The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy: Volume 2: Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides 9781474276467, 9781474276474, 9781474276450, 9781474276498

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The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy: Volume 2: Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides
 9781474276467, 9781474276474, 9781474276450, 9781474276498

Table of contents :
1 Aeschylus
Athamas (TrGF 3 F1-4a)
Egyptians (TrGF 3 F5)
Women of Aetna (TrGF 3 F6-11)
Alcmene (TrGF 3 F12)
Women (or Men) of Argos (TrGF 3 F16-18)
The Argo (TrGF 3 F20-1)
Atalante (TrGF 3, pp. 136–7)
Bacchae (TrGF 3 F22)
Bassarai or Bassarides (TrGF 3 F23-5)
Glaucus the Sea-God (TrGF 3 F25c-34)
Glaucus of Potniae (TrGF 3 F36-42a)
Daughters of Danaus (TrGF 3 F43-6)
Eleusinians (TrGF 3 F53a-54)
Epigoni (TrGF 3 F55-6)
Edonians (TrGF 3 F57-67)
Daughters of Helios (TrGF 3 68-73a)
Children of Heracles (TrGF 3 F73b-77)
Chamber-Builders (TrGF 3 F78)
Thracian Women (TrGF 3 F83-5)
Priestesses (TrGF 3 F86-8)
Ixion (TrGF 3 F90-3)
Iphigenia (TrGF 3 F94)
Kabeiroi (TrGF 3 F95-97a)
Callisto (TrGF 3 F98)
Carians or Europa (TrGF 3 F99-101)
Cretan Women (TrGF 3 F116-20)
Laius (TrGF 3 F121-122a)
Women (or Men) of Lemnos (TrGF 3 F123a-b)
Memnon (TrGF 3 F127-9)
Myrmidons (TrGF 3 F131-42)
Mysians (TrGF 3 F143-5)
Youths (Neaniskoi, TrGF 3 F146-9)
Nemea (TrGF 3 F149a)
Daughters of Nereus (TrGF 3 F151-4)
Niobe (TrGF 3 F154a-167b)
Wool-Carders (TrGF 3 F168-172b)
Oedipus (TrGF 3, pp. 287–8)
The Judgement about the Arms (TrGF 3 F174-8)
Bone-Gatherers (TrGF 3 F179-80)
Palamedes (TrGF 3 F181-182a)
Pentheus (TrGF 3 F183)
Women of Perrhaebia (TrGF 3 F184-6a)
Penelope (TrGF 3 F187)
Polydectes (TrGF 3, p. 302)
Prometheus Unbound (TrGF 3 F190-204)
Propompoi (TrGF F209)
Women (or Men) of Salamis (TrGF 3 F216-20)
Semele, or Water-Carriers (TrGF 3 F221-4)
Telephus (TrGF 3 F238-40)
Female Archers (TrGF 3 F241-6)
Nurses (TrGF 3 F246a-d)
Hypsipyle (TrGF 3 F247-8)
Philoctetes (TrGF 3 F249-57)
Phineus (TrGF 3 F258-60)
Daughters of Phorcys (TrGF 3 F261-2)
Phrygians (TrGF 3 F263-72)
Psychagôgoi (TrGF 3 F273-8)
Psychostasia (TrGF 3 F279-80a)
Oreithuia (TrGF 3 F281)
2 Sophocles
Athamas I and II (TrGF 4 F1-10)
Locrian Ajax (TrGF 4 F10a-18)
Aegeus (TrGF 4 F19-25a)
Ethiopians (TrGF 4 F28-33)
Memnon (TrGF 4, p. 347)
Female Prisoners (TrGF 4 F33a-59)
Acrisius (TrGF 4 F60-76)
Danae (TrGF 4 F165-70)
Men of Larissa (TrGF 4 F378-83)
Children of Aleus (TrGF F77-91)
Alexandros (TrGF 4 F91a-100a)
Alcmeon (TrGF 4 F108-10)
Epigoni (TrGF 4 F185-90)
Eriphyle (TrGF 4 F201a-h)
Amphitryon (TrGF 4 F122-4)
Andromache (TrGF 4 F125)
Andromeda (TrGF 4 F126-36)
Sons of Antenor (TrGF 4 F137-9)
Atreus (TrGF 4 F140-1)
Women of Mycenae (TrGF 4 F140-1)
Thyestes I, II and III (TrGF 4 F247-69)
The Gathering of the Achaeans (TrGF 4 F143-8)
Fellow-Diners (TrGF 4 F562-71)
Daedalus (TrGF 4 F158-164a)
Men of Camicus (TrGF 4 F323-7)
Minos (TrGF 4 F407)
Dolopians (TrGF F174-5)
The Demand for Helen’s Return (TrGF 4 F176-180a)
Hermione (TrGF 4 F202-3)
Eumelus (TrGF 4 F204-5)
Euryalus (TrGF 4, pp. 194–5)
Eurypylus (TrGF 4 F206-222b)
Eurysaces (TrGF 4 F223)
Erigone (TrGF 4 F235-6)
Thamyras (TrGF 4 F236a-245)
(?) Muses (TrGF 4 F407a-408)
Theseus (TrGF 4 F246)
Ixion (TrGF 4 F296)
Iobates (TrGF 4 F297-9)
Hipponous (TrGF 4 F300-304)
Iphigenia (TrGF 4 F305-12)
Ion (TrGF 4 F319-22)
Creusa (TrGF 4 F350-9)
Clytemnestra (TrGF 4 F334)
Women of Colchis (TrGF 4 F337-46)
Spartan Women (TrGF 4 F367-369a)
Laocoon (TrGF 4 F370-77)
Women of Lemnos (TrGF 4 F384-9)
Prophets, or Polyidus (TrGF 4 F389a-400)
Meleager (TrGF 4 F401-6)
Mysians (TrGF 4 F409-18)
Nauplius I and II (TrGF 4 F425-38)
Nausicaa, or Washerwomen (TrGF 4 F439-41)
Niobe (TrGF 4 F441a-451)
The Footwashing (TrGF 4 F451a)
Odysseus Wounded by the Spine (TrGF 4 F453-461a)
Mad Odysseus (TrGF 4 F462-7)
Oenomaus (TrGF 4 F471-7)
Palamedes (TrGF 4 F478-81)
Peleus (TrGF 4 F487-96)
Shepherds (TrGF 4 F497-21)
Polyxena (TrGF 4 F522-8)
Priam (TrGF 4 F528a-532)
Procris (TrGF 4 F533)
Root-Cutters (TrGF 4 F543-6)
Sinon (TrGF 4 F542-4)
Scythians (TrGF 4 F546-552)
Scyrians (TrGF 4 F553-61)
Tantalus (TrGF 4 F572-3)
Teucer (TrGF 4 F576-579b)
Telephus (TrGF 4 F580)
Tereus (TrGF 4 F581-595b)
Triptolemus (TrGF 4 F596-617a)
Troilus (TrGF 4 F618-35)
Percussion-Players (TrGF 4 F636-45)
Tyndareus (TrGF 4 F646-7)
Tyro (TrGF 4 F648-669a)
Water-Carriers (TrGF 4 F672-4)
Phaeacians (TrGF 4 F675-6)
Phaedra (TrGF 4 F677-93)
Phthian Women (TrGF 4 F694-6)
Philoctetes at Troy (TrGF 4 F697-703)
Phineus I and II (TrGF 4 F704-717a)
Phoenix (TrGF 4 F718-20)
Phrixus (TrGF 4 F721-723a)
Phrygians (TrGF 4 F724-5)
Chryses (TrGF 4 F726-30)
3 Euripides
Aegeus (TrGF 5 F1-13)
Aeolus (TrGF 5 F13a-41)
Alexandros (TrGF 5 F41a-63)
Alcmeon I and II (TrGF 5 F65-87a)
Alcmene (TrGF 5 F87b-104)
Alope (TrGF 5 F105-113)
Andromeda (TrGF 5 F114-56)
Antigone (TrGF 5 F157-78)
Antiope (TrGF 5 F179-227)
Archelaus (TrGF 5 F228-64)
Auge (TrGF 5 F 264a-281)
Bellerophon (TrGF 5 F285-312)
Danae (TrGF 5 F316-330a)
Dictys (TrGF 5 F330b-348)
Erechtheus (TrGF 5 F349-70)
Theseus (TrGF 5 F381-90)
Thyestes (TrGF 5 F391-397b)
Ino (TrGF 5 F398-423)
Ixion (TrGF 5 F424-7)
Hippolytus I (TrGF 5 F428-47)
Cresphontes (TrGF 5 F448a-59)
Cretan Women (TrGF 5 F460-70a)
Cretans (TrGF 5 F471-472g)
Licymnius (TrGF 5 F473-9)
Melanippe I and II (TrGF 5 F480-514)
Meleager (TrGF 5 F515-39)
Oedipus (TrGF 5 F539a-557)
Oeneus (TrGF 5 F558-70)
Oenomaus (TrGF 5 F571-7)
Palamedes (TrGF 5 F578-90)
Daughters of Pelias (TrGF 5 F601-16)
Peleus (TrGF 5 F617-24)
Pleisthenes (TrGF 5 F625-33)
Polyidus (TrGF 5 F634-46)
Protesilaus (TrGF 5 F646a-657)
Stheneboea (TrGF 5 F661-71)
Scyrians (TrGF 5 F681a-686)
Telephus (TrGF 5 F696-727c)
Temenus and Children of Temenus (TrGF 5 F727e-751a)
Hypsipyle (TrGF 5 F752-69)
Phaethon (TrGF 5 F771-86)
Philoctetes (TrGF 5 F787-803)
Phoenix (TrGF 5 F803a-18)
Phrixus I and II (TrGF 5 F818c-838)
Chrysippus (TrGF 5 F838a-844)
4 Unfamiliar Faces
5 Lost Tragedies in Performance
Changes of scene in Aeschylus’ Women of Aetna
The entry of the chorus in Aeschylus’ Daughters of Nereus
The metamorphosis in Sophocles’ Tereus
The weighing-scales in Aeschylus’ Psychostasia
Music and mask in Sophocles’ Thamyras
Mass-murder in Sophocles’ Niobe
Niobe’s stony silence in Aeschylus’ Niobe
Visual intertextuality in Euripides’ Andromeda
Monologue and mask in Euripides’ Melanippe the Wise
Baby and lullaby in Euripides’ Hypsipyle
Costumes and props in Euripides’ Telephus
Earthquake and demolition in Euripides’ Erechtheus
Bibliography and Abbreviations

Citation preview

The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

Also available from Bloomsbury Greek Tragedy: Themes and Contexts, Laura Swift Hellenistic Tragedy: Texts, Translations and a Critical Survey, Agnieszka Kotlinska-Toma Ovid: A Poet on the Margins, Laurel Fulkerson The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy (Volume 1), Matthew Wright The Plays of Aeschylus, A.F. Garvie The Plays of Euripides, James Morwood The Plays of Sophocles, A.F. Garvie The Politics of Youth in Greek Tragedy, Matthew Shipton

The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy Volume 2: Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides Matthew Wright

BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 50 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3DP, UK 1385 Broadway, New York, NY 10018, USA BLOOMSBURY, BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC and the Diana logo are trademarks of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published in Great Britain 2019 Copyright © Matthew Wright, 2019 Matthew Wright has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as Author of this work. For legal purposes the Acknowledgements on p. xi constitute an extension of this copyright page. Cover image: Orestes and Electra crying, relief, Greece. Greek civilization, 5th Century BC. DEA/G. DAGLI ORTI De Agostini Picture Library, Getty All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc does not have any control over, or responsibility for, any third-party websites referred to or in this book. All internet addresses given in this book were correct at the time of going to press. The author and publisher regret any inconvenience caused if addresses have changed or sites have ceased to exist, but can accept no responsibility for any such changes. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. A catalogue record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. ISBN: HB: PB: ePDF: eBook:

978-1-4742-7646-7 978-1-4742-7647-4 978-1-4742-7649-8 978-1-4742-7648-1

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Contents Acknowledgements xi Introduction 1 1 Aeschylus 11 Athamas (TrGF 3 F1-4a) 16 Egyptians (TrGF 3 F5) 17 Women of Aetna (TrGF 3 F6-11) 17 Alcmene (TrGF 3 F12) 19 Women (or Men) of Argos (TrGF 3 F16-18) 19 The Argo (TrGF 3 F20-1) 20 Atalante (TrGF 3, pp. 136–7) 21 Bacchae (TrGF 3 F22) 22 Bassarai or Bassarides (TrGF 3 F23-5) 23 Glaucus the Sea-God (TrGF 3 F25c-34) 23 Glaucus of Potniae (TrGF 3 F36-42a) 25 Daughters of Danaus (TrGF 3 F43-6) 26 Eleusinians (TrGF 3 F53a-54) 27 Epigoni (TrGF 3 F55-6) 27 Edonians (TrGF 3 F57-67) 28 Daughters of Helios (TrGF 3 68-73a) 29 Children of Heracles (TrGF 3 F73b-77) 30 Chamber-Builders (TrGF 3 F78) 32 Thracian Women (TrGF 3 F83-5) 32 Priestesses (TrGF 3 F86-8) 33 Ixion (TrGF 3 F90-3) 34 Iphigenia (TrGF 3 F94) 35 Kabeiroi (TrGF 3 F95-97a) 36 Callisto (TrGF 3 F98) 37 Carians or Europa (TrGF 3 F99-101) 37 Cretan Women (TrGF 3 F116-20) 39 Laius (TrGF 3 F121-122a) 40 Women (or Men) of Lemnos (TrGF 3 F123a-b) 41



Memnon (TrGF 3 F127-9) 42 Myrmidons (TrGF 3 F131-42) 42 Mysians (TrGF 3 F143-5) 44 Youths (Neaniskoi, TrGF 3 F146-9) 45 Nemea (TrGF 3 F149a) 45 Daughters of Nereus (TrGF 3 F151-4) 46 Niobe (TrGF 3 F154a-167b) 46 Wool-Carders (TrGF 3 F168-172b) 48 Oedipus (TrGF 3, pp. 287–8) 48 The Judgement about the Arms (TrGF 3 F174-8) 49 Bone-Gatherers (TrGF 3 F179-80) 50 Palamedes (TrGF 3 F181-182a) 50 Pentheus (TrGF 3 F183) 51 Women of Perrhaebia (TrGF 3 F184-6a) 52 Penelope (TrGF 3 F187) 52 Polydectes (TrGF 3, p. 302) 53 Prometheus Unbound (TrGF 3 F190-204) 53 Propompoi (TrGF F209) 54 Women (or Men) of Salamis (TrGF 3 F216-20) 55 Semele, or Water-Carriers (TrGF 3 F221-4) 55 Telephus (TrGF 3 F238-40) 56 Female Archers (TrGF 3 F241-6) 57 Nurses (TrGF 3 F246a-d) 58 Hypsipyle (TrGF 3 F247-8) 59 Philoctetes (TrGF 3 F249-57) 59 Phineus (TrGF 3 F258-60) 60 Daughters of Phorcys (TrGF 3 F261-2) 61 Phrygians (TrGF 3 F263-72) 61 Psychagôgoi (TrGF 3 F273-8) 62 Psychostasia (TrGF 3 F279-80a) 63 Oreithuia (TrGF 3 F281) 64

2 Sophocles 67 Athamas I and II (TrGF 4 F1-10) 71 Locrian Ajax (TrGF 4 F10a-18) 72 Aegeus (TrGF 4 F19-25a) 74 Ethiopians (TrGF 4 F28-33) 75 Memnon (TrGF 4, p. 347) 75



Female Prisoners (TrGF 4 F33a-59) 75 Acrisius (TrGF 4 F60-76) 76 Danae (TrGF 4 F165-70) 76 Men of Larissa (TrGF 4 F378-83) 76 Children of Aleus (TrGF F77-91) 77 Alexandros (TrGF 4 F91a-100a) 77 Alcmeon (TrGF 4 F108-10) 78 Epigoni (TrGF 4 F185-90) 78 Eriphyle (TrGF 4 F201a-h) 78 Amphitryon (TrGF 4 F122-4) 79 Andromache (TrGF 4 F125) 80 Andromeda (TrGF 4 F126-36) 80 Sons of Antenor (TrGF 4 F137-9) 82 Atreus (TrGF 4 F140-1) 82 Women of Mycenae (TrGF 4 F140-1) 82 Thyestes I, II and III (TrGF 4 F247-69) 82 The Gathering of the Achaeans (TrGF 4 F143-8) 84 Fellow-Diners (TrGF 4 F562-71) 84 Daedalus (TrGF 4 F158-164a) 85 Men of Camicus (TrGF 4 F323-7) 85 Minos (TrGF 4 F407) 85 Dolopians (TrGF F174-5) 86 The Demand for Helen’s Return (TrGF 4 F176-180a) 87 Hermione (TrGF 4 F202-3) 88 Eumelus (TrGF 4 F204-5) 90 Euryalus (TrGF 4, pp. 194–5) 90 Eurypylus (TrGF 4 F206-222b) 91 Eurysaces (TrGF 4 F223) 92 Erigone (TrGF 4 F235-6) 92 Thamyras (TrGF 4 F236a-245) 93 (?) Muses (TrGF 4 F407a-408) 93 Theseus (TrGF 4 F246) 95 Ixion (TrGF 4 F296) 95 Iobates (TrGF 4 F297-9) 96 Hipponous (TrGF 4 F300-304) 96 Iphigenia (TrGF 4 F305-12) 97 Ion (TrGF 4 F319-22) 97 Creusa (TrGF 4 F350-9) 97



Clytemnestra (TrGF 4 F334) 98 Women of Colchis (TrGF 4 F337-46) 98 Spartan Women (TrGF 4 F367-369a) 99 Laocoon (TrGF 4 F370-77) 99 Women of Lemnos (TrGF 4 F384-9) 101 Prophets, or Polyidus (TrGF 4 F389a-400) 101 Meleager (TrGF 4 F401-6) 102 Mysians (TrGF 4 F409-18) 102 Nauplius I and II (TrGF 4 F425-38) 103 Nausicaa, or Washerwomen (TrGF 4 F439-41) 104 Niobe (TrGF 4 F441a-451) 105 The Footwashing (TrGF 4 F451a) 106 Odysseus Wounded by the Spine (TrGF 4 F453-461a) 106 Mad Odysseus (TrGF 4 F462-7) 107 Oenomaus (TrGF 4 F471-7) 108 Palamedes (TrGF 4 F478-81) 110 Peleus (TrGF 4 F487-96) 110 Shepherds (TrGF 4 F497-21) 111 Polyxena (TrGF 4 F522-8) 112 Priam (TrGF 4 F528a-532) 113 Procris (TrGF 4 F533) 113 Root-Cutters (TrGF 4 F543-6) 115 Sinon (TrGF 4 F542-4) 115 Scythians (TrGF 4 F546-552) 116 Scyrians (TrGF 4 F553-61) 116 Tantalus (TrGF 4 F572-3) 117 Teucer (TrGF 4 F576-579b) 118 Telephus (TrGF 4 F580) 119 Tereus (TrGF 4 F581-595b) 119 Triptolemus (TrGF 4 F596-617a) 121 Troilus (TrGF 4 F618-35) 123 Percussion-Players (TrGF 4 F636-45) 124 Tyndareus (TrGF 4 F646-7) 124 Tyro (TrGF 4 F648-669a) 125 Water-Carriers (TrGF 4 F672-4) 127 Phaeacians (TrGF 4 F675-6) 128 Phaedra (TrGF 4 F677-93) 128 Phthian Women (TrGF 4 F694-6) 129



Philoctetes at Troy (TrGF 4 F697-703) 130 Phineus I and II (TrGF 4 F704-717a) 131 Phoenix (TrGF 4 F718-20) 133 Phrixus (TrGF 4 F721-723a) 133 Phrygians (TrGF 4 F724-5) 134 Chryses (TrGF 4 F726-30) 134

3 Euripides 137 Aegeus (TrGF 5 F1-13) 144 Aeolus (TrGF 5 F13a-41) 144 Alexandros (TrGF 5 F41a-63) 146 Alcmeon I and II (TrGF 5 F65-87a) 148 Alcmene (TrGF 5 F87b-104) 151 Alope (TrGF 5 F105-113) 153 Andromeda (TrGF 5 F114-56) 155 Antigone (TrGF 5 F157-78) 156 Antiope (TrGF 5 F179-227) 157 Archelaus (TrGF 5 F228-64) 160 Auge (TrGF 5 F 264a-281) 161 Bellerophon (TrGF 5 F285-312) 163 Danae (TrGF 5 F316-330a) 165 Dictys (TrGF 5 F330b-348) 167 Erechtheus (TrGF 5 F349-70) 168 Theseus (TrGF 5 F381-90) 171 Thyestes (TrGF 5 F391-397b) 173 Ino (TrGF 5 F398-423) 174 Ixion (TrGF 5 F424-7) 175 Hippolytus I (TrGF 5 F428-47) 176 Cresphontes (TrGF 5 F448a-59) 178 Cretan Women (TrGF 5 F460-70a) 180 Cretans (TrGF 5 F471-472g) 181 Licymnius (TrGF 5 F473-9) 184 Melanippe I and II (TrGF 5 F480-514) 185 Meleager (TrGF 5 F515-39) 187 Oedipus (TrGF 5 F539a-557) 190 Oeneus (TrGF 5 F558-70) 192 Oenomaus (TrGF 5 F571-7) 193 Palamedes (TrGF 5 F578-90) 193



Daughters of Pelias (TrGF 5 F601-16) 194 Peleus (TrGF 5 F617-24) 195 Pleisthenes (TrGF 5 F625-33) 195 Polyidus (TrGF 5 F634-46) 195 Protesilaus (TrGF 5 F646a-657) 196 Stheneboea (TrGF 5 F661-71) 197 Scyrians (TrGF 5 F681a-686) 199 Telephus (TrGF 5 F696-727c) 199 Temenus and Children of Temenus (TrGF 5 F727e-751a) 201 Hypsipyle (TrGF 5 F752-69) 202 Phaethon (TrGF 5 F771-86) 203 Philoctetes (TrGF 5 F787-803) 205 Phoenix (TrGF 5 F803a-18) 207 Phrixus I and II (TrGF 5 F818c-838) 207 Chrysippus (TrGF 5 F838a-844) 209

4 Unfamiliar Faces 211 Oedipus 214 Antigone 221 Medea 227 5

Lost Tragedies in Performance 237 Changes of scene in Aeschylus’ Women of Aetna 245 The entry of the chorus in Aeschylus’ Daughters of Nereus 248 The metamorphosis in Sophocles’ Tereus 251 The weighing-scales in Aeschylus’ Psychostasia 253 Music and mask in Sophocles’ Thamyras 256 Mass-murder in Sophocles’ Niobe 259 Niobe’s stony silence in Aeschylus’ Niobe 262 Visual intertextuality in Euripides’ Andromeda 266 Monologue and mask in Euripides’ Melanippe the Wise 270 Baby and lullaby in Euripides’ Hypsipyle 274 Costumes and props in Euripides’ Telephus 277 Earthquake and demolition in Euripides’ Erechtheus 280

Bibliography and Abbreviations283 Index298

Acknowledgements Many friends and colleagues have helped me to write this book, by generously reading and commenting on sections in draft, by inviting me to participate in conferences and seminars, by interviewing me about my work and thus helping me to clarify my own ideas, by writing to me with their thoughts on Volume 1, by arguing with me over big and small points of detail or by inspiring me with their own scholarship. Particular thanks are due to John Wilkins, Richard Seaford, David Harvey, Chris Gill, Patrick Finglass, Lyndsay Coo, Laura Swift, Jenny March, David Stuttard, Anthony Stevens, Charlotte Higgins and Curtis Dozier. M.E.W. Exeter


Greek tragedy is a mysterious and little-known art form, nearly all of which has vanished without leaving much trace. Nevertheless, we can come a little closer to understanding the genre if we take all the available evidence into account, not just the thirty-two complete plays that survived into the modern world. That, in a nutshell, is the argument of this book and its companion volume. We are lucky enough to possess information about hundreds of lost plays, including approximately three thousand fragments of text, but this material has usually been ignored or underplayed in the standard textbooks and accounts of literary history. The lost plays tend to be relegated to footnotes, parentheses or appendices, as if they were of merely peripheral significance. This approach gives a distorted and incomplete impression of tragedy, as if those few plays that happened to survive were fully representative of the entire genre. (To get a better sense of how problematic this is, just imagine the consequences if a similar approach were adopted to the study of Greek lyric poetry.) Of course, we do not know nearly as much as we would like to know about the lost works, and an important aspect of studying this material is learning to judge what it can and cannot reveal to us. But we can never hope to grasp what Greek tragedy was all about unless we take the lost plays out of the footnotes and put them at the centre of our discussions. Between them, the two volumes of The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy set out to provide a critical overview of the entire genre that is as complete and detailed as can be, bearing in mind the gaps and limitations in the evidence. Volume 1 was concerned with those tragedians – more than eighty of them – whose work has fallen into complete neglect. Now Volume 2 turns to the lost works of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, showing that even these familiar authors are much less well known than we might like to think. Here it is the surviving plays that are confined to footnotes and occasional references. This is an obvious (but I


The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

hope not too heavy-handed) way of making the point that we need to rethink our views about literary history, canonicity and the concept of ‘classic’ works. A totally comprehensive study of Greek tragedy would need to include the extant and the lost works side by side, without any hierarchical distinction, but in that case it would have been hard to avoid giving the surviving plays proportionally more space or seeming to imply that they were more important in the scheme of things. At any rate, no one can possibly complain that there is a shortage of books devoted to the extant works. My ultimate aim, then, is to re-evaluate tragedy as a genre, but also to bring tragic fragments into the mainstream by making all the lost plays fully accessible. In recent years there has been a great deal of scholarly work in the field of fragmentary drama, including excellent new editions of the remains as well as numerous commentaries and articles. Nevertheless, the results of all this work have not yet been fully assimilated, and it is still difficult for non-specialists to find and make use of the relevant publications. For this reason I have deliberately written with the needs of students, teachers, actors, producers, theatregoers and general readers in mind. Much of what I have to say will, I hope, be of interest to professional scholars as well. But in general I have tried to produce the sort of book that I wish had existed when I first became interested in Greek tragedy – an approachable, readable work of criticism, which gives a complete overview of the material in one place and which uses the fragments to explore big questions about the genre as a whole. The reader is referred to the Prologue to Volume 1 for more details of my general approach to fragmentary tragedy, including the problem of how to ‘read’ works that no longer survive. The plan and structure of both volumes are similar, in that I provide a separate chapter or section on each individual tragedian, and I include discussion of every single tragedy that is known to have existed. But in some ways Volume 2 is necessarily a different sort of book from Volume 1. This is because we are much better informed about Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides than about the other tragedians. In the earlier volume, the scarcity of material meant that I was able to discuss every single fragment and testimonium at length, squeezing out every drop of meaning and doing what I referred to as a sort of ‘micro-reading’. Such exhaustive treatment seemed appropriate and necessary, given that all these so-called ‘minor’ playwrights had been neglected for many years; there was also far less secondary scholarship to take into account. But if I had attempted to deal with the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides on the same scale, this would have resulted in a book thousands of pages long.



The lost plays of the ‘classic’ triad are still little known outside specialist circles, but it would be inaccurate to say that they have been neglected. Indeed, there is a large and growing amount of secondary literature. Each volume of the standard modern edition of the fragments, Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta (TrGF), includes a full bibliography up to the date of its publication, but the quantity of secondary material has increased significantly in the last couple of decades. The primary source material is also much more extensive, filling four fat volumes of TrGF, compared with a single, slimmer volume for the neglected authors. All of this means that I have had to be ruthlessly selective: deciding what to leave out was as important as deciding what to include. I should make it absolutely clear that this book is not trying to do the job of a commentary; it is a work of synthesis and critical interpretation, not an exhaustively detailed study of every possible aspect of the material. It does not cite every available book and article on each topic, but it refers to what I consider to be the most important or thought-provoking items, and it offers suggestions for further reading. As before, texts are quoted in English rather than Greek, in the interests of maximum accessibility, but I do not include a complete translation of every surviving fragment as in Volume 1. This is partly because of considerations of space and partly because the fragments of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides are already available elsewhere in excellent English versions.1 What, then, is included in this volume? The first three chapters constitute a comprehensive guide to all the lost tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides – or, at least, all the ones that we know about. I begin with a general outline of each playwright’s life and work, and an outline of the main themes and patterns that seem to emerge from their lost plays. Next, each individual tragedy receives a short section to itself, arranged in alphabetical order by title (i.e. following the Greek rather than the English alphabet, as in TrGF). The tragedians also wrote satyr-plays, but these are beyond the scope of this book. I exclude from the discussion any plays that were definitely satyric, though I include a few problematic or disputed cases where the genre is uncertain.2

The Loeb Classical Library now includes the fragments of all three playwrights: Sommerstein (2008); Lloyd-Jones (1996); Collard and Cropp (2008). Commentaries (with translations) on selected fragmentary plays of Sophocles and Euripides are available in the Aris and Phillips series: Sommerstein, Fitzpatrick and Talboy (2006); Sommerstein and Talboy (2012); Collard, Cropp and Lee (1995); Collard, Cropp and Gibert (2004). Cf. the French translation of Euripidean fragments in the Budé edition: Jouan and Van Looy (1998), (2000), (2002). All translations in this book are my own except where otherwise noted. 2 On all matters relating to satyric drama, see Krumeich, Pechstein and Seidensticker (1999), Collard and O’Sullivan (2013) and the relevant pages of TrGF. 1


The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

Each section provides a brief conspectus of the following information, as far as can be ascertained: (i) the play’s title; (ii) any available contextual details of the circumstances or date of the play’s production; (iii) a brief description of the nature and types of evidence available for the contents of the play; and (iv) a thumbnail sketch of the myth and main characters, drawing on sources external to the fragments. All of this information is intended to give the reader, especially the student or non-specialist, some helpful basic orientation. In addition, it draws attention to the very broad range of subject-matter and story types encompassed by the tragic genre. As will soon become clear, this range extends considerably beyond that of the surviving plays. But above all, I have placed emphasis on any particularly significant or remarkable features of each lost play, especially where such features might prompt us to reconsider our views about the author or about Greek tragedy as a whole. One deliberate omission will perhaps surprise some readers. I have largely steered clear of any attempt to ‘reconstruct’ these plays, either by assembling the surviving fragments into some sort of plot sequence or by conjecturally filling in the gaps. This sort of activity is central to the majority of existing discussions and commentaries, and indeed it is the most striking way in which scholarship on fragmentary drama differs from scholarship on other types of fragmentary literature, such as historiography or lyric poetry.3 The main reason for avoiding such discussion (apart from simply saving space) is that what we call ‘reconstruction’ is essentially imaginative fiction. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this enterprise, but I believe that most readers are capable of – and rather enjoy – doing it for themselves. By showing as clearly as possible what is actually known about these plays and what remains unknown, I hope that I have made the task of ‘reconstruction’ easier. But for the time being I prefer to concentrate on the fragments themselves, rather than the gaps in between the fragments; I want to talk about what we do still have and try to explain why it is so significant. Much more could be said, of course, about many of the features and themes identified in the first three chapters. If I had had more pages at my disposal, I might have included further discussion of the lost plays’ treatment of religion and ritual; or the relationship between tragedy and the epic tradition; or the role of the chorus; or the many fragments that cannot be assigned to specific plays; or the surprisingly large number of love stories that we encounter among the fragments; or the prominence of tragic heroes and heroines (Alcmeon, Noted by Most (1997) vi.




Bellerophon, Thyestes, Telephus, Stheneboea, Melanippe and others) who do not feature at all in the surviving plays, yet could so easily have been household names today but for accidents of survival. Some of these topics have attracted the attention of previous scholars, although there is still plenty of potential for further work. In the second half of this book I select a couple of topics which have been less thoroughly explored but which strike me as particularly interesting and important. Chapter 4 examines some ways in which the lost plays can affect our ideas about myth and characterization. Chapter 5 tries to imagine the fragments of lost plays not as little pieces of text in the pages of a book but as moments in performance on the stage. I originally promised to finish Volume 2 with a ‘considered and extensive set of conclusions’,4 but in the process of writing this book I realized that this promise would be impossible to fulfil. The remains of lost tragedy have much to teach us, but they are also elusive and hard to pin down. Indeed, fragments by their very nature rule out definite conclusions; they leave us only with gaps, absences and unanswered questions. After prolonged reflection, it seems to me that the main value of studying fragmentary material (in general) is that it makes us more willing to embrace indeterminacy, open-endedness and alternative ways of looking at the past; and that the main value of studying fragmentary tragedy (in particular) is that it shows us how little we really know about Greek drama. If one has to conclude anything at all, it is that it is impossible to generalize about Greek tragedy or to reduce it to a set of rules or characteristics. Even though there is so much that remains unknown, the fragments make it clear that we are dealing with a surprisingly diverse, protean art form. To give a meaningful answer to the question ‘what is tragedy?’ is as impossible as trying to define, in general terms, ‘what is cinema?’ or ‘what is a novel?’ * The first thing that is bound to strike the reader is just how many plays are discussed in this book – not far short of two hundred. All three writers were astonishingly prolific. Among classical playwrights they were not quite unique in this respect (as shown by the careers of, for instance, Astydamas, Neophron and a few others),5 but no dramatist in any subsequent era has left behind a LPGT 1, p. xxvii. On the number of tragedies attributed to Astydamas (240) and Neophron (120), see LPGT 1, pp. 36, 101. Antiphanes is said to have written between 260 and 365 comedies (T1-2 K-A), Alexis 245 (T1 K-A) and Menander between 105 and 109 (Suda M 580; [Anon.] On Comedy [Prolegomena on Comedy III, p. 10 Koster]; Aulus Gellius 17.4.4).

4 5


The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

comparable body of work. Leaving aside questions of quality or classic status, the sheer quantity of the work is remarkable. Even on the basis of the tragedies that survive, these three authors are regarded as creative geniuses of the highest order. If their lost works maintained a similarly high artistic standard, would we admire their achievement all the more? The possibility is an intriguing one – and, after all, there is no particular reason to assume that judgements of quality greatly influenced the transmission or preservation of the extant plays. But in any case, as I have already pointed out,6 qualitative aesthetic judgements and hierarchies of taste have had a profoundly distorting effect on the reception history of tragedy, and it is probably better to avoid this sort of approach to criticism when dealing with lost works. The really crucial point to be emphasized is that whenever we attempt to generalize about the art of Aeschylus, Sophocles or Euripides, we are doing so on the basis of a fraction of their total output. Considerably more is known about some of these lost works than about others, and the nature and quantity of the evidence vary quite substantially from case to case.7 Sometimes, as in the case of Euripides’ Phaethon or Hypsipyle, for example, we are lucky enough to possess quite long consecutive portions of text from papyri unearthed during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This material does not tell us all that we would wish to know, and it is (literally) full of holes, but it can often give us a reasonably firm sense of how individual scenes were constructed, or a general idea of how the plot as a whole developed. Sometimes, as in the case of Aeschylus’ Atalante or Oedipus, we possess nothing more than a title that happened to be included in an ancient performance record (didaskalia) or mentioned in passing by some ancient writer or other. But the majority of lost plays fall somewhere between these two extremes: they tend to be represented mainly by a handful of scattered quotations (known as ‘book-fragments’) in a variety of ancient texts. In each instance such quotations might vary in quantity from just a single word to a few dozen lines in total, but unfortunately most of those writers who quote the plays are doing so to illustrate some point of their own rather than to convey information about the plot, characters or themes of the plays themselves. The great majority of tragic quotations in antiquity are either lexicographic or gnomic. They show that tragedy was treated as an authoritative source of information or a treasure trove of ethical wisdom, but on the whole they are LPGT 1, pp. xiii–xv, 117–22. See also LPGT 1, pp. xix–xxiii, on types of evidence.

6 7



frustratingly unrevealing. Gnomic fragments, in particular, may seem to give us a tantalizing glimpse of a play’s major themes, since they tend to be concerned with such subjects as love, fortune, family life, wealth, the gods and so on. Nevertheless, the same themes tend to recur from play to play, and the value of such fragments is limited precisely because they are being quoted for the universal truths that they contain, as decontextualized maxims, rather than as lines originally spoken by a particular character in a particular situation.8 (It is notable that gnomic quotations account for the majority of Euripidean book-fragments; the remains of Aeschylus and Sophocles, though smaller in quantity, are more varied in type.9) If we try to imagine the specific details of any lost play, or its plot in particular, we are on shaky ground. Occasionally we can draw on some external evidence, such as a helpfully descriptive testimonium or ancient plot-summary (hypothesis). But such information, though it can contain valuable nuggets of information, does not usually take us very far. Almost invariably if we want to get a connected sense of the whole story we are compelled to fall back on mythological narratives from other literary sources, such as Hyginus (a Roman writer from the first century BCE, who compiled a collection of Fabulae or ‘Tales from Mythology’) or Apollodorus (the undateable author of a mythical handbook entitled The Library). These mythographers preserve key details of the myths and characters, and often they were clearly drawing on tragedy – among other sources – when they wrote their own narratives, but we can almost never be sure which particular details come from a tragic prototype or which of the tragedians was their main source for any given story.10 All manner of Greek and Roman writers, in all manner of literary genres, dealt with the same myths that were dramatized in the lost plays, so scholars have sometimes searched for clues in earlier or later literature. But caution is needed. Generic conventions play a part in the shaping of mythical narratives and the selection of details, and we cannot assume that the same myth was handled in precisely the same way in tragedy as in other contexts. Earlier writers, such as Homer, Hesiod or the lyric poets, can tell us that certain versions of a story already existed before the tragedians were writing, and thus were (probably) familiar to them, but we have no way of knowing how many other versions were current at the same time or which particular version any tragedian

See Most (2003); Wright (2016). See Kannicht (1997) 68–71. 10 See Huys (1997); Cameron (2004). 8 9


The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

might have chosen. Hellenistic, Roman and later writers furnish further details, but they may be reflecting developments of the myth that came about after the fifth century; they also tend to multiply the range of narrative possibilities and alternatives, making it difficult to decide between them. The Roman tragedians will certainly have been influenced by their Greek predecessors, but their plays are a patchwork of many other influences and echoes as well.11 Thus it is not really possible to use, say, Senecan tragedy as a reliable indication of the contents of lost works by Euripides or Sophocles.12 But at least Seneca’s plays survive in complete form: it is even more hazardous to try to use the fragments of earlier Roman tragedy as a source.13 (How can one hope to reconstruct one lost text from another lost text?) In general, then, none of these later classical authors, even if they do demonstrably reveal some sort of connection with tragedy, can provide any more than an approximate outline of the contents of a lost play or some suggestive comparanda. Apart from literary texts, there are numerous Greek and South Italian vasepaintings from the fifth and fourth centuries BCE that have been widely treated as additional source material. Undeniably some of these vases depict scenes relating to the myths and characters featured in the plays, and it may be that in some cases the artist was inspired by a particular dramatic work, but that is all that one can say for certain. Such artwork may demonstrate the cultural influence and geographical spread of Greek tragedy in a broad sense, but (as I explained in the previous volume) I do not believe that vase-paintings can be treated as evidence for the content of lost plays.14 Consequently, I seldom refer to them in this book. But readers who are less sceptical than I am will find all potentially relevant iconographic material listed in TrGF and other editions and commentaries. Many of the images are also discussed, with great clarity and even-handedness, by Oliver Taplin in his well-illustrated book Pots and Plays.15 In general, then, our evidence is not only seriously deficient but also difficult to interpret. It is still possible to make genuine discoveries and come up with valuable insights, but we have to proceed with great caution. (Be warned that the

See Tarrant (1978) and Boyle (2006) 189–217, on the ‘palimpsestic’ quality of Roman tragedy. See Zwierlein (2004), Boyle (2006). 13 See, e.g., Webster (1967a) and Sutton (1984) for problematic attempts to treat the fragments of Ennius, Pacuvius et al. side by side with the fragments of Euripides and Sophocles as evidence for plot reconstruction. 14 LPGT 1, pp. xxii–xxiii. 15 Taplin (2007); Trendall and Webster (1971) also contains much of value. 11 12



most frequently used words in the pages that follow are ‘unknown’, ‘uncertain’, ‘perhaps’ and ‘possibly’.) All too often, as we contemplate the remains of Greek tragedy, our thoughts are likely to echo those of the unknown Sophoclean character who said: ‘I wish I could see clearly what I can only guess at.’16 But what we can still see is extraordinarily fascinating. In the rest of this book I try to show why this is so.

