeschylean version of the Theban saga the inherited curse is one of the trilogy's structuring principles, highlighting as it does the impotence of human will when pitted against the unshakable divine order. On the other hand, Sophocles focuses on the acutely-felt difficulties arising from the inescapable interweaving between the current of circumstance and that of passionate impulse. This concern is particularly present in his constant attention to unconditional respect for the notion of unwritten laws, which is deeply implanted in the heart of Antigone. In fact, apart from offering a detailed defence of her motives, Antigone presents a vehement but highly convincing argumentation, which is essentially a powerful display of her will to first ponder upon the recent calamity and then give way to fraternal love despite the disastrous consequences. Therefore, the novel approach to the curse-fulfilling fate of the Labdacid family enabled Sophocles to show, to a degree not previously recognized, that the gradual and relentless resolution of the hereditary doom need not be at the heart of the play. In forming the groundwork of the tragedy, certain ethical and religious preoccupations can be even more dramatically effective than Laius' wanton defiance of the god and Oedipus' evilly prophetic rage.37 The reader will not be surprised to hear that in Oedipus Tyrannus, which is commonly attributed to the period between 430 and 420 BCE, the familial horrors stemming from the fatal errors of Laius and Oedipus are not fully developed. In a parallel with the Antigone, the first Oedipus play offers a welcome widening of perspective to include touching displays of honest emotion blended with sharp stabs of compelling rhetoric. As a matter of fact, the twofold crime unknowingly committed by Oedipus is another instance of Sophocles' impassioned reflection on the intricacies of human destiny, in his unremitting effort to reconcile free will with the overruling power of divine interposition. Oedipus Tyrannus, the most celebrated Greek tragedy, provides a version of the Theban myth that diverges from the Aeschylean treatment in important ways. Even though the transmission of the curse-fulfilling doom from generation to generation lurks in

37

On the highly debated issue of freedom and fate in Sophocles' Antigone, see principally Bowra (1944), pp. 87-88; Webster (1969), p. 31; Winnington-Ingram (1980), pp. 166-173; Segal (1981), pp. 189-192; Kirkwood (1994), pp. 275 & 279-287; Mogyorodi (1996). Further, the O d e to Man' of Sophocles' Antigone brings into prominence the theme of man's fragility in light of the irreducible complexity of human destiny; see also Sheppard (1947), pp. 46-48; Versenyi (1974), pp. 208-213; Rocco (1997), pp. 38-39.

66

Chapter 2

the leading idea which the play embodies, the audience are left with the view that Oedipus is in every respect free to pursue the conduct of his inquiry. This is in spite of the terrible price thereby paid for the ultimate truth, or, as Bernard Knox has concisely put it 'this freedom to search, and the heroic way Oedipus uses it, makes the play not a picture of man's feebleness caught in the toils of fate, but on the contrary, a heroic example of man's dedication to the search for truth, the truth about himself.'38 Oedipus' relentless straining after the ultimate truth about his obscure origin leads him to a disastrous revelation; in his perfect mantic penetration, Tiresias foretells Oedipus' wanderings in strange lands. The following lines describe the fallen king's desperate situation in helpless blindness (454-456): [...] τ υ φ λ ό ς γ ά ρ έ κ δ ε δ ο ρ κ ό τ ο ς και π τ ω χ ό ς άντί πλουσίου ξένην επι σκήπτρφ προδεικνύς γαιαν έμπορεύσεται.

Similarly, soon after in the play, Oedipus, distraught at the terrible disclosure of his crimes and self-mutilated, persistently asks to be cast away from Thebes without delay (1340, άπάγετ' έκτόπιον oxl τάχιστα με, 1410-1412, 1436-1437, ρΐψόν με γης έκ τήσδ' δσον τάχισθ', δπου/θνητών φανοΰμαι μηδενός προσήγορος, 1451, άλλ' εα με ναίειν δρεσιν [...], 1518, γης μ' δπως πέμψεις άποικον [...]). As we have already suggested, these recurring allusions to Oedipus' future banishment may be precursory to the later reshaping of the story in line with a purely Athenian agenda in Euripides' Oedipus and Phoenician Women and Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus,39 But there are other equally important observations to be made about the first Oedipus drama. A massive body of interpretative scholarship has grown up around the play; for our purposes it suffices to say that with its extreme density, 38

39

Knox (1989), p. 60; Dodds (1973b), p. 69; on the issue of human responsibility, see the important discussion in Williams (1993), pp. 50-74, esp. 69-71. It should be noted that some critics have treated the end of Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus as a later reworking, possibly so that the play should fit with the Oedipus at Colonus and the Antigone in a trilogy. The same critics argue that the closing scene must have presented blinded Oedipus on the road to exile. For a thorough exposition of this highly controversial view, see principally Hester (1984); March (1987), pp. 148-154 with relevant bibliography; see also the cautious comments in Davies (1982) and

Multiple Stories: The Oedipus Myth

67

psychological complexity and ironic convolutions, the plot of Oedipus Tyrannus is worked out in a form flexible enough to admit subsidiary legendary matter of remarkable variety. A striking example of this prominent feature may be noted in one essential change of detail: Sophocles altered the spot where Oedipus met Laius. According to an Aeschylean fragment, ascribed by different scholars to either the Laius or the Oedipus (TrGF vol. iii 387a, p. 434), the fatal 'triple way' is located near Theban Potniae, where there was a seat of the worship of Demeter and Kore, while in the Oedipus Tyrannus the encounter of Oedipus and Laius is placed where the two roads from Delphi and Daulia meet.40 Apparently, the shift from Potniae to Daulia helps to unify the play's development and bring together two mythic figures, in the sense that not unlike Oedipus, Laius is seen as being in close communication with the Delphic oracle, without however availing himself of some release from his misfortune through divine guidance. Thus, apart from deepening the hint of irony, the purposeful switch of locations may be treated as belonging to the same thematic complex, as another significant comparison with the Aeschylean handling of the Labdacid legend would seem to indicate.41 In point of fact, what is equally important is that in the Sophoclean version, in all probability Jocasta speaks of the infant Oedipus as born after the oracle (711-719): χ ρ η σ μ ό ς γ ά ρ ήλθε Λ α ΐ ω π ο τ ' , ο υ κ έρώ Φ ο ί β ο υ γ' ά π ' α ΰ τ ο ϋ , τ ω ν δ ' υ π η ρ ε τ ώ ν άπο, ώ ς α υ τ ό ν ήξοι μοίρα π ρ ό ς π α ι δ ό ς θανεϊν, δστις γένοιτ' έμοϋ τε κ ά κ ε ί ν ο υ π ά ρ α . και τόν μέν, ώ σ π ε ρ γ ' ή φάτις, ξένοι π ο τ έ λησταί φ ο ν ε ΰ ο υ σ ' έν τριπλαϊς άμαξιτοίς· π α ι δ ό ς δέ βλάστας ού διέσχον ήμέραι τρεις, κ α ί νιν ά ρ θ ρ α κείνος έ ν ζ ε ύ ξ α ς π ο δ ο ϊ ν έρριψεν άλλων χερσίν εις ά β α τ ο ν όρος.

40 41

(1991); Serra (2003). Unless more palpable evidence comes to light, the problem of the alleged spurious ending of Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus should at best remain a moot point in modern scholarship. See Hutchinson (1985), pp. xix-xx; Dawe (1982), note on line 734. According to Campbell (1879), p. 119, 'there is some reason for thinking that [Sophocles] is original in choosing Corinth, rather than Sicyon, or some small town in the neighbourhood of Thebes, as the place where the foundling [i.e. Oedipus] was adopted and brought up.'

68

Chapter 2

It follows that in keeping with the earlier Theban trilogy, the death of Laius is the outcome of his shameless defiance of the repeated Apolline pronouncements on his wicked lust. Again, in the manner of Oedipus, Laius receives divine warning of an impending calamity, but his desperate attempts to forestall the disaster prove disappointingly ineffectual. However, unlike Oedipus, he rushes headlong into catastrophe by choice. We do not have to suppose that every member of the audience could follow all the aforementioned subtleties of this new recasting of the Oedipus story; nonetheless, it is possible to argue that Sophocles was more daring in his innovations than most of his predecessors, especially in view of his recurrent emphasis on the human motivation in the play42 This is particularly obvious in the glaring omission of Oedipus' curses upon Eteocles and Polynices - apparently indicating that the malediction is deferred to a time immediately before the death of Oedipus, or in any case reserved for a time after Oedipus' banishment from Thebes and the irruption of the brothers' fratricidal strife. One result of this omission is that Oedipus is seen in a favourable light in the closing movement of the play, where in the emotional exchanges between the protagonist and his wretched daughters, Sophocles goes to great lengths to infuse the action with some humanity (1446-1523). 43 Therefore, in the eventual collapse of the Aeschylean sequence of discovery - self-blinding - son-cursing, which leaves ample space for the struggling players to deliberate upon their situation, extricated as they are from a chain of causes that goes back to an ancient hereditary disaster, we can see, though indeed only dimly, how Sophocles has painted a picture of the Labdacid saga on a truly human scale with a view to keeping the focus almost constantly on Oedipus and his intentional actions in the course of the play, in stark contrast to his involuntary deeds in the past. Without wishing to multiply examples, it is hard not to put interpretative stress on Oedipus' frenzied response, which is played out so poignantly on the human stage in the light of the unexpectedly discovered miasma. Indeed, let us look a little further into Sophocles' unconventional dramatic presentation of the Theban myth. For the first time this adumbrates the extremely important distinction between the motive and the act, which 42

43

Even though the issue of human volition and divine necessity is still a matter of learned dispute, see principally the sobering comments in Segal (2001), pp. 28-29. See especially Segal (2001), pp. 117-120.

Multiple Stories: The Oedipus Myth

69

in turn serves as the leading argument in Oedipus' rhetoric of selfexculpation in Oedipus at Colonus. As a matter of fact, in another respect Oedipus Tyrannus seems to purposefully resemble the earlier Antigone illustrating among other things how Sophocles continued to reshape certain Aeschylean themes. After the revelation of his dreadful deeds, Oedipus put out his eyes in an extraordinary act of self-punishment, given that he committed the crimes in total ignorance of the horrible consequences. However, unlike the Aeschylean trilogy, in which his self-blinding is a typical instance of the inherited doom heaped upon the House of Laius, here Oedipus offers a painstakingly defended demonstration of personal freedom, only partly bound by the constrains of external circumstances and supernatural necessity. In a manner similar to his daughter Antigone in the earlier play, in which the accumulated horror is softened by the repeated acknowledgement of a higher ethical responsibility - despite the occasional references to an otherwise mysterious and veiled divine order - Oedipus does not shrink from providing sufficient justification for the appalling act of self-mutilation. Behind the action, he recognizes the hidden but compelling familial and civic motives, which are deemed to be consistent with an unambiguous paradigm of virtuous conduct in relation to his dead parents, his offspring and hispolis (1369-1415, 1446-1475). In a sense, his fearful downfall is not exclusively a particular occurrence of lineal doom. Even though one cannot fully recapture the mood to which this sort of mythological remodelling appealed, there is something to be said for the Greek dramatists' eagerness to strive after originality, and with the Oedipus Tyrannus, no less than with the Antigone, Sophocles displays this same keenness to introduce noteworthy innovations into his treatment of wellknown legends.44 His persistent emphasis on aspects of the tale that lend themselves to a genuinely humanistic approach certainly supports the interpretation that Oedipus at Colonus marks the climax of a life-long meditation on moral responsibility and political rectitude - issues that were of the utmost importance for the earliest audience of 401 BCE. Thus, we have still more reason to believe that significant mythical alterations reveal certain tendencies which we discern at work in the second Oedipus play. 44

This extensive catalogue of novelties also includes the ingenious motivation of the Theban Herdsman's catalytic intervention in view of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Oedipus' long-forgotten exposure, and the masterful invention of the ravages of the plague.

70

Chapter 2

These are the fundamental reconsideration of the relentless cycle of family disaster, the highlighting of the individual strength of mind, the importance attached to the all-powerful dictates of divinely sanctioned laws and institutions, and the penetrating examination of kinship ties. It is also observable that possibly, but very far from incontrovertibly, since 462 BCE Oedipus begins to show a markedly beneficent aspect; this benevolent side will eventually put him into a sacral connection with the Athenian pantheon of deities in Oedipus at Colonus, after a gradual process of Atticization undoubtedly facilitated by war preoccupations and emergencies. In this survey, which for the question we are interested in need not be followed farther, an attempt has been made to present and appreciate most of the evidence available. Therefore, we shall proceed in the next chapter with a broader consideration of Oedipus at Colonus, thereby looking in even more detail at the mythological connections of the play and how these very connections were expressed in stage terms. It should be noted that both our investigation of the relevant legendary material and our examination of the dramatized events will be conducted in the light of what we have been able to gather about the Sophoclean reconfiguration of the Oedipus saga so far. This leads us to believe that in his last play, Sophocles succeeded in artfully wedding Theban history with a splendid historical vision of Athens, and in so doing presented aged Oedipus profoundly altered by his agonizing wandering; as is always the case, the hurt gave a special flavour to the glory.

Chapter 3

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens Introduction With the knowledge obtained from the analysis of the rich literary tradition in the previous chapter, it can be argued that not unlike the mature Euripides, who, as Elizabeth Craik puts it, 'had a particular interest in the myths of Thebes', in his last play, the nonagenarian Sophocles draws heavily on the stock of Theban mythology.1 Once again, in extreme old age, he returns to the familiar tale of the accursed Labdacid family, with a view to dramatizing the last hours in the life of Oedipus at Athens. By now it should be abundantly clear that the play has a very special claim to our interest, given that Sophocles forms it after the pattern of his earlier Theban dramas, though in this case he provides scope for all the surprising innovations and significant alterations absent in previous works on the same theme. One might say, therefore, that in taking up the thread of the story after the lapse of more than twenty years, Sophocles offers the Athenian audience a kaleidoscopic variety of ways in which to view the story of Oedipus and his miserable progeny, through a massive assemblage of mythological data. The following scene-by-scene discussion of the play's content will show that this is achieved by means of numerous repeated motifs, surprising and abrupt transitions, and variations from the broad panorama to the immediate dramatic situation. Moreover, it is a bold stroke on Sophocles' part that the play's structure and stagecraft are inextricably linked to a gradual establishment of the highly evocative 'topography' of the action; this impressive stage management results in cunning delays and ever-mounting excitement. It is fair to say then that, in the conventions of Greek drama, Oedipus at Colonus takes its audience through a deeply involving process of witnessing how in Sophocles'

1

Craik (1988), p. 41. Cf. also Tanner (1966).

72

Chapter 3

hands the legendary past is masterfully transformed into a constant search of self-understanding not only for Oedipus, but also for Athens herself.

Prologue, 1-116 In the play we meet with blinded Oedipus, considerably advanced in years, who has been banished from Thebes on account of his terrible pollution. Though no reasons are specified, the citizens apparently felt this unbearable - possibly for fear of divine retribution. In his long peregrination his daughter, Antigone, who has chosen to follow the call of familial devotion and join her father in his daily begging for a meagre subsistence, attends him. Ismene, no less loyal to her wretched father, has remained at Thebes in order to keep Oedipus informed about new developments in regard to his potential return. In the meantime, Eteocles and Polynices have quarrelled with each other over the royal sceptre, with the result that the people, at the instigation of his younger brother, have exiled the former from Thebes. Enflamed by his uncontrollable passion for the Theban crown, the elder brother, Polynices, has formed a marriage alliance with the king of Argos, Adrastus, and raised a formidable army to lay siege to his native city and drive out the usurper of the throne. Surprisingly, while the two opponents are mustering their troops for the final showdown, oracles come to both sides foretelling that whichever side Oedipus favours will be victorious in the impending struggle. Against this sinister background, the play opens in Colonus, a rural landscape of great beauty located less than two miles outside the city of Athens and in historical times a small deme of Attica. Unfortunately, it is far from clear how Sophocles' grandson and namesake, or any other, had arranged the setting at the theatre of Dionysus in 401 BCE. If there is any truth in A. W. Pickard-Cambridge's sensible reconstruction endorsed by David Seale and Hugh Lloyd-Jones with minor divergences, it would be a safe guess to assume that the sacred grove of the Eumenides, or 'Kindly Ones' would have been depicted by means of some sort of a pictorial representation, or even a few stage trees, unless no decorated scenery was ever employed at the time of the original production.2 The setting must also 2

See Pickard-Cambridge (1946), p. 51, who apparently draws on Jebb (1900), pp. xxxviixxxviii; Webster (1956), p. 14; Dale (1956); Seale (1982), p. 114; Kamerbeek (1984), p.

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

73

have comprised a seat of rock, placed near the centre of the stage (195196, λέχριός γ' έπ' άκρου/λάου βραχύς όκλάσας). Moreover, a low ridge of natural rock must have indicated the boundaries of the holy meadow (192, αύτοϋ· μηκέτι τοϋδ' αύτοπέτρου βήματος εξω πόδα κλίνης), while there is some evidence in the play to suggest that there may have been another separate seat of rock within the bounds of the stony ledge, if at all (19, ού κώλα κάμψον τοϋδ' έπ' άξεστου πέτρου). It goes without saying that given the special parameters of the action, there were no entrances through the doorway, which must have served as the way leading in and out of the holy precinct.3 Especially noteworthy in the context of the play is the plausible suggestion, based on deictic references to a specific material reminder on stage (59-61, τόνδ' ίππότην Κολωνόν εύχονται σφίοιν/άρχηγόν είναι, και φέρουσι τούνομα/ τό τοϋδε κοινόν πάντες ώνομασμένοι, 65, και κάρτα, τοϋδε τοϋ θεοϋ γ' έπώνυμοι), that a statue of the hero Colonus, or more suggestively a plain equestrian statue, may have been part of the scenery. Attractive too is the claim that this stage icon of the unspecified horseman, a potential symbol among others of the eponymous hero Colonus and the local patron deity, Poseidon Hippios, must have been placed on the right hand side of the audience - possibly indicating, in the words of David Wiles, an 'iconographic opposition' between the statue itself on the right and some stage trees on the left.4 It cannot be stated too clearly that the setting of the play, with all its apparent sanctity and serenity, offers a background of unprecedented scope, unity and solidity. As a matter of fact, in view of the repeated references 24; Lloyd-Jones (1994b), p. 413. The disputed topic of the stage arrangements has given rise to an extensive amount of scholarship. See especially the detailed discussion in Edmunds (1996), p. 39; see also Arnott (1962), pp. 35 & 98-99, who in taking the minimalist view relies on the audience's power of imagination to recreate the scenery; Dunn (1992), p. 5, who favours Arnott's rather ascetic approach, though his proposed stage setting strikes one as rather lavish; Rehm (2002), pp. 20-21, who after bringing attention to the remarkable flexibility of the scenic space duly observes that in Oedipus at Colonus 'the area near the fag ad e represents the outdoor grove of the Furies' (p. 20). Cf. also Friedrich (1967); Aylen (1985); Ley (1991), pp. 45-46; Green & Handley (2001), pp. 30-48; Wiles (2003); Gogos (2005), pp. 113-120. 3

4

See principally Pickard-Cambridge (1946), p. 51 rightly followed by Rehm (2002), p. 308 n. 130; see also Taplin (1977), pp. 452-459, esp. 455. Wiles (1997), pp. 147-148; see also Kamerbeek (1984), p. 32 (note on lines 58-61), who speaks of 'something presumed to be visible from the stage'; Lloyd-Jones (1994b), p. 413, who appears certain that the statue of the horseman Colonus is present.

74

Chapter 3

to the holy places, which are inextricably associated with a broader political and religious matrix of tremendous significance for the Athenians, the sacred precinct of the Eumenides has been aptly recognized as perhaps the most evocative of meaningful connections with fifth-century Athens in the context of Greek tragedy.5 Apart from the settings of Sophocles' Philoctetes and the disputed Rhesus, which, we should think, present an unequal match to the shifting succession of awe-inspiring images of landscape simplicity and tranquillity evoked in the last play of Sophocles, the setting also gradually shows itself to be another exceptionally important strand, woven as it is in the complex thematic web of the play. As the action unfolds, it will unpredictably prove to be extremely redolent of contemporary associations with foremost Athenian institutions. It is upon this setting that blind old Oedipus enters, guided by his daughter, Antigone. He should appear on the left hand side of the audience; if we are to follow the long-standing convention of distinguishing between the right side-entrance, called parodos or eisodos, as denoting the town, in this case Athenian territory, and the left as indicating the countryside, we should locate Thebes on the spectators' left and the city of Athens on their right. The audience's first impression of Oedipus and Antigone, walking slowly towards the rocky seat inside the grove clad in filthy, tattered cloths, must have been one of pity for their enormous suffering blended with repulsion at their squalid exterior.6 In particular, sightless Oedipus must have presented an especially sorry figure, his bloodstained mask acting as a reminder for the spectators both of his terrible act of self-punishment and of his physical dependence on his young daughter in old age.7 Based on the knowledge of the fully extant plays, it is possible to argue that in stark contrast to Euripides, who displays a fondness for summarizing monologues that place crucial knowledge before the audience in the form of a continuous narrative, Sophocles prefers to structure the prologue of his tragedies in dialogic terms. Such dialogues set some of the central themes of the play in motion, as well as intimate the informing spirit of the work through a meaningful conversation between two persons, whose 5

6

7

See principally Taplin (1977), p. 103; Dunn (1992); Winnington-Ingram (1980), pp. 339-340 (Appendix E); Markantonatos (2002), pp. 170-171. It is uncertain whether Antigone's dramatic function as a guide to her sightless father had an 'archaic precedent'; see especially Griffith (1999), p. 10 n. 36. See Seale (1982), p. 114. Cf. also Brooke (1962), p. 79.

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

75

natures are regularly evidenced in their first exchange on stage. And one cannot deny that in Oedipus at Colonus the brilliantly managed opening scene with the expository dialogue between Oedipus and Antigone and the ensuing spirited exchange between Oedipus and the Stranger (1-116) offers, this time piecemeal, the essentials that the spectators need to know about the state of affairs arrived at before the beginning of the play. Especially, as far as the crucial establishment of the mythological context is concerned, it constantly puts the accent on Oedipus' intricate relation to the holy meadow, which provides a powerful barrier between sacred and secular space throughout the drama.8 It is the special character of the locality that Oedipus repeatedly asks Antigone to identify, since he is quick to draw attention to his physical inability, introducing himself as 'blind old man' in the very first line of the play. Indeed, toil-worn Oedipus is not at all sparing of essential information about his wretched situation; particularly striking are his opening words on his life of beggary, which, however, is made endurable by his own noble spirit (7-8). Exhausted by the lengthy journey, he wishes to rest and thereupon calls to Antigone to find an appropriate seat for him; accordingly, Antigone obliges and places her father on the rock, which is within the boundary line of the sacred grove. Once seated, Oedipus persists with his questioning about the precise identity of the place they have come to after their toilsome peregrination. He is not at all content with the thought that they are drawing near Athens, information that Antigone, serving now as the 'eyes' of the blind beggar, could easily supply, since the towers of the city are visible in the distance. Oedipus' insistence upon knowing the exact location they have arrived at is such that, as she finds herself inside an unknown but strikingly luxuriant leafy enclosure, teeming with warbling nightingales, Antigone is ready to leave her blind father and set off in search of more reliable information. Her planned investigation is rendered unnecessary by the arrival of a local inhabitant. In effect, the newcomer with his knowledge of the location will give a totally unanticipated turn to the predominantly enquiring mood of the opening scene. In the first movement of the play Sophocles establishes the mythological context in a dramatically natural and unhurried manner. The audience is told the names of the two figures on stage and is aptly reminded of their dire past, through Oedipus' passing references to his terrible tribulation. Thus, 8

See especially Dunn (1992); Segal (1992).

76

Chapter 3

the main features of the Oedipus myth, which have been masterfully incorporated into the earlier Theban plays, are there for the spectators to see: the self-blinding, brought about in a feat of despair at the horrible discovery of the pollution; the exile, which may have been part of the Sophoclean treatment of the Theban saga since the much earlier production of Oedipus Tyrannus; the familial devotion of considerate and self-sacrificing Antigone, which has been demonstrated so plainly in Sophocles' tensionfilled Antigone; the last journey to Athens after painful wanderings, which may have also been a familiar development for an Athenian audience in view of Euripides' wide-ranging recasting of the story in the earlier Phoenician Women; even Colonus, which may be associated in the mind of the spectators with the heroic end of Oedipus, on account of certain Attic legends that tell of the Theban king's passing away in Athenian territory. The final episode in the story was possibly less known beyond the borders of Attica, and had hardly ever been presented in the theatre; it is this same episode Sophocles is keen to highlight in the opening lines of the play. Obviously the veiy fact that Oedipus' eventful stay in Athens and his extraordinary death therein had not yet been treated in stage terms on so large a scale must have presented an enormous challenge for the inventive playwright from the deme of Colonus. 9 In point of fact, in view of Oedipus' insistent questions about the character of the grove, there have been many attempts to treat the setting as a central concern of the play, given that it offers the audience plenty of subtle signposts of how to interpret the action. As it happens, it is not only the skilfully plotted postponement of a definite description of the holy precinct, but also the unremitting stream of novel information about the habitation of the Eumenides that make it possible to read the tragedy with this viewpoint in mind.10 When set against this unexpected surplus of information, the dominant mood of constraint in regard to the audience's knowledge of topographical particulars may lead one to assume that the play is framed around successive but tantalizingly unenlightening revelations of the grove's inner character. As is often the case, the result 9 10

On the uniqueness of the subject, see Scodel (1984), p. 107. See Jones (1962); Knox (1964); Winnington-Ingram (1980); Allison (1984); Kirkwood (1986); Dunn (1992); Segal (1992). On ancient and modern connotations, cf. also Campbell (1906); Büttner (1911); Jens (1955); van Rensburg (1971); Woronoff (1983); Birge (1984); Knox (1988), esp. p. 142; Easterling (1989); Hecht (1992-1993); Vogt (1995); Roy (1996), esp. pp. 101-102; von Reden (1998).

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

77

is that 'topographical description may offer images predictive of the human situation that the play will reveal'. 11 It is hard to exaggerate the significance of the multifaceted relationship between asylum-seeker Oedipus and the hallowed ground of the Eumenides. Most contemporary scholars have rightly agreed that the conspicuous sanctity and impressive peacefulness of the grove serve both as a symbolic condensation of Oedipus' inner serenity attained after long years of interminable suffering and, more importantly, as an unambiguous intimation of his approaching passing into the eternal peace of death. More to the point, the prevailing image of Oedipus established initially within and subsequently beyond the outer limits of the sacred precinct has focused attention on the deeper meaning of the stage movements in relation to a particular scenery, which remains nothing less than an impenetrable mystery for the audience members throughout the play. Indeed, the graduated, suspense-filled series of landscape descriptions, which for all their apparent specificity rebuff completely intelligible coherence, has led an otherwise discerning critic to put forward the rather flamboyant claim that: 'in a sense the drama is stripped down to a single aspect of stage convention: from beginning to end we are occupied in discovering what the scene represents." 2 In actual fact, the aforementioned sweeping statement may apply to modern audiences, which are generally not sufficiently expert at recognizing the contemporary application of Greek tragedy. By contrast, the ancient spectating body must have discerned the purely fifth-century character of this all-pervading landscape sensibility, which repeatedly serves to lend the stage-scenery an immense extension of meaning through a thread of allusion to time-honoured institutions and deeply-rooted assurances of the Athenian empire. This is all the more so in the ensuing dialogue between Oedipus and the Stranger, in which the as yet unidentified grove is revealed, by means of a concrete description, to be of the utmost importance for Athens. Indeed, the unnamed passer-by emerges from the side-entrance stage-right only to inform Oedipus that he is trespassing on holy ground, thereby making clear to him that he should quit the sanctuary of the Eumenides without further ado (36-37). Surprisingly, his authoritative command is met by Oedipus' flat refusal to leave his place inside the sacred precinct; on learning the name of the divine occupants of the grove, Oedipus 11 12

So rightly Segal (1992), p. 93; Dunn (1992). Dunn (1992), p. 7.

78

Chapter 3

decides to become suppliant to the Eumenides and asks the local inhabitant to summon the king of Athens, Theseus, adding without further explanation that his advent will be rewarded with great gain (72, ώς άν προσαρκών σμικρά κερδάντ) μέγα). Even though the native feels he lacks the authority to order the seated suppliant out of the holy meadow, he avoids consulting the Athenian king directly - instead he exits to put the matter to the socalled 'demesmen' of Colonus, who will decide whether Oedipus may stay in his place or should be driven out of Attica (75-80). After the departure of the Stranger, Oedipus addresses the Eumenides in a solemn prayer (84-110); he speaks of an oracle, delivered long ago at Delphi, when he consulted Apollo about the true identity of his parents. The prophesied misfortunes notwithstanding, the god of divination promised that Oedipus would find respite from his troubles at the close of his life, in a place consecrated to the Dread Goddesses. He also foretold that signs of his imminent passing would come in the form of an earthquake, thunder or lightning. In addition to his eventual release in death, no mean boon would come to the country that took him in, whereas terrible disaster would befall the enemies who drove him away from Thebes. The impassioned prayer ends with Oedipus' special appeal to the Eumenides to grant the fulfilment of the oracle, because it is plain that he has been divinely guided to their untrodden shrine; he then calls on the renowned city of Athens to receive him in good spirit. In the meantime, the Stranger has informed the local people of the unexpected arrival of the suppliant, prompting Antigone to declare that the Chorus of the old men of Colonus are drawing near their seat, having entered from the side-entrance on the spectators' right. In fear of the newcomers, Oedipus asks her to make haste and hide him inside the thick foliage of the grove until the mood of the demesmen has become clear (113-116). In all probability, the pair exits through the main entrance of the scenic facade.13 The unanticipated arrival of the Stranger carries a particularly strong dramatic punch. Once physically enfeebled Oedipus has discovered the identity of the dreaded divinities occupying the inviolable grove, his almost lethargic resignation displayed at the beginning of the drama is transformed into unflinching determination to obtain the favour of the

13

See especially Pickard-Cambridge (1946), p. 51; Taplin (1977), p. 455 n. 2; Seale (1982), p. 118. On the theme of wandering, see recently Rutherford (1998); Montiglio (2005).

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

79

Eumenides and witness the fulfilment of the Apolline prophecy. The brief but powerful scene with the Stranger sets significant patterns that will recur constantly throughout the play. These include the supplication motif, which will be relentlessly traced to its bitterly ironic inversion in a surprising and unsettling reversal of suppliant roles between Oedipus and his elder son, Polynices. Added to this is the carefully plotted design of arrival and departure of a sequence of characters against the unchanging tableau of seated Oedipus and his dutiful daughter, first adumbrated here in the unexpected entrance of the local inhabitant, followed by his hasty exit in order to prepare the arrival of the old men of Colonus. More importantly, as the play is remarkable for its rich sense of landscape, Oedipus' insistent questioning about the identity of the grassy glade prompts the Stranger to offer a rather detailed description of the stagescenery (53-63), in which the religious connotation of Colonus is inextricably associated with its political significance for Athens. Indeed, in a surprising gesture of self-aggrandizement, the unnamed Colonan claims that Colonus is no less than 'the stay of Athens' (58, ερει,σμ' Αθηνών). This is the first instance in a recurrent pattern of descriptions of Colonus and its environs with an essential editorial overlay from an Athenian viewpoint. Later the Chorus (668-719) and the Messenger (1590-1603) will turn their descriptive focus on the holy places even more thoroughly, thereby providing a wealth of contemporary allusions to the political significance of Colonus for the Athenian city. That the setting is awash with ripples of nuance and signification is a commonplace of modern scholarship on Sophocles' last play. Another important concurrent theme of the tragedy is the paradoxical integration of sight and blindness in the person of sightless Oedipus, who is nonetheless capable enough of extremely sharp inner vision. In an extraordinary turn of phrase directed to the sceptical Stranger, Oedipus himself states puzzlingly but with unshakable confidence that there shall be sight in all that he will utter (74, δσ' άν λέγωμεν π ά ν θ ' όρώντα λέξομεν). As a matter of fact, a sensitive critic of Sophocles has rightly observed the centrality of blindness to the Theban plays in particular, through the emblematic but contrasting figures of Tiresias and Oedipus. This seemingly impossible collocation of sight and sightlessness, which is so vividly thrust into prominence in the Oedipus at Colonus by means of Oedipus' considerable insight into the so-called 'watchword' of his destiny (46, ξυμφορας ξύνθημ' έμής), presents itself as an important story pattern employed repeatedly by

80

Chapter 3

Sophocles in constructing his plots.14 In addition to the unmistakable fact that the imagery of blindness pervading the play provides essential interpretative pointers, the paradoxical, almost otherworldly, character of Oedipus' lucid vision in sightlessness is not out of key with the pointedly contradictory nature of the goddesses of requital, the Eumenides, who remain merciless avengers of wrong and relentless castigators of mental blindness, in spite of their transformation into benevolent deities at Colonus. However, this is not the only trait that Oedipus shares with the Eumenides; as early as the opening of the drama, the special affinity between the long-suffering Oedipus and the fearsome goddesses is dimly perceived in their power of mental vision (42, τάς π ά ν θ ' όρώσας Εύμενίδας [...], 74, δσ' άν λέγωμεν π ά ν θ ' όρώντα λέξομεν) and their austerity (100, νήφων άοίνοις [...]).15 As it happens, the road travelled since the epic version of the Oedipus story in the Odyssey, where his mother's implacable Furies are said to have cruelly tormented the Theban king, has been an especially long one. Here Oedipus, a changed man and considerably advanced in years, meets at last with the benign aspect of the Furies in a purely Athenian context. In a manner similar to the formidable occupants of the heavily tabooed precinct, his apparent spiritual power is given particular authority in view of his old age, which is fittingly accentuated in Oedipus at Colonus to the point that 'the age gap between the two Antigones seems much smaller than the chasm which separates the younger from the older Oedipus'. 16 Therefore, it is all too appropriate that the Chorus of the play consists of the elderly rustic guardians of the sacred grove."

Parodos, 117-253 The fifteen members of the Chorus are elders from Colonus, possibly Athenian noblemen and venerable supervisors of the local cults (77-80, 14 15

16 17

Buxton (1980); see also Shields (1961). See especially Seale (1982), pp. 116-117; Blundell (1990), p. 92. Further, cf. Henrichs (1983); Most (2002), pp. 17-20. On the prologue in general, see Hulton (1969); Katsouris (1997). Arnott (1989), p. 147; see also Falkner (1995), p. 216 n. 11. It should be stressed that, in the manner of Euripides, Sophocles also displays a predilection for Choruses of the same gender as the central character; a notable exception is Antigone. See also Burton (1980), p. 251; Griffith (1999), p. 11 n. 42.

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

81

145; see also 728, 831, 1348); they enter from the audience's right in groups of five or in scattered groups, or even one by one, in view of their agitated state caused by the transgression perpetrated by the unknown trespasser.18 Their role in the drama is far from insignificant, in view of the fact that they are given a substantial amount of lyric dialogue with the main characters, more perhaps than in any other play of Sophocles.19 At line 117 the entrance song of the choristers begins. The peasant has informed the old men of Colonus of the unexpected arrival of the weakened wanderer and his companion; now in excited distress they cast their searching eyes round the spot in order to track the nameless violator of the holy precinct. But there is no need to search further; led by Antigone, Oedipus steps out from his hiding place and presents himself willingly to the frantic Colonans, who on catching sight of him respond with a cry of horror at his wretched exterior. Possibly, if we were to follow Jebb's most perceptive suggestion, we should visualize the members of the Chorus 'holding their mantles before their eyes' in utter dread at the awesome figure of the intruder.20 Soon, however, in the course of a lyric dialogue, their initial revulsion at Oedipus' dreadful appearance gives way to compassion for his affliction. Their sincere feelings of sympathy notwithstanding, they command Oedipus to depart speedily from the forbidden grove and move to unhallowed ground where it is lawful to talk together (150-169). After some hesitation, Oedipus consents to remove himself from the sacred grove and try with his daughter's assistance to find an unconsecrated place to take his seat and speak to the local inhabitants from his new profane quarters. But before he 18

On the precise identity of the Chorus, that is, whether they are mere natives acting as the custodians of the shrine, without standing in any special relation to the Athenian king, or indeed the Colonan nobility, see Burton (1980), p. 295, who relegates the Chorus to the status of 'simple countrymen', but is convincingly refuted by Gardiner (1987), p. 110 n. 38 and Scott (1996), pp. 223 & 313 n. 28; see also Blundell (1990), p. 94. On the highly debated initial formation of the Chorus and its subsequent stage movements, see Baldry (1971), p. 63; Seale (1982), p. 119; Scott (1996), pp. 223-225; Edmunds (1996), p. 49, who, drawing on Lawlor (1964), p. 38, adds that the Chorus must have carried staffs.

19

On the important function of the Chorus in this tragedy, see principally Burton (1980), pp. 251-95; Gardiner (1987), pp. 109-116; Kirkwood (1994), pp. \%\-2U passim·, Scott (1996), pp. 218-253. Jebb (1900), p. 45 (stage-direction for line 223), who is followed by Winnington-Ingram (1980), p. 268 and Seale (1982), p. 120. It is worth noting that Winnington-Ingram lays great stress upon the apparent connection between Oedipus and the Eumenides, who both present a forbidden sight for the apprehensive Chorus (p. 268).

20

82

Chapter 3

comes out of the shrine, he insists on obtaining a promise from the elder nobles of Colonus that he will not come to grief or be taken away from his abode against his will. Once his request is granted, there begins an unprecedented but dramatically most affective inching away of the blind old man from inside the sanctuary of the Eumenides towards the edge of the stony ledge (176202). Following the precise instructions uttered by the frenzied Chorus Antigone takes Oedipus by the hand and leads him step by step to the platform of natural rock beyond the holy boundary. In reality, the Chorus' interjections also serve as plain stage directions, accompanied as they no doubt are by agitated gestures, thereby putting the accent on the theatrical spectacle per se. Thus, in a spectacular restaging of the opening scene, toilworn Oedipus is again placed with the help of Antigone upon the other rocky seat, this time in the centre of the acting area, or at the very least upon the edge of the stony ledge.21 The agonizingly slow process of Oedipus' sitting down comes to its long-awaited conclusion, whereupon in truly Greek manner, the Colonans are anxious to find out the name of the pain-stricken stranger and his place of origin (203-206). Yet Oedipus is hesitant to reveal his identity to his new hosts and asks them to inquire no further. His reluctance accomplishes nothing but to arouse the Chorus' eagerness to inquire even more pressingly. In the end, spurred on by Antigone's compelling single-liner (217, λέγ', έπείπερ έπ' έσχατα βαίνεις), Oedipus discloses the horrible truth word by word.22 No sooner has he spoken his name than the panic-stricken Chorus summarily asks for his immediate banishment from Attic soil (226, εξω πόρσω βαίνετε χώρας), asserting moreover in their defence of the unredeemed pledge that no punishment comes on any man for requiting what he has first suffered (229-230, ούδενί μοιριδία τίσις έρχεται/ών προπάθτ] τό τίνειν [...]). This powerful principle of moral innocence, which will have the strongest available affective charge soon after in the lips of self-exculpating Oedipus, prepares the ear for Antigone's fervent plea on her father's behalf. If indeed the moving appeal of Oedipus' devoted daughter is not the 21

22

For the second seat centre-stage, see especially Jebb (1900), p. xxxviii; Seale (1982), p. 122; for the opposite view, see Lloyd-Jones (1994b), p. 435; for the unlikely view that Oedipus is guided towards the edge of the stage, see Edmunds (1996), p. 51. On the attribution of line 217 to the Chorus, see Meridor (1972), followed by LloydJones & Wilson (1990b), p. 224 (note on line 217).

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

83

mere product of later interpolation, then it is in her appeal to pity that Antigone first draws special attention to the unwitting character of her father's horrible actions, and to the unfathomable divine purpose that casts its inescapable nets upon the whole of humanity without exception (237253).23 With Antigone's imploring speech comes the end of the tensionfilled parodos of the play. As we have already mentioned, the scene with the Chorus, Oedipus and Antigone harks back to the prologue in more ways than one, but as the play builds its momentum of high anticipation stage by stage, everything is accomplished on a far grander scale in the course of the lyric exchanges. The Colonans outstrip the Stranger in their frenzy at the violator of the pathless grove of the awful maidens, and Oedipus' agonizing sitting down takes on a larger function within the tragedy, while to a certain extent borrowing from its major themes. Therefore, as the opening movement of the play proves to be a microcosm of the ensuing entrance song, it would not be absurd to argue that the parodos has indeed a significant prologue function, or in David Seale's most eloquent words 'it is as though the play begins again.'24 It is thus of cardinal importance for our deeper understanding of the drama to place strong emphasis on the extremely careful process of Oedipus' gradual withdrawal from the recesses of the holy precinct.25 This kind of stage-action involving a wide range of most precise theatrical acrobatics is unique in extant Greek tragedy. Apart from reinforcing the spectators' sense of locality with all the minutiae of Athenian topography, Oedipus' agreement to leave the confines of the sanctuary hammers home the fact that the Theban newcomers are willing to stand subject to the directives of their new homeland. It is of the utmost significance that Oedipus' slow progression from hallowed ground towards secular territory is a product of cautious deliberation on his part; hence his rightful demand to meet with the Chorus' respect, once he departs from the inviolate shrine. His obvious goodwill towards his Athenian hosts is not at all unconnected to Antigone's vigorous argumentation in favour of his moral guiltlessness.26 Once again, in spite of his blameless intentions, 23

24 25 26

See Jebb (1900), note on line 237, who defends the genuiness of Antigone's speech. He also treats the lines as dramatically effective. Seale (1982), p. 122. Cf. also Reinhardt (1979), p. 200. See Gould (1973), p. 90; Segal (1981), p. 364. On the crucial issue of Oedipus' moral guiltlessness, see Sheppard (1920), ch. 2; Bowra

84

Chapter 3

Oedipus finds himself caught in the toils of his incomprehensible destiny. Nonetheless, like everything in this tragedy, his momentary debacle is not to be traced to its disastrous conclusion; his lot, which in crucial ways is not unlike that of any man, has such paradigmatic value that his unpurposed deeds are to arouse pity in the hearts of the well-meaning Colonans in the first episode of the play.

First Episode, 254-667 In certain instances in the literary tradition, there is the welcome implication that Oedipus is free from moral guilt with regard to his dreadful crimes of parricide and incest. This is especially true in those versions of Labdacid history where the Theban king is allowed to remain safe and honoured in his palace without any hint at his expulsion or his fall from royal power. Yet it is only in Oedipus at Colonus that the disputed issue of his innocence is thrust into such prominence, thereby commanding the audience's attention throughout the play. As a matter of fact, Antigone's touching appeal to the compassionate but fearful Colonans paves the way for Oedipus' enflamed rhetoric of self-exculpation in the first episode, where he argues for his moral guiltlessness most vehemently in the face of the undecided Chorus. Encumbered by superstition, the elders believe that the presence of the polluted stranger within the Attic borders is bound to spell disaster for Athens and her people. Faced with the terrible prospect of immediate banishment, in a spirited rhesis Oedipus invokes Athens' good reputation as the god-fearing champion of ill-treated strangers; there follows his impassioned argumentation, which enlarges the theme of his moral innocence to even broader terms, this having only been tangentially touched upon by Antigone (239-240, [...] έργων/ακόντων άίοντες αύδάν). In a distinct echo of the Chorus' moral code of wrong for wrong, Oedipus is all too eager to alert the local inhabitants to the fact that his past actions

(1944), p. 317; Knox (1957) passim·, Gould (1965a), (1965b) and (1966); WinningtonIngram (1980), pp. 261-264; Blundell (1989), pp. 226-259; Markantonatos (2002) ch. 2 with relevant bibliography. Cf. also Kitto (1961), p. 393; Whitman (1980); Baldock (1989), pp. 55-57; Müller (1989); Vernant (1990); Goldhill (1990b); Ahl (1991); Griffith (1996); Finkelberg (1997); Struck (2003), pp. 172-174; Markantonatos (2004a), pp. 43-58.

