Sophocles, the playwright

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Sophocles, the playwright

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THE PHOENIX SUPPLEMENTARY VOLUMES I. Studies in Honour of Gilbert Norwood, edited Mary E. White


II. Arbiter of Elegance: A Study of the Life and Works of C. Petronius, by Gilbert Bagnani III. Sophocles the Playwright, by S. M. Adams


























Copyright 0, Canada, 1957, by University of Toronto Press Printed in Canada London: Oxford University Press



N recent years a number of interesting and valuable works on Sophocles have been produced. It may therefore seem that the present book is quite unnecessary. But, despite ·assertions by various writers that the dramatist in Sophocles is their especial concern, I cannot think that justice has been done to him in this respect. That is the deficiency I seek to remedy; I make no attempt to deal with Sophocles the poet. These essays will, I hope, be of service both to those who read Sophocles in Greek and to those who read him in translation; but their scope is limited. I am content if it is recognized that the plays of Sophocles are the sort of drama to which contemporary Athenian audiences were accustomed and of which, with good reason, they approved. A play by Sophocles is not the work of a writer feeling his way, with occasional flashes of genius, towards a later and more effective art-form; to the people for whom it was composed, nothing in it was undramatic: his plays are artistic wholes, with nothing superfluous and nothing missing. In attempting to show this I have borne in mind what is perhaps self-evident: if it is true that we must not read into a drama things that are not there, it is at least as true that we must not overlook what the dramatist has actually written; we must be not only perceptive but alert, for here, from beginning to end, every line, if not every word, has its significance. The Greeks knew this; and they knew their dramas in what seems to us astonishing detail, as anyone who reads Aristophanes will bear witness; we may remember that, with no widely published literature, they depended much upon the spoken word. We are all aware that many differences between Greek and later artforms are due especially to the fact that tragedy in ancient Greece was a form of religious observance, its subject-matter drawn almost exclusively from legend. But not everyone realizes the importance of religion in Sophocles, and I have tried to show that this association of drama with religion not only prescribes the substance of his plays and divinely validates his insistence on the need for piety and justice, but also gives unity to all his works. We shall not see this unity unless we recognize a controlling power exercised by a god or goddess, with divine participation in the affairs of men. T



At the same time, since tragedy was from its beginning the visual presentation of a story, what we call drama naturally emerged, to become the brilliant rival of religious significance in the interest attaching to the whole. The story, once the means towards the end, became itself an end, and Sophocles was quick to realize this-if, indeed, he was not the first to see it clearly. What he achieved in this respect is so impressive that, from the modern point of view, it seems to be the only thing that matters. We tend to think of it alone as genuinely effective, and conclude that everything else is only a concession to religion and tradition. This is not seeing Sophoclean tragedy as a whole. Both elements, the divine and the human, must concern us, for they are inseparably interwoven, with resulting unity. So far as the telling of the story is concerned, there appears to be no need for the critic to engage in philosophical subtleties or probe exhaustively into the innermost soul of man. This may be a legitimate field for scholarly investigation; but dramatic effect is not the offspring of obscurity, and it is rather on the basic human emotions, which change little, if at all, that Sophocles habitually plays. Certain ideas current in fifth-century Athens must, of course, be grasped; but there is no good reason why anyone with an appreciation of drama should fail to understand a Sophoclean play, either in part or in entirety. He need only realize that it is at once the presentation of a story and a demonstration of the way in which mortals, with all their strength and greatness, are guided or supported by Olympian will and wisdom. Entertainment value was, of course, well understood by Sophocles, as may be seen by the way in which he not infrequently increased such value by attaching interest to a secondary personage, when the story of the central figure did not, perhaps, contain sufficient novelty, or where the central figure's quality could be displayed effectively by comparison or contrast with the qualities of others. This we may all admit; but on one point we must be clear: the central figure is always so drawn as to control dramatic structure, the play thereby conforming to some standard pattern. Sometimes, as in the Tyrannus, attention is concentrated on a central figure, and we may think that this is what Sophoclean drama should be like. In other plays, a figure secondary in the structure may seem at times to take the leading role; interest may, indeed, be so divided that a play appears to have two central figures. So far as structure is concerned, this is nothing but delusion: in every case it is one central figure who controls the drama as an entity. Of this the Antigone, as I hope to show, is an unusually good example; but other Sophoclean plays are similar. Each is fitted ·into a scheme prescribed by custom and



religion, and entertainment value, however delightful it may be in itself and however vigorously Sophocles has recognized and used_ it, is, strictly speaking, a side-issue. Here was drama contained within the forms peculiar to its day, and it should be judged not by the criteria of a later age but by its own. It is perhaps as well to add that in what follows "drama," a Greek word, is used of an imitative or representational work the chief purpose of which is to affect the emotions, and "dramatic" is used of anything that pertains to such a work or seems especially effective therein. Our word "play" is, of course, included in "drama," but is not a synonym.