TrGF 4 F235 (from Erigone).




According to his ancient biographer, ‘Aeschylus was a young man when he took up the art of tragedy, but he greatly surpassed his predecessors in terms of his poetry, his stagecraft, the splendour of his productions, the costumes of his actors, and the grandeur of his choruses.’ The Suda adds that Aeschylus was just twenty-five at the time of his first production: this was between 500 and 496 BCE, when he competed at the City Dionysia against Pratinas and Choerilus.1 He did not win a first prize till 484, but his plays were recognized for their ambition and their distinctive artistic qualities.2 Aeschylus is credited, in a motley collection of sources, with many theatrical innovations: it is said that he increased the number of speaking actors to either two or three; revolutionized tragic choreography; took an interest in costumes, masks, props and the whole mise-en-scène; and greatly enhanced the visual element of theatrical performance.3 The reliability of much of this information is open to doubt. What is beyond a doubt, however, is that Aeschylus’ emergence on the Athenian cultural scene caused a big splash. During his career, and in part because of his influence, tragedy developed into a major art form, on a bigger scale than ever before. Thus it is regrettable that all the surviving plays of Aeschylus (with the exception of Prometheus Bound, which is probably spurious) belong to the latter part of his career. They range in date from Persians (472) to the Oresteia (456), leaving almost three crucial decades unaccounted for. Any prospect of charting the evolution of the genre, or of contrasting early- with late-period Aeschylus, is ruled out. (Before the discovery that the archaic-seeming Suppliant Women was a late work, dating to c. 465–59, this sort of activity used to be a favourite pastime of scholars.) But the lost plays can go some way towards filling the gap in our knowledge. Frustratingly, none of them can be dated except Women of TrGF 3 T1 (Life of Aeschylus §2); T2 (Suda AI 357); T52 (Suda P 2230). TrGF 3 T54b (Parian Marble, FrGHist 239). 3 TrGF 3 T1, T100-10. 1 2


The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

Aetna (476–5), Glaucus of Potniae (472), Phineus (472), Laius (467), Oedipus (467) and Daughters of Danaus (465–59), all of which are late-period works. But many of these plays must have belonged to the first half of Aeschylus’ career, and there are reasons for thinking that Daughters of Nereus and Myrmidons in particular are very early. Aeschylus wrote a lot of plays, but their exact number is unknown. Our sources give contradictory figures, ranging from seventy to ninety, and it is unclear how many of these plays were tragedies. Several medieval manuscripts include a Catalogue of Aeschylean drama, containing seventy-three titles, but this list is not infallible: some of the titles are unattested elsewhere, some of the spellings are uncertain and at least eight known plays are mysteriously omitted.4 The pages that follow include an entry for every known lost work that is or may have been tragic. One can argue over individual cases and specific details, but where the genre is ambiguous, I say so explicitly. By my count there are fifty-nine plays here. A glance at Radt’s edition of the fragments reveals that Aeschylus’ lost plays are, in a real sense, more lost than those of Sophocles or Euripides.5 There are considerably fewer fragments, and even those traces that survive tend to be much smaller and less revealing. The reason for this is partly mysterious, like so many aspects of the textual transmission of ancient literature. Why should the works of such a celebrated author have fallen into such obscurity? There is no easy answer to that question. But one explanation for the comparative scarcity of fragments is that Aeschylus’ plays probably contained relatively few excerptable lines, such as maxims (gnômai), which were so frequently preserved by anthologists and in which the plays of Euripides especially abound. At the same time there are proportionally more lexicographic fragments, no doubt because Aeschylus’ Greek vocabulary includes many recherché words. Another problem which arises in relation to Aeschylus more than the other playwrights concerns the connections between plays. Did Aeschylus conceive of each of them as a free-standing drama, complete in itself, or as a constituent part of a grander design? It is clear that Aeschylus did – at least sometimes – write trilogies or tetralogies connected by a single sequential storyline or unifying theme. Apart from the surviving Oresteia of 458 BCE (which concluded with the satyr-drama Proteus, now lost),6 three such connected groups of plays are attested:

TrGF 3 T78; see Radt ad loc. (p. 58). Cf. LPGT 1, pp. 1–10, 177, on ‘degrees of loss’. 6 See Griffith (2002). 4 5



1. Theban tetralogy (467 BCE): Laius, Oedipus, Seven against Thebes (tragic); Sphinx (satyric)7; 2. Danaid tetralogy (c. 465–59 BCE): Suppliant Women, Egyptians(?), Daughters of Danaus (tragic); Amymone (satyric)8; 3. Lycurgeia tetralogy (date unknown): Edonians, Bassarai, Youths (tragic); Lycurgus (satyric).9 Scholars have tended to assume that this sort of tightly connected unit represented the normal practice of tragedians in the earlier part of the fifth century, but was later abandoned; or, at any rate, it has traditionally been thought that Aeschylus had a preference for connected tetralogies. On the basis of this assumption, scholars have conjecturally ‘reconstructed’ further trilogies and tetralogies by arranging all Aeschylus’ known titles into connected groups of three or four plays. The results of these experiments show that numerous different permutations are possible, some of them more convincing than others.10 Nevertheless, it is far from certain that Aeschylus’ titles should be grouped together in this way. (Just imagine a scenario in which all that remained of Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone was their titles and a few fragments: it would be easy to assume that these plays too formed a trilogy, but we happen to know that this would be mistaken.) Too little is known about the conventions that determined the relationship between plays in a production. We simply do not have enough information about festivals or performance records to be confident about what constituted normal practice, either for Aeschylus or for anyone else.11 All that can be said for certain is that both connected and unconnected trilogies and tetralogies are attested throughout the classical period. More importantly, it is obviously not the case that Aeschylus invariably wrote connected suites of plays, since we know of a further production in which it is hard to detect any connection at all between the four individual plays. This was his tetralogy of 472 BCE, consisting of the tragic Phineus, Persians, Glaucus of Potniae and the satyric Prometheus.12

TrGF 3 T58. TrGF 3 T70. The order is unknown, and it is uncertain whether Egyptians should be included: see TrGF 3, pp. 112, 135; Garvie (1969) 183–204. 9 TrGF 3 T68. 10 See TrGF 3, pp. 111–19, for a list of conjectural trilogies and tetralogies along with bibliographic details. Cf. Gantz (1979) and (1980); Garvie (2009) xl–xlvi; Sommerstein (2010a) 32–44. 11 See Wright (2006), esp. 27–30. Cf. the index of LPGT 1 (s.v. ‘trilogies and tetralogies’, including ‘dilogies’) for cases where the performance record of lost plays prompts us to reconsider ‘normal’ practice. 12 TrGF 3 T55a. See Moreau (1993); Sommerstein (2012). 7 8


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I am not trying to deny that numerous connections (of one sort or another) will have existed between individual works by Aeschylus. Probably the majority of the plays listed below were originally performed in groups rather than as single dramas – though if they were not invariably staged at the Athenian Greater Dionysia we cannot even be sure about that. On the whole, however, given the great uncertainties involved, I prefer to discuss each play separately and leave it to others to speculate on potential links between them. (The reader is warned that this is one way in which this book differs significantly from other publications on Aeschylus.) Despite all this uncertainty and doubt, there are things that can confidently be said about Aeschylus’ lost works and his oeuvre as a whole. What is obvious is that the six or seven surviving plays give a very incomplete picture of Aeschylean tragedy. They represent a small minority of the total, and they cannot be regarded as a particularly representative selection. The sheer range and variety that we can glimpse in the remains of these fiftynine other plays makes it difficult to generalize. Indeed, the most striking thing about the subject-matter, even if we cannot tell exactly how it was treated, is just how diverse it is. On the basis of the remains, it is impossible to discern such a thing as a ‘typical’ Aeschylean myth or plot structure, or a ‘typical’ Aeschylean hero or heroine. The tone is also difficult to judge from fragments, but the stories themselves imply that there will have been a fairly extensive spectrum, from the grim to the light-hearted or even humorous. These tragedies took their material from many sources, ranging freely across the entire expanse of Greek myth. Nevertheless, one can tentatively identify a few recurrent themes and topics, such as the deaths of children (Athamas; Niobe; Cretan Women), the punishment of humans by gods (Daughters of Helios; Ixion; Niobe; Women of Perrhaebia; Toxôtides; Phineus), love and marriage (Hypsipyle; Women [or Men] of Lemnos; Myrmidons; Daughters of Danaus; Egyptians), and rape (Alcmene; Callisto; Semele; Oreithuia; Ixion). Inevitably, all of this mythical material involves the gods and the supernatural in some way, but a number of plays seem to have been preoccupied with myths centring on individual gods – including not only Zeus (Daughters of Helios; Ixion; Psychostasia; Carians) and Dionysus (Bacchae; Bassarai; Edonians; Pentheus; Youths; Xantriai; Semele) but also foreign deities (such as the Palici in Women of Aetna or the Kabeiroi in the play of that name). Only seldom can we discern explicitly political themes in the lost works (for instance, in Eleusinians and Telephus). This surprising absence may be due to



the nature of our source material, but it is worth noting that scarcely any of these plays feature Athenian settings or subject-matter. Indeed, the settings span the whole Greek world and beyond, taking in Boeotia, Thrace, Argos, Thebes, Sicily, Arcadia, Mysia, Nemea, Seriphos, Ithaca, Scythia, Lemnos and many other locations. More plays are based on episodes from the Trojan War than on any other subject (Carians; Memnon; Myrmidons; Daughters of Nereus; The Judgement about the Arms; Men [or Women] of Salamis; Thracian Women; Palamedes; Phrygians; Psychostasia). This not only reminds us of Aeschylus’ own description of his plays as ‘slices cut from Homer’s great banquet’,13 but it also encourages us to think carefully about the relationship between epic poetry and early tragedy (a connection significantly downplayed by some recent developmental accounts of the genre).14 None of Aeschylus’ surviving plays directly reflects this theme, but tragedies based on the Iliad and the Trojan Epic Cycle seem to have constituted his largest sub-category of drama: as we shall see, the same is true of Sophocles. There are also several plays based on Odyssean material (BoneGatherers; Penelope; Psychagôgoi). In a few cases one can see a number of plays clustering around a particular myth, such as that of the Argonauts (The Argo; Lemnian Women; Kabeiroi; Hypsipyle; Phineus), or of Danaus and his family (Daughters of Danaus; Egyptians; cf. Suppliant Women), or of Ajax and his family (The Judgement about the Arms; Women [or Men] of Salamis; Thracian Women). Such clusters may or may not represent connected trilogies or tetralogies, but at any rate they show that Aeschylus had an interest in these myths that extended beyond a single drama. Another sub-category which stands out, and which is not represented at all among the surviving plays, consists of plays about weird and grotesque subject-matter – such as Athamas and Nurses (in which human bodies were boiled in cauldrons), Glaucus of Potniae (in which a man was devoured by his horses), Phineus (in which a prophet was hounded by the Harpies), Daughters of Phorcys (concerning Perseus’ defeat of the monstrous Graiai), and Cretan Women (a mélange of accidental death, reincarnation, prophecy, magic and multicoloured livestock). Several of the works cited featured magic or miracles, as too did Psychagôgoi and Glaucus the Sea-God. Myths of metamorphosis were also dramatized frequently (as in Daughters of Heliades, Callisto, Glaucus the TrGF 3 T112a-b. See TrGF 1, pp. 1–10.

13 14

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Sea-God and probably Atalante, Niobe and Nurses). And a surprising number of stories involve animals, mostly dangerous or strange (Atalante; Callisto; Carians; Glaucus of Potniae; Cretan Women; Nemea; Prometheus Unbound; Toxôtides; Philoctetes). Many of the plays seem to have obvious potential for spectacular visual effects, singing and dancing, elaborate costumes and so on, but several titles in particular (Memnon; Myrmidons; Daughters of Nereus; Niobe; Phrygians; Psychostasia) illustrate the interest in innovative stage production that is so often attributed to Aeschylus. This aspect of his work will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 5.

Athamas (TrGF 3 F1-4a) The Boeotian king Athamas was a popular subject for the tragedians, no doubt because his myth contained several distinct instalments and exciting incidents – his narrowly averted sacrifice at Zeus’ altar and rescue by Heracles; his several marriages, first to the unearthly Nephele (‘Cloud’) and subsequently to the mortal women Ino and Themisto; his second wife’s jealous hatred of his children by Nephele (Phrixus and Helle); his part in raising the infant Dionysus; his insanity, caused by Hera; and his deliberate or accidental killing of his own children. Portions of Athamas’ family history were dramatized by Sophocles, Euripides, Achaeus, Astydamas the Younger and Timocles as well as Aeschylus. But our information about all of these plays is poor, and it is difficult to see which part of the myth was dramatized in each case. Aeschylus’ Athamas is extremely obscure: the surviving fragments consist of a handful of unusual words quoted for their lexical interest.15 The most revealing evidence comes from Athenaeus, who cites a couple of verses in the course of a discussion of tripods: One of them ended up in a three-legged cauldron inside the house, which was always in the same position over the fire. (F1)

This shows that Aeschylus’ play was concerned with the killing of Learchus and Melicertes, Athamas’ children by Ino. According to Apollodorus, after Hera drove Athamas and Ino insane, Athamas went hunting for their elder son, Learchus, and killed him in the belief that he was a deer, while Ino killed Melicertes by TrGF 3 F1-4a.




dropping him into a cauldron of boiling water before throwing herself into the sea.16 Perhaps this is the version that Aeschylus followed, but there is also a slightly different version (preserved by an ancient commentator on Pindar) in which Learchus, already dead, was the boy who went into the cauldron, and Ino’s intention in boiling him was to resuscitate him.17 Whichever of these versions may be closer to Aeschylus’ play, we cannot say whether this incident was at the centre of the plot or merely mentioned as background material.

Egyptians (TrGF 3 F5) All we know about this tragedy is its title, which appears in the Catalogue of Aeschylus’ plays, and a single-word fragment (‘Zagreus’, a title of the god Pluto).18 It may or may not belong to the same tetralogy as Daughters of Danaus, Suppliant Women and the satyr-drama Amymone.

Women of Aetna (TrGF 3 F6-11) For a long time it was conventional for modern scholars to treat Greek tragedy as a uniquely Athenian phenomenon: many studies of the genre concentrate exclusively on Athenian myth, politics and religion, and prioritize the biggest Athenian festival, the City Dionysia.19 More recent research, however, has tended to emphasize the wide range of alternative theatrical traditions and performance venues across the Greek world.20 Places such as Sicily and Macedon had their own local dramatic performances and hosted visiting productions. Several playwrights, including Euripides, Agathon and Theodectes as well as Aeschylus, travelled in order to produce dramas specially written for other locations. Aeschylus visited Sicily several times, and he wrote Women of Aetna for Hieron of Syracuse to celebrate his founding of the town of Aetna in 476–75 BCE. It is said that the tragedy was presented as a good-luck gift and ‘the augury of a happy life’ to the settlers.21 18 19 20 21 16 17

Apollodorus 3.4.3. Hypothesis to Pindar’s Isthmian Odes. TrGF 3 T78, F5; cf. Radt ad loc. (p. 125). For a survey and critique of recent work, see Carter (2011). See Csapo and Wilson (2015). TrGF 3 T1.33-4 (Life of Aeschylus §9). Cf. Wise (2008) on the generic implications of tragedies that are intended to be happy or auspicious.


The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

This play had a Sicilian setting and theme. Remarkably, the scene seems to have shifted between several different places (Aetna, Xouthia, Leontini, Syracuse and a fifth location).22 One of the reasons why the play’s plot incorporated so many different locations was that it evidently dramatized myths and legends of the region around Syracuse, no doubt a politicized move intended to establish connections between the new city of Aetna and the area’s mythical past.23 The only substantial fragment shows that the play was concerned with the Palici, chthonic gods who were worshipped in Sicilian religion.24 The mother of these gods was Thaleia, a Sicilian nymph who was raped by Zeus and became pregnant; fearing the wrath of Hera, she asked for the earth to swallow her up. Thaleia duly disappeared underground, but when the time came for her to give birth, she produced twin offspring who came up out of the earth and were thus named ‘Palici’ (from palin and hikein, the Greek words meaning ‘to come back’). A.  What name, then, will mortals give to them? B.  Zeus gives the instruction that they shall be called the holy Palici. A.  And is this name bestowed with good reason? Will it abide? B.  Yes, for they have come back (palin … hikous’) out of the darkness to this world of light. (F6)

So this play, like many others, offered an aetiological explanation for presentday ritual practices, but we can only speculate as to the connection between ritual, politics and the plot. It appears that two versions of Women of Aetna were known to readers in antiquity, a ‘genuine’ one and a ‘fake’ one.25 But is this information reliable? How would a fake Aeschylean play come into being, and in what context? How did the two versions differ from one another? Do our few fragments come from the genuine version? Because our sole evidence for the existence of the second version is the ancient Catalogue of Aeschylus’ works, these questions are impossible to answer. The possible existence of a fake Aeschylus industry in the ancient world is intriguing but somehow difficult to swallow. We know that in the fourth century BCE people were faking tragedies attributed to Thespis, but that was almost certainly because no copies of his works survived the sixth century (if there ever were any).26 To write a fake Women of Aetna when genuine See Chapter 5, pp. 245–8. See Poli-Palladini (2001); Totaro (2011). 24 The myth is recounted by Macrobius, Saturnalia 5.19.17, who also quotes F6; cf. Stephanus of Byzantium 496.7 (F7). 25 TrGF 3 T78; cf. Radt, p. 126. 26 See LPGT 1, pp. 2–12. 22 23



texts remained available for comparison would seem an odd thing for anyone to do. But it has been plausibly suggested that the so-called ‘fake’ version was in fact a later revision adapted for performance in Athens.27

Alcmene (TrGF 3 F12) The story of Alcmene, the wife of Amphitryon who was seduced by Zeus and gave birth to Heracles, is nowadays familiar from Plautus’ Amphitryo, though the myth was well known throughout antiquity, and Greek tragedies (now lost) on the same subject were written by Euripides, Sophocles, Ion, Astydamas the Younger and Dionysius of Syracuse.28 It may be that Aeschylus also wrote an Alcmene, but our sole evidence for the existence of this play is a one-word fragment quoted by the lexicographer Hesychius. The fact that Alcmene does not appear in the Catalogue of Aeschylus’ works is troubling but not decisive, since several genuine plays are omitted. Nevertheless, the wording of Hesychius’ citation has also been thought suspicious: he says that ‘Aeschylus [uses the word] in Isthmiastai and Alcmene’, but it has been suggested that the name of Euripides has accidentally been omitted before the second title.29

Women (or Men) of Argos (TrGF 3 F16-18) The title (Argeioi or Argeiai) is given inconsistently in our sources.30 However, Alan Sommerstein has proposed that Argeiai should be adopted, on the grounds that this is the lectio difficilior and that a female chorus would be more appropriate for a play that featured lyric lamentation.31 One of the three fragments (F17) does come from a lyric lament: Capaneus †is left to me with the remains† of his limbs, struck by lightning, which the thunderbolt left behind.

Corbato (1996). For the myth, see Apollodorus 2.4.5; cf. Hesiod, Shield 1–56, Homer, Iliad 14.323-4, 19.95-9. Euripides’ Alcmene (TrGF 5 F87b-104) and Sophocles’ Amphitryon (TrGF 4 F122-4) are discussed in later chapters. On the other tragedies, see TrGF 1.19 F5a-8; 1.60 T1, 3; 1.76 F2. 29 TrGF 3, p. 130. Isthmiastai, wrongly spelt by Hesychius, is an alternative title for the satyr-play Theôroi (‘The Sacred Delegation’): TrGF 3 F78a-82. 30 TrGF 3, p. 133. Men of Argos (Argeioi) is the form given in the Catalogue (T78). 31 Sommerstein (2008) 10–11. 27 28


The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

Thus it appears that this tragedy dramatized part of the same myth that formed the basis for Aeschylus’ extant Seven against Thebes.32 The dead man is Capaneus, the hero who was killed by Zeus’ thunderbolt as he attempted to storm the city walls of Thebes. The lines above may have been sung either by the chorus or by Capaneus’ wife Evadne, whom we see in other texts performing a similar function before flinging herself upon Capaneus’ funeral pyre to die alongside him.33 Obviously this lament was enacted after the expedition against Thebes had already failed, but it is not possible to say more about the precise details of the plot or setting, or how the play was related to other tragedies on the same myth (such as Aeschylus’ Eleusinians or Epigoni).

The Argo (TrGF 3 F20-1) An obscure play: its title is ambiguous, its contents are uncertain and its genre is disputed. The Catalogue provides alternative titles, calling it not only Argo but also Kôpastês (or Kôpeustês: the manuscripts differ in their spelling). The second title must mean ‘The Oarsman’, though the word is not found elsewhere. Obviously this was a play with a seafaring theme, involving the Argonauts, but either title would be unusual, since nearly all tragedies were named after their main character or chorus.34 Various attempts have been made to emend the title, the simplest and most likely being Kôpastai (‘Oarsmen’), which would mean that the play had a chorus of Argonauts.35 If the singular ‘Oarsman’ is authentic, it may denote a specific Argonaut whose own story was central to the plot. This was the assumption made by Bernard Deforge, who suggests that Tiphys, named by Apollonius of Rhodes as the first helmsman of the Argo, was the main character.36 Perhaps the play dramatized events from the first and second books of the Argonautica, covering the first stage of the Argo’s voyage as far as Tiphys’ death en route to Colchis. This is plausible but unprovable. An ancient commentator on Apollonius confirms

Cf. Capaneus in Seven against Thebes 423–36; see Gantz (1993) 467–530. Euripides, Suppliant Women 980–1072; cf. Apollodorus 3.6.6-3.7.1. 34 But not all: contrast Aeschylus’ Hoplôn Krisis (‘The Decision over the Arms’), Psychostasia (‘The Weighing of the Souls’), Hektoros Lutra (‘The Ransoming of Hector’, the alternative title for Phrygians) and (perhaps) Nemea; Sophocles’ Niptra (‘The Footwashing’; his Helenês Apaitêsis, ‘The Demand for Helen’s Return’, may be satyric); Phrynichus’ Sack of Miletus; Ion’s Mega Drama. On the titles of Greek dramas generally, see Sommerstein (2010b) 11–29. 35 TrGF 3 T78.2d (p. 58). 36 Deforge (1987) 33–5; cf. Apollonius, Argonautica 1.105-14, 2.851-63. 32 33



that Aeschylus did include the name Iphys (an alternative form of Tiphys) in this play (F21), but this may have been no more than a passing allusion. The only other fragment, a description of ‘the sacred beam of the Argo that has the power of speech’ (F20), could relate to any part of the Argo’s story. Apart from The Argo, Aeschylus wrote several other plays about the Argonauts: Phineus, Women (or Men) of Lemnos, Hypsipyle and Kabeiroi. Either he had a recurrent interest in the myth and kept returning to it throughout his career or perhaps some of these titles formed an Argonautic trilogy or tetralogy.37 If we choose to think that some of these titles were connected together in a set with a single consecutive plot-structure, this will affect the way we envisage the content of each individual play. It seems to me, however, that the titles and fragments are unhelpful in this respect, since they tell us almost nothing and could be arranged in any order. Alan Sommerstein suggests that The Argo was the final satyr-play in a connected tetralogy. This is because he believes that the secondary title, which he takes to be ‘Oarsmen’, makes better sense as a reference to a chorus of satyrs, engaged in an uncharacteristic activity, rather than to a chorus of heroic Argonauts.38 This strikes me as an unnatural interpretation of the word, but other scholars have also been keen to see this play as satyric for different reasons. Earlier editions of the fragments included (as F19) the word emmeleia, which denotes a type of satyric dance, but in fact this was mistakenly attributed to Aeschylus’ Argo because of a doubtful emendation of the writer who cites the word.39 On balance, there is simply not enough evidence to allow a definite conclusion about the play’s genre. If we believe in a connected Argonautic tetralogy, then it follows that one of these titles must have been satyric, but if we prefer to remain open-minded about tetralogies, no such conclusion is necessary.

Atalante (TrGF 3, pp. 136–7) All that survives of this play is its title, which is included in the Catalogue. Atalante’s story was given differently in various sources.40 According to

See TrGF 3, p. 118; cf. Deforge (1987). Phineus is excluded from such speculations because it was performed along with Persians, Glaucus of Potniae and Prometheus in 472 BCE. 38 Sommerstein (2008) 14–15. 39 TrGF 3, pp. 135, 448, with ref. to Dindorf (1851) and Hesychius E2367. Aeschylus F19 Dindorf/ Nauck is redesignated by Radt as incert. fab. F424a. 40 Apollodorus 3.9.2 (with 1.8.1); cf. Hesiod F72-6 M-W, Theocritus, Idyll 3.40-42, Pausanias 8.35.10, Ovid Metamorphoses 10.560-704, Hyginus, Fabulae 6, 185. 37


The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

Apollodorus, she was a virgin huntress, exposed at birth by her father Iasos, suckled by a she-bear and brought up by huntsmen. She participated among the male heroes in the Calydonian boar-hunt and at the funeral games of Pelias, in which she defeated Peleus in a wrestling contest. Subsequently, she was reunited with her birth parents and married to Melanion, who competed for her hand in an running-race, in which suitors were challenged to catch up with the fully armed Atalante; Melanion won because of supernatural help, since Aphrodite gave him golden apples which he threw in Atalante’s path to slow her down. In the end Atalante and Melanion were punished for making love in a sanctuary of Zeus by being transformed into lions. It has been suggested that Apollodorus’ account, and the mythical tradition generally, blurs together two separate mythical characters: an Arcadian Atalante (daughter of Iason or Iasius) and a Boeotian Atalante (daughter of Schoineus).41 If so, this makes it impossible to see how Apollodorus can be used even as a rough guide to Aeschylus’ lost play. But in any case the story as transmitted here incorporates several different stages, not all of which (one assumes) could have been squeezed into the plot of a single play. Nor does it seem that Atalante was a popular subject for tragedy: Aristias is the only other Greek tragedian known to have written an Atalante.42 However, the myth was extremely popular among Greek comedians, and plays on the same subject were written by Callias, Strattis, Philyllius, Euthycles, Philetaerus and Alexis. Does this mean that Atalante’s story was seen as inherently more suitable for light entertainment, or should we see some or all of these comedies as parodies of the tragedies of Aristias or Aeschylus?

Bacchae (TrGF 3 F22) The title suggests a play similar to Euripides’ Bacchae, concerning the establishment of the cult of Dionysus and the downfall of one of Dionysus’ opponents. Given that Aeschylus wrote other tragedies on this theme, including Bassarai, Xantriai and Pentheus, and that his Bacchae is attested only twice, it has been suggested that Bacchae was identical with one of these

Fantham (2000) 103–8. TrGF 1.9 F2: see LPGT 1, pp. 95, 211. The Roman tragedian Pacuvius wrote an Atalanta: Warmington (1961) 180–93.

41 42



other titles.43 This is possible, of course, but it seems excessively sceptical to doubt the existence of a lost work merely because it is mentioned only once or twice. If this were to be adopted as a general principle, we would have to discount much of our evidence, including nearly all the evidence for the plays of the neglected tragedians. Nonetheless, we cannot hope to learn much about Bacchae from its sole fragment, a maxim that could apply to almost any conceivable context.

Bassarai or Bassarides (TrGF 3 F23-5) The title is spelt differently by those who cite it, reflecting the fact that it is a relatively unusual word.44 It does not seem to matter which version we adopt: both forms denote female worshippers of Dionysus and are derived from the fox-skin costume worn in Dionysiac ritual contexts (especially in Thrace, where the play was set).45 Bassarai was the second play in the ‘Lycurgeia’ tetralogy, along with Edonians, Youths and the satyric Lycurgus.

Glaucus the Sea-God (TrGF 3 F25c-34) Aeschylus wrote two separate plays about different characters called Glaucus. This fact evidently confused readers in antiquity, since citations often fail to distinguish between the two plays. Even more confusingly, the distinguishing subtitles (epiclêses) look extremely similar to one another: Glaukos Pontios (‘Glaucus the Sea-God’) is easily mixed up with Glaukos Potnieus (‘Glaucus of Potniae’). Several of our fragments are attributed simply to ‘Glaucus’, and some educated guesswork is required to decide to which of the plays they belong.46 The title character of Pontios was an ordinary Boeotian man who was miraculously transformed into a god. This is shown by Pausanias (in the course of his description of a place called ‘Glaucus’ Leap’ on the coast of Anthedon): See TrGF 3, p. 137. TrGF 3, pp. 138–9. 45 Jouan (1992) 74; Guettel Cole (2007) 334. 46 TrGF 3, pp. 141–2. 43 44


The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy It is widely believed that this Glaucus was a fisherman who, when he ate the magic herb, became a sea-deity, and ever since that time has predicted the future for human beings. Year by year seafarers tell numerous tales about Glaucus’ prophecies. Pindar and Aeschylus got to know of this from the Anthedonians; but while Pindar has not sung about Glaucus to any great extent, the story provided Aeschylus with material for a play.47

Other writers, including Ovid, tell of Glaucus’ accidental discovery of this magical herb. One of the fish that he had caught and placed on the ground happened to touch some of this herb and came back to life; Glaucus ate some of the herb himself and felt irresistibly compelled to leap into the sea, whereupon he became a god.48 This story is reflected in several short quotations that survive from the play, including Glaucus’ own description of how he ‘tasted the herb that gives everlasting life’ (F29). We also possess a couple of papyrus fragments, first published in the 1940s: these preserve parts of a speech in which a character describes his amazement at having caught a glimpse of Glaucus, in his new guise as a god, travelling along the coast of Euboea.49 Glaucus’ altered appearance seems to have been utterly astonishing. Plato in the Republic was probably thinking of Aeschylus’ play when he described a barely recognizable Glaucus: All the old parts of his body have been broken, battered and mutilated by the waves, and other things have attached themselves to him – shells, seaweed and rocks – so that he completely resembles a wild creature instead of what he originally was by nature.

This description corresponds with details and language in some of the other book-fragments, suggesting that Aeschylus’ play made a powerful and longlasting visual impression.50 If Plato’s description really is based on the play, there are interesting implications in terms of costume and staging. This is one of the more weird and picturesque stories found in Aeschylean drama – so weird, in fact, that some have thought it cannot have been tragic.51 But other tragedies do feature miracles, magic and metamorphoses, so it is not fair to judge Glaukos Pontios untragic on the grounds of its subject-matter. Linguistic and metrical considerations have also been used to question the genre of one of

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9.22.7. Ovid, Metamorphoses 13.904-65; cf. Gantz (1993) 731–2. 49 TrGF 3 F25c-e (P. Oxy. 2255, 2159). 50 Plato, Republic 10.611d; cf. TrGF 3 F26-7, F34. 51 Winnington-Ingram (1959) 59. Cf. Krumeich, Pechstein and Seidensticker (1999) 125–30; Collard and O’Sullivan (2013) 248–53. 47 48



the fragments (F26), but the text is obviously corrupt, and this fragment is only conjecturally assigned to the play in any case. So there is no compelling reason to think that this was a satyr-play.

Glaucus of Potniae (TrGF 3 F36-42a) Aeschylus produced this play in 472 BCE, as part of the trilogy that also included Phineus and Persians. Its title character was a son of Sisyphus, who was torn apart and eaten by his own mares while competing in the chariot race at Pelias’ funeral games. Glaucus’ story is relatively little known, and our main information about it comes from ancient commentators on Vergil (who alludes to the myth in his Georgics).52 We are told that Glaucus tried to instil a more competitive spirit in his horses by feeding them on human flesh, but this made them insatiable, so that they ate their master when their normal supplies of food ran out. It is also reported that Aphrodite was the ultimate cause of Glaucus’ ruin, since she wanted to punish Glaucus for neglecting her worship and for preventing the mares from mating. This last detail is particularly intriguing because it makes the story of Glaucus resemble that of Hippolytus. If our source indeed reflects Aeschylus’ version of the myth, we may infer that in some key respects Glaucus of Potniae was broadly similar to Euripides’ Hippolytus.53 Until the middle of the twentieth century all that remained of the play was a few book-fragments, including a couple of extracts from a messenger-speech describing Glaucus’ fatal chariot race: Chariot was piled on chariot, corpse on corpse, horses on horses, all jumbled together in confusion (F38) They dragged him upwards in the manner of wolves – just as when a pair of wolves carry off a fawn by the shoulders (F39)

But our knowledge of the play was increased by the publication of papyrus fragments which (although lacunose) fill in a few other details of the drama.54 Here we can dimly observe a scene in which Glaucus sets off for the funeral games, sent on his way by encouraging words from the chorus; a woman,

Vergil, Georgics 3. 267–8, with commentaries of Probus and Servius ad loc.: see TrGF 3, pp. 148–9. Some of this information is attributed to Asclepiades’ Tragôidoumena (‘Subjects treated in tragedy’), FGrHist 12 F1. 53 Seen by Murray (1940) 113. 54 PSI 1210 and P.Oxy. 2160 (TrGF 3 F36, F36a-b); cf. Sommerstein (2008) 34–7. 52


The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

perhaps Glaucus’ wife, recounting an ominous dream; and a few glimpses of a description of the chariot race and its terrible outcome. As Alex Garvie has observed, the motif of a dream portending disaster provides a clear parallel between this play and Persians (in which Atossa dreams about Xerxes’ chariot); and it may be that there existed further thematic links or echoes between the apparently unconnected plays in this group.55 But an even more obvious parallel is found in Sophocles’ Electra, which is famous for its ‘set piece’ messenger speech narrating a chariot race and the fictitious death of Orestes.

Daughters of Danaus (TrGF 3 F43-6) Aeschylus won first prize in c. 465–59 BCE, defeating Sophocles and Mesatus, with a tetralogy including Daughters of Danaus, Suppliant Women, the satyr-play Amymone and another, unknown play (perhaps Egyptians).56 The entire trilogy seems to have told, in sequence, the story of Danaus’ fifty daughters, who fled Egypt, along with their father, in order to avoid marrying their cousins, the fifty sons of Aegyptus. The extant Suppliant Women deals with the family’s arrival in Argos, where they supplicate King Pelasgus to grant them sanctuary, but they have been pursued by the Egyptians, and the play ends with the expectation of conflict between the Argives and Egyptians. From other accounts of the myth we know that the Egyptians eventually compelled the Danaids to marry their cousins, but on the wedding night the women murdered their new husbands – all except Hypermestra, who loved her husband Lynceus and saved him. Some version of these events must have formed the plot of Daughters of Danaus, but it is unclear at what point the play started or finished. Many other details about the trilogy are also obscure, including the order of the plays, the identity of the third play in the group and the precise details of the myth that Aeschylus selected from a large range of possible variants (to judge by the diversity of later authors’ treatments of the myth).57 The two main fragments that survive – an announcement of a wedding song (F43) and part of a speech by Aphrodite about the power of love (F44) – are full of interest but useless in terms of plot reconstruction.

Garvie (2009) xliv; cf. Sommerstein (2012). P.Oxy 2256 (TrGF 3 T70; cf. pp. 111–12). 57 See Garvie (1969) 163–233; cf. Papadopoulou (2011) 15–24. 55 56



Eleusinians (TrGF 3 F53a-54) This play, like Women (or Men) of Argos and Epigoni, was based on myths from the Theban Epic Cycle. The action unfolded after the failure of the Seven against Thebes to take the city. Just two tiny fragments remain, but Plutarch’s Life of Theseus offers a clue to the plot:58 Theseus together with Adrastus recovered for burial the bodies of those who had fallen before the walls of the Cadmeia – not, as Euripides says in his tragedy, by defeating the Thebans in battle, but by persuading them to reach a truce […] The version of Euripides in his Suppliant Women is refuted by Aeschylus in his Eleusinians, in which Theseus is depicted as telling this same story.

Thus we have to imagine a play – somewhat along the lines of Euripides’ Suppliant Women but differing in several details – in which the bodies of the Seven were given up by the Thebans and eventually buried (probably at Eleusis), in which Theseus was presented as the advocate of negotiation rather than force and in which the Athenians came across as the champions of the oppressed. The date of production is unknown, but the play, like that of Euripides, will no doubt have been full of contemporary political resonances.59

Epigoni (TrGF 3 F55-6) Epigoni was the title of one of the poems of the Epic Cycle. It told the story of the expedition of the so-called ‘Epigoni’ (‘Descendants’): these were the sons of the original Seven against Thebes, who set out to avenge the death of their fathers by attacking Thebes anew and finally destroying the city.60 This lost epic is said to have run to seven thousand lines in length, which means that it will have contained far too much material for a single tragedy. But there is no clue as to what part of the story Aeschylus’ play dramatized. Sophocles wrote a play with the same title, which centred on Alcmeon, the leader of the expedition, and his killing of his mother Eriphyle; there is no particular reason to think that Aeschylus dealt with the same subject-matter. All that we know about the plot is that it involved someone getting married (F55). But whose wedding was it?

Plutarch, Theseus 29.4-5. Cf. Euripides, Suppliant Women, esp. 650–730. See Mills (1997) 229–34; Tzanetou (2011) 312–13. 60 See West (2003) 54–9; cf. Apollodorus 3.7; Gantz (1993) 523–4. 58 59


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Some have seen Alcmeon as a likely candidate.61 Another possibility, suggested by the fragments of the epic Epigoni, would be Teiresias’ daughter Manto: she was seized by the Epigoni among the booty from Thebes and sent to Delphi, where she married the Mycenean Rhakios, the first man she encountered.62 No doubt there are many other possibilities.

Edonians (TrGF 3 F57-67) The first play in the Lycurgeia tetralogy (see also Bassarai and Youths). What we can infer about its plot seems very similar to Euripides’ Bacchae: both plays showed Dionysus’ arrival in a new setting and the terrible consequences awaiting anyone foolish enough to resist the god’s power. Lycurgus, king of the Edonians (a Thracian people who lived by the River Strymon), opposed Dionysus and attempted to banish him, but Dionysus drove him mad and caused his downfall. In one version of the story, as told by Apollodorus, the maddened king chopped up his own son, Dryas, with an axe, in the belief that he was pruning a vine-branch, and was later killed by horses on Mount Pangaeon. In the version narrated by Homer, he chased Dionysus into the sea and was punished by being blinded.63 It is not clear which version Aeschylus’ play followed, but the fragments reveal several glimpses of the earlier stages in the plot, including a vivid evocation of the initiates and the music of Dionysiac cult (F57), a description of Lycurgus’ palace as being possessed by Bacchic frenzy (F58) and several places where, as in Bacchae, Dionysus was mocked for his outré appearance and effeminacy (F59-62).64 Further clues to the contents of Edonians are to be found, perhaps, in later works of art and literature that may have been inspired by Aeschylus. A couple of Apulian red-figure vases from the first half of the fourth century depict Lycurgus in the act of killing Dryas: if we accept them as being based on Aeschylus, these images could indicate some of the other characters in the play (including Apollo, Hermes and the personification of madness, Lyssa).65 In the third century BCE the Roman dramatist Naevius wrote a

Sommerstein (2008) 58–9. Σ Apollonius, Argonautica 1.308b = Epigoni F3 Davies; cf. Apollodorus 3.7.4. 63 Homer, Iliad 6. 130-141; Apollodorus 3.5.1-2. 64 See Jouan (1992) 73–4; Xanthakis-Karamanou (2012a). 65 Ruvo, Museo Jatta 36955; London, British Museum F271: see Taplin (2007) 68–71. 61 62



tragedy called Lycurgus, the fragments of which show Lycurgus confronting Dionysus (Liber) and his maenads, as well as a scene in which Lycurgus’ palace is on fire.66 But all this material may have drawn on sources other than Aeschylus.

Daughters of Helios (TrGF 3 68-73a) Phaethon, son of the sun-god Helios, tried to drive his father’s chariot through the sky and was killed by a thunderbolt from Zeus. His story was the basis for Euripides’ Phaethon, but Aeschylus had earlier treated much the same events in Daughters of Helios. The play was named after Phaethon’s sisters, who after his death succumbed to unceasing lamentation. According to the Elder Pliny, Aeschylus told how the young women were turned into poplar trees but continued to weep tears of amber on the banks of the River Eridanus.67 Presumably this metamorphosis was foretold in a speech towards the end of the play, but we have only a vague idea of the events leading up to it. The remains include some lyric lamentation from the women of the chorus (F71) and a description of weeping (F72), as well as a choral passage evoking Helios’ movement across the Ocean (F69) and an affirmation of Zeus’ power (F70). These fragments are colourful but give no indication of the dramatic context. It is likely that the chorus and the Heliades were one and the same: some scholars are troubled by the fact that Helios, according to tradition, had just seven daughters,68 but we know of other plays in which the number of individuals represented by the chorus was larger or smaller than the number of available choreuts (twelve or fifteen).69 The play’s setting is unclear, since there are several geographical clues pointing in different directions. The fragments and testimonia mention the Rhipean mountains (a mythical mountain range said to border the land of the Hyperboreans, though sources differ over its exact location); the sun-god’s journey from west to east; the women of Adria (where the River Po flows into the Adriatic Sea); and the Eridanus (confusingly identified with both the Rhône and the Po).