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

85

were in suffering rather than in doing, thereby offering another striking instance of the agent being supplanted by his own activities (266-267, [...] έπεί τά γ' εργα με/πεπονθότ' ϊσθι μάλλον ή δεδρακότα). In actuality, from what can be gathered from his fleeting references to his dreadful deeds, the audience can now assume that Oedipus is said to have killed his father not only unintentionally, but also in self-defence, and moreover slept with his mother in total ignorance of their incestuous union (270274). More to the point, according to Oedipus' rhetoric of self-defence, it was his parents who struck the first blow against their helpless son and they who were justly punished as a result of their wickedness. Oedipus rounds off his passionate speech with another appeal to Athens' respect for the gods, in this case the Eumenides, who no doubt have miraculously guided him to their sanctuary. He is quick to add that there is no evil in him, but as he comes under the championship of the awful maidens of the sacred precinct he offers an advantage to the Athenian people (287-288). The old men of Colonus are moved by Oedipus' moral affirmations and in view of his pure motive and his sound heart are content to wait for Theseus, the ruler of the land, to resolve the matter (294-295). Conversely, Sophocles prefers to enrich the play's storyline through a totally unanticipated widening of perspective to include another member of the Labdacid family. While the spectators are looking forward to the advent of Theseus, by a deft stroke he brings Ismene onto the stage, thereby pushing the dramatic tension to the limit. This deflection of audience expectation is acknowledged by means of the particularly protracted introduction of Ismene, punctuated by Antigone's repeated announcements (311-321). According to her sister's description, Ismene comes on horseback from the side entrance stage-left, wearing a bonnet on her head. Apparently, when she appears on-stage to embrace her loved ones she has already dismounted from her colt, which in all probability is not visible to the audience. The poignant tableau of the unexpected family reunion notwithstanding, Sophocles is eager to weave more secondary story material into the play without further ado. Therefore, without delay, Ismene and Oedipus move into a long stretch of stichomythia that culminates in the sad knowledge that, unlike their dutiful sisters, Eteocles and Polynices are completely given over to the vain pursuit of royal power. Although the two brothers had first decided to abdicate the throne in fear of the hereditary curse inflicting the Labdacid race, they soon changed their minds and raised formidable armies against each other for the sovereignty of Thebes (366-

86

Chapter 3

381). Having heard of the fierce strife between his sons, Oedipus wishes to know whether the gods have had any thought of his deliverance. Once again, the exchange between Ismene and Oedipus flows rapidly in clipped and excited questions, the blind old man learns of the new oracles, presaging that victory will be with those who gain his favour in life or in death. More to the point, in view of the urgency of the situation, Creon, the Theban regent, is said to have been on his way to Athens to take Oedipus into his power and lead him back to Thebes (395-396). Nonetheless, the weight of the pollution arising from bloodguilt is such that the Thebans intend to settle him close to the border, where they can keep him under close supervision (407, άλλ' ουκ έδ τοΰμφυλον αιμά γ', ώ πάτερ). Since Oedipus has already launched his vigorous defence of his innocence in the face of miasma for kinsman-murder, the possibility of burial beyond the Theban boundary is entirely out of the question. Nevertheless, in a final gesture of sheer desperation at the horrid exigencies of Theban politics, care-worn Oedipus wishes to know whether his own sons were informed of the hopeful prophecy. On hearing that they both were aware of the new promising development, but did not lift a hand to facilitate the recall of their father, he is roused to terrible fury at their undutifulness in a fervent prayer; he then throws horrible curses upon them that they never realize their royal ambitions but come to utter grief (421-427). The measure of his resentment at his delinquent sons is such that having offered what amounts to a short and snappy review of all of the events following his self-blinding, in order to show the injustice suffered at the hands of his fellow-countrymen (427-449), he mercilessly restates his malediction, this time displaying perfect confidence in his ominous predictions (450-454). It is plain to see that the latest oracles offer an unambiguous confirmation of the long-forgotten Delphic prophecy. As he is forewarned with respect to the true intentions of Creon and his own potential as arbiter of Theban destiny and sought-after talisman, Oedipus has now no qualms about where his benefit should be placed - Athens, with its celebrated cultic apparatus, is to receive his supernatural blessing. After Oedipus' powerful curse-speech, the tension relaxes slightly and the present episode unfolds with the extraordinarily detailed ritual instructions uttered by the so far silent members of the Chorus, who have been considerably heartened in view of the prospective advantage in store for the Athenian city (461-509). In actual fact, Oedipus' fate has significantly increased in clarity and certainty on account of the new tidings brought by

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

87

his daughter from Thebes. The elderly nobles, ever on the lookout for potential threats against their country's interest, and duly impressed by the unearthly but inspiring vision expounded in the oracles, declare the acceptance of Oedipus in Attica and thereby suggest that he make the necessary atonement to the 'Kindly Ones' for his unwitting encroachment on their sanctuary. The long explication of the required rites of appeasement is unique in Greek tragedy. As guardians of the cults, the local gentry advise Oedipus on the minutiae of the offerings to the deities whose shrine he has inadvertently violated. There is mention of sacred libations; bowls crowned with newly sheared wool of a young lamb; ritual pouring of drink-offerings; mixing of water and honey in a purification ceremony; nine twigs of olives thrown on the holy ground and low-voiced prayer to the Eumenides to protect the suppliant. Once the ceremonies have been prescribed in exhaustive detail, Oedipus asks his daughters to carry out the rite on his behalf with kindly heart (495-499), invoking yet again in his request 'the higher distinction between the form of conduct and its spirit', which is no doubt one of the governing principles of the play.27 Ismene steps forward and exits to perform the ritual on the far side of the leafy grove, where there is a resident who will offer the sacred utensils and, if need be, further direction. The section in the first episode of the play featuring the unexpected arrival of Ismene and the friendly attitude then assumed by the reassured Chorus gives the plot a sense of forward thrust and apparent destination. Even prior to the strongly anticipated entrance of Theseus, Oedipus is formally admitted into Attica by the 'demesmen' of Colonus, with the happy prospect of becoming a kind of human amulet for the welcoming Athenian people. In particular, the carefully sustained, pointed distinction between the pair of loving daughters and the contrary pair of unfeeling sons is a symbolic meditation on the prevailing moral code of helping friends and harming enemies even within the family.28 The need for merciless requital is such that Oedipus decides to renounce his native city and his male offspring in order to exact revenge on those who have repeatedly and maliciously planned his undoing, or at the very least have done nothing to avert his expulsion and the consequent hardships. Regardless of the unbound severity of the imprecation, Oedipus' natural 27 28

Jebb (1900), p. xxii. Blundell (1989), pp. 226-259 remains fundamental; see also Hester (1977).

88

Chapter 3

affection for Antigone and Ismene is proof enough that the blind old man is perfectly capable of intense feelings of familial love.29 Besides, in this portion of the first episode, Sophocles goes to some length to show that the son-cursing is not a merely mindless exercise in unrestrained revenge, but a justly inflicted punishment for a series of despicable acts of unfilial conduct. In more ways than one the dreadful damnation, which will bring about the death of Eteocles and Polynices in fratricidal combat, is indissolubly linked to, not to say presupposed by, Oedipus' rigorously defended innocence. This is especially so in view of the earlier literary tradition, in which, as we have already noted, Oedipus' terrible curses were heaped upon his sons either on account of some trivial indiscretion or, principally in the Aeschylean tetralogy, because of the unimaginable horror emanating from the incestuous procreation and the hereditary disaster. In actual fact, as the new divine pronouncements of prospective reinstatement are interlocked with the old oracles of deliverance in the utter tranquillity of death, it is imperative that Oedipus should display his gradually growing supernatural stature in justice. Hence his constant eagerness to retell large chunks of his life-story at carefully selected turning-points in the drama, thereby setting a recurrent pattern of curse - reasoning - curse, which offers a way of bundling together present moment, recollection of the past and anticipation of the future into one extraordinary combination.30 Undoubtedly, Oedipus towers over everyone in the play; however, it should be emphasized that his intensely felt miasma of bloodguilt and incest is not offset in the slightest by the minutely described ritual of atonement inside the holy sanctuary. Even though the ceremonial preliminaries are designed to obtain the guidance and goodwill of the 'Dreadful Goddesses' in the face of Oedipus' unwilled infringement - thus adumbrating a hopeful pattern of ritual reconciliation in the case of seemingly impossible crises - the morally innocent incestuous parricide remains a living paradox within the Attic borders. In reality, the Eumenides are appropriately placated and the Chorus is eventually reassured of the sacredness of the suppliant, but incomplete understanding of past crimes may lead to unhealed tension later. Everything must come to light, in keeping with Oedipus' own principle 'in knowledge/ there lies the caution

29 30

See especially Blundell (1990), p. 95. See principally Markantonatos (2002), pp. 53-75.

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

89

of all action' (115-116, [...] έν γάρ τω μαθειν/ενεστιν ηύλάβεια των ποιούμενων). Therefore, it is all too natural that in the interval before the entrance of the Athenian king, the inquisitive or as Bernard Knox has even said 'prurient' Chorus use a lyric dialogue (510-548) to ask Oedipus to offer his version of the terrible events.31 After much resistance, Oedipus yields to the old men's urging to establish exactly what happened at Thebes in relation to his parents. In line with his former rhetorical practice, while admitting his dreadful lot, he answers the insistent questions of the almost importunately probing Colonans by constantly pleading the purely involuntary character of his deeds. Especially in the case of the fatherkilling, he impresses on the excitedly curious elders the idea that he is clean before the law, since he committed the parricide in self-defence (545-548). However, apart from the proverbial horror of Theban history, the musical interchange between Oedipus and the Chorus results in a more shocking discovery. As Oedipus is driven to full disclosure of his past crimes by the choral members' persistent inquiries, a ghastly detail, previously unknown to the Athenians and possibly a later mythological accretion, is wrung from him word by word, concerning the incestuous breeding of his daughters (529-535). In this most emphatic manner, the consciousness of the dreadfulness of his actions is sharply contrasted with the unconsciousness of those very same actions. In the lyric dialogue, in which 'the musical design hints at a developing friendship and closeness',32 the determined suppliant succeeds in painting a picture of himself as the sufferer rather than the doer.33 No sooner has the assertion of moral innocence passed Oedipus' lips, than long-anticipated Theseus enters on the audience's right hand. It is characteristic of Theseus' innate collectedness and natural kindness to grant shelter to Oedipus and his unfortunate companion without giving

31 32

33

Knox (1964), p. 152. Scott (1996), p. 227, who rightly lays special emphasis on the already dimly perceived cooperation between Oedipus and the Chorus in the communal sharing of their anxieties (p. 229); see also Burton (1980), pp. 261-264; Gardiner (1987), pp. 112-113. In our narratological study of the play we have advanced certain points of divergence from the OCT edition [Lloyd-Jones & Wilson (1990a)], which inevitably affect the translation of the lyric dialogue; for detailed discussion of those crucial points of difference, see Markantonatos (2002), pp. 39-44 with relevant footnotes.

90

Chapter 3

way to paralysing fear or even excessive inquisitiveness. His effortless recognition of the way-worn newcomer as Oedipus, and his unqualified offer of true sympathy, bring forth the king's deep awareness of the pitiful frailty of human destiny, which stands constantly subject to countless unforeseen reversals - he himself has been no stranger to a life of exile and its attendant adversities before becoming the mighty ruler of Attica (562-568). Even though Theseus presents himself as well-versed in the exigencies of state-politics, wielding an irresistible divinely sanctioned power by the sheer force of unbending justice and by the unfailing display of sincere concern for wronged refugees, he has still much to learn from his knowledgeable interlocutor. Oedipus is more than content with Theseus' courteous generosity and pertinent discretion; he is thus willing to offer himself to Athens and her people with the promise of a great profit, which will be evident at the hour of his death. He goes on to explain that when Athens and Thebes fall out, his buried corpse in Attic soil will serve as an unbreakable pledge of victory for the Athenians. More to the point, he offers further instruction to Theseus in the intricate mutability of human circumstances, alerting him to the deplorable inconstancy of friendship in a long exposition of remarkable dramatic effect and overpowering persuasiveness (607-628). In view of Oedipus' fervent appeal to pity and his solemn promise of supernatural boon, Theseus with all his charity and compassion makes the suppliant a resident of Attica and assures him of his sustained welfare at Colonus; he even declares that he will be on his guard against potential Theban intruders, who may attempt to remove Oedipus from Attica and convey him back to his native land against his will (656-667).34 On that commanding note he exits again from the sideentrance on the spectators' right hand, leaving Oedipus and his daughter under the protection of the elders of Colonus. The latter portion of the first episode, with the rapid lyric exchanges between Oedipus and the Chorus and the long-awaited entrance of magnanimous Theseus, brings the formal admission of the blind old man into Athens to a happy conclusion. As representatives of the Colonan folk who are to take Oedipus under their wing, the members of the Chorus first

34

On the problems surrounding the word εμπαλιν (637) and Musgrave's very plausible emendation έμπολι,ν, see principally Vidal-Naquet (1997); Wilson (1997), pp. 63-90. Cf. also Bakewell (1999); Easterling (1999), pp. 104-105.

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

91

welcomed the suppliant into their community, having extracted powerful pleas of legal and moral innocence from him by means of persistent questioning. Thereupon, the Athenian king himself went on to sanction the acceptance of the weary wanderer into Attica without further ado. It is, we think, of the utmost significance for the deeper understanding of the play that strong emphasis be placed on the inextricable association between religion and politics. This emerges from the opening movement of the tragedy and is lent further meaning and intricacy by the consistent geographical references to the stage-scenery. It is especially pertinent in the case of the carefully delayed arrival of civic-minded Theseus, which is eventually enacted against a backdrop of meticulously observed ritual procedures in the recesses of the sacred grove. It is of no consequence that the prescribed expiatory rites are performed beyond the tragedy's visible tableau - apparently, the thorough description of the propitiatory offerings serves as an implicit dramatization. It is, however, vitally important that they concur with the king's public declaration of the unconditional reception of Oedipus into the Athenian polis. As a result of the inevitable linking between distinctly religious elements and purely political concerns, the skilful pacing of the present episode already suggests that the indissoluble connection between religion and politics will loom large in the thematics of the drama. There is no doubt that Sophocles sets a preternatural vision of communal prosperity and military accomplishment against a swift succession of dark pictures of divine relentlessness, frequently blended with the concomitant all too human craving for ruthless vengeance. In doing so he cultivates the expectation among the audience that the following scenes of fierce struggle and contrasting passion will unfold against a background of intense and absorbing political interest for the Athenian players.

First Stasimon, 668-719 Immediately after the departure of Theseus, the elders of Colonus exhibit their profound engagement with the suppliant's cause, which has been given an extra layer of a markedly political significance, in a famous song in praise of Colonus and Attica in general (668-719). According to the outstanding lyric of the Chorus, which seems to be harking back to Antigone's previous tentative description of the setting (14-18), Colonus of the fine horses and lovely environs is renowned for its natural beauties. The

92

Chapter 3

rural district far surpasses any other in the unequalled charm of the landscape and the inexhaustible fertility of the divinely protected foliage, which is consistently irrigated by the ceaseless streams of the river Cephisus. Furthermore, like Antigone, the exceedingly proud natives make reference to the singing nightingales, which abound in the inner part of the grassy glade - an already familiar allusion to the serenity of the place, which can doubtlessly be duly appreciated as such by blinded Oedipus.35 Further, they celebrate the boundless vitality of the plants consecrated to certain divinities; there is specific mention of the ivy, the narcissus and the crocus. Apart from the Eumenides and the knight Colonus, who are possibly hinted at in the stasimon, the local pantheon includes such diverse deities as Dionysus and his entourage of the Maenads, who haunt this earthly paradise in ecstatic revelry, as well as Demeter and Persephone, the Muses and Aphrodite. As the choral chant goes on, especially in the last two stanzas (694706, 707-719), there is a remarkable widening of perspective to include well-known themes of national pride for the Athenians. The fervently patriotic elders of Colonus sing of the self-created olive-tree, which inspires terror in the enemy under the championship of Morian Zeus and Athena. More to the point, at the end of the lyric laudation of Attica, they proudly claim that it was Poseidon Hippios, Lord of Colonus, who gave the natives mastery of horses before all other men. Further, it was again Poseidon, god of the sea, who taught men the proper use of the oar and thus allowed them to sail the waters with terrific speed. It goes without saying that in this latter portion of the choral ode, certain references to a cultic apparatus - no doubt familiar to the Athenian characters, but not necessarily to the Theban suppliants - with all their subtle shades of meaning, invite the original audience to connect the supernatural fecundity of the land with specific divine privileges, which in the course of time have been tinged with distinctly political significance for the Athenian empire. The Chorus' elusive modes of expression notwithstanding, the purposeful celebration of the self-renewing olive-tree and Poseidon's gifts of the bit and the oar vividly depict the Athenian belief in divine favour. The olive-tree is a powerful symbol of the perennitas of Athens, as it springs from the earth

33

So rightly pointed out in Edmunds (1996), p. 57. Cf. also McDevitt (1972); Suksi (2001).

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

93

at the command of Athena and sprouts out new shoots in a miraculous rebirth after the Persians have burnt it. The same applies to the blessing of the mastery of the horse and the sea, which Poseidon has bestowed on the Athenians; while the unstinting praise of the gift of seamanship allows the audience a fleeting glance at the illustrious sea-power of Athens. One might say, therefore, that in considerably widening the descriptive focus on the stage scenery, the first stasimon of the play carries double meanings to a new pitch.36 Although political assurances of the Athenian empire are couched in obscure and condensed imagery, it cannot be stated too clearly that the Chorus makes it abundantly plain to Oedipus and his daughter that they have been admitted into a community, which with all its religious and political importance is a microcosm of Athens herself. More to the point, in a manner similar to the Stranger's description, with its obscure but respectfully acknowledged references to local specificities, what stands out is that the Theban newcomers are made to feel the special character of the place they have arrived at. At the other end of the spectrum, it should be noted that Oedipus' duly celebrated acceptance into Colonus, the most charming rural district in Attica and the most treasured religious and political safeguard for Athens herself, is evidence enough of his already widely acknowledged moral and legal innocence. At the very least, the local inhabitants, following the example of high-minded Theseus, seem to be at ease with the presence of the exiled king and welcome him with kindness and tact. There is nothing now reminiscent of the initial revulsion at the sightless face of the nameless passer-by, or of the subsequent blatant rejection of Oedipus' passionate appeal to pity; this time the noblemen of Colonus, united in their patriotic enthusiasm, extol the places that they hold in devout reverence, thereby introducing Oedipus, a recently proclaimed Athenian citizen, into their special customs and rites. It is worth noting that this is the first occasion in the play in which the previously fragmented Chorus sings in group formation."

36

37

On the Ode's wealth of political and religious echoes, see recently Markantonatos (2002), pp. 179-197. Cf. also Hook (1934); Stinton (1976). Further, see Henrichs (1990); Bierl (1991), esp. pp. 100-103; Friedrich (2000). See especially Seale (1982), p. 129; Scott (1996), pp. 229-232.

94

Chapter 3 Second Episode, 720-1043

With the jubilant hymn still in our ears, Antigone warns the friendly villagers that time has come for this land, most of all others honoured in highly deserved praise, to put the bright words of the choral eulogy into action once more (720-721). The arrival of Creon, who enters from the side entrance stage-left in the company of his guards, knocks awry the previously established communal tranquillity and civic blissfulness, thereby setting the scene for the second episode of the play. Even sooner that expected, Athens' shining reputation, which is firmly founded upon the special advantages of the land and the divine favours that the gods profusely grant to her citizens, will be put to yet another severe test. Initially, as delegate of the Theban people, Creon tries to use persuasion in order to bring Oedipus back to his native city after a disgraceful life of endless wandering. Also, he assures the elders of Colonus that his advent does not pose a threat to Attica, since he is old and Athens is the mightiest state in Greece (728-734). Thereupon, in a graceful address, he entreats with Oedipus to return to the land of the Cadmeans, where he and her daughter will find protection against the miseries of an unhappy existence in exile. He is even quick to alert Oedipus to the fact that Thebes, the home of his fathers, should be respected more than any other city. As he has been duly informed of the Theban machinations to settle him just beyond the borders, Oedipus is intelligent enough to pierce through Creon's duplicity - unleashing a torrent of abuse upon his aged kinsman, he repulses his specious offers (761-799). He is well aware of Creon's insincere intentions to lure him back to Thebes and then place him under his control, thus depriving Athens of an important advantage in battle. Further, in keeping with his tactic of offering numerous backward glances at his past misfortunes in justification of his subsequent invective, he resentfully expostulates with Creon for the heartlessness he exhibited on shamefully driving him into exile against his will. Accordingly, Oedipus' withering attack upon the Theban envoy ends with a bitter renouncement of his home city and a horrible curse upon his sons that they inherit a sufficient portion of their native land to die in. Faced with Oedipus' blazing fury, Creon abandons his initial policy of gentleness and after some fierce quarrelling he brusquely declares that he has resorted to more drastic action (818-819, παίδοιν δυοϊν σοι την μεν άρτίως έγώ/ξυναρπάσας επεμψα, την δ' άξω τάχα): Firstly, he has captured Ismene while she was

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

95

attending to the propitiatory sacrifice to the Eumenides. Secondly, he also blatantly states his intention to seize Antigone and escort her back to Thebes; at his signal, his guards carry off the helpless girl. Now that Creon has not only shown himself to be a shameless fraud, but also an aggressive intruder, all opposing parties become inevitably involved in a series of progressively more abusive exchanges. In the ensuing lyric portion with Oedipus, Antigone and the Chorus (833-886), the Theban regent presents himself as particularly violent when he insolently threatens the old men of Colonus that there will be war between Athens and Thebes (837, πόλει μαχτ) γάρ, εϊ τι πημανεϊς έμέ). Even though he is initially willing to allow his kinsman to remain in Attica, he is driven to such brutality that he attempts to lay his hand upon Oedipus himself, without giving a second thought to the utter lawlessness of his cruel actions. As a result, Oedipus indignantly heaps terrible curses upon Creon, wishing that he came to ruin in old age (864-870). The ensuing shouting match between Creon and the Chorus comes to a climax when in a display of uncontrolled ferociousness the Theban delegate explicitly admits his outrage and total lack of remorse (883). In their powerlessness, the noblemen of Colonus are thus compelled to call the rulers of the land to come to their aid. Startled by the noise, Theseus abandons his sacrifice to Poseidon at an altar close by and enters the stage on the audience's right hand - his unexpectedly speedy arrival establishes some order at a moment of fierce political crisis. As a matter of fact, once informed of Creon's effrontery, Theseus sends a message to the people at the neighbouring altar of Poseidon to make haste so as to cut off the Theban guards, who are apparently on the verge of crossing the borders with the hostages. After issuing his orders, he turns his attention to Creon and reproaches him for his wrongdoing, announcing his intention to detain him until Oedipus' daughters are rescued. Creon is deeply hurt by Theseus' rebuke that he is a disgrace to his home city, and blatantly invokes the power of Areopagus in defence of his purportedly justified forcefulness (947-949). Now it is Oedipus' turn to step in and launch a scornful assault on his sneering relative for presuming to call upon the highly respected Athenian court of Areopagus to banish the polluted suppliant instantly. Once again, in a well-expressed justification of the incestuous union and parricide, he pleads legal and moral innocence on the grounds of total ignorance and the inalienable right of self-defence (960-1013). The vindication of his involuntary crimes is powerful enough

96

Chapter 3

to incite Theseus to further action. Accordingly, the Athenian king commands Creon to show him the spot where his guards are holding the girls, since another detachment has been already dispatched in the likely event that the Theban intruders are swiftly advancing towards the Attic border. The second quarter of the play concludes with Theseus and his retainers setting out in pursuit of the abductors; warmongering Creon is taken with them and they all exit on the audience's left. If we stand back from the intense emotions of the second episode, it is to our mind clear that Oedipus has grown considerably in heroic stature. In point of fact, it is wrong to put great interpretative stress on the apparent defencelessness of Oedipus in the face of Creon's initially uncontested assertiveness, since the blind old man is well aware that his words are his only defence against Theban aggressiveness (873, εργοις πεπονθώς ρήμασίν σ' άμύνομαι) - though a powerful one at that. For the moment let us merely emphasize that in order to heighten the uncertainty and expectation that are sustained throughout the first half of the tragedy, Sophocles is at pains to construct a scene replete with incident, in which the barefacedly belligerent Theban side is defeated in both word and action. It is the first time in the play that, given the urgency of the situation, Oedipus and Theseus are compelled to act in unison against a hostile trespasser. Each in his own way repulses Creon's fallacious overtures. Oedipus pronounces his malediction with oracular firmness and comprehensiveness, thereby focusing on the distant panorama beyond the time-scale of the play, in an awe-inspiring display of emerging heroic potency; Theseus, the god-fearing ruler of mighty Athens, is more than ready to take immediate action in order to contain Theban cruelty. It would not be overbold to assume that the prospective alliance between the hero Oedipus and the Athenian authorities in the event of war between Athens and Thebes is here played out in miniature, in the united front of uncompromising Oedipus and indomitable Theseus. Evidently, there can be no simple equation between the contemptuous refusals of Oedipus and the sacred importance attached to his corpse, but one cannot help being alert to the obvious fact that his fiery passion for revenge upon Theban insolence is to be invoked in a comparable political emergency in the future. Above and beyond, Creon has made it abundantly clear both in overbold avowal and muttered threat that the Athenian defiance of his authority is cause enough for military reprisals (837, 10361037).

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

97

In expanding the situation begun in the first episode, the second thus hammers home the point that it is not Oedipus' uncontrolled ire, but Creon's unabashed arrogance and inherently violent temper that have brought matters to a head. In another respect, Creon's folly serves as a contrast to Oedipus'just call for requital, since the ominous predictions of possible interstate conflict have been fully vindicated even within the limited temporal compass of the drama - obviously, the initially sceptical Athenian king has much to learn from the extraordinarily perceptive blind old man. More importantly, as the dismal prospect of all-out war between Athens and Thebes looms large behind the action, the upcoming struggle for the rescue of the abducted girls is invested with the utmost political significance for the Athenian polls', conducted as it is by the king himself, the rescue operation amounts to the city's defence of its prominence among the Greek states. Therefore, it is no accident that Sophocles presents the whole plan of the forthcoming crisis as springing from a relatively minor incident at a sacred spot not far from the Athenian city, for thus he brings a valuable insight to bear on the complex of forces arising from Oedipus' eventual admission into Attica. As it happens, with this bold stroke he gives glory to Colonus, in presenting a locality otherwise serene but fraught with religious and civic overtones as an important arena of political confrontation. In the final impression of the scene, it should be recognized that the present bitter conflict between refugee-minded Theseus and two-faced Creon dramatically heightens the impact of Oedipus' vehement apologia of his guiltlessness. Besides, it is not without significance that in his eagerness to bring out the extremely urgent situation in all its vibrant energy, Sophocles lays unprecedented emphasis on the relentlessness of the struggle. So much so, indeed, that a modern critic has appropriately described the onstage fierce altercation between Creon and the Colonans as 'perhaps the most blatant display of violence in the whole of Greek tragedy.'38

38

Seale (1982), p. 129. Cf. Parlavantza - Friedrich (1969), pp. 66-70; on the shocking effect of Antigone's seizure, see Burian (1997a), p. 199. Also, on the considerably upgraded role of the Chorus in the play, see Gardiner (1987), p. 115; Singh Dhuga (2005). Cf. also Errandonea (1953); Fantato Zborowski (1956); Leinieks (1982), pp. 201-202; Esposito (1996); Foley (2003); Calame (2005).

98

Chapter 3

Second Stasimon,

1044-1095

Against a background such as this, it is all too natural that another eulogy of Athenian reputation should follow, this time in connection with the martial accomplishment of Theseus and his followers in their passionate pursuit and triumphant rescue of the captive girls. More specifically, as he is deprived of his daughters, who served as his 'eyes' in his blindness, Oedipus listens to the Chorus' imaginary account of the off-stage cavalry skirmish. In their flight of fancy, the elders of Colonus express their longing to be transported to the scene of the battle between the Athenians and the Thebans. They speculate about the possible locations where the opposing parties will soon engage: perhaps by the shores of the Eleusinian bay, or more probably at the place close to the pastures of the deme of Oea. There is an important but obscure reference to the magnificent Eleusinian torch-lit procession in honour of Demeter and Persephone, who tend the solemn rites for mortals (1049-1053). As they have unshaken confidence in the divine favour that Athena Hippia and Poseidon, god of the sea, will grant to Theseus and his men, the Colonans are overwhelmed by their mantic enthusiasm to the point of prophesying victory in the cavalry fight (1080, μάντις εϊμ' έσθλών άγώνων). After uttering their wish to fly above the fray like a strong-winged dove, they conclude their song with an impassioned appeal to Zeus, Pallas Athena, Apollo and Artemis to succour the Athenians in their struggle (1085-1095). Indeed, the gods are not shown to be deaf to their fervent prayer; Theseus and his knights succeed in retrieving the abducted girls. As an elegant expression of patriotic enthusiasm, the second stasimon of the play complements the famous Ode to Colonus in more respects than one; we suppose one cannot deny that both songs with their far-reaching associations and intimate resonance constitute 'a kind of national anthem' for the Athenian people.39 It is here worth observing once more that, in the manner of the previous stasimon, Athenian topography is suffused with a feeling of devout reverence; a host of familiar religious pointers serves to define the probable scenes of the military engagement. Evidently, the immanent divine presences at Colonus and all Attica are hereby invoked to make themselves manifest in aiding the rescuers. As we have already noted, the prominent theme of the inextricable intertwining between religion 39

Adams (1957), p. 172. Cf. also Davidson (1986); Lendon (2005).

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

99

and politics, which is again worked out in a choral lyric of beautiful clarity and impressive balance, vividly highlights the Athenian belief in the justice of their cause. This is apparent in the strong emphasis placed on Theseus' instrumental role in the fighting and the supernatural rapidity of his intervention (1055-1058, 1066). More to the point, in our view we would do well to turn our attention to the uniqueness of the ode: it is the only choral instance in extant Greek tragedy describing an off-stage event of such significance for the integrity of Athens, delivered in oracular excitement almost concurrently with the event itself.40 By offering tantalizing flashes of the intense pursuit and fighting, blended as they are with confident pronouncements of imminent triumph, this extraordinary report properly illustrates the pressing need for the Athenian polis to establish her reputation as a law-abiding state, and one that pays due consideration to the welfare of the citizens in deed rather than in word. Even though the Chorus only enters the victorious battle on an imaginary level, their incomplete narrative hammers home the point that at this very moment of critical decision Theseus' valiant actions speak a louder message than is carried by any finely constructed and painstakingly detailed account.

Third Episode,

1096-1210

No sooner has their song come to an end, than the elders of Colonus announce the glorious entrance of Theseus and his retinue, as they have returned Antigone and Ismene to safety (1096-1098). In conformity with the previous ode, the third episode of the play elaborates on the praise of Theseus and his courageous followers; time and again, Antigone declares that it is the Athenian king and his fearless attendants who have triumphed over the Theban captors (1101, 1102-1103, 1117; see also 1123). Oedipus is overjoyed with the rescue of his daughters, and in a long embrace with them gives utterance to his yearning for death while he feels their protecting presence around him (1110-1111). As things are to turn out in the play, his wish will be fulfilled much sooner than expected, at which time death will find him again entwined with his beloved daughters in a pathetic embrace. For the time being, however, he addresses Theseus as

40

See especially Markantonatos (2002), pp. 100-108. Cf. also Wright (2005), esp. p. 220.

100

Chapter 3

the saviour of the captive girls, and in words of gratitude extols Athens' compassion for the misfortunate and respect for order and contracts. Apart from these effective reinforcements of the theme in praise of Theseus' valorous feat, the first movement of the present episode ends with Oedipus' humble salutation of the Athenian king. Conscious of the horror arising from his terrible affliction, the blind old man is quick to check himself against kissing his deliverer's face, or even touching the right hand (1132-1138).41 In response to Oedipus' moving speech, in solemn dignity and admirable modesty, Theseus declares (1139-1144): ο ΰ τ ' εϊ τι μήκος τ ω ν λ ό γ ω ν εθου πλέον, τέκνοισι τ ε ρ φ θ ε ί ς τοϊσδε, θ α υ μ ά σ α ς έχω, ο ύ δ ' εί π ρ ό τ ο ύ μ ο ϋ π ρ ο ΰ λ α β ε ς τ ά τ ώ ν δ ' έπη. β ά ρ ο ς γ ά ρ ή μ α ς ο ύ δ έ ν έκ τ ο ύ τ ω ν έχει. ού γ ά ρ λόγοισι τόν βίον σ π ο υ δ ά ζ ο μ ε ν λ α μ π ρ ό ν π ο ε ΐ σ θ α ι μάλλον ή τοις δρωμένοις.

This truly Periclean turn of phrase, spoken as it is by the first celebrated leader of an Athenian proto-democracy, forms the conclusion and the climax of Athens' severe but successful test in piety and humanity. The compassionate treatment of Oedipus within Attic borders serves as another shining paradigm of Athenian grandeur in the face of senseless cruelty and abysmal brutality. In view of Theseus' valiant actions, the darkness of meaningless inhumanity ever lying in wait pales away, if only for a moment. From this point on, the political concerns of the drama will be subsumed within the wider ritual issues emanating from the approaching miraculous finale. In effect, as Oedipus gropes towards a higher truth, dreadful ghosts from his family past come to haunt him in his hard-won tranquillity. Yet

41

On the stage movements of Oedipus in this most pathetic instance of self-abasement before Theseus, see principally Campbell (1879), pp. 383-384 (note on lines 1130ff.), who suggests that Oedipus reaches forth his hand towards Theseus, then draws it back, and on becoming aware that Theseus is bending towards him, repels him gently with a movement of his hand'; see also Seale (1982), p. 143 n. 43; Kaimio (1988), p. 27; Edmunds (1996), p. 71 n. 90. Further, it should be noted that Oedipus' consciousness of his 'stain of evils' (1134) should not be interpreted as evidence of defilement. As a matter of fact, this inevitable sentiment of deep-seated horror at dreadful but involuntary crimes speaks volumes for Oedipus' morally innocent character; see especially Adams (1957), p. 172; Easterling (2004a), pp. 20-21.

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

101

the guiltless perpetrator has been living in familiarity with death for some time now, and therefore knows all too well how to bear the full burden of sorrow. In the course of the play, he has come to the difficult decision to forsake his country and his hard-hearted sons and instead has embraced his new homeland with gratitude and admiration. Despite the fact that he is only capable of defending his integrity in words, he gradually becomes alert to the hopeful prospect of safeguarding Athenian repute in heroic cult. Now that the rescue operation has been concluded successfully, Theseus draws Oedipus' attention to another serious matter concerning the presence of a suppliant at the altar of Poseidon (1156-1159). The newcomer claims to be a relation from Argos and eagerly asks for a meeting with Oedipus; to the mind of the aged king there can be no doubt that the stranger is his hated son, Polynices, who has come to entreat with him to strengthen the Argive cause against Eteocles, the alleged usurper of the throne, and the Thebans. Though initially reluctant to grant his son a hearing, since he has already heaped horrible curses upon his male offspring, he yields to Theseus' solemn reasoning and Antigone's passionate appeal to his paternal feelings that the love of one's family is stronger than the law of requital (1181-1203). Thereupon, after assuring Oedipus that he will protect him in the event that his son resorts to violence, Theseus exits on the audience's right, to inform Polynices that his father has accepted his earnest petition. Once the trial of Athens is successfully concluded, one would expect that Oedipus be left undisturbed in his newly established cult-partnership with the 'Kindly Ones' at their inviolate sanctuary; the play, however, dramatizes yet another moment of crisis in decision and action. As the momentum of suspense is progressively building towards the ritually extraordinary closing movement of the drama, Sophocles puts Oedipus to the ultimate test, in bringing his own wretched son, now a suppliant himself, upon the stage. It is not without significance that he has admitted this scene with Oedipus and Polynices into the play, at the expense of a triumphant account of the offstage cavalry victory. Evidently, by stamping the plot with its characteristic feature, a tendency to replace words with deeds in snapshot hours of critical decision, he wishes to focus the audience's attention on Oedipus and his dysfunctional family, thereby achieving a continuous sense of antithesis, brought about by the acutely-felt contrast of equally powerful moral principles.

102

Chapter 3

Third Stasimon,

1211-1248

In the meantime, the Chorus offers a sorrowful insight into mortality and the attendant hardships of old age, in the guise of an extremely beautiful lyric song. Above all, the third stasimon of the play gives voice to the sentiments that the elders of Colonus feel so intensely on account of their advanced years. At the beginning of the ode there is a well-known aphorism on how misguided whoever wishes for a protracted life is, taking into account the misery in store for the aged. Furthermore, in an enormously pessimistic insight into the apparent futility of human existence, the Chorus boldly declares that not to be born is best of all, and that once one has been born the next best thing by far is to die as soon as possible (12241227). After enumerating the troubles that inexorably vex old men, they come to the sad realisation that humanity as a whole, including Oedipus as an extreme example of human suffering, is exposed to the terrible storms of destiny that relentlessly break upon one and all. Apart from preparing the ear for the final, if as yet scantily forecast, transcendence of Oedipus beyond mortal frailty through his elevation to heroic status, the present mournful song sheds some sympathetic light on the aged king. As it happens, the skilfully plotted filtering of the ensuing scene through the infinitely wider temporal perspectives of human fate and inevitable suffering removes much of the horror arising from the disturbing intensity of Oedipus' vengeance upon his sons.42 More importantly, the difficult question of the precise import of the third stasimon has provoked thorough critical discord, but in recent years most scholars have agreed on the function of this choral lyric as a significant contrasting background to the following scenes, in which Oedipus asserts his heroic stature in an awe-inspiring demonstration of emerging talismanic power.43 As a matter of fact, the bleak aphorisms, which are advanced by the elders of Colonus with a knowledge that never once fails or blurs in the course of the ode, have been treated as compelling if surprising evidence of a particularly erroneous evaluation of the situation, especially if one takes into consideration Oedipus' imminent establishment as an important 42

43

See Linforth (1951), p. 156; Burton (1980), pp. 289-291; Gardiner (1987), p. 114. Cf. also Ghira (2003). On the notion of choral lyric as giving special contrast to the ensuing action in Sophocles, see especially Kirkwood (1994), pp. 199-205.

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

103

Athenian cult figure. We need not labour the point of this; suffice it to say that there is some truth in the idea of the Chorus as misguided exponents of well-worn maxims, since the old men of Colonus cannot do otherwise but remain largely locked in the closed circle of their inevitably restricted and distinctly regional perception.44 Therefore, one should be on guard against any lingering notion among misinformed readers that the Chorus faithfully relates the opinion of the dramatist, or even that they constantly give voice to the proper theatrical response.45 It is true that in spite of the dishearteningly dark lyric musings on life's pointlessness and emptiness, Oedipus eventually overrides the vexations of old age and is rewarded with the divine blessing of daemonic fortitude. His ritual elevation to superhuman prominence affords the spectators a memorable instance, in which they feel that the burden of human grief is lightened, and there emerges the welcome prospect of redeeming vindication. At the other end of the spectrum, it should be noted that in recognizing the universality of the example of Oedipus, the elders of Colonus use a highly individualized experience to frame their world view, and thus come to share Theseus' humane approach to the ill-treated outcast (1239). In actual fact, the lyric acknowledgement of the paradigmatic value inherent in Oedipus' terrible calamity is the climactic moment in a pattern of recurrent references to other characters' similar misadventures, past and future: Theseus has already been an exile (562-564) and Creon is cursed to have a taste of Oedipus' horrible misfortune in his old age (864-870). According to the law of the fickleness of the human condition, everyone is liable to a life of adversity capped by death, which comes to all alike in a strange application of inexorable equality. More to the point, the touching image of the blind old man as a promontory unremittingly buffeted on every side by the waves does not necessarily imply an unavoidably, or rather utterly, gloomy perception of the ebb and flow of human destiny (1240-1248). There is no sign here of shameful acquiescence in external determination, or even a senseless glorification of revenge, arising from overwhelming feelings of uncontrolled resentfulness. In the subsequent scenes, extreme suffering accords great importance to the man 44

45

See Kirkwood (1994), p. 201. Cf. also Opstelten (1952), pp. 118-156, Kaimio (1970), p. 97; Gellie (1972), p. 175-176; Scott (1996), pp. 238-240; Edmunds (1996), pp. 7172; Hutchinson (1999). See principally Segal (1996); Easterling (1996).

104

Chapter 3

who is strong enough to bear with it through his nobility of spirit and conscious understanding of human limitations.

Fourth Episode, 1249-1555 The next moments are among the most anguished in the play. This becomes apparent at the very outset of the fourth episode, in which the protracted introduction of weeping Polynices, brought on by Antigone's initial reluctance to identify the unknown suppliant (1249-1251), thrusts the menace of the scene into sharper relief.46 Unlike Creon before him, the stateless son enters alone from the side-entrance stage-right, expressing without delay his deepest pity for the misfortunes heaped upon his aged father.47 He grieves over the abject condition to which Oedipus has been reduced, and in pitiable self-reproach blames himself for neglecting to come to the assistance of his nearest and dearest. Throughout Polynices' pathetic speech, Oedipus stands aloof in brooding silence, his head averted; Antigone urges her desperate brother to state his request and wait to see how his father reacts to his words.48 Following his sister's advice, Polynices puts forth his case in a long-winded rhesis (1284-1345), in which he asserts his right of primogeniture and accuses his self-seeking younger brother, Eteocles, of depriving him of his royal power. He also speaks of the Argive military expedition that he has organized against his fatherland after having formed a marriage-alliance with the king of Argos, Adrastus, and on behalf of his brave-hearted commanders goes on to beseech Oedipus to come to their aid. His passionate appeal is rounded off with the promise that, once he is given full control of Theban affairs, he intends to bring his father back to his native country and install him in the palace. Even though some would find Polynices' impassioned entreaty 46 47

48

See Lloyd-Jones & Wilson (1990b), note on lines 1249-53. On the solitary arrival of Polynices in direct contrast with Creon's stately entrance as Theban emissary with a company of guards, see Burian (1974), p. 423; Seale (1982), p. 134; Taplin (1983), pp. 158-163; Edmunds (1996), p. 73. Cf. also Perrotta (1935), pp. 603-610. On the powerful stage effect of Oedipus' averted face, see Arnott (1989), p. 65, who pertinently notes that 'there are few things so forbidding as a masked face refusing to listen.' On Oedipus' silence and the use of silence in Greek tragedy for strong theatrical effect, see principally Taplin (1972). Cf. also Katsouris (1989), p. 148.

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

105

worthy of paternal sympathy, Oedipus seems not to share this view, preferring to stand fast in his sullen stillness. However, at the instigation of the Chorus he breaks his silence and delivers a most powerful curse-speech (1348-1396), thereby making it abundantly clear to one and all that he has not been moved by his son's tearful contrition and fervent pleading. According to his plaintive account, it was Polynices himself, who drove him away from Thebes and thereafter failed to provide him with subsistence in his wanderings. In view of his heartlessness and lack of duty towards his own aged father, Oedipus wishes the worst on Polynices, pronouncing horrible curses that predict the fratricidal combat between the two brothers (1383-1388). Distressed as he is by the ominous prospect of failure in battle, Polynices laments his cruel destiny, and in a pitiable address to his sisters asks them to attend to his last rites when they return to Thebes (14051413). Antigone tries to reason with him to abandon his accursed enterprise, but Polynices is determined to carry his ambitious plan to the bitter end. In this ambience of brooding evil, his vainly stubborn refusal to inform his allies of his father's appalling imprecations brings out the irremediable helplessness of his situation in the most emphatic way (1418-1419). This is all the more so in view of the constant thread of allusion to his approaching passing away and the complex issue of his burial (1410, 1435-1438, 1441). Having failed to assuage her brother in his unrestrained wrath and unrepressed bitterness, Antigone is left behind to weep over her own disastrous fate, now that she will be deprived of her loved ones. Polynices departs from the side-entrance on the audience's left on his way to a certain death. In the first movement of the present episode, with all its suspensefilled release of information and unrelenting clashing of contrasting viewpoints, the tragedy has reached its greatest density thus far. Although Sophocles prefers minimal exposition in the play, it is plain to see that in the now fully revealed malediction, which once more signals Oedipus' imminent daemonic stature, there is a massive discharge of repressed emotional energy. In actual fact, the distinctly retrospective mood of the poignant encounter between Oedipus and Polynices at Colonus shows that the future grows in the shadow of earlier events. The Polynices scene is treated as yet another fierce battering delivered by inexorable destiny upon Oedipus, even if it is only the last one. Nonetheless, it is evident that the third episode gives rise to certain moral issues that present themselves

106

Chapter 3

as particularly pressing, given Sophocles' already acknowledged skilful management of pre-play legendary matter. As the drama is full to overflowing with backward and forward glances at external events, the painful awareness of the past and the awe-inspiring anticipation of the future weigh like a nightmare on the brain of the living. The pathetic departure of wretched Polynices, who goes on to his destruction in the face of his father's terrible predictions and his sister's passionate entreaties, highlights the particular problems concerning the relentless application of the law of wrong for wrong. It is not without significance that Sophocles is at pains to create a sympathetic character out of the figure of Polynices, and in so doing conveniently bends the mythical tradition, granting him the right of the first-born. On the other hand, he is eager to underscore Polynices' character flaws, with the intention of providing a suitable context for the pronouncement of the appalling curses. Thus, notwithstanding the competent manipulation of the Oedipus myth in the matter of the primogeniture, he draws special attention to Polynices' unfilial conduct in banishing his own father from Thebes. When contrasted with the extreme cruelty he has shown to his kinsman, the emphasis laid upon the sad figure of Polynices is such that critics have been astonished at the apparent inconsistency, given the fact that earlier in the play Oedipus has put the blame for his expulsion on various agents, including his sons as a pair, Creon, and the Theban people.49 Further, as we have already noted, unlike his predecessors and in direct contrast to the ancient mythological variants, Sophocles treats the appalling - some critics have even spoken of a greatly shocking inhumanity - soncursing as a consequence of the immense harshness that Eteocles and Polynices previously exhibited towards Oedipus in his misfortune. 50 Nevertheless, in calling attention to the violent contrasts in the play, he keeps things especially hazy about the degree of Polynices' truthfulness. In reality, on a first reading the vehement apologia launched by Polynices at the beginning of the third episode appears to be worthy of commiseration - the suppliant attempts to find a common bond with his miserable father in their statelessness and, without doubt, displays a great amount of 49

50

See especially the thoughtful comments in Rosenmeyer (1952); Easterling (1967); Halliwell (1997). See mainly Waldock (1951), pp. 225-226; Wassermann (1951), pp. 566-567; Rosenmeyer (1952); Torrance (1965), p. 289; Reinhardt (1979), p. 219.

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

107

penitence for his past mercilessness. Conversely, Oedipus is unbending in his passionate call for requital. It should be noted, however, that not even once in the artistic tradition is he seen as entertaining the thought of averting his sons' bitter quarrel - a pointedly contrary example that comes to mind is Jocasta, whose intervention in Euripides' Phoenician Women is particularly strong, if lamentably ineffective. Preceded as it is by eloquent reasoning it appears that the carefully prepared culmination of an almost play-long process of repeated damnation is the realization that, in the words of a sensitive critic of Sophocles, 'remorse, after wilful cruelty, is not good enough.' 51 After the fierce opposing tensions of the preceding scene, there follows a moment of apparent calm, which will, however, prove deceptive, since the hand of god makes itself manifest sooner than expected, in the unprecedented signalling of Oedipus' imminent passing. With their thoughts still on the ill-omened departure of Polynices and the disaster in store for him and his brother at Thebes, the elders of Colonus are musing over the terrible events they have just witnessed. In addition, they express their confidence in the divine purpose, which always looms behind the unforeseen reversals of human fate (1449-1455). No sooner have they concluded their comments on the destiny of the Labdacid race than a peal of thunder strikes terror into their hearts (1456, εκτυπεν αίθήρ, ώ Ζεϋ). In startling contrast with the panic-stricken old men, who are incapable of comprehending the exact meaning of the continuous thunder, Oedipus remains peaceful and asks that the Athenian king be called forthwith. He is fully aware of the deeper meaning of the thunderclaps as the unmistakable portent of his passing away at Colonus. Throughout the scene, his only concern is for death to spare him until he meets with Theseus, so that he may grant a powerful advantage in war to his compassionate host and his people. After much anxious deliberation on the portentous implication of the thunder and lightning, the old men of Colonus recognize the hopeful sign for the Athenian people. They thus unite their voice with that of Oedipus in calling for Theseus to come with all speed from the inmost recesses of the leafy grove, in order to receive a just reward for the benefit he so compassionately bestowed on Oedipus (1491-1499).