My indebtedness to many writers will be obvious. In the first chapter I have been influenced by a desire to leave much-debated matters as uncomplicated as possible for the general reader, to whom the chapter is especially addressed, and also (I confess) by belief in the Aristotelian and certain other traditions; I have therefore referred, with what is perhaps a maximum of restraint, to the monumental works of Sir Arthur Pickard-Cambridge. For essays on the plays, the incomparable volumes of Sir Richard J ebb's Sophocles have been indispensable. Three works, each entitled Greek Tragedy, by Sir John Sheppard, Gilbert Norwood, and H. D. F. Kitto, have been most valuable; I owe much gratitude to the perceptiveness of the first, the brilliance of the second, and the careful thinking of the third. Of great value also have been Sheppard's edition of the Tyrannus, Sir Maurice Bowra's Sophoclean Tragedy, and F. J.H. Letters' Sophocles, as well as other books and numerous articles in classical periodicals; I would mention especially the several papers on Sophoclean plays by E. T. Owen in the University of Toronto fl2.,uarterly and by G. M. Kirkwood in the Transactions of the American Philological Association. Two of the essays (on the Ajax and the Antigone) have already appeared in The Phoenix; a third (on the Coloneus), originally appearing therein, has been somewhat altered and enlarged. The rest of the book is new. In all cases I have attempted to analyse the plays as they develop, and for this I offer no apologies because I do not think that there is any other satisfactory way of dealing with a drama: it must be taken as it grows. On the other hand, so much has been written about the plays that some introductory comment on each has seemed desirable. My thanks are due to Professor Mary \Vhite, Editor of The Phoenix, and to the members of her Editorial Board, both for permission to include material already published and for the honour done me in producing the collection as a supplementary volume. I am grateful also to Professors



R. J. Getty, G. M. A. Grube, and L. E. Woodbury of this University, particularly for drawing my attention to errors of commission and omission; such errors as remain must be attributed to my own obtuseness or perversity. My thanks are likewise due to the Classical Association of Canada and the University of Toronto Press, and I am most appreciative of the valuable assistance given by the Editorial Department of the Press.

S. M.A.

June, 1957





Heritage and Achievement








Oedipus Tyrannus






P lziloctetes


VIII Oedipus Coloneus











PPRECIATION of the plays of Sophocles means more than appreciation of their effects on modern audiences. Such effects are indeed profound and lasting to artistic sensitivity in any age, for these works contain and reveal dramatic qualities universal in their nature. We cannot watch Ajax or Antigone or Oedipus without seeing essential greatness; we cannot hear them speak and see them act and fail to recognize that often what they say and do is dramatic enough to satisfy the most exacting audience. This is what appeals to everyone. But it is only a part, however important in itself, of any of the plays; the whole play was in its own right dramatic to those for whom it was composed. To realize this, one must try to see the play in its entirety as something built to work upon the feelings and to gratify the tastes of a very critical and exacting audience, well versed in theatrical productions of the past and comprising, in large measure, persons with practical experience in this and kindred arts. 1 In other words, a play by Sophocles may too readily satisfy us; and that is not enough. Effects that may seem occasional or incidental are part of an over-all design; each belongs to an organic whole carefully constructed to lead to an end foreseen by the audience and logically inevitable. To see this clearly, we must place Sophocles in his context, contemplating his work in the light of his own day and generation; and we must start at the beginning of tragedy itself. In the vexed problem of the origin of tragedy one point only has been left unquestioned; fortunately, it is the thing that matters most. Tragedy arose in connection with a choral performance of some kind; there is no other reasonable explanation of the presence of a chorus or choir who danced 2 and sang at intervals in the action and, except on certain occasions,3 remained in the orclzestra or dancing floor throughout the 1

lt has been estimated that some two thousand persons annually learned the words

and the dance-figures of various choral performances. If this estimate is even approximately accurate, a theatre audience knew precisely what to look for and appreciate. 2 "Dancing" to the Greeks meant any form of posture or gesture by which objects or events could be imitated. 3 When change of place was indicated, as in the Choephoroe and the Ajax; and when some considerable interval of time was supposed to elapse, as (possibly) in the Agamemnon between lines 487 and 489. Normally the interval occupied by a choral ode could be as long or as short as the dramatist required. 3