Naevius F24-59: Warmington (1961) 122–35. See Boyle (2006) 42–6. Pliny, Natural History 37.2.31-2; cf. Σ Homer, Odyssey 17.208. See Diggle (1970), 27–32, and Sommerstein (2008), 68–73, on this and other evidence. 68 Hyginus, Fabula 154.4; cf. TrGF 3, p. 185. 69 See Storey (2009). Cf. Sophocles’ Thamyras. 66 67


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Children of Heracles (TrGF 3 F73b-77) The title reveals little, because the famously virile Heracles had such an enormous number of offspring: Apollodorus lists sixty-six children by sixty different mothers.70 It is impossible to know which of these children were in Aeschylus’ play. Perhaps Aeschylus dramatized one of the mythical episodes seen in other fifth-century tragedies – such as Spintharus’ Heracles on the Pyre (which dealt with the hero’s cremation on Mount Oeta); or Euripides’ Heracles (in which Heracles, raving-mad, kills his children by Megara after saving them from death at the hands of Lycus); or Euripides’ Children of Heracles (which shows the plight of Heracles’ children by Deianeira when threatened by Eurystheus after Heracles’ death); or Sophocles’ Women of Trachis (which deals with the death and cremation of Heracles, and in which Heracles’ son Hyllus has a major part). Other aspects of the mythical tradition would also have been suitable for dramatization. Heracles’ slaying of his own children was handled in a variety of ways in other poetry (such as the work of Stesichorus, or the Heracleia, the fifthcentury epic by Panyassis of Halicarnassus), and the mythographer Pherecydes recorded a version in which Heracles killed his children by throwing them onto a fire.71 Any of these texts might provide some sort of parallel or model, but it is possible that Aeschylus dealt with a different aspect of the myth. Aeschylus’ Children of Heracles has been of interest mainly to those concerned with ascertaining the extent of Sophocles’ and Euripides’ originality. Scholarly discussions centre on the unanswerable question of whether Aeschylus’ play more closely resembled Euripides’ Children of Heracles or Sophocles’ Women of Trachis.72 Since Aeschylus’ play certainly came first, it is likely that these other playwrights would have known and responded to it, but we can say no more than this. All that the fragments tell us is that the tragedy included a description, in choral lyrics, of Heracles’ heroic exploits (F74) and a description, apparently in the first person, by Heracles of his own funeral pyre (F73b).73 Both of these fragments indicate that the play dealt with the latter part of Heracles’ story after the end of his labours. The papyrus F73b is the most revealing piece of evidence,

Apollodorus 2.7.8. Stesichorus F283 Finglass; Panyassis F22 Kinkel; Pherecydes F14 Fowler (cf. Apollodorus 2.4.12). See Matthews (1974) 111–13; Holt (1992); Davies and Finglass (2014) 570–1. 72 Stinton (1990) 500–1; Holt (1992) 46–51; Wilkins (1993) xviii–xix; Hahnemann (1999). 73 F75a may also refer to the same pyre: see Sommerstein (2008) 81. 70 71



but it is also lacunose and ambiguous. The text, as supplemented and translated by Hugh Lloyd-Jones, reads as follows: For in those parts was also visible a place designed by Nature for a pyre, in the lofty, bush-covered country of Oeta. To this did [my?] children by different mothers raise [me?] aloft, encompassed with trees for fuel, flesh swollen and skin peeling beneath the strong poison.74

This shows that the play almost certainly included the death and cremation of Heracles, but it does not allow us to say whether this was the main focus of the plot: perhaps it was merely alluded to. There is no mention of apotheosis, but if we accept Lloyd-Jones’ supplements and see Heracles as the speaker, describing his own end, then it follows that the hero must have appeared in his posthumous, deified form, perhaps as a deus ex machina. However, Tom Stinton showed that it would be possible to fill in the gaps in another way: Onto this pyre, built by their own hands, which I instruct them to raise up in the lofty, bush-covered country of Oeta, will my children by different mothers raise me aloft, encompassed with trees for fuel, flesh swollen and skin peeling beneath the strong poison.75

The change from past to future tense makes a huge difference, because in this case the speaker would be a still-living Heracles giving instructions to his children. None of these suggestions definitively solves the problems of this lost play. Nor is it clear which of Heracles’ children were the titular characters (or, as it might be, the chorus). The fragment just quoted contains the adjective a]mphimê[tores, normally translated as ‘children of many mothers’, which could imply that the children in question were born not just of Deianeira or Megara (as in the other known tragic versions) but of any of the other fifty-eight women mentioned by Apollodorus. Alternatively, Alan Sommerstein has suggested that in this instance the adjective means ‘children who had two mothers’, namely Deianeira Lloyd-Jones (1957) 586–90:


πυρὰ]ν γὰρ αὐ̣τ̣ό̣τευκ[τον] ἦν ἐν[ταῦθ’ ἰδεῖν, Οἴτη]ς ἐν ὑψηλοῖσι θα[μν]ούχοι[ς τόποις εἰς τή]νδε παῖδες οἵδε[. ἀ]μφιμή[τορες ἤνεγκο]ν ἄρδην καυσίμοις ἐν δ[ένδρεσιν οἰδοῦν]τα καὶ λοπῶντα φαρμάκον [μένει. 75 Stinton (1990) 501 n. 57 (comparing Dio Chrysostom, Oration 78 for Heracles’ instruction to his sons):

πυρὰ]ν γὰρ αὐ̣τ̣ό̣τευκ[τον] ἣν ἐν[τέλλομαι Οἴτη]ς ἐν ὑψηλοῖσι θα[μν]ούχοι[ς κτίσαι, εἰς τή]νδε παῖδες οἵδε [μ’ ἀ]μφιμή[τορες οἴσουσι]ν ἄρδην καυσίμοις ἐν δ[ένδρεσιν οἰδοῦν]τα καὶ λοπῶντα φαρμάκον [μένει.


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(their real mother) and her love-rival Iole (who might have ended up as their stepmother).76 Once again it is impossible to say which interpretation is correct. Thus much remains tantalizingly elusive about this play. But it is worth noting that apart from the Prometheus plays (the authorship of which is disputed), this appears to have been the only time that Aeschylus put Heracles in a tragedy.

Chamber-Builders (TrGF 3 F78) Little can be deduced about this play from its title (Thalamopoioi) or single fragment (a description of a ceiling). Who were these builders, and what sort of room or chamber (thalamos) were they constructing? On the assumption that the reference is to a bedchamber, scholars have supposed that the plot had something to do with a marriage: there have been several attempts to link the play to specific myths (such as that of Paris and Helen) or to other known plays by Aeschylus (such as the ‘Danaid’ tragedies). Thalamopoioi is absent from the Catalogue, which has caused some to wonder whether it was an alternative title for another play.77 Many have assumed that it was satyric rather than tragic.78 But all such speculation is based on thin air.

Thracian Women (TrGF 3 F83-5) This was one of two or three tragedies in which Aeschylus dramatized aspects of the myth of Ajax, the others being The Judgement about the Arms and – perhaps – Women (or Men) of Salamis. It is possible, though far from certain, that they were composed as a trilogy. Nor is it certain which portion of the story was included in each play.79 Nevertheless, Thracian Women obviously included Ajax’s suicide. An ancient commentator on Sophocles’ version of the story tells us that Aeschylus used a messenger speech to narrate the hero’s death and supplies a summary of some of the details.80 We are told that ‘Ajax carried on bending his sword, in the manner of someone drawing a bow, since no point on

Sommerstein (1987). See Garvie (1969) 14, 186–96; cf. Sommerstein (2010a) 249. 78 See TrGF 3, p. 193; cf. Di Marco (1993) for the suggestion that the satyric F451l (P.Oxy. 2254) comes from Thalamopoioi. 79 See Finglass (2011) 33–4. 80 Σ Sophocles, Ajax 815, 833 (TrGF 3, pp. 205–7; Σ Ajax 833 = F83). 76 77



his body would yield; but eventually a goddess came along and showed him the place where he had to strike the fatal blow’. Thus it appears that Aeschylus was drawing on a tradition, alluded to by Pindar and others, in which the infant Ajax was rendered almost invincible after being wrapped by Heracles in a lion skin.81 Otherwise the plot is difficult to imagine. The Sophoclean scholia tell us that the Thracian women of the chorus were prisoners of war, but give us no other clue about their role in the play. Aristophanes in his Frogs quotes an extract about ‘the united force directing against Ajax’ (F84) within a parody of Aeschylean lyrics. Another fragment (F84a) is part of a lyric evocation of someone who was ‘blameless in his ways, a lover of the Muses, and a lover of symposia’: this may come from a lament or a description of the dead Ajax.82

Priestesses (TrGF 3 F86-8) A biographical anecdote related by several writers (including Aristotle) tells us that Aeschylus was prosecuted for divulging secrets from the Eleusinian Mysteries.83 The fullest version of the story is given by an ancient commentator on Aristotle, who records that Aeschylus was brought before the Areopagus on a charge of impiety after alluding to details of the cult in several of his plays – the titles of which are given as Female Archers, Priestesses, Sisyphus the StoneRoller (a satyr-play), Iphigenia and Oedipus. Such anecdotes often have to be treated with a pinch of salt, and maybe later writers embellished the story by adding improbable details,84 but it is perfectly plausible that Aeschylus (properly or improperly as it might be) made use of themes or imagery from the cult of Demeter and Kore in his work. The title of Priestesses does indicate some sort of preoccupation with religious ritual. Nevertheless, the remains have nothing to do with the Eleusinian Mysteries. One fragment (F86) mentions Zeus and the oracles of Apollo; another (F87) mentions priestesses known as ‘beekeepers’ (melissonomoi) at a temple of Artemis. It has been suggested that the latter fragment is a self-description by the members of the chorus, which, if true, would imply that the whole play centred

Pindar, Isthmian Ode 6. 25–55; cf. Plato, Symposium 219e, Lycophron, Alexandra 455–65 (with Σ). Suggested by Sommerstein (2008) 103. 83 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 3.2.1111a8-10; cf. TrGF 3 T93a-d, T94. 84 See Lefkowitz (2012) on the problems of the ancient biographical tradition. 81 82


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on the worship of Artemis. Furthermore, on the basis of F88, where there is an occurrence of the place name Casolaba, it has been thought that the play was set in Caria.85 None of this is conclusive – perhaps these fragments are merely passing references – but there is no actual sign here of any interest in Eleusis or mystery-cult.

Ixion (TrGF 3 F90-3) Ixion was among the most wicked figures in Greek mythology, and his story is often treated as a classic example of crime and punishment. According to tradition Ixion was the first person to murder a member of his own family (his father-in-law Eioneus), a crime seen as so appalling that he was unable to obtain purification. Eventually, Zeus cleansed him from pollution and allowed him to live among the gods, but Ixion went on to commit a further crime, entering Hera’s bedchamber and attempting to rape her. In fact it was a phantom Hera whom Ixion raped, made out of a cloud by Zeus when he realized Ixion’s intentions. Ixion received a twofold punishment from Zeus: not only did his illicit union produce the monstrous Centaur, but Ixion himself was bound to a wheel for all eternity. Pindar, who tells the story in full, presents it as ‘a warning for all mankind’ and a moral lesson against breaking the laws of hospitality.86 The myth’s combination of sex, murder and morality made it an appealing subject for dramatists. Tragedies entitled Ixion were written by Callistratus, Sophocles and Euripides,87 and Aeschylus treated the myth in two plays, Ixion and Women of Perrhaebia. Aristotle cites ‘tragedies about Ajax and Ixion’ as examples of a distinct sub-category of tragedy that he describes as ‘full of pathos’ (pathêtikê).88 His meaning is not altogether clear, but Ajax and Ixion are both figures whose fortunes took a catastrophic turn for the worse, and Aristotle seems to be implying that the tragedians dwelt on the two men’s suffering and mental anguish following their misdeeds. The remains of both Aeschylean plays are minimal, so it is impossible to say how the two works differed from one another or which part of the myth was treated in either play. Because the myth has two distinct phases, first in

Sommerstein (2008) 102–3. Pindar, Pythian 2. 21-48; see TrGF 3 F89 for other versions. Cf. Gantz (1993) 718–21. 87 See pp. 95 and 175–6 on Sophocles and Euripides; on Callistratus (TrGF 1.38), see LPGT 1, p. 191. 88 Aristotle, Poetics 1455b34-6. 85 86



the human world and then among the gods, it seems unlikely that a single play could have accommodated the entire story; so it may be that one of the plays dramatized Ixion’s homicide and pollution and the other dealt with the rape and its aftermath. Scholars have debated whether the two plays were produced together as part of a set, but there is no way of knowing whether this is true; nor do any of Aeschylus’ other titles suggest themselves as the third or fourth plays in a putative tetralogy. The subject-matter and vocabulary of F91 have even suggested to some that Ixion was a satyr-drama.89

Iphigenia (TrGF 3 F94) The story of Iphigenia, daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, whose sacrifice at Aulis was necessary in order for the Greek fleet to set sail for Troy, is narrated or alluded to frequently throughout Greek literature. The surviving tragedies that make Iphigenia their main character are Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis and Iphigenia among the Taurians, which tell extremely different versions of her story. The first of these plays represents the more common version, in which Iphigenia is lured to her death at Aulis under the pretext that she is to be married to Achilles. The latter play is based on the premise that Iphigenia was miraculously rescued and transported to the Black Sea coast, where she lived among the Taurian people as a priestess in the cult of Artemis before her eventual deification.90 A connection (of some sort) between Iphigenia and the Taurians existed before Euripides’ time, as shown by Herodotus’ account of Taurian religious customs,91 but since Euripides is normally thought to have newly invented or adapted many of the details in his own treatment, it tends to be assumed that Aeschylus’ play followed the more traditional outline (as in Iphigenia at Aulis). A similar outline also seems to have been used by Sophocles in his Iphigenia, the fragments of which clearly relate to Iphigenia’s averted marriage. But the sole fragment of Aeschylus’ play (‘It is not right to revile [or be reviled by] women’, F94) is a conventional reflection that reveals nothing about the speaker or context. If it were to turn out that Aeschylus’ version was based on the Taurian episode, it would make a huge difference to our reading of Iphigenia

See TrGF 3, p. 210. The transmitted ending of Iphigenia at Aulis is not Euripides’ own but an interpolation designed to make the two versions cohere better: see Collard and Morwood (2017) ad loc. 91 Herodotus, Histories 4.103 (but here Iphigenia is mentioned as a goddess, identifiable with Artemis). 89 90


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among the Taurians, which is always cited as a key example of Euripides’ penchant for mythical innovation.92

Kabeiroi (TrGF 3 F95-97a) Two features of this play mark it out as noteworthy. First, it contained a catalogue of every member of the Argonautic expedition – a feature that seems more in line with the conventions of epic poetry than of tragedy (though Aeschylus’ Persians also contains a catalogue of Persians who fought and died at Salamis).93 Second, it was the first tragedy to put drunken characters on stage, a feature that was seen as generically uncharacteristic: more than one ancient biographer of Aeschylus even concluded on this basis that the poet himself must have been a drunkard.94 The inebriated characters in question were Jason and the Argonauts, but it is not clear what part of their myth was dramatized here (or in The Argo, Lemnian Women, Phineus or Hypsipyle). The plot required them to come into contact with the eponymous Kabeiroi, who were nature gods worshipped at a number of cult sites including Lemnos and Samothrace. These gods formed the play’s chorus, and they seem to have been well disposed to the Argonauts: in one fragment we see them promising the heroes that they will never go short of wine or water (F96). Possibly Aeschylus’ play had something to do with the episode narrated in the Argonautica in which the Argonauts, arriving at the island of Samothrace, are initiated into the local mystery cult. This explanation requires us to assume that Apollonius’ unnamed ‘resident deities … of whom it is forbidden to sing’ were the Kabeiroi.95 If so, the heroes’ drunkenness, even though it has been seen as atypical of tragedy, can be seen as thematically justified within its dramatic context, since it could plausibly fit into a scene of orgiastic intoxication.96

See Wright (2005) 113–15; cf. pp. 134–6 on Sophocles’ Chryses. TrGF 3 F97a (Σ Pindar, Pythian 4.303b). Cf. Aeschylus, Persians 302–30. 94 Athenaeus 10.428f (TrGF 3 p. 214); cf. TrGF T117a-f. Some have thought Kabeiroi was satyric: see Deforge (1987) 39 and Podlecki (2005) 12–13 (though both are sceptical). 95 Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 1.916-21. Cf. Herodotus, Histories 2.51 on the cult of the Kabeiroi in Samothrace. 96 Deforge (1987) 41. 92 93



Callisto (TrGF 3 F98) Callisto was an Arcadian huntress and devotee of Artemis who was loved by Zeus and transformed into a bear to deceive Hera, but the jealous goddess found out and persuaded Artemis to shoot the bear. Callisto died and was transformed into a constellation, while Arcas, her son by Zeus, was preserved and became the founder of the Arcadian race. The story is told (with slight variations) by Ovid, Pausanias and others, and it is recorded that Hesiod included the story in his Catalogue of Women (which Aeschylus will no doubt have used as a source), though this earlier version is lost.97 This tragedy represents a rare foray into Arcadian mythology, but it is obscure apart from its title and one fragment (‘the mountain glens of Pan’, F98). Some features of Callisto’s story, such as the divine rape and the catasterism, are paralleled in other tragedies, but the animal metamorphosis, if actually presented on stage, would have seemed more surprising: the bovine Io in Prometheus Bound and the equine Hippo in Euripides’ Melanippe the Wise are the only other certain examples of animal characters and costumes in tragedy.98

Carians or Europa (TrGF 3 F99-101) One of several Aeschylean dramas – including Callisto, Kabeiroi, Semele and Oreithuia – that made use of the theme of divine rape and the birth of extraordinary offspring. Its title character, Europa, was a Phoenician woman whom Zeus loved. In Apollodorus’ version, apparently the same as that followed by Aeschylus, the god assumed the guise of a bull and carried Europa off to Crete, where he had intercourse with her, and she gave birth to Minos, Rhadamanthys and Sarpedon.99 For a long time almost nothing was known about this play, but the year 1879 saw the publication of an important papyrus fragment, preserving part of a speech by Europa herself: at twenty-three lines this is one of our longest Aeschylean fragments.100 The speech was a scene-setting narrative – probably Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.211-40, 2.396-410; Pausanias 8.3-4; Apollodorus 3.8.2; Eratosthenes, Catasterisms 1; Hesiod, Catalogue of Women F163 M-W. 98 See pp. 273–4. 99 Apollodorus 3.1.1-2; cf. Hesiod F140-1 M-W. 100 P. Didot = Pack (1965) no. 31 (TrGF 3 F99). On text and reconstruction, see TrGF 3, pp. 217–21; Sommerstein (2008) 112–15. 97


The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

from the prologue – in which Europa described her history, including her rape and the birth of her children, before moving on to talk about her present sorrows. The second half of the fragment is particularly valuable because it suggests the outline of a plot: and thirdly I gave birth to Sarpedon, about whom I am now tempest-tossed by anxious thoughts, in case a spear-point from Ares has struck him – for it is widely reported that the flower of all Greece is come, men supreme in warlike strength, and that they boast of their intention to sack the city of the Trojans by force. I am afraid for his sake, in case he should run amok with his spear, both inflicting and suffering unsurpassable harm. My hope is slender, and it stays balanced on a razor-edge, lest I strike against a reef and lose everything. (F99.15-23)

The play’s main action took place many years after Europa’s abduction, at a time when Sarpedon was fighting in the Trojan War. Thus it belongs to a distinct subgroup within Aeschylus’ work based on subject-matter from Homer and the Epic Cycle. At least one detail here differs from the Iliad, where Sarpedon’s mother is said to be Laodameia, and it is unclear whether the play was set in Lycia or Caria,101 but in general it is assumed that the play’s outline followed the sixteenth book of the Iliad, where Sarpedon is slain by Patroclus and brought back to Lycia by Sleep and Death. We can easily imagine a broadly tripartite structure to the plot, beginning with Europa’s anxious expectation of news, continuing with the announcement of the catastrophe and (perhaps) the appearance of Sarpedon’s body, and concluding with scenes of lamentation. Such an outline seems to fit the events of the story, and it also finds parallels in other Aeschylean dramas (such as Persians and Niobe). Many attempts have been made to group the ‘Trojan War tragedies’ into trilogies. Such attempts are necessarily speculative, but several critics have been attracted to the idea that Carians was part of a group that also included Memnon and Psychostasia. Such a group would have been thematically linked not only by the Trojan War background but also by the motif of dead heroes and their grieving families.102

Keen (2005) argues that Aeschylus deliberately assimilated Carians and Lycians for political or ideological reasons. 102 See TrGF 3, p. 114; cf. West (2000) for the suggestion that Aeschylus’ son Euphorion (TrGF 1.12; LPGT 1, p. 97) wrote Carians and Psychostasia. 101



Cretan Women (TrGF 3 F116-20) An extraordinary drama of death, divination, magic and reincarnation in the Cretan royal household, it dealt with the mysterious disappearance of Minos’ infant son Glaucus and the events which followed. The full story is recounted by Apollodorus:103 Glaucus was still a child when he went chasing a mouse, fell into a jar of honey and drowned. Unable to find him, Minos set in motion a search party and consulted seers about how to find the boy. The Curetes told him that among his herds he had a cow that could change its colour in three ways, and that the person who could come up with the most apt way of describing the cow’s colour by comparing it to something else would also be able to bring him his son back alive. It was Coiranus’ son Polyidus who, when the seers were gathered together, compared the cow’s colour to that of a blackberry. Polyidus was charged with the task of searching for the boy, and he managed to find him using some form of divination. But Minos said that he had to bring him back to life, and so he was locked up with the corpse. Polyidus was at a complete loss what to do, but he happened to see a serpent coming towards the corpse. He threw a stone at it and killed it, fearing that he would lose his own life if the dead body were to suffer any harm. But another serpent came along, saw that the first serpent was dead, went away, and then returned bringing a herb; it rubbed the herb all over the other serpent’s body, and when this had been done the dead serpent came back to life. When Polyidus saw this he was amazed, and he applied the same herb to the body of Glaucus and restored him to life. Minos got his son back, but even so he did not allow Polyidus to go back to Argos before he had instructed Glaucus in the art of divination. Polyidus, under compulsion, did teach the boy. But when he was about to sail away, he ordered Glaucus to spit in his mouth; and by doing so, Glaucus completely forgot what he had been taught about divination.

This is not among the better-known Greek myths, and indeed it may seem utterly bizarre in many respects, but in fact it was quite a popular subject for tragedy, dramatized not just by Aeschylus but also by Sophocles (in Prophets or Polyidus) and Euripides (in Polyidus); Aristophanes also wrote a comedy on the same theme, which may well have been paratragic.104 Apollodorus 3.3.1-2; cf. Hyginus, Fabula 136 (with variant details). See Gantz (1993) 270–1. Aristophanes’ Polyidus (F468-76 K-A) has been seen as a parody of Euripides’ Polyidus, but this is uncertain: see Carrière (2000) 226.




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Even though Apollodorus often uses tragic sources, it is uncertain which, if any, of the three known tragedies about Polyidus may have formed the basis for this narrative. Nor is it easy to judge how much could have been presented on stage in a single play, or how these tragic versions may have differed from one another. Nothing in the narrative above presents itself as distinctively Aeschylean, Sophoclean or Euripidean (though the whole enterprise of working with lost plays shows how difficult it is to generalize about typical plots or themes of any individual playwright). There are a few tragic parallels for certain details, such as magical herbs (as in Aeschylus’ Glaucus the Sea-God or various tragedies on the Medea theme), dangerous serpents (as in Euripides’ Hypsipyle) or even reincarnation (as in Euripides’ Alcestis and Protesilaus), but multicoloured cows, contests in analogy, death by honey and memory-destroying saliva are not the sort of elements that one normally associates with the world of tragedy. Many of these details, no doubt, would have been narrated rather than displayed on stage, but even so Apollodorus seems to supply rather a lot of incident for a single plotline. Any play which included both Glaucus’ death and his resurrection – with, one presumes, accompanying odes of lamentation and celebration from the chorus of Cretan women – would have been an emotional roller coaster. The only part of the story that was demonstrably included in Aeschylus’ version, as in Euripides’ Polyidus, was the episode in which Polyidus proved his special powers by suggesting an apt analogy for Minos’ prodigious cow. Our longest surviving fragment, a description of the blackberry bush, belongs to this episode (‘It is weighed down by white and black and bright red berries at the same time’, F116). The other sparse fragments are of no help in reconstructing the plot.

Laius (TrGF 3 F121-122a) The Theban royal family was a continual source of fascination for poets and tragedians. Aeschylus treated the myth in a connected trilogy, produced in 467 BCE, consisting of Laius, Oedipus, Seven against Thebes and the satyr-drama Sphinx. The first play in the trilogy probably dealt with some of the events narrated in flashback in Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus and elsewhere – the oracle warning Laius that any child he bore would end up murdering him; the birth and exposure of Oedipus; the shepherds’ discovery of the baby on a hillside; the handing-over of Oedipus to the Corinthian king Polybus; Oedipus’ killing of Laius on the road to Thebes – but it is impossible to say exactly how these events



were handled or how far back in time the story of Laius was traced. (Did the play go as far back as Laius’ father Polydorus, his uncle Lycus or Amphion and Zethus’ seizure of power? Was any mention made of Laius’ rape of Chrysippus?105) All we know for certain is that the play described Oedipus as being exposed in a pottery vessel, and that it referred to a murderer’s gruesome act of tasting his victim’s blood and spitting it out, an apotropaic custom that was believed to avoid pollution.106 (See also entry on Oedipus; cf. Chapter 4 on Aeschylus’ plays and other versions of the Oedipus myth.)

Women (or Men) of Lemnos (TrGF 3 F123a-b) The play’s title is cited in different forms, but most scholars prefer the feminine version. Either way, it seems likely that this play was based on the myth of Hypsipyle and the women of Lemnos. Apollodorus narrates the story as follows: The Argonauts set sail, with Jason in command, and made a stop at Lemnos. At that time, as it happened, Lemnos was ruled by queen Hypsipyle, the daughter of Thoas, since there was no male population. This was because the women of Lemnos had not paid due honour to Aphrodite, and she had affected them all with a foul smell; consequently their husbands had taken women captive from nearby Thrace and gone to bed with them instead. The women of Lemnos, thus dishonoured, killed all their fathers and husbands – apart from Hypsipyle, who alone saved the life of her father, Thoas, by hiding him away. So the Argonauts put into shore at Lemnos when it was ruled by women, and they had sex with the women. Hypsipyle went to bed with Jason and bore him two sons, Euneos and Nebrophonos.107

The myth’s erotic content made it a popular subject for comedians (including Aristophanes, Nicochares, Antiphanes and Diphilus), but it was also turned into tragedy by Sophocles, who wrote two plays both called Women of Lemnos. If Aeschylus’ play did treat the same subject-matter, it can be related to other works in which he dramatized the Argonauts’ adventures, though the connection between these works is unknown.108 The two words that survive reveal nothing of interest. If the title was Men of Lemnos, it may even be that the plot centred on

Apollodorus 3.5.4-7; cf. Gantz (1993) 488–92. TrGF 3 F122, F122a. 107 Apollodorus 1.9.17. 108 See Deforge (1987) 42–3. 105 106


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a completely different myth (e.g. that of Philoctetes).109 (See also entries on The Argo, Kabeiroi, Lemnian Women, Hypsipyle and Phineus.)

Memnon (TrGF 3 F127-9) Based on material from the Aethiopis, the lost epic about the Ethiopian hero Memnon whom Achilles killed in the latter stages of the Trojan War. Nothing is known about its plot or how its action related to Aeschylus’ Psychostasia, the play which centred on Memnon’s death and its aftermath. The handful of fragments include a couple of tiny remnants of a description of fighting (F127-8) and little else; they are interesting partly because of their misattribution by the writers who cite them. All were attributed to Agamemnon rather than Memnon, suggesting that the latter play, and even its title, had become unknown in later antiquity.110 Nevertheless, a couple of testimonia preserve some intriguing information about the play’s staging. Pollux records that Memnon required not just three but at times four speaking actors – a fact which (if accurate) shows that the conventions determining the number of performers in Aeschylus’ time were more flexible than is generally thought.111 Aristophanes in his comedy Frogs made fun of Aeschylus for supposedly frightening his audiences by presenting them with ‘characters like Memnon with his bell-cheeked horses’: the joke seems to depend on an assumption that Aeschylus’ plays employed startling visual effects and military paraphernalia on stage.112

Myrmidons (TrGF 3 F131-42) A dramatization of scenes from the central books of the Iliad, with a focus on Achilles’ withdrawal from the war, his reluctance to respond to the Greeks’ requests for aid and his reaction to the news of Patroclus’ death. The Myrmidons of the title were Thessalian warriors whom Achilles commanded; it is likely that a group of these men constituted the chorus. Most scholars believe that Myrmidons, Daughters of Nereus and Phrygians formed an ‘Achilleis’ trilogy: we

Suggested by Welcker (1837) 466–7; cf. TrGF 3, p. 233. TrGF 3, pp. 236–7. 111 Pollux, Onomasticon 4.109: see Csapo and Slater (1994) 394. 112 Frogs 962–3. 109 110



have no evidence that such a trilogy existed, but the fact that the three plays were based on related subject-matter makes this hypothesis seem plausible.113 The evidence of comedy tells us that Myrmidons opened with an extended scene of silence and inactivity – an attention-grabbing technique which Aeschylus also employed in his Niobe and which Aristophanes presented as a characteristic device of the poet.114 For some time nothing happened at all, as Achilles simply sat on stage in silent isolation, brooding on his anger, completely still; the scene will have been more like a static tableau than part of a dramatic performance. Even when the chorus and other characters addressed Achilles, he initially made no reaction. Glorious Achilles, do you see this – the ordeals of the Danaans, destroyed by the spear, whom you are sitting in your hut and betraying? (F131) Phthian Achilles! If you are aware that men are suffering and being killed, why – oh, why – do you not come to their aid? (F132)

Eventually Achilles broke his silence and spoke to Phoenix, defending his behaviour and responding to the Greeks’ threat to stone him to death (F132b-c). At some later point Achilles learned that Patroclus had been killed by Hector and was presented with his dead body (F135-9); the tragedy probably ended with scenes of lamentation. We are in a reasonably good position to imagine the plot, not only because we have the Iliad as a guide but also because we have more surviving text than average: sixteen fragments, including several revealing papyrus scraps. Indeed, Myrmidons is one of the best preserved lost tragedies by Aeschylus (along with Niobe and Prometheus Unbound). There are also several early fifth-century vasepaintings which may have been inspired by Aeschylus: it is unsafe to use these as a basis for plot reconstruction, but if they were responding to Myrmidons they indicate that this play was a very early work, dating perhaps from the 490s to 480s BCE.115 Scholars have recognized Myrmidons as a bold reworking of Homeric material. Several important details are changed or manipulated in ways that would have transformed their significance for a fifth-century audience.116 There was a strong

See TrGF 3, p. 113; cf. Snell (1971) 1–24, West (2000) 340–3, Sommerstein (2010a) 242–9. Aristophanes, Frogs 911–13 (=TrGF 3 T120); see Taplin (1972). Cf. pp. 262–6 for further discussion, and see entries on Phrygians, Niobe and Mysians. 115 See Michelakis (2002) 33–5 (figs. 1–3); Trendall and Webster (1971) 54–5. 116 Michelakis (2002) 22–57; cf. Moreau (1996); West (2000) 340–1. 113 114


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focus on the character and motivation of Achilles, whose transformation from epic hero to isolated tragic figure was evidently central to the play. Apart from Achilles’ silence and the Greeks’ threat to kill him, the most striking departure from the Homeric model is that the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus was treated as a love affair: You showed no respect for the sacred bond of thighs – oh, ungrateful one – even though I gave you countless kisses. (F135) The reverent intimacy of your thighs, †more beautiful† (F136) And yet this is not repulsive to me, for I love him. (F137)

These moving fragments reveal not just that Achilles lamented the dead body of Patroclus on stage but (more surprisingly) that the play featured passionate declarations of love alongside explicit descriptions of sex. As will be clear from the lost plays, many tragedies featured erotic love as a central motif, but we know of no other drama that offered such an intimate account of a relationship. Myrmidons thus gives the lie to Aristophanes’ caricature of Aeschylus as someone who ‘never had anything to do with Aphrodite’.117 Even if, as Aristophanes claims, Aeschylus never successfully portrayed a woman in love, this depiction of a man in love was clearly extraordinary.

Mysians (TrGF 3 F143-5) The characters in this tragedy included Telephus, son of Heracles and Auge, who left his birthplace Tegea and became king of Mysia, and was later wounded by Achilles. Aeschylus wrote another play about him (Telephus), but it is not clear how the two plays relate to one another in terms of their handling of the myth. Two fragments (F143-4) refer to the River Caicus and show that this play was set in Mysia (rather than Aulis, as in the Telephus of Euripides and – probably – Aeschylus). Aristotle also mentions ‘the man in Mysians who came from Tegea to Mysia without uttering a word’ in a discussion of tragedies containing unconvincing or inexplicable details. He says no more about the scenario, and it is not certain that he is referring to Aeschylus’ play, though the playwright’s fondness for silent characters makes it seem likely.118 These small pieces of

Aristophanes, Frogs 1053–4. Aristotle, Poetics 1460a30-32, with Lucas (1968) 231; cf. Myrmidons, Niobe and Phrygians.

117 118



evidence may indicate that Mysians dealt with the earlier part of Telephus’ story before his encounter with the Greek forces, viz. his arrival in Mysia and his reunion with his mother Auge.

Youths (Neaniskoi, TrGF 3 F146-9) The third play in the Lycurgeia tetralogy, concerned with the defeat of Lycurgus by Dionysus (see also Bassarai and Edonians). It is hard to guess which portion of the myth was included in each respective play, and Youths is the most obscure member of the group. Neither the title – which, presumably, refers to young initiates of Dionysus or to young Thracian men in Lycurgus’ kingdom – nor the three tiny fragments tell us anything about the contents. Since this was the final tragedy in the trilogy, it was perhaps here that the final defeat of Lycurgus was definitively brought about; or perhaps the play achieved closure by showing the establishment of ritual in Thrace.119

Nemea (TrGF 3 F149a) A very obscure play, known only from its inclusion in the Catalogue. Scholars have speculated whether its title refers primarily to the place name Nemea, the Nemean Games or the name of the play’s main character. In view of the normal conventions for titles, the last of these possibilities seems the most likely.120 But in any case, there will doubtless have been a connection between character and place. Pausanias says that the district of Nemea in Argolis was named after Nemea, one of the daughters of Asopus, and he implies that Nemea was worshipped as a goddess in local cult.121 Otherwise the character of Nemea is scarcely known: the only source that mentions her story describes her as the mother of Archemoros, the child who was killed by a serpent and in whose memory the Nemean Games were instituted by Adrastus after he had slain the serpent.122 This seems to be a lesser-known variant of the myth used by Euripides as the basis for his Hypsipyle, where the dead child is Opheltes, the son of Lycurgus and Eurydice. It is not clear

See Jouan (1992) 75–6; West (1990) 46–7; Seaford (2005) 605–6. Sommerstein (2010b); cf. TrGF 3, pp. 261–2. 121 Pausanias 2.15.3, 5.22.6; cf. Plutarch, Alcibiades 16.5. 122 Hypothesis to Pindar, Nemean Odes (=TrGF 3 F149a); see Ogden (2013) 54–8. 119 120


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how the two versions of the myth intersect. But the evidence, such as it is, points to a play that was concerned in some way with aetiology and foundation legends.

Daughters of Nereus (TrGF 3 F151-4) This play is conjectured to have been part of a trilogy about Achilles, the other plays being Myrmidons and Phrygians.123 Its plot is impossible to reconstruct, but it evidently drew on the events described in the eighteenth and nineteenth books of the Iliad. Following the death of Patroclus, Achilles was visited by his mother Thetis, who not only consoled him for his loss but also brought him new armour to replace the set that Patroclus had been wearing when he was killed. Thetis was accompanied by her sisters, the divine daughters of Nereus, whose anapaestic entrance-song evoked images of the sea swimming with dolphins.124 The fragments show that the play featured an account of armed combat (F151-2) and preparations for Patroclus’ funeral (F153).

Niobe (TrGF 3 F154a-167b) From Homer onwards the figure of Niobe was seen as a paradigm of grief and loss.125 She initially had a happy life, as a prosperous and beautiful woman, the daughter of Tantalus, wife of Amphion and mother of numerous fine children, but she foolishly boasted of her good fortune to the goddess Leto, pointing out that she had given birth to many children, whereas Leto had borne only two (Apollo and Artemis). This infuriated the goddess, who persuaded Apollo and Artemis to kill all of Niobe’s children, and thereafter Niobe’s life was one of unending sorrow. The emotional power of the myth would have made it a rich subject for dramatic exploitation, though only Aeschylus and Sophocles seem to have put it on stage. Aristotle praised Aeschylus for selecting just a small portion of Niobe’s story for dramatization, in contrast to other poets (including, presumably, Sophocles) who tried to squeeze too much of Niobe’s story into a single plot.126 We know that Aeschylus’ play dealt with the latter part of the story, since it began See TrGF 3, p. 262; cf. West (2000) 341. TrGF 3 F150. See pp. 248–51 on the performance aspects of this scene. 125 Homer, Iliad 24. 602–21; cf. Apollodorus 3.5.6. 126 Aristotle, Poetics 18.1456a16-19. 123 124



when the children were already dead. The fragments of Sophocles’ treatment point to a distinct difference in the manner of treatment, since they all come from scenes earlier in the story where the children were actually being killed by the gods on stage. Where Sophocles had high excitement and terror, Aeschylus had stillness and sorrow. It appears that Aeschylus’ play explored the after-effects of catastrophe and the personal impact of loss, with comparatively little action occurring. (A comparable work might be Euripides’ Women of Troy, though there we see the effects of grief on a whole community, not just a single suffering individual.) The beginning of the play was remarkable for its presentation of Niobe as a silent, motionless figure on an otherwise empty stage – an aspect of the play which I discuss in a later chapter.127 The papyrus F154a (one of the longest Aeschylean fragments, at twenty-one lines) is part of a scene-setting narrative describing Niobe’s grief and the downfall of the family. Eventually other characters appeared on the scene to offer Niobe consolation, including her father Tantalus, who poignantly described his own reaction to the situation (F159): Once upon a time my heart reached up as far as the heavens above, but now it falls to the ground, and speaks these words to me: ‘Know this much, that one should not overestimate the human condition.’

Tantalus’ presence in the play was no doubt linked to the theme of ancestral guilt and the question of how far Niobe was to blame for her own suffering.128 At one point in the play Niobe herself emphasized the family’s long connection to ‘ancestral’ (patrôios) Zeus, while another character stated that ‘a god implants guilt in humans, whenever he wishes to ruin a household completely’ (a sentiment to which Plato objected on the grounds that the gods never cause evil).129 A few other fragments survive, including a gnomic description of the implacable nature of death (F161). It is not known how the play ended, but it may be that some allusion was made to Niobe’s eventual transformation into a stone, as in Homer. 130 Niobe appears to have been among Aeschylus’ most popular tragedies in antiquity, to judge by references to the play in fifth-century comedy and by the number of vase-paintings that depict the same subject. 131 Aristophanes parodied

See pp. 262–6. See Garzya (1987) 195–8; cf. Gagné (2013) 419–44. 129 TrGF 3 F162; F154a.15-16 (=Plato, Republic 2.380a). 130 Moreau (1995) 304; Seaford (2005) 120. Cf. pp. 265–6. 131 On the vases, see Garzya (1987) 185–92; Moreau (1995) 296–301; Taplin (2007) 74–9. 127 128


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the play’s opening scene in his Frogs (405 BCE), while a character in his Wasps (422) imagines a scenario in which the actor Oeagrus appears in court and is acquitted on condition that he recites ‘the most beautiful monologue from Niobe’.132 These jokes suggest that Aeschylus’ play was still being read and reperformed decades after its original production (date unknown).