51

Gellie (1972), p. 178.

108

Chapter 3

More specifically, punctuated by three spoken exchanges between Oedipus and Antigone, the lyric dialogue (1447-1499) is built upon a double axis: fearful uncertainty and extraordinary insight. Accordingly, the opposing views on the momentous events that lead towards Oedipus' passing away allow for a plurality of voices and visions, which are in inextricable connection with one another within the context of this gripping lyric portion. Nonetheless, in line with the reconciliatory strategy threaded through the drama, a hopeful consensus gradually emerges from the complex of contrasting viewpoints. Not unlike the weaving together of two strands to make a single fabric, the intertwining of the lyric exchanges between the awe-filled Chorus and the insightful Oedipus does not preclude a choice between the one or the other. As a result, the lyric dialogue ends on the positive note, both promising and vague, that the signs forecast a fair recompense for Athens and her people. It remains to be seen how and on what conditions this boon is to be delivered to the Athenians. The admission of the death scene into the play is another deft stroke on the part of Sophocles, who is more than eager to transfer momentous events out with the time-scale of the play, only to dynamize his audience's expectations later by dramatizing them at length within the temporal compass of the tragedy in total confirmation of the forecasts.52 Under the circumstances, the spectators might reasonably anticipate that certain segments of the story should be excised for reasons of dramatic economy, but the prospect of interstate peace and friendliness, or even Oedipus' living happily among the natives of Colonus is purposely shattered. Seen against the predicted falling out between Athens and Thebes, which emerges as a palpable threat in the stance assumed by Creon and the offstage battle for the retrieval of the girls, it is surprising that Oedipus' passing occurs within the time-frame of the drama. Distinctive signs to the contrary were purposely seeded in the foregoing scenes, yet even the carefully plotted prospect of a report on the rescue operation remains unfulfilled (11481149), once it is blotted out by the extraordinary promptness of the events. So it is that the miracle of Oedipus' heroic reinstatement and its reverberations occupies the play's protracted last portion, enacted in successive scenes of unsurpassable splendour. 52

See Burian (1974), p. 428; Markantonatos (2002), pp. 122-123. For an opposite, if unconvincing, view, see Wilson (1997), p. 168 n. 3.

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

109

More to the point, apart from paving the way to a magnificent coup de thiätre, the gripping lyric exchanges between Oedipus and the Chorus cultivate the expectation that the aged and stateless king should rise to a level of authority and insight far transcending human perception. The supernatural discernment that Oedipus so readily displays throughout the lyric section can only be fully appreciated as such against the foil of the Chorus' wavering and trepidation. Even though the old men of Colonus can now glean further meaning from the peals of thunder, their initial helplessness before the divine signs in some respects echoes their extremely pessimistic but apparently misguided view on mortality, as expressed in the third stasimon of the play. Conversely, when Theseus again enters on the audience's right returning with all speed from the altar of Poseidon, he exhibits his typical calmness and level-headedness in trying to make sense of the new state of affairs. His well-timed, religiously significant entrance prompts the audience to recall previous opportune appearances of Theseus. Quite apart from reinforcing his celebrated trustworthiness and deeply-felt sense of duty, his split-second arrival serves to emphasize his devoutness, given that the Athenian ruler is said to be attending a sacrificial ceremony throughout the central portion of the play; the frequently interrupted sacrifice offers another distinctively religious backdrop to the action. Once Theseus realizes the urgency of the situation, he asks Oedipus to tell him what he must do to facilitate the bestowal of the blessing on Athens. Thereupon, Oedipus delivers a lengthy speech to the Athenian king, instructing him in the special parameters of his future heroic cult. The speech is the last one he utters on stage before his final departure into the sacred precinct to meet his death (1518-1555). More particularly, he alerts Theseus to the need for secrecy with regard to the exact spot of his last resting place in the innermost part of the grove. Additionally, he urges the king to reveal the secret only to his successor - each sovereign should then divulge it to his heir, in an unbroken line of Athenian rulers, so that the inviolate grave of Oedipus keeps Athens safe from Theban violence. The illuminating teaching is rounded off with Oedipus' urgent appeal to Theseus to follow him inside the sanctuary, because his time has come and he can already sense the presence of god leading him forward to his destined place of rest. He bids farewell to light that he could not see but only feel on his body, and wishes Athens and his friendly hosts everlasting prosperity (1549-1555). He then exits through the skene door into the leafy grove of the

110

Chapter 3

Eumenides, followed by Antigone and Ismene, Theseus and his followers." It has been unanimously recognized among scholars that the third episode of the play finds its culmination in the magnificent scene in which divinely inspired Oedipus heads towards the inner part of the grove, in a spectacular reversal of the visible tableau established thus far. Formerly, as a shadow of a man physically enfeebled in his sightlessness, Oedipus was unable to even steer himself in the right direction without the guiding hand of his daughter. But having become arbiter of Theban and Athenian destiny and an object of emulous controversy between the warring parties at Thebes, he is granted so powerful a mental vision that he is capable of finding his own way unguided into the recesses of the holy precinct. This fundamental rearrangement of the visual configuration, which has been perceptible before now in the timely entrance of anxious Theseus rushing to collect Oedipus' boon, hammers home the fact that in some respects the dramatic power of the play rests on a midpoint moving between strength and weakness. This is because in accordance with the relentless principle of mortal frailty, human happiness is constantly interrupted and interfered with by unforeseen onslaughts of incomprehensible suffering. Nonetheless, in his supernatural inspiration Oedipus eventually breaks free from the unbending law of human inconstancy that he himself had so fervently advocated. Only then can he fearlessly progress beyond the unceasing ebb and flow of fate, with the intention of placing himself amid the deathless sanctities of Colonus. For those left behind, who have come to empathize with his predicament, the real issue is whether his passing away, however miraculous, will add another vexation to the already downtrodden blind man, or spare him of further affliction. The next moments will be among the most intense in the drama - in spite of the welcome prospect of cultic honour, there is always the possibility, palpable enough in view of the frequently terrible aspect of heroic elevation, that once more the divine purpose will manifest itself in agonizing pain.54 53

54

On Oedipus' exit through the doorway of the scenic fa5ade, see principally the succinct discussion in Seale (1982), pp. 136-138 with relevant bibliography. On the revelation of secrets, cf. Gibert (1995), p. 89. The dreadful side of heroic honour is manifest in the cases of Heracles, Hippolytus, Ajax, Eurystheus, Kapaneus and Semele, to name but a few instances of cultic rehabilitation through terrible affliction. All in all, in the Greek mind, heroic excellence is inextricably connected with great suffering. This is well summed up by Isocrates in Evagoras 70: των μέν γάρ ήμιθέων χους πλείστους και τους όνομαστοτάτους εύρήσομεν ταΐς μεγί-

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

Fourth Stasimon,

111

1556-1578

Now that the stage is empty, the fourth stasimon following the departure of Oedipus serves to fill the pause with impressive images of the Underworld. There is mention of Hades himself, Demeter and Persephone, Styx and Cerberus; also, there is repeated reference to the plains of the dead, where after passing through the gates of the world below, Oedipus will find his eternal place. Even though the infernal powers are deaf to human appeals on account of their merciless character, the elders of Colonus, unfailingly fervent champions of Oedipus, pray for a peaceful death. Under the circumstances, their propitiatory address to the netherworld deities reveals their inherent humanity, which does not allow them to remain unresponsive to the death of the blind old man. It is of the utmost significance that in their passionate chant the Colonans recognize Oedipus' moral innocence yet again, declaring that his eventual exaltation following many pointless sorrows is brought about by a just god (1565-1567). Furthermore, the Chorus' compassion for their care-worn protege is such that in this short ode there is a distinct and constant thread of allusion to certain aspects of chthonic cult. In the mind of the original audience these would have been specifically linked to the tranquil death so desirable in antiquity. Apart from the recurrent appeals for a painless demise, the old men of Colonus plead with Cerberus, the indomitable hound of Hades, to leave a clear way for Oedipus. This is most unusual, since it is not in Cerberus' nature to refuse the deceased safe entiy or even harass the newly arrived dead; on the contrary, the invincible guardian of the netherworld is said to quietly fawn on newcomers. Apparently, as they passionately call upon the chthonic powers to spare any further vexation for the aged king, the elders find no less resentful the notion that Oedipus might be alarmed at the dreadful aspect of the pitiless hound guarding Hades.55 Similarly, at the close of their song they purposely entreat Thanatos, or 'Death', thereby addressing him as both 'son of Earth and Tartarus' (1574, τόν, ώ Γας παΐ και Ταρτάρου, κατεΰχομαι) and 'everlasting sleep' (1578,

55

σταις συμφοραΐς περιπεοόντας [ed. Β. Mandilaras], perhaps echoing Simonides (PMG 523): ήμίθεοι/άπονον ούδ' άφθιτον ούδ' άκίνδυνον βίον/ές γήρας έξίκοντο τελέσαντες. See also Alexiou (2005), p. 204. On the gates of Hades and Cerberus, see Sourvinou-Inwood (1995a), pp. 64-65 with relevant bibliography.

112

Chapter 3

σέ τοι κικλήσκω τόν αίέν ϋπνον). In this funerary context, the invocation of Death and Sleep invites the spectators to connect the concept of a peaceful death, recurrently indicated in mythical tradition and iconography by the supervisory presence of those two divinities, with the imminent passing away of Oedipus. Moreover, it is worth pointing out that in fifthcentury Athens the image of Death and Sleep carrying a dead body has distinctively heroic connotations: if the corpse is transported from the battlefield, the visual representation of the careful treatment allotted to the fallen warrior adumbrates a glorious burial in his native city. In time, the same theme of a 'good death' was given a wider scope and texture to include the painless end of an individual regardless of his heroic stature.56 When the lyric dies away, the audience thus find themselves watching a dramatic space of pointed liminality, poised as it is between the upper and nether worlds. In keeping with their already familiar tactic of transporting the action vicariously beyond the narrow bounds of the sacred grove, this time the elders of Colonus opt for an unbroken succession of awe-inspiring images of potential action in Hades, conveyed in the guise of passionate entreaties. At the same time they avoid availing themselves of their acknowledged oracular enthusiasm to describe a momentous event off stage, in a type of ode rightfully termed 'escape lyrics'. In fact, as Oedipus crosses the great divide between life and death in order to join the company of heroes, they are conscious of their restricted knowledge of things that lie beyond mortal grasp, and thus wisely limit themselves to recurrent appeals to the otherwise implacable infernal deities. At this point we should not misinterpret their silence with regard to the heroic glory awaiting Oedipus as a failure to comprehend the far-reaching consequences of the off-stage events. To do so would merely be to make a gross mistake of the type commonly made by critics of the play.57 By contrast with their former extreme pessimism and depression, or even their timidity in the face of the divinely inspired thunderstorm, in the last moments of Oedipus

56

57

See especially Markantonatos (2002), p. 130 n. 25 drawing on the fundamental discussion of the theme of Death and Sleep carrying a dead body in Sourvinou-Inwood (1995a), pp. 326-327; see also Vermeule (1979), pp. 145-151; Garland (2001), pp. 56-60. Cf. also Sri Pathmanathan (1965); van Nortwick (1989); Oakley (2004). On the mistaken view that the Ode is another instance of the Chorus' inability to fathom the hopeful message inherent in Oedipus' imminent heroization, see primarily Scott (1996), pp. 244-245, uncritically following Kirkwood (1994), p. 205.

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

113

on earth the Colonans show no trace of hesitation or trepidation. Blended as it is with meaningful allusions to a peaceful end befitting a king, their sorrowful but dignified acknowledgement of the inevitability of death is evidence enough that they have come to appreciate the deeper purpose in the miracle. It goes without saying that the craving for an easy, non-violent passing, if moreover granted by the netherworld divinities, throws Oedipus' righteous claim to innocence into even sharper relief. Hence the insistence displayed by the Chorus on the great importance of a tranquil end, a theme that will be repeatedly echoed in the closing movement of the drama. As a result of their quiet submission to an external determination far surpassing human understanding, the elders are quick to realize the inexorable but welcome course of events. They are thus the first to introduce the important theme of Oedipus' painless death, as a desideratum with wider implications for the glorious culmination of a life beset with undeserved suffering. On the other hand, nothing could more forcibly bring before the audience the frightful insecurity that ordinary men feel before the enigmatic workings of the gods. Therefore, what is at stake here is precisely whether the wished-for prospect of the upper and the nether worlds collaborating to elevate the broken king above mankind will come about, or whether the supernatural rehabilitation of Oedipus will be reduced to a mass of conflicting responses on the divine level. Fortunately for much-suffering Oedipus, the latter eventuality never materializes. As a matter of fact, most potential conflicts in the play involving either gods or mortals are happily resolved after much procrastination. It is extremely important to point out that in the choric song the reasoning behind the impassioned appeals to the chthonic divinities is the very innocence of Oedipus. Apparently, the elders of Colonus feel that the gracious co-operation of the netherworld powers should form an integral part in the pattern of Oedipus' heroic exaltation. The eventual assistance rendered so benevolently by what are otherwise ruthless underworld deities commands the utmost respect from mortals, and for that reason uncalled-for displays of unrestrained emotional energy should be treated as an effrontery to what is indeed a blameless divine order.

Exodos,

1579-1779

The very idea of acquiescence in an image of the human condition that is not senselessly tempered in the crucibles of grief and despondency, but

114

Chapter 3

redeemed by the hopeful prospect of divine reward for unjustly suffered sorrows, becomes abundantly obvious in the final movement of the play. Here we find constant emphasis on the need for the characters to exhibit the required calmness and level-headedness at the turn of events. This emphasis is moreover coupled with an unremitting attempt to curtail uncontrolled outbursts of excessive mourning that would sound offensive to both the Olympian and the infernal deities. As we have seen, the dominant mood of the play favours minimal explication of off-stage events through largish but tantalizingly obscure fragments of information. In line with this, those present inside the grove repeatedly recount the aftermath of Oedipus' preternatural passing away in the recesses of the holy precinct. Nonetheless, the severely established code of secrecy concerning the special character of Oedipus' heroization does not allow the audience an insight into the mystery. This is a predictable and most welcome development, especially for the Athenian champions of Oedipus, given the fact that the power to bless and curse rests on the invisibility of the last resting place of the blind old man. According to familiar practice, the Messenger enters the stage and delivers an especially long account of what happened in the inner part of the leafy grove (1586-1666). His narrative is perhaps the most impressive in extant Greek tragedy and, without doubt, one that can still stir modern audiences.58 As might be expected, after briefly but repeatedly acknowledging the death of Oedipus in his first exchange with the anxious Chorus, who wishes to know whether Oedipus was allowed an easy slipping away, the Messenger goes on to relate the tale in exact detail.59 His account is skilfully structured to convey the sense of overwhelming awe at what has been indeed a ritual sequence of actions. The distinctly ceremonial patterning of events dramatically heightens the impact of the mystery, and reiterates the fact that the communion of Oedipus with the divine realm rests upon the well-timed and benevolent intervention of the gods. In reality, before giving a direct answer to the Colonans about the manner of Oedipus'

58

59

See especially Markantonatos (2002), pp. 130-147; on other approaches to the messengerspeech, see principally Edmunds (1996), pp. 109-110. On the messenger-speech as first-person narrative, see the seminal discussion in de Jong (1991); cf. also Barrett (2002); moreover, on the customary brevity of the messenger's first utterance, see de Jong (1992), p. 574. Cf. also Tonelli (1983); de Jong (1987); Goward (1999); Gould (2001b); de Jong (2004); de Jong, Nünlist & Bowie (2004); Markantonatos (2004-2005).

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

115

passing, the Messenger expresses his wonderment at the extraordinary character of what transpired off stage. According to his thorough report, at first the spiritually illuminated Oedipus placed himself amidst a complex apparatus of local sanctities inside the sanctuary. The elaborate description of the action is followed by a series of ritual activities serving as an important prelude to the miracle. Oedipus asked Antigone and Ismene to bring water for washing and libation; this they did willingly and when everything was in order, there was a deafening peal of thunder indicating Oedipus' imminent death. The broken king spoke tenderly to his dearly loved daughters, while holding them in a pathetic embrace, not the first in the drama, but surely the last and most touching, and bade them farewell, stating that his great affection for the girls would be powerful enough to dissolve all the troubles of tending him in his wearisome wanderings (1610-1619). Once more there was a moment of stillness after intense activity, which was shattered by a terrifying sound - not the thunder of Zeus of the earth, but the very voice of the god summoning Oedipus to his death. The Messenger makes a point of underscoring the otherworldly character of the divine command by relating the terrible impact that the calling had on the bystanders, all of whom were reduced to utter fear on hearing the voice ringing repeatedly and from many quarters (1626-1628): καλεί γάρ αυτόν πολλά πολλαχί] θεός· "ώ οΰτος οΰτος, Οιδίπους, τί μέλλομεν χωρείν; πάλαι δή τάπό σοϋ βραδύνεται." This ambiguous turn of phrase, so appropriate an utterance for an unidentified god summoning a mortal to his final resting place, reveals a certain impatience on the part of the speaker, who feels that the recipient of the summons is not paying due attention to the urgency of the situation. 60 Nonetheless, it should be pointed out that the god's address to Oedipus may also bring out the close relationship between the speaker and the

60

See especially Jebb (1900), note on line 1627, followed by Markantonatos (2002), p. 144; moreover, on the forcefulness of the calling with particular reference to the special use of ούτος (1627), see Dover (1980), note on 172a4; Dunbar (1995), note on line 1164. It is worth noting that as she is on the brink of death, in her Euripidean nameplay, Alcestis envisions Charon reproaching her for her procrastination with similar language: Τί μέλλεις;/έπείγου· σύ κατείργεις (255-256) [ed. J. Diggle]; cf. also Conacher (1988), note on line 255.

116

Chapter 3

addressee, which one might see as amounting to a kind of long-standing friendship. This is made apparent both in the colloquial employment of the abrupt appellation οΰτος (1627) and the use of the divine 'we', implying the merging of Oedipus' identity with that of the god.61 Whatever the case may be, G. M. Kirkwood seems to be closer to the truth, when he remarks that 'here the abruptness and familiarity underline the combination of impersonality and intimacy of divine power toward Oedipus.' 62 The Messenger continues his skilfully paced narration with the moving account of the pact forged between Oedipus and Theseus, to the effect that the Athenian king should protect Antigone and Ismene in their hour of need. Once the pledge was established, Oedipus asked his daughters to depart from the place, because it was time for Theseus to learn the secret knowledge of his grave. When the girls and the attendants returned to the spot, they found the king shading his eyes with his hand, still overwhelmed by the terrifying spectacle of Oedipus' passing away. The Messenger adds that Theseus knelt to kiss the earth, and then suddenly rose again with his arms outstretched towards the sky, in a double salutation of the netherworld and Olympus (1653-1655). After this magnificent scene of ritual adoration, the Messenger's narrative comes full circle in another acknowledgement of his helplessness at the mysterious turn of events. However, according to his lengthy account, one thing remains certain: Oedipus did indeed meet a painless death, snatched away by some unknown but benign power. As it happens, despite his abortive attempts to speculate as to the special character of Oedipus' divinely engineered exaltation by eliminating other equally possible alternatives (1658-1665), a surge of wonder at things transcending mortal grasp inundates the Messenger, who eventually exits from the sideentrance on the audience's right.63 It is one of the paradoxical features of this tragedy that the excision of the mystery is most desirable, inasmuch as this glaring discontinuity in the narrative presentation of off-stage events is of the utmost importance for the everlasting welfare of Athens.

61

62 63

On the colloquialism, which connotes the semi-divine status of Oedipus, see Dickey (1996), pp. 155-156; on the merging of human and divine in the use of 'we', see Knox (1979b), pp. 110-111. Kirkwood (1994), p. 219. On the customary lack of a proper departure statement on the part of lower-status characters, see Taplin (1977), p. 88; Edmunds (1996), p. 81.

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

117

No sooner has the Messenger finished his gripping report on the offstage miracle, than Antigone and Ismene re-enter the stage from the doorway of the skene with cries of lamentation. The following kommos (16701750) enhances the retrospective mood of the drama, thereby offering another version of the off-stage action, though this time of a completely different order.64 In view of the intimacy of the mourners with Oedipus, the carefully structured patterns of the lament provide a wide range of emotional filters through which the miracle can now be perceived. Once more, however, the contrasting viewpoints of Antigone, Ismene and the Chorus that are successively presented in the passionate lyric exchanges are reduced to a timely consensus at the end of the play. After all, it is all too natural for the girls to feel devastated at their father's mysterious slipping away at an indefinite spot in a foreign country. Their uncontrolled outbursts of despair and wonderment at the unknown future that lies ahead of them now that Oedipus is dead should not be treated as entirely incongruous. On the other hand, taking into consideration the easy passing away of Oedipus and his prospective heroic honour, their funerary grief and melancholy premonitions are deemed excessive by the old men of Colonus, who time and again declare that they are more than content with the peaceful conclusion of the mystery. Even though Antigone feels that her ritual needs have been inopportunely frustrated, the Chorus resists her wish to visit her father's inviolate grave, or even her desperate longing to return to her homeland (1720-1723,1737, 1743). Besides, as the elders are quick to point out on several occasions, unrestrained mourning in the face of abundantly displayed divine benevolence is in fact a grievous offence. Yet the lyric dialogue ends with a note of agreement: all interested parties are ready to concur with the thought that the fate of Antigone and Ismene is extremely hard for a mortal to bear - but bear it they must. The anapaests (1751-1779) following the sorrowful dialogue between the girls and the Colonans indicate that the play is drawing to a close.65 Indeed, the kommos dies away and Theseus enters the scene, echoing the thought first advocated by the Chorus, to the effect that there is hope in the transformation of Oedipus from care-worn exile into superhuman 64

65

On the narrative function of the lament, see principally Markantonatos (2002), pp. 147160; see also the seminal discussion of the Greek lament in Alexiou (2002). On anapaestic recitative as denoting closure, see Easterling (1997c), p. 158. Cf. also Albini (1974).

118

Chapter 3

cultic figure. He tries to reason with the grief-stricken girls and asks them to put an end to their lamentation, since disproportionate mourning in this case of god-sent release from unjustified suffering would provoke divine resentment (1751-1753). Nonetheless, in a restatement of her previous craving, Antigone pleads with the Athenian king to allow her to see her father's tomb; bound with a sacred pledge of secrecy, Theseus is not at all willing to grant her petition. Antigone continues unhindered with her requests - this time she yearns to go back to Thebes so as to avert her brothers' fratricidal slaughter. By contrast with her former ritually impossible demand, the king consents to her impassioned appeal to offer safe passage to the girls' native land, with the aim of gratifying the dead Oedipus in this manner (1773-1776). The play ends with a forceful call of silence advanced by the elders. In a final consideration of the situation, they acknowledge the undeniable authority of events and recommend submission to the divine plan (1777-1779): άλλ' ά π ο π α ΰ ε τ ε μηδ' έπί πλείω θ ρ ή ν ο ν έγείρετε· π ά ν τ ω ς γ ά ρ έχει τ ά δ ε κϋρος.

With these last words the play comes to an end, but the bleak future in store for Antigone and Ismene at Thebes offers a strong contrast to the happy prospect of Oedipus' elevation to the plane of much-honoured hero.66 All this is true, and must be taken into account if we are properly to appreciate all the awkward pieces that are to be fitted into the jigsaw. Nevertheless, it must always be remembered that the peaceful end afforded to the aged sufferer and his subsequent cult as a protecting presence in Attica undoubtedly provide a particularly strong closure to the play, regardless of certain undeveloped narrative threads left dangling in the previous scenes. The story of Oedipus' heroic death in Athenian territory, so masterfully dramatized in the play, is a fitting and indeed spectacular conclusion to Sophocles' various engagements with Theban history in general and the well-known legend of the Labdacid family in particular. In contrast to his other famous compeers, Aeschylus and Euripides, the playwright from 66

On concluding lines in Greek tragedy, see principally Hester (1973); Roberts (1987) and (1988). Cf. also Fowler (1989) and (1997b); Dunn (1996); Di Benedetto (2003).

Sophocles and Oedipus: The Quest for Athens

119

Colonus does not dwell upon the incomprehensible workings of a disastrous family doom, which indiscriminately turns its wrathful vengeance against generation after generation. Instead, he seeks to focus on the conflicting passions and emotions that alternate against an awe-inspiring backdrop of everlasting principles of righteousness and divine government. In order to assert the value of Oedipus' miraculous elevation to daemon status, which is carried out within a few short hours of critical decision, he draws copiously on the inexhaustible stream of Theban legend. In doing so he deftly combines familiar incidents and unforeseen turns that suggest yet other combinations, and open out new vistas of reflection and understanding. To sum up: in Oedipus at Colonus the consistent increase in dramatic intensity makes room for further layers of mythological complexity, given that the visual configuration is essentially dynamic rather than static. Even though Oedipus remains fixed in his place almost throughout the drama, only to depart from the stage driven by a supernatural inspiration unprecedented in Greek tragedy, a suspenseful sequence of split-second arrivals at his abode in Attica gives rise to a dazzling succession of fresh action and incident. In previous handlings of Theban myth, the richness and variety of the content underlie the ruling motif of inevitable retribution that falls upon the agent. In contrast, Sophocles is here at pains to show that the play's moral trajectory is not only plotted by the repeated acknowledgement of the leading character's heroic stature, but that there is in fact a compelling reasoning behind the intricate connection between misfortune and transgression. This he does by setting the affirmative point of the play against a series of negative points, which in their turn facilitate the expansion and development of the legend. The introduction of a multiplicity of preplay material; the deep knowledge of matters of stagecraft; the unfailing employment of intertextual allusiveness; the addition of numerous novel details; the creation of diverse tragic figures; the powerful invocation of past and future through the rhetorical dexterity of Oedipus; the splendidly sensuous appreciation of the world of nature; the constant emphasis on the grandeur of human fortitude in the face of abysmal suffering - all of these enabled Sophocles to produce a tragedy that is in itself an original source of mythological invention. But further consideration of those difficult issues will occupy the following chapters.

Chapter 4

Religion and History: The Future of Athens Introduction As is well-known, Oedipus Tyrannus has never failed to attract the unreserved admiration of critics worldwide from Antiquity to the present day, with the puzzling exception of its relegation to second place in the theatre contest of the City Dionysia, when it was first performed before the Athenian spectators. On the other hand, Oedipus at Colonus succeeded in winning the favour of the Athenian audience at the time of its production, only to lose it partially in the modern era. The main reason for this development in our literary canon is that the latter play seemed to be too episodic for modern taste, thereby lacking the necessary unity and focus, which apparently, if there, would have created a harmonious whole. 1 As a result, Sophocles' final drama did not strike particularly resonant chords among serious critics in modern times. The frustration felt by many classicists at the lack of thoughtful and incisive scholarship on the play was well summed up by Richard Buxton in 1982, when he wrote: 'Less literary criticism, and certainly less good literary criticism, has been written about this play than about any of the other six extant Sophoklean tragedies.'2 Nonetheless, in recent years there has been an astonishing resurgence of interest in Oedipus at Colonus, no doubt because the Athenian context of the play, brimming with political and religious overtones, has provided the magnet for all those practitioners of socio-criticism and audiencereception aesthetics. A host of seasoned critics have turned their lens of enquiry to various aspects of the play, building on the fundamental work of such eminent scholars as Karl Reinhardt, C. M. Bowra, Cedric H. Whitman, Bernard M. W. Knox, G. M. Kirkwood, R. R Winnington1

2

See Freeman (1923); Waldock (1951), pp. 218-228; Winnington-Ingram (1980), p. 248. Cf. also Bignone (1935-1936); Adams (1953). Buxton (1982), p. 132.

122

Chapter 4

Ingram and Charles Segal.3 Important articles and monographs, produced in abundance especially in the last two decades, have now tipped the scales in favour of a true appreciation of the remarkable merits of Oedipus at Colonus. This ever-growing concern with Sophocles' last play does not in any way mean that there is a consensus in the critical appraisal of the work. Even if we allow for many resemblances between the diverse interpretative approaches, the differences are more numerous and striking. The difficulties, which critics have found in Oedipus at Colonus, are primarily explicable via the notion that the story is varied with many episodes, all of which reach their much-anticipated climax in the frustratingly mystifying heroization of Oedipus. It is hardly surprising that the almost overwhelming plethora of references to familiar ritual practices and beliefs has been the subject of considerable debate. This is no less true of the consistent thread of allusion to contemporary politics and governmental institutions; for there is much that is extraordinary in the competing positions of a wide-ranging cast of characters, and the special ways in which the constant employment of well-known religious patterns and cultic ceremonials gives power to their statements about politics and moral principles. There is, however, another sense in which the play and its value have remained controversial. There is a substantial difference of opinion with regard to the very tone and meaning of Oedipus' heroic passing, which brings in its train highly contentious social, religious and political issues. What follows will be a comprehensive attempt not only to construct a synthesis out of these often conflicting, or indeed at first glance irreconcilable, views on this inexhaustibly rich, evocative and intricate tragic drama, but also to offer new answers to old problems by way of an allembracing elucidation. In this connection we will be looking closely at such controversial issues as the function of ritual in the play, the multifaceted relationship of hero-cult with Greek morality and Athenian spirituality, and the implication of tragedy in political conflicts. We believe that this historicized approach will bring novel insights to the text and resolve some difficulties in its interpretation. More importantly, the constitution of the play in its political and social context will show that all these cultic, 3

See especially the important discussions in Bowra (1944), pp. 307-355; Reinhardt (1979), pp. 193-224; Whitman (1951), pp. 197-214; Knox (1964), pp. 143-162; WinningtonIngram (1980), pp. 248-279; Segal (1981), pp. 362-408; Kirkwood (1994) passim.

123

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

ethical and historical ramifications slot into a larger process, which aims at restricting the power of crude self-interest and unreflecting fury. The terrible sufferings accruing from protracted war and civil discord led to grave perversions of Athenian axioms and ideals, laws and customs. Sophocles' nostalgic review of familiar causes of national pride renders all the more imperative the enforcement of justice and piety in human affairs. We may indeed say that his mythical prototypes of political, social and religious harmony are effective enough to contain natural compulsions and uncontrollable passions. As we have already suggested in chapter two, daring adaptations of the legendary material place strong emphasis on human intelligence and responsibility. Here the constant highlighting of kinship ties, patriotic concerns and divine ordinances assured Sophocles' original spectators that the maintenance of civil trust and the containment of ruthless craftiness rested with their own prudence and goodwill. It is not too much to observe that from so complex a network of mythical innovations and historical particularities Oedipus at Colonus draws its strength to continue down its aesthetically pleasing and beneficially enlightening pathways in modern times. Sophocles found in Oedipus an extraordinary figure for the integration of past, present, and future; his is a perfectly unified vision of personal achievement and communal happiness.

Tragedy and Ritual: Not Only a Suppliant

Drama

Endless debate has gone on concerning the allegedly close relationship between tragedy and ritual. We need not labour the point, as there are numerous specialized treatments running the gamut of the various questions surrounding this most complicated subject.4 Suffice it to say that, apart from the obvious ritual origins of tragedy, some critics have perhaps rightly drawn particular attention to the quite concrete implications that constant allusion to prescribed fonns of religious ceremonies has for the dramatic action. Very interesting new light has been shed by a series of thought-provoking articles and monographs upon the formative role of ritual in the tragic plays. In particular, there has recently been a focused 4

Important voices in the on-going debate include Mikalson (1991); Easterling (1993b); Seaford (1994a) and (2005a); Lloyd-Jones (1998); Sourvinou-Inwood (2003) and (2005); Parker (2005), pp. 136-152.

124

Chapter 4

look at possible shocking perversions of familiar ritual norms - that is, warped enactments of important aspects of such ritualized events as sacrifices, weddings and funerals. 5 Moreover, strong emphasis has been placed upon the overlapping components in weddings and funerals, which have led an insightful student of Greek tragedy to convincingly argue for the remarkable conflation of those rites in the plays.6 All in all, many scholars believe that the detailed dramatization of ceremonial practices does not in any way aim at preserving the ritual assurances of the polis, thereby becoming a powerful means of scrutinizing social and political particulars. We would thus be nearer the truth of the matter if we were to suggest that more often than not the uneasy combination of diverse rituals in Attic theatre invited the Athenian audience to challenge established values and recognized principles. The notion of ritual as integral to the plays' further purposes is pertinent to a critical consideration of Oedipus at Colonus, since it helps confirm an impression of the completeness of the plot, in spite of occasional voices to the contrary. However, in our view there is insufficient evidence in this tragedy to substantiate the idea that the consistent reference to ceremonial particularities becomes the only thought of the action. In keeping with Hugh Lloyd-Jones, who is careful enough in assigning a due measure of importance to religious schemata in Greek tragedy, it can be said with some confidence that ritual looms large in Oedipus at Colonus - more intensely perhaps than in any other Sophoclean drama.7 What is remarkable about Sophocles' last tragedy is that, by contrast with most ritually significant dramatic presentations, there are no corrupted ceremonies in the play, no distortion of ritual regularity; Oedipus at Colonus is not one of those plays that strive after the outrageous misrepresentation of contemporary sacraments. Most tragic plays indulge in clashes of familiar rites, or still the grotesque derangement of much-respected sanctities, in order to heighten the tension between the apparent normality of the audience's world and the uncomfortable inversion of accepted values and civilized procedures. Yet in this case, each and every ritual punctuating the

5

6 7

See Zeitlin (1965); Rehm (1994); Seaford (1994a) with relevant bibliography; GartziouTatti (2000). Rehm (1994); cf. also Ormand (1999); Seaford (2005b). Lloyd-Jones (1998).

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

125

twists and turns of the action is there to serve a purely restorative, possibly even therapeutic, function, in the face of unremitting vindictiveness and brooding expectancy. Most extraordinarily, in Oedipus at Colonus the persistent emphasis on the orderly arrangement of supplicatory, propitiatory, funeral and mystical rites reinforces the positive meaning of the otherwise perplexing exit of divinely inspired Oedipus. Therefore, it is significant for our understanding of the play to recognize that, apart from the dramatically indispensable alterations and adaptations, ceremonial practices are closely followed in Sophocles' final drama. This is especially true in the case of Oedipus' and Polynices' supplication, and the propitiatory offerings to the Eumenides carried out by Ismene in the recesses of the sacred grove at the behest of the elders of Colonus. More importantly, it is all too typical of this tragedy's preference for ritual permutation that, as an event of major proportions, the scene of Oedipus' heroic transfiguration carries multiple echoes of various cultic beliefs and ceremonial procedures. In a sense, it is all too right to suggest that the heroization of Oedipus at Colonus is a remarkable fusion of religious ideas and ceremonial elements, an extraordinary ritual hybrid.8 This does not mean, however, that, on a more fundamental level, this historicized evaluation of Oedipus' slipping away under puzzling circumstances fails to recognize a powerful, distinctly Athenian ritual pattern of mystic implication, which would provide the religious and mythological armature for the consistent and strongly-marked procedures leading towards the hopeful mystery. But before turning to the closing stages of the play, with their notable accumulation of ritual particularities, we shall first examine the constant sequence of variedly-toned acts of supplication that, to a great extent, maintains an incessantly ascending scale of dramatic concentration. In line with Aeschylus' Suppliant Women and Euripides' Children of Heracles and Suppliant Women, to name but a few of the plays in which the whole plot is concerned with crucial issues arising from the presentation of supplication, Oedipus at Colonus has been aptly termed a 'suppliant drama', for the reason that certain social and political themes are imbricated with diverse critical encounters of suppliants and saviours at Colonus. In a groundbreaking though on occasion too elaborate article, Peter Burian has called particular attention to the significant adaptability of suppliant motifs, 8

See principally the thought-provoking discussion in Calame (1998). Cf. also Banuls Oller & Crespo Alcalä (2000).

126

Chapter 4

which in their frequently unconventional multiversity add further force to the range and poser of the characters' sentiments.9 In the light of the varied series of rituals, the play achieves a narrative coherence that has been formerly denied, at times most vigorously. In the extraordinary mutability of the conventions surrounding supplication, we can hardly fail to recognize Sophocles' continuous effort to connect the different parts through tension-filled confrontations between host and suppliant. Moreover, what is remarkable about the play's special emphasis on characteristic themes of supplication is the way in which the subtly manipulated suppliant positions give us a glimpse of Oedipus' gradual transformation into a daemonic figure with the power to bless and curse. Without going into details at this point, we should recognize that the vision that emerges from Oedipus' initial suppliant pleading and his eventual elevation to the level of a supplicated host is one of an unprecedented, if inspiring, development, which serves as the symbolic condensation of his imminent apotheosis. It is evident from the beginning of the tragedy that Oedipus is no ordinary suppliant, taking into consideration his pledge to act as a protecting presence in Attica, if the Athenians honour his suppliant rights (284-290). This they do, in deciding after much deliberation to receive the way-worn beggar and thereafter to launch a rescue operation that would provoke Theban anger. Once the responsive hosts duly foil the enemy, Oedipus is presented as the recipient of an unanticipated supplication; similar to his impassioned plea at the inviolate grove, his hateful son, Polynices, has taken sanctuary at the altar of Poseidon, solemnly asking for a hearing with his father (1156-1159). It is perhaps an overinterpretation to suppose that in this unforeseen shifting of suppliant roles, compounded by the harsh dismissal of Polynices' claim, Oedipus' newly acquired daemonic force is to be seen in the most emphatic way possible. Yet those moments in which the powerful suit of supplication fails to assuage the fiery nature of Oedipus make the audience aware of the undying hatred, in itself commonly an unmistakable sign of preternatural grandeur, raging inside a would-be superhuman being. It has been the more necessary to insist that in the play the seamless series of acts of supplication is one among many ceremonial patterns that form a kind of ritual prelude to Oedipus' mysterious ending. In previous

9

Burian (1974). Cf. also Burian (1972); Thornton (1984).

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

127

dramatic attempts to explore various possibilities of ritual arrangement through either visual enactment or verbal telling, rites are mostly accessible only in fragments rather than in significant detail. But in Oedipus at Colonus, the famous propitiation of the Eumenides (461-509, esp. 466-492) offers elaborate instructions for the immediate institution of atonement, in view of Oedipus' unwitting trespass on holy ground: Xo.

Οι. Χο. Οι. Χο. Οι. Χο. Οι. Χο. Οι. Χο. Οι. Χο. Οι. Χο. Οι. Χο. Οι. Χο.

OL. Ισ.

επάξιος μέν, Οιδίπους, κατοικτίσαι, αυτός τε παίδες θ' αϊδ'· έπεί δ' τήσδε γης σωτήρα σαυτόν τώδ' έπεμβάλλεις λόγω, παραινέσαι σοι βούλομαι τά σύμφορα. ώ φίλταθ', ως νΰν παν τελοϋντι προξενεί. θοϋ νΰν καθαρμόν τώνδε δαιμόνων, έφ' ας τό πρώτον ικου και κατέστειψας πέδον. τρόποισι ποίοις; ώ ξένοι, διδάσκετε. πρώτον μέν ιεράς έξ άειρύτου χοάς κρήνης ένεγκοϋ, δι' όσιων χειρών θιγών. δταν δέ τοΰτο χεϋμ' άκήρατον λάβω; κρατήρές είσιν, άνδρός εΰχειρος τέχνη, ών κράτ' έρεψον και λαβάς άμφιστόμους. θαλλοΐσιν, ή κρόκαισιν, ή ποίω τρόπω; οίος νεώρους νεοπόκω μαλλώ λαβών. εΐέν τό δ' ένθεν ποΐ τελευτήσαί με χρή; χοάς χέασθαι στάντα προς πρώτην έω. ή τοϊσδε κρωσσοϊς οΐς λέγεις χέω τάδε; τρισσάς γε πηγάς· τόν τελευταϊον δ' ολον τοϋ τόνδε πλήσας; προσδίδασκε και τόδε. ΰδατος, μελίσσης· μηδέ προσφέρειν μέθυ. δταν δέ τούτων γη μελάμφυλλος τύχη; τρις έννέ' αύτη κλώνας έξ άμφοΐν χεροϊν τιθείς έλαίας τάσδ' έπεύχεσθαι λιτάς τούτων άκοϋσαι βούλομαι· μέγιστα γάρ. ως σφας καλοΰμεν Εύμενίδας, έξ ευμενών στέρνων δέχεσθαι τόν ίκέτην σωτηρίους αίτοϋ σύ τ' αυτός κει τις άλλος άντί σοϋ, άπυστα φωνών μηδέ μηκύνων βοήν. έπειτ' άφέρπειν άστροφος. και ταΰτά σοι δράσαντι θαρσών άν παρασταίην εγώ, άλλως δέ δειμαίνοιμ' άν, ώ ξέν', άμφί σοι. ώ παϊδε, κλύετον τώνδε προσχώρων ξένων; ήκούσαμέν τε χω τι δει πρόστασσε δρδν.

128

Chapter 4

Οι.

Ισ. Χο. Ισ.

έμοί μέν ούχ όδωτά· λείπομαι γάρ έν τω μή δύνασθαι μηδ' όράν, δυοΐν κακοΐν σφων δ' ήτέρα μολοϋσα πραξάτω τάδε. άρκεΐν γάρ οιμαι κάντί μυρίων μίαν ψυχήν τάδ' έκτίνουσαν, ήν εύνους παρή. άλλ' έν τάχει τι πράσσετον μόνον δε με μή λείπετ'. ού γάρ άν σθένοι τούμόν δέμας έρήμον ερπειν ούδ' ύφηγητοΰ δίχα. άλλ' είμ' εγώ τελούσα· τόν τόπον δ' ινα χρήσται μ' ύπουργείν, τοϋτο βούλομαι μαθεϊν. τούκεΐθεν άλσους, ώ ξένη, τοϋδ'. ήν δέ του σπάνιν τιν' ισχης, εστ' έποικος, δς φράσει. χωροΐμ' άν ές τόδ'· 'Αντιγόνη, σϋ δ' ένθάδε φύλασσε πατέρα τόνδε· τοις τεκοΰσι γάρ ούδ' εί πονή τις, δει πόνου μνήμην έχειν. (461-509)

It is a further surprise that this highly structured account of essential religious practices, no doubt unprecedented in its descriptive exhaustiveness and ritual superstition, projects a powerful image of future off-stage action. It thus combines the full presence of the events in the non-visual medium of spoken tutoring with the vividness of their potential realization in the almost visible element of ceremonial expectancy. This is an extraordinarily brilliant moment of theatre, in which Sophocles scales the action down from the moment-by-moment tension of the previous scene with Oedipus and Ismene (324-460) to the reassuring tone of the prospective lustration. The forthcoming performance of expiatory rites aims at reconciling Oedipus with the Eumenides - thus indicating the eventual acceptance of the Theban king, who was so eager to state his suppliant case to the local divinities at the very beginning of the play (84-110). But the unusual character of the presentation confirms the impression that the recommended purifications have a second level of meaning. One cannot help being aware that there must be some kind of relation between so elaborately described a ritual and the whole undertaking of the play, especially the detailed suggestiveness of the religious mystery that is about to unfold in the recesses of the sanctuary. As a matter of fact, critics have always seen something distinctive about the Chorus' insistence on ritual meticulousness; this report of unforgettable exactness, though not in fact shown on the stage, has been rightly treated as a striking parallel to the full-blown narrative of the Messenger which, for the most

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

129

part, comprehensively relates the amazing events of Oedipus' passing in heroic honour (1586-1666).10 For it should be said that, in a manner similar to the Messenger's admirable responsiveness to the mystifying doings of the divine forces, the minute directions about the propitiation of the Eumenides record with intensity and completeness, not to mention an equally powerful sense of place, the tightly organized and unremitting process by which Oedipus progressively, though in this case only vicariously, positions himself amidst a complicated network of local sanctities. Apart from the obvious chthonic connection between the expiatory offerings to the underworld divinities and the daemonic transformation of Oedipus at death, there is to be seen a comparable arrangement of cursing and blessing, an artful combination of paroxysms of rage and outpourings of genuine benevolence, as the tempo progressively changes from the unbearable agony of earthly concerns to the unclouded vision of divine perspectives. In a sense, the perplexing, although misery-redeeming, events of Oedipus' miraculous departure are first played out in miniature in the propitiation of the Eumenides. The initial contrast between Oedipus' oracular fulminations on his unnatural sons and his cautiously orchestrated initiation into the cultic apparatus of Colonus becomes even more painfully focused at the concluding stages of the play. For it is there that the wrathful dismissal of tearful Polynices is closely followed by the careful instruction of Theseus into the secret rites of the new cult and Oedipus' submissiveness to an inexorable heaven-appointed design." These resemblances are not coincidence. All this, taken together, seems to justify the claim that the unmistakable ritual bearing of Oedipus at Colonus establishes, among other things, a significant framework in which the retributive justice working through Oedipus and the Dread Goddesses is inextricably connected with the pious humanity of the Athenians and the Eumenides, in complex overlappings and inversions that reach beyond the religious specificity of the sheltered meadow. From the above, it is clear that all the religious actions draw structure and meaning from their movements along the axis of Athens. In the play's subtext, the thorough performance of the expiatory rites sets the tone for an ever more complex, awe-inspiring, suspenseful ritual, which stands as a key moment of summing-up and concentration. But, apart from the considerable

10 11

For some preliminary thoughts, see Burkert (1985b); Gartziou-Tatti (2000), pp. 49-51. See also Reinhardt (1979), pp. 205-206.