play. During episodes this chorus, like the audience, faced the action; during its stasima or choral odes it either moved from one place in the orchestra to another with the strophe and returned with the metrically corresponding antistrophe, or else performed both stanzas in half-choruses by turn; "epodes," when used, were generally sung by the chorus as a whole. In later times the movements of this chorus were apparently less regular, and it is evident that from early days its leader sometimes sang alone; mention must also be made of the kommos, a term, which, originally meaning "lament," is applied to any lyric shared by the chorus or its leader with an actor or actors. With the exception of choral odes, the choral element of kommoi, and passages in anapaestic rhythm (which seem to have been chanted with musical accompaniment), the drama was spoken in a metre roughly corresponding to blank verse. One further term in general use is stichomythia; this means dialogue in which the speakers utter line for line. There is no doubt in my mind that what Aristotle tells us about the origin of tragedy is sound; he is our earliest and indeed our only real authority, and if what he says seems hard to credit we should not therefore disbelieve him. In one passage, marked by its very brevity as common knowledge,4 he states that this art arose from the leaders of the dithyramb, a choral song in honour of Dionysus, the spirit of life in all things and especially apparent in the vine. We can thus account for the association of tragedy with Dionysus throughout its history. But the early dithyramb was, we know, a lively wine-song, 5 and scholars have thought it incredible that anything so august as tragedy should have had its beginning in connection with anything admittedly so grotesque. Aristotle, however, does not state that tragedy grew from the dithyramb itself; it grew, he says, from its l:~apxovns, "leaders." The dithyramb might have gone on forever, both in its crude and in its later poeticized form, without yielding anything resembling drama; but if a leader, sufficiently replete with wine, spoke not only for the god but also as the god, he became potentially an actor. This would be a natural development; in the human being the presence of the god of wine is doubtless more obvious than that of any other deity, and possession by the god (l:v0ouO'taO'µos)was certain to be felt. It is easy to imagine a leader prefacing a dithyrambic performance with explanatory material, originally in the third person but then inevitably in the first; and when this leader, feeling the god within him and being in fact the god, entered into 'Poetics 1449A 10-11. 6 Usual references are: Archilochus 132 (Kaibel).

(7th century)

Fr. 77 (Diehl);







dialogue with a second exarchon or with a chorus-leader the germ of drama was implanted; inherent therein is that play of will against will which v-le commonly assume to be the core of the dramatic. There is nothing here to contradict what Aristotle has transmitted. He continues: tragedy, at first improvisational, passed through a "satyric" stage and only after a long time attained to ,u.µvo,TJ0£a.) means the song of the komos or revelling band, so "tragedy" (,pa"'(4>0£u.) means the song of the goats. Incredulity may be forgiven. But this is th"e only meaning that the word can properly have; attempts to make it mean a song for the goat as prize or a song about a goat in some other sense, however ancient they may be, are only wishful thinking. The choruses of the satyr-plays v,ere "goats" (,pa"'(o,)6 and their performances, as well as those of earlier times, were "goat-songs." Dramas continued to be so called even after the form expanded in solemnity; this is again a matter of religious conservatism and convention. Solemnity was a natural expansion. Athenians of that day were very keenly aware both of the sorrows and disasters of their lives and of its ecstasies; and the worship of Dionysus covered both. In the fifth century, tragedy dealt ,vith life•s deepest and darkest moments, comedy with its lighter side. The people of Athens saw both sides frankly, and at the great 'CJ. Aa. Fr. 207 (Sidgv.ick), assigned to the satyr-play

Prometheus Pyrlcaeus.