Wool-Carders (TrGF 3 F168-172b) What little we know of this play (Xantriai in Greek) suggests a scenario closely resembling that of Bacchae and Pentheus, involving the fatal consequences of Pentheus’ resistance to Dionysus and his cult. (Bassarids was also similar, though there the god’s opponent was Lycurgus.) It is impossible to say how these plays related to one another, though it has been suggested that they formed a trilogy or that they were different titles for the same play.133 The fragments include a rousing call to the maenads from Lyssa, the personification of frenzy (F169), as well as references to blazing pinewood torches (F171) and the death of Pentheus on Mount Cithaeron (F172b). There is also a papyrus fragment containing parts of a lyric dialogue between Hera and the chorus, though it is hard to guess at what point in the plot such an exchange might have fitted.134 The ‘wool-carding’ of the title may refer to the everyday domestic activities of the women of the chorus, but it may also grotesquely evoke the pulling-apart and dismemberment (sparagmos) of Pentheus.

Oedipus (TrGF 3, pp. 287–8) Produced in 467 BCE as part of a Theban tetralogy (see entry on Laius), Aeschylus’ version of the Oedipus story is a work that one would dearly love to be able to read, but (alas) not a single fragment survives. The brief summary of Oedipus’ doings in Seven against Thebes, the surviving play of the group, gives only a general idea of the handling of the myth, but there is some emphasis there on the curse which Oedipus uttered against Eteocles and Polynices, an aspect of

Aristophanes, Frogs 911–24; Wasps 579–81 (TrGF 3 T80, though this may refer to Sophocles’ Niobe). See TrGF 3, pp. 116–17, 137, 280–1, 298–9. Cf. Jouan (1992) 77–8. 134 P.Oxy. 2164 (=TrGF 3 F168, F168a, F168b). Sommerstein (2008) reassigns these lines to Semele and prints them as F280a-c. 132 133



the story which may have been given prominence in Oedipus.135 It is reported that Oedipus was one of the works in which the playwright illicitly revealed the secrets of the Eleusinian Mysteries.136 If true, this suggests that Aeschylus’ interpretation of the story and its theological overtones was profoundly different from that of Sophocles.137

The Judgement about the Arms (TrGF 3 F174-8) This play (Hoplôn Krisis in Greek) described the quarrel between Ajax and Odysseus over the armour of Achilles, an encounter which – as in Aeschylus’ Thracian Women and Sophocles’ Ajax – ended in Ajax’s humiliation and suicide. The contest was narrated in the Little Iliad, and Aeschylus’ play is cited by Aristotle as one of several tragedies based on material from that lost epic.138 Several fragments clearly belong to a scene (or scenes) of confrontation between the two heroes, including a slur on Odysseus’ parentage delivered by Ajax (F175) and an implicit criticism of Odysseus’ dishonest rhetoric (‘The words of truth are simple’, F176). The play also featured Thetis among its characters. One of the characters addressed her as ‘Mistress of fifty Nereid maidens’ (F174), and the source that quotes this line tells us that the Nereids themselves were called upon to judge the contest.139 If this detail is correct, it shows that Aeschylus handled the crucial moment of decision in a surprising manner. Elsewhere the verdict was passed by a vote of the army, sometimes supported by the goddess Athena, though sources differ as to whether it was the Greek or the Trojan army, or whether it was a secret ballot.140 Nowhere else do we find a reference to the involvement of Thetis or the Nereids. Furthermore, if Aeschylus did follow the version in the Little Iliad (as implied by Aristotle), we would expect him to have shown that the verdict was influenced by information gathered by spies who were sent to the walls of Troy and overheard girls discussing the relative merits of Ajax and Odysseus. Thus, even though the details are hazy, there are signs that Aeschylus’ handling of the myth was strikingly different from the more familiar Sophoclean version. Seven against Thebes 709–11, 750–91, etc. Podlecki (1975), 10–12, is sceptical. TrGF 3 T93b. 137 See further discussion in Chapter 4, pp. 214–21. 138 Little Iliad (Proclus, Chrestomathia p. 52 Davies); see West (2013) 174–6. Cf. Aristotle, Poetics 1459b5-6. 139 Σ Aristophanes, Acharnians 883. 140 Apollodorus Epitome 5.6; cf. Homer, Odyssey 11.542-8, Pindar, Nemean 8.26. 135 136


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Bone-Gatherers (TrGF 3 F179-80) Here Aeschylus dramatized the section of Homer’s Odyssey in which the families of the dead suitors came to collect their bodies for burial: the play’s title echoes a Homeric phrase used to describe the recovery of bodies by relatives or comrades.141 Thus it would be natural to assume that the titular ‘bone-gatherers’ (ostologoi) constituted a chorus of the suitors’ relatives. However, many scholars have treated Bone-Gatherers as a satyr-play. This is because the two fragments, in which Odysseus complains about his treatment at the hands of the suitors, are concerned with the game of kottabos (F179) and a smelly chamber pot employed as a weapon (F180): such subject-matter may seem too undignified for tragedy.142 It would be possible to imagine a scenario in which a chorus of satyrs took over the relatives’ traditional duties and generally fooled around with the Homeric source material. More recently, however, scholars have been prepared to see tragedy as flexible enough to admit a certain amount of ‘low’ material and vocabulary.143 It has also been pointed out that Athenaeus, who quotes the chamber-pot fragment, judges Aeschylus’ material ‘inappropriate’ – something which he would have been unlikely to do unless he believed (rightly or wrongly) that Bone-Gatherers was a tragedy. Those who argue most forcefully for the play’s tragic status do so because they are keen to see it as one of the tragedies in an ‘Odyssean’ tetralogy (including Circe, which was definitely satyric). The problem comes to seem less pressing if one is more open-minded about the issue of connected tetralogies.

Palamedes (TrGF 3 F181-182a) Based on material from the Epic Cycle, this play told the story of Palamedes, the Greek hero who was killed as a result of Odysseus’ intrigues and whose father Nauplius took his revenge by lighting false beacons to lure the Greek fleet to destruction. The story was popular among the tragedians, and parts of it were

See Grossardt (2003), comparing Homer, Iliad 23.239, 252–3, 24.793 and Odyssey 24.72, for the phrase ostea legein. The Homeric episode dramatized here is Odyssey 24. 413-17. 142 See Radt ad loc. (TrGF 3 pp. 291–2); cf. Krumeich, Pechstein and Seidensticker (1999) 205–7; Collard and O’Sullivan (2013) 437, 502; Shaw (2014) 114. 143 E.g. Grossardt (2003); Sommerstein (2002) 166 and (2008) 178–81. 141



dramatized by Philocles, Sophocles, Euripides and Astydamas the Younger.144 Aeschylus’ Palamedes does not appear in the Catalogue, and our only definite reference to it comes from a Homeric scholion which preserves, with attribution, some words spoken by Nauplius (‘What harm had my son done to you, that you should kill him?’).145 The other fragments included in TrGF are conjecturally assigned to Palamedes on the grounds that they relate to Palamedes or feature him as a speaking character.146 Apart from his heroic exploits and his death in the Trojan War, Palamedes was renowned as a ‘culture hero’ or benefactor of mankind. In traditional accounts of Greek civilization his name was associated above all with the development of literacy and numeracy.147 In the two longest fragments Palamedes refers to his own achievements as follows: Then I organized the life of all of Greece and its allies – life which had previously been in a state of confusion, like that of wild animals. First of all I invented exceedingly clever numbering, surpassing all else in sophistication. (F181a) For the army I also appointed taxiarchs and commanders of a hundred troops, and I specified how to distinguish mealtimes and to take breakfast, dinner and then supper. (F182)

It is impossible to know how much this aspect of the myth was emphasized by Aeschylus, but it seems likely that the play dwelt on Palamedes’ exceptional qualities in order to accentuate the loss to mankind caused by his unjust death.

Pentheus (TrGF 3 F183) A single fragment is all that survives of this play about Pentheus’ encounter with Dionysus (‘ … and do not spill a drop of blood on the ground’, F183). (See entries on Bacchae and Xantriai above.)

TrGF 1.24 T1 (Philocles), 1.60 F5 (Astydamas); on Sophocles’ and Euripides’ versions, see pp. 103–4, 110, 193–4. 145 Σ Homer, Odyssey 4.319 (=TrGF 3 F181). 146 TrGF 3 F181a, F182, F182a. Sommerstein (2000) attributes F451k (P.Oxy. 2253) to Palamedes; in his edition (2008) he prints it as F180a. 147 E.g. Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 447–60, Plato, Republic 7.522d. Cf. Sophocles’ and Euripides’ versions: see pp. 110, 193–4. 144


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Women of Perrhaebia (TrGF 3 F184-6a) One of two tragedies written by Aeschylus on the Ixion myth (see also Ixion); Perrhaebia was the region of Thessaly over which Ixion ruled. Although it is unclear how the two plays differed from one another, Women of Perrhaebia included the part of the story in which Ixion murdered his father-in-law. According to Diodorus of Sicily, who gives the fullest account of this episode, Ixion promised to bestow gifts on Eioneus when he married his daughter Dia, but in order to avoid keeping his promise he killed Eioneus, luring him into a concealed pit of fire.148 The three fragments describe Ixion’s treachery and the splendours of the gold and silver items of which Eioneus has been cheated. F184 belongs to a scene in which Eioneus confronted Ixion, demanding: ‘Where are all my gifts and choice offerings? Where are my drinking-cups, wrought in gold and silver?’ Certainly Eioneus was dead before the play ended (F186), but we do not know whether Ixion’s pollution, purification or subsequent misdemeanours were included in the plot, nor is there any clue as to the part played by the chorus of Perrhaebian women.

Penelope (TrGF 3 F187) One of several plays based on material from Homer’s Odyssey (see also BoneGatherers and Psychagôgoi). The sole fragment is a line spoken by Odysseus in which he claims to be a member of the Cretan royal family: this suggests that the play followed the events narrated in the nineteenth book of the Odyssey, where the disguised Odysseus finally comes face-to-face with Penelope. But how far did the plot progress beyond this point? Did it include, for instance, a confrontation between Odysseus and the suitors? Did it feature one or more scenes of recognition? These questions are impossible to answer. (The only other tragedian known to have written a Penelope is Aeschylus’ nephew Philocles, but even less is known about Philocles’ version than about Aeschylus’ own.149) In fact, it is difficult to envisage suitable cut-off points for the beginning and end of the play, whether it was a free-standing work or part of a connected set. How much of the Odyssey did Aeschylus attempt to squeeze in? Even if we choose Diodorus of Sicily, Library 4.69.3-5; cf. Pindar, Pythian Ode 2. 21-48 (with Σ), Pherecydes (FGrHist 3 F51). See also TrGF 3 F89; Gantz (1993) 718–21. 149 See LPGT 1, pp. 97–100. 148



to believe that Psychagôgoi, Penelope and Bone-Gatherers formed a connected trilogy (not definitely in that order),150 it is hard to imagine them as constituting a coherent, self-contained plot-structure. One naturally calls to mind Aristotle’s remarks in the Poetics about the problems involved in selecting and adapting material from epic into the right shape and scale for drama, which must have a properly defined beginning, middle and end.151

Polydectes (TrGF 3, p. 302) Polydectes, king of Seriphos, fell in love with Danae after his brother Dictys had recovered her from the sea along with her son Perseus. When Perseus grew to manhood, Polydectes came to fear him, so he ordered him to go and fetch the head of the Gorgon Medusa, an expedition which he thought would prove fatal. But Perseus succeeded: he came back to Seriphos with the Gorgon’s head, which he used to turn Polydectes into stone before handing over the kingdom to Dictys.152 The myth was dramatized by Aeschylus and by Euripides in his Danae and Dictys. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of all these plays is the possibility that they presented on stage the very moment of petrification – a phenomenon that would have been fascinating to watch and challenging for the actors to perform.153 Sadly, all that remains of Aeschylus’ Polydectes is its title.

Prometheus Unbound (TrGF 3 F190-204) Apart from the extant Prometheus Bound (Desmôtês), Aeschylus is credited with dramas entitled Prometheus Unbound (Luomenos), Prometheus the Fire-Bearer (Purphoros) and Prometheus the Fire-Kindler (Purkaeus); a hypothesis to Persians also records that the tetralogy of 472 BCE concluded with a satyr-play referred to simply as Prometheus.154 The evidence is confused, and the relationship between all these titles – and even their authorship – is unclear.155 I follow recent editors

Sommerstein (2010a) 249–53; cf. TrGF 3, pp. 113–14. Poetics 1456a5-21. 152 Apollodorus 2.4.2-4. 153 Cf. Chapter 5, pp. 267–8. 154 TrGF 3 T55a. 155 West (1979); Griffith (1983); Podlecki (2005) 27–34; Sommerstein (2010a) 213–34; cf. TrGF 3, pp. 302–30. 150 151


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in assuming that Purkaeus and Purphoros (only the second of which appears in the Catalogue) were alternative names for the satyr-play of 472.156 This leaves us with the tragic Prometheus Unbound, which was obviously written as a sequel to Prometheus Bound. (This does not necessarily imply that the same author was responsible for both works or that they belonged to the same production.) The earlier play showed the Titan bound to a Scythian crag as a punishment for bestowing fire on mankind, and ended with a prediction that he would be cast underground by Zeus and brought back to earth many generations later to be tormented by a flesh-eating eagle. In the sequel Prometheus was back in the upper world, still bound to the crag, with the eagle eating away at his liver (F193). As in Prometheus Bound, he was visited by a chorus of Titans (F190-2), before Heracles came on the scene, en route to one of his labours in the distant west. Prometheus supplied Heracles with directions for his future travels (F1959) and in return Heracles contrived to shoot the eagle and liberate Prometheus (‘May Apollo the Hunter shoot my arrow straight!’, F200). The play seems to have ended happily, with Prometheus exchanging his fetters for garlands and other honours (F202): it may be that the ending included an aetiological account of the Athenian cult of Prometheus and the torchlit Prometheia festival.157 These plot details are preserved in an unusually revealing collection of fragments. In fact Prometheus Unbound is the best preserved Aeschylean fragmentary tragedy, with sixteen surviving fragments, the longest of which (at twenty-eight lines) is a Latin translation by Cicero of a monologue by Prometheus.158 Whether or not Aeschylus was its author, this play was clearly popular for many years after its first production. There is also a fourth-century vase-painting that reveals the play’s ongoing influence on the world of visual art: we can only very tentatively use it as evidence for the play’s contents, but it has been taken to suggest that Prometheus’ mother (Gê or Themis) was among the dramatis personae.159

Propompoi (TrGF F209) Perhaps the most mysterious of all the lost plays of Aeschylus. Its title reveals nothing about its characters or subject-matter, and its sole surviving word Brown (1990); Sommerstein (2008) 210–13. Thomson (1973) 315; Sommerstein (2010a) 226–7. 158 Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 2.23-5 (=TrGF 3 F193). 159 Trendall and Webster (1971) 61; Taplin (2007) 80–2 (Berlin, Antikensammlung 1969.9). 156 157



(‘twice-ploughed’, F209) is similarly unhelpful. It is not even possible to give a reliable English translation of the title. The Greek word propompos can refer to any sort of escort or member of a procession: it is used by Aeschylus elsewhere to describe priestesses of Athena, the Furies, attendants in a funeral procession or the personal escort of Xerxes.160

Women (or Men) of Salamis (TrGF 3 F216-20) Almost every detail is uncertain. Even the title, like several others among Aeschylus’ works, is cited in two different versions. On the basis of its title alone scholars have conjectured that this play had something to do with Ajax or his family. Aeschylus wrote two other plays on the same myth, Thracian Women and The Judgement about the Arms, and if this was a third, it may be that the group formed a connected trilogy.161 But whereas the plots of the other Ajax tragedies can be very roughly sketched in, the contents of this play are unknown. It has been thought that it dealt with the aftermath of Ajax’s suicide, including the homecoming and subsequent exile of Ajax’s brother Teucer, but the few fragments that survive, a motley collection of lexicographical scraps, give no support to this idea.

Semele, or Water-Carriers (TrGF 3 F221-4) An ancient commentator on Apollonius mentions that ‘Aeschylus put Semele on stage pregnant and in the grip of divine possession, and he showed the women who put their hands on her belly also becoming possessed simultaneously’.162 If this testimonium relates to Aeschylus’ Semele, it means that the play was about Semele’s rape by Zeus and the birth of Dionysus, a myth dramatized also by Spintharus in his tragedy Semele Struck by Lightning.163 But the four tiny fragments tell us nothing further. It has been thought that the ‘water-carriers’ of the play’s alternative title were women preparing to act as midwives by bringing water to clean the newly born baby, though Semele’s death and the insertion Eumenides 1005, 206; Seven against Thebes 1074; Persians 1036. See TrGF 3, pp. 114, 333. 162 Σ Apollonius, Argonautica 1.636a. 163 TrGF 1.40 T1; tragedies called Semele were also written by Diogenes (TrGF 1.45 F1) and Carcinus (TrGF 1.70 F2-3), though nothing is known of their plots. 160 161


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of Dionysus into Zeus’ thigh will have rendered their presence pathetically unnecessary.164

Telephus (TrGF 3 F238-40) Two key pieces of evidence for this play come from ancient commentators on Aristophanes, in the scholia to Acharnians and Frogs.165 First, it is stated that Aeschylus’ play showed the wounded Telephus seizing the infant Orestes as a hostage in order to compel the Greeks to help him. This was one of the central motifs of Euripides’ Telephus, identified as such and parodied by the comedian as if it were distinctively Euripidean; but if the scholiast is right, it seems that Euripides was actually reworking Aeschylus’ treatment of the story. Many scholars, preferring to see Euripides as innovative or unique, have rejected this evidence, treating the source as ill-informed or textually problematic. Nevertheless, as Eric Csapo has more recently demonstrated, artistic evidence confirms that this version of the story predates Euripides. Vase-paintings from the first half of the fifth century depict scenes of supplication with Telephus at an altar (sometimes with Orestes or Agamemnon): it may well be that these images were inspired by Aeschylus’ Telephus.166 The other Aristophanic scholion quotes a line from the play (F238): ‘Most powerful and glorious leader of the Achaeans, son of Atreus, learn from me!’ This is an address (perhaps by Telephus) to Agamemnon and shows that he was a character in the play. In other words, this second piece of evidence also suggests a scenario and plot similar to Euripides’ Telephus. Nevertheless, the fragment cannot be entirely trusted. Our source reports that Hellenistic scholars argued about the source of the quotation: Timachidas attributed it to Telephus, but Asclepiades thought it came from Iphigenia. It has been argued on this basis that the play was already a lost work as early as the Hellenistic period,167 but the discrepancy might just indicate that the texts of Aeschylus’ plays were still unstable and full of inconsistencies at this date, or that Aeschylus (like Euripides)

Jouan (1992) 77. Σ Acharnians 332; Σ Frogs 1270. 166 Csapo (1990): the vases are London E382 and Boston MFA 98.931. Cf. TrGF 3, pp. 343–5, on the literary evidence and other scholarship. 167 Sommerstein (2008) 243. 164 165



was occasionally given to self-quotation,168 or that one of these scholars was quoting from memory without checking his source. The evidence is inconclusive, then, but it raises the serious possibility that the most familiar version of the Telephus story, which we have come to see as quintessentially Euripidean (largely because of Aristophanes), was essentially an Aeschylean innovation. Furthermore, it has been suggested, intriguingly, that Aeschylus deliberately designed the crucial supplication scene to be reminiscent of an incident in the life of Themistocles. Plutarch and others record that the exiled Athenian statesman, in flight from Greece, was forced to seek sanctuary at the court of the Molossian king Admetus, where he supplicated the king ‘in a most odd and extraordinary manner, taking the infant son of the king in his arms and throwing himself down at the hearth’.169 Did Aeschylus want his audience to think of Themistocles when they were watching his Telephus on stage? If so, it is hard to think of another example of a tragic scenario which so blatantly exploits (or manufactures) parallels between myth and real life. Such a technique seems more characteristic of the mythological comedies of the fifth and fourth centuries.170

Female Archers (TrGF 3 F241-6) The huntsman Actaeon was transformed into a deer by Artemis and then attacked and killed by his own dogs: the myth was popular throughout the classical world, and it is recounted in different ways by many authors.171 Several writers before Aeschylus explained Actaeon’s fate as being caused by Zeus or Artemis, either as a way of preventing him from marrying Semele or as a punishment for lusting after her; this contrasts with Callimachus and later versions, where Actaeon was punished for glimpsing Artemis bathing in the nude.172 It is impossible to know which version Aeschylus may have followed or how original his own treatment of the story may have been. If the plot of this

On self-quotation or repetition in Aeschylus, see Schmid (1929) 9–11. Plutarch, Themistocles 24.2-3; cf. Thucydides 1.136; cf. Csapo (1990) 46–52. 170 On mythological comedy and hidden allusion (emphasis), see Bakola (2010) 180–229. Contrast Vickers (2008) for the controversial idea that many tragedies are full of direct allusions of this sort. 171 Apollodorus 3.4.4; Callimachus, Hymn 5.107-16; Ovid, Metamorphoses 3.138-252; etc. See Gantz (1993) 478–81. Iophon (TrGF 1.22) wrote a tragic Actaeon, though only the title survives. 172 Hesiod F217A, F346 M-W; Stesichorus F236 Davies; Acusilaus F33 Fowler. See Fowler (2013) 370–1. 168 169


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play did centre on Actaeon’s relationship with Semele, then there may have been some sort of connection between Female Archers and Aeschylus’ Semele, but this seems unlikely.173 The fragments mention hunting and the erotic admiration of young women, but they give no clue to the details of the story; nor is it obvious how the presence of female archers (toxôtides) was worked into the plot. The only fragment which can be related to a specific scene is F244 (‘The dogs were tearing their master to pieces’), which is probably part of a messenger-speech describing Actaeon’s end. One curious feature of the play is that Actaeon’s dogs were apparently called by their individual names (Corax, Harpyia, Charon and Lycottas), suggesting that they were among the most individualized animals in tragedy.174

Nurses (TrGF 3 F246a-d) This play featured Medea as a witch or sorceress, magically rejuvenating people by boiling them in a cauldron. So we are informed by one of the hypotheses to Euripides’ Medea, which adds that the beneficiaries of Medea’s magic were the nurses of Dionysus.175 This mythical episode is relatively little known, but it is mentioned by Ovid, who tells us that Dionysus observed Medea practising her magic on other people and asked her to restore his nurses to their former youth.176 It is hard to see how the incident can have formed the basis for an entire play, but Hyginus may offer a clue to how the plot developed, for his version of the myth includes the detail that the women were eventually transformed into the constellation known as the Hyades. Perhaps the play concluded with an aetiological account of the catasterism. The three lexicographical fragments tell us nothing else significant. The presence of Dionysus and the motif of rejuvenation have been seen as signs that Nurses was a satyr-play rather than a tragedy, but it is impossible to be certain about the play’s genre.177 (See Chapter 4, pp. 227–36, for further discussion of this play and other versions of the Medea myth.) Hadjicosti (2006). F245; Sophocles’ Erigone may have featured a dog called Maira. Cf. Arnott (1959) on animals in tragedy. 175 Hypothesis I to Euripides’ Medea (TrGF 3 F246a), comparing Pherecydes (FGrHist 3 F113) and Simonides (F548 Page). Aeschylus incert. fab. F361, which mentions the rejuvenation of an old man, was ascribed to Nurses by Hartung: see TrGF 3, p. 424. 176 Ovid, Metamorphoses 7.238-96; cf. Hyginus, Fabula 182 and later authors (see TrGF 3, pp. 350–1). 177 See Sommerstein (2008) 248–9; cf. TrGF 3, p. 350; Krumeich, Pechstein and Seidensticker (1999) 197–202. 173 174



Hypsipyle (TrGF 3 F247-8) A couple of one-word lexicographic fragments are all that remains of this play, which means that it is difficult to say what part of Hypsipyle’s story was dramatized here or how the play related to other works on the same myth. (See also Women [or Men] of Lemnos.178) However, an ancient commentator on Apollonius mentions that Hypsipyle featured an episode narrated in the Argonautica: the Argonauts were caught in a storm and forced to put in at Lemnos, but the Lemnian women attacked them with weapons and would not allow them to come ashore until they swore an oath to have sex with them.179 It may seem surprising that such an incident – which almost resembles the plot of Lysistrata – should have appeared in a tragedy, though no one ever seems to have suggested that Hypsipyle was a satyr-play. In fact sexual content is perfectly permissible in tragedy, and a lot would have depended on the exact way in which the theme was handled. Even so, it is hard to see how the episode can have provided enough material for an entire play.

Philoctetes (TrGF 3 F249-57) Most of what we know about Aeschylus’ Philoctetes comes from the first-century CE rhetorician Dio of Prusa (known as Dio Chrysostom). Dio describes a day when he rose early feeling unwell, had breakfast and spent the morning reading a few tragedies: These works were by just about the most talented poets – Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides – and they all had the same story (hypothesis), that is to say, the theft or seizure of Philoctetes’ bow. Philoctetes was deprived of his weapons by Odysseus, and he himself was taken to Troy; in large part he went willingly, but to an extent he was persuaded by necessity, given that he had been robbed of the weapons that were his means of eking out a living on the island as well as a source of courage in his affliction.180

Dio goes on to provide a detailed discussion and comparison of all three tragedies, which is one of our most valuable sources for the study of lost plays as well as an important document of literary-critical trends in the Roman empire.181 It is Cf. Deforge (1987) 36–8. Σ Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 1.769-73 (TrGF 3, p. 352). 180 Dio Chrysostom, Oration 52.1. 181 See Austin (2011) 28–39. 178 179


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obvious that Aeschylus’ play followed the same outline as the extant Philoctetes of Sophocles, though Dio points out some significant differences. Aeschylus had a chorus of Lemnians, though he is criticized for failing to explain why they had never previously offered any assistance to Philoctetes. Odysseus lied to Philoctetes, not only telling him that the Greek expedition was failing and that Agamemnon was dead but also assuming a false identity and pretending that Odysseus himself had been executed; yet Odysseus’ character is said to have been presented in a ‘simple and noble’ manner in comparison with Sophocles’ version. It is also said that Odysseus came to Lemnos unaccompanied. This last fact suggests that the face-to-face confrontation between Odysseus and Philoctetes was more intense than in the other two versions; it also suggests that the play was performed by just two speaking actors, a feature which has been used to argue for a comparatively early dating.182 Almost all of the surviving lines were spoken by Philoctetes himself: they come from speeches where he reminisces about his home country (F249) or describes his own pain following the snake-bite to his foot (F250-5). Editors have conjecturally reassigned other fragments to this play on the basis of their content, but even if these are accepted they add nothing substantial to our knowledge of the plot.183

Phineus (TrGF 3 F258-60) Phineus was a Thracian prophet who was famous for being harshly treated by the gods. He was not only blinded but also tormented by the monstrous Harpies, who, whenever Phineus was about to eat a meal, would swoop down from the sky and steal or befoul his food. His story is told in the Argonautica, which describes the defeat of the Harpies by Boreas’ sons, Zetes and Calais, with the assistance of the Argonauts.184 Aeschylus’ play, though almost nothing of it survives, seems to have followed a similar outline. In a couple of fragments Phineus complains that he is ravenously hungry, since the Harpies keep snatching food right out of his mouth and transforming his meals into ‘false dinners’ (pseudodeipna), while a further testimonium records that Aeschylus showed the Harpies being killed by the sons of Boreas.185 Avezzù (1988) 102–3. TrGF 3, p. 354; cf. Avezzù (1988) 102–11. 184 Apollonius, Argonautica 2.234-87; cf. Apollodorus 1.9.21-2; Gantz (1993) 349–51. 185 TrGF 3 F258, F258a; cf. F260 (Philodemus, On Piety, p. 16 Gomperz). 182 183



Phineus was the first play in the tetralogy of 472 BCE that also included Persians and Glaucus of Potniae. There is no obvious connection between these plays, though it has been suggested that the motif of prophecy may provide a thematic thread running through the set.186

Daughters of Phorcys (TrGF 3 F261-2) Aristotle discussed Daughters of Phorcys in his Poetics, along with ‘Prometheus and all those plays that are set in the Underworld’, seemingly as an example of a distinct sub-category of tragedy based on weird or monstrous subject-matter.187 The play’s plot is known only from references and summaries preserved in later authors.188 The daughters of Phorcys, also known as Graiai, were three old witches who kept watch over the Gorgons; between them they possessed only a single eye, which they shared in turn. The hero Perseus managed to elude them by stealing their eye and hurling it into Lake Tritonis, whereupon he hurried into the Gorgons’ dwelling and cut off the head of Medusa as she slept. It is unclear how this story was adapted for the stage or what happened next. A vase-painting based on the myth, dating from c. 460 BCE, includes a bearded male figure who has been identified as Poseidon; if this image was influenced by Aeschylus’ play, it may indicate that Poseidon was among the dramatis personae.189 The sole fragment of this play, quoted by Athenaeus, is a description of Perseus descending into the cave of the Gorgons ‘like a wild boar (aschedôros)’: Aeschylus’ use of this rare Sicilian word no doubt reflects his time in Syracuse and may suggest that the play was performed there.190

Phrygians (TrGF 3 F263-72) This play – probably but not certainly a companion piece to Myrmidons and Daughters of Nereus – had the alternative title The Ransoming of Hector (Hektoros Lutra): it was based on the final book of the Iliad, in which Priam goes to Achilles’ hut and entreats him to release Hector’s body for burial. Sommerstein (2012). Aristotle, Poetics 1456a1-3: see TrGF 3, p. 361, and Lucas (1968) ad loc. 188 Collected as TrGF 3 F262. 189 Oakley (1988). 190 F261 (Athenaeus 9.402b): see TrGF 3, p. 362. 186 187


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As in the case of Myrmidons, Aeschylus took creative liberties with the Homeric source material when adapting it for the stage. Perhaps his boldest novelty was the transformation of a poetic image into concrete reality. When the Iliadic Achilles was addressing the dying Hector, he vowed that he would never release his body to the Trojans: not if they come here bringing ransom tenfold or twentyfold, nor if they promise yet more on top of that – nor even if Dardanian Priam should offer to pay your weight in gold.191

Aeschylus’ play treated these lines literally, by including an astonishing scene in which the corpse of Hector was seen on stage being weighed in the scales against an equal amount of gold.192 We may compare Psychostasia for a similar use of weighing-scales as a visual motif. Both works exemplify the physical manifestation of conceptual imagery, and they bear important implications in terms of Aeschylean stagecraft.193 The fragments themselves tell us little of note, but a couple of external sources contain further clues. Aristophanes provides information about the play’s performance, revealing not only that Achilles had a very long scene of silence, just as in Myrmidons, but also that the choreography was innovative and memorable.194 Dionysius of Syracuse, a well-known aficionado of Aeschylus, won first prize at the 367 Lenaea with a tragedy entitled The Ransoming of Hector, which is assumed to have been written as an hommage to the earlier work.195 The content of Dionysius’ play is known only via a second-hand summary, but it included among its characters Hector’s wife Andromache, their two sons and Polyxena: maybe we can tentatively infer that these characters also appeared in the Aeschylean version (though, even if so, this does not get us very far).

Psychagôgoi (TrGF 3 F273-8) The title (literally ‘soul-drawers’) refers to those who use magic to conjure up the souls of the dead: Aeschylus’ play provides the first surviving example of this important word.196 The fragments, though few in number, are revealing: Homer, Iliad 22.349-52 (with Σ); cf. Lycophron, Alexandra 269–70, Hyginus, Fabula 106.4. See Stama (2015). 193 See pp. 253–6. 194 Aristophanes, Frogs 911 (with Σ; cf. Life of Aeschylus §6); F696 K-A. 195 TrGF 1.76; see LPGT 1, p. 142. 196 See Ogden (2002) 26–7. 191 192



they vividly evoke a scenario in which Odysseus and his companions are performing rituals by the side of a lake in order to summon up spirits from the Underworld. Prayers are offered to Hermes and ‘Zeus of the lower world’ (i.e. Hades); a sacrificial animal is slaughtered and its blood allowed to soak into the ground for the dead to drink; the passage of the dead souls from lower to upper world is imagined as a journey up river with Hermes as escort; the lake on whose shores Odysseus and the chorus are standing is seen as flowing directly into the rivers of the Underworld; and the ghost of Teiresias emerges to prophesy Odysseus’ own death.197 It is obvious that this play was a dramatic version of the events described in the eleventh book of Homer’s Odyssey, though we cannot say exactly which parts of that book were included in the play. (Other tragedies in which Aeschylus dramatized portions of the Odyssey were Penelope and BoneGatherers.)

Psychostasia (TrGF 3 F279-80a) A dramatic version of a story from the Epic Cycle, in which Zeus decided the outcome of a battle between Achilles and Memnon by balancing their souls against one another in a pair of weighing-scales (just as, in the Iliad, he had weighed the souls of Achilles and Hector).198 The original epic account is lost, but the story is recorded by later writers, including Plutarch, who tells us that ‘Aeschylus based a whole tragedy on this story, giving it the title Psychostasia [“The Weighing of the Souls”], and in it he placed next to Zeus’ scales Thetis on one side and Eos on the other, both of them pleading for their sons who are fighting’.199 Plutarch’s evidence suggests a play that was extraordinary in two respects: not only did it become associated with a single, visually stunning scene, but it is also the only tragedy recorded to have featured Zeus as an on-stage character. The three lexicographic fragments tell us nothing about how the plot was constructed or how the soul-weighing scene fitted in. (See also entry on Phrygians; cf. pp. 253–6 for further discussion of staging and performance.)

TrGF 3 F273-5; see Macías Otero (2015). Aethiopis (Proclus, Chrestomathia p. 47 Davies); see West (2013) 147–8. Cf. Homer, Iliad 22.210-13 (with Σ); Σ Odyssey 8.70. See also TrGF 3, pp. 374–5, on other literary and iconographic evidence. 199 Plutarch, How the Young Man Should Study Poetry 2 (Moralia 16f): see TrGF 3, p. 375. 197 198


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Oreithuia (TrGF 3 F281) The title character was one of the daughters of Erechtheus and Praxithea, who was abducted and raped by the wind-god Boreas as she played by the River Ilissos; she gave birth to four children, including Zeteus and Calais (who went on to join the Argonautic expedition).200 Herodotus records that the Athenians claimed a special relationship with Boreas on account of Oreithuia and that they used to pray to the god for aid in times of trouble. It has been suggested that Aeschylus’ play may have been written to commemorate the foundation of the temple and cult of Boreas after the Battle of Thermopylae, which Boreas was believed to have helped the Greeks win.201 Aeschylus’ Oreithuia is not included in the Catalogue of his works and is named by just one author. This is the Byzantine rhetorician John of Sicily, who mentions the play – ‘in which Boreas puffs with his two cheeks and churns up the ocean’ – as an example of the outlandishness of Aeschylean imagery.202 But a damaged portion of Longinus’ treatise On the Sublime seems to relate to the same material and even quotes a few lines from a speech by Boreas. Unfortunately, the beginning of the quoted passage is missing, along with any prefatory matter or identification of the source, but we still possess a five-line extract followed by some critical discussion of the speech:203 even if they have a furnace blazing with the greatest flame; for even if I so much as catch sight of a hearth, I shall insert a single tentacle of flame, twisting it around like a torrent, and burn the whole house down, turning it to ashes. But as it is, I have not yet sounded my noble tune. And yet this is not tragic so much as a parody of tragedy (paratragôidia) – the coils, and the spewing up to heaven, and making Boreas an aulos-player, and so on. The style is turbid, and the images are chaotic rather than impressive. If one re-examines each element in a clear light, the passage gradually takes on a worse appearance, inspiring derision rather than fear.

Apollodorus 3.15.2; cf. Plato, Phaedrus 229b-d, Ovid, Metamorphoses 6.675-722, etc. Herodotus 7.189; see Simon (1967) 118. 202 John of Sicily, On Hermogenes’ Types 1 (Rhet. Gr. 6.225.23). 203 Longinus, On the Sublime 3.1 (=TrGF 3 F281); the text is problematic. Radt’s edition tries to extract some of Aeschylus’ original words from Longinus’ paraphrase. 200 201



This is all that Longinus has to say about the Boreas passage, but as the argument proceeds it becomes clear that it is a general discussion about excessive bombast in tragic language. In some respects Longinus’ criticism seems quite apt. The language and syntax are indeed dense and difficult, and there is a startling clash of metaphors in just a few lines, as Boreas’ destructive power is evoked by images of flames, tentacles, weaving, coils, vomiting, torrents and music-making. This discussion chimes in with Longinus’ view, expressed later in the treatise, that even the greatest writers sometimes produce bad poetry. But was the writer in question really Aeschylus, and was the play Oreithuia? On balance, and alongside the testimony of John of Sicily, it seems extremely likely; yet there is room for doubt. Not only has the fragment sometimes been assigned to Sophocles, but, in view of Longinus’ opinion that the writing is more parodic than tragic, it has also been suggested that the play was satyric.204 The second of these points can be relatively easily answered: Longinus’ point is surely that these verses were objectionable precisely because they appeared in a tragedy; in a satyr-play or comedy such linguistic excesses would not have seemed out of place. But the first point is more difficult, for Sophocles does seem to have written about Boreas and Oreithuia. Even if he is not recorded to have written a whole play on the topic, there are a couple of Sophoclean fragments (from unknown plays) that evoke a similar scenario to the one described above.205 The first of these is a description of someone – quite plausibly Boreas – who ‘is no longer blowing on small pipes, but with savage blasts, without a mouthpiece’. The second is a passage, quoted by the geographer Strabo, that evokes Oreithuia’s abduction: Sophocles in a tragedy says about Oreithuia that she was snatched by Boreas and conveyed over the whole ocean to the furthest reaches of the earth, and the sources of night, and the folds of heaven, and the ancient garden of Apollo

Thus we can draw only the most tentative of conclusions about Aeschylus’ play, and instead we are left, as so often, gloomily contemplating the huge gaps in our evidence.

Russell (1964) 67–8 (Sophoclean authorship?); Sommerstein (2008) 275–7 (satyric?). TrGF 4 F768 (Cicero, Letters to Atticus 2.16.2); F956 (Strabo, Geography 7.3.1, 295c). See TrGF 4, pp. 496, 595.