130

Chapter 4

dynamics released when the old men of Colonus expatiate on the required atonement to the local deities, a basic ritual grid can be laid out in view of other religious actions that contribute largely to the atmosphere of the final mystery. Indeed, before we look at the most intricate ritual of Oedipus' strange but luminous passing, it will be convenient to deal briefly with two slighter and much simpler sacred rites, which we have already pointed out in the previous chapter. After having guaranteed suppliant protection to Oedipus in Attica, Theseus is constantly presented as eagerly engaged in a sacrifice to Poseidon, at the god's neighbouring altar in the further recesses of the sacred precinct. What is remarkable about the off-stage ceremony is that it is repeatedly interrupted by unexpected developments on stage. In particular, when Creon is about to lay hands on Oedipus, the outcry of the elders reaches the ears of Theseus, who halts the sacrifice and hurries back onto the stage (887-890); his urgent call for an immediate pursuit of the captors reveals the massive attendance of Athenian citizens at the altar inside the holy grove (897-904). This is not, however, the only occasion on which Theseus is called away from the sacrifice to come to the aid of Oedipus. Once Polynices withdraws from Colonus, seeing that his pleading is ferociously refused at that very same altar of Poseidon (1156-1159), Oedipus demands that Theseus be brought to him with all speed, because the claps of thunder signal his approaching death. Accordingly, the Chorus surmises that the Athenian king may have returned to the holy precinct to continue with the sacrificial ceremony in honour of Poseidon (1491-1495). Aside from the obvious fact that the sacrifice suits Sophocles' dramatic intentions in keeping god-fearing Theseus in close proximity, the deeply-felt Athenian need to seek divine protection and guidance, in consideration of the momentous events of Oedipus' disquieting arrival and the subsequent fierce confrontations with Creon and Polynices, conveys something of the continuous distinctively religious mood of this PlayMoreover, the miraculous incorporation of Oedipus into the soil of Colonus gives rise to further ritual actions that go beyond the time-scale of the tragedy, thereby engaging an unending line of guardians of the secret tomb. In inviting Theseus to follow him to the precise spot of his passing, Oedipus lays particular emphasis on the careful observance of his rites; he makes abundantly clear that the Athenians should certainly revere his name, so that his benevolent presence will abide in Attica for all time (1518-1555). The ceremonies at the last resting place of Oedipus

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

131

are to remain the prerogative of the man who is at the head of the state, but this exclusivity does not detract from the numinous awe that the undisclosed grave would inspire among the Athenian people in the future.12 More to the point, the thoroughness of the propitiatory offerings to the Eumenides, the constant reference to the off-stage sacrifice to Poseidon and the carefully planned anticipation of additional post mortem rites in the recesses of the sacred grove bring home the fact that the ominous significance of the various emergencies is counterbalanced by the special importance of a detailed sequence of ceremonial events that are conveniently presented as appropriately restorative. This dense ritual matrix reaches its memorable climax in the complex metamorphosis of Oedipus into an awesome person of heroic status near the end of the drama. In a sense, Oedipus' miraculous death is the ritual hub; the rest of the religious actions are satellite events, their purpose preparatory and introductory. We have argued extensively elsewhere that the presentation of an intensely intricate and multi-stranded ritual in the language of narration not only serves the rigorous economy of the play's chronology, but also allows for a particularly long succession of deft illustrations and analyses of the off-stage action.13 Even though the climactic moment of Oedipus' apotheosis has been recognized for its incomparable semic compactness, the interpretative scholarship on the issue has been extremely thin. In recent years, however, there have been some interesting attempts to cast fresh light on the ritual implications of so sumptuously reported a ceremony as Oedipus' elevation to the level of a supernatural being.14 As a matter of fact, there has been a tendency among scholars to view the dense progression of ritual events inside the inviolate meadow as an unparalleled synthesis of religious practices and beliefs. In keeping with this stimulating insight, it is my conviction that, in order to depict the eventual unity of purpose between the divine order and Oedipus in the most emphatic way possible, Sophocles employs a variety of familiar ritual activities. These are wide enough to include concrete components drawn from sacrificial, funerary, and mystic ceremonies, thereby presenting a direct and pointed appeal not

12 13 14

See Letters (1953), p. 306. Markantonatos (2002), pp. 130-147 with relevant bibliography. For some preliminary thinking, see especially Bernidaki-Aldous (1990); Calame (1998); Markantonatos (2002), pp. 197-220 with earlier bibliography; cf. also Budelmann (1999).

132

Chapter 4

only to the religious experience of the earliest audience, but also to their awareness of past dramatic productions riddled with comparable ritual echoes. In fact, Sophocles aims at producing an exalted effect by establishing a framework of ritual possibilities rather than an unambiguously and instantly specifiable rite. This complicated network finally leaves one religious activity juxtaposed to the other, indeed results in a multi-layered event that succeeds in shaping the confused material of an assortment of rituals into an intentional and powerful configuration. According to the particularly long Messenger's account (1586-1666), after having led Theseus and his retinue inside the grove of the Eumenides, blind though he was, Oedipus came to the bronze-fitted threshold, which was surrounded by other sacred objects of purely local significance. At this precisely defined spot, where more than a few pathways converged, he took his seat and loosened his squalid garments; he then asked for the ministrant consideration of his daughters. The exactingly performed actions that followed his urgent request constitute a paradox, in view of the fact that the funeral preparations consisting of ritual washing with fresh water and clothing in white raiment are exclusively preserved for a corpse, not a living person (1598-1603).15 In a manner similar to other extraordinary figures confronting imminent passing - Alcestis in her eponymous Euripidean drama and Socrates in Plato's Phaedo are telling examples of ritual emergences regarding the dying - Oedipus is allowed to enjoy some of the mortuary offices that are normally carried out after death. The uncommonness of this remarkable compression of the three-act sequence of the Greek funeral, comprising the usual two-day laying out of the body {prothesis), the funeral cortege (ekphora), and the deposition of the corpse, into a speedily performed arrangement inside the sacred precinct only adds further force to the ritual intensity of the perplexing events. More to the point, the reported scene keeps before our minds further themes and images that are specifically related to Greek burial customs, although in a rather diffuse way. Despite the obvious fact that there is no simple equation between the cultic experiences and the religious considerations of the play, the consistent thread of reference to the mournful cries of Antigone and Ismene at the immediate prospect of their father's demise (1606-1609, 1620-1621, 1646-1647), which are to be more comprehensibly 15

On funeral preparations, see Garland (2001), pp. 21-37. Cf. also Demand (1994); Derderian (2001), esp. pp. 136-160.

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

133

focused in their later antiphonal lament on stage (1670-1750), in conjunction with such ritually meaningful activities as the committal of Oedipus' daughters to the Athenian king (1629-1637) and the earlier heartfelt prayer of the Chorus for Oedipus' safe passage to the Underworld (15561578) demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that the mystery at Colonus has a profound thematic relevance to well-known funeral structures. In the main, these pertain to the role of female relatives in the required sepulchral rites and other aspects of familial duties and concerns.16 It is difficult to be more precise about the exact religious connotations of the miraculous events without becoming unnecessarily involved in highly debatable demarcations. Nevertheless, it can be argued with some confidence that since the remarkable ritualism in the closing movement of the play results from the conjoining of separate ceremonial actions into a single powerful moment, certain features of the distinctively ritual arrangement correspond to essential components of familiar sacrificial and mystic contexts. If we stand back from the intense emotions of the scene, it becomes apparent that the events leading to the amazing disappearance of Oedipus are modelled on a twice-repeated, attentively-observed ceremonial design that is conveniently presented in the likeness of other recognizable ritually specific situations, memorably enacted or recounted in past theatrical presentations.17 This ritual interpenetration adds a further dimension of meaning and dramatic force to the already perplexing activities inside the sanctuary. More specifically, each of the two patterns of significant actions comprises an unforeseen instance in which a sudden noise shatters a previously established still scene. This is followed by the expression of extreme apprehension and agitated anticipation on the part of the bystanders at the divine sign. An unperturbed Oedipus then speaks in an effort to settle his earthly affairs, before the pattern concludes in heavy lamentation (1604-1621, 1622-1647). Not to go into details at this point, it is worth noticing that the sequence consisting of a pause of movement interrupted by a sound or even an unanticipated activity is a recurrent theme in Greek tragedy; the motif of a still scene shattered by an unexpected loud noise or voice is found in several Euripidean plays. No clearer example of this highly meaningful progression from suspension of action to excited expectation through

16 17

See Rehm (1994), pp. 81-82. See principally Markantonatos (2002), pp. 130-147.

134

Chapter 4

superhuman intervention is needed than the epiphany of Dionysus at Thebes and the detailed account of the killing of Pentheus at the behest of the god in Euripides' Bacchae (576-641 and 1043-1152), a play that not unlike Oedipus at Colonus concerns itself with an awe-inspiring, divinelycaused transition.18 In a variedly explicated scene, Euripides appears to be fully aware of the great dramatic impact carried by an unseen sound affecting the onstage configuration without warning, when he presents the Maenads wildly animated in terrified ecstasy on account of Dionysus' sudden call from within the Theban palace. The god's voice that is raised in an alarming shout is fittingly answered by the fervid enthusiasm of the women, who accordingly speak of such frightening natural phenomena as earthquakes, thunder and lightning. In the manner of the unexpected divine commands prefiguring the miraculous appearance of Dionysus from inside the house, the mighty summons of the god is again heard from the air on the mountainside, where Agave and her Maenads are engaged in peaceful activity. Once more there are constant references to the extraordinary stillness of the scenery, the silent anticipation of the women before their bloodthirsty onslaught on Pentheus, and the preternatural light of sacred fire. Therefore, it is hardly fanciful to argue that those instances of a mighty voice piercing a complete though uncanny silence are directly comparable to the miraculous occasion on which the god's sound coming from an invisible source asks Oedipus to make haste because his end is at hand. In fact, the former devices may even have served as paradigms for the latter. More to the point, the very clear echoes of analogous ritual actions and festive occasions integrated in earlier dramatizations draw some partially relevant religious ceremonies and cultic beliefs into nearer focus. There are, in our view, good reasons to believe that apart from the consistent series of allusions to Theseus' sacrifice in honour of Poseidon, specific elements pertaining to the strikingly spectacular exit of Oedipus and the ensuing closely ritualized events in the further recesses of the guarded meadow invite the audience to discern a carefully hidden sacrificial pattern.19 The peculiar association of the amazing rise of Oedipus to superhuman grandeur with so centrally significant a religious ritual as sacrifice need 18

19

On possible influence of the Euripidean play on Sophocles' last drama, see especially Seaford (1996), p. 236 (note on lines 1078-90) and (1997). On sacrifice, see the excellent discussion in Bowie (1995), pp. 463-482 with relevant bibliography.

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

135

be no cause for surprise, in view of the fact that the carrying out of sacrificial offerings to Olympian and chthonic deities constitutes a most privileged and honoured means of communion between man and god, an exactingly performed ceremonial act of the highest consequence for the day-to-day functioning of any city-state. In particular, certain aspects of the religious miracle, which marks an exceptional point of contact between human and divine spheres, bring to mind comparable ceremonial stages in Greek sacrifice. These include the impassioned prayer of the Chorus for Oedipus' peaceful death; the departure of Oedipus, his daughters and his Athenian patrons in an unprecedented divinely guided procession; the careful burial preparations including new clean garments and ablutions with running water at a specially chosen spot; the admirable calmness displayed by Oedipus in the face of inevitable death; the repeated moments of mysterious silence before decisive action; and the wild sobbing of female relatives. Rendered in obliquely crisp theatrical shorthand, this intricate part of the play, culminating as it does in a highly perplexing passing, reminds one of so diverse components of ritual killing as the adornment of the participants and the animal that is intended for slaughter; the sacrificial pageant; the deeply-felt longing for a peaceful ritual involving a complaisant animal; the careful selection of the appropriate place for the sacrifice; the appeal to the divinity before the carnage; the comprehensive silence prior to the actual butchering of the victim, and the shrill female cry (ololyge) during the sacrifice. We have been maintaining the plausible view that the awesome integration of Oedipus into the local pantheon is composed out of many diverse elements of the Greek ritual apparatus. In point of fact, the astounding events taking place away from the visible tableau complete in their unusual ritual combination a complex pattern of images and themes that have been building throughout the play. Nonetheless, it should be added here that to understand how Sophocles' last drama might have functioned in its contemporary setting, it is imperative to look beyond the supplicatory, funereal and sacrificial structures that give order and meaning to the concluding stages. As has already been suggested, important reflections of mystic rites, mainly Eleusinian, Dionysiac, and perhaps even Orphic, form a ritual web that serves as a bridge over places where the continuity of the action would otherwise break down and throw the dramatic weight away from the essential issues of the play. It is of course far beyond the scope of this book to unfold the multiple ramifications of the distinctly

136

Chapter 4

mystical colouring of the closing scenes thoroughly.20 Even so, for our purpose it would be useful to get some sense out of the extraordinary labyrinth of ceremonial interlacings binding ritual to ritual. In this case of an almost unparalleled permutation of religious actions and beliefs, Sophocles provides his audience with a mighty range of powerful experiences that would charge the present moment with the intangible powers of mystical release and hopefulness. It is particularly important for the thought of this tragedy to acknowledge that the meticulous description of Oedipus' slipping away in an atmosphere of heroic magnificence is persistently kept in the likeness of a kind of mystic initiation. Despite the fact that crucial divergences among scholars continue to flourish in the understanding of the play in initiatory terms, the remarkable intermixture of distinctively ritual and festal elements that bear a close resemblance to Eleusinian, Dionysiac and Orphic structures serves to impress on the mind the significant notion of hard-won blessedness after years of unmerited suffering, without forcing itself disproportionately upon the spectators' attention. This is all the more so, since all those mystic structures have been progressively brought together through an intricate series of interlacing relationships in fifth-century Athens. It would thus be false to suggest that there is a rigorous line of demarcation between Eleusinian, Dionysiac and Orphic features in the purely Athenian context of the play. On the contrary, they are deftly combined and intermingled in accordance with the powerful syncretism of historical reality.21 The evidence for the mystic connection need not be repeated here in full. In the first place, it should be emphasized that the sacred grove as a conspicuously liminal place that is intersected by the realm of the Olympian gods and the realm of the underworld divinities is a standard trait of mystic geography. In particular, the excessively fertile meadow is a typical characteristic of Eleusinian topography, which in its turn may have borrowed numerous colourful attributes from the remarkable

20

21

On the Eleusinian connotations, see Bernidaki-Aldous (1990), pp. 192-213. For a fuller presentation, see Markantonatos (2002), pp. 197-220 with abundant bibliography. Cf. also Colchester (1942); Bremmer (1983) and (2002), pp. 11-26; Christopoulos (1991); Clinton (1992); Bowie (1993a), pp. 228-253; Laks & Most (1997); Riedweg (1998); Cosmopoulos (2003); Rangos (2003); Betegh (2004); Kouremenos, Parässoglou & Tsantsanoglou (2006); Tzifopoulos (2007). See Markantonatos (2004a) with exhaustive bibliography.

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

137

stockpile of Orphic imagery.22 Further than this, the strict secrecy surrounding the exact location of Oedipus' grave and the special parameters of his heroic cult in Attica is a suggestive parallel to the celebrated secrecy of mystic rites. The obligation to absolute confidentiality about the esoteric knowledge of the cult is a most prominent characteristic of the Eleusinian Mysteries; it is no coincidence that the play contains an emphatic reference to the stern rule of concealment regarding Eleusinian wisdom and ceremonial practice (1050-1053, ού πότνιοα σεμνά τιθηνοΰνται τέλη/θνατοΐσιν, ων και χρυσέα/κλής έπί γλώσσα βέβα-/κε προσπόλων Εύμολπιδαν), which may even be indicative of the actual cultic etiquette. Besides, not unlike the brooding stillness before the piercing sound of divine interposition inside the sanctuary of the Eumenides, silence is an essential part of the initiation ceremony. More importantly, in the above-mentioned passage, the elders of Colonus duly eulogize the fundamental nature of the Eleusinian rites in describing Demeter and Persephone, the main deities of the cult, as reverend nurturers of the solemn death rites for mortal initiates (1050-1051). This last point brings us to another greatly significant aspect of mystic initiation: the promise of a better life after death, guaranteed by participation in the exclusive society of the privileged initiates. The comforting prospect of a much-improved afterlife is properly secured by a complex set of ritual actions that consistently involve careful instruction in hidden information and a fearful experience as a required introduction to salvation. The notion of the journey leading from tribulation and ambiguity to deliverance and confidence serves as a symbolic concentration of those closely ritualized stages in mystic affairs. It is hardly improbable to argue that the toilsome wandering of Oedipus stands as a metaphor for the mystical transition from sorrow to joy; also, the tutoring of Theseus into the secret details of Oedipus' hero-cult would put the audience in a mysterial, chiefly Eleusinian, frame of mind. More than this, another point of direct comparison between the Athenian mystic perspectives and the dramatized soteriological circumstances is the employment of specific machinery for the inducement of the proper state of mind in the votaries. As far as the play is concerned, the special penetration of Oedipus and Theseus in the view of the puzzling events is fittingly punctuated by such spectacular natural phenomena as 22

Cf. Graf (1974), p. 92. See also Parker (1983), p. 282; Sourvinou-Inwood (1997), pp. 157-159.

138

Chapter 4

thunder and lightning (1456, 1460-1471, 1477-1478). Analogous visual and sound effects are abundantly used in the context of the Eleusinian and Dionysiac Mysteries; the clashing of cymbals and gongs in fervid adoration of Dionysus serves as a fitting accompaniment to the impassioned cries and the blissful prayers of the Bacchic company of ecstatic revellers.23 For these reasons, it is hardly necessary to be overcautious as to the play's mystic implications. Besides, the remarkable diversity of ritual associations, ranging from Eleusinian to Dionysiac and Orphic, offers a large assortment of possible points of connection with the infinitely rich and intricately complex religious and cultic reality of fifth-century Athens. Therefore, very much to their comfort, the multiple and varied audiences of the play would have perceived the figure of Oedipus in his abysmal suffering as a moving example of a mystic initiate, who finds tranquillity at death after long years of misfortune. Not that we are bound to assume, on this account, that Sophocles paints on a huge ritual canvas without control of a set-bound ceremonial closure. We have thoroughly argued elsewhere that certain threads of a distinctly Eleusinian patterning, significant elements of a genuinely Athenian religious design, seem to be woven throughout the play.24 In fact, it would be a serious error to dwell exclusively on the possibility of ritual intermixture, given that there are several effective major and minor reinforcements of an Eleusinian matrix throughout the play, by echoes of familiar mystic locales, actions and principles. Sophocles stamps his play with the characteristic feature of Eleusinian salvation, the much coveted better fate in the afiterworld; in reality, there are excellent grounds for believing that this should be the case, given the fact that Eleusis emerged in contemporary Athens with added strength and reputation as the greatest Panhellenic cult-site of Attica, thereby increasingly incorporating relevant traits from the interrelated spheres of Bacchica and Orphica. Consequently, for the audience of initiates, the Eleusinian vision of mystical contentment at death recurs as the one unchanging religious point of reference par excellence. It is not only the meticulously defined geographical features of the Colonan landscape in their distinctively chthonic connection with the holy sanctuary of Eleusis, but also the

23

24

See mainly Bowie (1993a), p. 123; Seaford (1996), pp. 195-198 and (1997); Markantonatos (2002), pp. 211-213. Markantonatos (2002), pp. 197-220.

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

139

suggestive reference to the 'watchword' of the Mysteries that bring the Eleusinian bearing into sharper focus. In particular, the term σύνθημα that expounds in riddling language the consecutive phases of the initiation serves as the divine sign of Oedipus' destiny (46, ξυμφορας ξύνθημ' έμής; see also 1594, ξυνθήματα). More than this, the hieratic tone that is duly assumed by Oedipus himself in his request to stay alone with Theseus to witness the miraculous events (1644, δρώμενα) and the notion of blessedness that is later proclaimed by the elders of Colonus at the apparent peacefulness of the religious mystery (1720, όλβίως) would have served as important reminders of the wide Eleusinian schema of happiness through initiation. This is especially so, in view of the constant invocation of Demeter and Persephone in connection with the mysterious transformation of Oedipus into an Attic hero. We can hardly fail to recognize Persephone herself as the infernal goddess escorting Oedipus to his final resting place (1547-1548, [...] τηδε γάρ μ' άγει/Έρμης ό πομπός ή τε νερτέρα θεός); also, it is probable that the old men of Colonus twice call upon the same goddess in their passionate entreaty to the netherworld divinities (1556, τάν άφανή θεόν, 1568, ώ χθόνιαι θεαί). On the second occasion, Persephone is possibly invoked alongside her mother, Demeter, who is again mentioned a few moments prior to the amazing vanishing of Oedipus (1600-1601, τώ δ' εύχλόου Δήμητρος εις προσόψιον/πάγον [...]). It appears from the above survey that ceremonial and festal patterns loom large in the general construction of the play. Ritual signals are fittingly coded into the plot, thereby preparing the expectation among the audience that the final mystery will be fraught with explicit references and cryptic hints to a particularly wide range of religious practices and doctrines. But strangely enough, so far as we know, very few critics have made full use of this extraordinary ritual amalgamation; hence we have chosen to offer more comprehensive confirmation of our comments on the mystic connection within a wider context of religious references. The play is fed with stylistic and thematic streams found in familiar sacred contexts, most of which are Athenian; as a result of this remarkable diversity, the ritual configuration becomes essentially dynamic rather than static. Furthermore, in order to increase the spectators' emotional engagement with the story, Sophocles offers a sufficiently sharp pointing of specifically mystic beliefs and localities - indicating that the unusual, but non-violent, passing of Oedipus should be interpreted in initiatory terms. It is clear, then, that the climax of Oedipus at Colonus is related in such a way as to make the audience

140

Chapter 4

gradually conscious of penetrating into a closed, inner space. At the same time, the attentively and at times agonizingly maintained regularity of the dramatized rituals hammers home the fact that courageous sustainment of human suffering is precursory to greatness - and this Sophocles achieves with a directness and sincerity hitherto unknown to the Attic stage.

Heroic Honour: Helping Friends, Harming Enemies The views presented in the previous section confirm the prevalent impression that a careful survey of the ritual elements distributed throughout the play may shed light on a skilfully arranged progression of various set pieces through which the spectators are introduced to the scale and issues of the story. In connection with the obvious need for and confidence in the shaping, or rather re-shaping, order of those distinctively ceremonial actions, one further greatly important aspect of the theological matrix remains to be considered, for it has a direct bearing on the relevance and significance of the ultimate exaltation of Oedipus to the state of hero. The lack of critical consensus on the implication of the final mystery in relation to Oedipus and his family is not at all surprising, given that the attainment of cultfigure status at death strikes some scholars as a disappointingly poor recompense for abysmal suffering, stemming from such horrible transgressions as the unhallowed union of mother and son and the spilling of kindred blood. Nor is there much agreement on the exact premises of existence of the cultically honoured Theban king, especially in view of the perplexing notion of heroization and the strict secrecy of the Athenian rites. In reality, the devastatingly dark vision of life that appears to emerge from the action, no doubt compounded by the deeply pessimistic comments of Oedipus and the old men of Colonus, is partly responsible for this widespread tendency among critics to belittle the achievement of the religious miracle. To this one may add the reasonable suspicion, so intensely discernible in certain scholars, of any optimistic assumption fathered by the conviction that the elevation of Oedipus to an object of cult veneration comes close to the modern notion of Christian redemption or even sainthood. 25

25

Cf. (e.g.) Campbell (1879), p. 263; Jebb (1900), p. xxiv; Musurillo (1967), pp. 130-142; Sagan (1979), pp. 124-127.

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

141

As has already been mentioned in the preceding chapter, even though Oedipus is eventually deemed worthy of the receipt of ritual worship, the painful consciousness of the fact that he has been visited by the most terrible misfortunes possible for a human being renders a late restitution almost futile (395, γέροντα δ' όρθοϋν φλαϋρον δς νέος πέση). Further than this, the elders of Colonus do not contain their despairing thoughts, and accordingly break into an extremely melancholy song, in which they ruefully pronounce their gloomy judgment of the pointlessness of life and the distressfulness of old age (1211-1248). Considering their advanced years just as those of Oedipus, they state with chilling conviction that not to be born is best (1224-1225, μή φϋνοα τόν απαντα νι-/κα λόγον). Apparently, the unforeseen increase in authority and standing that is, in some measure, reflected in so sinister a response as oracular fulmination comes all too regrettably late for unhappy Oedipus. Moreover, his heroic honour leaves a stale and dusty taste behind it, particularly in the light of the destruction of his male progeny and the appalling death of Antigone in her hopeless effort to offer suitable burial rites to her traitorous brother. That being said, in recent years critics have become more sensitive with regard to religious and ethical questions in the code of hero-cult. In point of fact, we are now on familiar terms with the idea that ethics and heroic worship are profoundly interfused in the context of the city-state. Therefore, we are being driven more and more strongly to the conclusion that Oedipus' eventual consecration as a hero in an atmosphere of numinous awe is inextricably entwined with a certain set of ethical regulations that promotes the inalienable right of retaliation - the famous law of helping friends and harming enemies.26 We must not be misled into supposing that for a Greek of the classical age divine recompense for undeserved torment falls short of the consistent human craving for justice. The opposite would be nearer the truth. In reality, the unanticipated elevation of Oedipus after long years of enormous affliction to the level of a cult-hero, in the deepest recesses of a leafy grove fittingly occupied by like-minded implacable guardians of the proper order of things, would have struck the original audience as an immensely kind gesture on the part of the gods. The very awareness that men are of second consideration to the divine forces that

26

See principally the important discussion in Blundell (1989).

142

Chapter 4

regularly supply a far wider, mostly unfathomable, framework for human action brings the final reparation into sharper focus.27 We have seen reason for believing that the religious miracle in all its ritual splendour throws a purposeful light on Oedipus' past exploits and passions - thus revealing the divinely appointed design of his destiny in unprecedented comprehensiveness and frankness. In the light of the amazing assimilation of Oedipus into the Attic pantheon of celebrated divinities with so overwhelming a display of strength and insight, the interminable sequence of challenging trials assumes a relentless logic, principally taking into consideration the precious boon granted to the Athenian city. These trials range from the toilsome quest for his true identity to the grueling peregrination in disgraceful exile away from Thebes. In a sense, not unlike other heroes of Greek mythology (Theseus is again a case in point), the shifting fortunes of his long life are the dominant means of testing his intellectual and physical worth, or his staying power emanating from his nobility of spirit (7-8, στέργειν γάρ αί πάθαι με χώ χρόνος ξυνών/μακρός διδάσκει και τό γενναιον τρίτον). In actual fact, tribulation in its many forms sets the hero apart from ordinary men, ultimately transforming him into a remarkable instrument of the will and plan of an ageless and inaccessible divine sphere. In retrospect, despite the warranted complaints about the seeming worthlessness of Oedipus' final reinstatement to former grandeur, his uneasy course of life on earth appears to have been deliberately designed to contribute to the glory of Athens. For a fifth-century audience, the valuable reflection that his existence was persistently maintained to serve a higher purpose, mainly one that strikes conspicuously closer to home at a time of severe crisis, is capable of counterbalancing any concomitant experience of deeper involvement in incomprehensible suffering. We thus have no reason to doubt that, in presenting a densely packed series of emotionally and mentally demanding trials within the short temporal compass of theatrical performance, Sophocles' final play intriguingly mirrors the mysteriously permanent, genuinely civic-communal need for hardened heroes. And this is especially so in those few cases of outstandingly courageous figures

21

See the seminal discussion in Lloyd-Jones (1983), (1991) and (2002a). Cf. also Ferguson (1958); Pearson (1962); Fisher (1976) and (1992), pp. 302-304; Cairns (1993), esp. pp. 221-227; Scodel (2005), esp. pp. 247-249; Herman (2006).

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

143

whose extraordinary life circumstances have trained them to be exceptionally intuitive and trustworthy. From these preliminary comments and considerations, it follows that the main question of interest here is what manner of person a hero is. More than this, it would be of particular value for our judgment about the intricate issue of heroic reputation in Oedipus at Colonus if we could offer sufficient illustration of the age-old principle of helping friends and harming enemies, this being the fundamental doctrine of returning like for like, especially in connection with familial obligations and civic responsibilities. Of the first question at least we may be certain: the hero is more than the brave warrior of ancient legend, so prominent in the Homeric epics, which significantly contributed to the expansion of hero worship in archaic Greece by creating an unattainable world that was fittingly inhabited by men of superhuman competence. According to Walter Burkert, who rightly echoes so distinguished an authority on matters of hero-cult as L. R. Farnell, 'the hero is a deceased person who exerts from his grave a power for good or evil and who demands appropriate honour.'28 In other words, the heroized men were commonly persons of immense distinction and proficiency in life; their eventual elevation to cult status at death is indissolubly connected with the exceptional power to dispense or withhold benefits to mortals in accordance with a supernormal ability of oracular prediction or even practical intervention. Further than this, it is worth noting that the relevant cult is appropriately centred on the tomb of those unique sacral personages, who have a special association with the chthonic realm. In the majority of cases, apart from the hero's shrine, the heröon, a wider district offers another important focal point for a specific hero-cult. However, a caveat is in order here. In view of the remarkable diversity of religious phenomena in 28

Burkert (1985a), p. 203. See also Currie (2005), esp. pp. 1-200 with recent bibliography. Cf. Girard (1917); Farnell (1921); Altheim (1925); Rohde (1925); Meautis (1940) and (1957); Nilsson (1969); Nagy (1979); esp. pp. 67-210; Visser (1982); de Polignac (1995); Ekroth (2002) with relevant bibliography; Pedley (2005). Further, see Howald (1930), pp. 126-131; Pötscher (1952); Bröcker (1971) passim; Diller (1957) and (1963); Sgroi (1962); Kamerbeek (1965); Moulinier (1965); Stoessl (1966); Machin (1981), pp. 105149; Minadeo (1990) and (1994), esp. pp. 185-188; Halliwell (1990); Zaidman & Schmitt Pantel (1992), pp. 178-182; Lardinois (1992); Jouanna (1992) and (1997); Versnel (1995); Bäräny (1995); Morin (1996); Schein (1997); Parker (1997) and (1999); Krummen (1998); Seaford (2000b), esp. p. 81 and (2004), pp. 305-317; Scullion (2002); Liapis (2003); Bowden (2006).

144

Chapter 4

Greece, it is credible and probable that the hero should not solely be regarded as a mere in-between, an exceptional intermediary bridging the gap that distinguishes men from gods.29 The theory of the typically benevolent mediator between mortals and immortals clashes most discordantly with well-known instances, involving such celebrated heroes as Heracles and Theseus, all members of an extraordinarily crowded category of supernatural persons. The international reputation, the festal splendour, the cultic honours and the religious enthusiasm reserved for this special class of demigods would even have provoked the envy of Olympian divinities. But before a fair conclusion can be arrived at concerning the precise significance of heroic distinction, especially with regard to the play's intriguing climax, we should draw the reader's attention to another important aspect of hero worship. There has been of late a notable resurgence of interest in the undeniable link between hero-cult and group cohesion, ritual continuity and civic unity.30 One might say, therefore, that the profound respect for heroic grandeur is recurrently employed as a powerful means of staking a claim to a specific territory, gathering a group of people around a highly esteemed cultic focus, or investing an extraordinary event with religious magnificence. In fact we have scarcely any attestation of the veneration of heroes before the eighth century BCE. So far as our evidence allows us to judge, hero-ritual is closely associated with the progressive emergence of the city-state in the course of the seventh and sixth centuries BCE. It is not necessary to labour here the attendant consequences of the evident correlation between ceremonial actions at a hero's burial place and the gradual formation of a civic community. As a matter of fact, when we look at the functions fulfilled by loving and saving heroes for the protection of cities, particularly the security frequently afforded to votaries through a most spectacular supernatural demonstration of power in the face of enemy invasion or military emergency, the special characteristic of them as distinctly political presences emerges most clearly. The familiar paradigms of such illustrious heroes as Theseus and Ajax, who kindly bestowed their blessings on the Greek fighters in the Persian Wars through their preternatural appearance, are suggestive of the close link between communal issues and heroic greatness, the strength of

29 30

See Mikalson (1991), p. 33. See Morris (1987) and (1993); Whitley (1988); Alcock (1991). Cf. also ThesCRA II.3.d.

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

145

the emotion that the worship of a buried spirit aroused in the soul of the people and the patriotic exaltation inspired by an unforeseen concourse of critical events. But it would not serve our purpose to multiply examples. In the play Sophocles obviously means us to see that Oedipus is ultimately allowed to enjoy the cult status of a saving hero. In presenting an unusual, aweinspiring and altogether hopeful ceremony, he is eager to show that it was not for nothing that Oedipus courageously endured the numerous vicissitudes of his destiny. It is of great interest to the student of the play to note the strength of the attachment in the classical age to the cult of a protecting hero. We catch the tones of real fervour and devotion in the Stranger's enthusiastic description of some of the main local sanctities, especially in his emphatic reference to the eponymous hero Colonus, who lent his name to the wider district (53-63). In a manner similar to the heroic knight Colonus, Oedipus is to be endeared to the hearts of the Athenian people for the significant benefits that he brings to the community. We can measure the popular gratitude and faith in the Chorus' passionate prayer to the netherworld deities to grant Oedipus a safe passage to the lowlands of the departed (1556-1578), and their repeated recommendations of acquiescence in an inexorable heaven-appointed design that concludes its course in the serenity of a peaceful and painless death (1693-1696, 17201723, 1777-1779). The hero's grave is to remain secret, and rightly so, given that at whatever time the military advantage can be seriously compromised, should the Thebans attempt to either offer sacrificial rites at the hidden spot of the miraculous departure or even remove the sacred bones from the concealed burial place. Provided that his last resting place stays undisturbed, Oedipus will enjoy an ineluctable bond with Colonus. He himself is fully conscious of the fact that he is inescapably tied to this Attic village, where he is destined to meet his death and vanquish his Theban enemies - much to the glorification of the Athenian state (91-93, 621-623, 644, 646). But this is by no means the whole account of the matter. We are fortunate that Greek drama preserved for posterity important snippets of information concerning the intricate status of a cultic hero. Notwithstanding the apparent difficulty in distinguishing religious reality amidst an assortment of references to ceremonial practices and principles deliberately adapted to serve the playwright's purposes, we have at least sufficient authority for the view that Sophocles drew extensively on a

146

Chapter 4

complex network of ritual actions and religious beliefs in dramatizing the aetiology of the cult of Oedipus in Attica. In that respect he was not the first among the tragedians to have experimented with the heroic code. Indeed, this was by no means the first time he treated a principle figure of the legendary past as a person to be worshipped with heroic rites. In a manner similar to Oedipus, who possesses beneficent and maleficent abilities to assist Athens in conquering her potential adversaries, the Argive king Eurystheus in Euripides' Children of Heracles becomes a saving presence in Attica, and one destined to receive heroic honours from his former enemies. In a moment of exceptional oracular concentration, Eurystheus proclaims his wish to resist the progeny of Heracles - that is, the Spartans - should they attempt to march into the Athenian borders (10261044).31 The strict adherence to the principles governing the hero-cult of Eurystheus finds a parallel in another fragmentary Euripidean play, in which the inviolate sanctuary and the detailed restrictions of the relevant hero worship are also comparable to the ritual secrecy surrounding the miraculous passing of Oedipus: in Euripides' Erechtheus, the goddess Athena instructs the people of Athens to offer heroic honours to the daughters of king Erechtheus under their new cult-name of the Hyacinthids; she also draws particular attention to the ever-present possibility that enemies may try to appease the wrath of the buried maidens by furtively presenting them with sacrificial offerings (TrGF vol v.l, fr. 370. 63-89).32 In addition, it has been convincingly pointed out that in their eponymous Sophoclean tragedies Ajax and to a lesser extent Philoctetes are depicted as sacral-heroic personages who are given the posthumous power to bestow blessings on their dear ones and curses on their foes.33 As a matter of fact, so prominent a student of Greek religion as Albert Henrichs persuasively argued in a recent article that 'it is because of the Aias, and not despite it, that Sophokles mustered the poetic courage to dramatize the heroization of Oidipous on a much more ambitious scale, and with a more pronounced emphasis on his progressive self-revelation and growing awareness of his cultic identity.'34 It should be noted, however, that this 31 32

33 34

See also Wilkins (1993), pp. xxiv-xxv; Allan (2001), notes on lines 1030-6. See also Mikalson (1991), pp. 32-35; Collard, Cropp & Lee (1995), pp. 148-194 with exhaustive bibliography. Cf. Strubbe (1991). See especially Harrison (1989); Henrichs (1993). Henrichs (1993), p. 176.

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

147

cultic dimension of Ajax is so hedged about with ambiguities through the various allusions to the post mortem supernatural status of the Salaminian hero that one could not be completely certain as to its validity. Nonetheless, as Albert Henrichs notes, Oedipus clearly does differ from disgruntled Ajax not only in his full consciousness of his impending heroic status, but also in his obsession with safeguarding his name in perpetuity through a series of promised benefits to his Athenian patrons. This observation brings once more into the foreground the idea of hopefulness resulting from such admirable character traits as cool reasonableness and insightful dignity in the face of extreme situations. Therefore, a brief review of the diverse lines of evidence gives us reason for believing that the dramatic depiction of certain principal figures in myth that stand on the border between humanity and divinity carries important echoes of a long and varied tradition regarding hero worship in Greece. But this conclusion does not oblige us to accept as true the frequently argued idea that Sophocles, or for that matter any other tragic poet, was severely restricted in his inspiration by specific cultic parameters and theological doctrines. The opposite would be nearer the truth. In point of fact, it has been convincingly suggested that, although Sophocles did not create out of whole cloth, he brought numerous stimulating insights to the concept of the mysterious elevation of Oedipus to the level of a cult hero in Attica. Most notably, Emily Kearns, followed by Donald Mastronarde and Lowell Edmunds, put forward the plausible idea that Sophocles probably did not need to look far for the story of Oedipus' miraculous transformation into a protecting divine being at Colonus.35 After having borrowed from a nexus of local and other legends that associated Oedipus with Attica, Sophocles offered a symbolic meditation on the life and death of Oedipus in terms of fifth-century notions of hero-cult.36 It is no coincidence that in all the above-mentioned cases of outsiders or marginal figures transfigured into heroic saviours, such as Eurystheus and the Hyacinthids, the keenly guarded perpetuation of hero worship for fear of divine retribution reaching down to the world of fifth-century Athens prompts the spectators to catch the familiar piousness and commitment to the distinctly salvific aspect of exaltation to heroic status, thereby enabling them to 35

36

Kearns (1989), pp. 208-209; Mastronarde (1994), note on line 1707; Edmunds (1996), p. 100. Cf. also Kirsten (1973). Cf. Kearns (1989), p. 209; see also Bernard (2001), pp. 43-58.

148

Chapter 4

correlate the inspiring vision that emerges from the action with their own religious and political experiences. Further than this, it is important for our discussion to acknowledge that there have been numerous signs of superhuman status early in the life of Oedipus - signs that have been variously interpreted during the gradual Atticization of so extraordinary a tribal figure. Apart from the unusual circumstances of his ominous birth, his royal power and astounding mental capacity give rise to a series of references to a possibly divine, or halfdivine, status in Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus (31-39, 1080-1085, 10981109). More to the point, as has been mentioned in chapter two, Jennifer March has persuasively argued that the first literary notice of Oedipus in the Iliad 23. 677-680 is substantial enough for a critic to demonstrate that, not unlike Patroclus and Achilles, the deceased Theban king was given due heroic honours at his funeral.37 Nonetheless, it was the genius of Sophoclean tragedy that familiarized ancient and modern audiences with the astounding story of Oedipus' heroization at Colonus. So enduring was the memory that contemporary scholars have frequently presented wellgrounded arguments challenging the authenticity of any other evidence corroborating the existence of relevant traditions prior to the play. More specifically, as we have already noted, serious doubt has been cast from various quarters on the significant allusion in Euripides' Phoenician Women 1706-1707 (Αν. ποϋ; τις σε πύργος 'Ατθίδος προσδέξεται;/Οι. Ιερός Κολωνός, δώμαθ' ίππίου θεοϋ. [ed. J. Diggle]) to Oedipus' eventual arrival at Colonus after a long peregrination, though the play antedates Sophocles' final drama by perhaps at least four years. There is also an interesting reference to the cordial acceptance of Oedipus by the Athenians in a fragment of Androtion (FGvHist 324 F 62), an affluent Athenian politician and local historian of Attica who was active in the fourth century BCE. But once more, the story of Oedipus' suppliancy in the sanctuary of Demeter and Athena Poliouchos and his passionate

37

March (1987), p. 123; also, according to Jennifer March, 'other hints of Oedipus' early heroic status are to be found in Corinna fr. 672 Ρ MG = Σ on Eur. Phoenician Women 26 (i 251 Schwartz), where he kills the Teumessian Vixen as well as the Sphinx.' Pictorial record of the killing of the Sphinx, especially a lekythos showing Oedipus stabbing down the Sphinx with his spear in the company of Athens-related gods and heroes, indicates that 'by this heroic act Oedipus becomes the equal of the established Attic hero Theseus, and earns the protection of his patroness, Athena' [Burn (1987), p. 46],

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

149

entreaty to Theseus to grant his assistance in the face of violent Creon has struck several critics as no less than suspicious - possibly a later fabrication on the basis of the famous Sophoclean tragedy.38 The same applies to a striking tradition that is preserved in a scholium on one of the polemical works of Publius Aelius Aristides (In Defense of the Four), a remarkably well-read sophist of the second century CE, in accordance with which after having been buried at Colonus, Oedipus encouraged the Athenians to resist a Theban attack in an inspiring epiphany (Σ on Aristid. 560, 12-30 Dindorf). Similarly, the amazing story of Oedipus' heroic manifestation in battle has been associated with a relevant historical incident in which the Athenian cavalry emerged victorious in a skirmish with a partly Boeotian contingent led by the Spartan king Agis, who later selected the area of the Academy that is in close proximity to Colonus as the campsite of his army (Diodorus Siculus 13.72.3-73.2; see also Xenophon Hellenica 1.1.33 and Socratic Memoirs 3.5.4). Let us also remark that in all probability the occurrence of this assault is dated within the temporal framework of the first movement of the Decelean War (c. 413-407 BCE) - that is, at the time when Sophocles was working on Oedipus at Colonus.19 This leads us then to look for the source of the legend in the multiple Athenian responses to the unforeseeably shifting circumstances of the Peloponnesian War. We may therefore more properly surmise that Sophocles' last drama should be treated as another important instance in the progressive Atticization of Oedipus as saviour hero, a development that was no doubt compounded by the pressing emergencies of the war with Sparta. Without wishing to extrapolate a theory about a possible contemporary event acting as an important starting place for the tale featuring an Oedipus in Attica endowed

38 39

For critical views on the ancient sources, see especially Edmunds (1996), pp. 95-100. See Schweidewin, Nauck & Radermacher (1909), p. 33; Robert (1915), I. 33-39, who, however, dates the occasion in c. 506 BCE, when the Spartan king Cleomenes I led a campaign with the purpose of restoring the Athenian politician Isagoras to power; Schmid & Stählin (1934), pp. 407-408; Schmidt (1961), p. 247; Edmunds (1996), pp. 96-97; Pelling (2000), p. 173. For views against the idea of an actual battle between Athenians and Thebans, see Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1917), p. 324, who is followed by Rosenmeyer (1952), p. 100 n. 34. Note the stories about the burial of Oedipus on the Areopagus in a precinct of the Semnai (Pausanias 1.28.6-7; see also Valerius Maximus 5.3.3) and at Boeotian Eteonos (Lysimachus of Alexandria FGrHist 382 F 2).

150

Chapter 4

with supernatural powers to bless and curse, suffice it to say that the dating of the composition of the tragedy a few years before the downfall of Athens should make readers more sensitive to the idea that Sophocles may have been profoundly inspired by such military encounters within Attica - even more so if they were victorious. Sceptical scholars may dismiss those stories about Oedipus as mere products of the significant influence that the final play of Sophocles exercised on the constant development of legendary tradition throughout the ages. Nevertheless, when critically examined, the aforementioned pieces of related information are diverse enough to justify the belief that there must have been a pre-Sophoclean connection, however tenuous, between Oedipus and Attica, possibly extending to even Colonus itself that was in wide vogue and captured the popular imagination during the Peloponnesian War.40 This belief can be further maintained by regarding the fascinating possibility of Oedipus' divinely sanctioned journey to Athens at the end of Euripides' Oedipus, in which, if the text is sound, an enthusiastic invocation of the Acropolis plays on the familiar notion of Athenian sympathy with the downtrodden stranger. In point of fact, this is an entirely expected outgrowth of Oedipus' original heroic humanity and compassion, both so marvelously exemplified in his vanquishment of the Sphinx. This is all the more so, if we take into consideration parallel traditions of celebrated heroes that find refuge in Athens in exchange for their valuable gifts after a long series of trials. As it happens, the terrible wrath of the heroes at the exasperatingly changing fortunes of their lives is regularly translated into furious imprecations on the people who have unwarrantedly wronged them, balanced against unique boons for those who have been willing to come to their assistance in their hour of need. As has already been suggested, the elevation of Oedipus to an object of cult veneration is indissolubly connected with the idea of retributive justice. The extraordinary gain in strength that Oedipus enjoys as a heroic figure is manifest in the remarkable firmness of his judgment of his family members and his countrymen. It should be pointed out, however, that critics have been intrigued, or at times even embarrassed, by the appalling force of the absolute hatred that Oedipus nourishes against his sons and his

40

See also Kearns (1989), pp. 208-209.