festival of the City Dionysia each side was represented, with a group of three tragedies in the morning and a single comedy in the afternoon. We must, however, clearly understand what "tragedy" meant in Athens at this time. To us, the word suggests unhappy endings: we expect the central figure to meet death, or, at least, discomposure. This was not necessarily the case. The word meant only serious drama as opposed to comedy. Many of the trilogies and individual plays that have come down to us end happily-with a satisfying compromise in Aeschylus, with success in Sophocles. We have Aristotle to thank for the meaning we give the word today. 7 Examining, in the fourth century, plays by Sophocles and Euripides with a view to assessing tragic effect, he decides that such an effect is best secured by plays that end unhappily; Euripides, he tells us, is considered by some to be "most tragic" of the poets, and a greater proportion of his works have that kind of ending. Aristotle, however, is not here describing all tragedy, but only that which he considers finest. We, with our own ideas about "tragedy," may still think him right, but he was not right for the century preceding his. We need only recall the Oresteia of Aeschylus or Sophocles, Electra: neither of these ends unhappily, yet both, unquestionably serious, are "tragedies,, -and, one may add, they contain the tragic in a modern sense. It must therefore be remembered that to the Greeks a serious play, whatever the outcome of events, was tragic; some confusion between the modern and. the ancient use of "tragic,, is, unfortunately, unavoidable. If then we accept Aristotle,s clear statement of the origin of tragedy we can explain satisfactorily the presence of a chorus in it, its connection with the worship of Dionysus, and the name itself. We can explain as well the form that Athenian tragedy takes, for it consists in alternating performances by the chorus and by the actors, lineal descendants of its ltapxovns. If we assume that the leader or leaders prefaced in dialogue a performance by the choir, the form of full-fledged tragedy is this unit repeated. Originally, as the earliest extant dramas seem to show, the whole performance began with the parodos, the entrance-song of the chorus; before long it began instead with a prologos, spoken by an actor or actors and including all that happened before the chorus-entry .. In both cases the alternation of choral part and actors, part is plainly seen. The religious function of tragedy was not neglected by Aeschylus or Sophocles or Euripides; the art was never mere entertainment, however much it entertained. It was performed at the festivals honouring 1Poetics

1453A 23 ff.





Dionysus. The greatest of these festivals, and by far the most important for tragedy, was the Great or City Dionysia held annually in late March or early April when the Aegean was open again for navigation and Athens was filled with visitors. This festival occupied five days-perhaps six; on each of the second, third, and fourth mornings a tragic trilogy and its accompanying satyr-play were given. For the City Dionysia, nine new tragedies thus represented the entire output of a year. 8 Each poet who desired to compete submitted a "tetralogy"-trilogy and satyr-play -to the magistrate-in-charge, who, no doubt with the aid of a committee, selected the three tetralogies that seemed most deserving and "allotted choruses" to their authors. To successful poets were assigned choregoi, who were charged with the hiring and training of choirs. "Protagonists" or leading actors were likewise officially assigned; these actors could then choose their own "deuteragonists" and "tritagonists." It should be added that at first the poet was his own protagonist and chorustrainer, and that subsequently, when he had ceased to serve in that capacity, he could select his own chief actor; but choir-training had become a separate art, and the actor's profession grew so influential that in fairness to all competitors the assignment of leadings actors was entrusted to the magistrate. Dramas were produced in the open-air Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus at Athens. Built of wood in the fifth century, perhaps because of a supposition that this material had better acoustic properties than stone, the theatre could accommodate some sixteen thousand, with the priest of Dionysus occupying a place of honour. The audience, ranged on the south slope of the Acropolis, looked down upon an orchestra, nearly circular, on which the chorus performed, and across it to what was in effect a scene-building; originally this building had been nothing more than a skene, a "hut" or "tent" erected at one side and used, for instance, as a dressing-room. When Sophocles first produced, this transformation had long since taken place: the scene-building, with one and perhaps three doors, normally represented a palace or a temple; if, as in the Ajax, some other setting was required, panels of painted scenery could be attached across its front, although scene-painting cannot have been realistic. During his time a row of pillars (proskenion) 9 was erected 8The

Lenaia, a Dionysiac festival held in autumn in press, was equally important for comedy, of which it home; for tragedy it was definitely of less importance. contests between actors but no complete plays. 9 This term was apparently applied both to the row six feet across) between pillars and .skene-wall.

honour of Dionysus of the Wineseems to have been the original Other Dionysiac festivals offered of pillars and to the area (about