204 205



Of the three ‘classic’ tragedians Sophocles is the one whose surviving work seems the most consistent. Aeschylus and Euripides tend to divide opinion more, but modern readers and critics have found it easier to generalize about Sophocles – his exceptional quality as a dramatist, the tone of his work, his implicit view of the world, his relatively narrow range of themes and characters, and, above all, his conception of the tragic hero as a uniquely isolated type of problematic individual.1 However, this apparent consistency is deceptive. The seven extant tragedies represent less than ten per cent of Sophocles’ total output; it is to the lost plays that we must look if we want to gain a fully representative impression of Sophoclean drama. These fragmentary works, in spite of their scrappiness and obscurity, reveal a much greater variety of subject-matter and tone than we might have expected. They will not, perhaps, make us change our mind about Sophocles’ greatness, but they certainly confront us with many types of character and situation that are not seen at all in the extant plays; they make us question the concept of a distinctive type of ‘Sophoclean hero’; and more generally they show that Sophocles was much closer to Euripides than is normally assumed.2 A skeletal outline of Sophocles’ career can be assembled from snippets of information in ancient biographical and scholarly works. Most of these were written centuries after the poet’s death, and genuine biographical facts (as opposed to dubious anecdotes) are hard to come by, but certain details relating to dates or festivals will probably have come from verifiable public inscriptions or didascalic records.3 We are informed that Sophocles was born c. 496 BCE; that his first production (and his first victory) occurred in 468; that he was an Athenian statesman as well as a dramatist; that he died in 406–05; and that he

Markantonatos (2012) 1–15, gives an overview of trends in Sophoclean criticism. On Sophoclean heroism, compare Knox (1964) and Winnington-Ingram (1980). 2 This last point is made by Sommerstein (2003) 20. 3 On fact versus fiction in poets’ biographies, see Lefkowitz (2012); Fletcher and Hanink (2016). 1


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won an impressively large number of first prizes (probably eighteen at the City Dionysia and six at the Lenaea).4 These details can almost certainly be trusted. Other supposed facts about Sophocles – that he was the last tragedian to act in his own plays; that he increased the standard number of tragic actors (from two to three) and chorus-members (from twelve to fifteen); and that he invented ‘scene-painting’ (skênographia) – may be true. But they may also be fabrications, based on a schematic, evolutionary model of literary history in which Sophocles is seen as the tragedian who brought the genre to its final, perfect form.5 The total number of tragedies written by Sophocles was astonishingly large. Aristophanes of Byzantium, who at his desk in the Library at Alexandria was better informed on this matter than almost anyone else before or since, recorded that there were one hundred and thirty titles attributed to Sophocles, of which seven (or seventeen) were judged spurious.6 In fact the exact total is not quite clear; nor is it clear how many of these titles were tragic and how many were satyric.7 One of the main reasons for this lack of clarity is that there may have been rather a lot of plays for which alternative titles were in use. These titles may have been devised either by Sophocles himself or (more probably) by ancient scholars, whose methods of citation were often vague.8 Certain tragedies – such as Nausicaa, also known as Washerwomen, or Prophets, also known as Polyidus – demonstrably did have alternative titles. But often it is impossible to tell whether we are dealing with evidence for a single play or several plays. In the pages that follow I have indicated all doubtful or disputed cases of this sort, and I have often grouped together titles that are widely regarded as being connected. An additional problem is raised by the possibility that some of these titles were linked in another way. Even though it is sometimes assumed that Sophocles and later tragedians abandoned the connected trilogy or tetralogy form, this is not so.9 Our evidence for complete dramatic productions throughout the fifth century is poor, but it is clear that tragedians after the time of Aeschylus continued to produce suites of plays connected by a consecutive narrative or an [Anon.] Life of Sophocles §§4, 8, 18; Suda Σ 815; Diodorus Siculus 13.103.4; [Anon.] Life of Euripides §44–7; IG ii2 2325 (TrGF 4 T1-2); cf. T33 (DID A3a.15). 5 Supposed artistic innovations: TrGF 4 T1-2 (as above), T95-8. On the problems of ‘evolutionary’ literary histories, see LPGT 1, pp. 2–10. 6 As cited in the Life, §18 (TrGF 4 T1); the Suda Σ 815 gives 123 plays as the total. Cf. Tyrrell (2012) 30. 7 See Radt (1991) 79–85; Lloyd-Jones (1996) 3–9. 8 See Sommerstein (2010b) on tragic titles. 9 Suda Σ 815, sometimes cited as an ancient testimonium to this effect, is corrupt and misleading: see TrGF 4, p. 41. On trilogies/tetralogies, see pp. 12–14 (on Aeschylus); cf. Wright (2006) and the Index to LGPT 1. 4



overarching theme. Furthermore, we know that Sophocles put on at least one such production of this kind (his Telepheia). If he did so once, he may well have done it on other occasions too. Thus it is impossible to place an exact number on the lost tragedies of Sophocles or to describe the exact relationship between groups of putatively related titles. In this chapter I discuss every attested title that might conceivably have been tragic, including several doubtful cases. My own rough estimate of the total number of tragedies is between seventy-five and ninety-two. The precise number is relatively unimportant in itself, but the significant fact is that it is very large. Sophocles was considerably more prolific than Aeschylus or Euripides (or indeed almost any other tragedian known to us), as well as more successful – if success is measured by the number of first prizes won. These plays were composed over a period of sixty-two years, but our almost complete dearth of evidence for dramatic productions, as just noted, also extends to production dates. Only a couple of Sophocles’ extant plays can be dated: Philoctetes had its premiere in 409 BCE, and Oedipus at Colonus was performed posthumously in 401. None of the lost plays can be given a definite date, and even such small clues as exist are hard to interpret.10 It seems that Triptolemus was either part of Sophocles’ first production in 468 or one of his very earliest works. Andromeda has also been tentatively placed early in his career (c. 450 or earlier) on the basis of vase-paintings, but this evidence is not watertight. Tyro and Troilus may have been performed at the Lenaea in 418, but the epigraphic evidence for this is uncertain. Aristophanes might occasionally quote or allude to a now-lost play, but this can only ever supply a terminus ante quem. Furthermore, there is no detail in any of the lost works that can be confidently linked to a specific historical event or context. All of this chronological uncertainty is somewhat depressing, since it means that we are unable to chart the development of Sophoclean tragedy through time. It is hard to believe that tragedy evolved in a steady, linear fashion during the fifth century, but there will certainly have been many changes in between the early 460s, when Sophocles was competing alongside Aeschylus, and the end of the fifth century, after the death of Euripides. During this long period the whole nature of Athenian society, politics and intellectual life was transformed, and no doubt the tastes and preferences of the theatre audience changed accordingly. It is inevitable that the works composed by Sophocles towards the end of his life

See individual entries on each play below.



The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

will have differed in their character from those of his early period. But we simply lack sufficient information to pursue this line of approach. Like all the Greek tragedians, Sophocles took his material from a rich and varied mythical tradition. It is evident that there was no single category of myth that was perceived by Sophocles or his audience as especially ‘tragic’. Sophocles’ tragedies might centre on myths of mortal women being raped by gods (e.g. Danae, Children of Aleus, Amphitryon, Ion, Creusa or Tyro), or the defeat of monsters (Andromeda, Daedalus, Laocoon, Theseus, Iobates, Prophets), or revenge (Hermione, Nauplius, Thyestes, Tereus), or ghosts (Polyxena), or incest (Thyestes in Sicyon), or love stories (Oenomaus, Procris, Phaedra), or sickness and healing (Phineus, Alcmeon, Odysseus Wounded by the Spine, Mad Odysseus, Philoctetes at Troy), or athletic contests (Men of Larissa, Oenomaus), or animal metamorphosis (Tereus), or indeed many other types of scenario.11 Nevertheless, there is, as in the case of Aeschylus, one particular sub-category of material that stands out. Tragedies about the Trojan War, based on material from Homer and the Epic Cycle, are especially numerous, representing about a third of Sophocles’ entire output.12 This is significant not just because it shows that Sophocles had a special interest in the Trojan myths but because it suggests a special relationship between the epic and tragic genres. There are many examples of lost tragedies that can be connected (in some way) to extant tragedies, offering us a new perspective on the more familiar work – or, at least, a basis for suggestive comparisons and contrasts. For instance, our knowledge (albeit limited) of Sophocles’ Hermione might prompt us to look again at Euripides’ Andromache. Sophocles’ Tantalus can make us think more carefully about the background to his Electra and other tragic treatments of the Atreid myths, while his Teucer can be read as a counterpart to his Ajax, and his extant Philoctetes seems to gain in nuance when read alongside the remains of Philoctetes at Troy and Odysseus Wounded by the Spine. Several plays (Women of Colchis, Root-Cutters, Scythians and perhaps Aegeus) offer us unfamiliar perspectives on the familiar character of Medea.13 Many other lost works, such as Iphigenia, Ion, Creusa, Polyxena and Phaedra, similarly present us with alternative versions of characters who are well known to us, and they make us wonder how well we really know these characters or their stories. From time to time Sophocles also seems to be indulging in the sort of activity traditionally

Radt (1991) 85–92, provides extensive categorization and discussion of story types. See Sommerstein (2015). 13 See Chapter 4 for further discussion. 11 12



associated with Euripides, by mixing together different mythical traditions or devising unusual ‘sequels’ to better-known versions (as in Euryalus, Chryses, Erigone and perhaps The Footwashing). Much remains unknown about Sophocles’ lost works. We have plenty of very small quotations (it has been calculated that the total number of words in all the fragments is about the same as in a complete play), but very little continuous dialogue or consecutive sense. There is not much sign of Sophocles’ celebrated sweetness of style nor (it has to be admitted) of any great poetry that might stir the emotions. We can seldom discern anything meaningful about plot-structure or dramatic technique. Many important aspects of the plays, such as religion or politics, are all but invisible. Our evidence suggests that these plays contained many characters who were exceptionally striking, but with a few notable exceptions, such as Procne, Medea and Hippodameia, we cannot even get the barest glimpse of them in action, so we merely have to imagine them. Given that Sophocles is credited with a keen interest in music and choreography (and a treatise On the Chorus),14 it is particularly sad that hardly any choral fragments survive. But a few intriguing musical features emerge – such as choruses made up of boyfriends (Niobe), priests (Meleager) or percussionplayers (in the play of that name); or descriptions of exotic instruments (Mysians and Thamyras); or the possibility that Hipponous featured something like a comic-style parabasis; or the fact that Sophocles himself played the lyre in Thamyras, his only tragedy with an entirely musical theme. And so there are many more questions here than answers. But even the tiniest scraps of evidence can sometimes contain important information, and even unanswerable questions can be useful if they prompt us to reconsider our settled ideas about Sophocles and his work. In the sections that follow I show what we can know – and what remains unknown – about each of these lost works, and I try to explain why they are so significant for the study of Sophocles and Greek tragedy.

Athamas I and II (TrGF 4 F1-10) Sophocles wrote two plays about the Boeotian king Athamas, but it is unknown whether the second Athamas was a revised version of the first or whether the two tragedies were completely independent. The myth of Athamas incorporates TrGF 4 T2.



The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

enough characters and events to fill more than one play, and we know of several other tragic treatments which differed from one another in their selection of material (see Aeschylus’ Athamas and Euripides’ Ino and Phrixus I and II). But the remains of Sophocles’ plays are paltry: we have just eleven fragments, most of them consisting of a single word. A few are cited as from Athamas I or Athamas II, but mostly they are just attributed to Athamas. One fragment (F4a) refers to Athamas’ first wife Nephele, but this tells us little. The only other fragment that can be linked to the myth is F5, which describes the River Achelous flowing with wine: this has been interpreted as a Dionysiac miracle, and it might be connected to the tradition that Athamas and his second wife Ino looked after the infant Dionysus to protect him from Hera.15 On this point it is relevant to note the existence of a second-century BCE vase-painting depicting Dionysus, Hera, Athamas and Ino: the image includes part of an inscription, ΣΟΦΟ[, which may represent the name of Sophocles.16 If so, we might conclude that one of Sophocles’ Athamas plays was about the childhood of Dionysus, but this hardly constitutes decisive evidence. The second Athamas featured Athamas’ near-escape from being sacrificed. Aristophanes alludes to this scenario in his Clouds, in a scene where the character Strepsiades is being given a wreath by Socrates, and Strepsiades exclaims: ‘Argh! Be careful that you don’t sacrifice me, like Athamas!’ An ancient commentator on this scene explains that in Athamas II the hero was wreathed and led to the altar of Zeus, where he would have been slaughtered but for the arrival of Heracles.17

Locrian Ajax (TrGF 4 F10a-18) Sophocles wrote two tragedies entitled Ajax: the one that survives is about the son of Telamon, but the lost play was about the other Ajax, son of Oeleus, who was notorious for committing rape and sacrilege during the last moments before the fall of Troy. This tragedy was based on material from the epic poem Iliou Persis (‘The Sack of Troy’), and although this work is also lost, the outline of Ajax’s story is preserved in Proclus’ summary of the poem: Ajax, son of Oeleus, dragged off Cassandra by force and also snatched away the cult statue of Athena. The Greeks, roused to fury by these acts, wanted to stone Pearson (1917) 6, comparing Euripides, Bacchae 143; on the myth, see Apollodorus 3.4.3. Fuhrmann (1950–1); Webster (1967a) 148. 17 Aristophanes, Clouds 255–6 (with Σ); cf. other sources in TrGF 4, pp. 99–100. 15 16



Ajax to death; but he fled for refuge to the altar of Athena and was saved from the danger that faced him.18

This account is supplemented by Apollodorus’ version of the same events, in which the Greeks were on the point of sailing off from the sacked city when they were held back by the seer Calchas, who told them that Ajax’s behaviour had caused the wrath of Athena; it is this information that impels them to kill him. We cannot be sure whether Sophocles followed either of these versions exactly, but between them they may give us an approximate picture of the plot. Until relatively recently the play was known solely through a handful of bookfragments. These include a reference to the leopard-skin that the Trojan Antenor hung on his door as a sign that his family was to be spared by the Greeks (F11) and a description of Apollo as a lyre-player (F15), as well as some memorable gnomic lines: The golden eye of Justice sees, and pays back the unjust man for his behaviour. (F12) Man is merely breath and shadow. (F13) Tyrants are wise because of their association with the wise. (F14)

However, our knowledge was increased by the publication, in 1976, of a papyrus containing further fragments which editors have assigned to Locrian Ajax on the basis of their content.19 The papyrus is badly damaged, and little continuous sense emerges, but it contains traces of several different scenes, including some sort of argument between Ajax and an adversary (F10b), an exchange featuring Talthybius, Antenor’s son Helicaon and the chorus (F10e) and, most strikingly, an epiphany by Athena herself (F10c): Athena: Descendants of what Dryas were his companions when he launched his expedition against Troy? Who was he who performed these actions against the gods? Has Salmoneus, who made himself a voice by means of hides, risen from the caverns of the underworld to challenge Zeus? What sort of man can I guess was the author of these deeds, the man who in his insolence wrenched headlong from its base my image, not fastened there, and dragged the prophetic maiden from the altar in defiance of the gods?20

Iliou Persis (Proclus, Chrestomathia p. 62 Davies); cf. Apollodorus, Epitome 5.22-5. The scene was depicted in a famous painting by Polygnotus: see Pausanias 1.15.2. 19 P.Oxy. 3151 (TrGF 4 F10a-g). 20 F10c (tr. Lloyd-Jones, incorporating supplements): see Lloyd-Jones (1996) 14–15; TrGF 4, pp. 105–6. 18


The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

This fragment is particularly significant: it proves that Athena appeared as a character in the play, and it shows that the invading Greeks in general – not just the manifestly wicked Ajax – were depicted in a pejorative light.

Aegeus (TrGF 4 F19-25a) This tragedy dramatized part of the myth of Aegeus and his son Theseus, but exactly which part is unclear. A few of the fragments correspond to an episode narrated by Plutarch and Apollodorus, in which Theseus journeyed from Troezen to Athens, defeating monsters and desperados en route.21 F19 names a river in Troezen; F20 mentions the iron club with which the villainous Periphetes terrorized passers-by until vanquished by Theseus; and in F22 someone asks: ‘How did you manage to escape the notice of those who guard the road?’ A further fragment (F25) describes how Theseus made a rope to capture the Bull of Marathon. This seems to belong to a later stage in the story, after Theseus’ arrival in Athens. According to Apollodorus, Aegeus failed to recognize Theseus when they came face-to-face, and his new wife Medea (who had fled to Athens from Corinth) persuaded him that Theseus would do him harm; consequently Aegeus sent Theseus out to conquer the dangerous bull, in the belief that he would be killed. Even when Theseus returned alive from this mission, Aegeus tried to poison him, using drugs supplied by Medea. But just as Theseus was about to drink the poison, Aegeus recognized him by means of his sword, and he knocked the cup from his hands. This version of the story was dramatized by Euripides in his own Aegeus, and it is often assumed that Sophocles’ play followed a similar storyline, but there is no way of knowing for certain; nor can we know whether Apollodorus’ account reflects the Sophoclean or the Euripidean version (or both).22 There is nothing here about Medea, which means that we cannot confirm whether she appeared in Sophocles’ play. Nor can we be quite confident that this was (as Sophie Mills describes it) ‘a tragedy of action with a happy ending’.23 But at any rate, this was clearly a work that portrayed the Athenian hero Theseus in an admirable light, and (as Mills valuably points out) it is difficult to see either Aegeus or Theseus as a figure cast in the ‘Sophoclean hero’ mould.

Apollodorus 3.16.1-2; Epitome 1.1-5; Plutarch, Theseus 3–14. See Radt ad loc. (TrGF 4, p. 123); cf. Hahnemann (1999) and (2003), Mills (1997) 234–8 and (2003). 23 Mills (1997) 238. 21 22



Ethiopians (TrGF 4 F28-33) Memnon (TrGF 4, p. 347) Neither the title Ethiopians nor the six small fragments tell us anything about the subject of this play, but scholars have conjectured that the tragedy was based on material from the lost epic Aethiopis, which narrated the exploits of Memnon, the Ethiopian prince and Trojan ally who was eventually killed by Achilles. Sophocles is also said to have written a play called Memnon, which is attested by a single reference in a hypothesis to his Ajax (where it is recorded that Memnon, along with certain other tragedies, was based on a Trojan War theme).24 Thus it is likely that Ethiopians and Memnon shared the same subject-matter, and it has widely been assumed that they are one and the same work.

Female Prisoners (TrGF 4 F33a-59) Titles are often important to the fragmentologist. Unless we know the identity of a lost play’s characters, how are we even to begin talking about it or imagining its plot? Fortunately, many plays are named after their main character, but when they are named after the chorus, as in the case of this play and others (such as Percussion-Players and Water-Carriers), it can make things more difficult for us. Here the title (Aichmalôtides in Greek) tells us almost nothing, since women might be taken captive in many different situations. Nor do the fragments help us: they consist almost exclusively of single words or phrases quoted by lexicographers. The only proper names they include are Cilla and Chryse (cult sites of Apollo, F40) and Mynes and Epistrophus (brothers killed by Achilles, F43). These details do not in themselves suggest a subject or plot, since they may simply have been incidental references or passing allusions. Our only real clue to the subject-matter is a statement, in one of the ancient plot-summaries to Sophocles’ Ajax, to the effect that Female Prisoners was (somehow) related to the Trojan War.25

Hypothesis (AGRQ) to Sophocles’ Ajax (TrGF 4, p. 347). TrGF 4, p. 347 (under Memnon); cf. Pearson (1917) I.25-6.

24 25


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Acrisius (TrGF 4 F60-76) Danae (TrGF 4 F165-70) Men of Larissa (TrGF 4 F378-83) There has been much speculation whether these titles represent one, two or three plays, or whether one or more was a satyr-play.26 (No one seems to have suggested that they formed a connected trilogy, but the suggestion would not be unreasonable.) In the absence of further information it is impossible to form any conclusions, but it is convenient to discuss all three titles together, since they obviously relate to the same subject-matter. Acrisius, king of Argos, was told by an oracle that any son born to his daughter Danae would kill him, so he imprisoned Danae in an underground chamber. But Zeus came to her, in the form of a golden shower, and made her pregnant. When Acrisius discovered that Danae had given birth, he locked her and the baby, Perseus, inside a chest and cast them into the sea; later the chest washed ashore at Seriphos, where Dictys found it and rescued the mother and child. The myth is frequently encountered in Greek poetry and visual art,27 and dramatic versions were produced by Euripides (in his Danae and Dictys) and Aeschylus (in his Polydectes and the satyric Net-fishers) as well as Sophocles. It is unclear which part of the story featured in Acrisius or Danae. But we can be sure that Men of Larissa centred on the eventual death of Acrisius in Larissa (in Pelasgia), where he had gone into hiding: Perseus encountered Acrisius there while competing in an athletic contest and accidentally killed him with a badly aimed discus.28 All three titles are cited relatively often – we have sixteen fragments from Acrisius, six from Danae and six from Men of Larissa – but, as usual, the majority of the fragments are unrevealing gnomic or lexicographic quotations. F165 from Danae is obviously part of a speech by Acrisius, anxious for his own safety if Perseus should survive (‘I know nothing about this attempt of yours, but I do understand one thing: that if this child lives I am ruined’), while the fragments of Men of Larissa give a couple of glimpses of a description of the athletic contest in which Perseus competed (F378, F380). Otherwise Sophocles’ treatment of the myth remains a mystery. Pearson (1917) I.38, II.47-8; Sutton (1984) 3–5; TrGF 4, p. 136 (citing earlier studies). See, e.g., Apollodorus 2.2.4; Gantz (1993) 299–304. 28 Apollodorus 2.4.4; Pherecydes, FGrHist 3 F12; Pausanias 2.16.2. 26 27



Children of Aleus (TrGF F77-91) Aleus, king of Tegea, had several children, including an uncertain number of sons (whose names included Cepheus, Lycurgus, Amphidamas and Hippothous) and a daughter, Auge.29 A number of authors recount how Auge was raped by Heracles and gave birth to Telephus secretly in the sanctuary of Athena, where she was a priestess: this story was well known in the Greek world, partly because of the popularity of Euripides’ tragedy Auge. One version of the story (preserved by the fourth-century BCE sophist Alcidamas) reports that Aleus received an oracle telling him that his sons would perish if Auge ever gave birth to a male child: it is thought that this is the version that Sophocles dramatized in Children of Aleus.30 Nevertheless, no ancient source tells us whether Telephus actually ended up killing Aleus’ sons, and so it is impossible to know how the plot developed. It may well be that the play featured Telephus being exposed on Mount Partheneion by Aleus and suckled by a hind, as in Apollodorus’ version (this is perhaps suggested by F89, which mentions a hind). But the fragments do not indicate what happened. Almost all of them are gnomic, and although some of them are thematically relevant to the situation – dealing with such topics as illegitimate children (F87) or the advantages and disadvantages of concealment (F79, F83) – most of them are conventional clichés with no sign of a dramatic context. One notes that several elements in the myth – the oracle, the father’s anxiety over his daughter’s sexuality, the divine rape, the secret birth and the casting-out or exposure of mother and child – structurally resemble the myth of Danae and Perseus (see Acrisius). Sophocles dramatized later portions of the story of Telephus in several other plays (Mysians, Telephus and Eurypylus). Since epigraphic evidence from the fourth century credits Sophocles with a trilogy or tetralogy entitled Telepheia, it may be that some or all of these titles were part of the same production.31

Alexandros (TrGF 4 F91a-100a) Like Euripides’ tragedy of the same name, this play was about the birth and exposure of Paris (also called Alexandros), the baby who would grow up to Apollodorus 3.9.1; Hyginus, Fabula 244; Pausanias 8.4.8; Apollonius, Argonautica 1.161-2. Alcidamas, Odysseus 14 (TrGF 4, p. 140). 31 TrGF 1 DID 5.8; TrGF 4, p. 434. 29 30


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cause the Trojan War. We do not know whether Sophocles’ or Euripides’ version was the earlier one, or how the two plays differed from one another. The only fragment which gives us a glimpse of the plot is F93 (‘Why shouldn’t a herdsman defeat city-dwellers?’),32 but all this reveals is that Sophocles, like Euripides, showed Paris in the guise of a shepherd, winning the games that were held to commemorate his own supposed death.

Alcmeon (TrGF 4 F108-10) Epigoni (TrGF 4 F185-90) Eriphyle (TrGF 4 F201a-h) Alcmeon was the leader of the Epigoni (the sons of the Seven against Thebes), who murdered his mother Eriphyle after she indirectly caused the death of his father Amphiaraus. Eriphyle, having been bribed, persuaded Amphiaraus to join the original attack on Thebes, even though this was bound to lead to his death. After the murder Alcmeon was driven mad and hounded by the Furies, and subsequently wandered across Greece in search of purification, meeting with further adventures en route.33 Alcmeon’s story, which has obvious structural similarities with that of Orestes,34 was among the most popular subjects for Greek tragedy throughout the fifth and fourth centuries. We know of at least a dozen titles relating to various parts of the myth, and several fourth-century writers cite Alcmeon as an example of a typical tragic figure whose story everyone knew.35 Nowadays Alcmeon’s myth is not well known, but he ought to have been if a more representative sample of tragedies had survived. Sophocles is credited with three titles on the same subject – Alcmeon, Epigoni and Eriphyle – but we do not know how these plays differed from one another or exactly which portion of the story they dramatized. Various scholars have suggested that they formed a trilogy or that we are dealing

Cf. F92 and F94, which mention peasants and city-dwellers, but without F93 they would signify little. F95 (‘suckle’), F98 (‘nurse’) and F99 (‘midwife’) relate to the birth of a child. 33 Apollodorus 3.6-7; Pausanias 8.24.7-10, etc.; cf. Gantz (1993) 524–7. 34 See Delcourt (1939). 35 See TrGF 5, p. 205, LPGT 1, pp. 35, 85, 102, 128–9, 169–70, 202–3; cf. Aristotle, Poetics 1453a20-1, 1453b23-5; Antiphanes, Poetry F189 K-A; Timocles, Women Celebrating the Dionysia F6 K-A. See also entries on Aeschylus’ Epigoni and Euripides’ Alcmeon I and II. 32



with alternative titles for just one or two tragedies.36 Such suggestions are impossible to prove or disprove on the basis of the available evidence, which is extremely poor. Only one fragment of Alcmeon tells us anything of value: ‘Would that I could somehow see you sane and in possession of your right mind’ (F108). This shows that Alcmeon was depicted as mad, but does not show whether he was driven mad, or whether he killed Eriphyle, during the course of the play. Obviously Epigoni featured Eriphyle’s murder: she was still alive at the start, since one of its fragments (F185) is part of a speech addressed by her to Alcmeon, but in another fragment (F187) Eriphyle’s brother Adrastus refers to Alcmeon as ‘the murderer of the mother who gave you birth’, and a further fragment (F190) seems to allude to Alcmeon’s exile. We can deduce that the main action of Eriphyle too must have featured the matricide: it is inevitable that Eriphyle was alive at the start of a play that bore her name, but Alcmeon must have killed her later, since one fragment relates to his subsequent madness (‘Begone! You are disturbing sleep, the healer of sickness’, F201g). In other words, there are signs that all three plays dramatized the same events, rather than the expedition of the Epigoni or Alcmeon’s later adventures and dalliances during his period of peregrination. This makes it seem unlikely that the plays formed a trilogy, because surely there would not be enough action to furnish material for three separate plots. We cannot rule out the possibility of alternative titles, but whether we are dealing with one, two or three works is unknown.

Amphitryon (TrGF 4 F122-4) Our entire knowledge of this play consists of three tiny lexical fragments. We might assume that it dramatized the events leading up to the birth of Heracles, when Zeus disguised himself as Amphitryon and slept with Amphitryon’s wife Alcmene: this myth formed the plot of Euripides’ Alcmene and probably a play of the same name by Aeschylus. But perhaps it dealt with some other part of Amphitryon’s story altogether – such as his expedition against the Teleboeans, his encounter with Cephalos and defeat of the Cadmeian vixen, his love affair with Comaitho (the daughter of the Taphian king Pterelaos, who betrayed her Pearson (1917) I.68-9, 129–32 (discussing earlier scholarship); Sutton (1984) 11–12, 37–8; LloydJones (1996) 73; Radt (TrGF 4, pp. 183–4). Cf. Sophocles’ satyric Amphiaraus (TrGF 4 F113-21).



The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

father and city because of her love for Amphitryon) or his death while fighting with Heracles against the Minyans.37

Andromache (TrGF 4 F125) Our only evidence that Sophocles wrote a play with this title is a one-word fragment (parasangês, ‘messengers’) attributed to Sophocles’ Andromache in the Etymologicon Magnum, a lexicographical work of the late Byzantine period. The fact that this play has left no other trace on the historical record has led scholars to doubt its existence. Some have suggested that the citation must be mistaken (perhaps the lexicographer meant to write Andromeda), and some have suggested that Andromache must have been an alternative title for another work (such as The Shepherds, which is elsewhere cited for the same use of the word parasangês).38 Those who take such a view seem to be tacitly adopting the general principle that a play’s existence should be doubted unless it is referred to more than once. As I have already said,39 I believe that this principle is mistaken. There are many lost plays whose existence is attested only once – including Aeschylus’ Atalante, Alcmene, Bacchae, Thalamopoioi and Nemea, as well as the majority of titles by the neglected tragedians – but if we choose to adopt such a hyper-sceptical approach to the evidence, we will have to delete them all from the record. The available evidence may be meagre in quantity, but why should we automatically assume that it is also defective in quality?

Andromeda (TrGF 4 F126-36) The myth is narrated by the Hellenistic scholar Eratosthenes in his Catasterisms.40 The Ethiopian queen Cassiepeia, having insulted the Nereids by boasting that she surpassed them in beauty, was punished by Poseidon, who sent a sea-monster to ravage her country. In order to propitiate the god Cassiepeia’s daughter Andromeda was exposed to the monster. But Perseus killed the monster and rescued Andromeda, and eventually all the characters were transformed into constellations. Apollodorus 2.4.6-7, 12; cf. Gantz (1993) 374–8. See TrGF 4, pp. 156–7; cf. Shepherds F520 and TrGF 4, p. 402. 39 See pp. 22–3 (with ref. to Aeschylus’ Bacchae); cf. Sophocles’ Ixion. 40 Eratosthenes, Catasterisms 16 and 36; cf. Σ Aratus, Phaenomena 188; Hyginus, Astronomica 2.10: see TrGF 4, p. 156. 37 38



In some ways Eratosthenes’ summary resembles a dramatic plot, and it may be that he gives us an idea of the play’s ending, since the metamorphosis looks like the sort of outcome that would be predicted in the speech of a deus ex machina, but he obviously does not tell us the whole story. A fuller account is provided by Apollodorus, whose version describes Perseus’ love for Andromeda, his promise to her father Cepheus that he would slay the monster in return for her hand in marriage, the conspiracy against Perseus by his love-rival Phineus and Perseus’ final defeat of Phineus and his fellow-conspirators by using the Gorgon’s head to turn them into stone.41 These events seem to have featured in Euripides’ Andromeda, which is more likely to have served as a source for Apollodorus because of its popularity during antiquity, but we cannot know whether Sophocles’ version followed the same lines.42 The fragments do not tell us much: the only one which can be related to a specific context is F128, which describes ‘the unfortunate woman hanging there, not deserving of punishment’. There are some signs that the play exploited its Ethiopian setting by emphasizing the familiar contrast between Greeks and barbarians: F126 describes human sacrifice as an ancient barbarian custom, F135 denotes Persian costume and F133 refers to a Libyan and to oriental despotism (‘forcing the people under the yoke’).43 Scholars have used iconographic evidence to try to fill in further details.44 Half-a-dozen vase-paintings depict scenes in which Andromeda is being bound or exposed. These images are mostly dated around 450 BCE, too early to have been inspired by Euripides (whose Andromeda premiered in 412), so if they relate to a dramatic version of the myth, Sophocles’ play may have been the model, given that no other fifth-century version is known. (If so, we can date Andromeda relatively early in Sophocles’ career.) The most significant detail in these images is that they depict Andromeda in oriental costume or striped trousers, perhaps implying that the character’s barbarian nature was emphasized in the play; they also show Andromeda being fastened to a post or stake rather than a rock. But the vase-paintings may not be based on tragedy at all, and it is best not to place too much reliance on them.

Apollodorus 2.4.3. See Klimek-Winter (1993) 23–54. 43 See Pearson (1917) I.84 on F133 (subsequently extended by P.Oxy. 2453); cf. Hall (1989) on Greeks vs. barbarians in Athenian tragedy. 44 Trendall and Webster (1971) 63–5 (with images III.2.1-3), Green (1994) 20–2; Taplin (2007) 174–6 is more sceptical. 41 42


The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

Sons of Antenor (TrGF 4 F137-9) Antenor was an old Trojan counsellor who had argued, in vain, that Helen should be handed back to the Greeks; consequently, the Greeks spared the lives of Antenor and his family when they attacked Troy. The contents of Sophocles’ play on the subject are (probably) summarized by the geographer Strabo: According to Sophocles, during the sack of Troy a leopard-skin was placed in front of Antenor’s door as a secret sign that his house should be left alone and undamaged. So Antenor and his sons, along with those of the Eneti who survived, made their way safely to Thrace, and from there they crossed over to the place called Enetica on the Adriatic coast.45

But beyond this brief synopsis little can be said about Sophocles’ handling of the story. Antenor and his sons seem to have featured often in Greek poetry, though the details of the myth (such as the number of sons, their experiences during the sacking of Troy or the exact place where they settled) vary considerably among different authors.46 The relationship between Sons of Antenor and other Sophoclean tragedies dealing with similar subject-matter – such as Laocoon, The Demand for Helen’s Return and Locrian Ajax – is also unclear.47

Atreus (TrGF 4 F140-1) Women of Mycenae (TrGF 4 F140-1) Thyestes I, II and III (TrGF 4 F247-69) The myth of the House of Atreus, a potent mixture of incest, adultery, murder, cannibalism and revenge, was among the most popular subjects in all of Greek tragedy. It inspired dramatic treatments by Ion, Carcinus, Agathon, Chaeremon, Cleophon, Apollodorus and Diogenes of Sinope as well as the three ‘classic’ tragedians (all of whom revisited the myth on several different occasions).

Strabo 13.1.53 (TrGF 4, pp. 160–1). E.g. Little Iliad F13 Davies; Σ Homer, Iliad 24. 496; Bacchylides 15; Pindar, Pythian 5.83; Pausanias 10.27.3; Apollodorus, Epitome 3.29, 5.21. Cf. Gantz (1993) 594–6, 651–4. 47 See Pearson (1917) I.86-9, Sutton (1984) 21–3 and others cited at TrGF 4, p. 161. 45 46



Sophocles’ extant Electra deals with a late portion of the myth, but it seems that several of his lost works dramatized the earlier stages in the story – the rivalry between the brothers Thyestes and Atreus over the throne of Mycenae, the love affair between Thyestes and Atreus’ wife Aerope, the attempts of Thyestes to obtain the golden-fleeced lamb that would give him the right to be king, the murder of Thyestes’ children by Atreus (who fed their bodies to Thyestes for dinner) or the birth of Aegisthus, whom Thyestes fathered on his own daughter Pelopia in order to take revenge on Atreus and his family.48 The titles Atreus, Women of Mycenae and Thyestes indicate that Sophocles dealt with some or all of these incidents, but it is impossible to say what happened in each play, how these lost works differed from one another or whether we are dealing with alternative titles for the same work(s). What causes us particular difficulties is that the sources which mention or quote from these works are inconsistent in their method of citation. We find references to ‘Thyestes’, ‘the first Thyestes’, ‘the second Thyestes’, ‘the third Thyestes’, ‘Thyestes in Sicyon’, ‘Thyestes, or Atreus’ and ‘Atreus, or Women of Mycenae’.49 Scholars have tried in vain to disentangle this mess: it remains unclear exactly how many different plays are being referred to. The only certain fact is that a play named Thyestes in Sicyon must have been based on the incestuous union of Thyestes and Pelopia, which took place in Sicyon.50 The fragments are unrevealing, though they include a few intriguing details – such as a description of a miraculous Bacchic grapevine that springs up and bears fruit in a single day (F255), a description of a cowardly man as ‘a woman, with male enemies’ (F140) and a gnomic reflection on the relationship between the gods and right conduct (F247): No man is wise except he whom the god honours; but you must look to the gods and go wheresoever you are ordered to go – even if this takes you outside justice – for no behaviour is shameful if the gods are guiding it.

These verses could well refer to Thyestes’ decision to sleep with his daughter, which he is said to have done because a divine oracle told him to do so. But this is far from certain. All that is certain is that Sophocles had a recurrent interest in the affairs of this doomed family. See, e.g., Apollodorus, Epitome 2.10-14; cf. Gantz (1993) 545–52. TrGF 4, pp. 162, 239–40; cf. Pearson (1917) I.91-3, 185. The only evidence for three Thyestes plays (unknown to Pearson) is the papyrus P. Lond. inv. 2110. 50 Hyginus, Fabula 88.3 (where the union is described as rape); cf. Fabula 254 for a different version. 48 49


The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

The Gathering of the Achaeans (TrGF 4 F143-8) Fellow-Diners (TrGF 4 F562-71) One of Sophocles’ many works centring on the early stages of the Trojan War, as originally described in the Cypria. It dealt with the Greeks’ overnight stop at Tenedos en route to Troy and the dinner that Agamemnon held there for the leading heroes – an event to which Achilles was not invited.51 There is some doubt about the play’s exact title, which is variously given as Achaiôn Syllogos (‘The Gathering of the Achaeans’), Syndeipnoi (‘Fellow-Diners’), Syndeipnon (‘The Shared Meal’) or some other variation on these words; and even though almost all editors treat these titles as referring to one and the same work, Radt in his edition presents The Gathering of the Achaeans separately.52 There is also considerable doubt about the play’s genre, given the fact that it featured undignified subject-matter: Bring it forth! Let someone do the kneading! Let someone fill a deep bowl (kratêr)! This man is like a working ox – he does not work until he has eaten well! (F563) It is not right for a young man of noble birth, equipped with a luxuriant beard, to be called ‘Son of Stomach’ when it is possible for him to be called his father’s son. (F564) But in his anger he threw the malodorous chamber-pot at me, and he did not miss his mark! The vessel, which did not smell of perfume, smashed over my head, and I was terrified by the unfriendly smell. (F565)

It is perfectly possible that a play dealing with ‘low’ subject-matter could have been a tragedy. As I am at pains to demonstrate throughout this book, the tragic genre is much more flexible in terms of its content and themes than critics have tended to assume: there is no single category of subject-matter, and no consistently ‘tragic’ tone, that marks out a play as a tragôidia. If the presence of a chamber pot in a tragedy troubles us, perhaps we could cite Aeschylus’ BoneGatherers as a parallel (though in fact similarly unanswerable questions of genre arise in that case too). Nevertheless, these fragments are clearly meant to be funny. Even if we concede that tragedy need not always be deadly serious, it is impossible to find any tragic scene elsewhere that exhibits this level of silly, On the myth and plot, see Cypria (Proclus, Chrestomathia p. 32 Davies); Aristotle, Rhetoric 2.1401b16-19; Philodemus, On Anger col. 18.14: cf. TrGF 4, pp. 425–6. 52 See TrGF 4, pp. 163, 425–6. Cf. the commentary of Sommerstein, Fitzpatrick and Talboy (2006), esp. pp. 100–3 on the play’s genre. 51



infantile humour.53 Thus my own instinct (for what it’s worth) is that this work was a satyr-play. But if one maintains that it really was a tragedy, it is worth asking oneself what the function of all this humour might have been in the context of the play and what Sophocles’ purpose might have been in treating such grave and momentous material with such a light touch. Was it intended to undermine the traditional myth, and, if so, why was the story of the banquet at Tenedos singled out for special treatment? Was it an implicit comment on some aspect of the cyclic epic tradition? How did Sophocles’ treatment of this particular episode relate to his engagement with the Trojan War tradition in many other serious dramas?

Daedalus (TrGF 4 F158-164a) Men of Camicus (TrGF 4 F323-7) Minos (TrGF 4 F407) These three titles relate in some way to Minos, king of Crete. One may as well discuss them together, partly because very little is known about any of them and partly because they may denote one or two plays rather than three. There were several different stories featuring Daedalus, the architect and inventor who constructed the Labyrinth (among his many achievements), but it is not known which of them was dramatized in the play bearing his name. The only clues are provided by a couple of testimonia that tell us that the play referred to Talos, the man of bronze who guarded the island of Crete and burnt all visitors to death, before being destroyed by the Argonauts or Medea.54 But such a reference may have been a passing allusion rather than part of the main action, and there is no indication of the role played by Daedalus himself. On the basis that the destruction of an ogre is a common satyric theme, and that F162 contains an abstruse joke (‘well, it certainly isn’t a beetle – not one from Aetna, anyhow!’), it has been suggested that Daedalus may have been a satyr-play rather than a tragedy.55 See Seidensticker (1982) on humour in tragedy. Σ Apollonius, Argonautica 4.1646-8 (with Σ); Σ Plato, Republic 337a (TrGF 4 F160-1); cf. Apollodorus 1.9.26. 55 Sutton (1974) 132, following Welcker (1839–41) and Pearson (1917) I.110; I quote Pearson’s translation of F162. 53 54


The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

Minos is attested only once, by an anthologist who quotes a gnomic verse from it (‘Fortune does not help those who fail to help themselves’, F407). Men of Camicus is not much better attested: we have just four fragments, all preserved because of unusual vocabulary, and those who cite them cannot even agree on how to spell the play’s title.56 Nevertheless, one of these fragments (F324) gives some indication of the plot: If we were able to find someone to pass the linen thread through this seashell

This small but significant detail links the play to the myth of Minos’ death in Camicus. According to Apollodorus, Daedalus had fled to Camicus in Sicily after the death of Icarus, with Minos in pursuit. Everywhere that Minos went he tried to discover Daedalus’ whereabouts by posing a challenge: he produced a spiral shell and offered a huge reward to any man who could draw a thread through it. When he arrived at Camicus, Minos went to the court of its king, Cocalus, and issued the same challenge. Cocalus passed on the shell to Daedalus, who had been hiding in his palace, and Daedalus succeeded in threading the shell by attaching a thread to an ant. Thus Minos realized that Daedalus was in Camicus and ordered Cocalus to hand him over; Cocalus promised to do so and welcomed Minos into his house, but Cocalus’ daughters killed Minos while he was in the bath.57 Thus we can glimpse the basic outline of a plot – as well as a striking parallel to Aeschylus’ Agamemnon in the bathtime murder scene. Danae: see under Acrisius

Dolopians (TrGF F174-5) Our only clues to the subject of this play consist of a couple of sources that name Phoenix as king of the Dolopians.58 On this tenuous basis scholars have supposed that Sophocles’ play was about Phoenix or that Dolopians was an alternative title for Phoenix.59 But the two lexicographic fragments that survive tell us nothing.