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

151

homeland.41 Is his relentless rage in any way justified? The question is of considerable interest for our estimate of the intensity and sincerity of the arguments and counter-arguments that slam savagely against one another in the course of the play. The sharply conflicting perspectives braided together in the tension-filled scenes with Creon and Polynices make it extremely difficult for some scholars to appreciate the rightful case put forward by Oedipus in comparison with the various earnest, although specious, claims of his kinsmen. What we must in fact believe is that the all-important distinction between the intention and the act informing Oedipus' defense of guiltlessness also becomes the touchstone upon which we are to evaluate kindred negligence and violence, the main indicator by which we are to assess the substantive ethical issues arising from the hypocritical sympathy of Creon and the obstinate self-destructiveness of Polynices. We have then a glimpse revealed of the foundation of the ferocious imprecations hurled with such implacable viciousness by Oedipus upon his relatives, and we would do well to take stock of this touchstone carefully. The question and the scrutiny of all the arguments advanced by the characters are too complex to be handled here in detail; but at least, so far as we can discern, interesting examples of an exacting morality that operates in accordance with the much-repeated distinction between the form of the action and its spirit are furnished by Oedipus' oracular fulminations on two-faced Creon and destruction-bent Polynices. But before we may naturally wonder in all our monotheistic unease why the uncontrollable fury of Oedipus vents itself in terrible curses upon his family members and the Theban people, it is more convenient first to consider a fundamental distinctive characteristic of Greek religion, especially during its early phase. No formulation could do more justice to the intricate nature of divine authority than the following extremely dense comment on the Greek celestial order made by so discerning a critic as Hugh LloydJones: 'Gods were by no means all good; their distinguishing quality was not goodness, but power.'42 In fact, perplexities with regard to the shocking character of the merciless maledictions in Oedipus at Colonus disappear

41 42

See Rosenmeyer (1952); Easterling (1967); Halliwell (1997); Mastrangelo (2000). Lloyd-Jones (2002a), p. 15. Cf. Fitton (1976); Henrichs (1990), (1991) and (1994); Lloyd-Jones (1990); Bacon (2001); Geisser (2002), esp. pp. 233-236 & 381-390; Tilg (2004).

152

Chapter 4

if we admit that, when Oedipus attains to glorified existence after death, he is similarly given enormous power to influence the fortunes of his family and his mother country. But it is not only and not mainly the awe-inspiring authority that comes to rest in Oedipus; the repercussions of his decisions are equally overwhelming. Strictly speaking, in the play he is exalted to half-divine status; this means that from a purely human perspective, good and bad meet in his person. In a way similar to the deeds of the gods, his actions have such a sweeping effect that they often leave men confounded about their true causes, or even their genuine ethical basis. There is always someone who is swept away under the sheer force of his mandates, be it Creon or his own son, Polynices. Regardless of the pounding rhetoric in favour of his deliberation, one is all too ready to question the harshness of his predictions. This is not to say that men are of no consideration to Oedipus. The site of his miraculous disappearance places him in a sacral connection with the Dread Goddesses, the stern overseers of moral purity, whose benevolent side is evoked or at least sustained by the popular consciousness in Attica. Accordingly, the inspiring elevation of Oedipus to heroic status leaves room for human sentiment as regards his daughters and the Athenian people, but his vengeance knows no bounds with reference to his sons and his Theban compatriots - principally when there is no case of contingent circumstances and guilt is absolute. Therefore, the cruel destinies in store for Creon as the misguided representative of the Theban state and Polynices as the indolent kinsman claim further critical consideration in this section. Unlike the sympathetic overtures of Polynices, the astutely hypocritical methods of Creon render his moral guiltiness clear and beyond doubt. In point of fact, a line of critics stretching from C. M. Bowra to Charles Segal have convincingly argued that in comparison to Oedipus, who is the outstanding person of the drama, Creon cuts a greatly disappointing figure.43 As we have already indicated in the previous chapter, after long years of deplorable unresponsiveness he comes to Colonus to seek his exiled brother-in-law; the earlier news about his specious motives, which have been all too timely conveyed to Oedipus by his loyal daughter Ismene, throw his easy ethics into high relief. Though he has embarked on a mission to secure the safety of his native land, his patriotism is severely tainted with remorseless self-interest and

43

See Bowra (1944), pp. 336-340; Segal (1981), pp. 376-382.

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

153

condescending cynicism. The false intentions of his actions are fully revealed when, faced with the unforgiving fury of Oedipus and the courageous resistance of the Athenian elders, he decides to drop the semblance of gentleness and gracefulness and make the earlier abduction of Ismene known. His contemptuous comments on past, heavily tabooed passions that are recurrently evoked in the course of his unpersuasive argumentation touch Oedipus' honour on the raw; the horrible imprecations come crushing down on the head of Creon when he attempts to drive Oedipus back to Thebes by force, along with his violently captured daughters (864-870). Further than this, notwithstanding the abundant warning of the old men of Colonus about the intolerable impertinence of his incursion into Attica and his impudent acts therein, he continues with his disrespectful shenanigans in the face of the devastating accusations made by Theseus and Oedipus' powerful self-exculpatory rhetoric. Throughout, Creon receives ample forewarning with regard to the stern implications of his disgraceful actions both for him and his country. His shameless indifference to matters of propriety and sincerity is bound to bring disaster on the people of his homeland; a character trait that he shares with another grasping and unprincipled villain, Polynices, who in his unrestrained fervour for royal power never shrinks from leading his army to total ruin, without giving any heed to the fearful forecasts. The consecration of heroic honours to Oedipus brings in its train the appalling fratricidal slaughter of Polynices and Eteocles in a single bloody combat under the walls of the Theban city. The shocking character of the wrathful fulminations foreboding the mutual killing is such that several scholars still feel bound to explain why Oedipus goes to such lengths to exact retribution for the admittedly dreadful indolence of his unnatural sons.44 This is again to pay no attention to the distinctive ethics of ancient Greek religion, which for the most part promotes such ideals as bravery, heartiness, resilience in the face of hardship and the affirmation of personal honour at whatever cost, rather than such aspirations entertained by a predominantly Christian notion of moral rectitude as humble piety, sacrifice, compassion and forgiveness in spite of outright violence and inexcusable affront. In the words of C. M. Bowra, who offers a most penetrating analysis of Oedipus' daemonic status in the

44

See recently Mastrangelo (2000) with relevant bibliography.

154

Chapter 4

context of Greek theology, 'what an ordinary man was expected to do, a hero did with superior force and power.' 45 In the eyes of an Athenian of the classical age it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that Polynices and Eteocles have brought upon themselves the implacable fury and unforgiving vehemence of their pitifully mistreated parent. Thus Oedipus is purposely presented in the play as withholding his wrathful curses until he is fully informed of his sons' unabashed unconcern and blatant unscrupulousness. Apart from the political strife that traces its origin to their shameless passion for the Theban throne and the hereditary doom of the House of Labdacus, the merciless abandonment of their father and brazen apathy at the hopeful news of his impending elevation render their culpability all the more unquestionable and complete. According to Athenian legal practices, filial failure to provide for one's parents was severely punished, on account of the prominent idea that a son should pay his father his due for the nurture he received as an infant under his guardianship. Of course, it goes without saying that in cases of maltreatment or cruel negligence, the anticipated penalty was equally devastating46. It is, we admit, particularly difficult for us fully to grasp the enormity in Greek eyes of filial inattention and callousness in matters involving incontestable familial duties and concerns. This is not the place to attempt a definition of what appropriate filial conduct means within the intricate framework of Greek morality, but it is unlikely that so advanced a society as the Athenian state could have been civilized in any true sense, if the illtreatment of parents remained unduly unpunished. Despite the fact that it is extremely hard to adjudicate in absolute confidence upon the sincerity and fervour of Polynices' remorseful pleading for forgiveness, his distorted conscience is in evidence not only in his stubborn insistence to continue with his accursed campaign, but also in his unashamed decision to conceal the terrifying imprecations from his fellow soldiers (1418-1419). In light of the heinousness of the sons' unfilial disloyalty to their own father and the horrendousness of their unrelenting pursuit of political gain at the cost of

45 46

Bowra(1944), p. 320. Cf. Garland (1990), pp. 261-262, who is careful to emphasize that 'distressing cases of neglect and mistreatment were by no means unheard of in Athens' (p. 261); Strauss (1993), p. 65; Harrison (1998) I. 77-78. See also Finley (1981); Falkner (1983) and (1995), esp. pp. 221-259.

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

155

innocent lives, the avenging powers unleashed by the soon to be heroized Oedipus upon his male offspring become succouring powers for those who choose to observe the obligations of the oikos, to be the champions of the oppressed, to assert their just claims with skilful daring and enlightened modesty, to endure the hardships of life without giving way to spitefiilness and dishonour. In reality, although in their genuinely human perspective Antigone, and less so Theseus, urge Oedipus to take a softer line in the dreadful harshness of his prophetic pronouncements (592, 1179-1180, 11921200), the daemonic forcefulness of clairvoyant penetration in a context of highly perplexing moral intricacy helps readers to feel the pulse of ancient Greek life more vividly than any other sort of complex nexus of conflicting responsibilities. Like a divine being, Oedipus has turned the difficult issue of his family and city's destiny to his own account - he enters the full light of the Athenian pantheon as a powerful spirit always ready to bestow weal and woe on friends and enemies, without losing sight of the profound distinction between unintentional pollution and moral guilt, motivation and crime. There is no profit in further pursuing the complicated moral questions surrounding the wrathful fulminations that Oedipus hurls upon his sons and the Theban city; nor is there any need to examine in greater depth the issue of his prospective heroic powers that are to be deployed for the benefit of the Athenian polis after he vanishes into his sacred tomb at Colonus. A detailed discussion of some of the problems related to the indissoluble connection between Oedipus and Athens as the city of law and humanity versus Thebes and its reprehensible representatives will find its place in the relevant section on the political and social dimension of the play. Here it suffices to say that the unusual details and paraphernalia of Oedipusworship prescribed with absolute authority are entirely characteristic of the general tone and colour of Greek hero-cult. In particular, the pressing need to maintain the secrecy and concealment of the heroic grave as an all-powerful pledge of Athenian safety is indicative of distinctly contemporary associations and intimate political resonances. In point of fact, it was felt that in the later part of the fifth century BCE Athens demanded more seasoned heroic figures, bearing the imprint of the thought and experience derived from long years of endurance - heroes that brought a more palpable notion of justice at a time of acute moral crisis and ethical uncertainty.

156

Chapter 4

On a more fundamental level, the consecration to long-suffering Oedipus of heroic distinction as an honorable closure to an extraordinary life is suggestive of yet another idea deeply embedded in Greek consciousness: that adversity and hardship are the exceptional touchstones of moral and physical prominence and excellence.47 It is no accident that the notion of immortality through resistance to difficult trials purposely presented by incomprehensible divine powers is impressively embodied in heroic grandeur. In order to catch a glimpse of distinctively Greek sentiments concerning the essential role played by misfortune and harsh circumstances in bringing forth greatness, we should draw the reader's attention to a particularly illuminating passage on the glorification of the war dead. According to Isocrates (Panegyricus 83-84, esp. 84), it was through divine providence that the Persian Wars ever happened, because in any other case, those men of such remarkable character and valour who sacrificed their lives for Greek freedom and self-determination would have remained unknown and uncelebrated: οίμαι δέ και τόν πόλεμον θεών τινά συναγαγείν άγασθέντα τήν άρετήν αύτών, ινα μή τοιούτοι, γενόμενοι τήν φύσιν διαλάθοιεν μηδ' άκλεώς τόν βίον τελευτήσαιεν, αλλά των αύτών τοις έκ τών θεών γεγονόσι και καλουμένοις ήμιθέοις άξκΰθεΤεν και γάρ εκείνων τά μεν σώματα ταϊς της φύσεως άνάγκαις άπέδοσαν, της δ' άρετής άθάνατον τήν μνήμην έποίησαν. (Isocrates, Panegyricus 84) [ed. Β. Mandilaras]

Not unlike those fallen warriors of unique nature and incomparable bravery who stood their ground in spite of the mighty Persian onslaught, Oedipus and, as we shall see at a later juncture of this chapter, Athens herself, are granted the ultimate honour reserved by the gods for mortals.48 Paradoxically enough, in a gesture of supreme kindness and recognition, the divine sphere has brought Oedipus face to face with disastrous events for the higher purpose of calling out brilliance and intensity in him to such a great measure that the only fitting tribute is immortal glory.

47 48

Cf. Dover (1994), pp. 161-170. See Boedeker (2001).

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

157

Immortal glory: Oedipus and Athens Regarded from a purely political viewpoint, Sophocles' final drama constitutes a most powerful reaction to the special interests and aspirations of Athens immediately before the crushing defeat in the Peloponnesian War. Nonetheless, as has already been suggested, the posthumous staging of Oedipus at Colonus has turned a historically responsive tragedy into a dazzlingly encyclopaedic compendium of distinctly Athenian topoi of national pride, set against disconcerting uncertainty and agonizing disillusionment at the devastating effects of the protracted struggle with Sparta. Several critics have rightly pointed out that the intermixture of Colonus, Athens and Oedipus renders a configuration of certain considerably important political and religious elements all the more focused.49 In a way, Sophocles' dramatization of the Oedipus legend is built on a structure of Attic landmarks and particularities that ultimately fuse together; Colonus thus becomes a symbolic condensation not only of Athens, but also of Oedipus himself, by means of a deeply involving process of systematically projecting well-known assurances about the Athenian empire. In fact, the play exploits the opportunity to tell its story in manifold images of the magnificent achievements that have been duly celebrated in such established genres of political discourse as historiography and oratory. Yet even if Oedipus' successful integration into the Attic religious apparatus is a miniature instance of greater Athenian accomplishments, it should be noted that the anxieties over political accountability and social cohesion that come to dominate the mood of the second half of the play reveal a widespread uneasiness with the grand vision of imperial supremacy. Taking into consideration the paradoxical juxtaposition of Oedipus' unbroken pledge of eternal protection and the harsh reality of utter humiliation at the hands of ferocious opponents, some scholars have felt that Sophocles' last drama offers an oblique critique of Athenian democracy and its rulers, regardless of the occasional disparagement of Thebes and Sparta. It has been fittingly recognized that in order to deepen the central tension of his work between human fragility and misery-redeeming endurance, Sophocles skilfully associates Oedipus' shifting fortunes with the history of Colonus and Athens to the point of identification. As the principal

4

" See especially Segal (1981), pp. 362-371; Edmunds (1996) passim.

158

Chapter 4

proponent of this view, Bernard Knox convincingly argued that 'the old Oedipus of this play is like the exhausted, battered Athens of the last years of the war, which, though it may be defeated and may even be physically destroyed, will still flourish in immortal strength, conferring power on those who love it.'50 The same critic treats Oedipus' never-weakening search for truth as inextricably connected with the Athenian political and cultural achievement, when he says that Oedipus the King is a dramatic embodiment of the creative vigor and intellectual daring of the fifth-century Athenian spirit.'51 There are good reasons for using this approach, mainly in view of the striking points of similarity between Oedipus' slow and painful ascendance from disaster to heroic honour, and Athens' excruciating transformation into an unsurpassed ideal state for future generations through the most distressing experiences of military failure and social dissolution. In keeping with Bernard Knox's insightful explication of the play's thought and structuring principles, a prominent lesson to be drawn from Oedipus at Colonns would seem to be that human accomplishment is inherently sheltered against the ravages of time. Not unlike Oedipus' mysterious passing into the glory of higher being after an over-prolonged, frustrating yet formative progression, Athens' anticipated metamorphosis into an object of pious veneration and passionate emulation for centuries far beyond its time and place bears eloquent testimony to the undying greatness of human attainments. In the sweep of Sophocles' inspiring vision, the indisputable progress of man and his courageous attempts to make sense of a meaningless world do not go unnoticed, but call the divine sphere into attention - the power of selfknowledge is to be constantly pitted against total chaos and despair. With these preliminary observations in mind, let us now examine the purely Athenian dimension of the play in further detail. As has been persuasively suggested, Oedipus at Colonus is a remarkable storehouse of prominent Athenian themes of national self-fashioning.52 It hardly needs pointing out that, not unlike Pericles' relevant speeches recorded in the Thucydidean narrative (1. 140-144, 2. 34-46, 2. 59-64), these motifs predominantly focus on wartime issues, not evaluations of cultural accomplishments. Taking into account the pressing needs arising from the fierce conflict between the Peloponnesian Confederacy and Athens, 50 51 52

Knox (1964), p. 144. Knox (1989), p. 51. See Edmunds (1996); Wilson (1997); Markantonatos (2002), pp. 179-197.

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

159

Sophocles draws a moving picture of Athenian unanimity and bravery, though principally confined to the spheres of administration and military activity. In actual fact, the continuous emphasis on familiar imperial assurances and beliefs contributes to the exaltation of Colonus and the glorification of Athens. The much-repeated national values are military preeminence through unstinting divine benevolence and aggressiveness of enterprise under a democratic form of government; unfailing respect for order and contracts despite the consequences; enthusiastic participation of all Athenians in the life and spirit of the city; and natural bravery springing from an open and attractive way of life. One feels that Sophocles is here making a particular point, so important for the disheartened and sorely tried Athenian citizens of his day. He treats the eulogy of Athens as the eulogy of the Athenian people rather than Athenian history. This is evident in the close co-operation of Theseus with the inhabitants of Colonus and, more pointedly, in the active and informed part played by the eager citizen body in securing the permanent safety and military superiority of Athens. Our own aim in this study dispenses us from elaborate analysis of each and every aspect of the play's Athenian bearing; but a thorough discussion of a number of principal imperial interests is important in showing why Sophocles chooses to draw on the regular fund of national particularities and preoccupations for theme and plot. Apart from the handling of the suppliant cause as one of the utmost significance for the total functioning of Athenian society in the face of the grand sweep of events, it is especially interesting to observe that Theseus, the legendary democratic leader par excellence, never recoils from the menacing prospect of Theban reprisals. In a powerful echo of his instrumental role in the early political organization of Attica, and the creation of the earliest stages of human civilization and development in the region, he is depicted as being constantly keen to offer protection to the disadvantaged foreigner, in harmonious collaboration with his fellow-Athenians. In keeping with Eveline Krummen, it is not going too far to suggest that the carefully arranged pattern of references to the territorial loyalties of the Chorus and the diverse local sanctities of Colonus would have stirred recollections in the original audience regarding their life in the numerous Attic demes - most probably 139 selfcontained communities.53 The inference seems stronger still if we

33

Krummen (1993), pp. 193-203.

160

Chapter 4

remember that deme-city relations were particularly significant for social solidarity and the efficient day-to-day running of the democracy.54 A great deal of the play's achievement lies in the gift for vivid delineation of the complicated relationship between the Athenian metropolis and the village of Colonus.55 It is no accident that Colonus is treated as the very bulwark of Athens, the military and religious safeguard of the polis (58, ερεισμ' Αθηνών), however surprising this may seem. In many ways, the deme functioned as a miniature city, with its regular congregation of citizens, the appointment of public administrators, rich cultural activities and local variations on />o/w-festivaIs. In this case, certain elements transform Colonus into an emblematic variant of the Athenian polis. These are the wide-ranging pantheon of Olympian and chthonic divinities, the particularly impressive matrix of cultic particularities and religious landmarks, the immense pride taken in deme-membership, the enormous attention devoted to the well-being of the community, the preservation of its protective sanctities at any cost, and the unbroken determination to offer speedy assistance to the tormented stranger in spite of external violence. In some respects, the local community of Colonus progressively shades into Athens herself. According to this particular school of thought, the identification of Colonus with the Athenian city is made predominantly manifest in the widely renowned Ode to Colonus (668-719), in which there is an extraordinary concentration of familiar themes concerning great honour for Attica. Here Sophocles created an unequaled choral figure for the integration of Colonus and Athens, an incomparably pregnant conflation of local praise and national eulogy, territorial security and military effectiveness in large-scale enterprises. For the audience would have been hard-pressed not to make connections between the timeless plantation of the sacred grove and the deathlessness of the mother-city guaranteed by the protective presence of benevolent deities. The eternal vitality of the lavish landscape goes hand in hand with the remarkable equestrian reputation of Colonus, both of which are unremittingly provided by divine kindness (668-680).

54

53

See principally Osborne (1985); Whitehead (1986); Cohen (2000), pp. 104-129; Humphreys (2004), pp. 130-196. See mainly Winnington-Ingram (1980), p. 339.

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

161

Closely associated with the cult of Poseidon Hippios at Colonus, the Athenian cavalry possessed not only a high public profile in fifth-century Athens, but also a considerable combat potential, valuable for defensive operations against the Spartan invaders.56 The notable operational flexibility of the mounted arm is evident in the relentless pursuit of the Theban abductors and the triumphant depiction of Theseus as an awe-inspiring horseman in the Battle Ode (1044-1095). Moreover, the adulation of the phenomenal agricultural fertility progressively slips into a wide-ranging acclamation of far greater motifs of national pride. The successive allusions to important markers of military and political supremacy located on the most impressive site of the Athenian polis, the Acropolis, would have focused the audience's attention on the inextricable interrelation of Colonus to the mother-city. The Acropolis with its monuments served as a powerful reminder of Athenian wealth and magnificence.57 The unbroken spiritual pact of goddess Athena and the polis is vividly recalled via the well-known tradition concerning the extraordinary self-renewal of the primal olive-tree in the Pandroseum west of the Erechtheum after the Persians destroyed it (694706). The triumphant claim that the self-renewing life-tree of the state is the exclusive privilege of the Athenians, in contradistinction to the people of Asia and the Peloponnesians, is a telling anachronism - thus indicating the deep-seated democratic belief in Athenian superiority over Persian and Dorian aggressors (694-696). The same applies to Poseidons' gift of seamanship (707-719), commemorated by means of a well of salt water in the Erechtheum properly called θάλασσα ('sea'). The blessing of the oar demonstrates the great weight attached to the Athenian navy as the main guarantor of the political and military fate of the fifth-century polis. Although the hoplites retained a conspicuous part in warfare, the propelling of trireme warships became closely associated with lower class citizens, an important mainstay of increasingly radical democratic institutions.58

56 57

58

See Bugh (1988); Spence (1993), esp. pp. 164-230; Worley (1994). Cf. Wycherley (1962), pp. 36-49 and (1978), pp. 105-141; Boardman (1985), pp. 117125; Castriota (1992), pp. 134-229; Jenkins (1994); Spivey (1996), pp. 123-151; Lawrence (1996), pp. 106-124; Hurwit (1999); Neils (2001). See Amit (1965); Jordan (1975); Strauss (1996). On hoplites, see Hanson (1991) and (1996).

162

Chapter 4

As they are advanced in remarkably beautiful lyrics and duly echoed throughout the play, these prominent foundations of Athenian self-identification celebrate the glowing vitality, unflinching determination and deeplyfelt confidence in the august spirituality and divinely bestowed prosperity that allowed the polis to attain an unmatched level of accomplishment and greatness. Significantly enough, the attentively distributed praises of Athenian commercial affluence and military success find further confirmation in such politically-charged discourses as the historiographic ventures of Herodotus, and the rhetorical leitmotifs of public funeral orations. 59 Both genres were powerful disseminators of fifth-century Attic ideology. In particular, certain themes reflected in Sophocles' last play record with intensity and completeness the compassion of Athenian rule and the admirable strength of the democratic mind exhibited most pointedly in humanitarian causes. These finer feelings punctuate the remarkable interfusion of Athens, Colonus and Oedipus; similar to the blinded king, the Athenian state wields more power than its hateful opponents and a fortiori than any other potential Greek or non-Greek rival. Apart from the illuminating account of certain religious and political markers on the Acropolis (8. 55), Herodotus eulogizes the Athenian valuable contribution to the Greek success in the Persian Wars in terms that are purposely echoed in Sophocles' last drama (7.139.5-6):

ia) έστι έν τη άκροπόλι ταύτη Έρεχθέος τοϋ γηγενέος λεγομένου είναι νηός, έν τω έλαίη τε και θάλασσα ένι, τά λόγος παρά 'Αθηναίων Ποσειδέωνά τε και Άθηναίην έρίσαντας περί της χώρης μαρτύρια θέσθαι. ταύτην ών την έλαίην αμα τω άλλω ίρω κατέλαβε έμπρησθήναι ύπό τών βαρβάρων δευτέρη δε ήμέρη άπό της έμπρήσιος 'Αθηναίων οί θύειν ύπό βασιλέος κελευόμενοι ώς άνέβησαν ές τό ίρόν, ώρων βλαστόν έκ τοϋ στελέχεος οσον τε πηχυαίο ν άναδεδραμηκότα. (8. 55) [ed. C. Hude] (b)

νϋν δέ 'Αθηναίους αν τις λέγων σωτήρας γενέσθαι της Ελλάδος ούκ άν άμαρτάνοι τάληθέος· ούτοι γάρ έπί όκότερα τών πρηγμάτων έτράπον-

59

On Herodotus, see recently Said (2002), who overstates her case. On funeral oration, see Loraux (1986).

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

163

το, ταϋτα ρέψειν έμελλε- έλόμενοι δέ τήν Ελλάδα περιεϊναι έλευθέρην, [τούτο] τό Έλληνικόν παν τό λοιπόν, δσον μή έμήδισε, αύτοί οΰτοι ήσαν οί έπεγείραντες και βασιλέα μετά γε θεούς άνωσάμενοι. ουδέ σφεας χρηστήρια φοβερά έλθόντα έκ Δελφών και ές δειμα βαλόντα έπεισε έκλιπεΐν τήν Ελλάδα, άλλά καταμείναντες άνέσχοντο τόν έπιόντα έπίτήν χώρην δέξασθαι. (7.139.5-6) [ed. C. Hude] Not only does he praise Athens' unbreakable resolve to meet the formidable invaders, but also signals an important departure from the traditional view that it was the Spartans who were the saviours of Greece, by boldly declaring that it was actually the Athenians who held the balance. His claim that victory should be with the side that the Athenians should join reminds one of the oracles delivered to Eteocles and Polynices, claiming that Theban safety depends on Oedipus (1331-1332, εί γάρ τι πιστόν έστιν έκ χρηστηρίων,/οίς αν σϋ προσθη, τοισδ' εφασκ' είναι κράτος; see also 409). Not unlike Athens in the Persian Wars, Oedipus was invited to make a choice between two sides - his final decision favoured freedom and honour. Similarly, in Herodotus the Athenians recount earlier instances of distinguished service ranging from providing recourse for the wronged children of Heracles to the triumphant march against the Thebans for forfeiting the burial of the dead Argives, and the heroic stand at Marathon in the face of innumerable Persian troops (9.27). In particular, they speak of the unburied Argive corpses as follows: τοϋτο δέ Άργείους τούς μετά Πολυνείκεος έπί Θήβας έλάσαντας, τελευτήσαντας τόν αιώνα και άτάφους κειμένους, στρατευσάμενοι έπί τούς Καδμείους άνελέσθαι τε τούς νεκρούς φαμεν και θάψαι της ήμετέρης έν Έλευσϊνι. (9.27.3) [ed. C. Hude] Their narration anticipated a regular element of public funeral orations at Athens. For the purpose of understanding the thought of Sophocles' final play, one should call attention to the undeniable fact that these feats of immense courage never lacked insightful perception and self-control. Lysias' Fimeral Oration 7-10, esp. 10 is a telling example of Athenian levelheadedness and coolness in spite of external brutality and uncontrollable violence: the Athenians thought better of wreaking greater vengeance on the subdued Thebans, regardless of their total victory and complete retrieval of the unburied Argive corpses:

164

Chapter 4

ταύτα διανοηθέντες, και τάς έν τώ πολέμφ τύχας κοινάς άπάντων ανθρώπων νομίζοντες, πολλούς μέν πολεμίους κτώμενοι, τό δε δίκαιον έχοντες σΰμμαχον ενικών μαχόμενοι, και ούχ υπό της τύχης έπαρθέντες μείζονος παρά Καδμείων τιμωρίας έπεθύμησαν, άλλ' έκείνοις μέν άντί της ασεβείας τήν έαυτών άρετήν έπεδείξαντο, αύτοί δέ λαβόντες τά άθλα ώνπερ ένεκα άφίκοντο, τούς Άργείων νεκρούς, έθαψαν έν τη αυτών Έλευσϊνι. περί μέν ουν τούς άποθανόντας των έπτά έπί Θήβας τοιούτοι γεγόνασιν. (Lysias, Funeral Oration 10) [ed. C. Hude] A comparable urge to restrict the sphere of unrestrained aggression is found in Theseus' testy but reasoned response to Creon's unchecked cruelty and outright lawlessness (897-936, 1019-1035). In keeping with such truly Athenian qualities as sagacity and matter-of-fact piety, Theseus is shown to be admirably restrained and undemonstrative, when faced not only with Creon's fits of abusive choler, but also Oedipus' unrepressed wrath at his ingrate sons and the girls' uncontrolled grief over their father's mysterious death (592, 1751-1753). It has been the more necessary to insist that the historical conceptions of Oedipus at Colonus are inextricably intertwined with celebrated themes of Athenian honour and Panhellenic ambition through a constant intermingling of Oedipus' private aspirations, Colonan territorial assurances and Athens' imperial preoccupations. The idea that the identification of Colonus with the Athenian metropolis has profound thematic relevance to Oedipus' painfully achieved heroic elevation has led several scholars to find clues of a covert critique, or even condemnation of democratic values and institutions, especially if they take into consideration the notion of Attic drama as a powerful means of social inquiiy and political scrutiny. In point of fact, more than a few critics, most notably Froma Zeitlin, have advanced the highly convincing view that the employment of the Theban terrain as a mythical space provides a much-needed foil to the purely Athenian concept of human affairs, namely a shadow self of the highly idealized Athenian polis.60 This allows ample geographical scope for the playwrights to conveniently explore, or even totally break down the established boundaries between genuine compassion, ritual decorum and communal order for

60

Zeitlin (1990).

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

165

their special dramatic purposes. Although there have been problems in the formulation of this theory, given that such a rigidly drawn demarcation between natural place and fictional setting fails to do justice to the multiversity of the audience response and the elasticity of theatrical space, the notion of the heroic figures of the ancient lore acting against the backdrop of the contemporary Athenian city with all its special interests and axioms is a valuable one, and provokes further examination of the social criticism latent in dramatic exhibitions.61 Once more, Bernard Knox offers a sensitive analysis of the frequently challenging and complex relationship between the citizen and the mother-city; he concludes that in Sophocles 'thepolis has become a problem.'62 There is more than a kernel of truth in this sweeping statement. Numerous are the plays in which individual strength of character is relentlessly pitted against the authoritarian claims of the city, as the intense solidarity of lineage overpoweringly reasserts its long-lost control over the external solidarity of the state. It should be noted, however, that the most recent trend in the interpretative scholarship on Greek tragedy is to treat these emotionallycharged moments of political and social censure as especially edifying for the Athenian citizemy; disastrous failings in the highly complicated business of government serve as negative examples to be avoided at all times. According to this approach, Oedipus' unrestrained fury against his native land is nothing less than an effective illustration of an unmasked, ferociously argued disapproval of reprehensible civic institutions and unworthy leaders. Although his happy integration into the cultic machinery of Attica serves as a powerful reminder of the almighty unwritten laws of decent behaviour and public sympathy, his fierce condemnation of the Theban city casts an ominous shadow over the action. The threat that unsuitable candidates and contemptible rulers pose for free institutions and public safety becomes an important issue in Sophocles' handling of Creon and Polynices, in contradistinction to Theseus, that much-celebrated symbol of democratic administration and intellectual tolerance. It is of particular importance for the understanding of the play's political dimension that fierce criticism is principally levelled against worthless politicians and state

61

62

For critical views, see principally Croally (1994), pp. 38-42 & 188-191; Rehm (2002), pp. 217-218 & 268-269. Knox (1983), p. 27.

166

Chapter 4

representatives. Theseus is careful to exonerate Thebes from the excessive and barbarous severity of Creon's cause, arguing that the Theban people would have condemned his uncontrolled brutality and barefaced lawlessness (919-923); earlier on in the play, he expresses his genuine surprise at hearing that enmity should come at some point between Athens and Thebes (606, και πώς γένοιτ' άν τάμά κάκ κείνων πικρά;). The same applies to the unflattering depiction of Polynices as the ambitious and overweening leader who has little thought for the security of his men. It is no coincidence that both Bernard Knox and Mary Whitlock Blundell compellingly argue that the original audience could hardly have failed to appreciate the striking parallels between the sordid figure of Polynices and the treacherous ambition of insincere Alcibiades.63 All in all, it is fair to say that at a time of social disruption and political emergency, the inspiring image of an enlightened Theseus working in close collaboration with the Athenian citizens for the welfare of the state would have served as a powerful paradigm of communal consensus and perceptive governance, further enhanced no doubt by the consistent pattern of allusions to glorified earlier instances of gallantry and self-sacrifice, involving illustrious mythical and historical paradigms. Perhaps Mary Whitlock Blundell was right when she suggested that 'these implicit contrasts between the present and the glorious past convey a tacit reproach to contemporary Athens.' 64 In view of the fact that the relentless comparisons between the laudable exploits of a far-off past and the hopeless reality of disappointing rulers have considerable weight in the body of the play, one is entitled to question the eternal safety afforded by Oedipus' elevation to the level of protecting hero in Attica.65 The paradox becomes even more palpable when audiences are faced with the disturbing inconsistency between the unimpeachable pledge of Oedipus and the harsh truth of overwhelming defeat in the Peloponnesian War. At first sight, the humiliating fall of the Athenian empire at the hands of ruthless antagonists renders Oedipus' promise of

63

64 65

Knox (1983), p. 26; Blundell (1993), p. 304. Further, it is worth citing Elizabeth Craik's insightful observation that 'in successive generations, relations of Thebes with Peloponnesian allies bring trouble at home: Laius with Pelops, Oedipus with Polybus, and Polynices with Adrastus' [(1988), p. 162], For a different view, see Vickers (2005a), who traces Alcibiadean aspects in the figure of Oedipus. Blundell (1993), p. 303; see also Slatkin (1986); Rehm (2004), p. 45. See Kitzinger (2005), p. 8.

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

167

enduring well-being no less than a charade. But let us look a little further into Sophocles' artful manipulation of certain politically-charged allusions to the complex relation of Oedipus to the Athenian state. It should be noted that Sophocles has painted a picture on so grand a scale that the security of Athens depends on all future successors of Theseus' administration. He has thus introduced a perspective above and beyond the personal or merely partisan. The dark, queasy strength and duration of the images of devastation from the prolonged conflict with Sparta would have tended to overwhelm the uplifting message of the drama. Yet the instructive example of Theseus and the ever-present prospect of god-given assistance invariably prompted by insightful government would have offered the disenchanted spectators new avenues for interpreting their current demanding situation. The secret of divinely authorized protection may have been momentarily violated by sordid politics and foul play, but there are always future leaders who can restore it to safety; in other words, the hopeful vision of everlasting shelter should remain true, provided that social stability and political order exist under the guidance of honorable figures of rightful authority. With these thoughts in mind, we come to the last section of this chapter in which the strong correlation between the structuring principles of Oedipus at Colonus and the aspirations of the Athenian state is thrown into sharp relief by a detailed investigation of further possible historical echoes.

Religion and Politics: The Oath of Athens νόμους παρείρων χθονός/θεών τ' ενορκον δίκαν/ΰψίπολις: thus declared with perfect confidence the Chorus of old men in Sophocles' celebrated O d e to Man' (Antigone 368-370). Flourishing indeed is the city that observes the law and respects the divinely sanctioned system of justice supports public authority and defends the gods' sworn right.66 As we have already indicated, in recent years much weight has been attached to the intricate relation between religion and politics in ancient Greece, and rightly so because the entire functioning of the city-state involves religious beliefs and ceremonies. This is commonly explained in reference to the various theological ideas underlying every aspect of the Greek political

66

See especially Griffith (1999), pp. 179-181.

168

Chapter 4

life; but in a previous section we pointed out that the cause of the close association between cult-practices and civic communality lies deeper than in any provisional theological consideration; it lies rather in the deeprooted notion that the binding force of religious principles guarantees orderliness and discipline. Occasions of impiety are invariably treated as a serious threat to public security, which is easily dismantled by the fierce polarization of social relations within the community. The justice by which men swear in the gods' name maintains the solidity of all power structures, be they internal or external, communal or alliance-based. The disregard of an oath shreds the fabric of society because the weakening of traditional norms is considered to be a grave affront to the divine order. It is not overbold to suggest that for a Greek of the classical age perjury signals an unmistakable sign of social dissolution and political demoralization. In violence to the divine law, the oath-breaker treads the ruinous path of ethical disintegration; severe punishment awaits the violator, his family and his city.67 In Athens the enforcement of oaths preserves the shape of democratic life and safeguards the continued existence of the polis, or, in the succinct phrase of Lycurgus, the energetic Athenian statesman of the fourth century BCE, τό συνέχον την δημοκρατίαν δρκος εστί (Against Leocrates 79 [ed. Ν. Conomis]). The remainder of this chapter will therefore be devoted to the consideration of a striking instance of distinctly contemporary significance involving an archetypical pledge for reconciliation between Olympian gods - a purely fifth-century concern that is predominantly present in Sophocles' attention to Athenian wartime preoccupations and prospective post-war reconstruction. Once we have established the important ramifications of this divinely endorsed agreement for the assessment of the historical dimension in Oedipus at Colonus, we shall discuss the recurrent references to oathmaking rituals in the closing scenes within the broader context of dispute settlement and social stability achieved through political compromise. Since all these occasions reveal in the most emphatic way the instrumental role regularly played by religion in the formulation of incorruptible and public-minded policy, from the start it is illuminating to relate their function to the play's far-reaching network of ritual hopefulness and arrangement. There is nothing like this elsewhere in the whole of Greek

67

See Mikalson (1983), pp. 31-38; Dover (1994), pp. 246-250.

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

169

tragedy save the establishment of a promising pact between goddess Athena and the Athenian people at the end of Aeschylus' Eumenides after a trilogy-long healing process of familial and social conflict.68 For it is one thing to seek closure through a variety of carefully formulated oaths, another to promote a specific form of ethical understanding as a counterbalance to what appears to be an irremediably self-conscious society. Given that the long-drawn and far-spread confrontation between Athens and Sparta resulted in the total collapse of political and moral assurances, in Oedipus at Colonus the sources of order and regularity are persistently located in recognizable religious safeguards. As a way of thinking about Athenian survival in a time of utmost crisis, this inextricable connection between democratic reflection and highly esteemed cultic principles discourages the thoughtless pursuit of exclusive interests and minimizes the war's morally levelling effects. It is not so difficult in this case to suggest a reason for this constant highlighting of collective preoccupations; for Sophocles is more than eager to assure the Athenian audience that there are important benefits to be gained by giving priority to the public good over private aspirations and self-serving rivalries. The permanence of Athenian democracy entails the unfailing respect for promises and contracts, the speedy recovery of traditional values and ideals. Against an alarming background of unremitting contention and disharmony, especially in the years following the Sicilian disaster, such a remedy must, in Sophocles' view, come from within and be founded on the goodwill of politicians and citizens. In the retrospective mood of the play, the time-honoured social and legal conventions most urgently dictate temperance in the management of the affairs of the state, as indeed they did before repeatedly to the glory of Athens. It has recently been suggested that the happy juxtaposition of Athena and Poseidon in the Ode to Colonus is enough to prove an important yet never duly stressed concern in Oedipus at Colonus·. the pressing need for the Athenian state to engineer the immediate oblivion of unreflecting fury and distressing adversities so as to terminate the continual cycle of vengeance.69

68

69

Once more there is strong emphasis on stasis-free stability and political moderation for the advantage of the Athenian city (976-983, τάν δ' άπληστον κακών μήποτ' έν πόληι στάσιν/τοαδ' έπεύχομαι βρέμειν,/μηδέ πιοΰσα κόνις μέλαν αίμα πολιταν/δι' όργάν ποινάς/άντιφόνους, άτας/άρπαλίσαι πόλεως [ed. Μ. L. West]). See Sommerstein (1989a), note on lines 980-3. See Markantonatos (2002), p. 195 n. 35.

170

Chapter 4

At a time of social disunity and political enmity, greatly aggravated by a string of military failures since 413 BCE, the vehement contest between Athena and Poseidon on the Acropolis for the control of the city had come to be treated as a powerful prototype of the Peloponnesian War; hence the decision to abolish every festal occasion (the commemoration of Athena's triumph over Poseidon included) that would have served as a constant reminder of the horrible struggle between Greek states. In light of postwar anxieties and the dreadful experience of civil conflicts, the liberal praise heaped on Poseidon for not bearing a grudge against Athens is particularly expressive of the abiding Athenian concern for the abolition of contentious memories and resentful sentiments.™ The construction of an altar to Λήθη ('Oblivion') in the Erechtheum on the Acropolis celebrates the very idea that social cohesion and effective nation building come only through forgetfulness and concord. One hardly needs point out that the far-reaching political ramifications of the favourable light so abundantly thrown on Poseidon in the play would have been heralded as a highly influential message of civic unity and political agreement addressed by the dead poet to his fellow-Athenians in the spring of 401 BCE. We believe that this is an important insight into the play's structuring principles, especially in view of the final struggle between the 'unforgetting' mourning of Antigone and the 'non-lamenting' devoutness of Theseus. Antigone's acquiescence in Theseus' urgent call for moderation and respect for divinely sanctioned covenants is an essential factor in the thematics of the play (1768-1769, άλλ' εί τάδ' εχει κατά νοϋν κεί,νω,/ταϋτ' αν άπαρκοΐ); her co-operation marks the climactic moment in a long series of successfully completed pacts between the human protagonists, in the face of intrafamilial violence and interstate controversy. It is no accident that the play begins with a contravention of a pledge; the breaking of the agreement is treated as a serious distortion of fundamentally Athenian values and beliefs. Although the elders of Colonus assure Oedipus that he will come to no harm if he abandons his refuge inside the tabooed grove (176-177), once they learn his name, they summarily ask him to leave Attica (226). Their order moves Oedipus to a vehement outburst in protest at the disregard of the assurance; Oedipus urges the Chorus to 70

See Plutarch, Table Talk 9.6 and On Brotherly Love 18. Cf. also the incisive discussion in Loraux (1998), pp. 83-109, esp. p. 92 and (2002). Further, see Mikalson (1991), p. 224.