between orchestra and scene-building; in the same period (ea. 435) paraskenia, "wings," and episkenion, a second story, were also added. The roof of the scene-building, and later the roofs of proskenion and second story, were practicable; here, for instance, a deity could be shown. Theatrical devices must be noted. One of these was the mechan~, "machine," a crane and pulley concealed in a wing and employed, for instance, to convey a god to the roof of proskenion or episkenion. This convention may strike us as grotesque-and it was used for comic effect by Aristophanes-but its existence is attested unmistakably. Another device was, apparently, the EKKVKA1Jµa(eccyclema), by means of which an interior could be shown; but what this was and how it worked are now matters of scholarly discussion. It used to be generally thought that, since in so large a theatre spectators, unless in front and fairly close, could not see within the central door of the scene-building, a portion of the scene-wall revolved to bring into view a platform on which an interior was displayed, and that after the proskenion was built a wheeled platform was pushed beyond these pillars. The need for such a device, and its existence, have been doubted. 10 But, even if it was nothing but a bier or couch, something was evidently wheeled or circled outwards; 11 and some means of exhibiting what happened within was certainly required. Doubt has also been cast on the nature of the Ko0opvos (cothurnus), the notorious "tragic buskin." Actors in tragedy-but not the choruswore masks on their faces and these cothurni on their feet. Use of the mask is certain; but, whereas it was once commonly held that cothurni were high wooden boots, Pickard-Cambridge states that this is an assumption due mainly to "an indiscriminate use of evidence without regard to chronology" and "no longer supported by any scholar of reputation," and that there is "no definite evidence that in the Classical period the tragic boot was specifically named Ko0opvos."12 At least there was a tragic boot of some kind, and it was worn by tragic actors. It may have been only an effeminate variety of footwear or it may have been the high boot of which tradition speaks; in either case it was distinctive. A. W. Pickard-Cambridge, Theatre of Dionysus in Athens (Oxford 1946) 100 ff. It may seem rather like swallowing the camel and straining at the gnat to accept the "machine" and find difficulty with the eccyclema; but the matter may remain unsettled. 11 The word EKKVKA7]µaseems to mean something that was wheeled or circled outwards. 12 Dramatic Festivals of Athens (Oxford 1953) 228, 233. I do not find the evidence against high boots entirely convincing. 10 See





Masks and buskins may have had some origin in ritual; but, whatever their origin, they were fully justified in actual practice by the obvious difficulty of seeing human features in broad sunlight at a distance, and of distinguishing the actors from the chorus-members. The mask, on the principle of the caricature, contained and emphasized only essential lines and so rendered an expression visible; and similarly, in a theatre that had no appreciable stage, 13 cothurni helped to differentiate actors from the unbuskined members of the chorus, either because they were boots of a different kind or because, being high boots, they gave the actors additional height. It is perhaps to the physical conditions of the theatre that we should attribute also the prohibition of actual murder-scenes while scenes of suicide were allowed. If the actors wore high boots, in which movement would be difficult, murder-scenes were obviously impossible, but suicides were practicable. Even when wearing buskins of this kind an actor could, for example, fall upon his sword, especially with a convenient bush beside him. It would seem to follow naturally that suicide should be permitted before an audience while murder had to occur off-stage, to be announced by a messenger, or by the victim's cries, or by both. If on the other hand the actors wore soft and comfortable shoes, and if their movements were comparatively unrestricted, 14 the physical explanation does not hold, and we may then resort to some variety of taboo preserved by custom. But it will not do to suggest that such taboo applied only to blows administered by one actor to another in a sacred precinct; in comedy blows dealt by one person to another are common enough, and in this theatre the actors in comedy, who did not wear cothurni, must have been as "sacrosanct" as those in tragedy. More surprising perhaps is the fact that in tragedy actors with speaking parts were limited to three. This does not take into account that the chorus-leader was to all intents an actor with a speaking part, or the probability that for very small roles (such as that of Pylades in the Choeplzoroe) a further member of the cast might speak; but even if four actors are admitted the limitation may seem strange. Aeschylus, we are told, introduced a second actor and Sophocles introduced a 13

I believe that R. C. Flickinger (The Greek Thea/er and its Drama 1 [Chicago 1918] 88 ff.) has proved the point conclusively from, for example, the Frogs of Aristophanes. This is evidence from the plays and must, in my opinion, take predecence over other considerations. 14Pickard-Cam bridge (Dramatic Festivals 169-174) argues for freedom of movement and gesture. Yet classical tragedy, though the acting in it may not have been precisely static, does not seem to require the vigour and violence normally associated with murder.