Editors also differ: Radt in TrGF adopts Kamikoi; Lloyd-Jones (1996) 178–9 prefers Kamikioi. Apollodorus, Epitome 1.13-15; cf. Σ Homer, Iliad 2.145, Σ Pindar, Nemean 4.95. 58 Homer, Iliad 9. 484; Apollodorus 3.13.8. 59 Lloyd-Jones (1996) 68–9; Pearson (1917) I.119-20; Welcker (1840–1) 140–5. 56 57



The Demand for Helen’s Return (TrGF 4 F176-180a) The abduction (or elopement) of Helen and the origins of the Trojan War were topics of intense interest to fifth-century writers, including historians and sophists as well as poets.60 One would very much like to be able to read The Demand for Helen’s Return (Helenês Apaitêsis) alongside other dramatic treatments of the theme, such as Euripides’ Helen or Cratinus’ comedies Nemesis and Dionysalexandros, so as to compare Sophocles’ perspective on Trojan mythology and questions of cause and responsibility. (Sophocles also wrote a satyr-drama called Helen’s Wedding, and one source credits him with The Abduction of Helen, though this is probably just an alternative title for the same satyr-play.61) This tragedy dramatized events that would have been familiar from the Cypria, as summarized by Proclus: The Greeks sent negotiators to the Trojans to demand the return of Helen and the property. And they sent Odysseus and Menelaus, demanding Helen and the property. But when the Trojan assembly was convoked, not only did they refuse to surrender Helen, but they even wanted to kill the envoys; but they were saved by Antenor. When they did not agree to the demands, then they began a siege. Next they go out over the country and destroy the surrounding settlements. After this Achilles has a desire to look upon Helen, and Aphrodite and Thetis bring the two of them together.62

We can only speculate as to how much of this narrative found its way into the play. The fragments give no sense of a plot, but they do contain a few interesting or suggestive features. We are told that the play mentioned the prophet Calchas and anticipated his death in Cilicia (F180), and we discover that one of the characters, perhaps Menelaus, spoke Greek in a distinctive accent that ‘smells Laconian’ (F176): this is a rare tragic reference to non-standard pronunciation in performance.63 Even more interesting is the fact that Sophocles depicted Helen as stricken by remorse and contemplating suicide on account of her disgrace:

See Wright (2007). TrGF 4, pp. 180–3 and F181-4. See Krumeich, Pechstein and Seidensticker (1999) 391–3. 62 Cypria (Proclus, Chrestomathia p. 32 Davies), incorporating material from Apollodorus, Epitome 3.28-9, as in West (2003) 78–9 (I quote West’s translation here). 63 Cf. Aeschylus, Libation-Bearers 563–4; Euripides, Phoenician Women 301. See Colvin (1999) 74–89 on ‘linguistic realism’ in tragedy. 60 61

The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy


It is best for me to drink bull’s blood and not to endure infamy even worse than this (F178)

This view of Helen’s character is subtly different from her other incarnations in drama and epic.64 Though elsewhere she is prone to self-criticism, it is unexpected to see her contemplating suicide here, and the precise method of suicide by poison that she plans for herself is odd, echoing the legendary deaths of Themistocles and Aeson.65 A further fragment reinforces the image of Helen as an utterly pitiful victim, driven to self-harm:66 and taking from the palace the wretched wife of Menelaus, who tortures her cheek, till lately faded, with pencils that she digs in. (F177)

This is an extraordinary description. By disfiguring herself, Helen is in effect trying to change or efface her whole identity, removing the beauty that was seen as such an integral element of her character. A close parallel can be seen in the way that Euripides’ Helen expresses a wish to scrub away her face as if she were removing paint from a work of art.67 In both plays Helen shows an intense, painful degree of self-awareness. But it is especially striking that this Sophoclean Helen uses writing implements to alter her features.68 Could it be that there is a metapoetic aspect to this description? There is a Homeric precedent: in the third book of the Iliad Helen weaves a tapestry depicting the Trojan War, a manifestly self-referential activity that has been seen as analogous to poetry or myth-making.69 Perhaps here too Sophocles is implicitly presenting Helen as a quasi-authorial figure, with the power to rewrite – or unwrite – herself. Epigoni: see Alcmeon Eriphyle: see Alcmeon

Hermione (TrGF 4 F202-3) What little we know of this play suggests that it was similar to Euripides’ Andromache. Its scenario is summarized by Eustathius in his commentary on the Odyssey: See Blondell (2013). Aristophanes, Knights 83–4; Plutarch, Themistocles 31.5-6; Apollodorus 1.143. 66 Tr. Lloyd-Jones, incorporating supplements: see Lloyd-Jones (1996) 70–1; TrGF 4, p. 179. 67 Euripides, Helen 262–5: see Wright (2005) 322–3. 68 The Greek word (depending on how the corrupt text is restored) is graphia, grapheia or graphidia, ‘pencils’ or ‘styli’. 69 Homer, Iliad 3.121-7 (with Σ): see Kennedy (1986) 5–14, Taplin (1992) 97. 64 65



Sophocles in his Hermione relates that, when Menelaus was still in Troy, Hermione was given as a wife to Orestes by Tyndareus; then she was later taken away from him and given to Neoptolemus, following the promise made to him by Menelaus in Troy. But Neoptolemus was killed by Machaereus at Delphi, when he was taking revenge for the killing of his father by punishing Apollo, and after this Hermione was restored again to Orestes. Hermione and Orestes produced a son, Tisamenus, meaningfully thus named in accordance with revenge (tisis) and strength (menos), since his father Orestes had taken revenge on Agamemnon’s murderers.70

No doubt there were many large and small differences between the Sophoclean and Euripidean versions of the story.71 The most obvious is that there is no sign of Andromache in Sophocles’ play: the bringing together of Neoptolemus’ wife and concubine on the same stage seems to have been a Euripidean innovation. Nor is there any sign of Tisamenus in Euripides. Another notable difference lies in Neoptolemus’ motivation for visiting Delphi: the emphasis on his attempt at revenge against Apollo implies that Sophocles presented Neoptolemus as impious or hybristic.72 In this respect it is significant that Apollodorus records a version of the story in which Neoptolemus robbed and set fire to the temple at Delphi.73 Since this version, like Eustathius’ summary, features the otherwise obscure character Machaereus, it may well be that it reflects the Neoptolemus of Sophocles’ Hermione. At any rate, it seems that in Sophocles’ version the responsibility for Neoptolemus’ death was shared by Machaereus and Neoptolemus himself, whereas in Andromache it is due to the machinations of Orestes. Just two fragments survive. One of them (‘But, o plain of my native land with its roads’, F202) could be seen as a sign that the play, like Andromache, was set in Phthia rather than Delphi, if we assume that Neoptolemus was the speaker, but this is uncertain.74 Several scholars have suggested that Hermione and Phthian Women were one and the same play, but this suggestion is based on little more than guesswork.75

Eustathius, Commentary on Homer’s Odyssey 1479.10. Cf. Σ Homer, Odyssey 4.4, Σ Euripides, Orestes 1655: see TrGF 4, p. 192. 71 See Allan (2000), esp. 17–18, 35–7. 72 Noted by Sommerstein, Fitzpatrick and Talboy (2006) 11–12. 73 Apollodorus 6.14. 74 Sommerstein, Fitzpatrick and Talboy (2006) 14, 32–3. 75 Sommerstein, Fitzpatrick and Talboy (2006) treat the fragments of Phthian Women as belonging to Hermione and present them together. 70


The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

Eumelus (TrGF 4 F204-5) Our knowledge of this play is limited to a couple of one-word citations from ancient lexicographers, one of which is disputed. Some scholars have doubted whether Eumelus even existed at all. The mythical Eumelus was a son of Admetus and Alcestis, who competed in the funeral games of both Patroclus and Achilles and won the chariot race in the latter event; in later Greek literature he was said to have been one of the Greeks inside the Wooden Horse, though we cannot be sure whether this detail was already current in Sophocles’ time.76 Dana Sutton (along with others) cannot believe that Eumelus would have made ‘a plausible tragic hero’,77 but this view seems to depend on certain preconceptions about what a tragic hero or a tragic storyline ought to look like. If the lost plays teach us anything, it is that there is no single type to which tragic characters or events must conform.

Euryalus (TrGF 4, pp. 194–5) Not one word of this play survives, but it was evidently an unusual work based on a Homeric theme. Its plot looks like a sequel to the events described in the Odyssey, or a lost book of the Odyssey in dramatic form. Our main source for Euryalus is the Alexandrian scholar Parthenius, who summarizes the plot (with explicit attribution to Sophocles) in his book Love’s Sorrows:78 After his wanderings were over and when he had killed the suitors, Odysseus went to Epirus in order to consult the oracles. While he was there he seduced Euippe, the daughter of Tyrimmas, who had received him graciously and offered him all possible hospitality. Consequently Euippe gave birth to a son, Euryalus. When he grew up to adulthood, his mother sent Euryalus away to Ithaca, having given him certain tokens sealed in a writing-tablet. When he arrived it happened that Odysseus was absent. Penelope had previously been aware of Odysseus’ passion for Euippe, but now she learnt the whole story. She persuaded Odysseus, upon his return, to kill Euryalus on the grounds that he was plotting against him; she did this before he could discover the truth about the situation. And so Odysseus, because of his lack of self-control and unseemly behaviour in general, Apollodorus, Epitome 5.5; cf. Homer, Iliad 2.713-15, 20.288-9; Quintus of Smyrna, Posthomerica 12.324. 77 Sutton (1984) 45; cf. Pearson (1917) I.144. 78 Parthenius, Erôtika Pathêmata 3. 76



became his own son’s murderer. Not long afterwards Odysseus himself died at the hands of his own son, having been wounded by the spine of a fish.

Can we rely on Parthenius? Some critics have been troubled by the fact that the only other testimonium to the play names Telemachus rather than Odysseus as the killer of Euryalus.79 But this need not be seen as a contradiction if we assume that Odysseus ordered Telemachus to do the deed. Obviously Parthenius, by condensing an entire play into a paragraph, is having to be selective with the precise details. Indeed, some of his narrative (as usual in the case of mythographic summaries and hypotheses) must represent the ‘back story’ or predictions for the future after the end of the play: this makes it difficult to imagine the main plot. But Parthenius’ evidence is still valuable. If it does accurately reflect the contents of Euryalus, it is clear that here Sophocles was supplementing the Homeric epics, ‘filling in the gaps’ and adding details in a way that is more usually associated with Hellenistic poetry. Furthermore, it seems that the plot of Euryalus combined the sort of motifs that are seen as more characteristic of Euripides than Sophocles – a love story, seduction, children separated from their parents, writing-tablets, recognition-tokens and intrigue. All of this is very unexpected. We could respond by questioning the veracity of the evidence (as Wilamowitz and others have done),80 or we could conclude that Sophocles’ thematic range was much wider than is normally assumed.

Eurypylus (TrGF 4 F206-222b) In his essay On the Control of Anger Plutarch happens to mention an unnamed work by Sophocles that featured a duel between Neoptolemus and the Mysian hero Eurypylus (son of Telephus), and he quotes a single verse from it: ‘they both struck at the middle of one another’s bronze shields’.81 The work in question might have been Mysians or one of the plays from the Telepheia, but it was more probably Eurypylus. Aristotle in the Poetics cites Eurypylus as one of several tragedies based on material from the Little Iliad (along with Spartan Women, Sinon and others). He does not name its author, and no one else in antiquity ever records that Sophocles wrote a Eurypylus, but papyrus evidence suggests that this was indeed the title of a play by Sophocles. Part of the verse quoted by Eusthatius, Commentary on Homer’s Odyssey 1796.50; see Pearson (1917) I.146. Wilamowitz (1894) 190–1; cf. TrGF 4, p. 194. 81 Plutarch, Moralia 458e (=TrGF 4 F210.9). 79 80


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Plutarch turned up in an Oxyrhynchus papyrus of the second century CE, first published in 1912: this papyrus contains portions of a tragedy about the death of Eurypylus.82 The text is incomplete, but it obviously featured a scene in which Eurypylus’ final moments on the battlefield were described by a messenger, including lamentation by Eurypylus’ mother Astyoche and the women of the chorus. Much remains unclear about the play, but it is useful to have this confirmation that a play that was still available to readers in Egypt six centuries after its original performance could leave so little trace on history. This example shows just how easily a play, even by a celebrated poet, might vanish from the record.

Eurysaces (TrGF 4 F223) The word ‘unexpected’ (adoxaston, F223) is all that survives of Eurysaces; it is quoted by the lexicographer Hesychius. No one else ever mentions the play, and nothing is known about it. Its title character was the son of Ajax: he briefly appears, as a baby, in Sophocles’ Ajax (where Ajax before his death arranges for Teucer to take Eurysaces to Salamis, to be a comfort to Telamon and Eriboea in their old age).83 This suggests that Eurysaces may have been connected in the poet’s mind with his Ajax or Teucer, but the nature of this connection is anyone’s guess.84

Erigone (TrGF 4 F235-6) The fact that there were two mythical characters named Erigone, one Attic and one Argive, makes it difficult to imagine this play’s contents, and the two tiny fragments that survive tell us nothing at all. The Attic Erigone was the daughter of Icarios, who worshipped Dionysus and was rewarded with the discovery of wine-making. Icarios gave wine to some shepherds, who became drunk and thought that they had been poisoned, so they killed Icarios. Erigone searched for her father, assisted by her pet dog, Maira, but when she discovered his dead P.Oxy. 1175 (=F210). See TrGF 4, pp. 195–229; cf. Lloyd-Jones (1992) 55–8. On the myth of Eurypylus, see Σ Homer, Odyssey 11. 519; Apollodorus, Epitome 5.12; Hyginus, Fabula 112. 83 Sophocles, Ajax 530–79. 84 See Sutton (1984), 49–56, for a speculative attempt to ‘reconstruct’ Sophocles’ play on the basis of the fragments of Accius’ Eurysaces (F327-74 Warmington). 82



body she hanged herself through grief.85 The Argive Erigone was the daughter of Aegisthus, who was the accuser of Orestes at his trial for murder. Several versions of her story are attested.86 Either she hanged herself when Orestes was acquitted; or she married Orestes and bore him a son, Penthilus; or she was on the point of being killed by Orestes when Artemis rescued her and made her a priestess. Any one of these traditions could have formed the basis for Sophocles’ play, but we can say little more than that. Even within antiquity the different versions were often confused. Both Erigones died by hanging, and both of them were associated with the Athenian Aiôra or ‘Swings’ ritual (part of the Anthesteria festival), in which young women and objects would be swung from trees.87 It seems likely that Sophocles’ play, whichever version he followed, will have featured an aetiological account of this ritual. Some have argued that the story of Erigone and Icarios did not exist until the Hellenistic period (when Eratosthenes wrote an elegiac Erigone);88 if this is so, then Sophocles must have used the other version. The fact that the Erigona of the Roman tragedian Accius followed the Argive story perhaps makes it more likely that Sophocles (who may have been Accius’ model) did as well, but it is hard to be certain.89 If Sophocles’ play did feature Orestes, it could be seen as a ‘sequel’ in some sense to his Electra or an alternative perspective on the House of Atreus myths that inspired so many other classical tragedies. It is certainly easier to imagine a tragedy about Orestes’ trial and its aftermath than to imagine a tragedy about drunken shepherds and a heroine with a canine sidekick, but (as ever) we should beware of assuming that the most familiar-seeming scenario is the correct one.

Thamyras (TrGF 4 F236a-245) (?) Muses (TrGF 4 F407a-408) The title character was a Thracian musician who was famed for his physical beauty and for his skill at singing to the lyre. Thamyras boasted that he was a better musician than the Muses themselves, and the Muses responded by Apollodorus 3.14.7, Hyginus, Fabula 130. Apollodorus, Epitome 6.23-8; Cinaethon F4 Davies; Hyginus, Fabula 122. 87 See Parke (1977) 118–19, Merkelbach (1996) 180–97; cf. Callimachus F178 Pfeiffer. 88 Pfeiffer (1922) 107. 89 See Sutton (1984) 42–3, comparing Accius F436-9 Warmington. 85 86


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blinding (or maiming) him and depriving him of his musical talents.90 The story belongs to a notable category of myths in which mortals unwisely challenge the gods and meet with terrible punishments (compare, for instance, the story of Niobe). But it might also be viewed metaphorically as a sort of parable, illustrating the importance of divine inspiration or authorization for those who venture to practise the arts, and implying that poetry and music are inherently competitive and deadly serious activities. Both these strands are well illustrated in early Greek poetic thought, including tragic texts,91 and we may speculate that Sophocles’ treatment of the myth was in some sense metapoetic. Frustratingly, however, too little of the play survives to tell us exactly how Sophocles developed its central theme. Some or all of the Muses must, presumably, have been characters in the play; it has even been suggested that they formed the chorus. This is a plausible suggestion. Indeed, a play called Muses – the title of which must denote the chorus – is attributed to Sophocles by a couple of ancient sources.92 Nothing at all is known about Muses, and many scholars have thought that this play and Thamyras were one and the same. Dana Sutton is sceptical, on the basis of the rules that supposedly fixed the size of the chorus (‘it is difficult to accept the idea of a tragic chorus of Muses since the number of Muses was fixed at nine’).93 But even though tragic choruses are conventionally thought to have numbered twelve or fifteen, we have no way of knowing whether every competing playwright always used all his available choreuts; and in any case there are several known examples of plays where the number of individuals notionally represented by the chorus was apparently smaller or larger than the regulation number of choreuts (such as Aeschylus’ Eumenides, Suppliant Women and Daughters of Danaus, or Euripides’ Suppliant Women).94 So it is not unreasonable to assume a chorus of Muses here. But perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of Thamyras is that Sophocles himself played the kithara in the original production, according to Athenaeus and the ancient Life of the poet. It is said to have been for this reason that Sophocles was

Cf. Homer, Iliad 2.594-600 (with Σ); Euripides, Rhesus 915–25; Apollodorus 1.3.3. (The name is spelt either Thamyris or Thamyras.) 91 See Wright (2010) 174–5. 92 Pollux, Onomasticon 10.186; Antiatticista 83.22 Bekker. It has been thought that Mousai (‘Muses’) is cited by mistake for Musoi (‘Mysians’): see TrGF 4, p. 348. 93 Sutton (1984) 140. 94 See Hourmouziades (1965) 81 and Revermann (2006) 3–4. 90



depicted holding a lyre in his official portrait in the Stoa Poikile.95 (See Chapter 5, pp. 256–9, for further discussion of this and other aspects of the play in performance, and see also separate entry on Nausicaa, in which Sophocles is said to have played the title role.)

Theseus (TrGF 4 F246) So many stories about Theseus circulated in the Greek world that it is impossible to imagine the play’s plot. Only two words survive. Since Theseus featured in other lost Sophoclean dramas, including Aegeus and Phaedra, it has been suggested that Theseus was an alternative title for one of these other works. Such a suggestion is impossible to prove or disprove, but it may be that Theseus centred on the hero’s Cretan rather than Athenian exploits. This is suggested by a papyrus containing parts of a play featuring Theseus’ defeat of the Minotaur: the fragments apparently feature a scenario in which Athenian victims, including Eriboea, are about to be offered up to the Minotaur, and Theseus is preparing to enter the Labyrinth.96 On this basis several scholars have attributed the papyrus to Sophocles’ Theseus, though the authorship and all other details are obscure. Thyestes: see Atreus

Ixion (TrGF 4 F296) For many years the existence of this play was doubted by hyper-sceptical scholars, who were suspicious of the fact that it was attested only twice (we have just a one-word fragment, cited by two ancient scholars). But it was confirmed by epigraphic evidence discovered in the 1930s. A fragmentary inscription, commemorating winning actors at the Athenian Dionysia or Lenaea, shows that Sophocles’ Ixion did indeed exist, and that it was popular enough to be reperformed in the mid-third century BCE.97 Nothing else is known about the play, but for further discussion of the myth of Ixion, see entries on other tragic treatments (Aeschylus’ Ixion and Women of Perrhaebia and Euripides’ Ixion).

Life of Sophocles §5; Athenaeus 1.20e-f (TrGF 4 T1, T28). P.Oxy. 2452 (TrGF 4 F730a-g): see Battezzato (2013); Mills (1997) 245–52. 97 TrGF 1 DID A4b. 95 96


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Iobates (TrGF 4 F297-9) One of several fifth-century tragedies about Bellerophon, the Corinthian hero whose exploits were well known from Homer’s version in the Iliad.98 After Bellerophon was falsely accused of rape by Iobates’ daughter Stheneboea, Iobates (following secret instructions in a letter from Stheneboea’s husband Proetus) tried to cause Bellerophon’s death by sending him to fight against the Chimaera, the Solymi and the Amazons, whom he believed to be invincible. However, Bellerophon, with the aid of Pegasus, managed to defeat these deadly opponents, and Iobates was so impressed that he allowed Bellerophon to remain at his court in Lycia and marry his daughter Philonoe. The three fragments that survive contain nothing of interest, and it is impossible to say which part of the myth Sophocles dramatized or how his version compared with the Bellerophon and Stheneboea of Euripides.

Hipponous (TrGF 4 F300-304) Hipponous was king of Olenus, whose daughter Periboea married Oeneus, king of Calydon in Aetolia, and gave birth to a son, Tydeus. Several varying accounts of the myth existed in antiquity: in some versions Oeneus received Periboea as a prize after the sacking of Olenus, but elsewhere Hipponous sent Periboea to Oeneus in disgrace after discovering she was pregnant (either by Oeneus or by Hippostratus).99 It is impossible to know which version Sophocles used here. F300 – ‘I am being brought from the fertile land of Olenus’ – was evidently spoken by Periboea at some point during her journey from Olenus to Calydon, but it does not tell us any other details. The only other recorded fact about Hipponous – if we choose to believe it – is that the play contained a choral ode resembling the parabasis in Greek comedy, in which the author’s own opinions were voiced in the first person by the chorus leader.100 We owe this information to the lexicographer Pollux, who notes that this use of the chorus was uncharacteristic of tragedy: the only other example he cites is Euripides’ Danae. Most scholars have found it difficult to accept Pollux’s evidence, because it is generally assumed that tragedy never Homer, Iliad 6. 155-211; cf. Apollodorus 2.3. See Gantz (1993) 314–16. Apollodorus 1.8.4 (listing variants); Hesiod F12 M-W; [Plutarch] Proverbia 1.5; Gantz (1993) 334. 100 Pollux, Onomasticon 4.111. Cf. my discussion of Euripides’ Danae, pp. 165–6. 98 99



features metatheatricality or techniques that explicitly ‘break the illusion’.101 There is certainly nothing like this in any of the surviving plays of Sophocles, but we cannot rule out the possibility that there was something unusual about the chorus in this play that lent itself to being read (either explicitly or implicitly) as an authorial statement.

Iphigenia (TrGF 4 F305-12) This play dramatized broadly the same events as Euripides’ surviving Iphigenia at Aulis: Iphigenia arrives at Aulis in the belief that she is to be married to Achilles, but her father Agamemnon instead sacrifices her in order to ensure that the Greek fleet can depart for Troy. We can be confident that Euripides did not follow Sophocles in every detail, but we have too little information about the Sophoclean version to know what the similarities and differences were. Three of the fragments contain valuable information: F305 (‘but you, who are gaining a very great son-in-law’) is part of a speech made by Agamemnon to his wife Clytemnestra, F308 refers to the delay of the Greek fleet in the bay at Aulis and F309 (‘[she] who dwells on the heights’) is apparently an allusion to Artemis, who was worshipped at mountain-top sanctuaries in Epidaurus, Arcadia and elsewhere. The remaining fragments (a handful of maxims and lexical citations) add nothing of value.

Ion (TrGF 4 F319-22) Creusa (TrGF 4 F350-9) Here, as elsewhere, scholars have assumed that a single play was denoted by alternative titles. This seems plausible if we imagine that the play in question followed the outline of Euripides’ Ion, in which Ion is reunited with his mother Creusa (the daughter of Erechtheus of Athens) after being abandoned as a baby in the precinct of Apollo at Delphi. But there are other, equally plausible, possibilities. Perhaps Sophocles’ Ion centred on Ion’s later exploits, when he assisted Erechtheus and the Athenians in their war against the Eleusinians; or

See Bain (1975); Taplin (1986).


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perhaps the title character of Creusa was not the daughter of Erechtheus but another Creusa, such as the Corinthian princess for whom Jason abandoned Medea or the daughter of Priam whom Aeneas married.102 So it may well be that we are dealing with two entirely unrelated plays. The fragments themselves, almost all of them gnomic commonplaces, tell us nothing about the contents or plot(s). Men of Camicus: see Daedalus

Clytemnestra (TrGF 4 F334) An obscure drama. A single fragment survives, quoted by the lexicographer Erotian: ‘but you do not see the adversary circling round about’ (F334). This does not suggest any particular context, though the play’s title might imply that its plot was similar to that of Aeschylus’ Oresteia or any of the Electra or Iphigenia tragedies known to us. There is no basis for the suggestion that Clytemnestra was an alternative title for Iphigenia, apart from the desire of certain critics to erase from the record any plays which are attested only once.

Women of Colchis (TrGF 4 F337-46) One of about twenty tragedies (including three or four by Sophocles) in which Medea is known to have featured as a character, Women of Colchis presented an aspect of the character that was very different from her familiar incarnation in Euripides’ Medea. This play dramatized Medea’s meeting with Jason and their efforts to acquire the Golden Fleece; it also featured the Argonauts’ escape from Colchis and Medea’s murder of her brother Apsyrtus. The play’s contents are known mainly from ancient commentators on Apollonius’ Argonautica and a handful of unrevealing fragments. (See Chapter 4, pp. 227–36, for further discussion of the play in the context of other dramatic versions of Medea’s story; see also entries on Aegeus, RootCutters and Scythians.) Creusa: see Ion See, e.g., Philochorus (FGrHist 328 F13); Hyginus, Fabula 25; Apollodorus 3.12.5.




Spartan Women (TrGF 4 F367-369a) An action-packed tragedy on a Trojan War theme. Aristotle helpfully tells us – as the title itself does not – that Spartan Women was based on material from the Little Iliad,103 and one small fragment (‘and then we descended into a narrow sewer, which was extremely filthy’, F367) contains a key detail which allows us to identify the exact episode in question. We know that the Little Iliad narrated Odysseus’ secret entry into Troy, disguised as a beggar, in order to reconnoitre: Odysseus was recognized by Helen, and the two Greeks between them plotted the capture of the city. Odysseus returned to the Greek ships, killing some guards en route, but he later made another secret entry, accompanied by Diomedes, and stole the image of Athena known as the Palladion; it was by means of a sewer that Odysseus and Diomedes were able to enter and leave the city without being observed.104 The same episode also formed the basis for Ion’s tragedy Guards, though there is not enough information about either tragedy for us to speculate as to the relationship between the two.105 Obviously the choruses in each case were strikingly different: Ion’s chorus consisted of Trojan guards (who may have been killed, astonishingly, during the course of the action), whereas Sophocles’ chorus was made up of Spartan women (who were no doubt Helen’s servants and companions, as in Euripides’ Helen). This fact suggests that Helen herself was a prominent character in Spartan Women, as in several other lost Sophoclean dramas (including The Demand for Helen’s Return and Tyndareus). It would be illuminating to compare the Sophoclean Helen with her more familiar Homeric or Euripidean incarnations, but (unfortunately) we have no way of doing so.

Laocoon (TrGF 4 F370-77) One of several tragedies (including Locrian Ajax, The Sons of Antenor and Sinon) centring on the fall of Troy and drawing on material from the lost epic Iliou Persis. Laocoon and Cassandra were suspicious of the Wooden Horse and urged

Aristotle, Poetics 1459b3-6. Little Iliad (Proclus, Chrestomathia §4, p. 53 Davies); cf. West (2003) 122–3; Σ Aristophanes, Wasps 351; Σ Euripides, Hecuba 240; Servius on Vergil, Aeneid 2.166; Apollodorus, Epitome 5.10-13. 105 On Ion’s Guards (TrGF 1.19 F43a), see LPGT 1, pp. 32–3. 103 104


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that it should be destroyed, but the rest of the Trojans ignored them and turned to feasting and celebration, believing that the war was at an end. Later Apollo sent two serpents to kill Laocoon or one or both of his sons.106 This episode is now most familiar from the Aeneid, but we cannot know whether Sophocles’ version corresponded exactly with Vergil’s. Fragments and testimonia supply a few informative details, showing us that the play included a choral prayer to Poseidon (F371) and a description of the sights and smells of altars blazing in the streets of Troy during the doomed celebrations (F370); we also learn that the two serpents were named Porcis and Chariboea (F372). A couple of gnomic fragments – ‘labour is sweet, once the hard work is over with’ (F374) and ‘no one takes any account of trouble that is in the past’ (F375) – might well have been uttered (with tragic irony) during the period of premature rejoicing. The most valuable fragment (F373) comes from a messenger-speech describing Aeneas’ departure from Troy. The historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who quotes the lines, also supplies some contextual information: The tragedian Sophocles in his play Laocoon depicts Aeneas, just at the point when Troy is about to be captured, as transferring his household to Mount Ida. He was ordered to do so by his father Anchises, who recalled the instructions of Aphrodite and interpreted the recent omens that had appeared in relation to Laocoon and his family as a sign that the destruction of the city was imminent. The play contains a messenger-speech, in iambics, as follows: Now Aeneas, son of the goddess, is standing at the city gates, carrying his father on his shoulders, his linen robe stained with the discharge from his back that was wounded by a lightning-strike. And he is surrounded by all his household servants, and a great crowd attends him – you cannot imagine how great – of people who are passionately eager to uproot themselves from Troy.

All of this helps us to fill in the background and some specific details, but it is still very difficult to imagine the play’s plot-structure or to identify the beginning or end of the action. Men of Larissa: see Acrisius

Iliou Persis (Proclus, Chrestomathia p. 62 Davies); Dionysius of Halicarnassus 1.48.2 (TrGF 4 F373); Apollodorus, Epitome 5.16-18; Vergil, Aeneid 2.40-249. Cf. Gantz (1993) 646–9.




Women of Lemnos (TrGF 4 F384-9) The story of how the women of Lemnos came to murder all their menfolk, after they had deserted them in favour of Thracian concubines, was dramatized by Aeschylus in his Women (or Men) of Lemnos. Probably Sophocles’ version of the story was similar, though little is known about either work. Two features are of particular interest. The first is that according to one late source, two versions of this tragedy existed.107 This may indicate that two textually variant editions of the play were in circulation during antiquity, or that Sophocles revised the first version for some reason, or that he wrote two entirely separate works on the same subject. The second interesting feature is that the play is said to have featured a catalogue of every single member of the Argonautic expedition: we even have a small fragment from this catalogue (‘and Admetus, son of Pheres, and Coronus, the Lapith from Dotium’, F386). In itself this is unusual, since catalogues, though a characteristic feature of epic poetry, were rare in tragedy. What makes it even more unusual is that Aeschylus’ Kabeiroi also included a catalogue of Argonauts. We do not know which play came first, but it is hard to resist the conclusion that one tragedian was self-consciously responding to the other by imitating the same formal technique while making adjustments or corrections to the details.

Prophets, or Polyidus (TrGF 4 F389a-400) The story of the seer Polyidus and his encounter with king Minos of Crete is one of the strangest myths in Greek drama, but it was popular enough to inspire works by all three playwrights of the ‘classic’ triad (see under Aeschylus’ Cretan Women, pp. 39–40, and Euripides’ Polyidus, pp. 195–6, for discussion of the myth). The fragments show that Sophocles followed the same basic outline as the other tragedians, but they do not reveal any distinctive or unique touches. The plot of Prophets was certainly unusual, but that is no reason to assume (as certain scholars have done) that the play was untragic, romantic or even satyric.108 Such an assumption seems to ignore the fact that both Aeschylus and Euripides wrote tragedies on the same subject; but in any case, if the play strikes us as somehow not ‘tragic’, this simply means that we have to expand our Stephanus of Byzantium, Ethnica 257.5 (see TrGF 4 F380 and p. 336). Sutton (1984) 73; Turner (1962); Lloyd-Jones (1996) 207.

107 108


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definition of tragedy (as the lost plays make clear time and time again). There are no linguistic grounds for supposing that any of these plays are satyric. Hugh Lloyd-Jones’ statement that ‘a chorus of prophets would be more surprising than a chorus of satyrs pretending to be prophets’ also strikes me as unpersuasive. Why should a chorus of prophets seem surprising? In fact a close parallel is provided by the chorus of priests in Sophocles’ Meleager (see next entry).

Meleager (TrGF 4 F401-6) A dramatization of the myth of the Calydonian boar-hunt and Meleager’s death, familiar from the Iliad as well as tragic versions by Phrynichus, Aeschylus, Euripides and others.109 Comparatively little is known of Sophocles’ version: scholars have speculated inconclusively on how it differed from other treatments, but the six fragments offer no clues.110 The most interesting piece of information is provided by an ancient commentator on Homer, who tells us that the chorus in Sophocles’ tragedy consisted of priests.111 This picturesque detail directly reflects the version in the Iliad, in which the Calydonians sent an embassy of their most venerable priests to persuade Meleager to defend his country against the wild boar. Memnon: see Ethiopians Muses: see Thamyras

Mysians (TrGF 4 F409-18) A tragedy with this title might relate to the myth of Telephus, who was adopted by the Mysian king Teuthras and later became the leader of the Mysians in the Trojan War.112 Telephus was the subject of Aeschylus’ Mysians, though little is known about either work. All that the fragments of Sophocles’ play tell us about the plot is that some stranger – not necessarily Telephus – arrived in Mysia (F411).

Homer, Iliad 9.529-99; cf. Bacchylides 5, Apollodorus 1.8.3. For the myth, see Aeschylus’ Atalante and Euripides’ Meleager. On Phrynichus’ Women of Pleuron and Antiphon’s Meleager, see LPGT 1, pp. 20–21, 144–5. 110 Pearson (1917) II.64-6. 111 Σ Iliad 9.575 (TrGF 4, p. 345). 112 Apollodorus 3.9.1; Hyginus, Fabulae 100–1. 109



The most interesting fragment (F412) is part of a self-referential description of the play’s music, which was accompanied by oriental-style stringed instruments: The Phrygian trigônos makes a loud noise, and the Lydian pêktis resounds in harmony with its doubly-twanged notes.113

If this play was about Telephus, it may have been connected to Sophocles’ other plays on the same subject (Children of Aleus, Eurypylus, Telephus or the Telepheia).

Nauplius I and II (TrGF 4 F425-38) Nauplius was the father of Palamedes (see separate entry), who after his son’s death went to the Greeks and demanded justice – but in vain. He decided to take revenge, first by sailing home along the coast of Greece and contriving that the wives of all the Greek heroes should commit adultery, and subsequently by lighting false beacons on Mount Caphereus to lure Greek sailors to their deaths. The myth is recounted thus by Apollodorus (and various other sources), and it seems certain that this account reflects the content of Sophocles’ two tragedies on the subject – Nauplius Katapleôn (‘Nauplius Sailing Down’) and Nauplius Pyrkaeus (‘Nauplius Lighting the Beacons’).114 The outline of the first of these plays was much debated by scholars until the mid-1980s, but it was confirmed by the publication of a fragment from a papyrus hypothesis.115 As usual in the case of plays sharing the same title (see also Tyro I and II, Phineus I and II or Thyestes I, II and III), ancient writers’ methods of citation are haphazard, and many of the fragments are attributed simply to ‘Nauplius’. None of these fragments helps us to fill in further details of either plot, though F432 shows that here, as in Palamedes, the amazing achievements of Palamedes were enumerated in detail: these include the invention of numbers, weights, measures and constellations. It is also emphasized that Palamedes showed the Greeks how to use beacon-fire – a detail that assumes an ironical edge in its new context, since Nauplius will use this same technology to destroy the Greeks. The trigônos and the pêktis are types of harp: see West (1992) 71–3; cf. Sophocles, Thamyras F239. Apollodorus, Epitome 6.8-11; cf. Hyginus, Fabula 116, Tsetzes, Commentary on Lycophron’s Alexandra 384, etc. See Sommerstein and Talboy (2012) 127–38. 115 P.Oxy. 3653 fr. 1 (TrGF 4 F434a). 113 114


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Because of the similarity in subject-matter and theme between the two Nauplius plays and Palamedes, it has sometimes been suggested that these tragedies formed a connected trilogy.116 This is a plausible suggestion, and we know that Sophocles did sometimes write connected suites of plays (as in the case of the Telepheia), but there is no evidence to support it.

Nausicaa, or Washerwomen (TrGF 4 F439-41) One of many works in which Sophocles adapted Homeric material for the stage. The subject was taken from the sixth book of the Odyssey, in which Odysseus, having recently arrived at Phaeacia, encounters Nausicaa and her female attendants on the beach as they are doing their laundry and playing ball games. When Nausicaa’s ball accidentally goes into the water, it causes Odysseus to wake and reveal himself to the women.117 The three surviving fragments, though insubstantial, can all be related to this scenario: they contain references to linen garments (F439) and Nausicaa’s mulecart (F441), and part of Odysseus’ description of his fraught sea-voyage (F440). But on their own these fragments would mean little to us: we need the additional evidence of the testimonia to provide a context in which they make sense. A couple of details preserved by Athenaeus and Eustathius fill in the background: these writers confirm that Nausicaa and Washerwomen were one and the same play, and that it featured Nausicaa playing with a ball, as in Homer.118 They also add the valuable detail that Sophocles himself acted in the original production, and that he gave a superlative performance in the part of Nausicaa. This must have been a rare appearance on stage for the poet, if we believe the biographical tradition that he gave up acting early because of an inability to project his voice; the only other production in which Sophocles is said to have performed is his Thamyras (in which he played the lyre).119 The meeting of Odysseus and Nausicaa is a famous moment in the Odyssey, and it is the sort of scenario that would make an excellent painting. (The fifthcentury artist Polygnotus did indeed paint such a picture, and many subsequent

See Sommerstein and Talboy (2012) 138–41, with ref. to earlier discussions. Odyssey 6.48-331. 118 Athenaeus 1.20e; Eustathius, Commentary on Homer’s Odyssey 381.8, 1553.63 (TrGF 4 T28-30). The comedian Philyllius wrote a play called Nausicaa, or Washerwomen, which probably parodied Sophocles’ work. 119 Life of Sophocles §4 (TrGF 4 T1). 116 117



artists have treated the same subject.120) It is harder to see how it would make a good tragedy. This is not, as some scholars have supposed, because the subjectmatter is too light-hearted.121 As Sophocles’ audience was concerned, a tragedy could take many different shapes; it did not have to be ‘tragic’ in the restricted modern sense of the word, and its tone could be light or dark. The reason why it is difficult to imagine Nausicaa on the stage is that this brief Homeric episode, which occupies just a few hundred lines in one of the shortest books of the Odyssey, does not look like a plot with a beginning, middle and end. Where did the action start and finish? How much of Homer’s Phaeacian narrative was included by Sophocles? These are impossible questions to answer, but they also apply (to a greater or lesser extent) to Sophocles’ other epic-based tragedies, and they call to mind Aristotle’s remarks, in the Poetics, about the differences between epic and tragedy in terms of what makes an effective plot-structure.122

Niobe (TrGF 4 F441a-451) Niobe’s excessive prosperity and boasting led to her downfall, when the jealous goddess Leto persuaded Apollo and Artemis to kill all of Niobe’s children. Apollodorus, who recounts the myth, gives the detail that Artemis used her bow and arrows to shoot Niobe’s daughters in the palace, while Apollo killed the sons as they went hunting on Mount Cithaeron. His account is probably based on Sophocles’ tragedy, since the details correspond to the remains of a papyrus hypothesis of this play.123 Aeschylus also wrote a Niobe, but in that play the children were dead before the beginning of the action. For many years knowledge of this lost play was based on a handful of bookfragments and testimonia. The most significant fact that they revealed was that the play presented Niobe’s sons as being defended by their boyfriends – and, furthermore, that the homoerotic overtones of this scenario were so powerful that some readers referred to the play by an alternative title, Paederastia (‘Love of Boys’).124 However, our knowledge was increased by the discovery of papyri published between 1906 and 1984, including not only the hypothesis See Pausanias 1.22.6 on Polygnotus; cf. Trendall and Webster (1971) 66–7 on fifth-century vasepaintings (which may or may not be inspired by Sophocles’ version). On depictions in later art, see Reid (1993). 121 Sutton (1984) 84; Radt (TrGF 4, p. 361, citing various others). 122 Aristotle, Poetics 1456a7-18, 1459a18-b7, 1462b1-12. 123 Apollodorus 3.5.6; cf. P.Oxy. 3653 frs. 1-2. 124 Plutarch, Amatorius 17, 760d (TrGF 4 F448); Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 13.601a. 120


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just mentioned but also several fragments of the play itself (F441a-445a). This evidence allows us to reconstruct part of the plot, including the climactic scene (or scenes) in which Niobe’s children were killed. (See Chapter 5, pp. 259–62, for discussion of this and other aspects of Niobe.)