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

171

honour the pact (227, α δ' ΰπέσχεο ποί καταθήσεις;). For fear of pollution, the old men refuse their initial promise of safe keeping (229-236). In his apologia, Oedipus invokes the Athenian ideal of the unfailing pursuit of the tormented stranger's warranted claims in the face of extreme danger; this unique sense ofjustice that is never tempted into violence affords Athens unstinted divine benevolence (258-262, 275-283). Traditional piety embodied in the Athenian protection of the suppliant binds the citizens to a profoundly political and social consideration of their own well-being. This becomes more than evident in Theseus' securely reliable oaths; the king's abstention from withdrawing his promises will be rewarded with a great prize: Oedipus' bones buried in his Attic tomb will be mighty dispensers of justice. It is to this that we must now turn and consider how Sophocles stamps the play with one of its most characteristic features, a constant preoccupation with the validity of the characters' claims, an unvarying emphasis on public moral duty and oath-making principles. In one sense, Oedipus at Colonus is laid out in successive episodes, each tied to the same all-important issue of political truthfulness and personal honesty. There are clear signs of a purposeful pattern in the very large number of references to the persuasive effect of promises and oaths, the provisions of blessings and curses. The oath-making rituals punctuating the closing moments of the second Oedipus drama mark the carefully prepared culmination of a play-long meditation on the immensely beneficial aspect of social agreement and stasis-free political relationships. But this is by no means the whole account of the matter. It is worth remarking that amidst several allusions to significant interstate agreements and religious pledges considerable weight is attached to the great importance of the Athenian word of honour. Once the effectiveness of the Athenian claims has been rigorously tested through a series of violent encounters with Theban intruders, the process of oath formulation commences with exclusive intensity. However much Oedipus wishes to exact from Theseus an oath that he is acting in good faith, he only enters into a pact with the Athenian ruler in the concluding scenes. The suspension of sworn promises enhances one of the central interests of the play: deeds are far superior to words; fellowship has to be put to proof to show its permanence and earnestness. This means to say that society proves to depend more fundamentally on practical political achievements than (as the Theban envoys and Polynices would appear to wish) on delicate oaths of reconciliation and alliance; it

172

Chapter 4

owes its stability for the most part to the ballast provided by the citizens' resolute devotion to turn high praises and justified claims into effective action. We may surmise, therefore, with more right that the play's deep concern with the authority of lawfully sworn pledges presents remarkable points for comparison with the growing feeling of Athenian disenchantment with fifth-century moral safeguards and political covenants. In light of the poignant recognition that a slight pretext is powerful enough to play havoc with age-old pacts, the disappearance of civil trust leads both the individual and the polis to a frenzied struggle to exceed potential rivals at brutality and vindictiveness. From these considerations it follows that in Oedipus at Colonus Sophocles offers plain good advice to his fellowAthenians. His explicit avowal of the necessity of honesty in public life in the face of the undependability of political relationships aims at containing the rapid fading of traditional Athenian ideals and assurances brought about by military failure and by civil discord. His sceptical treatment of those social agreements that are there to exclusively serve personal interests and dubious political aspirations resembles the widespread cynicism of Athenians about deceitful promises and unreliable treaties: it is certainly a question not of ceasing to employ these arrangements, but of learning to do so judiciously and uncompromisingly. As we shall see, surprisingly enough, at the turn of the fifth century BCE, the reckless pursuit of unlimited power and the vicious interplay between distrust and deceitfulness give way to far-sighted deliberation and collective resolve through a magnanimous act of forgiveness. Like a true prophet, Sophocles bolsters the value of his advice by anticipating the fundamentally improved circumstances under which the Athenian citizens will reconstitute their internal concord in the years following the end of the Peloponnesian War. With these considerations in mind, we can safely say that the atmosphere of compassion and compromise keeps gathering all through the first part of Oedipus at Colonus. In particular, after the timid reservations of the elders, the friendly encounter of Theseus and Oedipus serves as a vehicle for this major theme of the play. The motif of reconciliation and respect for contracts is here laid on with a much heavier hand; Oedipus persistently calls for guarantees to serve for the assessment of the value of the Athenian assertions. Against a background of Theban violence and dishonesty, thrown into sharp relief by the unexpected arrival of news-bearing Ismene, his well-crafted and perceptive time-speech highlights the untrustworthiness

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

173

of human faith and the imperfection of political settlements (607-623). This hard-won reflection on the inexorable effects of countless time shows the intent of what follows. According to blind old Oedipus, allcontrolling time destroys partnership (611, θνήσκει δε πίστις, βλαστάνει δ' απιστία) and shatters all earthly covenants at the slightest word (619620, έν αίς τά νΰν ξύμφωνα δεξιώματα/δόρει διασκεδώσιν έκ σμικρού λόγου). Not only does his remarkable cosmic insight give expression to his fear of Theban hostility, but also indicates his anxiety over Athenian promises. It is no accident that in the following lines he is more than eager to urge upon Theseus the need to guard his own trust and never succumb to the stresses of all-conquering time (625-626, [...] τό σον μόνον/πιστόν φυλάσσων [...]). He makes plain that Athens will enjoy significant benefits accruing from his heroic status if Theseus acts his guarantees out faithfully (648, εί σοι γ' απερ φής έμμενεΐ τελοΰντί μοι). This remarkable scene with Oedipus and Theseus repeatedly asserts the value of loyally sworn pledges as a mighty force in the configuration of social relationships. It should therefore be noted as something exceptional that at this juncture good faith takes precedence over solemnly formulated vows; and until far on in the play the Athenians perform their promises truly without offering an oath. The continuation of the scene fully confirms the contrast between word and action. Notwithstanding his fearful contemplation of Theban violence, Oedipus refrains from binding the Athenian king with an oath on the grounds that this would impugn his honour as one undependable (650, οΰτοι σ' ΰφ' δρκου γ' ώς κακόν πιστώσομαι). Theseus agrees that this contract will not call for the strict provisions of an oath since his word is nothing less than his bond (651, οΰκουν πέρα γ' αν ουδέν ή λόγω φέροις). He forcefully adds that he does not need Oedipus to teach him his own duty (654, μή δίδασχ' α χρή με δραν). The ensuing episodes with Creon and Polynices not only bring out the devastating effects of civil disharmony and political strife, but also give rise to powerful Athenian assertions of righteousness and order over the menacing forces of disorder and injustice. The specious overtures of Creon and the feigned repentance of Polynices are starkly depicted against an Athenian background of unwavering impartiality and wise courage. As each and everyone is desperately implicated in ambitious rivalries for power and the pledges previously agreed upon in harmony are smashed by the enemy sword, Theseus stands unshirking in the performance of his pious task, unflinching in pursuit of justice at

174

Chapter 4

whatever cost of terrible reprisals. Although the Argos-Thebes conflict and the Athens-Thebes confrontation highlight the mutability of human affairs and the fragility of lawfully sworn pacts, the Athenian city remains the only place where, in the words of Oedipus, the tormented stranger is treated with due reverence, compassion, and truthfulness (1125-1127). On the one hand the Theban characters press on with their brutality and ambition in contempt of the gods, in disregard of the contracts, and insensitive to all dishonour, but on the other the Athenians are fully conscious of the identification of the patriotic, the virtuous and the pious. In the Battle Ode the elders offer an important reminder of the inextricable connection between social honesty and religious principles, the intimate relation of political integrity to the fear of god. As we have already indicated, the awesome pledge of silence imposed by the Eleusinian priests upon the initiates has a very special claim to Athenian democratic interests (1050-1053). Indeed, as a powerful guarantee of social concord and political stability, the secret of the dread Mysteries requires constant vigilance on the part of the Athenians.71 It would not be strange if so solemn a promise of silence serves as important preparation for much that follows, no less than for the oath of secrecy that Oedipus will exact from Theseus at the closing stages of the play. Although not empty words, but honest deeds are the ultimate goal of Theseus' aspirations, most of the end of Oedipus at Colonus is caught up in a crucial process of oath formulation. Not unlike the Eleusinian call for strict confidentiality, the new pledge is at the very centre of Athenian ambitions. In this case, however, it is not Theseus, but Oedipus who seeks to offer instructions on how his host will perform his duties faithfully to his country's benefit (1518-1519, εγώ διδάξω, τέκνον Αίγέως, a σοι/γήρως άλυπα τηδε κείσεται πόλει,; cf. 1539, τά μεν τοιαϋτ' οΰν είδόχ' έκδιδάσκομεν). Before passing from mortal sight, Oedipus prescribes the details and paraphernalia of his cult, placing strong emphasis on the secrecy of his grave (1522-1532). The invisibility of his heroic tomb is of the utmost importance for the protection of the Athenian polis; as 71

On the Eleusinian Mysteries as an important political institution of Athenian unity and Panhellenic dominance, see Osborne (1985); Clinton (1994a); Parker (1996), pp. 1217; Sourvinou-Inwood (1997); Markantonatos (2002), p. 103 n. 21; Edmonds (2004), pp. 118-119, who succinctly notes that 'the integrity of Eleusis stood for the integrity of the Athenian state' (p. 119).

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

175

has already been mentioned, it is remarkable that Oedipus is so determined to secure the privacy of his burial spot that he places each and every one of the Athenian rulers under oath (1530-1532). And there are even more pacts to follow that thread the mythological past with the future of contemporary Athens. As a matter of fact, the Eleusinian pledge is not the only Athenian example of a faithfully volunteered oath that is tendered for eternity. After the miraculous departure of Oedipus into the sacred grove to meet his death, the Messenger describes with great elaborateness the complex of sanctities amidst which the blind old man positioned himself without previous knowledge of the ground. He refers to another important covenant confirmed by Theseus, this time with his dear friend Peirithous (1590-1594): έπεί δ ' ά ψ ί κ τ ο τον κ α τ α ρ ρ ά κ τ η ν ό δ ό ν χ α λ κ ο ΐ ς β ά θ ρ ο ι σ ι γήθεν έρριζωμένον, εστη κ ε λ ε ΰ θ ω ν έν π ο λ υ σ χ ί σ τ ω ν μια, κοίλου π έ λ α ς κ ρ α τ ή ρ ο ς , οΰ τ ά Θ η σ έ ω ς Π ε ρ ι θ ο υ τε κείται πίστ' άεί ξ υ ν θ ή μ α τ α -

In a manner similar to the Eleusinian secret and Oedipus' protective herocult, the pact sealed by Theseus and Peirithous at Colonus is everlasting. Although none of the hallowed objects recounted in the messenger-speech has survived, so that we cannot know the significance of these tokens of faith that were possibly cut on either a monumental stone bowl or a natural crater in the ground, the eternal covenant of Theseus and Peirithous serves as a striking paradigm of Athenian trustworthiness and friendship. 72 It would not be strange if so remarkable a story of unfailing loyalty and goodwill at whatever cost of terrible consequences offered a convenient model for Oedipus' reception into Attica under the protecting eye of Theseus. It is obviously in this case out of the question to conjecture any foundation for the Attic legend of Oedipus in any Athenian tale of magnanimity or some old-established Colonan ritual. It is a more probable

72

On the local sacrred objects, see Markantonatos (2002), pp. 201-204 with relevant bibliography. Further, on the story of Theseus and Peirithous, see Walker (1995), pp. 10-11; Mills (1997), pp. 257-262. Cf. also Brommer (1982); Ryzman (1992); Connor (1996); Simon (1996); Mills (2002), esp. pp. 74-77.

176

Chapter 4

assumption that one agency among many was Theseus' famous pledge to Peirithous duly commemorated in the midst of the other chthonic markers inside the holy meadow. Not unlike Oedipus, Peirithous was a non-Attic tribal hero, who entered into a pact of friendship with Theseus before descending into the Underworld to carry off Persephone as his bride." As he was severely punished for his audacity by being held prisoner in Hades, Theseus honoured his promise of lifelong comradeship and never deserted his friend in the hour of peril. According to some version of the story, release from suffering only came, when Heracles, the robust Dorian hero of high achievement, ventured into the netherworld to capture Cerberus. It was then that the chthonian powers allowed Heracles to rescue Theseus and Peirithous, or, as said by other sources, only Theseus, perhaps as the one less responsible for the gross impiety. But before a fair conclusion can be arrived at concerning the relation of the obscure stone signs to the introduction of Oedipus into Attica, a fragmentary play of uncertain authorship must be considered. Critics have shown reason for believing that the Peirithous of Critias, or more probably of Euripides, highlights the close connection of Theseus with the idealized conception of the fifth-century Athenian polis,74 Once again, as a model sovereign of genuinely democratic aspiration, Theseus is heralded as the representative par excellence of Athenian humanity and justice. His courageous decision to make his words good and stay in Hades with Peirithous is treated as incontrovertible proof for his trustworthiness and compassion. For there is no reason to doubt that his willingness to put his life in danger so that his friend might entertain better hopes of release brings to mind comparable acts of selflessness and loyalty constantly eulogized in Attic myth and funeral orations. In fact, Sophie Mills convincingly suggested that Theseus' sympathy for Peirithous' plight is closely intertwined with the high ambitions of Athenian empire, the much-celebrated idea of Athenian enthusiastic involvement in impossible tasks.75 In particular, a brief discussion of fr. 7 (TrGF vol. i, Crit. 43 F 7, pp. 175-177; cf. also frs. 591-600 Nauck2) may serve to deepen our impression 73

74 75

On Peirithous as an original 'minor Attic hero', see the discussion in Walker (1995), p. 11 drawing on Nilsson (1932), pp. 174-175. See Eucken (1979); Sutton (1987); Mills (1997), p. 257 n. 118. Mills (1997), p. 260. Cf. also Papadopoulou (2005), pp. 180-181.

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

177

of the play's intimate association with well-known democratic topoi of great pride for the empire. Certain lines of connection with similar Athenian axioms regularly advanced in Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus are not hard to draw. The surviving text includes a dialogue between Heracles and Theseus in Hades (esp. 5-19):

]τος, Ήράκλεις, [σέ] μέμψομαι ]η, πιστόν γάρ άνδρα και φίλον πρ]οδοϋναι δυσμ[εν]ώς είλημμένον. 8 (28) σαυτώι τε,] Θησεϋ, τί) τ' 'Αθηναίων πό[λει πρέποντ' ελεξας- τοϊσι δυσ[τυ]χοϋσι γάρ άεί ποτ' εΐ σύ σύμμαχος· σκήψιν [δ' έμ]οί άεικές έστ' έχοντα προς πάτραν μολεϊν. 12 (32) Ευρυσθέα γάρ πώς δοκεΐς άν άσμενον, ει μοι πύθοιτο ταΰτα συμπράξαντά σε, λέξειν άν ώς άκραντος ήθληται πόνος;

άλλ' ου σϋ χρήιζεις π[ ] έμήν έχεις 16 (36)εΰνοιαν, ουκ έμπλ[ηκτον, άλλ' έλ]ευθέρως έχθροΐσί τ' έχθράν [και φιλοισι]ν εύμενί], πρόσθεν σ' έμοί τ[ ]ει λόγος, λέγοις δ' άν [....].[ ]ους λόγους

The lines are complete enough to suggest that Theseus' decision to live in the Underworld was a product of his own volition (6-7). Heracles is duly impressed by this unique sense of abiding friendship and unflinching faithfulness; he relates the daring of Theseus in the face of utmost danger with Athens' admirable moral assertion of unstinting succour for the oppressed at any cost (8-10). Once again the idea of everlasting loyalty is heavily emphasized (10, άεί)· In a manner similar to the notion of undying respect for covenants recurrently highlighted in the closing scenes of Oedipus at Colonus, the constant maintenance of officially sworn pledges is treated as the all-important yardstick by which social and political well-being should be measured. The Athenian claims to courageous acumen and generosity know no bounds; this timeless tradition of indefatigable bravery and commendable steadfastness focuses on the extraordinary Athenian pursuit of distinction. This means to say that Athenian heroism is persistently driven to the summit of human achievement by appeal to god's law. The vast and living portrait of Theseus in Peirithous is a case in point. Not only does he follow Peirithous in his perilous enterprise, but also goes so far as

178

Chapter 4

to offer his help to Heracles in his venture to abduct Cerberus, the threeheaded hound of Hades (10-14). Let us also remark that what is truly amazing about the untiring Athenian quest for excellence is its exclusive freedom from stubborn blindness and thoughtless gallantry. Theseus' offer of goodwill to Heracles is firmly established in discerning reflection; his pledge of eternal friendship is predicated on the profoundest understanding of human motive and circumstance (15-17). Similarly, in Sophocles' last play, the universal law of helping friends and harming enemies lies at the heart of Athenian assurances. It is fair to say that within the context of Athenian self-perception both Theseus and Oedipus bring fascinating insights to bear upon the 'undecidable' relations of crime and punishment, thereby marshalling an impressive breadth and depth of intelligence and experience. For the moment it is relevant to emphasize that not unlike Sophocles the author of Peirithous weaves a thread of relentless but thoughtful justice into the Athenian action of imperial attainment. Within limits, we may usefully recognize a detailed correlation between the permanent pledge of Theseus to Peirithous and Oedipus' promise of eternal protection. Although the points of similarity are not stressed in Oedipus at Colonus, they are obvious and unconcealed. The evocation of the story of Theseus and Peirithous adds a further dimension of meaning and dramatic force to the oath-making rituals in the recesses of the sacred grove. This brings us back again to the question of the binding force of a true pledge in such matters as the observance of the rights of other cities and sympathy for one's friends. Difficult as it is to pierce Sophocles' layers of historical allusion to the bottom, one is confident enough in discerning a pattern of powerful prototypes of civic unity and social concord in the closing scenes of Oedipus at Colonus. Notwithstanding the constant emphasis on the need for swift and vigorous action in human affairs, in the final moments of Oedipus' mortal life the play takes its audience through a deeply involving process of oath making. In fact, there are references to two distinct pledges solemnly confirmed by Theseus and Oedipus concerning the safety of the girls and the grave's secrecy. Both covenants link closely with previous Athenian archetypes of religious, social and political agreement in a consistent and interesting way. In light of the newly sanctioned pacts, the audience would have invested a deeper sympathetic commitment in the age-old Athenian sense of justice and humanity. Once more a story of undying loyalty is funnelled from the tightly closed field of personal

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

179

relationships into the open field of national security and pride. Against an intensely religious background, we may safely argue that each and every one of the play's faithfully sworn pledges fits into a coherent overall structure. It is not so difficult in this case to suggest a reason for the invocation of the divine to oversee good faith in oaths; for both the implication of the god in the taking of a vow and the hallowed setting enhance the gravity of the obligation.76 At the final stage of the play, Sophocles seems pointedly to work towards a more precise and orderly arrangement of human affairs under the vigilant eye of the divine realm. His characters think in terms of carefully performed oath-rituals rather than spoken assurances. In a manner similar to the profound religiosity of Oedipus' miraculous transformation into a daemonic presence, ritual serves as a shaping and connective force in the maintenance of pledges. But at a deeper level the response is to a certain freshness, a new accent, which offers clear signs of renewal and improvement. It is indeed a perfect close in its catching of long-standing themes and promising insights. Thus it is not overbold to say that, whereas from many earlier paradigms of lawfully affirmed contracts the spectators glimpsed several reasons for the glorious Athenian past, here the striking novelty of the divinely sanctioned covenant between Theseus and Oedipus afforded much-needed hope of a new beginning to the original audience in the hour of grave peril for the pol is. In Sophocles' final play, oath-ritual was made an important political instrument for the future of Athens. In particular, according to the Messenger, on listening to the divine summons, Oedipus asked Theseus to promise under oath that he would never forsake Antigone and Ismene. The Athenian king swore that he would do as his friend wished (1629-1637): ό δ' ώς έπήσθετ' έκ θεοϋ καλούμενος, αύδα μολεΐν οί γης άνακτα Θησέα, κάπεί προσήλθεν, είπεν, "ω φίλον κάρα, δός μοι χερός σης πίστιν άρχαίαν τέκνοις, ύμεΐς τε, παίδες, τψδε- και καταίνεσον μήποτε προδώσειν τάσδ' έκών, τελεΐν δ' δσ' αν μέλλης φρονών εύ ξυμφέροντ' αύταΐς αεί." ό δ', ώς άνήρ γενναίος, ούκ οίκτου μέτα κατήνεσεν τάδ' δρκιος δράσειν ξένφ. 76

See principally Mikalson (1983), p. 37; Burkert (1985a), pp. 250-254.

1 80

Chapter 4

The atmosphere of the concluding scene is thronged with supernatural presences and powers. Oedipus takes a solemn and loving farewell of his wailing daughters. Before becoming a protective hero in the Attic soil, he tries to provide for Antigone and Ismene by soliciting the protection of the Athenian king. The binding pledge of the right hand (1632), a timehonoured guarantee, increases the formality of the occasion.77 Moreover, the handclasp as an ancient promise of loyalty is intimately intertwined with the notion of everlasting security, a recurrent motif in the play (1634, άεί; cf. 1633, μήποτε). As he is placed under oath, Theseus agrees to succour the girls without giving way to expressions of pity or sorrow (1636-1637). His abstention from grief not only indicates his acquiescence in the divine scheme of things, but also prepares the ear for his resolute stance in the lament, in the face of Antigone's mournful mood. Although the girl's anguish is such that its wilful refusal of alleviation threatens to exceed all lawful bounds, Theseus' invocation of his most earnest pledge to Oedipus opens the way for a compromise solution. It is no accident that the play ends with an important reference to the sacred covenant concerning the hero's undisclosed sepulchre. The mention of the hallowed pledge is authoritative enough to contain Antigone's sorrowful outbursts and promote the welfare of the whole polis. In particular, as we have already noted, a few moments before his preternatural exit from the stage Oedipus became fully conscious of his future heights of being and laid down the strict rules of his cult. The Messenger's report made evident that Theseus was in close rapport with Oedipus in his effort to guard the privacy of his tomb. However, in the kommos Antigone, and less so Ismene, cannot bear their lot calmly and give way to uncontrollable mourning beneath their heavy load of sorrow (1670-1750). It is difficult for the elders to wrestle with and untie the tragic knot presented to them by the sombre moods of the girls. However much they try to offer kindly guidance, Antigone and Ismene brush aside their sensible admonitions. In the ensuing swift dialogue between the girls and the Athenian king, the grimness of the confrontation is finally relieved (1751-1779). Theseus' firm resolve to protect the inviolability of Oedipus' 77

Note also Papageorgiou's attractive emendation of the problematic ά ρ χ α ί α ν (1632), which is moreover enthusiastically endorsed by Jebb (1900), note on line 1632. I strongly believe that the conjecture ό ρ κ ί α ν is particularly apposite to the solemnity of the occasion, especially in view of the corresponding δ ρ κ ι ο ς (1637).

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

181

burial place is strengthened by the knowledge that the hero will reign in the fullness of his spirit beneath the earth on condition that due respect is paid to formally sworn oaths at all times (1760-1767): ώ παίδες, άπειπεν έμοί κείνος μήτε πελάζειν ες τούσδε τόπους μήτ' έπιφωνεΐν μηδένα θνητών θήκην ίεράν, ήν κείνος εχει. και ταϋτά μ' έφη πράσσοντα κακών χώραν εξειν αίέν άλυπον. ταΰτ' οΰν εκλυεν δαίμων ημών χώ πάντ' άίων Διός Ό ρ κ ο ς .

Although there is no proof that further ritual activity took place inside the holy grove after the departure of Antigone and Ismene, it is not unlikely that Oedipus and Theseus renewed their pledge of secrecy at this critical moment. It has been remarked that on a closer view the solemn confirmation of their oath in the privacy of the sanctuary of the Eumenides comes as an impressive revelation of additional divine involvement.78 Theseus' advice is rendered all the more powerful and commanding, in view of allusions to more oath-making action. Yet we should be wrong in concluding that the taking of this new oath is unrelated to the rest of the solemnly forged pledges. Once again the permanent enforcement of the contract is treated as the most important precondition of communal safety (1765, αίέν). More than this, for the first time in the Oedipus at Colonus the divine sphere is explicitly involved in the oath-affirming ceremonies (1766-1767). Most probably, the Athenian king refers to the divine power that made its presence manifest earlier in the play through its supernatural voice (1766, δαίμων). Similarly, the invocation of "Ορκος as a servant of mighty Zeus, who is the supreme overseer of good faith and the principal avenger of broken trust, seals the new pact with absolute authority in the most emphatic way possible. The mention of personified Oath is more than appropriate because this minor divinity is inextricably connected with the Erinyes in their capacity as merciless retaliators of perjury and unwavering guarantors of faithfulness. Surely Sophocles' oath-making procedure here is more than a hint that in supervising so significant a pledge for the Athenian

78

Cf. Markantonatos (2002), pp. 157-159.

182

Chapter 4

state, the Dread Goddesses prove themselves to be truly benevolent to their loyal votaries. It is therefore fair to say that the play bristles with oath-making expressions, but nowhere more intensely and formally than in the claim of Theseus that Zeus' son Horkos witnessed the affirmation of the state-saving covenant. Oedipus at Colonus ends with the reestablishment of justice, the pacification of the mourners, and the gratification of the departed. Theseus' conciliatory gesture is echoed in the final words of the elders; their solemn call for silence aims at reassuring Antigone and Ismene that the Athenian pledges have everlasting authority (1777-1779). The crucial question now presents itself how far the persistent emphasis on oath-making rituals and reconciliation agreements is associated with tendencies in fifth-century Athenian society. Of perhaps equal interest is the question how far the play's heavy stress on political wrangling and ethical dissolution finds an immediate echo in contemporary predicaments, especially in view of the historical knowledge obtained from the analysis in the preceding sections. Although we cannot be confident at this distance that we are able to recognize with true precision the political and social issues that would engage the interest of Sophocles' first audience, we cannot go far wrong, either, if we see the Oedipus at Colonus as drawing particular attention to the grave danger to which the Athenian nation exposes itself by giving way to the self-righteous desire for merciless retribution unmindful of lucid and po/«-based strategy. These important occasions of pledges between the human protagonists sanctified by public oath, not to mention the adroitly plotted allusions to significant Athenian prototypes of divinely endorsed contracts and compromises, emerge as a powerful reaction to long-standing problems of internal divisiveness and social insecurity. In a sense, Sophocles' last play duly registers the enormous pressure of contemporary debates about the continuation of the Athenian empire and the growing disenchantment with democratic institutions. It is easiest to suppose that Oedipus at Colonus provided a much-needed forum for analysis of the hardly bearable strains of domestic bitterness and inter-polis conflict. But it is most credible and probable that it also offered a highly valued space for the emblematic reversal of pessimistic arguments. In plain prose, it suggested possible ways of dealing with the disaster at hand by attempting to engender calm and focus. Whichever view we take, we must reckon with the fact that, in consideration of the special conditions of its production, the second Oedipus play was staged in the wake of the resolution of the crisis. Surprisingly enough, the

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

183

reconciliation thesis constantly advanced in the Sophoclean tragedy was securely sealed with a state-saving amnesty in 403/2 BCE. This is indeed a remarkable case of art imitating life. We shall forego a detailed discussion of the historical events following the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, because it would not give us any new insights. Besides the reader can find a brief sketch of this period in the first chapter. Instead we shall concentrate on a rather detailed examination of the principal causes of the Athenian disillusionment with democracy and the main reasons behind the gradual alteration of the ethical code of the empire. Evidence from Thucydides and other sources shows that in the years between 431 and 413 BCE the tremendous human casualties, the severe devastation of the countryside and the ever-increasing calamities of the mass of the population resulted in a grave moral and religious crisis.79 This ethical uncertainty was closely intertwined with a serious decline of the Athenian civic consciousness. The sufferings of the plague, the fading of imperial assurances and the internal rivalries for control encouraged both cynicism about the fickleness of human trust and indulgence in narrow self-centeredness. The fierce polarization of political relations within the Athenian city-state was compounded by the recognition that democratic institutions were unable to devise and execute effective policy. The Athenians of Sophocles' era became discontent with traditional values and axioms; they lost their confidence in politics and politicians. By the end of the war,

™ See principally Strauss (1986); Ostwald (1986), pp. 337-411. On the historical and legal contexts, cf. also Hignett (1952), esp. pp. 252-298; Fuks (1953) and (1984); Harrison (1955); MacDowell (1962), pp. 1-18 and (1978), esp. pp. 258-259; Stanford (1963), pp. xiv-xxi; Stroud (1968); Ostwaldt (1969); Connor (1971); Rhodes (1972a), (1980) and (1985); Hamilton (1972); Meiggs (1972); Loomis (1972); Peöirka (1976); Levy (1976); Hutter (1978); Siewert (1979); Hansen (1979), (1983) and (1991); Funke (1980); Gagarin (1981); Lintott (1982); Clinton (1982); MacLeod (1983b); Ober (1985) and (1994); Westlake (1986); Herman (1987); Sealey (1987); Kagan (1987) and (1991); Farrar (1988), esp. pp. 126-191; Wallace (1989); Panagopoulos (1989), who rightly stresses the ferociousness of the Peloponnesian War; Starr (1989), (1990) and (1992); Meier (1990) and (1998), esp. pp. 577-578; Dover (1993), pp. 69-76; Tuplin (1993); David (1995); Carawan (1998) and (2002), who proposes an alternative, although speculative, chronological arrangement of the events; Rowe & Schofield (2000); Osborne (2000); Raaflaub (2001), esp. pp. 99-117; Woodruff (2003), pp. lvii-ix; Apostolakis (2003), pp. 23-37; Ellethy (2004); Jones (2004); Gagarin & Cohen (2005); Forsdyke (2005); Harris (2006); Lani (2006); Saxonhouse (2006).

184

Chapter 4

factional conflict was so rampant that it was difficult for the citizens to find a supporting structure outside their purely partisan struggle. The total absence of unity and level-headed judgment weakened the power of ageold pledges; the social fragmentation and moral disintegration prevented men from obtaining a civic attentiveness to their own well-being. Thucydides is an invaluable guide to any exploration of the dreadful consequences of the pestilence, the gradual collapse of common civility, the unrestrained pursuit of imperial power, the continuous domestic strife and the weakening of the democratic argument. It is worth remarking that Pericles' Funeral Oration precedes the discussion of the horrors of the plague in Athens in the second year of the war (2. 47-54). According to the Thucydidean account, the image of Athenian supremacy so vividly described in the Funeral Oration was dealt a shattering blow by intense demoralization consequent to the relentless onslaught of the plague. In particular, as war and disease pressed heavy upon the Athenians, excessive lawlessness and disgraceful indulgence in wicked pleasures became the order of the day. Without caring to observe god's law, the citizens were utterly careless of the rigidly marked dichotomy between sacred and profane space. The disintegration of morality and order was such that all the burial rites were completely upset. Heaps of unburied corpses littered the sacred places and there was no thought of providing for the homeless and the dying (2. 52). There was no fear of gods or law of man to contain the degenerative force of circumstances. Moreover, Thucydides offers a critical scrutiny of Athenian imperialism in the Mytilene Debate (3. 3750) and the Melian Dialogue (5. 84-116). In particular, the famous Melian Dialogue, carefully inserted into the narrative before the disastrous debacle of the Sicilian Expedition, highlights the weaknesses of the Athenian imperial project. The Athenians' presumptuous conviction of pre-eminence and their unthinking violence are not in accord with their confident assertions of justice and humanity. Not unlike the Spartans in the Plataian Debate (3. 53-69), the Athenians pay no heed to traditional values and restraints in their obsessive pursuit of imperial rule. Similarly, the selfperpetuating cycle of uncontrollable vindictiveness is thrown into sharp relief by the opposing arguments in the Mytilenean speeches. Under the pressure of hegemonic ambitions and the irrational calamities of war, the Athenian state increasingly became concerned only with its immediate interests to the detriment of constitutional values and time-honoured ideals. But it was not only and not mainly the frantic cruelty and reckless

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

185

audacity that tarnished the Athenians' cherished image of high-toned democracy and skilful versatility; amid conditions of civil discord, the Athenian nation gradually abolished its traditional ties with the glorious past and lost its powerful sense of social coherence. Once again Thucydides mounts an insightful analysis of the />o/«-destroying effects of self-serving rivalries for domination in his description of the Corcyrean revolution (3. 70-81). Critics have rightly observed that the Thucydidean discussion of domestic disharmony in Corcyrean society throws a purposeful light on Athens' factional violence after the Sicilian catastrophe.80 Once more, as Thucydides notes, the party caprice of the moment held sway over the language of the common good (3. 82. 4, και την είωθυΐαν άξίωσιν των ονομάτων ές τά εργα άντήλλαξαν τη δικαιώσει [ed. Η. S. Jones & Τ. Ε. Powell]) and the provisions of long-standing contracts (3. 82. 7, καίδρκοι ει που άρα γένοιντο ξυναλλαγής, έν τω αύτίκα πρός τό άπορον έκατέρω διδόμενοι ισχύον ουκ εχόντων άλλοθεν δύναμιν [ed. Η. S. Jones & Τ. Ε. Powell]). In a manner similar to the morally levelling effects of the pestilence, human nature showed itself unrestrained in imprudent plotting and irrational daring. Immediate expediency took precedence over ties of blood, friendship and alliance (3. 82. 6). Having fallen subject to ungoverned passions, the citizens became heedless of family obligations, suppliant rights and burial customs. The atrocity of the reprisals and the disintegration of moral principles were such that the distinction of sacred and profane space ceased to exist. A typical example of this debasement of ethical restrains is the mutual slaughter of a large number of suppliants in the sanctuary of Hera as an act of utter desperation (3. 81. 2-4); what is more, there were horrendous instances of kinship murder and sacrilegious transgressions, as fathers killed their own sons in a fit of factional rage and helpless suppliants were shamefully dragged from the altar or even killed upon it without pity (3. 81. 5). Let us especially remark that the oaths of reconciliation were there to be conveniently outmanoeuvred and ultimately broken, being thus reduced to a mere instrument of partisan manipulation in the hands of the dissident factions that were exclusively interested in private influence and gain. As we have already indicated in chapter one, similar instances of impious behaviour, iniquitous scheming, repulsive thuggery, and appalling treachery abound in the factional conflicts after the Sicilian disaster. Now our imagination cannot help associating the historical circumstances 80

See principally MacLeod (1983a).

186

Chapter 4

of the crisis of the Athenian empire with Sophocles' persistent emphasis on the complete failure of Theban leaders to stem factionalism and dishonesty. In Oedipus at Colonus, whereas the Athenian polis is presented at her best and highest, Thebes becomes the focus of internal divisiveness and interstate aggression. In the mirroring of Theban discord and contemporary Athenian disputes for power, the promises of partnership and safety fall prey to unleashed passions and immoral resolves. Apart from the consistent employment of duplicitous language and the wily taking of delicate pledges in the service of immediate utility, the abduction of Antigone and Ismene, Creon's aborted attempt at dragging Oedipus from his suppliant position, Theseus' suspicions of treachery (1028-1031), and Polynices' disregard for his fellow-warriors' safety (1418-1419) form a sinister background of distrust and ethical uncertainty. The play's escalating violence provides a paradigmatic instance of the terrible consequences emanating from the breakdown of morality and the absent fear of punishment. Under the pitiless pounding of full-blown war and unnecessary brutality, the dismemberment of Theban relationships brings to mind the total collapse of kinship bonds in Corcyra and Athens, in view of such incidents as the mutual murders of parents and children and the distortion of the attendance of the family-dead. It is no accident that Oedipus at Colonus places special emphasis on man's inalienable right of proper burial; moreover, in the play particular focus is given to the important distinction between sacrosanct and profane ground as an essential safeguard of political stability and social harmony. Without assuming the aforementioned dramatic analogies to be exact reproductions of historical events, we may still regard them as symbolic manifestations of fifth-century Athenian problems and disputes, their purpose especially edifying and illuminating. These parallelisms are of intrinsic interest and of utmost importance for the questions concerning the play's principal thought of reconciliation and steadfastness. Once again it is not hard to detect the striking coincidence between contemporary calls for moderation and Sophocles' insistent message of civic harmony and trust. As we have already mentioned, at the end of the fifth century BCE the Athenian city was being haunted by the possibility that neither side in the factional struggles would be able to rise above its worst instincts. It was clear to many of the citizens that the long period of relentless battle and ferocious domestic conflict might have brutalized the polis beyond repair. Apparently, in composing his final play Sophocles not only declined to counsel despair, but also strongly believed that underneath

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

187

all this hate and suspicion there were vestiges of humanity in the Athenian people. He was not the only one in this regard. Aristophanes likewise, being particularly sceptical of imperial expansionism and prolonged fighting, repeatedly urged his fellow-citizens to resist the corrosive effects of crude sensation and meaningless antagonism. Not unlike Sophocles, he persistently maintained that Athenian safety depended on the immediate restoration of traditional values and axioms. More specifically, in 411 BCE Aristophanes commented on the political and military emergency through Lysistrata and Thesmophoriazusae\ especially the latter comedy shows an awareness of antidemocratic activity in Athens and gives expression to a widespread fear of impending constitutional upheaval.81 It is also observable that a specific catalogue of occurrences of political misconduct brings to mind Sophocles' recurrent allusions to legal assurances and democratic preoccupations in Oedipus at Colonus. As a matter of fact, in an impressive cletic hymn, the Chorus of women in the Thesmophoriazusae pronounces curses on those who undermine the city's social and religious structures and safeguards (356-367): όπόσαι δ' έξαπατώσιν παραβαίνουσί τε τους όρκους τους νενομισμένους κερδών οΰνεκ' επί βλάβη, ή ψηφίσματα και νόμον ζητοϋσ' άντιμεθιστάναι, τάπόρρητά τε τοΐσιν έχθροΐς τοις ήμετέροι,ς λέγουσ', ή Μήδους έπάγουσι |τής χώρας οΰνεκ' έπί βλάβτ^ άσεβοϋσ' άδικοϋσί τε την πάλιν. (ed. C. Austin & S. D. Olson) According to the account of the citizen women, the categories of major misbehaviours include the debasement of the customaiy oaths for the sake of gain, the overthrow of the democratic constitution, the disclosure of the state secrets to the enemy, and the establishment of an alliance with the hateful Persians. It is most credible to suggest that both the Thesmophoriazusae and the Oedipus at Colonus serve as important markers of

81

See mainly Sommerstein (1994), pp. 1-12; Austin & Olson (2004), pp. xxxiii-xlix.

188

Chapter 4

the Athenian mood and attitude at the end of the fifth century BCE. In a manner similar to Sophocles' deep concern with the enforcement of contracts, here Aristophanes places strong emphasis on the social and political disintegration consequent to the disrespect for lawfully sworn pledges. Let us also remark that the women draw special attention to the great significance of certain secrets that should remain impenetrable to the enemy for the salvation of the state (363, τάπόρρητά). 82 In the same way, the details and paraphernalia of Oedipus' heroic cult prescribed a few moments before his mysterious transfiguration must be kept safe forever (1518-1555; cf. also 624, άλλ' ού γάρ αύδαν ηδύ τάκίνητ' επη). Without wishing to multiply examples, it is fair to say that Sophocles developed his last play with earlier political and social insights in mind and is perhaps consciously looking back on them. Of course, both Thucydides and Aristophanes explore the complex theme of the Athenian imperial plan from a less private perspective. By contrast, Sophocles offers one of the most vivid evocations of the actual experience of a world riven with moral ambiguity and continuous stasis through the careful weaving of well-known wide-ranging reflections on Athenian political affairs into his Theban story. He gathers up all the essential arguments formerly advanced by other authors and politicians into a truly compelling unified tale of intrafamilial disharmony and interstate enmity by means of such dramatic devices as the exciting powerplay of battle accounts, the passionate verbal confrontation between characters, and the staging of excessive violence. As a consequence, so far from being a dull digression, this tapestry of episodes alludes to contemporary events within a situational frame of considerable mythological expansion. It is therefore remarkable that the articulation of numerous complicated notions of Athenian salvation masterfully achieves a tight realistic closure in the all-important idea of compromise and temperance. But it is even more remarkable that despite the intensification of factional conflict at the end of the fifth century BCE, taking into consideration the constitutional anomalies of the Four Hundred, the Five Thousand and the Thirty Tyrants, the call for reunion and moderation was eventually heard beyond the bounds of the orchestra with exclusive intensity and authority: the reconciliation between Athena

82

On the ritual importance implied in these state secrets, see Austin & Olson (2004), note on lines 363-4.

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

189

and Poseidon so dexterously evoked in Oedipus at Colonus found its immediate echo in the swearing of the new oaths to the amnesty agreement between the democrats and the oligarchs in 403/2 BCE. In particular, after the establishment of the regime of the Thirty Tyrants in April 404 BCE, relentless civil war broke out in Athens between the Spartan-sponsored oligarchs and the democratic expatriates. Eventually, at the end of 404 BCE the exiled democrats defeated the oligarchs at Piraeus. Afterwards the conciliatory King Pausanias of Sparta oversaw a settlement between the opposing parties, thereby allowing the democrats to reclaim power in Athens. He also made provision for those oligarchs from the city bent on joining their fellows at Eleusis, where there was a wellorganized oligarchic community. After affirming the oaths of reconciliation, Thrasyboulos led a procession of fully armed democrats to the Athenian acropolis, where the political and social unity of the state was duly confirmed through sacrifices to goddess Athena. According to the newly sealed pledges, no one was to harbour grievances against any citizen or raise grudges from the past, except for the crimes committed by the Thirty, the Ten, and the Eleven.83 The polis-saving compromise was much admired in Thrasyboulos' time and long after that for legislating the erasure of factional bitterness and rage. The institutionally affirmed oblivion of wrath and obliteration of resentment earned the high praises of Andocides and Lysias. In his speech On the Mysteries in the year 399 BCE, Andocides correlates the vows of amnesty with the oath of the councillors, which was considered to be of paramount importance for the Athenian city alongside the heliastic oath and the ephebic oath (90-91):84 Φέρε δή τοίνυν, οι δρκοι ύμΐν πώς εχουσιν; ό μεν κοινός tfj πόλει άπάστ|, δν όμωμόκατε πάντες μετά τάς διαλλαγάς· "Και ού μνησικακήσω των πολιτών οΰδενί πλήν των τριάκοντα και των ενδεκα, ούδέ τούτων δς άν έθέλη εΰθΰνας διδόναι της άρχής ής ήρξεν." δπου τοίνυν αύτοϊς τοις τριάκοντα ώμνυτε μή μνησικακήσειν, τοις μεγίστων κακών αΐτίοις, εί διδοΐεν εύθύνας, ή που σχολή των γε άλλων πολιτών τινι ήξιοϋτε μνησικακεΐν. ή δέ βουλή αΰ ή αεί βουλεύουσα τί δμνυσι; "Και

83 84

On the amnesty agreement, see mainly Strauss (1986); Loening (1987); Krentz (1995). See also Mikalson (1983), pp. 31-38. Cf. Hirzel (1902); Klotsche (1918); Plescia (1970); Siewert (1972) and (1979); Karavites (1992); Rauh (1993); Cole (1996); Thür (1996); Price (2001); Kitts (2005); Sternberg (2006).

190

Chapter 4

ού δέξομαι ένδειξιν ουδέ άπαγωγήν ένεκα των πρότερον γεγενημένων, πλην των φυγόντων." ύμεις δ' αΰ, ω 'Αθηναίοι, τί όμόοαντες δικάζετε; "Και ού μνησικακήσω ούδέ άλλφ πείσομαι, ψηφιοΰμαι δέ κατά τούς κείμενους νόμους." α χρή σκοπεΐν, εί δοκώ ορθώς ύμΐν λέγειν ώς υπέρ υμών λέγω και των νόμων. (ed. D. Μ. MacDowell)

Moreover, in his Funeral Oration Lysias lists the reconciliation agreement

between the democrats and the oligarchs as another shining example of Athenian valour and wisdom in a long series of triumphant occasions of national excellence (63-65. 9-23):85 και γάρ τοι μεγάλην μέν αντί μικράς απέδειξαν τήν πόλιν, ομονοούσαν δέ άντί στασιαζοΰσης άπέφηναν, τείχη δέ άντί των καθηρημένων άνέστησαν. οί δέ κατελθόντες αυτών, άδελφά τά βουλεύματα τοις έργοις τών ένθάδε κειμένων έπιδεικνύντες, ούκ επί τιμωρίαν των έχθρων άλλ' έπί σωτηρίαν της πόλεως έτράποντο, και ούτε έλαττοϋσθαι δυνάμενοι ούτ' αύτοί πλέον έχειν δεόμενοι της μέν αύτών έλευθερίας και τοις βουλομένοις δουλεύειν μετέδοσαν, της δ' έκείνων δουλείας αύτοί μετέχειν ούκ ήξίωσαν. έργοις δέ μεγίστοις και καλλίστοις άπελογήσαντο, δτι ού κακίφ τη αύτών ούδ' άρετή τών πολεμίων πρότερον έδυστύχησεν ή πόλις· ει γάρ στασιάσαντες πρός αλλήλους βία παρόντων Πελοποννησίων και τών άλλων έχθρων εις τήν αύτών οιοί τε έγένοντο κατελθεΐν, δήλον δτι ραδίως αν όμονοοΰντες πολεμεϊν αύτοΐς έδύναντο. (ed. C. Hude)

Once more in the above passages the demand for unanimity, safety and trust takes centre stage in Athenian self-perception; ομόνοια and σωτηρία are constantly pitted against στάσις and μνησικακία. The preservation of the city is predicated on public-minded motives and effective leadership. As a result of the general pardon, grief for private matters is put away and devotion to the security of the community is given new prominence. It is not surprising that Lysias recognizes the universal value of the democrats' insightful courage and insistent struggle (66. 24-25): 'Εκείνοι μέν οΰν διά τούς έν Πειραιεϊ κινδύνους υπό πάντων ανθρώπων ζηλοϋνται (ed. C. Hude). Aside from the occasional politically motivated trials and factional disagreements, the unflinching determination of the Athenians in their 85

On the authorship of the speech, see Dover (1968), p. 2.

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

191

upholding of the amnesty prevented a lurch back into all-out war for decades after the affirmation of the conciliatory oaths. Fortunately for Athens, the spirit of co-operation that flickered after the covenant of civic concord was not quickly forgotten. One hardly needs point out that should the Athenian state have drifted back into full-blown conflict the impact would have been most severe. Sophocles' final drama not only advises against the opening of old wounds, but also treats the enforcement of oaths as an essential cause of national salvation. According to Xenophon's Hellenica, in September 403 BCE Thrasyboulos himself, the perceptive leader of the exiled democrats, delivered a speech to the Assembly demanding from the people in the city to honour the oaths they have affirmed and to show respect for the gods (2.4.42.16-19):86 ού μέντοι γε ύμας, ώ άνδρες, άξιω έγώ ών όμωμόκατε παραβήναι ούδέν, άλλά και τοϋτο πρός τοις άλλοις καλοΐς έπιδεΐξαι, δτι και εΰορκοι και δσιοί έστε. (ed. Ε. C. Marchant) Against a background such as this, Sophocles' call for obedience to law, religion, honesty and decency must have been well received by the original audience almost two years after the reconciliation agreement. In view of the strenuousness of political life in the immediate post-war period, many Athenians attributed the afflictions of the city to the upsetting of traditional standards of fairness and goodness. The new conciliatory oath of Athens was powerfully echoed in Oedipus at Colonus, not least in view of Antigone's acquiescence in Theseus' sensible admonitions for moderation and prudence. The Athenian king thought that the occasion called for reason, not emotion. A few months after the production of the play the oligarchic community of Eleusis was violently disbanded and more pledges for the oblivion of past ills and the erasure of resentment were sworn between the conflicting parties (Xenophon, Hellenica 2.4.43.2628, και όμόσαντες δρκους ή μην μή μνησικακήσειν, ετι και νϋν όμοΰ τε πολιτεύονται και τοις δρκοις εμμένει ό δήμος [ed. Ε. C. Marchant]). It is not overbold to suggest that the final words of the elders in the So-

86

See also Krentz (1995), p. 154 with relevant bibliography. Cf. recently Anastasiadis (2006).

192

Chapter 4

phoclean play advising abstention from excessive mourning must have been felt as particularly pertinent to the 'non-lamenting' spectators of 401 BCE, who accordingly rewarded the poet's far-sightedness with the first prize in the dramatic competition. To sum up: as with previous religious formations and social conceptions, we sense that in his strong emphasis on issues of public concern and communal determinants of political discourse, prototypical compromises and oath-making principles Sophocles is profoundly mindful of the urgency for the abolition of unrestrained sorrow and the removal of uncontrolled antipathy. Not unlike Oedipus' terrible, although involuntary crimes, the horrible memories of recent disasters need to be institutionally obliterated for the community to regain its step. Hence Sophocles places heavy stress on the formative influence of such a close-knit local community as the Attic Colonus. The Colonan citizens are presented as being capable of appreciating and feeling the intimate relationship between their exclusive aspirations and the wider interests of the Athenian city. We may safely maintain that in Oedipus at Colonus the integration of the country-dwellers in a common civic responsiveness is powerful enough to heal political and social fragmentation. Moreover, it is not going too far to suggest that Oedipus' most noteworthy trait is his ability to absorb pain. Similarly, the Athenian state cannot afford to succumb to the painful recollections of misfortunes that would have led most citizens to a conscious recognition of culpability in necessary murders. In this case, the crimes to be detected are not ancient ones, accessible only to incomplete recall. The temporal proximity of the Sicilian catastrophe, the humiliating defeat in the Peloponnesian War, and the corrosive effects of political wrangling and social divisiveness affords total memorial knowledge. Although it is essential for the Athenians to recount and reassess the meaning of their past actions and passions, it is equally important to draw a strict line between calculated responsibility and unintentional guiltiness, the dictates of hard-hearted reckoning and the promptings of untutored desire. Under conditions of ethical disarray, each and every man is at fault. But it is one thing to become embroiled in a relentless struggle for power where the capacity for forethought is seriously obstructed by fear and anger, and another to foment factional conflict so as to promote personal interests and aspirations. Prudent deliberation and collective resolve dictate against sweeping punishment and uncritical retaliation; they rather favour the selective eradication of the bad elements in Athenian society with discretion and temperance.