third; 16 the number then was fixed. The total cast of characters could, of course, be much greater, for, in addition to "mutes," each actor with a speaking part could take as many roles as might be necessary; but, if we do not count the chorus-leader, no more than three actors with speaking parts could be together on the stage. This, perhaps, was dictated by the nature of the art. By tradition, the members of the chorus were the chosen worshippers of the god, the actors incidental; the chorus therefore should not be entirely overshadowed. In a Greek tragedy, also, action is normally single, concentrated on the central figure with other figures subordinate; therefore, the fewer the speaking actors, the greater is this concentration. Again, if Greek acting was characterized more by statuesque simplicity than by realistic activity, a multiplication of speaking parts could only duplicate effects. At any rate, we should not try to explain the convention by attributing it to any inability on the poets' part to manage dialogue, or to any imaginary dearth of actors. Such was the theatre thatSophocles inherited. Plays were entertaining, of course; but they were part of the state religion. Festivals were entirely state-controlled. Violence in the theatre, as an offence against religion, was punishable by death. Attendance, while not obligatory, was desirable, and when it was decided to charge a small admission fee, this could be drawn from the public "theoric fund" by anyone who so wished. And the competing poets were contributing to a national work on behalf of all the citizens of Athens for the greater glory of the city; prizes, though determined with extraordinary care, were not of great intrinsic value. Aeschylus was primarily a writer of religious poetry. Like most Greeks, he recognized a power that governed the world and to which gods and men alike were subject. This to most was Mo,pa, Fate, the power that apportioned its due part or share to everything. To Aeschylus it seemed that a power so all-embracing must be more personal: he s·aw the universe controlled by deity omnipotent. This power he made one with Fate, 16 and, for want of any better, the name accorded it was "Zeus.,, His view is apparent in his early extant work, the Suppliccs: "Lord of lords, most blessed of the blessed, whose power is all-perfect· 1~Aristotle

Poetics 1449A 15-19. J. T. Sheppard has well said (Greek Tragedy [Cambridge 1911] 62) that Aeschylus "instead of a progressive revelation ... conceived, with noble audacity, of a progressive god." Apparently in the Prometheia Zeus, a new tyrant, learns justice and thereby comes into harmony with Fate, to which he has been subordinate. On the whole subject of "Fate, Good, and Evil in Greek Thought" see W. C. Greene, Moira (Harvard 1944). 16





and maketh perfect .... None sitteth above him whose strength he holdeth in awe. Even as the word is with him so also is the deed; wherefore as his mind carrieth a thing amongst its counsels even so is that thing gone upon its way quickly unto fulfilment" (524-526, 595-599). In the same drama we read that, although "the ways of his purpose are as paths in the close forest; they are seen not, neither are they declared," yet "unto security falleth what he decrees: at the nod of his head it is made perfect"; "his order is made without toil, yet it is wrought according to his purpose: he stirreth not, yet it is fulfilled from his holy throne" (91-104). From this conception Aeschylus did not depart: we see it, for instance, in a choral ode in the Agamemnon, in a passage which Verrall thus translates: " 'Zeus'-Power unknown, whom, since so to be called is his own pleasure, I by that name address. \Vhen I ponder upon all things, I can conjecture nought but 'Zeus' to fit the need, if the burden of vanity is in very truth to be cast from the soul" (160-167). Here is no small achievement. Current in Aeschylus' day were four quite separate lines of religious thought: there were the Olympian gods; the Chthonians or gods who dwelt beneath the earth; the Titans, a race of older deities dispossessed by the present Olympians; and the Dead. All these had to be brought into harmony with and subjection to a kind of monotheistic Zeus; in various trilogies his supreme authority is asserted. But not only was Zeus omnipotent; he was also supremely just. To demonstrate this justice Aeschylus employed the so-called moral formula of his day: Koros-Hybris-Peitho-Ate. Surfeit (Kopos-) of wealth and power bred in a man Arrogance or Pride ("T{3p1.s-), whereby a mortal believes that he is above his fellow-men and immune from the consequences of his deeds. To the man of hybris comes Persuasion or Temptation (IIt:t0w), inducing him to commit the ultimate hybris by placing himself on a level with the gods or even above them; and when a mortal has committed this damning act of pride he renders himself victim of Ruin ("An,). 17 Ate and Peitho are sometimes personified as the goddess of ruin and her daughter; and dte as a common noun expresses not only ruin but also a ruinous act or the mental or moral blindness that accompanies it. It is to be noted that to Aeschylus hybris once acquired was invariably fatal: it meant inevitable fall, for it overwhelmed all other ,._.,r qualities in a man. Aeschylus, then, was especially concerned with establishing both the omnipotence of Zeus and his perfect justice. To show the latter he needed See W. G. Headlam on the second chorus of the Agamemnon in Cambridge Pradections 1906 99 ff. 17