The Footwashing (TrGF 4 F451a) Odysseus Wounded by the Spine (TrGF 4 F453-461a) The single fragment that survives from Niptra (‘The Footwashing’) tells us nothing. But the play’s title seems to indicate that it was based on the wellknown scene in the Odyssey where the hero, still disguised as a beggar, has his feet washed by the old nurse Eurycleia, who immediately recognizes him because of his childhood scar.125 Likewise, the title of Odysseus Akanthoplêx (‘Odysseus Wounded by the Spine’) denotes a play about the death of Odysseus. According to the post-Odyssean epic poem The Telegony, Odysseus was killed by Telegonos, his son by Circe, who fatally wounded him with a spear tipped with the spine of a stingray.126 Again, the fragments tell us little, though a couple of them relate to Odysseus’ travels after his killing of the suitors.127 Nevertheless, a puzzle is posed by the fact that the Roman tragedian Pacuvius also wrote a play entitled The Footwashing, which apparently combined these two episodes into a single plot. Its fragments feature a gravely wounded Odysseus as well as the footwashing scene with Eurycleia.128 Furthermore, Cicero confirms that Pacuvius’ tragedy was based on a Sophoclean original. In his Tusculan Disputations he discusses Pacuvius’ play at some length and at one point he compares Pacuvius favourably to Sophocles: The wisest Greek hero, when he was wounded, in The Footwashing, does not wail excessively, but rather shows restraint, saying: ‘Go on, step by step, applying gentle pressure, lest through a jolt an even greater pain should seize me’ [= Pacuvius F280]. Pacuvius does this better than Sophocles, for in Sophocles’ play Odysseus laments very pitifully because of his wound.129 Homer, Odyssey 19.349-508. Telegony (Proclus, Chrestomathia p. 73 Davies); Apollodorus, Epitome 7.36-7; cf. West (2003) 168–9. See West (2013) 307–15. 127 F453-4 allude to Homer, Odyssey 11.126-8: see Pearson (1917) II.110-11. 128 For the fragments of Pacuvius’ Niptra, see Warmington (1961) 264–71. 129 Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 2.48-9 (TrGF 4 F461a). 125 126



Cicero does not name the Sophoclean play in question, but he implies that it was The Footwashing (and the unusual shared title makes it almost impossible to believe that it was not). Thus we are faced with two difficult questions. Was The Footwashing an alternative title for Odysseus Wounded by the Spine? And, if so, did Sophocles’ play, like that of Pacuvius, combine two disparate episodes from different epics and different stages of Odysseus’ life? Roman authors are notorious for taking liberties with their source material and for mixing and matching elements from different plays (a technique referred to as contaminatio), but some scholars have found it harder to believe that Sophocles would have done such a thing.130 If Sophocles really did include the famous recognition scene and the death of Odysseus in a single plot-structure, this could be seen as his most creative use of myth, and a provocative reworking of epic, surpassing even the audacity of Euripides’ more outlandish mythical concoctions (in such works as Orestes, Helen, Alcmeon in Corinth or Cretan Women). But this remains uncertain. What is certain is that the portrayal of Odysseus in Odysseus Wounded by the Spine is an uncanny mirror-image of Sophocles’ Philoctetes. Here it is Odysseus himself who appears pitifully wounded and crying out in pain, just as in the other play Philoctetes is depicted as wounded and at Odysseus’ mercy. If Odysseus’ wound was in his foot, this will have constituted another suggestive parallel between the two stricken heroes. We do not know in what order the two plays were composed, but it is reasonable to assume that they formed some sort of intertextual dialogue and that knowledge of one play would have enriched the audience’s appreciation of the other. Was Odysseus made to resemble Philoctetes (or vice versa) in other ways? How did the portrayal of physical pain compare in each case? Did Odysseus bear his pain less nobly than Philoctetes (as Cicero perhaps implies)? Are there implications for our understanding of Sophoclean heroism? If only we were able to read both plays side by side …

Mad Odysseus (TrGF 4 F462-7) Though the hero Odysseus emerges from Homer’s Odyssey in an admirable light, his portrayal in Greek drama tends to be pejorative or at best ambivalent. For different views, see Pearson (1917) II.105-10; Venini (1954); Sutton (1984) 88–94; Radt (TrGF 4, pp. 373–4); Lloyd-Jones (1996) 236–7.



The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

This play was based on a particularly discreditable episode from the Cypria, in which Odysseus pretended to be mad in order to get out of the expedition to Troy.131 The story appears in a number of sources, all of which differ slightly, making it impossible to know exactly what happened in Sophocles’ play. It is sometimes assumed that Hyginus’ version summarizes the plot: here Odysseus’ supposed mania manifests itself in a taste for outré millinery and an attempt to plough sand by yoking together an ox and an ass, and it is Palamedes who uncovers the imposture by placing Odysseus’ infant son Telemachus in the path of the plough. Elsewhere (in the version preserved by Apollodorus and others) Palamedes forces Odysseus to behave normally by snatching Telemachus and threatening to run him through with a sword. I suggest that this latter version is more likely to reflect Sophocles’ play, since it would be easier to produce on stage; it is also remarkably similar to a scenario in the Telephus plays of Aeschylus and Euripides (in which Telephus snatched the infant Orestes and held him hostage). But, as usual, certainty is unattainable, and the fragments themselves tell us nothing further.

Oenomaus (TrGF 4 F471-7) This play is of special interest because it is one of only three lost Sophoclean tragedies for which we have unambiguous evidence of reperformance after the fifth century BCE.132 Aeschines, the orator and actor, appeared in the title role in a production of Oenomaus at the deme theatre of Collytus during the midfourth century. It was evidently not Aeschines’ finest hour on stage. Demosthenes ridiculed him as a ‘tragic ape’ who had ‘wretchedly murdered’ Oenomaus, and an ancient commentator adds that Aeschines was thrown out of the theatre.133 Nevertheless, this evidence shows that Oenomaus was still popular several decades after its original appearance. The existence of fourth-century comedies entitled Oenomaus or Pelops could also be a sign of the play’s ongoing popularity, though these plays may have been inspired by the Oenomaus of Euripides.134 Cypria (Proclus, Chrestomathia p. 31 Davies): see West (2013) 102–4. Cf. Apollodorus, Epitome 3.7; Hyginus, Fabula 95; Lycophron, Alexandra 815–17; Lucian, The Hall 30; Pliny, Natural History 35.129. 132 Demosthenes 18.180; Demochares FGrHist 75 F6a; see also TrGF 4, p. 381. The play was restaged in Collytus c. 365–30 BCE. 133 Demosthenes, On the Crown 180, 242; cf. Σ Demosthenes, On the False Embassy 255 and other sources at TrGF 4, p. 381. See Sommerstein and Talboy (2012) 90–2. 134 Antiphanes F172 K-A; Eubulus F73 K-A. See Hunter (1983) 163–4. 131



The myth is narrated by Apollodorus (and others) as follows. Oenomaus was king of Pisa and father of Hippodameia, for whose hand many suitors competed. Either because he nurtured an incestuous passion for Hippodameia himself or because he had been warned by an oracle that he would be killed by anyone who married his daughter, Oenomaus killed many suitors: he first pursued them in a chariot, and then decapitated them and nailed their heads to his palace. Pelops arrived at Pisa and fell in love with Hippodameia; he alone of all the suitors managed to defeat Oenomaus, by bribing Oenomaus’ charioteer Myrtilus to tamper with his chariot, thus causing a fatal accident.135 Sophocles’ play obviously followed this narrative, at least in broad outline. The fragments preserve a few significant pieces of information. F471 (‘one of them said that her son was faster, but another said that hers was’) implies that the mothers of some of the suitors were present to watch the chariot racing. F473a confirms that Oenomaus decorated his roof with the heads of suitors, and F473 adds the gruesome detail that he scalped as well as decapitated them. This shows that Oenomaus was presented as barbarous, though there is no indication of whether his villainy was exacerbated further by incest. The play did, however, feature erotic love as a central theme. This is clear from F474, part of a speech of Hippodameia, in which she describes the relationship that has developed between herself and Pelops as mutual love at first sight: It is a magic charm of this sort that Pelops possesses – a love-charm, such as a huntsman might use, as it were a kind of lightning-flash of the eyes. By this he himself is warmed up, and I am burned, as he surveys me with responsive eye just as closely as the carpenter’s straight-driven plumb-line clings to its level.

This is one of the most thrilling descriptions of physical passion in Greek poetry. Hippodameia’s words contain an exuberant mixture of metaphors: eyes, weather, temperature, magic, hunting and craft images combine in the space of a few lines. This is the only glimpse we have of Hippodameia, but even from this small fragment we can begin to appreciate what a striking character she was. This is a woman in the grip of powerful emotion, vividly characterized by her use of language. If this play had survived, Hippodameia would surely have been among the most remarkable examples of tragic women in love, a name to be discussed alongside Phaedra and Medea.

Apollodorus, Epitome 2.3-8; Pindar, Olympian 1.24-89 (with Σ); Sophocles, Electra 502–15 (with Σ); cf. Gantz (1993) 540–5.



The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

Palamedes (TrGF 4 F478-81) All three tragedians of the ‘classic’ triad wrote plays about the death, during the Trojan War, of Palamedes, the Greek hero who was famous for his discoveries and inventions, including the skills of numeracy and literacy. Sophocles emphasized additional ways in which Palamedes benefitted mankind, including the invention of board games.136 All these achievements came to an untimely end with Palamedes’ death. It is not clear how this was portrayed by Sophocles. Perhaps Palamedes drowned while fishing (as in the Cypria) or perhaps his death came about through the machinations of Odysseus (who, in some versions of the myth, falsely accused Palamedes of conspiring with the Trojans and taking bribes, thus causing the Greeks to condemn him to execution).137 In view of the fact that Sophocles wrote other works centring on the revenge of Palamedes’ father, Nauplius, against all the Greek heroes, it seems more likely that here Sophocles followed the latter – and more widely attested – version.138 (See separate entry on Nauplius I and II.) In that case, however, we are bound to ask the broader question of how closely Sophocles adhered to the cyclic epics as a model for his Trojan War tragedies: the answer to that question will have a bearing on our reconstruction of numerous other plays.

Peleus (TrGF 4 F487-96) Euripides’ Peleus featured the hero as a young man falsely accused of rape by Astydameia in Iolcus. We have very little information about Sophocles’ play, but it obviously had a completely different plot and setting, since it presented Peleus in old age. This is revealed by F487, in which an unknown female character says: I alone look after the house and tend the old age of Peleus, son of Aeacus, and I have to train him again, because as a man grows old he becomes a child again.

These lines tell us that here Peleus was in an advanced state of senility, but the other fragments contain no further clues to the play’s contents. Possibly Sophocles dramatized Peleus’ exile from Phthia after his banishment by Acastus

F479: see Sommerstein and Talboy (2012) 160; cf. Nauplius F429, F432. See, e.g., Gorgias, Palamedes (DK82 B11a); Hyginus, Fabula 105; Servius, Commentary on Vergil’s Aeneid 2.81; Apollodorus, Epitome 3.7-8; Cypria F20 Davies; Pausanias 10.31.2. See Gantz (1993) 603–8. 138 See the commentary of Sommerstein and Talboy (2012), esp. 112–27. 136 137



and his rescue by Neoptolemus. This episode in the myth is briefly alluded to by Euripides in his Trojan Women, whereas Apollodorus simply mentions Peleus’ death in exile.139 A fuller version of the story – incorporating Neoptolemus’ discovery of Peleus in a cave in Molossia, his killing of Acastus’ sons and his attempt to kill Acastus until prevented from doing so by Thetis – is found in the Diary of the Trojan War by the obscure writer Dictys of Crete (normally dated to the third or fourth century CE): this text may derive from Sophocles’ play, or it may be a later concoction.140

Shepherds (TrGF 4 F497-21) This play is one of several Sophoclean dramas (including The Demand for Helen’s Return, Tyndareus and The Gathering of the Achaeans) which dramatized the origins and very early stages of the Trojan War, no doubt drawing heavily on material from the lost epic Cypria.141 In this particular work the arrival of the Greek fleet at Troy was seen from the perspective of shepherds guarding their flocks on the hills outside Troy: these shepherds formed the play’s chorus. We know that the plot included the death of Protesilaus, the first Greek to set foot on the shore, at the hands of Hector (as in Euripides’ Protesilaus); it also seems to have included Achilles’ killing of Cycnus, the son of Poseidon (whose flesh could not be pierced by metal weapons, but Achilles split his head open with a stone).142 One fragment (F502) features a goatherd reporting an early-morning sighting of Cycnus’ army marching along the seashore; another (F511) is some sort of allusion to the Judgement of Paris. Otherwise definite information is thin on the ground. It has been suggested that Shepherds was a satyr-play, either because a chorus of lowly herdsmen is supposedly beneath the dignity of tragedy or because the content of certain fragments seems vulgar or humorous (for instance, F501, in which Cycnus threatens to kick someone in the buttocks).143 Nevertheless, Alan Sommerstein has demonstrated that these features, while uncommon, are not necessarily incompatible with the language or content of tragedy.144 As so Euripides, Women of Troy 1126–8; Apollodorus, Epitome 6.12. Dictys of Crete, Ephemeris Belli Troiani 6.7-9: see TrGF 4, p. 391; cf. Pearson (1917) II.141-2. 141 See the commentary of Sommerstein and Talboy (2012). 142 Cypria (Proclus, Chrestomathia p. 32 Davies); Σ Lycophron, Alexandra 530 (TrGF 4 F497); on Cycnus, see F500-501 with Apollodorus, Epitome 3.31. 143 Rosen (2003); cf. TrGF 4, p. 395. 144 Sommerstein and Talboy (2012) 183–8. 139 140


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often when dealing with lost plays, we need to be very cautious when making judgements about what is or is not ‘tragic’.

Polyxena (TrGF 4 F522-8) The Greeks’ sacrifice of Priam’s daughter Polyxena at the tomb of Achilles was narrated in the lost poems of the Epic Cycle, but it is now best known from Euripides’ Hecuba.145 That play and Sophocles’ Polyxena both featured a ghost among their characters.146 In Hecuba the ghost is that of Polydorus, who appears unprompted at the beginning of the play and delivers the prologue-speech (‘I have come from the hiding-place of the dead, leaving behind the gates of darkness’). But in Polyxena it was the ghost of Achilles who appeared: I have come, leaving behind the shores of the lake, deep in darkness, where no rejoicing is heard, the barren waters of Acheron that echo the sound of lamentation and fierce beating of the head. (F523)

This moment in the play was striking enough for Longinus to recall it, centuries later, as an example of Sophocles’ visual imagination.147 But it is unclear where the crucial scene came within the plot-structure. The similarity of its wording to Polydorus’ opening lines does not necessarily imply that Achilles’ ghost appeared at the very beginning of the play.148 In terms of the story as narrated elsewhere, the ghost demanded the sacrifice of Polyxena when the Greek fleet was about to sail home from Troy. It may be that in Sophocles’ play this decisive event came somewhere in the middle, resolving an earlier impasse caused by a disagreement between Agamemnon and Menelaus. This is perhaps implied by F522 (including framing material from Strabo, who quotes the fragment): Sophocles in Polyxena showed Menelaus as eager to depart from Troy, while Agamemnon, on the other hand, wanted to delay a little longer in order to propitiate Athena. He brings Menelaus on stage saying: [to Agamemnon:] You, stay here, somewhere in the land of Ida! Round up the flocks of Olympus and sacrifice them! Iliou Persis (Proclus, Chrestomathia p. 62 Davies); Cypria F27 Davies. Cf. Euripides, Hecuba, esp. 37–41, 92–7. On the myth (and other matters), see the commentary of Sommerstein, Fitzpatrick and Talboy (2006) 41–51. 146 See Bardel (2005), esp. 92–100. Cf. Mossman (1995) 42–7 on the relationship between the two plays. 147 Longinus, On the Sublime 15.7. 148 See Sommerstein, Fitzpatrick and Talboy (2006) 76. 145



A further fragment (F524) features Agamemnon deliberating about the right course of action and reflecting that not even Zeus is able to please everybody all the time. This has been seen as linked to a scenario (as in Iphigenia at Aulis) in which Agamemnon is faced with the agonizing choice whether or not to perform human sacrifice, but it might belong to the earlier part of the play when Agamemnon is trying to persuade the other Greeks to tarry at Troy. The other fragments add little to our knowledge, except that F526 (‘a limitless robe, a garment of evil’) may well allude to the manner in which Clytemnestra killed Agamemnon. If true, this would mean that the death of Agamemnon was predicted in the play, perhaps by the ghost.

Priam (TrGF 4 F528a-532) This play is known solely on the basis of four single-word lexical citations. Nothing can be said about its plot. If one tries to imagine a scenario in which Priam was the main character, the most obvious would be his encounter with Achilles when he came to demand the return of Hector’s corpse (as narrated by Homer in the Iliad and dramatized by Aeschylus in his Phrygians or The Ransoming of Hector), but there are plenty of other possibilities.

Procris (TrGF 4 F533) An unusual tragedy on a theme of marital love and sexual jealousy. The story of Procris and Cephalus is familiar from Ovid’s Metamorphoses,149 but our best evidence for the myth in the Greek period is a fragment of the fifth-century mythographer Pherecydes: Cephalus, the son of Deioneus, lived in Thoricos with his wife Procris. It is said that because he wanted to test his wife’s love for him, he left home and stayed in a foreign country for eight years, leaving her behind in the bridal chamber. Then he returned home in disguise, dressed up to the nines. He brought with him fine gifts, which he persuaded Procris to accept and thus seduced her: for Procris was so dazzled by the finery of the goods and by Cephalus’ exceedingly

Ovid, Metamorphoses 7.690-892; cf. Ars Amatoria 3.685-746; Apollodorus 3.15.1; Hyginus, Fabula 189.



The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

handsome appearance that she went to bed with him. Subsequently Cephalus revealed himself and condemned Procris’ conduct. Nevertheless, they were reconciled, and Cephalus went out hunting. Indeed, he threw himself so vigorously into this pursuit that Procris came to suspect that he was sleeping with another woman; so she summoned her servant and asked him if he had any knowledge of this. The servant replied that there was just one thing that he could tell her: Cephalus very often went up to a mountain top and spoke the words ‘Appear, o cloud!’ When Procris heard this she herself went up this mountain and concealed herself. At the moment when she heard Cephalus speaking the same words she ran towards him. But Cephalus, catching sight of her sudden appearance, was thrown off guard; he let fly a spear from his hand and killed Procris. Subsequently he summoned her father Erechtheus and gave her a magnificent burial.150

If we assume that Sophocles more or less followed this outline, his play will have been extraordinary. There is nothing quite like this elsewhere in Greek tragedy, despite the fact that many lost plays centred on erotic and romantic themes. It may be thought that this sort of subject-matter is characteristically ‘Euripidean’, so it is good to have confirmation that Sophocles also wrote tragedies of this sort. Perhaps the nearest parallel in Sophocles’ own work is the depiction of the relationship of Deianeira and Heracles in Women of Trachis. But the story of Procris and Cephalus is quite different in its focus: it gives an utterly distinctive view of the emotions of husbands and wives and their potential for obsessive and insecure behaviour. It is easy to imagine the appeal of a dramatic version of this story, with its irony, its pathos and its irresistibly awful conclusion. Other intriguing details are implied here, such as the use of costumes and disguise, the erotic associations of the hunt, the psychological aspects of wild and mountainous settings, and Cephalus’ enigmatic mountain-top invocation, ‘Appear, o cloud!’ Pherecydes does not explain this enigma, but it looks like some form of rain magic.151 Did this magical motif feature in Sophocles’ version, and, if so, how did it relate to the other aspects of the scenario? All in all, this is one of the most noteworthy but also most elusive of the lost plays. Nothing survives of it except a single fragment (‘punishers and avengers of wrong’, F533).

Pherecydes, FGrHist 3 F34. See Fowler (2013) 461–4; Gantz (1993) 238, 246. Seen by Fowler (1993).

150 151



Root-Cutters (TrGF 4 F543-6) Another of Sophocles’ tragedies on the subject of Medea (see also Aegeus, Colchian Women and Scythians). The fragments that survive are extremely striking: they feature Medea herself as a naked witch, boiling up magical potions (F534), and the women of the chorus as fellow-witches, performing incantations to the sun-god and to Hecate (F535). These fragments, together with a testimonium from Macrobius, show that the play was about the death of Pelias, whose daughters Medea induced to kill him by boiling him in a cauldron, having first demonstrated by boiling a ram that magical rejuvenation could result from this process.152 The same story was dramatized by Euripides in his first tragedy, Daughters of Pelias (455 BCE), though we do not know which version was the earlier. F536 shows that a wax effigy of someone or other was burnt during the course of the play: this detail is not mentioned in other accounts of the death of Pelias, and it is unclear how it may have fitted into the plot. Scholars have tried to imagine the purpose of this magic ritual or the identity of the character represented by the doll.153 The answers to such questions, like almost all other details about this play, remain unknown, but the fragments provide valuable evidence for the study of ancient magic and witchcraft. (See Chapter 4, pp. 227–36, for further discussion of this play in relation to the different versions of Medea in tragedy.)

Sinon (TrGF 4 F542-4) Sinon was the Greek hero who entered Troy, along with the Wooden Horse, and later lit fires to guide the Greeks on their return. Aristotle cites Sophocles’ Sinon (along with other titles) as an example of a play based on the Little Iliad, though the story also featured in another lost epic, The Sack of Troy.154 Since several other Sophoclean tragedies dramatized the fall of Troy, including Locrian Ajax, The Sons of Antenor and Laocoon, scholars have naturally been curious about the relationship between these works, but there is insufficient evidence to do

Macrobius, Saturnalia 5.19.8; cf. Apollodorus 1.9.27. Pearson (1917) II.177; Radt, TrGF 4, p. 411. 154 Aristotle, Poetics 1459a37-b7; cf. Iliou Persis (Proclus, Chrestomathia p. 62 Davies); Apollodorus, Epitome 5.20-1. See West (2013) 204–8, 233–4. 152 153


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more than speculate. It has sometimes been suggested that we are dealing with alternative titles for the same play(s), but Aristotle seems to tell against this, since he firmly emphasizes that the poems of the Trojan Epic Cycle furnished ample material for numerous tragedies. All that remains of Sinon are four lexicographic fragments.

Scythians (TrGF 4 F546-552) This work and Women of Colchis treated a similar part of the Argonautic legend. Were the two plays connected? Was one written as a sequel to the other? Were they part of a connected trilogy on the theme of Jason, Medea and the Argonauts? The remains are so sparse that such speculation cannot take us very far. All that survives is a handful of tiny fragments, consisting of oneword lexicographic citations or geographical details about the Argo’s voyage: the only fragment of real interest is F546, which alludes to the fact that Medea and Apsyrtus (the brother whom she killed) were born of different mothers. (See Chapter 4, pp. 227–36, for further discussion of Scythians and other versions of the Medea myth.)

Scyrians (TrGF 4 F553-61) Two separate strands in the mythology of the Trojan War featured expeditions by Greeks to the island of Scyros. The first involved Achilles, whom Thetis concealed on Scyros at the outbreak of the war in order to prevent him from fighting: Odysseus and Diomedes went to fetch him back, but Achilles had by that time fallen in love with the Scyrian princess Deidameia and produced a son, Neoptolemus.155 The second involved the adult Neoptolemus, who after Achilles’ death was revealed by the prophet Helenus as essential to the Greeks’ victory: consequently Odysseus returned to Scyros (probably accompanied by Phoenix), where he gave Achilles’ armour to Neoptolemus and took him to join the Greek army.156 The first of these episodes was dramatized by Euripides in his Scyrians, but the subject of Sophocles’ play

Cypria (Proclus, Chrestomathia p. 32 Davies); Apollodorus 3.13.8: cf. Gantz (1993) 580–2. Little Iliad (Proclus, Chrestomathia p. 52 Davies); Apollodorus, Epitome 5.11; Quintus of Smyrna, Posthomerica 7.186-442.

155 156



is uncertain, since nothing in the fragments points conclusively to one story or the other. We have nine book-fragments, one of which (F555, a three-line maxim about sailors preserved by Stobaeus) was discovered to overlap with a papyrus published in 1927.157 This papyrus contains parts of a further thirty or more lines: the text is lacunose and badly damaged, but the whole section appears to be a speech about the dangers and misfortunes associated with seafaring. F555b, the most substantial portion, includes references to ‘enmity’, ‘the Greeks’ ships’ and ‘caution’, as well as the name of Chalcodon (the king of Euboea and a Greek ally), but this fresh evidence, disappointingly, reveals nothing new about the plot or characters. Fellow-Diners (Sundeipnoi): see The Gathering of the Achaeans

Tantalus (TrGF 4 F572-3) The play’s title character was – like Ixion – a paradigm of bad behaviour justly punished. Tantalus, king of Sipylus, was originally a rich and prosperous man, who was allowed the rare privilege of dining alongside the gods. However, he offended the gods, either by divulging their secrets to other humans, or by stealing their nectar and ambrosia, or by killing his son Pelops and serving him to the gods as a meal. For this terrible behaviour, and as a lesson to all mankind, he was punished for eternity, either by having a rock suspended terrifyingly over his head, or by being immersed in a lake, or by being continually presented with tempting food and drink which were snatched from him as he tried to consume them (hence the English word ‘tantalizing’).158 The subject was popular among tragedians, and plays entitled Tantalus were written by Phrynichus, Pratinas and Aristarchus as well as Sophocles.159 Virtually nothing is known about any of these works. Two fragments from Sophocles’ version survive. One of them is a sorrowful maxim about the shortness of life (F572); the other is a reference to an oracle revealed by Hermes (F573).

P.Oxy. 2077 (TrGF 4 F555, F555a-c). For the myth, see Homer, Odyssey 11.582-3; Pindar, Olympian 1.91-7 (with Σ); Diodorus Siculus 4.74.2; Apollodorus, Epitome 2.1. Cf. Gantz (1993) 531–8. 159 TrGF 1.3 F7, 1.4 T2, 1.14 F1b. See LPGT 1, pp. 15, 20, 47–8. 157 158


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Teucer (TrGF 4 F576-579b) A tragedy that was thematically close to Sophocles’ Ajax, though the relationship between the two plays is unknown.160 Our main source for the plot is Cicero, who mentions Teucer during a discussion of consolation: The hero Oileus in Sophocles’ play, although he had already consoled Telamon for the death of Ajax, was shattered when he learnt of the death of his own son. His altered state of mind is shown in the following words: You might see the greatest men and the wisest in counsel behaving just as this man is behaving now, offering fine words of advice to one who is faring ill; but when a god weighs down on the scales of a man who was previously fortunate, reversing the balance, all his many words, fine though they be, are in vain.161

Thus Teucer was in some sense a sequel to Ajax, dealing with the aftermath of Ajax’s death and the fraught relationship between Ajax’s father Telamon and his surviving son Teucer. The play centred on Teucer’s homecoming to Salamis and on Telamon’s rejection of Teucer for failing to save Ajax’s life, an eventuality predicted by Teucer in Ajax.162 Apart from F577, in which we glimpse Telamon lamenting his son’s death, the fragments tell us nothing. But additional information is provided by Aristotle, who cites Teucer twice in his Rhetoric.163 Aristotle reveals that the play included a debate (or agôn) between Odysseus and Teucer, in which Odysseus used Teucer’s family connections in order to claim that Teucer was on the side of the Trojans; Teucer maintained that he was not a traitor, for if he had been, he would have denounced the spies. Aristotle also notes that the play contained an example of the technique whereby an opponent’s argument is refuted by quoting his own words against him (though no precise details are supplied). This evidence seems to place Sophocles’ tragedy within an intellectual context of the sophistic movement, since its combination of modish argumentation and Trojan Warrelated subject-matter is reminiscent of other set-piece debates and rhetorical displays by writers such as Gorgias (Helen and Palamedes) or Antisthenes (Ajax

See Finglass (2011) 34–6. Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 3.71, quoting F576 in Latin (Stobaeus 4.49.7 preserves the original Greek, wrongly attributed to Sophocles’ Oedipus). 162 Sophocles, Ajax 1006–27; cf. Velleius Paterculus 1.1, Σ Pindar, Nemean 4.76. 163 Aristotle, Rhetoric 3.1416b1-4; cf. 2.1398a4. 160 161



and Odysseus). The play’s date is unknown, but it must have been produced before 423 BCE, when it was quoted in Aristophanes’ Clouds.164 Telepheia: see Telephus

Telephus (TrGF 4 F580) We know that Sophocles (like Aeschylus, Euripides, Agathon, Iophon, Cleophon and others) wrote a Telephus, but we know nothing about its content: only one word survives. Nevertheless, Sophocles also wrote three other plays about Telephus and his family – Children of Aleus, Eurypylus and Mysians – and it seems possible that some or all of these plays belonged to the same production.165 Epigraphic evidence reveals that Sophocles did indeed write a connected trilogy or tetralogy known as the Telepheia.166 This is an enormously important discovery, because Sophocles is not otherwise known to have written a connected suite of plays; it has often been assumed (on very shaky evidence) that tragedians after Aeschylus mostly abandoned the trilogy format.167 We cannot be certain that the four plays named above formed a tetralogy, but if they did, it is probable that one of them was a satyr-drama. Nor can we know whether the plays in the Telepheia were linked by a single consecutive plot-structure (as in the Oresteia) or by a looser thematic connection.

Tereus (TrGF 4 F581-595b) The plot of Tereus incorporated a bizarre and grotesque series of events, including rape, mutilation, infanticide and cannibalism.168 The Thracian king Tereus, having raped Philomela (the sister of his wife, Procne), cut out her tongue to prevent her telling Procne, but Philomela wove a tapestry depicting her ordeal. Procne took revenge on Tereus by serving him up a grim dinner

Aristophanes, Clouds 583 (TrGF 4 F578). Cf. Finglass (2016), 214, though he regards Telephus as an alternative title for one of the other plays. 166 IG ii2. 3091 (TrGF 1 DID 5.8). 167 See pp. 12–14. 168 Known mainly from a papyrus hypothesis (P.Oxy. 3013 = TrGF 4, pp. 435–6); cf. Tzetzes, Commentary on Hesiod’s Works and Days 566; Apollodorus 3.14.8; Hyginus, Fabula 45. The tragedian Philocles also wrote a Pandionis tetralogy (TrGF 1.24 T6c, F1): see LPGT 1, pp. 99–100.




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consisting of body parts from their son Itys, whom she had murdered. When Tereus realized what had happened, he attempted to kill both sisters, but was prevented from doing so by divine intervention (though it is unclear which god intervened). This extraordinary plot culminated in the metamorphosis of all three main characters into birds: Tereus was transformed into a hoopoe, Philomela a swallow and Procne a nightingale. The play was apparently one of Sophocles’ most popular works during antiquity, inspiring parodies or pastiches by Aristophanes and other comedians as well as works by later writers such as Accius, Ovid and Achilles Tatius.169 It is also one of his better preserved fragmentary tragedies: sixteen or seventeen book-fragments survive.170 These fragments include a few tantalizing glimpses of the play’s action and characters, including part of a consolation addressed to Procne (F585) and a striking description of Tereus transformed into a hoopoe (F581). One memorable phrase – ‘the voice of the shuttle’ (κερκίδος φωνή) – denotes the use of weaving by Philomela to recount her ordeal. It is quoted by Aristotle, who tells us that it was spoken during a recognition-scene.171 The longest book-fragment (F583) overlaps with a recently published papyrus fragment from Oxyrhynchus.172 Even before the discovery of this new material, F583 was seen as a significant text because of its sympathetic depiction of the experience and social status of Greek women, but it could only be read as a decontextualized maxim (as preserved by Stobaeus in the section of his anthology entitled ‘That It Is Not Good to Marry’). Now it is possible to identify a speaker and dramatic context. The whole passage, incorporating Stobaeus’ citation and the papyrus, reads as follows: [Procne] … as it is, I am nothing on my own. But I have often regarded the nature of women in this way, seeing that we amount to nothing. In childhood in our father’s house we live the happiest life, I think, of all mankind; for folly always rears children in happiness. But when we have understanding and have come to womanhood, we are pushed out and sold, away from our paternal gods and from our parents, some to foreign

Aristophanes, Birds 93–101, 279–81 (cf. comedies entitled Tereus by Cantharus, Anaxandrides and Philetaerus); Accius F639-55 Warmington; Ovid, Metamorphoses 6. 424-74; Achilles Tatius 5.3-5. On the problems of using Ovid and Accius to reconstruct Sophocles’ play, see Coo (2013) 352–5. 170 For discussion and bibliography, see the commentary of Sommerstein, Fitzpatrick and Talboy (2006); cf. Coo (2013). 171 Aristotle, Poetics 1454b36-7 (F595). 172 Stobaeus 4.22.45 and P.Oxy. 5292: see Slattery (2016), Finglass (2016). Here I quote the lines as translated by Finglass, incorporating supplements by W.B. Henry. 169



husbands, some to barbarians, some to unfamiliar homes, and some to homes that are opprobrious. And this, once a single night has yoked us, we must approve and consider to be a good thing. [So I ought to obey this] custom. But if after such [waves] I should [now] see [calm, I should justly approve that] too. For what [is so hostile at one time is friendly at another.] Chorus: Well, [may it] end [for the best! But now I see this man bearing opportunely a] good [message, perhaps, my lady.] Shepherd: Lady [Procne, I have come here to you] wishing [to tell you] something [terrible and painful.] [Procne:] Then [I must receive it and have a share in dire] words. [But is it appropriate to trust you?] [Shepherd:] [Yes, because if it seems good to you, I willingly give] an oath [that I] shall speak [truly everything that I now say to you.] [Procne:] By speaking [you will free me from the fear I have now, at any rate.] For [ignorance is a burden that is] shared [by all.] [Shepherd:] I was making my way [not from the shepherds’ pastures,] but from a hunt. [I see an old man] who [signals] to us [terrible] things [that he has learned.] Travelling … from where libations … I stood ?under … hut

Thus we can see that the speaker is Procne, and that her pessimistic reflections on the female condition were delivered immediately before she learned of her sister’s fate; we learn of the existence of a minor character – the Shepherd – whose existence was not mentioned by the writer of the hypothesis; and we can infer that the chorus consisted of sympathetic women. We can also get a partial insight into Procne’s unhappy state of mind, and her views on marriage, even before she has discovered the appalling truth about her husband’s behaviour. There is still much that we do not know. The concluding scenes and the ending are particularly difficult to imagine (see pp. 251–3 for further discussion). Nevertheless, it is surprising just how much our knowledge has been increased by one small, lacunose papyrus fragment. At a stroke this new evidence renders several published discussions and reconstructions obsolete.

Triptolemus (TrGF 4 F596-617a) Even within antiquity the Eleusinian hero Triptolemus was a somewhat obscure character, whose background and parentage were disputed. Apollodorus, for instance, says that he was the son of Metaneira and Celeos, but also gives two alternative versions of his genealogy, attributed to fifth-century authors:


The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

Panyassis thought he was a son of Demeter and Eleusis, while Pherecydes named Oceanus and Earth as his parents.173 Triptolemus was not a popular subject for drama: the only other tragedian to have written about him seems to have been Choerilus, whose early play Alope featured Triptolemus as the son of Rharus and a daughter of Amphictyon.174 Nothing of Choerilus’ play survives, nor do we have any substantial narrative account of Triptolemus’ myth. All that we really know is the one detail on which our sources agree – that Demeter showed Triptolemus how to sow wheat and gave him a flying chariot so that he could spread this knowledge throughout the world. But the Athenians, from the sixth century onwards, treated Triptolemus as a culture hero and benefactor of mankind: his image is found on dozens of vase-paintings, and he was also widely cited as an example of the civilizing influence of Athens on the rest of the Greek world.175 Thus it seems likely that Sophocles’ play incorporated an aetiological account of the invention of agriculture (and perhaps the institution of the Eleusinian Mysteries) and also strong political overtones relating to Athenian ideology.176 Almost all of the fragments are parts of a description of Triptolemus’ mission, taking in locations as far-flung as Oenotria, the Tyrrhenian Gulf, Liguria, Illyria, Carthage and Thrace (F598-604). We also have part of Demeter’s instructions to Triptolemus – ‘Set down my words in the writing-tablets of your mind!’ (F597) – as well as a description of the magical chariot (F596), which, as in the iconographic tradition, had twin snakes coiled around its axle. Further fragments show that the play depicted the benefits of agriculture in the form of feasting and plenty: there was mention of fish-sauce, sheaves of wheat, millet, rice, barley wine and drinking-cups (F606-11), and the personified abstraction Banquet (Dais) seems to have been elevated to the status of a deity (F605). But it is hard to discern much of a story, or the basis for a dramatic plot, in any of this material. Furthermore, the focus on ‘low’ or undignified subject-matter such as eating and drinking has suggested to some that Triptolemus was a satyrplay rather than a tragedy.177 The play can be dated to approximately 468 BCE, making it one of Sophocles’ first productions.178

Apollodorus 1.5.1-2; cf. Pausanias 1.14.2-3, Homeric Hymn to Demeter 473–9. Choerilus (TrGF 1.2 F1). 175 See Matheson (1994). 176 See Kowalzig (2007), 145–9, on the social, cultural and economic context. 177 See TrGF 4, p. 446; cf. Brommer (1959) 46–7, 79, with ref. to a vase-painting depicting Triptolemus with satyrs (Syracuse, Museo Archeologico Regionale 24114). 178 According to Pliny, Natural History 18.65 (see TrGF 4 F600). 173 174



Troilus (TrGF 4 F618-35) An ancient commentator on the Iliad summarizes the plot: ‘Sophocles in Troilus says that he [the Trojan hero Troilus] was ambushed and killed by Achilles as he exercised his horses by the Thymbrian river.’179 The story does not appear in the Iliad, but it was narrated in the Cypria and dramatized by Phrynichus.180 Phrynichus’ play, though it is unknown except for a single fragment, could be a significant precursor to Sophocles’ Troilus, not just because it is the only other tragic treatment of the story known to us but because it depicted Troilus as a young man in love (‘the light of love shines brightly on his crimson cheeks’). This description echoes other literary sources in which Troilus’ youth and beauty were emphasized; it seems that Troilus was even a lover of Achilles in some versions of the myth.181 Certainly Troilus was depicted as an adolescent in Sophocles’ play: in F619 his servant, bewailing his death, calls Troilus andropais (‘man-boy’). The premature death of a beautiful hero on the brink of youth and manhood suggests a tragedy of immense pathos, while the possibility that Achilles was Troilus’ lover as well as his killer could add a further level of emotional complexity. Unfortunately, we have too little information about the play to do more than speculate as to its contents or tone. It has been suggested that Achilles was portrayed as vicious and sacrilegious, on the basis that F623 alludes to the barbaric practice of bodily mutilation and that Apollodorus records Achilles as having killed Troilus at the altar of Apollo, but this is impossible to prove.182 The only certain fact about the plot is that it featured a eunuch as the slave and tutor of Troilus: F620 describes his castration by Hecuba (‘the queen, cutting off my testicles with a knife’). This detail may imply that Sophocles presented the Trojan royal family in an ‘orientalizing’ fashion, in contrast with their appearance in other tragedies.183 A badly damaged didascalic inscription may commemorate the production of Troilus, together with Tyro, at the Lenaea of 418 BCE. This interpretation depends on an uncertain restoration, but it is hard to think of any other playwright or titles to whom the inscription could refer.184

Σ Homer, Iliad 24.257; cf. Apollodorus, Epitome 3.32. Cypria (Proclus, Chrestomathia p. 32 Davies); Phrynichus (TrGF 1.3 F13). See the commentary of Sommerstein, Fitzpatrick and Talboy (2006). 181 Ibycus S224 Davies; Lycophron, Alexandra 309–12 (with Σ); Athenaeus 13.81.14. 182 Sommerstein, Fitzpatrick and Talboy (2006) 196–7, 205. 183 Sutton (1984) 149. 184 IG ii2 2319-2323 (TrGF 1 DID A2a.78). The poet’s name is missing. What remains was restored as [Σοφοκλῆς] Τυροῖ Τρ.[ωίλωι] by Hoffman (1951), tentatively accepted by Snell and by Radt (TrGF 4, p. 453). 179 180


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Percussion-Players (TrGF 4 F636-45) A mysterious play, which – to judge by its title (Tympanistai) – could have been based on almost any subject. The tympanon, a type of hand-held drum or tambourine, was widely used in ritual contexts and especially in the worship of Dionysus or Cybele: this might suggest that the chorus consisted of worshippers or bacchantes.185 But this is not certain, and it tells us nothing about the plot or characters in any case. An ancient commentator on Sophocles’ Antigone records that Percussion-Players mentioned Eidothea, the second wife of Phineus: on this slender basis Friedrich Welcker, followed by other scholars, assumed that Phineus was the main character in the play.186 The fact that one of the fragments (F637) mentions the ‘Sarpedonian cave’, the place where Boreas seduced Oreithyia (the mother of Phineus’ first wife Cleopatra), has been taken to support this assumption. But these tiny details could be merely incidental references: there is no justification for believing that this was a play about Phineus.