Religion and History: The Future of Athens

193

The final impression of Oedipus at Colonus is that self-seeking, irresponsible leaders failed the empire. After the disaster, indiscriminate retribution as a means of social purging would have been catastrophic and, worse still, completely immoral and unjust. Happily enough for the Athenian nation, the post-war leaders did not fail the people. The continued civil disturbances aside, the successful enforcement of amnesty on all levels of society and the abiding respect for lawfully sworn pledges secured the continuation of the state. It is not too much to suggest that, as an insightful instructor of his fellow-citizens in time of emergency, Sophocles is more than right in believing that the cement of Athenian peace and agreement is the only element that could hope to raise protecting towers against potential enemies, the only one that could save his beloved city and the matchless accomplishment that she represents from being reduced to a long-drawnout sigh.

Chapter 5

Tragic Intertextuality: Hope and Fear Introduction One might be content with a casual remark in the pages of this book about the place of Oedipus at Colonus in the work of Sophocles; with a few notable exceptions, that has been the case in the scholarly literature on this play to date. 1 Nonetheless, we strongly believe that it would be a lamentably deficient study of this tragedy, recognized as it is for its challenging thematic complexity and striking historical relevance, which had nothing whatever to say in the way of a more comprehensive exposition of the dense intertextual matrix in Sophocles' Theban plays. This is not the place to attempt an exhaustive definition of what intertextuality means, but it seems unlikely that readers could make sense of Oedipus at Colonus if they chose to get away from the literary tradition. Furthermore, it is abundantly clear that the lingering consciousness of the Antigone and the Oedipus Tyrannus does mould the audience's impression of Sophocles' last play to a great extent. Admittedly, nothing is more difficult than to delve into the detailed intertextual relationship between plays, even if those plays are by the same dramatist, especially when we take into account the severe difficulty 1

On previous attempts to unearth hidden intertextual points and accents, see O'Connell (1967); Seidensticker (1972); Hösle (1984); Calder (1985); Adrados (1993); Easterling (1993a); Said (1993); Segal (2001), pp. 131-143; Bernard (2001), pp. 58-83; Markantonatos (2002), pp. 161-165 with further bibliography; Sabiani (2003). Cf. also Peterkin (1929); Arias (1935-1936); Post (1951), pp. 88-121; Winnington-Ingram (1954); Bates (1964) passim; Ronnet (1969), pp. 275-312; Imhof (1970); Dalfen (1973); Shucard (1973); Scotto di Carlo (1977); Halperin (1979-1980); Irigoin (1983); Campolunghi (1986); Miller (1986); Bushnell (1988); Parsons (1988); Landfester (1990); Paulsen (1990); Pucci (1992); Bowie (1993b); de Romilly (1995); Daniels & Scully (1996); Fartzoff (1998); Iriarte (2000); Gould (2001a); Griffith (2001); Heuner (2001); Blondell (2002), pp. 16-32; Bagg (2004) passim\ Garvie (2005); Burgess (2005), pp. 123-127.

196

Chapter 5

among contemporary critics in reaching a consensus with regard to the concept of intertextuality. We have already had occasion to comment upon tragedy's remarkable ability to admit mythological matter of almost infinite variety and degree of thematic resonance. Moreover, the notion of intertextuality - to put it somewhat crudely, the seriously complex but happily unbound relations that texts sustain with other texts - constitutes an important step beyond what has come to be known in critical jargon as 'the study of sources'. Far from simply seeking to uncover oblique allusions to the work of other authors, an intertextual analysis aims at hammering home the fact that in view of the need to live in the constant acceptance of an ever-present entangled web of relations between texts, readers should acknowledge the impossibility of recovering a stable source. In our case, each play is fraught with an incalculable number of possible references, which are frequently given a grand heightening by tragic poets with the purpose of alerting the spectators to an extremely wide range of potential literary allusions. Something similar has been said in the previous chapter in connection with the very excessiveness that Sophocles' last play so freely displays in matters of social, historical and religious associations. To some extent, the present chapter on intertextual issues complements our former lengthy discussion on the modern critical tradition pertaining to Oedipus at Colonus, to say nothing of our preceding analysis of the mythological recasting of the Oedipus story over the course of time. The idea of intertextuality, with its pronounced lack of regard for transcendent archetypes and disciplinary boundaries, allows enough room for interpretive ramifications, thereby providing an intellectual world of vaster horizons for the spirit of the literary critic and indeed the reader himself to wander in.2 For these reasons, it is hardly fanciful to say that Greek tragedy is consistently and fundamentally intertextual. We suppose that for contemporary theatre-goers this is not as odd as it sounds, and that the explanation for their being particularly receptive to this new critical idiom is the very remarkable efflorescence of modern literary theory in recent

2

See especially the still valuable treatments of Stinton (1990) and Garner (1990). For modern approaches with particular reference to audience reception and theatre intertextuality, see Bowie (1997), pp. 39-45; Markantonatos (2002) with relevant bibliography and (2004a). On intertextuality in general, see principally Worton & Still (1990); Fowler (1997a); Hinds (1998). Cf. also Ringer (1998); Dobrov (2001); Markantonatos (2003); Radke (2003).

Tragic Intertextuality: Hope and Fear

197

years. Among other things, this has alerted audiences to the inescapable fact that all plays refer to one another in markedly and totally indiscriminate ways, or, to put the matter more succinctly, each play appears to be filtered through others. This is especially so in the case of Greek tragedy, which, as has already been observed, happily enough is not bound to a single established source of legendary matter; according to Peter Burian, in Greece all tragedy is fundamentally intertextual in view of the complete lack of a preset body of rigidly circumscribed mythological tales.3 Thus, despite the fact that it would take a volume in its own right to amass some of the illimitable connections that are opened up to Sophocles' last drama, the special note of this chapter is to bring into a clearer light the notion of tragedy as an artwork that is not hermetically locked in a private world. Our conviction is that in order for audiences to watch the plays with some element of direct interest and response, intertextual alertness plays a vital part in unearthing new accents and hidden patterns. One caution in such speculations is obviously essential: given the dearth of evidence, we can never hope to recover with absolute certainty what seems to be a massive amount of intertextualities. Nonetheless, in this chapter we will argue that there are considerable intertextual ties between Sophocles' Thebes-related plays, that is, Oedipus Tyrannus, Antigone and Oedipus at Colonus, and that in a way those plays constitute a typical Theban trilogy in consideration of their chronological and mythical relevance. However, a caveat is once again in order here. Despite the fact that the Oedipus at Colonus should be placed after the Oedipus Tyrannus and before the Antigone on account of the temporal succession of the mythical events, we will ultimately suggest that Sophocles' last play should be treated as indeed the culmination of a series of central themes in the apparently trilogic progression of those dramas - inextricably connected with the mythic history of Thebes. In other words, Oedipus at Colonus is a masterfully constructed constellation of detailed intertextual correspondences, which allow enough room for striking effects of fervent expectation or reaction. The recognition of the play's systematic intertextuality leads us to the next consideration of this chapter, which is of still greater importance. The review of the various lines of intertextual involvedness gives us reason for believing that Oedipus at Colonus is a dazzlingly intricate multi-stranded stretch of suspenseful actions, each of which not only engages the 3

Burian (1997a), p. 179.

198

Chapter 5

dynamic of the audience's memory, but also shows up highly enlightening dispute settlement patterns and methodical resolutions of social and political conflicts. In a manner similar to the mythological, religious and historical layers of the play, the intertextual ramifications are mainly concerned with the political identity of fifth-century Athens; they call attention to the ways human beings offer resistance to instant indulgence and immediate utility, through moral coherence and unflinching loyalty. Sophocles' final drama regards equality and civic trust as a matter of reconciliation and fair dealing. Accordingly, the persistent intertextual reverberations stretch the world order to its limits, only to show that democratic institutions are powerful enough to encompass the conflicting demands represented by public integrity and domestic dependability, legal obligation and religious commitment, justice and compassion.

Intertextual

Games

As we have already mentioned, Sophocles' last play is much more than a vague scattering of intertextual hints; for this reason, before proceeding to discuss the intertextual suspension of the Oedipus at Colonus between the Oedipus Tyrannus and the Antigone, it would be a gross oversight if we completely disregarded other equally important links with tragic plays. Undoubtedly, there must have been other dramas, which loomed large in the awareness of Sophocles and the original audience; in the case of Oedipus at Colonus, critics have indicated significant intertextual connections with well-known plays other than Sophocles' Theban tragedies. Although a detailed analysis of the close recall of pre-Sophoclean and indeed Sophoclean tragedies in the context of the Oedipus at Colonus is far beyond the limited scope of this chapter, the pervasive Aeschylean charge found in the play, the slender allusions to Sophoclean treatments of familiar legends that have been brought to the birth away from Theban territory, and the full range of associations that the Labdacid myth itself conveys - to name but a few instances of intertextual affinity - call for another word or two here. Besides, this long digression is inevitable; for if the second Oedipus play is proved to be a remarkable cluster of intertextual clues and meanings purposely widening to include previous dramatic presentations other than Sophocles' Thebes-associated tragedies, we shall find here additional proof of the overarching idea of reconciliation and steadfastness.

Tragic Intertextuality: Hope and Fear

199

In effect, it has been recognized that there is an undeniable tight nexus between the Oedipus at Colonus and Sophocles' Philoctetes; the latter tragedy was first enacted in 409 BCE, a few years before the posthumous presentation of the second Oedipus play and, as it appears, especially close to the time of its composition.4 In both dramas the plot consists of a critical attempt to reintegrate a solitary outcast into society, one who has been broken by extreme suffering and continual adversity after many years of ruthless abandonment. Philoctetes and Oedipus, great figures of the heroic past as they are, have brooded all too long over their misfortunes, and although they have retained their natural nobility and innate highmindedness, they are filled overfull with angry passions and uncontrolled bitterness against the people who have wronged them in the most cruel of ways. And we suppose one cannot deny that in his last two plays, Sophocles brought an unflinching analysis to that notion of divine justice, which, in a world of dark passions and contrasting motives, ultimately allows the tortured figures of Greek legend the hopeful prospect of godgiven rehabilitation to a seemingly unrecoverable long-lost grandeur. In the eloquent manner of no less an authority on the Athenian playwright than Lewis Campbell, the Philoctetes and the Oedipus at Colonus essentially display 'a relaxation of the Sophoclean severity'.5 Consequently, in the face of the unavoidable heavy burden of human sorrow, the divinely engineered misery-redeeming closure in those tragedies disperses much of the circumfluent darkness. In point of fact, it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that when compared with the earlier Philoctetes, Sophocles' final drama brings out the difficulties of overriding the anxieties and torments of the principal character with greater intimacy and richer detail. To illustrate this properly would take more space than we can spare, but we can cite two distinctive instances of a powerful vision piercing into the inexorable reality of unmerited evil, effectively contrasted with an intense and spectacular demonstration of human achievement and divine kindness. The first is the sheer impressiveness of the visual aspect of both those dramatic compositions that punctuate the final years of 4

5

See especially Campbell (1879), pp. 200-261; Jebb (1900), pp. xlii-xliv; Maddalena (1963), pp. 329-330; Calder (1971) and (1985); Di Benedetto (1979) and (1988), pp. 217229; Reinhardt (1979), pp. 196-197, 204-207, 212 & 216-217; Kirkwood (1994), p. 179; Segal (2001), p. 131. Campbell (1879), p. 261.

200

Chapter 5

Sophocles, not only in respect of the external appearance of the central character, but also, and surely more importantly, in respect of the aweinspiring natural setting of the action. Especially in the second Oedipus play, this serves to underscore the finality of the supernatural resolution, regardless of how much the situations are involved and the individual interests appear to be diametrically opposed.6 The second instance that we want to point out is the extremely sharp contention between the chief persons of Sophocles' two last dramas, and such self-absorbed and two-faced antagonists as Odysseus and Creon. Their bitter confrontation not only helps to keep the threads of the story together, but also deepens the impression to be produced on the audience by optimistically concluded tales. Both throw into startling relief the immediacy and concern of an otherwise merciless divine power, in consequence of the final isolation of the duplicitous Odysseus and the insolent Creon; in both cases this is suggestively opposed to the eventual reinstatement in heroic glory of the lame Philoctetes and the blind Oedipus. In particular, Sophocles most excels in the delineation of deceitful Creon, whose unpleasant personality in supplying a striking foil to frank-hearted Oedipus keeps the audience's attention riveted on the unrelenting conflict between the unscrupulousness of political motives and the nobility of immovable courage. In discussing the intertextual affiliations of Oedipus at Colonus, Charles Segal has rightly placed strong emphasis on Creon's total failure to assert a genuine claim to honour in the context of the heavenly appointed culmination of the last Sophoclean drama, when he concisely notes that the Theban envoy 'is left even further outside the divine plan than Odysseus in Philoctetes, for the latter at least gets what he wants, if not in the way he wanted it.' 7 In a similar manner, a very interesting new light can be thrown by a thorough investigation of the intertextual linking between Sophocles' last play and such extant non-Theban plays as Ajax, Electra and Trachiniae. As we have already noted, a particularly sensitive critic of Greek drama has recently mounted a lengthy and complex study of, among other issues, the essential part played by hero-cult in the formation of tragedy within the bounds of the classical polis. His conviction is that not unlike the heroiza-

6

7

See Winnington-Ingram (1980), pp. 339-340; Seale (1982), pp. 113-117; Buxton (1984), p. 30; Segal (1992). Segal (1981), p. 379.

Tragic Intertextuality: Hope and Fear

201

tion of asylum-seeker Oedipus in Attica, the implied elevation of suicidal Ajax to heroic honour serves to promote and enforce the communal element of the city in the face of reciprocal aggression by way of the mournful but strangely unifying feelings that hero-ritual brings in its train, though this does not rule out the ever-present possibility of a highly problematic and contested resolution of the crisis.8 It is no accident that those principal characters remain tenaciously unaffected by the varying fortunes of the tragedy; faced with the gloomy prospect of death, they are capable of intense force and concentration, attested by the incisive energy and the stimulating suggestiveness so abundantly demonstrated in their final utterances. No doubt both Ajax's craving for vengeance and Oedipus' passion for righteous retribution bear a resemblance to Electra's relentless call for justifiable reprisal. It may indeed be urged that even if no prospect of superhuman splendour presents itself to the sorely tried offspring of the brutally murdered Mycenaean king, Electra's furious resentment in the closing scenes of her drama brings to mind the implacable fury of Oedipus against his sons in Oedipus at Colonus.9 As we have said, it is predominantly the shared rhetoric of Ajax and Oedipus, which serves to project an impressively dignified image of those afflicted figures with its tranquil and majestic tone, as they find themselves on the brink of death. That being said, nothing could be further from the truth than the notion, popular amidst misguided critics, that Electra should be treated as merely an abhorrent minister of a morally dubious justice. What is primarily remarkable about those Sophoclean plays is that, in spite of the differing degrees of ritual hopefulness and cultic anticipation punctuating the final moments of the action, the kinship of blood is treated with shocking indifference by the leading characters. Although we know how much the Greeks venerated such kinship, the protagonists appear to be constantly plagued by the very recollection of intolerable wrongdoing that has been committed in the past. It can hardly be disputed, therefore, that there are numerous places where the Oedipus at Colonus at least briefly coincides with earlier plays. In particular, critics have fittingly recognized the tragedy's detailed

8

9

The argument is cogently set out in Seaford (1994a), pp. 136-137 and more thoroughly in his thought-provoking article (1994b). See also Wasserstein (1969); Garrison (1995), pp. 45-53. See Winnington-Ingram (1980), pp. 222 n. 22 & 246-247.

202

Chapter 5

intertextual relationship with Aeschylus' Oresteia (458 BCE), in which there is again a cautious management of uncontrolled passions for revenge through the establishment of civic cult.10 There is ample evidence to show that Sophocles looks back to his illustrious predecessor for the purpose of evoking a range of register and allusion that adds even more depth of distinctly moral significance to his Athenian contextualization of the Oedipus story. As Richard Jebb brilliantly suggested, Oedipus was a passive Orestes', - similar to the resentful Aeschylean character, an aggrieved minister of vengeance caught in the meshes of a terrible family doom, without however bearing Orestes' unendurable burden of constantly being a conscious agent." The promising conversion of the Furies from ruthless avengers into beneficent deities is drawn out and emphasized with such persistency as to throw into prominent relief the eventual transition from evil to good fortune caused by the victory of persuasion over cruelty in both these dramas. From a comparison of the various points of contact between the Oresteia and the Oedipus at Colonus, it would appear that for many of the audience, who were undoubtedly familiar with the celebrated Aeschylean trilogy and perhaps other Athens-related plays, the integration of Oedipus into Attica through the good offices of Theseus must have been seen as another shining instance of Athenian mercifulness in the face of the persistent cry of blood for blood. Not unlike Athena in the Eumenides, the Athenian ruler acts as the powerful exponent of local assurances and commitments. 12 Regarded from this wider point of view, we suppose one cannot deny that on occasion Sophocles' last drama comes to rest on earlier plays. It is certainly a fact that apart from the aforementioned Aeschylean colouring of Oedipus at Colonus, which is, like everything else in this tragedy, full of further delicate intertextual shades, the similarly structured so-called 'suppliant plays' must have served as useful archetypes for scenes and phrases. Such plays include Aeschylus' Suppliant Women and Euripides' Children of Heracles and Suppliant Women, to name but a few of the extant dramatic treatments of potentially enriching supplication patterns.13 Once 10 11

12 13

See principally Winnington-Ingram (1980), p. 264. Jebb (1900), p. xxviii; see also Winnington-Ingram (1980), pp. 264-273, who is particularly good on the theme of retaliation. See Winnington-Ingram (1980), p. 273; Segal (2001), p. 137. See Burian (1974).

Tragic Intertextuality: Hope and Fear

203

again it is fair to say that the grand vision implied in some of these tragedies is predicated on the undying glorious reputation of the Athenian state. In offering unstinting succour to the unfortunate, Athens presents itself as the primary human community, its virtue culminating in wartime distinction. But we do not wish to burden the reader with what appears to be an infinite number of intertextual correspondences, which aside from possible epic and lyric motifs surely engage the successive theatrical remodellings of the Oedipus legend in the hands of dramatists other than Sophocles an issue that has been systematically addressed in the second chapter of this book. For ourselves, we are content to believe that Oedipus at Colonus is not only fraught with intertextual resonance so as to increase the spectators' engagement with the tale, but also constitutes a point of supreme intensity in Sophocles' Theban plays, through its striking and panoramic consummation of such earlier themes as reconciliation, friendship and compassionate justice. In fact, much of the interest in the play depends on the consistent teasing of the spectators at inventively marked turning points in the story with tantalizing glimpses of unmistakably portentous intertextual connections, whose full articulation is withheld. For the moment, it is relevant to emphasize that the second Oedipus play is constantly fed with the same thematic streams as the previous Theban tragedies. But while it brings in the dismal prospect of repeating those previous segments, it all at once averts any closure of their meaning to the contentment of the original audience. Thus, in the course of this chapter we will examine in detail how the Athenian playwright is deliberately echoing the Oedipus Tyrannus and the Antigone in the context of his final drama, with the broader purpose of employing new, remarkably effective strategies of signification and complexity.

Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus It is a critical commonplace that Sophocles' last drama is, in some measure, a sequel to the Oedipus Tyrannus, which in all probability comes more than twenty years later.14 It is noteworthy that the same length of time applies to Oedipus himself, who is seen in Oedipus at Colonus as brooding

14

See Winnington-Ingram (1980), pp. 248 & 256; Segal (2001), pp. 135-137.

204

Chapter 5

over his past life, after long years of continual peregrination away from his native land. As a matter of fact, the detailed intertextual linking between the two Oedipus plays appears to have been more than apparent among ancient critics. Whoever drafted the first Hypothesis to Sophocles' final play was, without doubt, at his most acute in placing particular emphasis on the distinctive relationship between Oedipus Tyrannus and Oedipus at Colonus. In offering a wealth of prefatory information, the unidentified commentator also appears to be attuned to at least some of the intertextual layerings contained in Sophocles' final tragedy. At the very beginning of his Plot Summary, he is quick to bring attention to the play's close association with its celebrated 'prequel', pointing out that 'Oedipus at Colonus is in a certain way coupled with Oedipus Tyrannus'' (Ο Ε Π Ι Κ Ο Λ Ω Ν Ω ι ΟΙΔΙΠΟΥΣ συνημμένος πώς έστι τω ΤΥΡΑΝΝΩι). Apart from the obvious chronological sequence of the mythological material, the similar cast of characters and the typically Sophoclean concentration on the changing fortunes of the central figure, it should be clear from what has been said before that there are numerous places where the Oedipus at Colonus coincides with the Oedipus Tyrannus. In some cases points in the earlier play are eagerly substantiated, whereas in others they are challenged or refused. We might frankly say that the otherwise extremely interesting question of possible textual correspondences is mostly irrelevant here. This is because our principal concern is with certain segments of the later play, which are broadly structured in the same way as familiar segments of the earlier play - that is, mirror-scenes that make much use of the symbolism and ideology of the former tragedy.15 Those striking similarities in the structuring of the two Oedipus plays suggest that a thorough comparison should be made between related sequences, which would compel the audience to respond to the issues and concerns of Oedipus at Colonus with the knowledge of Oedipus Tyrannus. Though this is true, it should not lead us to neglect the negative side of this constant thread of intertextual references. In point of fact, with a series of deft strokes, Sophocles prepares the expectation among the spectators that the intertextual resonance is to be carried out to its particularly gloomy conclusion, only to run counter to it

15

For some preliminary thinking, see especially Markantonatos (2002), pp. 161-165 and (2007a).

Tragic Intertextuality: Hope and Fear

205

at the last moment by effecting a host of crucial alterations in well-known patterns of intrafamilial violence and civic unrest. The unforeseen although extremely welcome reversals of those textual conditions that apparently affect and describe the intricate relations between the two Theban plays not only indicate a determining power that ultimately operates within the broad confines of just recompense for unmerited suffering, but also bring the as yet vigorously doubted potential of human agency and response into fresh prominence. All in all, the action appears very differently when viewed through the filters of these startling inversions, which in offering additional layers of intertextual connotation reveal a hopeful vision beyond the closed circle of individual destiny. At a deeper level, therefore, Sophocles' final drama interweaves two strands, one vast, one intimate, thereby admirably treading a fine line between the personal and the political, private feelings and the honour of the state. On the face of this, it is hardly fanciful to suggest that this is the proper starting point from which to judge the play's further purposes, in recognizing that the persistent evocation of Oedipus Tyrannus is an integral and contributing part of its far-reaching complex of themes and images, an essential component of its intricate dramatic structure. Within limits, we may safely argue that Sophocles' last play implies an unrelenting inspection and criticism of the Oedipus legend. It has been widely acknowledged, and rightly so, that the contextualization of the Oedipus myth in Athenian territory is a kind of painstaking rethinking of past experience; some critics even speak of a type of forceful recantation.16 Nevertheless, it is a wise precaution to add to such a generalization the recognition that the prominent intertextual interest of Oedipus at Colonus displays such an extraordinarily dynamic quality both of elusiveness and density that it would be a gross oversimplification to treat the later play as an exclusively although scrupulously penetrating reconsideration of the earlier play. A great deal of the accomplishment of Sophocles' final drama is due to the gift for expressing intertextual associations and overcoming them by placing them in a refreshingly new perspective. For it should be said that the suggestive parallels to the previous dramatic presentation, so liberally strewn in Oedipus at Colonus, are not there to be at all times mercilessly reassessed in view of superior knowledge. At crucial moments

16

See especially Winnington-Ingram (1980), p. 248.

206

Chapter 5

such as these, Sophocles has a way of switching to slow motion, inviting the audience to linger on the intertextual connections without continually provoking an overwhelming sentiment of censorious dissatisfaction. He has made a play that is both multidimensional and fragmentary, endowed with the remarkable ability to allow enough room for the indispensable and relevant past. Yet this past is no longer compulsively repeated, unrelentingly replicated in the present, but hopefully although agonizingly transformed into a large, motivating power behind future developments of the story a dramatic equivalent, as it were, to the awe-inspiring, heroic fortitude of Oedipus. Not unlike Athens, which unconditionally welcomes the polluted stranger, soon to become her saviour, into the local cultic apparatus, the play itself widens to include all the ghastly details of horrible crimes committed of old; and this masterly reworking of unpleasant mythological material acts as a powerful means of plot-construction. The opening movement of Oedipus at Colonus shows the distinctly intertextual intent of what follows in the oracle delivered to young Oedipus at Delphi, when having fled from Corinth in the anguish of his mind about his real parents, the bastard son of Polybus sought advice from Apollo, only to discover the horrible fate in store for him (87-95): δς μοι, τά πόλλ' έκεϊν' δτ' έξέχρη κακά, ταύτην ελεξε παϋλαν έν χρόνψ μακρώ, έλθόντι χώραν τερμίαν, δπου θεών σεμνών εδραν λάβοιμι και ξενόστασιν, ένταϋθα κάμψειν τον ταλαίπωρον βίον, κέρδη μέν οίκήσαντα τοίς δεδεγμένοις, άτην δέ τοις πέμψασιν, οϊ μ' άπήλασαν σημεία δ' ήξειν τώνδέ μοι παρηγγύα, ή σεισμόν, ή βροντήν τιν', ή Διός σέλας.

It is not overbold to suggest that the unearthing of the as yet unknown latter part of the prophecy, which at long last comes to supplement the terrible predictions, already treated in Oedipus Tyrannus, intimates what will become apparent as the action unfolds. Thus the shaping of the later play is, to a great extent, rooted in the detailed interaction with the structuring principles of the earlier play. This is not to say, of course, that Sophocles' final drama is but a mere subtitle to the former tragedy; on the contrary, there is a pervasive sense of long-anticipated completion, eagerly awaited accomplishment after long years of deeply resented suspension. Plays

Tragic Intertextuality: Hope and Fear

207

read one another without regard for predominance or consequence; in this case, not unlike the two pieces of the prophecy, the two Oedipus plays complement one another, thereby obsessively setting the Athenian scenes against the Theban scenes in a crescendo of intertextual correspondences. Apart from previous occasional allusions to long and dreadful experience (7-8, στέργειν γαρ αί πάθαι με χώ χρόνος ξυνών/μακρός διδάσκει και τό γενναϊον τρίτον, 14, πάτερ ταλαίπωρ' Οιδίπους [...]), it is at this early point that particular thoughts of Oedipus Tyrannus have been raised by the unexpected disclosure of the so far hidden although crucially important element of the oracle. From the first, Sophocles gives a grand heightening to specific aspects of the Oedipus legend, prompting his audience to recall the earlier theatrical treatment of the myth, in which the excruciatingly unhurried revelation of the true meaning of the Apolline prediction is elevated to the level of the ruling idea of the play. This is all the more so in view of a purposeful echo of the verbal texture of the earlier tragedy. In a manner comparable to the first version of the prophecy that was narrated mid-play at Thebes by an agitated Oedipus to his wife Jocasta (788-793, esp. 788-790: [...] καί μ' ό Φοίβος ών μεν ίκόμην/άτιμον έξέπεμψεν, άλλα δ' άθλίω/καί δεινά καί δύστηνα προύφάνη λέγων), at Athens the old and blind Oedipus places direct stress on Phoebus Apollo in referring to the evil in reserve for him through the employment of similar language (86-87, Φοίβω τε κάμοί μή γένησθ' άγνώμονες/δς μοι, τά πόλλ' έκεΐν' δτ' έξέχρη κακά). Under the circumstances, the spectators might reasonably expect that there is indeed a thread, however slender, linking the Oedipus Tyrannus with the principal argument of the Oedipus at Colonus. In point of fact, as we have said before, there are numerous ways in which the first Oedipus drama is of relevance to the issues and concerns of the play. More specifically, at the opening stage, in mastery of dramatic situation, Sophocles treats the spectators to an extraordinary tour of the intertextual complexities of the play. This offers a remarkably large canvas for the full range of associations that the Oedipus theme conveys in all its inherent comparisons and confrontations. In a total inversion of the former tragedy, where Oedipus enters the scene in all his royal glory, at Athens his daughter Antigone attentively escorts the aged, beggarly-dressed Oedipus onto the stage. There is no apparent trace of the earlier preponderance and intensity, only a calm and thoughtful acquiescence in a broader scheme of things that was set beyond the limits of human possibility in the past. Nonetheless, certain signs of an emerging prophetic clairvoyance, unbeknown

208

Chapter 5

to Oedipus at Thebes, compel the audience to reflect on the significance of the close association between clear knowledge of the far-off past and insightful awareness of the distant future. This dominant theme of the play marks an important advancement in the life of Oedipus, especially if it is contrasted with the fragmentation and impenetrability of the causal chain in Oedipus Tyrannus. In a general sense it is true to say that from the outset, in all its extraordinarily composite intertextual arrangement of debts and credits, the second Oedipus play cuts boldly back and forth to bring particular attention to the extreme complexity of a massively motivated network of storylines, characters, and episodes, which are to gravitate within the narrow topographical boundaries of Athenian Colonus. It is attractive to see Sophocles spinning a powerful ploy of suspense and revelation out of an obsessive projection of fears and speculations and implications from the earlier play onto the later play. This inference seems stronger still if we keep in mind that the same constant accent on the frustration of oracular anticipation, contrasting forcibly with the hopeful boldness of human responsiveness, punctuates the dense and emphatically marked gradations through which the plot of Oedipus Tyrannus reaches its unavoidably dreadful conclusion. As the reader will remember, Oedipus at Colonus constitutes a hard-won but essential break from the vicious circle of disillusionment and disaster, so forcefully established in the earlier tragedy. In the opening of the play, Oedipus is once more held guilty of violating all-powerful divine laws; his unconscious trespass on forbidden female space, which calls for his immediate removal from the inviolable sacred grove of the Eumenides, invites the audience to recall his past transgressions. Above all, one is reminded of his unlawful although unintentional union with his mother, which led to his downfall and consequent estrangement from his fellow-citizens.17 One might argue that the scene with the Stranger signals the first instance of a particular pattern of intertextual replication that is expediently cut short of its dismal completion on account of Oedipus' steadfastness and perceptiveness. For though the Stranger is somewhat reminiscent of the news-bearing Creon in the earlier drama, Oedipus' heartiness and coherence lay a claim to the compassion and high-mindedness of his Athenian interlocutors. In fact, even though the prologue replays the principal argument of Oedipus Tyrannus in the unaware agency of Oedipus, there are 17

See Segal (1981), p. 391.

Tragic Intertextuality: Hope and Fear

209

crucial ways in which the gloomy sequence is changed, thereby enforcing one chief point at the beginning of the tragedy: the complications ensuing from the unremitting interaction of contrasting interests need not at all times be cataclysmic. This time, after having relished his inquiring talent in the face of an accidental infringement through his persevering questioning, Oedipus is not driven away from the sanctuary of the Eumenides because of the Stranger's humanity and discretion; he remains determinedly seated within sacred territory awaiting the judgment of the local inhabitants. Despite the fact that his faltering entry on the stage and his subsequent supplication to the Awful Maidens for a merciful reception contrast vividly with his stately entrance at Thebes before an entreating crowd of suppliants, he appears to have acquired a more conscious understanding of his destiny. No longer does he stand in agonizing wait of oracular utterances of dubious import, but he is fully aware of what the future holds for him and his Athenian hosts. In a sense, unlike his younger counterpart in the former play, in which all information had to be conveyed to him through a variety of agents, at Colonus sightless Oedipus progressively emerges as the incontestable master of past and future.' 8 Notwithstanding the signs of an emerging order and form in the prologue, much more can be gained in the way of intertextual resonance from a brief study of the ensuing scenes with the old men of Colonus and Theseus. Here we have yet another abortive reproduction of the leading idea of the earlier tragedy, through a series of revealing although unfinished structural parallels. In a play whose principal effect is reversal, the compassionate response of the elders to the predicament of Oedipus, compounded by the unreserved sympathy of Theseus, offers a forceful contradiction to their initial revulsion at the irreverent vagabond, especially once they hear his name. In particular, the old men of Colonus avert their eyes from him, as they are plagued with feelings of apprehension and dismay at his unusual wretchedness (140-141, ίώ, ιώ,/δεινός μεν όραν, δεινός δέ κλύειν). Correspondingly, at the closing stages of Oedipus Tyrannus, the Chorus of Theban elders refuses to look at blinded Oedipus, overwhelmed with horror at his ghastly deeds and self-mutilation (1297-1307; see also 1312): ώ δεινόν ίδείν π ά θ ο ς ά ν θ ρ ώ π ο ι ς , ώ δ ε ι ν ό τ α τ ο ν π ά ν τ ω ν δ σ ' έγώ

18

See principally Markantonatos (2002), pp. 29-75. Cf. also McLeish (2003), pp. 90-91.

210

Chapter 5

προσέκυρσ' ήδη. τις σ\ ώ τλήμον, προσέβη μανία; τίς ό πηδήσας μείζονα δαίμων των μηκίστων πρός στ) δυσδαίμονι μοίρα; φεΰ φεϋ δύστην', άλλ' οΰδ' έσιδείν δύναμαί σ', έθέλων πόλλ' άνερέσθαι, πολλά πυθέσθαι, πολλά δ' άθρήσαι· τοίαν φρίκην παρέχεις μοι. (1297-1307) It is not too much to say that the audience's acquaintance with the previous drama would compel them to respond to the play's intertextual ties with it. Indeed, so gripping is the correspondence between the final part of Oedipus Tyrannus and the opening scenes of Oedipus at Colonus that the spectators may have anticipated a fearful replication of public loathing and self-accusation. In the earlier drama an enormous surge of misery and repulsion engulfs Oedipus, allowing little space for reflection on his unutterable anguish. 19 In fact the whole plan of the action springs from the antithesis that the comprehensive analysis of the past at Colonus forms, when compared to the almost incommunicable misfortunes of Oedipus depicted in the earlier tragedy. Even though Sophocles adroitly structures this seamless series of trials after the pattern of Oedipus Tyrannus, he lays most stress upon the remarkable adequacy of the human perspective to bring a highly concentrated insight to bear upon the sinister oppressiveness of the persistently marked intertextual parallels. Not only does Oedipus launch a vehement protestation of his moral innocence in the face of the unseemly questioning of the inquisitive Chorus (510-548), thereby allowing the dreadful details of his unwitting crimes to be brought to light for the first time in this play, but also, and even more importantly, he produces the maximum conviction in his Athenian patrons by means of a passionate review of his unintentional deeds. Unlike the self-deprecating cries of his younger self in the previous play, relentlessly echoed by the pitiful remarks of the fearful and flabbergasted Theban elders, here his persuasive rhetoric of guiltlessness and his slowly but surely unleashed investigative energy with regard to the not always perceptible distinction between unconditional culpability and contingent circumstances impress upon the minds of his addressees the notion, not to

19

For some initial views, see especially Markantonatos (2002), pp. 33-34 & 40-41.

Tragic Intertextuality: Hope and Fear

211

be lost, of his unconscious agency through an unrelenting and closely argued treatment of past actions as antecedent sufferings. Thus far, as we have already observed, the recurrent intertextual indications that encourage the audience to turn a constructively fresh probing eye upon human destiny have explored various possibilities of how the absorbing events in the present are intricately associated with acts in the distant past. In the light of the hopeful inversions of Theban-like sequences of fatal revelation and unmerited misfortune, it is hard not to point out that the spectators may nod in agreement, when the seemingly firm and unswerving progress of events towards the final catastrophe is happily although unhurriedly checked through the involvement of Oedipus and his Athenian benefactors. Sophocles achieves an uninterrupted sense of impending calamity that is averted by the timely intervention of determined and courageous agents. In the same way, the arrival of Creon and his armed guards sets in motion an analogous pattern of uncontrollable violence and undeserved suffering. Not unlike the foregoing examples of intertextual inversion, the violent impetuosity and the suave cunning of the Theban envoy gradually subside before the unyielding pride of the Athenians and the disdainful refusal of Oedipus. It is not too much to hazard the view that, in consideration of the glorification of civic righteousness and individual bravery in the loaded magnificence of the Ode to Colonus (668-719) and the triumphant excitement of the Battle Ode (1044-1098), the rehearsal of earlier arguments allows Sophocles to go beyond sinister and frightful shapes to a powerful vision of humanistic greatness and compassionate response. Shining like a patch of light between clouds, the hopeful conclusion of an otherwise sorely trying series of tribulations and self-punishment bears eloquent testimony to the fact that the great man attains divine stature on account of his insuppressible resilience, overriding loyalty and intellectual concentration. By contrast with Oedipus Tyrannus, where an insistent note of haunting suspicion and impending disaster permeates the varied scene played out on the human stage, Oedipus at Colonus progressively abandons all connection with unreasoning vengeance and finds its long-anticipated resolution on new lines. It should be obvious by now that in Sophocles' hands, the leading themes of the previous play emerge piecemeal, from conflicting viewpoints and in a fragmented although at times heavily revisionist perspective. Nonetheless, this broad story patterning of faltering, changeable, blocked movements is only one of the many threads in the complex fabric of this

212

Chapter 5

tragedy. The play operates on another level as well. Undoubtedly, what gives a further peculiar distinction to Oedipus at Colonus is a profound awareness of the possible intertextual distortions brought about by a persistent projection of such polar opposites as native and foreigner, defender and aggressor, Athens and Thebes. For it should be said that in the tension-filled scenes with Creon, Theseus and Polynices - that is, before and after the climactic battle-stasimon - Sophocles indulges in subtle allusions to the first Oedipus play, especially in view of an ironic resonance arising from the constant employment of a distinctly political discourse. The pervasive charge of the earlier drama found in Oedipus at Colonus moulds, in some measure, the audience's impression of the statesmanlike qualities of Theseus in comparison with such forceful sovereigns as Oedipus, Creon and Polynices. This is a valuable point to be remembered whenever one considers Sophocles' last tragedy, because there is a continuity between the two Oedipus dramas, a continuity of political crisis; what distinguishes them broadly is that the earlier locates an unredeemable discrepancy in the centre of the organizing political structures of the Theban city, whereas the latter effectively confronts the potential consequences of external aggression against the Athenian polis. That this is so can be seen by looking at some of the striking similarities, and glaring dissonances, between the special ways in which both Theban plays treat several familiar rhetorical themes. In a manner similar to sharp-witted but quick-tempered Oedipus, who was all too ready to scornfully reproach Creon for his alleged conspiratorial tactics in the former tragedy (512-677), Theseus engages in a fierce argument with Creon in consequence of the latter's inexcusable hostility and possible collusion with Athenian accomplices (897-1041).20 The dramatic effect of this intertextual linking is not particularly hard to gauge. For one thing, the reenacted courtroom scene with all its crisis-feelings in the later play serves to bring home the fact that although Oedipus displays an unfailing consciousness of past and future, it is Theseus, who exemplifies the wise and selfrestrained ruler, through his moderate conduct and calm but charismatically authoritative resolve in the face of Creon's appalling lawlessness. Unlike his well-intentioned but misguided Theban double, who is fatally driven by unreflecting wrath and consequently stands self-condemned at the

20

On possible Attic conspirators, see Jebb (1900), note on lines 1028ff.

Tragic Intertextuality: Hope and Fear

213

final part of the earlier play, Theseus projects an idealized image of generous and thoughtful government. His openness to persuasion and his religious loyalty shine forth most brightly not only in his judicious and temperate treatment of Creon, whose unrestrained wilfulness and intolerable impudence taint his patriotism indelibly, but also in his unconditional observance of the rights of suppliants. Aside from Oedipus, who is given an unreserved and courteous welcome, the unexpected advent of Polynices does not blind Theseus to his pious duties as a host (1179-1180). It must always be remembered that his behaviour is to a great extent measured against his Theban counterparts. Even though Creon and Polynices are reverses of Theseus, they enjoy all the benefits of Athenian cool sensibleness and matter-of-fact reverence for the gods, to the point of Oedipus' displeasure and agony (592-593, 1179-1180, 1204-1207). In fact, the consistent juxtaposition of Theseus with self-seeking and thoughtless Theban sovereigns indicates effective ways in which a confident and discerning ruler can confront the repulsive hypocrisy and loathsome stratagems of Creon, and the inflexible insistence and careless selfabsorption of Polynices, without giving way to bewildered rage, or worse still, to frantic self-condemnation. Theseus possesses moderation in complete measure and responds to emergencies with wisdom and justice; it is thus partly because of him that the grimness of Oedipus at Colonus is far from being permanent and unrelieved. Nothing could more forcibly bring before us the constant need for judicious direction and cautious governance than the closing stages of the play, which are loaded with unambiguous quotation marks that pointedly refer to the final scenes of Oedipus Tyrannus.2' There is no call for us here to track down all the intertextual connections. Yet in Theseus' never-failing help to the wretched, as is profusely demonstrated in his intensive attention to Oedipus' instructions and his well-meaning advice to mournful Antigone and Ismene, we have a decisive hint as to how some of the intertextual perplexities in Sophocles' last drama glorify the Athenian instrumentality in restricting the sphere of direct vengeance and unreasoning suffering. Furthermore, and more emphatically, Theseus' stance gives an authoritative warning of dire consequences to a potential relapse into Theban-like situations. There is good reason to believe that to some degree the play owes its distinctiveness to this injection of genuine and unfailing human interest and sympathy into circumstances haunted by 21

See also Segal (2001), pp. 135-137.

214

Chapter 5

apparently unredeemable passions, fraught with prophetic disasters and portentous preambles, unfolding against a backdrop of political instability and animosity. No better example of the compactness and resourcefulness of the play's intertextual reverberation could be cited than the scene with Oedipus taking his solemn and grievous farewell from his weeping daughters in the presence of Theseus, so thoroughly recounted by the Messenger in a sublime and stirring narrative (1586-1666). Resembling the final movement of Oedipus Tyrannus, in which self-blinded Oedipus is sober enough to plead with Creon to care for Antigone and Ismene amidst the horror of an unhallowed union and spilling of kindred blood, the off-stage tableau of Oedipus' leave-taking in the recesses of the sacred grove of the Eumenides places direct emphasis on the personal ties within the family. Oedipus eagerly strives to protect his dearest and nearest from the orphaned life in reserve for them by handing them over to the Athenian king for shelter and sustenance. It is no coincidence that the scene's intertextual interest is partly generated through a carefully plotted invocation of the language of the previous play. More specifically, the words frequently employed of and around Theseus unambiguously echo those of and around Creon. Although it would be of little use at this point to accumulate examples, to take one instance, it is characteristic of the distinctively intertextual bearing of the gripping sequences that in both cases the specially selected word γενναίος ('noble') - also applied to Oedipus himself at the beginning of the later tragedy (8, [...] και τό γενναϊον τρίτον) - distinguishes Creon's compassion for the abysmal suffering of Oedipus in Oedipus Tyrannus (1469, ϊθ' ώ γονή γενναίε [...]) and Theseus' generosity of spirit in Oedipus at Colonus (1636, [...] ώς άνήρ γενναίος [...]). That being said, there is a crux in the detailed intertextuality of those related scenes. Comparison of the structurally corresponding sequences also reveals major divergences between the two, especially with regard to the very essence of the graciousness that is amply demonstrated by both Creon and Theseus in the face of massive controversy and risk-taking. Here it may be suggested that Sophocles' audience would doubtless agree that, notwithstanding Creon's initial concern, it is in fact Theseus' wholehearted kindness and empathy that are enduring and unadulterated. Even though Creon shows gentleness in thoughtfully refusing Oedipus' passionate request to remain in the company of his sobbing daughters in the earlier drama (1521-1523), it is again Theseus, whose kind but firm refusal of Antigone's

Tragic Intertextuality: Hope and Fear

215

petition to visit her father's secret grave offers a strong closural gesture at the concluding scene of the later play (1760-1767), so distinct from the timorous indecisiveness and subsequent cold-heartedness of his Theban foil. As it happens, regardless of what the future holds for Antigone and Ismene at Thebes, certain among all these uncertainties is the sustained and uncompromising nobility of well-intentioned Theseus, who, not unlike Oedipus himself in his everlasting heroic benevolence towards his hosts, becomes a striking paradigm of unending and unconditional Athenian humanity. By now it should be clear that the climactic conjunction of accomplishment and reversal in Sophocles' final drama is inextricably associated with a consistent thread of intertextual allusion to Oedipus Tyrannus. To put it another way, Sophocles designed certain dramatic sequences as authoritative reflections of scenes in the earlier tragedy. The striking similarities of language and feeling remind the audience that the past invariably invades the present, and even the most determined emphasis on the future is perpetually conditioned by various concerns for history. This may stand as a rough account of the play's distinctly intertextual bearing; but the world of Oedipus at Colonus presses its way onward in the hands of courageous and thoughtful survivors. In short, one can say that these are not by any means structurally recognizable sequences of fundamentally unchangeable, hope-frustrating intertextual gestures - in the play everything tends towards an especially depressing conclusion that does not occur. It is indeed one of the many paradoxes of Sophocles' last tragedy that specific intertextual patterns intent on bringing anxiety or even disaster in fact bring relief. In reality, out of an entangled web of conflicting interests proceeds this remarkable moment of heartfelt compassion and unqualified consideration, with its composite although at times tough-minded treatment of past and future. In the light of Sophocles' skilful handling of the play's intertextual significance, the towering figures of Oedipus and Theseus serve as powerful metaphors for a growing consciousness of man's treasured ability to feel affectionately and sympathetically without discrimination or injustice. This is especially so in contradistinction to the overt brutality of Creon and the fatal unreasonableness of Polynices. When empathy is lost in the dark abysm of incomprehensible suffering, there is always the urgent need for the transfiguration of terrible losses into explainable patterns. For that reason, it is not overbold to suggest that, in consequence of the strong intertextual ties with Oedipus Tyrannus, the spectators have grown all the more interested in the possibilities of a welcome break with

216

Chapter 5

the past; of considering the present in relation to the play's mysterious conclusion, without calculation exclusively based on frightful experience.