to survey legend through more than one generation; such justice was all too seldom immediate in its action. For this purpose the trilogy was ideal, since by carrying a legend through successive generations the poet could demonstrate that justice was in the long run achieved: we may not always understand at a given time, but we should trust. In Aeschylus we therefore find the "connected" trilogy-the group of three dramas each setting forth a stage in one long story, and leading to one end. The tragedies of Aeschylus were not solely concerned with hybris, but from the Persae onwards this theme is extremely common; it pervades Greek tragedy throughout its history. Legends lend themselves to it and, with the exception of the Persae, all the plays that have come down to us are thus based on ancient story. It may here be mentioned that, at least in the earlier part of the fifth century, the story told was always well known to the audience; interest centred on the turn an individual dramatist might give to it, and on the significance he wished it to convey. This religious function is visible in all seven extant works of Aeschylus. In the Supplices the chorus compels the aid of Zeus, of the gods of Argos, and of the Argive king and, through him, his citizens; surviving portions of the other two dramas in the trilogy reveal that in the end this compulsion secured benevolence through IIypermnestra. 18 In the Persae the chorus learns that the Persian defeat at Salamis was the result of hybris. In the Seven against Thebes Eteocles survives all tests until the Messenger gives his account of Polyneices' boast and shield-device, whereupon he succumbs at last to hybris. In the Prometheus trilogy, of which only the Prometheus Bound is preserved entire, Zeus himself, a youthful tyrant operating through force and violence, learns wisdom and justice vicariously, and thus himself becomes original authority for the law that knowledge comes through suffering. And in the Oresteia (Agamemnon, Choephoroe, and Eumenides: our only complete trilogy) we see, as in the Supplices, that the will of Zeus employs the very sorrows of mankind to a beneficent end. It is obvious that hybris is prominent in these dramas, condemning its possessor, and that in them all Zeus, though he must work through gods and men, is ultimately gracious. And he is therein shown triumphant over Titans, Chthonians, and the Dead; all Olympus is obedient to him. Even Apollo acts and speaks for him. What Aeschylus writes is properly called "choral tragedy." The chorus is his chief concern; it is especially through the chorus that he offers his 18

This I take to be a well-established view of the trilogy; it was first developed, I think, by Sheppard in C~ 5 (1911) 220-229. See also his Greek Tragedy and E.T. Owen in The Harmony of Aeschylus (Toronto 1952).





theology, and at no point in his career does the actors' part-which alone we tend to recognize as drama-rise in importance to more than equality with the choral part. That is natural. Aeschylus was closer to the beginnings of the art and so preserved more fully the original choral or dithyrambic ritual. Theories of ritual content are many; none, I think, is more attractive than that recently set forth by Professor E.T. Owen. 19 According to this theory, the words of the choir, because they were spoken in ritual surroundings within a ritual framework, were equipped with power and were therefore capable of affecting the course of events; and what the Athenians watched, in the Supplices for instance, was a choir of Athenians acting the part of an efficient ritual choir of Danaus'

motive only to confound us; that motive may well have been given wrongly, for here at least Lichas is concealing knowledge. Deianeira speaks again to lole, and Lichas at some length suggests that she is best left to her customary silence. \Ve know that Lichas must by lying. And we recognize a bond of sympathy that draws Deianeira to this young woman whose suffering in its own way is so like her own. She will not add to Iole's woes; and Lichas leads the captives into the house. Because of our belief, we are not unprepared when the Messenger halts Deianeira. He has the information that Lichas has concealed, and he would tell it to her and the chorus alone. He heard Lichas tell a different tale to the Trachinians at the shore. It was for the sake of this very girl that Heracles sacked Eurytus' city of Oechalia; neither Iphitus' death nor servitude to Omphale, but Love, moved the hero to that deed of arms. Heracles could not persuade Eurytus to give him his daughter in secret union; therefore he waged that war on a trumpedup pretext, and he has sent the girl to Trachis not as though she were a slave, but because he is inflamed by his desire. All the gathered Trachinians heard this; and although it is painful Deianeira ought to know the truth. Deianeira is dismayed. \Vhat has she done, in receiving this girl beneath her roof? And who is the girl? The fvlessenger confirms our knowledge. The girl is Iole, daughter of Eurytus-this girl whom Lichas could not identify because, forsooth, he had asked no questions. Bewildered, Deianeira turns, as such as she must naturally turn, to the. chorus, who advise her to extract the truth from Lichas. Again, it is an obvious move, but Deianeira does not think of it herself. "I will go," she says; "there is good judgment in your suggestion." At this moment Lichas reappears, prepared for his journey back. Deianeira tries to put the chorus-leader's suggestion into effect. She starts well enough, but she soon fails, for Lichas, despite an oath that he will answer her honestly (399), sidesteps another question about Joie: "She is a woman of Euboea; I cannot say whose child she is.,. Deianeira's inadequacy is apparent, and the ~'lessenger takes a hand. He has the vigour that she lacks. A spirited dialogue follows. Lichas



T H E P L A Y \V R I G H T

tries hard to evade the truth, and at last is forced to appeal to Deianeira directly, asking her to bid the 1Iessenger withdraw, since he cannot be in his right mind. Then Deianeira speaks. It is a very lovely speech, calculated to affect the audience as well as Llchas. He had supposed that, like any other Grecian woman, 5 she would rebel at the introduction of a concubine into her house; he may have hoped that she would never kno,v better. This, it is true, is drama, and we should not look for motive where motivation is unnecessary; but we must wonder why Lichas should try so hard to conceal facts certain to be known before long by everyone else in Trachis; Deianeira herself puts this to him later. And if we have thought of Deianeira as too complaisant in the past for her own good, ,ve feel now a pity certainly no less deep than that of Lichas. She is speaking from her heart, and by her own simplicity and sincerity she triumphs where, despite his vigour, the l'-lessenger has failed. She is speaking from e:x"J)erienceof life with Hera.des, and she knows nothing but the suffering caused by the human heart's inconstancy and the inevitability of eros in such a being as her husband. She has no blame for either Heracles or Iole; why should she, when eros conquers all? But she must know the truth. The truth, she says, cannot be hidden, for Lichas has already published it to many. Verses especiall 1~ touching follow( 459 ff.): "Has not Heracles already wedded other women-more women than any other man? Never yet has any of these received from me hard word or taunt; nor shall this girl, though she be utterly consumed by passion. I pitied her-yes, especially -when I looked at her; her beauty has destroyed her life, and unwittingly, in evil fate, she has laid low and enslaved her native land." Like Deianeira years ago, Iole is the victim of her youth and beauty; and like Deianeira Iole now belongs to Heracles alone. She cannot bear these thoughts; let them go. But whomsoever Lichas deceives, let it not be Deianeira. The chorus add their plea. Lichas tells the truth. Heracles himself, he says, never denied that he was influenced by love of Iole and never commanded Lichas to conceal the fact. But Lichas was afraid the true story would give Deianeira pain and that ,vas why he "erred"-"if you regard that as an error." Let Deianeira cleave to her good judgment in receiving Iole; "for Heracles, triumphant in his might in all things else, is worsted by his love for her in everything." \Ye must not judge the herald harshly. His part may seem unlovely, especially since he admits he had no orders to deceive; but his role swe naturally pides• Elutra.

think, for instance, of Clytaemnestra

in the Agamemnon

and in Euri-



herein is not so very different from that of Hyllus, who would not add to his mother's anxiety. The fact that Lichas too was moved to hide the truth from Deianeira testifies to his recognition of something in her that he did not wish to hurt, and our conception of her helpless gentleness is thereby developed. \Ve must also realize that if he had told the truth at first there would have been no occasion for that great speech on the accepted loves of Heracles and on Deianeira's own strong sense of pity. Even the fact that Heracles did not suggest concealment is important in our recognition of the status of the hero, who never in the past made any effort to hide his promiscuity. The incident is thus dramatically valuable in the play. \Vithout the duplicity of Lichas our picture of Deianeira would have been infinitely poorer; and the dramatist has turned it to other uses also. Deianeira now goes within; she will not vainly contend against the gods. She would give Lichas gifts in return for the gifts that he has brought. Since from legend we know about the robe, we must think it is already in her mind, but we should not wonder what thoughts lie behind it: this woman could not possibly be malevolent. The dramatist has given us his view of Deianeira-once young and beautiful; rescued from a monster by the mighty Heracles, to whom she is attached by the bonds of an eternal and submissive gratitude; knowing nothing of a larger world; conscious always of her indebtedness, and regarding marriage as only a long succession of anxieties; filled with pity for any young and beautiful girl, who, like Iole, must remind her of herself at such an age; but always hesitant to act, for action on her part has never been required. And in the ode that now follows the chorus recall the circumstances that have made this woman what she is. Love, they sing, conquers all, even the gods, and has conquered Heracles; and how was Deianeira won? They speak of that terrific struggle between the river-god and Heracles, son of Zeus, with Cypris, goddess of love, as umpire; of the noise of fists and bow and horns; of the grapplings, the buttings, and the gruntings; and of Deianeira, lovely and delicate, on a hillside at a distance, waiting for whichever of these tremendous beings should prove to be her destined mate. And then, harshly (529-530): K.(J.7f'O µarpO