Sophocles 'Antigone In this section, our attention will be also restricted to a number of intertextual considerations that are indissolubly associated with another of Sophocles' Thebes-focused plays. The preceding pages have tried to present a thorough investigation into the audience's awareness of so celebrated an Attic tragedy as Oedipus Tyrannus, which clearly constitutes an essential part of the initial situation from which Sophocles' final drama takes its rise. It is now time to examine an additional significant source of the play in some detail. As we have already intimated, Oedipus at Colonus further enjoys a close intertextual relationship with the Antigone.21 Not unlike the persistent evocation of distinct components of the Tyrannus-theme in the shifting succession of tension-filled episodes of the later play, the constant foreshadowing of the Antigone-situation, especially at the closing stages of Oedipus at Colonus, offers further subtle filters for the spectators' more conscious reception of the stage action. In a manner similar to the striking reversals of Theban-like conditions with regard to the individual destiny of Oedipus, the determined intertextuality of the final scenes forms a pronounced antithesis to the extreme bitterness permeating the concluding stage of the Antigone. In fact, all these aspects are consistently presented with an unambiguous sign of imminent grievous consummation. It is nonetheless true that although the tangle of unmanageable forces with which Antigone is implicated at Colonus prompts the audience to recall relevant Theban disasters, the frustratingly replicated sequences end on a positive note. It is therefore hard to escape the conclusion that an indispensable part of the intertextual strategy of Oedipus at Colonus is the decisive inversion of those previous tragedies intimately connected with the legend of Thebes. It is as if Sophocles wishes to demonstrate that the contextualization of the Oedipus story in the dynamics of fifth-century Athens is influential enough to bestow meaning upon the excruciatingly uninterrupted and humanly unbearable successiveness of Theban history. 22

For some preliminary thoughts, see principally Markantonatos (2002), pp. 161-165 and (2004b).

Tragic Intertextuality: Hope and Fear

217

It is no accident that, through the fine use of intertextual suggestion, there is an almost immediate sequence of the Antigone following on from Oedipus at Colonus·, thus the narrow chronological break between the two plays throws into high relief the impulsiveness of Antigone's decisionmaking and the urgency of the Theban crisis. By contrast, as we have already mentioned briefly in the foregoing section, the time-span between Oedipus Tyrannus and Oedipus at Colonus is sufficiently protracted (perhaps twenty years or so) to allow for Oedipus' peaceful reflection on past experience before decisive action at Colonus. This is one of the reasons that the Antigone-motif is brought into clearer focus later in the play, when the safety of Oedipus has been adequately established, so as to serve as a significant intertextual backdrop of a different sort to the newly restored order. At the opening stage of Sophocles' last drama there are important indications that close attention will be given to the Antigone-theme, especially in the portrayal of Antigone, who not unlike her former self in the nameplay displays the same confidence of unfaltering resolve and wholehearted compassion for her kindred. Yet it is not until far on in this tragedy that one can find distinctive resonance of the previous play. But at this early point in the play, a significant common element between the Antigone and the Oedipus at Colonus remains to be detected in the constant emphasis on the issue of burial within a distinctly political and moral context. As a matter of fact, in a manner comparable to the former drama, Oedipus' determined struggle to secure his last resting place in Attica, in view of Creon's insistent refusal to offer him sepulchral rites within Theban territoiy, paves the way for a harsh conflict between private commitments and public ones. It is to be expected that, given the differing principles so fervently asserted by Oedipus and Creon in a blazing confrontation, the argument will eventually be brought to a head, when embittered Oedipus lays a tremendous imprecation on his aggressive kinsman (864-870): [...] μή γάρ αϊδε δαίμονες θεϊέν μ' άφωνον τήσδε της άρδς ετι, δς γ', ώ κάκιστε, ψιλόν δμμ' άποσπάσας πρός ομμασιν τοίς πρόσθεν έξοίχη βία. τοιγάρ σέ καύτόν και γένος τό σόν θεών ό πάντα λεύσσων "Ηλιος δοίη βίον τοιούτον οιον κάμε γηρδναί ποτε.

218

Chapter 5

Oedipus calls upon the Sun to grant Creon and his race an old age such as his. His dreadful fulminations, which look forward to the suicides of Eurydice and Haemon - and possibly even to the voluntary sacrifice of Megareus or, in the Euripidean version, Menoeceus - that reduce Creon to a living ghost inside an empty palace, alert the audience to a significantly broad range of possible literary allusions, principally in connection with the paradigmatic treatment of the Creon story in the Antigone. It is illuminating to compare Oedipus' ardent impetuosity in the face of state aggression with Antigone's passionate impulsiveness despite persistent calls for acquiescence in stern political proclamations. It is no matter of coincidence that in both cases Creon serves as the determined although hopelessly imprudent representative of Theban authority. In the final impression of the Creon scene, it is scarcely far-fetched to suggest that the family-inclined Antigone of the earlier play finds her male double in the person of her own father. Once faced with a similar prospect of ritual abnormality as a result of political viciousness, Oedipus is all too ready to relinquish his civic obligations and turn against his homeland, by becoming a defending presence for a potential foreign antagonist in war. In the manner of the Antigone, by its mid-point Oedipus at Colonus appears to give precedence to personal conscience over accountability to the state. Nevertheless, it is our contention that in the course of this tragedy, Sophocles progressively enlarges the theme of relentless conflict between individual ethics and political obligations to even broader terms, in giving further nuance to the notion of the primacy of blood ties over legal doctrines. The issue of Oedipus' irregular interment, as played out most intensely in the Creon scene together with a concomitant host of thorny moral issues, prepares the ear for the consistent thread of allusions to the former tragedy in the spirited exchanges between Polynices and his sisters, and the concluding lament of Antigone and Ismene. In fact, at the final stages of the play, the intertextuality becomes particularly dense through a persistent evocation of the previous Thebes-associated plays. Close parallels to Oedipus Tyrannus in the Messenger's narrative of the dying hours of Oedipus are carefully coupled with detailed references to the Antigone in Polynices' agonizing brooding over his ill-omened campaign. This is followed by Antigone's passionate request to visit the forbidden grave of her father, in spite of Ismene's level-headed scepticism and Theseus' firm denial. Here, following the pattern of the earlier scene, special focus is given to the question of proper burial, be it that of Polynices or Oedipus

Tragic Intertextuality: Hope and Fear

219

himself. First the Polynices scene keeps in our minds certain important ideas about how central the apposite rendering of the required funeral rites to the dead appears to be to the thematics of the play. This comes out most forcefully in Polynices' almost obsessive anticipation of his funeral, in the wake of his father's terrible forecast of the detested sons' mutual slaughter at Thebes. In his aggravated distress at the dismal prospect of shameful defeat, Polynices implores Antigone and Ismene to place him in his grave with due sepulchral honours, should Oedipus' curses come to pass and they devise some way of returning to their native land (1405-1413, 1435): (a) ώ τοΰδ' δμαιμοι παίδες, άλλ' ύμεις, έπεί τά σκληρά πατρός κλύετε ταΰτ' άρωμένου, μή τοί με πρός θεών σφώ γ', εάν αί τοΰδ' άραί πατρός τελώνται και τις ύμίν ές δόμους νόστος γένηται, μή μ' άτιμάσητέ γε, άλλ' έν τάφοισι θέσθε κάν κτερίσμασιν. και σφων ό νϋν έπαινος, δν κομίζετον τοΰδ' άνδρός οις πονεϊτον, ουκ ελάσσονα έτ' άλλον οισει της έμής υπουργίας. (1405-1413) (b)

σφων δ' ευ διδοίη Ζεύς, τάδ' εί τελείτε μοι. (1435) As the ironies are piled thick and deep, Polynices is completely unconscious of his sister's prospective doom on account of his own irregular interment; it is remarkable that the unconventional performance of his funeral rites is destined to bring about another untraditional entombment, namely Antigone's inhuman living immurement in a subterranean chamber in her eponymous play. We should, however, now turn our attention to the final movement of Oedipus at Colonus, in which the Antigone-situation is most vividly reproduced in miniature, through an inventively structured discharge of emotional energy that for a moment appears to pose a threat to the civic authority of Theseus and his Athenian followers (1667-1779). It has been suggested that the mournful thrust of Antigone's argument at the final stage of the tragedy strengthens the link with the earlier play, in which vehement lamentation and bitter imprecation over the mangled corpse of unburied Polynices, the virginal beauty of ruined Antigone and the pitiable

220

Chapter 5

loss of self-destructive Haemon serve as a powerful source of civic unrest and political disunion. In the former drama, a relentless pattern of grievous, mostly female, keening - be it the uncontrollable mourning of Antigone over the remains of her brother, the wrathful bereavement of Haemon over his dead bride or the shrill cries for vengeance of Eurydice over the untimely loss of her son - increasingly undermines the masculine authority of Creon. He himself is ultimately engulfed in his own mournful sobbing over the total destruction of his house in the closing scene of the drama. It has been rightly argued that in its unrestrained passion, the female funerary ritual is powerful enough to unsettle the norms of civic loyalty in favour of distinctly family-related commitments and thus, in consideration of its disturbing effect, calls for immediate masculine discipline. Despite constant efforts to bring the female funeral grief under control, it remains nonetheless true that the unfaltering confidence of personal ties within the family recurrently facilitates the full although dreadful resolution of the suffering, especially in extreme cases of civic cruelty and political exclusion.23 Against a dismal background such as this Sophocles forms the closing scene of the play after the pattern of the Antigone, only to dislodge the ominous expectations of the audience, by closely following his already established tactic of purposely desisting from tracing Theban-like events to their projected unfortunate conclusion. At first, the difference of opinion between the weeping girls over returning to the hidden burial place of their father enacts the vicious conflict of the earlier tragedy in microcosm. This difference is no doubt aggravated by the persistent entreaties of sorrowful Antigone to visit the heavily tabooed grave, in spite of the Chorus' repeated calls for self-control and Theseus' kind but unyielding stance. Nevertheless, the eventual rapprochement between the interested parties draws particular attention to the influential Athenian backdrop, which allows enough room for the creative reshaping of the frightful plot of a familiar story in novel ways. Notwithstanding the unruly lament of the Antigone that runs counter to the divinely sanctioned pledge of the Athenian polis, the scale of ritual danger does not increase to the point of resentful altercation, or even ruinous confrontation. The disagreement

23

See Segal (1964), (1993) and (1994). Cf. also Nussbaum (1986), pp. 51-82; Oudemans & Lardinois (1987); Griffith (2005).

Tragic Intertextuality: Hope and Fear

221

between Antigone and Theseus, to a certain extent portentously gendered, is not driven into ferocious opposition that would otherwise challenge the hopeful prospect of finding order and meaning in past experience. Regardless of her recurrent pleas to see her father's tomb, in the end Antigone comes to recognize the just Athenian claim for national safety and respect for the rule of law, and consequently yields to the consoling observations of the Chorus and the commanding presence of Theseus. In actual fact, as her fervent lament is soothed by the gentle words of her Athenian patrons, she begs Theseus to convey her and Ismene back to Thebes, with the purpose of averting the oncoming bloodshed of their feuding brothers (1742-1743, 1769-1772). As the reader will remember, the carefully plotted reversal of Thebanlike circumstances is one of the principal notions that the play as a whole embodies. This reversal is unpredictably effected, with the aim of softening the severe impact of certain cruel human realities within the civilizing context of characteristically Athenian institutions, There is, of course, an unquestionably negative side to the distinctly affirmative intertextual point of the final stage of this tragedy, and some critics have appropriately chosen to concentrate upon it.24 This is Theseus' apparent failure to protect Antigone and Ismene from being implicated in a disastrous conflict with the Theban ruler on account of the unacceptable prohibition of their brother's burial. Even the most optimistic student of the play will acknowledge that this failure exists, however difficult he may find it to enter into it with due consideration. Moreover, the gloomy prospect of Antigone's self-destructive devotion to her family members casts a sinister shadow upon Oedipus himself, who is now seen as partly, if involuntarily, responsible for the ruination of his daughter, because of his ferocious irascibility and excessive abhorrence of his sons. Taking into account the inexorable train of events that Oedipus is seen to set in motion through his ruthless fulminations, one cannot but admit that the closing scene darkly mirrors the lamentably restricted knowledge of the human characters before the unfathomable workings of the gods. Regardless of social status or degree of prophetic insight, the chief persons of Oedipus at Colonus hopelessly strive to contend with the divine forces that in effect dictate the rules in a far larger pattern;

24

See especially Buxton (1980); Chronopoulos (1991), pp. 188-189; Bernard (2001) passim; Maronitis (2004), p. 88.

222

Chapter 5

in the end they find themselves continually operating inside the enclosed zone of the limitation and potential of human observation and discernment. Therefore, viewed from the perspective of the poignant contrast between human intelligence and divine purpose, the final episode is largely a replica of the Antigone, but the anticipation of further unmerited suffering blunts the edge of the hard-won intertextual inversion, thus tarnishing, to a certain extent, the idealized image of Athens as the eminent custodian of humane culture. All this must be granted, but it remains equally true that the conspicuously thorough intertextuality of the play's closing scene can go a stage even further, if we acknowledge the typically Athenian democratic ideology running through the Antigone, bearing in mind moreover the significant new light that has been recently cast upon this earlier drama.25 Notwithstanding the occasional misgivings with regard to the legitimacy of interpreting Greek tragedy in its cultural and political context, it has been persuasively argued that Antigone should be treated as a praiseworthy guardian of democratic values and assurances, in direct contradistinction to the despotic brutality and authoritarian intransigence of Creon. By the standards of Attic ideology, Antigone espouses fundamental concepts of the democracy, so remarkably celebrated in the politically-charged genre of the funeral oration in honour of the war dead. This is especially so with regard to her fervent disobedience to the Theban ruler, who not only wilfully contradicts the essential democratic commitment of paying considerable attention to public recommendations (690-700), but also blatantly proclaims the superiority of his authoritarian government in the face of better judgment (666-667).26 Even though there is something to be said for Creon's political virtue, the spiteful exposure of the remains of Polynices stands at odds with a central topos of deep-seated democratic beliefs, which entails unqualified respect for the unwritten, but everlasting and incorruptible divine ordinances. It is particularly telling of Athens' unfailing concern for defending the

25

26

On the complex issue of Sophocles' Antigone and Athenian democratic ideology, with special reference to the moral questions arising thereof, see principally Bennett & Tyrrell (1990); Sourvinou-Inwood (1987-1988), (1989a), (1989b) and (1990a); Foley (1995) and (2001), pp. 172-200; Tyrrell & Bennett (1998); Griffith (1999), pp. 25-66. For the possible deletion of lines 665-666 by R. D. Dawe, see Lloyd-Jones & Wilson (1990b), p. 132.

Tragic Intertextuality: Hope and Fear

223

unchanging, god-given doctrines relating to the proper funeral ritual at any cost that, in accordance with traditional stories, the Athenians did not desist from going to war in order to rescue the exposed corpses of the Argive dead following the Seven's assault on Thebes. As has already been mentioned, their exploit of bestowing the proper burial rites on the attackers in the face of fierce Theban opposition consistently served as an important eulogy of the innate humanity of the Athenian state in funerary orations. Therefore, at a deeper level, although the ominous shadows linger over the play's concluding scene, Antigone's impassioned urge to return to her native land and therein see to the honourable settlement of her family affairs should be treated as an essential demonstration and, in some respects, a substantial vindication of her courageous stance at Colonus. According to Polynices, the praise stemming from the rendering of his due funeral rites is no less great than the reputation arising from the ministrant devotion to Oedipus (1411-1423). In more ways than one, the comprehensive intertextuality of the closing movement of Oedipus at Colonus drives home the fact that on her arrival at Thebes, Antigone will safeguard the unwritten laws that she has come to respect in Athens. Not unlike her father, who becomes the embodiment of Athenian safety, in her heroic resistance to tyranny she is elevated to the level of champion, and for that matter no less than spirited promoter and intuitive exponent, of Athenian democracy - in one respect, Antigone is an Athenian agent par excellence. We have been maintaining the view that the audience could hardly fail to appreciate the strong intertextual links between Sophocles' last play and the Antigone. As is often true, the multiple literary allusions not only keep the intellectual themes in the foreground, but also draw our attention to further levels of implication and complexity. In actual fact, the distinctive resonance of the earlier drama creates a formal closure, by providing the spectators with a variety of mortal and divine outlooks on past and future events. The form of the final stages of Oedipus at Colonus is constantly kept in the likeness of the previous tragedy. Sophocles stages a miniature Antigone with the purpose of playing on the original apprehension of what the replicated situation signifies and the eventual realization that its significance was other, through a split-second reversal of familiar horrors. But of course, although the tantalizing inevitability of Theban-like situations has been duly exorcised, certain references to a dreadful state of affairs serve as pregnant foreshadowings of imminent crises that throw a sinister

224

Chapter 5

light on the Athenian accomplishment. Even here, however, the nightmarish consciousness of the future is not powerful enough to challenge the moral dignity and inherent humanity of Antigone and Theseus. In view of the manifold perspectives of intertextual association that are at all times opened up to the critic, even the clearly identifiable influence of the negative point of funeral anomaly, which is an integral component of the dramatic structure of both plays, is potent but subterranean. The paradigm of unbroken familial love as an important cement of the democratic conscience is replayed most forcefully at Thebes, after having been ardently established at Colonus. As the vigorous campaigner of Athenian principles and commitments, Antigone introduces a profoundly democratic patriotism into the Theban polls, on account of her hard-won triumph of tender judgment over unbending absolutism. We cannot escape the conclusion that, in a manner comparable to the consistent evocation of the Oedipus Tyrannus, a series of deft illustrations of distinctive intertextual relevance with the Antigone once again brings into prominence the fact that it is only in the case of Athens that the city of blood and the city of law become one and the same.

Death and Philia in Sophocles' Theban Plays As a case study, we shall conclude this chapter by looking at certain aspects of the detailed interconnectedness that draws Sophocles' Theban plays together into an apparent trilogic combination". As has already been suggested, Oedipus at Colonus serves as the long-anticipated consummation and inspiring climax of those Thebes-associated dramas that are inextricably set in a rigid framework of unrelenting vindictiveness and unmerited suffering. The three plays thus indicate the extreme difficulty of reconciling personal obligations and political commitments, private sentiments and the advantage of the state. Considerable weight is therefore attached to the inviolability of family ties and the unremitting hatred that their imprudent contravention invariably generates. In fact, the accumulated horror is part and parcel of a chilling although grand notion of fair dealing; but at the close of his life in Oedipus at Colonus, Sophocles strongly emphasized the pressing need for another arrangement, and the result is a play of remarkable humanity and ritual magnificence. This compassionate conception of justice, which 27

See also Markantonatos (2007b) for some preliminary ideas. Further, cf. Müller (1999b).

Tragic Intertextuality: Hope and Fear

225

is strikingly projected as the ground-idea of Athenian democracy in the tragedy, is centred on philia, or friendship, which here widens to include, among other things, such diverse feelings as fatherly fondness, filial obedience, and fraternal loyalty. It is evident that Sophocles' final play attempts to account for the apparently unresolved disparity between individual destiny, on the one hand, and political authority, on the other, by recurrently invoking familiar patterns of the earlier Theban plays and effectively restricting their remorseless brutality. The element of resolution and conclusiveness found in Oedipus at Colonus is particularly evident in Oedipus' determined devotion to his daughters, which in allowing some sense of order to emerge out of a chaotic universe brings the two previous Theban dramas to bear at one hopeful juncture. For that reason, we will suggest that, although in the closing scenes of Oedipus Tyrannus Oedipus' deep affection for Antigone and Ismene infuses the action with some humanity, eventually his concern for their well-being is overwhelmed by a surge of unbearable grief at his polluted actions, which in their hideousness render even a quick death a complicated passing out of the human realm.28 In Antigone, similar feelings of unbroken commitment to personal ties within the family, this time profusely displayed by Antigone towards her unburied brother, direct the audience to a different kind of morality, away from the cruel ordinances of a despotic ruler. By contrast with Oedipus, who was all too stunned by the enormity of his crimes to decide the proper course of action in the previous play, Antigone has no qualms about choosing an honourable death over a shameful existence. Correspondingly and to be sure even more emphatically, in Oedipus at Colonus Oedipus' affection for his daughters is reaffirmed in the recesses of the sacred grove at the critical moment of his heroic passing. Yet the power of kindred love again shatters all earthly bonds and evokes a higher ethical sphere, on which man-made laws have no legitimate claim. After a long wait in the company of his beloved daughters, the sorely tried Oedipus is ready to embrace death at Colonus with a relative calmness of mind.29 In the final movement of Oedipus Tyrannus, the audience witnesses the terrible spectacle of the blinded Oedipus stumbling out of the palace in extreme physical and emotional agony. He is reduced to utter hopeless-

28 29

See primarily the cogent discussion in Segal (2001), pp. 117-120. See Markantonatos (2002), pp. 217-220 and passim.

226

Chapter 5

ness and very much alive to the sad fact that the miasma has wider implications for his already complicated relationship with the living and the dead. Everything is lost for Oedipus, apparently a man hated by the gods, who in the desperate act of his self-mutilation seeks a way to cut himself off from the outside world; even death, a potential release from suffering so poignantly suggested by the Chorus (1368, κρείσσων γάρ ήσθα μηκέτ' ών ή ζών τυφλός), is not a possibility, because the sight of his miserable father and mother in Hades would be too painful for polluted Oedipus, as he himself observes in an extraordinary turn of phrase (13711374, έγώ γάρ ουκ οίδ' ομμασιν ποίοις βλέπων/πατέρα ποτ' άν προσείδον εις Άιδου μολών,/ούδ' αύ τάλαιναν μητέρ', οίν έμο'ι δυοιν/εργ' έστί κρείσσον' αγχόνης είργασμένα). However, as has already been noted in the preceding section, in the midst of all the horror Oedipus desperately tries to shelter his stillinnocent young daughters from the hard life that is in store for them. Despite the fact that at the end of the play his lot is left in an undecided and suspended state, he goes to such length to secure the welfare of Antigone and Ismene that he even seeks to enlist Creon as a kind of surrogate father.30 In the face of the irrational suffering caused by the consciousness of his incestuous marriage and father-killing, he retains his humanity, in regarding his daughters with compassion and making plans for their future. Thus, he by no means relinquishes his responsibility for his nearest and dearest, or his philoi, but at the closing stages of the tragedy he wishes he could give Antigone and Ismene more fatherly advice and hope for a better life (1511-1512, σφψν δ', ώ τέκν', εί μέν είχέτην ήδη φρένας,/πόλλ' αν παρήνουν [...]).31 Nevertheless, the enormity of the situation is such that there is no room for further lecturing on stage; not without some protest, Oedipus lets go of his children and is led back into the palace. Thus the play comes to a close with Oedipus' fate in a state of limbo; the spectators are left wondering whether Oedipus will be driven into exile or will be allowed to stay in Thebes. In spite of the bestial cruelty of incest and parricide, the power of human ties, so intensely displayed in Oedipus' loving care for his daughters, makes the monstrous pollution more humanly 30 31

See Dawe (1982), p. 22; Segal (2001), p. 116. On the familiar theme ofphilia, see Adkins (1960) passim and (1963); Goldhill (1986), pp. 79-106; Juffras (1988); Alaux (1992); Konstan (1996), (1997a) and (1997b); Edmunds (1996), pp. 117-128; Belfiore (1998) and (2000).

Tragic Intertextuality: Hope and Fear

227

tolerable. This does not mean that Oedipus overcomes the indelible stain of incest and parricide by merely being concerned for Antigone and Ismene. The full awareness of the miasma does not allow him to come to terms with his new situation; certain matters are to remain unresolved. It will take Oedipus long years of frustrated wanderings to conclude his wished-for advice-giving, and only then he will be ready to take his place as a defunct hero in the land of Colonus. It is no accident that the message relayed there is philia, which redeems great suffering and ultimately paves the way for a peaceful death. However, before coming to Sophocles' last drama, where it has already been noticed that Oedipus Tyrannus is played out in miniature in the departure scene of Oedipus and his daughters so vividly narrated by the Messenger (1586-1666), let us examine first the Antigone, which is similarly evoked in the concluding antiphonal lament of Antigone, Ismene and the old men of Colonus (1670-1750). In the Antigone, which is evidently the earliest play, the bonds of family are so powerful that Antigone is set on sacrificing her life to bury her brother, Polynices, in open defiance of Creon's harsh pronouncement. She even rejects the happy prospect of husband and children, while demonstrating extraordinary devotion to brother and kin (905-912). By contrast with Oedipus, who is only given room to regard his daughters with compassion, but then lapses into silence inside the palace as an unknown future hangs over him, she seems to have her priorities straightened out, when she refers to the unwritten and unfaltering laws of the gods (453457), which regulate the activities of family-based cults and ultimately define the special parameters of the complex relationship between the living and the dead. There could hardly be a more patent example of the running theme of philia, than when Antigone scorned by Creon declares her unfailing belief in the commanding presence of love in human life. Antigone's fearless statement reinforces the traditional but frequently ignored terms of moral evaluation by evoking the loftiest vision for humanity far from certain grandiose, yet ephemeral social and political assurances (522-525): Κρ. Αντ. Κρ.

ούτοι ποθ' ούχθρός, οΰδ' δταν θάντ], φίλος. οΰτοι συνέχθειν, άλλά συμφιλείν εφυν. κάτω νυν έλθοϋσ', εί φιλητέον, φίλει κείνους- έμοϋ δέ ζώντος ουκ άρξει γυνή.

228

Chapter 5

In a manner similar to the Antigone, in which family obligations are couched in language heavily charged with moral and religious certainties, Sophocles' last play contains the climax of the notion o f p h i l i a as a miseryredeeming factor in human life. The climactic moment comes when, according to the Messenger's account, Oedipus bids his daughters farewell inside the holy meadow before his mysterious passing. It is no accident that the highly emotional scene of Oedipus' leave-taking in the company of Antigone and Ismene is a mirror-image of the earlier play. Once more in the face of divine workings he cannot fully comprehend, Oedipus helps re-knit the bonds of family by trying to provide for his daughters; as he did earlier with Creon, this time he resigns to Theseus, the Athenian king, his place as the father of Antigone and Ismene. Like Antigone in her heated confrontation with Creon, he gives the idea of philia a sufficiently sharp pointing, when in offering his parting fatherly advice he claims that love is strong enough to diminish the atrociousness of his circumstances (1610-1619): ό δ' ώς άκούει φθόγγον έξαίφνης πικρόν, πτύξας έπ' αύταΐς χείρας ειπεν, "ώ τέκνα, ούκ έστ' εθ' ύμΐν τήδ' εν ήμερα πατήρ, ολωλε γάρ δή πάντα τάμά, κοϋκέτι την δυσπόνητον έξετ' άμφ' έμοί τροφήν· σκληράν μεν, οιδα, παίδες· άλλ' εν γάρ μόνον τά πάντα λύει ταϋτ' έπος μοχθήματα. τό γάρ φιλειν ούκ έστιν έξ δτου πλέον ή τοΰδε τάνδρός έσχεθ', οΰ τητώμεναι τό λοιπόν ήδη τον βίον διάξετον." His last words, which are purposely quoted by the Messenger, are a fitting prelude to his forthcoming apotheosis, which, among others things, offers Oedipus a dignified exit from this life. It is fair to suggest that in the course of time Oedipus has grown capable of intense force and concentration, in view of the incisive energy and the stimulating suggestiveness so copiously demonstrated in his final utterance. In fulfilling his wish to conclude his advice-giving that was painfully interrupted by the course of dreadful events in the earlier Oedipus Tyrannus and thus offer ampler counsels to his daughters, he makes abundantly clear that the poignant feelings emanating from the very consciousness of the stain are now

Tragic Intertextuality: Hope and Fear

229

subordinate to another even more powerful feeling, which goes hand in hand with the full awareness of his moral innocence. It is this same feeling that drives Antigone away from the protecting presence of Theseus and back to Thebes, where she aspires to put an end to her brothers' terrible strife; without doubt, the evocation of the Antigone-situation through Antigone's impatience and Ismene's anxiety in the concluding lament adds a further dimension of intricacy and dramatic force to the theme of philia within the family. Indeed such are the intertextual ties between Sophocles' Theban plays that the audience can now glean yet another meaning in the comparison of the Oedipus at Colonus with both the Oedipus Tyrannus and the Antigone. As there are many places where a distinct architectural likeness can be detected between the later play and the earlier ones, certain points of thematic relevance allow one to see the broad principle of the trilogic sequence, in the transcendence of the ruthless law of wrong for wrong through the notable foregrounding of the ties of love and respect among men. It cannot in fact be too often repeated that a thorough discussion of the comprehensive intertextuality in Sophocles' Theban plays highlights the dominant character of climactic finality found in Oedipus at Colonus. For it is there that Sophocles scrupulously inspects a series of Theban-like examples of unreasoning cruelty and incomprehensible suffering, and then purges them of almost all violent concomitants. The close parallels between those plays that are intimately linked with Theban legend provide still more potent proof that the second Oedipus drama offers an inspiring vision of divine righteousness operating behind the scenes of mortal action without unredeemed malevolence. The promising prospect of Oedipus' long-expected reconciliation with heaven is powerful enough to lay open the deeper wells of sympathy in some of the human characters. This overpowering feeling of comradeship not only allows the leading persons to rise beyond the murkiness of a family disaster, but also supplies a distinctive moral impetus to the progress of the tragedy. It is one of the remarkable features of this play that the extraordinary strength of human will and the prevailing sense of heaven-sent recompense for wide and gruesome experience are indissolubly associated with the finest qualities of Athenian democracy. To sum up then: even if the dramatic impact of the various intertextual links is not always easy for the critic to gauge, it is a safe guess to assume that Sophocles could depend upon his contemporaries to respond to his

230

Chapter 5

clues and thus gain a deeper understanding of his play. The intertextual elucidation that is carefully distributed throughout the tragedy has not escaped the notice of modern dramatists and directors. It is noteworthy that more often than not in later productions, the ghastly predicament of Oedipus and his family is presented with an unambiguous sign of human grandeur and divine empathy - the consciousness of the reverential awe stemming from the mystifying but hopeful conclusion of Oedipus at Colonus must have played a significant part in the modern reception of Theban myth. It is for that very reason that we propose to trace the outline of the performance and literary afterlife of the play in the following chapter.

Chapter 6

Influence and Performance: Oedipus and the World Introduction As with the dense network of intertextual conceptions examined in the previous chapter, with few noteworthy exceptions the story of the play's varied reception from the Renaissance to the present has not yet provoked the keen interest of serious scholars.1 This is unfortunate, since examining the afterlife of the original texts in detail can considerably refine our understanding of their structuring principles and thematic preoccupations. Be that as it may, this modest review of the main lines of evidence indicates that Oedipus at Colonus remains one of the noblest dramatic projects, entailing the fullest attention of the interpreter and the audience. Although in modern reworkings of the play the public aspect gives way to the private sphere, Oedipus displays his unequalled sufficiency as a free-thinking individual in his dying moments unfettered by the all-powerful restrains of ungovernable passions. As he persistently lodges a claim of virtue, his unflinching determination and prophetic rigour confer ageless life on every one who proves worthy of his benevolence. It is no accident that his mysterious transfiguration is repeatedly treated as a shining example of divine justice - a hopeful closure to a famous story of unthinking retribution and

1

It hardly needs pointing out that the following comprehensive studies are required reading for anyone seriously interested in the modern reception of Greek tragedy. All contain occasional references to Sophocles' last play: Highet (1949); Schadewaldt (1957); Scherer (1987), pp. 153-179; Flashar (1991); Reid (1993), esp. pp. 754-772; Burian (1997b); McDonald (2003), esp. pp. 63-79; Bushneil (2005). Sadly enough, there is only one thorough discussion of the afterlife of Oedipus at Colonus·. Flashar (1996), pp. 97164. The last-mentioned study has been constantly consulted throughout this chapter. Further, see Grene (1967); Hamburger (1969); Schadewaldt (1970); Puchner (1984); Walton (1987), (1991) and (1996); Holford-Strevens (1999); Poduska (1999); Tosi (2003); Borzia (2003); Wrigley (2004); Poole (2005).

232

Chapter 6

uncontrollable rage. Moreover, the frequent production of Sophocles' Theban plays in the remarkable shape of a provisional trilogy is expressive of what several directors have intensely felt as an apparent structural and thematic affinity of Oedipus at Colonus with Antigone and Oedipus Tyrannus. In these and similar trilogic performances and adaptations we may well believe that the intertextual resonance of Sophocles' final drama is thrown into sharp relief. The same applies to the various literary, operatic and cinematic refigurations of the Theban legend, in which distinctive elements of Oedipus at Colonus are regularly combined with those of Antigone and Oedipus Tyrannus. We may realistically suppose that the reason for the critics' neglect of the play's afterlife must lie in the pervading influence that so prominent a tragic drama as Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus has exerted on our literary canon, especially over the last five centuries. Most privileged to have enjoyed unstinting Aristotelian authority and praise, Oedipus Tyrannus has been regarded as the unquestionable paradigm of tragic plot and grandeur. It is no coincidence that in the centuries following the Renaissance, with all its passion for the emulation of Graeco-Roman models, the Oedipus myth came to be known to a wider public eager for classical mythology and art through the much-lauded Sophoclean tragedy and its diverse adaptations and translations. 2 It is a commonplace of modern criticism that Oedipus Tyrannus has unfailingly been in vogue, evidently capturing the popular imagination on account of its overpowering dramatic appeal and the elaborate convolutions of its plot-structure. This leads us to look at some of the details and paraphernalia of the play's long reception history, which are inextricably connected with the afterlife of Oedipus at Colonus. From a careful consideration of the almost parallel histories of these two Thebes-related plays in our literary order it follows that far from being an afterthought to modern reimagining and recasting of the Oedipus legend, on numerous occasions Sophocles' final tragedy has provided the necessary benchmark by which alternate closures to later Oedipus plays have been measured. We might suggest that the mystic finality and the emotional energy of Oedipus at Colonus have loomed large in the mind of modern playwrights, in their effort not only to compress a familiar myth of enormous complexity and shocking aspects into

2

See the concise discussion in Segal (2001), pp. 144-178.

Influence and Performance: Oedipus and the World

233

the significantly short compass of stage-space, but also to offer a satisfying, at times even apparently rational, conclusion to what has been felt to be a particularly scandalous and implausible story. Apart from being incorporated into the machinations of modern plots as an indisputable presence, it is most credible and probable that Sophocles' last drama has served as the valuable repository of mythical knowledge that could be referred to in the course of later theatrical productions directly or indirectly, for the purpose of dramatic economy and structural clarity. It is not surprising, then, to find that the apparent merits of Oedipus at Colonus have not left some well-known dramatists unmoved; in actual fact, a number of plays and operas have been modelled on the ancient play and even have heavily drawn on its mood. The same applies to several interesting reshapings and revisions of the Sophoclean tragedy; more than this, the reception of Oedipus at Colonus has been notable in other performed media and non-performed arts, thereby bearing eloquent witness to the work's profound effect and inspiring message. The numerous questions and evidence concerning the play's influence on our literary canon are too complex to be handled here. What immediately concerns us is a selective presentation of the highly diversified filiations between Oedipus at Colonus and later works of art. It should not escape the reader's attention that, in a way, most of the chapters in this book aim at defining the variegated history of the play's reception across the ages, be it literary influence, interpretative scholarship, intertextual affinities, historical dimension and understanding or performance. As has already been indicated, an avalanche of intertextual metaphor and allusion to earlier treatments of the story consistently bombards the audience of the play. Correspondingly, the enduring memory of Greek mythology in all its various manifestations has been an important yardstick by which the modern consumers of antiquity-related artefacts and performances have measured subsequent revisitations of the second Oedipus play - be they materializations in such diverse media as poetry, prose, drama, opera, ballet, film, radio, television, audio-recording, painting or sculpture. It is important to note that in our era, which is one widely informed by an unceasing controversy over literary hierarchies and values, the Graeco-Roman achievement is mainly conveyed to the Western and non-Western public through the powerful and eloquent means of Greek tragedy. Even our concerns for good taste and effective instruction are shaped by the awareness of tragedy's creative uniqueness and boldness to a great extent or, in the words of Barbara

234

Chapter 6

Goff, 'it is chiefly tragedy, from among classical genres, that enters the arena of current debates on the goals and methods of higher education'. 3

Influence As we have already suggested, the distinctive originality of invention and the almost exclusive character of the tale allow one to feel confident in tracking down a tradition of literary and performance understanding of Oedipus at Colonus. That being said, it should be noted that the overwhelming presence of so famous an Attic tragedy as Oedipus Tyrannus makes room for assiduous cross-referencing and cross-fertilization, principally when it comes to ambitious adaptations of the Theban myths and plays. Furthermore, one should bear in mind that in our postmodernist era even the idea of a scrupulous and all-inclusive inventory of repetitions and echoes of Sophocles' style strikes most critics as an impossible fantasy at the very least, not to say deplorable haughtiness. The perplexing wanderings between texts and plays serve as an important caveat for any seemingly unquestionable conclusion in the following analysis, especially with regard to so aesthetically refined periods as those of Neoclassicism and Romanticism. There is, of course, sufficient evidence of the play's Nachleben in ancient times. The shocking stories surrounding the House of Labdacus have been a remarkable inspiration for numerous dramatists; ancient sources speak of several plays under the name Oedipus, written by such lesser-known poets as Achaeus, Xenocles, Carcinus, Theodectas, Timocles, Diogenes and Lycophron. Even though these works may have referred to Oedipus Tyrannus, one need not suppose that Sophocles' last drama entirely failed to awake an echo of admiration in later playwrights. The same applies to the now lost Thebes-related dramas of Accius (170-C.86 BCE) and Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE); as a matter of fact, the fragmentary play of Seneca (c.4 BCE-65 CE), Phoenician Women, begins with banished Oedipus in the company of his devoted daughter, Antigone. Moreover, ancient literary criticism showed an interest in Oedipus at Colonus, as is indicated by Cicero's remarks in On Old Age 7. 21 and On Ends 5 . 1 . 3 and Ps.-Longinus'

3

Goff (1995b), p. 18; see also Berlin (1981); Segal (1995a); Wilson (200b); Hall (2004a).

Influence and Performance: Oedipus and the World

235

praise of the spectacular image of Oedipus preparing his final exit from this life in a moment of divine motivation (On the Sublime 15. 7).4 In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries CE, three major remodellings of Oedipus Tyrannus in the lines of neoclassical drama had a considerable impact on the public reception of the Labdacid history: Pierre Corneille's Oedipe (1659), John Dryden and Nathaniel Lee's Oedipus: A Tragedy (1678), and Voltaire's Oedipe (1718).5 Despite the fervent passion of playwrights to rival the ancient foundation, while asserting their own artistic superiority, several Sophoclean assumptions underwrite such modern works. It should be noted, however, that conscious stylistic borrowings from Sophocles do not conceal a certain uneasiness with the legend's apparently outrageous elements of incest and parricide. Therefore, apart from a consistent effort to downplay the shocking character of the incestuous union, various sub-plots of amorous nature are introduced to provide a foil to the familial horror and thereby cater to the period's taste for romantic complications. It is perhaps of some importance that in Corneille's play the Athenian king, Theseus, makes an appearance in a highly entertaining episode with Dirce, demonstrating his typical qualities of high-mindedness and steadfastness. Moreover, in Dryden and Lee's Oedipus: A Tragedy, the introduction of a repulsively deformed and utterly villainous Creon may have not been exclusively modelled on Shakespearean prototypes, but may also carry an echo of his abhorrent Sophoclean double in Oedipus at Colonus. In fact, what is of particular interest in the heritage of Sophocles' final tragedy is the manner in which later dramatists devised a conclusion to their plays, in an effort to throw some purposeful light on Oedipus' horrible actions. Although the inspection of the plays' finales may strike one as generally contradictory to the contextualization of Oedipus' last hours of his life in the Attic region, a closer look reveals that both the suicidal mood in Dryden and Lee's Oedipus: A Tragedy and the courageous acquiescence in cruel destiny in Corneille's Oedipe and Voltaire's Oedipe may engage in intertextual dialogue with assumptions and concerns analogous to those

4

5

On Ps.-Longinus' appreciative note, see Michelakis (2002), pp. 76-78; cf. also Pinnoy (1984). On the Oedipus tradition, see Astier (1974); Edmunds (1976), (1991); Mueller (1980); Edmunds & Dundes (1983); Gentili & Pretagostini (1986); van Nortwick (1998). Cf. also Vidal-Naquet (1990c). See principally Burian (1997b), pp. 240-247; Segal (2001), pp. 149-152; Garland (2004), p. 149; Hall & Macintosh (2005), pp. 1-29.

236

Chapter 6

in Oedipus at Colonus. Admittedly, it is not so much the self-destructive Oedipus, a figure pointedly re-emerging in Oedipe by Antoine Houdar de la Motte (1726), which can be said to be in distinctly close rapport with his insightful and unwavering Sophoclean counterpart. Yet Oedipus' spirited recognition of his responsibility and courageous acceptance of his suffering to protect the city of Thebes from the plague, even if this entails his departure from his native land, bring to mind the unflinching determination that is abundantly displayed by asylum-seeker Oedipus to shield his Athenian benefactors and their city from danger in Sophocles' last drama. Even though these most popular reworkings of the Oedipus story provide a significant context in which critics may indulge in certain considerations regarding the possible afterlife of Oedipus at Colonus in the shadow of the far more luminous and influential Oedipus Tyrannus, they remain conjectural connections that at best provide a much-needed preliminary backdrop to our exploration. On the other hand, we are in safer territory when we turn our lens of inquiry to two notable reworkings of ancient prototypes, both of which feature an elaborate pattern of allusion to Sophocles' final drama among other texts, and bear the distinguishing mark of a highly political interest. It has been convincingly argued that John Milton's Samson Agonistes (1671) and William Mason's Caractacus (1759) are intricately tied up with the political context of their publication and performance, in a manner that modern enactments of Sophocles' original have rarely achieved.6 In Milton's important verse drama, the hateful Philistines hold the Hebrew hero Samson prisoner; despite his blindness, Samson succeeds in regaining his former strength by invoking his preternatural vigour. Eventually, his strange passing from this life brings devastation upon the leaders of the Philistines and protection to his dear ones in its train. Here all the main elements of Oedipus at Colonus are plain to see: the blinded, sorely tried figure, who to his dying day never fails in his effort to exact terrifying vengeance upon his despised enemies and impart benefits to those he has sympathy with. Regarding the play from a purely political viewpoint, we may add that, not unlike sightless Oedipus, John Milton persevered in his service of the republican cause by supporting Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth government in the face of blindness. His poignant play gives expression to his feelings of

6

See especially Hall & Macintosh (2005), pp. 12-14 & 183-214.

Influence and Performance: Oedipus and the World

237

disillusionment at the restoration of the monarchy with Charles II in 1660; yet the heroic example of Samson was ever to offer a season of gladness and hopefulness amidst strains of melancholy, especially in view of the eventual disappearance of monarchic tyranny from England. By contrast with Milton's Samson Agonistes, which despite its notable performability was not mounted on the stage in its time, Mason's Caractacus, a play that draws the rudiments of its plot from Oedipus at Colonus, was successfully staged at Covent Garden, London on 6 December 1776 and enjoyed numerous enactments in the provinces. In this extraordinary heroic drama, a widely acknowledged modernization of Greek tragedy in a manner congruous with eighteenth-century sensibilities and concerns, the aged British King Caractacus and his daughter Evelina enter a druids' grove in urgent search of a haven from the deadly embrace of the Roman general Aulus Didius. After the arrival of Arviragus, the estranged son of Caractacus, there follows a fierce battle with the Romans; for all his efforts to deter the foreign aggressors, Arviragus dies of the wounds received in the relentless fighting. Subsequent to a desperate attempt to defend his freedom, Caractacus falls into the hands of the invaders and is transferred to Rome in captivity, together with his faithful daughter. It is evident that in this noteworthy case of an immensely successful classical revival, the parent play is none other than Oedipus at Colonus itself, though we should note that Euripides' Children of Heracles has been suggested as a further literary source, on account of the Iolaus-like rejuvenation of Caractacus and his supernatural urge to engage in close combat with his enemies regardless of his advanced years.7 The principal figures of Caractacus and Evelina draw their inspiration from Oedipus and his caring daughter Antigone in the Sophoclean play. Furthermore, in a manner similar to the holy meadow of the Eumenides at Colonus, the druids' sacred grove is punctuated with religious particularities and serves as the locus of ritual enactments. Arviragus is a felicitous conflation of the personalities of Polynices and Theseus; his military expedition against the Roman attackers is reminiscent of Theseus' rescue mission in Oedipus at Colonus. It is worth mentioning that just like Oedipus, Caractacus is given penetrating insight into his cruel destiny, in tandem with an oracular understanding of what is in store for his fellow Britons in the days to come. The play's

7

See Hall & Macintosh (2005), p. 188.

238

Chapter 6

opening at Covent Garden in 1776, following the American Declaration of Independence in July of the same year, caused a stir among the audience, who must either have appreciated or resented the strong anti-colonial message inherent in the struggle of the British king Caractacus against Roman rule. In many respects, Mason's Caractacus mirrors the period's enthusiasm for druidical tradition, then believed to have been essentially democratic, and Celtic bardic song, thereby bringing together the Greeks with the ancient Britons, especially through an apposite and aesthetically pleasing handling of the Chorus. In the eighteenth century there were other notable reworkings of Sophocles' final play in theatre and opera. The Italian poet Pier Jacopo Martello, a competent translator of numerous French tragedies, wrote Edipo Coloneo (1715), while in 1797 the French dramatist Jean Fran