Tyndareus (TrGF 4 F646-7) Tyndareus features in extant tragedy, always in some connection with his daughters Clytemnestra and Helen. This play seems to have been the only occasion on which he was elevated to the status of principal character. It seems likely that it had something to do with Helen and the origins of the Trojan War: this was a recurrent topic of interest for Sophocles (see also The Demand for Helen’s Return). Perhaps it centred on Tyndareus’ marriage to Leda and the unusual circumstances surrounding the birth of their children (most accounts say that Zeus was the father of Helen and Polydeuces, while Tyndareus was the father of Clytemnestra and Castor)187 or perhaps it was concerned with the arrival in Sparta of the suitors who came to compete for Helen’s hand.188 It may well be that Sophocles used a version of the myth familiar from Stesichorus’ narrative of the Helen story: Once when Tyndareus was making sacrifice to all the gods, he neglected just one deity, Aphrodite, gracious giver of gifts,

See, e.g., Herodotus 4.76; Euripides, Bacchae 58–9, 156, Helen 1347, Heracles 892. Welcker (1839–41) 329–30; cf. Pearson (1917) II.262-3, Sutton (1984) 150–1. 187 Apollodorus 3.10.5-7. 188 Apollodorus 3.10.8-9. 185 186



and she in her anger made Tyndareus’ daughters twice-wed, and thrice-wed, and deserters of their husbands.189

Stesichorus went on to describe how Tyndareus managed to make Helen’s suitors swear an oath that they would help the person who won her hand (whoever it turned out to be) to rescue her if she was ever abducted. We cannot know if these were actually the events that Sophocles dramatized, but Stesichorus is the only surviving source to convey a sense of how Tyndareus could have been the central focus of interest in a tragedy, rather than a peripheral figure. If Sophocles did follow a Stesichorean line, emphasizing Tyndareus’ error, Aphrodite’s anger and the inherited guilt, his play would have offered a perspective on the causes of the Trojan War that was subtly different from other dramatic treatments.190 But nothing survives of the play except a couple of gnomic commonplaces about old age and the changeability of fortune.

Tyro (TrGF 4 F648-669a) Tyro, daughter of king Salmoneus of Elis, fell in love with the river-god Enipeus, but Poseidon disguised himself as Enipeus and raped her. She secretly gave birth to twin sons, Pelias and Neleus, whom she exposed; the boys were brought up by a herdsman. Tyro herself returned home, where she was mistreated by her stepmother Sidero. When Pelias and Neleus reached adulthood, they were reunited with Tyro, whom they rescued, and they pursued Sidero to the altar of Hera, where Pelias killed her. Such is the outline of the myth as given by Apollodorus, whose narrative may well reflect Sophocles’ plot.191 Thus it would seem that Tyro exemplified a structural and thematic pattern – consisting of divine rape, childbirth, exposure, recognition, reunion and a ‘happy’ ending – that we tend to associate above all with Euripides.192 But in fact both Aeschylus and Sophocles turned to this type of plot from time to time. Tyro seems to have been one of Sophocles’ best-known tragedies in the fifth and fourth centuries, to judge by the number of citations. In Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, for instance, the heroine mentions it to illustrate the sex-mad

Stesichorus F85 Finglass (perhaps from Helen); cf. F87 on the suitors’ oath. See Davies and Finglass (2014) 319–25. 190 See Stinton (1965); Wright (2007). 191 Apollodorus 1.9.8. 192 The ‘happy’ ending is noted by Σ Euripides, Orestes 1691 (TrGF 4, p. 463). 189


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tendencies of women (‘No wonder they write tragedies about us – we’re nothing but Poseidon and a wash-tub!’). This brief allusion, which needs no explanation, shows that the spectators in 411 BCE were extremely familiar with Tyro; it also supplies the incidental detail that the twins were exposed in a washtub or cradle (skaphê).193 The same detail is mentioned by Aristotle in the Poetics, where he cites Tyro to illustrate the ‘least artistic’ category of recognition-scenes (by scars, signs or tokens): he records that the true identity of Pelias and Neleus came to light because of the vessel in which they had been exposed.194 The play’s recognition-scene was still sufficiently well known in the late fourth century that Menander used it as the basis for an entire scene in his Epitrepontes (‘Men at Arbitration’). Menander’s character Syriscus explicitly refers to Tyro, filling in some more detail about its plot: You’ve seen tragedies, I know that, and so you will understand all this. An old goatherd, dressed just as I am now, found those boys Neleus and Pelias, and when he realized that they were of a higher social standing than himself, he told them the whole story – how he found them, how he rescued them – and he gave them a little bag of tokens, from which they learned the whole truth about themselves and became kings.195

Apart from all these informative testimonia, we also have over twenty fragments. Most of the fragments are maxims or lexical items, but they contain a few interesting features. On its own F648 (‘white milk nurtured her in this way’) might seem baffling, but it makes sense in the light of a testimonium from Pollux, who says that the mask used for the character Tyro was unnaturally white, signifying her maltreatment by Sidero.196 Another reason why Tyro might be described as pale is that her name suggests the Greek tyros (‘cheese’). The tragedians (especially Euripides) show a notable penchant for this sort of etymological wordplay; F658 also draws attention to the fact that the cruel Sidero has a name resembling sidêros (‘iron’).197 The longest fragment (F659) consists of ten lines from a speech by Tyro: My lot is sadness – I grieve for my hair, like a foal who, having been grabbed hold of and roughly handled by herdsmen in the stables, is shorn of her golden mane; and when she is brought to the meadow she sees her image reflected in Aristophanes, Lysistrata 138–9 (with Σ) = TrGF 4 F657. Aristotle, Poetics 1454b19-22. 195 Menander, Epitrepontes 325–13. See Gutzwiller (2000) 105–6, 111–13. 196 Pollux, Onomasticon 4.141. 197 See Pearson (1917) II.282. Cf. Euripides, Antiope F181-2, Alexandros F42d, Telephus F696, Helen 12–13. 193 194



the waters of the river, with her hair all pulled out, lacking all respect. Alas! Even someone pitiless might pity her as she cowers in shame, so madly does she grieve and bewail her former fine looks!

This outburst not only characterizes Tyro as utterly wretched, even bestial, but it also helps us picture her appearance on stage, showing us that her hair had been shorn (it is odd that Pollux does not mention this feature of the mask). A fragmentary inscription has been taken as indicating that Tyro was produced at the Lenaea in 418 BCE, but this depends on a conjectural restoration.198 Since three of the fragments are cited as from ‘the second Tyro’, it is normally assumed that Sophocles wrote two versions of this play or two independent plays on the same subject. But there is room for doubt. The majority of those who quote our book-fragments attribute them simply to Tyro (not to Tyro I or Tyro II). This would not in itself be suspicious, since a similar inconsistency is encountered in all other cases where plural versions are attested (Athamas, Women of Lemnos, Phineus and Thyestes). Nevertheless, it is highly suggestive that Aristotle, who cites Tyro twice, does not seem aware of the existence of two plays. It is possible that Sophocles really did write two Tyro plays, but in this case we may well be dealing with a single play that had an unstable manuscript tradition in antiquity. It is easy to imagine that ancient scholars and librarians had access to two or more very different texts of the same work, featuring problems, cuts and interpolations.199

Water-Carriers (TrGF 4 F672-4) Another of those titles that refuse to yield up their secrets to the inquisitive (see also Percussion-Players, Female Prisoners, Phaeacians). Who were these watercarriers (hydrophoroi)? The three tiny fragments do not hint at an answer to this question. Aeschylus wrote a play with the same title, but the identity and function of his water-carriers is similarly mysterious. The Aeschylean work has an alternative title, Semele, and it seems to have dramatized the rape of Semele and the birth of Dionysus. It has been suggested that Sophocles’ play dealt with the same subject, but there is no evidence to support this suggestion.

IG ii2 2319-23 (TrGF 1 DID A2b). See pp. 187–9 (on Euripides’ Meleager); cf. Scullion (2006).

198 199


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Phaeacians (TrGF 4 F675-6) Unlike Water-Carriers, the title Phaeacians at least suggests a possible subject. But it is still ambiguous: it might suggest that this play featured Odysseus’ exploits at the court of Alcinous, as in the Odyssey, or that it dramatized the Argonauts’ voyage to Phaeacia, as in the Argonautica.200 If this was an ‘Odyssean’ tragedy, it is relevant to note that Sophocles also wrote a Nausicaa: this has led scholars to speculate that Phaeacians and Nausicaa were alternative titles for the same play, though we could equally assume that Sophocles dramatized the same story twice.

Phaedra (TrGF 4 F677-93) The characters and scenario of Sophocles’ Phaedra seem to have been much the same as in Euripides’ two Hippolytus plays. The question of the precise contents of these three works and their relationship to one another has been exhaustively discussed by scholars, rather in the manner of detectives endlessly re-examining the evidence in a ‘cold’ murder case, as if dogged perseverance might eventually lead to a solution.201 Nevertheless, depressing though it may be to admit it, we are never going to discover the truth about these lost works unless some fresh evidence should emerge. The ascertainable facts about the Sophoclean Phaedra are few. Less is known about it than about the lost Hippolytus, but at least the evidence in this case is less confusing. There are twenty book-fragments, all of them gnomic or lexicographic. These include several quotable maxims on the themes of erotic love and its irresistible nature (F684), the contrast between just and unjust types of pleasure (F677), the right way to deal with shame (F679-80) and the difference between good and bad wives (F682). Any of these sentiments could relate to Phaedra’s love for Hippolytus, while F678 – ‘he spat out the proposal’ – no doubt comes from a description of Hippolytus’ reaction to this love (whether or not Phaedra actively tried to seduce him). There are just three fragments which suggest any differences between Sophocles’ version and Euripides’ version. These are F680, which implies that Zeus, not Aphrodite, is responsible

Homer, Odyssey 6–8; Apollonius, Argonautica 4.982-1222; see Pearson (1917) 293–4. See the commentary of Sommerstein, Fitzpatrick and Talboy (2006), with bibliography at pp. 248–9.

200 201



for Phaedra’s love-sickness, and F686-7, part of a description, by Theseus, of his journey to the Underworld with Peirithous. As many have observed, Theseus’ words are particularly significant, because they might seem to justify or mitigate Phaedra’s behaviour. If Phaedra believed that her absent husband was in fact dead, she would not have deemed an affair with her stepson to be adulterous. It seems inevitable that one or other (or both) of Euripides’ Hippolytus tragedies will have been written in the light of Sophocles’ Phaedra – or vice versa. Perhaps, as several critics have believed, the order of production was Hippolytus I – Phaedra – Hippolytus II, which could mean that each playwright was in turn responding to the other, offering a subtly (or radically) different characterization of Phaedra and Hippolytus in each new version.202 If we ever discover more about these works, including their relative dating, it will greatly enhance our understanding of the extant Hippolytus, not to mention the Senecan Phaedra. Nevertheless, it is worth stressing that these tragedies are in no way extraordinary in respect of their connection to one another. Dozens of other lost tragedies shared subject-matter and characters in common, as playwrights continually looked for new ways of treating familiar material. This means that intertextual relationships (of one sort or another) between individual plays will have been extremely widespread.203

Phthian Women (TrGF 4 F694-6) Aristotle in the Poetics cited this play (along with Peleus) as an example of a ‘tragedy of character’,204 but this is a tantalizingly unclear description. It might be easier to understand what he meant if we at least knew which characters featured in Phthian Women, but all that the fragments reveal is that the characters included two old men (F695) and one young man (F694), and that someone’s father was killed (F696). Phthia, in Thessaly, was the home of Peleus and his family, including Achilles and Neoptolemus, so Sophocles’ play might have had something to do with one or other of them. It has been suggested that Phthian Women was an alternative title for Sophocles’ Peleus:205 this is not impossible, but Aristotle seems to indicate

Barrett (1964) 29–30; Kiso (1973); Sommerstein, Fitzpatrick and Talboy (2006) 287–9. Cf. LPGT 1, pp. 202–5. 204 Aristotle, Poetics 1456a1-4. 205 Pearson (1917) II.305-6; Radt, TrGF 4, p. 481. 202 203


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that these were two separate works. Others have suggested that this play should be identified with Hermione.206 Again, this is not out of the question: we do not know the identity of the chorus in Hermione, but Euripides’ Andromache, which resembled it, was set in Phthia and had a chorus of Phthian women.

Philoctetes at Troy (TrGF 4 F697-703) Philoctetes was a wounded Greek hero who was abandoned on the island of Lemnos but later retrieved by Odysseus after an oracle revealed that Troy could fall only with the help of Philoctetes and his bow. Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides all dramatized his story, and though the versions by Aeschylus and Euripides are lost, the three tragedians’ plays were compared and contrasted by Dio of Prusa, thus preserving valuable information about them.207 What Dio fails to mention was that Sophocles wrote not one but two tragedies on the same subject. (Perhaps this was because he was unaware of the fact: was only one of them extant by the time that Dio was writing?) The lost play, Philoctetes at Troy, was based on the next stage in the story, after Philoctetes had left Lemnos and gone with the Greeks to Troy. It is tempting to treat it as a sequel to the extant Philoctetes (produced in 409 BCE), but we have no idea of the date of the lost work or whether it was deliberately designed as a companion piece. As far as I can tell, no one has ever suggested that the two plays belonged to the same trilogy, but this possibility cannot be ruled out. Nor can the possibility that Sophocles was influenced by Achaeus, whose Philoctetes also dramatized the Trojan part of the myth.208 At the start of the play Philoctetes was still suffering from a suppurating wound. This is shown by a fragment in which he warns his Greek comrades ‘only make sure that you are not afflicted by my smell’ (F697). Other fragments, featuring cries of distress (F699), a snake (F700) and a description of death as ‘the final cure for diseases’ (F698), may also relate to Philoctetes’ suffering. So it must be that Philoctetes’ healing, by Asclepius or one of his sons, was shown or described in the course of the play, but we cannot be sure of the details or what happened next, since the fragments give no other clues and other sources differ

Sommerstein, Fitzpatrick and Talboy (2006) 14–17. See pp. 59–60, 205–6. 208 TrGF 1.20 F37; see LPGT 1, pp. 35–6. 206




slightly from one another.209 Perhaps Sophocles followed the version in the Epic Cycle, in which Philoctetes was cured by Machaon and went on to kill Paris with his bow and arrow; or perhaps Philoctetes was cured by Podaleirios (as in Apollodorus’ version) or by Asclepius himself (as implied by the end of the extant Philoctetes); or perhaps the arrow which he fired at Paris was tipped with poison (as in Quintus of Smyrna’s version).210 There is little point in speculating further, but it is worth highlighting the motif of sickness and its cure, a theme that is found elsewhere in Sophoclean tragedy.211 Many ancient writers record that Sophocles himself was an adherent of the Athenian cult of Asclepius.212 Even if, like many details in the ancient biographical tradition, this is an extrapolation from the plays’ contents rather than a genuine fact, it is obvious that Philoctetes at Troy would have been a valuable document for the history of medicine.

Phineus I and II (TrGF 4 F704-717a) The mythical tradition surrounding Phineus, the blind Thracian prophet, is complicated and confusing – as is the evidence for Sophocles’ two tragedies about him. Phineus’ ancestry was disputed, his father being named as either Antenor or Poseidon. The cause of his blindness was given differently by various sources: perhaps the gods punished him for revealing the future to other humans; or perhaps Helios offered him a long life in exchange for his eyesight; or perhaps Poseidon punished him for having told Phrixus’ children how to get from Colchis to Greece; or perhaps the Argonauts (with or without the help of Boreas) blinded him after his own children by Cleopatra had been blinded. The circumstances in which Phineus’ sons came to be blinded are also obscure. Did Phineus blind them himself, after his second wife Idaea made a mendacious accusation of rape against them, or did Idaea herself blind them with a weaving-shuttle when they were children? And what happened to Phineus’ first wife Cleopatra? There are many variant details and discrepancies among our sources.213 But one detail on

See Avezzù (1988) 146–51. Little Iliad (Proclus, Chrestomathia p. 52 Davies): see Radt (TrGF 4, p. 482), Sutton (1984) 104, Pearson (1917) II.308. Contrast Sophocles, Philoctetes 1423–39; Apollodorus, Epitome 5.8; Quintus of Smyrna, Posthomerica 9.461-10.329. 211 See Mitchell-Boyask (2012). 212 TrGF 4 T67-T73b. 213 Apollodorus 1.9.21-2, 3.15.2; Sophocles, Antigone 970–87; Σ Apollonius, Argonautica 2.178 and 2.207; Diodorus Siculus 4.43.3-4, 4.44.4; Hyginus, Fabula 19. Cf. Gantz (1993) 349–52. See also pp. 60–1 on Aeschylus’ Phineus. 209 210


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which all the sources agree is that Phineus went on to receive further punishment from the gods: he was attacked by the Harpies, who snatched the food from his mouth and threatened to starve him to death until they were defeated by the Argonauts. A handful of (mostly unrevealing) fragments survive from Sophocles’ treatment of the myth. Some of them are attributed simply to Phineus, but one is cited as from Phineus I and four from Phineus II. So it is clear that two versions existed, but whether they dealt with separate parts of the story is less clear. The single fragment quoted from Phineus I (‘with snatching hands’, F706) alludes to the Harpies, but no fragment of Phineus II can definitely be linked to any part of the story. So it may be that the second Phineus was just a revised (or textually deviant) version of the first. An ancient commentator on the Argonautica mentions that one or both of these plays featured Idaea in the guise of a wicked stepmother, who falsely accused Phineus’ sons (Oarthus and Crambus) of trying to rape her and thus managed to persuade Phineus to blind them.214 Another ancient scholar records that the Sophoclean Phineus, unlike other versions of the character, was blinded as a result of taking his sons’ eyesight.215 This information shows us that Sophocles’ handling of the story here differed from his own treatment in the Antigone (966–87), where Idaea herself blinded the sons as young children. The only other ascertainable fact is that at least one of the plays featured the characteristically Sophoclean theme of medicine and the cult of Asclepius: (From being blind) he has been given back his eyes, and his eyeballs have been brightly lit up; he has encountered Asclepius, a kindly healer. (F710)

These lines were quoted by Aristophanes in his Wealth (388 BCE), showing that Sophocles’ Phineus remained familiar in the fourth century.216 But do they describe the restoration of Phineus’ sight or that of one of his sons? It is impossible to say. It is also hard to know what to make of a couple of other related fragments: F711 (‘his eyes are closed just like a tavern door’) and F712 (‘looking like an Egyptian mummy’ – perhaps a reference to bandages or to Phineus’ emaciated appearance). Both of these phrases look suspiciously like jokes, but can tragedy accommodate humour of this sort? Perhaps not. On the

Σ Apollonius, Argonautica 2.178 (=TrGF 4 F704). Etymologicon Magnum (=TrGF 4 F705). 216 Aristophanes, Wealth 635–7. Another fourth-century comedy, Timocles’ Women Celebrating the Dionysia (F6 K-A), alludes to a tragic Phineus which may be Sophocles’ play. 214 215



basis of these two fragments it has been suggested that at least one of the Phineus plays was satyric – a suggestion which is impossible to prove or disprove.217 The perplexity to which this material gives rise is increased by two further complications. First, Sophocles wrote another, equally obscure, play called Percussion-Players, which has sometimes been regarded as an alternative title for one of the Phineus plays. Secondly, a play entitled The Sons of Phineus is cited once, without author attribution, by Aristotle:218 since no one has ever succeeded in identifying this work or its author, perhaps this too might be seen as another reference to Sophocles’ Phineus I or II. Only the discovery of new evidence can shed light on all these problems.

Phoenix (TrGF 4 F718-20) Almost nothing is known about this play. It might have dramatized some episode involving Phoenix from the Trojan War epics, such as the embassy to Achilles (as described in the ninth book of the Iliad), the retrieval of Achilles from Scyros (as described in the Cypria) or Phoenix’s death and burial by Neoptolemus (as in the Nostoi or ‘Returns Home’).219 Or it might have followed the same lines as Euripides’ Phoenix, in which Phoenix was falsely accused of rape by Phthia, the concubine of his father Amyntor. Just three fragments survive: the fact that one of them (F720) is a reference to a wanton woman or prostitute has been taken to suggest that the Euripidean scenario is the most likely one, but this is uncertain.220 (See also entry under Dolopians.)

Phrixus (TrGF 4 F721-723a) The myth of Athamas and his family – including Phrixus and Helle, his children by Nephele – was a popular subject among tragedians. Plays on the subject were written by Aeschylus, Euripides, Achaeus, Astydamas and Timocles, and Sophocles himself is accredited with two tragedies called Athamas as well as Phrixus. The fact that Sophocles returned to the same material so often shows See TrGF 4, p. 485 (citing various others). Aristotle, Poetics 1455a10: see TrGF 4, p. 485. 219 Cypria F16 Davies; Nostoi (Proclus, Chrestomathia p. 67 Davies); Apollodorus 3.13.8, Epitome 5.11, 6.12. 220 Pearson (1917) 321–2.




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that he found it especially rich in dramatic potential. However, we cannot tell which part of the story he put on stage in any of these plays. It may be that Phrixus centred on the plot against Phrixus and Helle by their stepmother Ino and their miraculous escape: these events formed the basis of Euripides’ two Phrixus tragedies. Alternatively, it has been suggested that Sophocles’ plot is preserved by Hyginus, who records that Demodice, wife of Cretheus, fell in love with Phrixus and accused him of rape when he rejected her advances.221 If this really was the plotline that Sophocles followed, it would mean that his Phrixus was remarkably different from the other versions that we know about, but also remarkably similar to his Phaedra (and to the Euripidean tragedies that used the same story type: Stheneboea, Hippolytus I and II, Peleus and Phoenix). The four tiny fragments contain nothing to help us decide.

Phrygians (TrGF 4 F724-5) The title might seem to suggest a Trojan War theme – as in Aeschylus’ play of the same name, which was also called The Ransoming of Hector. Indeed, one ancient scholar seems to imply that Aeschylus’ and Sophocles’ Phrygians were very similar, in that they both featured a silent and brooding Achilles who had withdrawn from battle.222 But this testimonium is almost certainly mistaken, and it seems unlikely that Sophocles would appropriate the famous Aeschylean technique of the long-extended silence (unless for the sake of an intertextual allusion or hommage).223 We do not know what Sophocles’ Phrygians was about, but one of its two fragments (F725) shows that it featured a wedding celebration, and thus was quite different from Aeschylus’ tragedy.

Chryses (TrGF 4 F726-30) Which Chryses was the title character? Was it the priest of Apollo, whose daughter Chryseis was taken prisoner by Agamemnon at the start of the Iliad, or was it Chryseis’ son, whose father was either Agamemnon or Apollo? And what

Hyginus, Astronomia 2.20 (TrGF 4, p. 491). Σ Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 436 (TrGF 4, p. 493). 223 The scholiast has probably written ‘Sophocles’ Phrygians’ by mistake for ‘Aeschylus’ Phrygians’: see Pearson (1917) II.325, Lloyd-Jones (1996) 338–9. On Aeschylean silences, see pp. 262–6. 221 222



happened during the play? Was the scenario the same as in the first book of the Iliad, where the elderly priest beseeches Apollo for aid and brings about a plague on the Greek army, or was it based on the later exploits of the younger Chryses? None of these questions can be answered, and the five fragments tell us almost nothing (except that one of the characters had a beard – F729). Nevertheless, the majority of scholars have chosen to assume that the plot of Sophocles’ play is preserved by Hyginus, who recounts what happened to Iphigenia, Orestes and Pylades after they made their escape from Thoas and the Taurians (as at the end of Euripides’ Iphigenia among the Taurians).224 According to Hyginus, the Greeks sailed to the island of Sminthe, where, as it would happen, the younger Chryses was installed as a priest of Apollo. Thoas pursued the Greeks to Sminthe and demanded that they be handed over to him, but at that point the elder Chryses revealed to his grandson that Iphigenia and Orestes were the children of Agamemnon (and thus his half-siblings). The younger Chryses subsequently helped Orestes to kill Thoas, and Artemis finally helped them all to return to Mycenae. Hyginus’ narrative certainly resembles a summary of a tragedy, with a discernible pattern of reversal, recognition and resolution, and it may reflect Sophocles’ Chryses. If it does, there are several implications for the study of both Sophocles and Euripides. In the first place, it would be unusual for Sophocles to have written a plot of this type, which could be described as a ‘sequel’ to the more familiar version of Iphigenia’s story and in which the mythical content is likely to have been freely adapted or invented: this looks much more like a drama of the ‘Euripidean’ sort. Secondly, it is normally accepted that Euripides was the first poet to use the myth of Iphigenia among the Taurians in the form that is most familiar to us (in which a hind was sacrificed at Aulis instead of Iphigenia, and Iphigenia was removed, in human form, to the Taurian land).225 This means that Sophocles’ Chryses could be seen as a direct response to Euripides in particular, rather than simply a treatment of the myth in general. If this is true, then Chryses must have been produced after Iphigenia among the Taurians. But Iphigenia is usually dated to around 413–12 BCE, while Chryses is placed before 414 (when it was quoted by Aristophanes in his Birds).226 If we accept that Hyginus preserves

Hyginus, Fabulae 120–1. See TrGF 4, p. 494; cf. Pearson (1917) II.327-8, Sutton (1984) 29–31. See Wright (2005), esp. 113–15. 226 Cropp and Fick (1985) 22–3 (estimating a date c. 417–12 BCE), Cropp (2000) 60–2, Wright (2005) 44–7, 114; on Chryses, see Aristophanes, Birds 1240 (with Σ) = TrGF 4 F727. 224 225


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the outline of Chryses, it follows either that Sophocles, rather than Euripides, was the mythical innovator or that the conventional dating of both works must be revised.227 But there are so many ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’ here that no firm conclusions can be reached.

Marshall (2009) argues for a date c. 419–13 for Iphigenia and a later date for Chryses.




The surviving plays of Euripides are more numerous than those of Aeschylus or Sophocles, as well as more varied in their subject-matter and tone. This means, inevitably, that the lost plays affect our overall perception of Euripides’ work less radically than in the other two cases. Nevertheless, they can increase and enrich our understanding of Euripides’ art, and they provide glimpses of plots, characters and effects not seen elsewhere. This chapter discusses the forty-nine lost Euripidean tragedies for which we have solid evidence. Together with the surviving tragedies – excluding Rhesus – this adds up to a total of sixty-six (the same number, coincidentally, as Aeschylus’ tragedies). This amounts to a very considerable body of work. But the precise number of plays produced by Euripides is unknown. It was probably unknown even as early as the Hellenistic period, when librarians and textual critics started to assemble definitive editions and catalogues of the plays. Several ancient sources purport to record exact figures for the number of works written by Euripides (including satyr-plays), but they differ considerably from one another. The total is given as between ninety-two and seventy-five, and the number of works said to be attested but already missing is given as between fifteen and twenty-five.1 In other words, some of the plays acquired the status of lost works from an early date. It may be that many works in this category were satyr-dramas, which are much less well represented among the fragments than one might expect, but no doubt some tragedies have also disappeared from the record. The situation is complicated further by a few ‘phantom’ titles that are mistakenly attested (such as Epeius or Cadmus) and the disputed attribution to Euripides of plays that were almost certainly the work of other playwrights. Peirithous, Rhadamanthys, Sisyphus and Tennes are now usually assigned to Critias, and the extant Rhesus

TrGF 5 T1 (ancient Lives: IA, IB); T3 (Suda), T4 (Thomas Magister).



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is widely thought to have been written by an unknown fourth-century author.2 A genuine Rhesus by Euripides is known to have existed once upon a time, but this seems to have been replaced by the spurious work at an early stage in the history of transmission. Euripides had a long career: his first production (including Daughters of Pelias) won third prize in 455 BCE, and his last works were staged shortly after his death in 406–05.3 In between these dates he enjoyed half a century of success, producing plays not just in Athens but also further afield. He won the City Dionysia for the first time in 441 and on a further four occasions (including one posthumous victory). On the face of it this is a less starry record than that of Aeschylus or Sophocles, but prizes are a notoriously unreliable guide to a writer’s quality or status. It is clear that Euripides remained consistently popular and was a frequent competitor in the major festivals; furthermore, we have no record of his ever being refused a chorus, unlike Sophocles.4 Towards the end of his life Euripides was tempted away from Athens – perhaps by money and prestige or perhaps by the prospect of a respite from war and political unrest – to the royal court of Macedon.5 He became one of king Archelaus’ poets-in-residence and staged tragedies including Archelaus – a work which seems to have used myth to legitimate the regime of the real-life Archelaus and maybe even came close to being political propaganda. Had Euripides ‘sold out’ at the tail-end of his career, as Plato thought?6 Perhaps so; but then his final plays (Bacchae, Iphigenia in Aulis and Alcmeon in Corinth) scarcely look like the works of a poet in creative decline. Ideally one would like to be able to use the lost plays, alongside the surviving ones, to construct a narrative of Euripides’ artistic development throughout his life. Such an account would run parallel with the development of the tragic genre in the crucial period between the death of Aeschylus and the end of the fifth century. Indeed, this sort of exercise in literary history has often been attempted, by both ancient and modern scholars.7 For a long time, chiefly because of the enduring influence of Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy, scholars and students were accustomed to the image of Euripides as a decadent or destructive figure, who On Critias (TrGF 1.43), see LPGT 1, pp. 50–8. On the lost Rhesus (TrGF 5, pp. 80, 642–4), see Liapis (2012) lxvii–lxix. 3 TrGF 5 T55 (DID C9), T63. 4 On prizes, see TrGF 5 T56-59a, T63, T65a-b (cf. TrGF 4 T31 on Sophocles’ failure to obtain a chorus). 5 TrGF 5 T112-20, but note Scullion’s (2003) scepticism towards the biographical tradition. 6 Plato, Gorgias 471a-d; see on Archelaus, pp. 160–1. 7 Mastronarde (2010), 1–25, provides a critical survey. 2



made tragedy less and less tragic before eventually killing it off altogether.8 Even though this image has faded away during the last few decades, modern critics still tend to see Euripides as a ‘late’ figure within the evolution of tragedy. Do the lost plays seem to support such a narrative? Or do they suggest a different view of literary history? To both questions the answer, disappointingly, is no. There are three main reasons for this. First, the lost plays of Euripides were very heterogeneous in nature: this makes it hard to detect general patterns. Secondly, the lost plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles were equally heterogeneous, and they contain parallels for the sort of features traditionally seen as ‘Euripidean’ or ‘late’ (such as happy endings, anachronism, mythical innovation, or supposedly melodramatic plots involving rapes and recognitions). Thirdly, and most importantly, the underlying view of the history of tragedy as a gradual, linear process of development is not supported by the evidence. No doubt tragedies in (say) 409 BCE did look different in some ways from tragedies in 499, and no doubt fashions and audience tastes did change from time to time, but there is no compelling reason to think that an evolutionary or teleological model of the genre is correct. (We have already discussed the shortcomings of such an approach when applied to fourth-century tragedy.9) Even if we think that genres do evolve in a way that can be neatly mapped out, we will have to admit that there is not enough evidence about the dates of individual plays to do the necessary mapping-out. The only lost Euripidean plays for which a definite production date is known are Daughters of Pelias (455), Alcmeon in Psophis, Cretan Women and Telephus (438), Dictys and Philoctetes (431), Alexandros and Palamedes (415) and Andromeda (412). In addition, we can approximately date Archelaus (c. 408–06), Hypsipyle (shortly before 405) and Alcmeon in Corinth (shortly after 405). (This is better than the evidence for Aeschylean or Sophoclean dating, but it is still very inadequate.) Thus the majority of dateable plays belong to the middle or later part of Euripides’ career, with hardly any evidence for the first seventeen years – another serious problem for anyone hoping to compare and contrast early and late Euripides. In all these cases the dates and circumstances of production are confirmed by production records, hypotheses or other testimonia. Elsewhere we have to fall back on educated guesswork. Sometimes one of the fifth-century comedians, by quoting or parodying a lost play, establishes a terminus ante quem. For example, Nietzsche (1872); see, e.g., Michelini (1987). LPGT 1, pp. 117–75.

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Bellerophon must have been produced before 421 BCE, when Aristophanes parodied it in his Peace, and Melanippe the Wise must predate 411, when it was quoted in Lysistrata. Otherwise we may attempt to apply metrical dating, based on the established fact that Euripides’ use of iambic trimeter (the standard metre for spoken dialogue) became more fluid as time went on, with a progressively greater number of resolved syllables per line.10 But the number of complete lines that survive from any of the lost plays is too small to allow their date to be calculated precisely: we have to allow for a large statistical margin of error. So any overarching narratives about Euripides’ creative development over time seem to be ruled out. But that is not to say that we can detect no patterns or general trends at all in his oeuvre. His tragedies vary widely in theme and content, but among the fragments we can identify several recurrent motifs and plot types. The most obvious of these consists of love stories. Remarkably, about a third of these lost plays seem to have explored the effects of erotic or romantic love as a central theme (Aeolus, Andromeda, Antigone, Dictys, Theseus, Thyestes, the lost Hippolytus, Cretan Women, Cretans, Meleager, Oedipus, Oenomaus, Peleus, Protesilaus, Stheneboea, Scyrians, Chrysippus). The manner in which love was presented in these works seems to have varied hugely. It might have good or bad effects on the individual; it might be shunned or embraced; it might take the form of adultery, incest, bestiality, rape, seduction, love at first sight or happy marriage. Nonetheless, it is the single most prominent motif in Euripidean drama. This is a significant discovery, partly because it marks out Euripides as an important Greek love poet and direct inheritor from the earlier lyric tradition. This fact is reflected by ancient critics: Longinus, for instance, especially associated Euripides with the depiction of two emotions, love and madness, while Plutarch’s treatise on love (the Erôtikos) included more examples and quotations from Euripides than any other poet.11 Of course, as we have already seen, love is also encountered, albeit much less frequently, in the lost works of Aeschylus and Sophocles. In general there was much more focus on love in the lost plays than in those which survived – a highly suggestive fact. Even though so much remains unknown about the history of transmission, it is hard to avoid suspecting some form of censorship or bowdlerization. Were the more erotic tragedies deliberately cut out of the canon in an attempt to create,

See Cropp and Fick (1985), drawing on Zielinski (1925). Longinus, On the Sublime 15.3; cf. TrGF 5 T106-107d for the quasi-biographical tradition about Euripides’ love-life.

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by means of careful selection, a more narrowly defined, morally edifying version of the tragic genre? Apart from love-stories, the most commonly encountered type of Euripidean plot draws upon a nexus of related motifs – (i) the rape of young women, usually by gods, (ii) the birth of children who are subsequently separated from their mother, (iii) mistaken identity, (iv) danger or violence narrowly averted, (v) unexpected reversal (peripeteia) and (vi) recognition – and combines them within a single complex storyline. Among the extant plays this pattern is seen only in Ion, which consequently seems to stand out as an unusual work. But there are numerous further examples among the lost plays: Alcmene, Alope, Antiope, Auge, Danae and Melanippe the Wise contain all these motifs, but most of them are also found in Alexandros, Alcmeon in Corinth, Ino, Cresphontes and Hypsipyle. In fact this pattern was not unknown in Aeschylus or Sophocles, but it was obviously a signature theme of Euripides, and as such it was well known to scholars in antiquity. One ancient Life of Euripides (written probably in the third century BCE by Satyrus) points out that ‘these elements, which form the subject-matter of New Comedy, were brought to perfection by Euripides’.12 This is an important but potentially misleading observation. It is not the case that rapes, recognitions and such like are inherently comic; nor is it that Euripides deliberately made tragedy more like comedy (as some scholars have argued). Rather, it is the later comedians who made comedy more like tragedy, seeing the humorous potential in tragic situations and creating fun out of the conceit that ‘life is like a tragedy’.13 Another Euripidean motif that stands out is a preoccupation with extraordinary female characters. Euripides seems to have been particularly drawn to depicting women who are unusually formidable, articulate, clever or vulnerable – or a combination of all these characteristics. The extant plays contain some memorable heroines, notably Medea, Phaedra, Helen and Hecuba, but the lost plays featured many others who seem to have been equally imposing, such as Antiope, Aerope, Pasiphae, Stheneboea, Ino, Merope and Hypsipyle, not to mention alternative versions of Phaedra and Medea. Some of these women seem to have been particularly remarkable because they were portrayed in such a way as to challenge traditional gender roles and stereotypes – for example, the huntress Atalante in Meleager or the eponymous philosopherheroine in Melanippe the Wise. This aspect of Euripides’ plays was picked up Satyrus, Life of Euripides fr. 39 col. VII (TrGF 5 T137). Seen by Gutzwiller (2000); contrast the influential but misguided Knox (1979).

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by Aristophanes (who humorously depicted the tragedian as having ‘slandered’ women in his tragedies) and in turn by the ancient biographers (who concluded that Euripides must have been a misogynist and concocted silly stories about the poet’s complicated marital life).14 Aristophanes is an eccentric reader of tragedy, and it is often difficult to interpret the point of his jokes and parodies, but he is good at pinpointing features of Euripides’ work that were seen by his contemporaries as striking. Another such feature was heroes dressed in rags – a motif that Aristophanes saw as so characteristic of Euripides that he turned it into a long-running joke.15 In fact there is not very much sign of this motif in the extant plays (the best example is Menelaus in Helen), but the lost plays provide numerous examples, including Oeneus, Bellerophon, Thyestes, Phoenix, Telephus and Philoctetes. Aristophanes’ depiction of Euripides as an intellectual is borne out by allusions to Presocratic or sophistic thought in works such as Aeolus, Alexandros, Antiope, Ixion and Chrysippus, supplementing other such allusions in the extant plays. The comedian also mentions Euripides’ tendency to shock audiences with tales of incest or illicit passion.16 Once again we have to look to the lost plays – Aeolus, Thyestes, Cretan Women, Oeneus, Ixion, Stheneboea or the first Hippolytus – for really compelling examples of scandalous behaviour; the extant works are tame by comparison. Other signature motifs highlighted by Aristophanes – the use (or overuse?) of rhetoric, the solo songs and the supposedly boring prologue-speeches – are well attested in the works that survive. Nevertheless, the lost plays contain many other illustrative examples, and certain works (for instance, Antiope, Cretans, Hypsipyle, Andromeda and Melanippe the Wise) are particularly valuable for anyone studying these aspects of Euripides’ formal dramatic technique. Dressing his heroes in rags was a way in which Euripides made his productions visually distinctive, but it can also be seen as a physical manifestation of a broader intellectual theme that runs through many of his tragedies. That is, Euripides often seems to be questioning or devaluing heroism. As many critics have observed, he has a tendency to debunk the traditional myths, to dwell on ordinary or shabby details and to make the great figures of epic poetry seem less impressive.17 This tendency is well established in the surviving tragedies, but Aristophanes, Frogs 1043–4, 1080–1; Women at the Thesmophoria 82–6, 335–94 (and passim); cf. TrGF 5 T108a-111b. On ‘misogyny’, see Lefkowitz (2012) 89–90; Mastronarde (2010) 271–9. 15 Aristophanes, Acharnians 414–44 (with Σ on 418); cf. Frogs 840–42, 1060–66. See Macleod (1974). 16 E.g. Frogs 1049–56, Clouds 1370–3. 17 See Mastronarde (2010) 304–6. 14



the fragmentary plays give us a few variations on the same theme – such as the despicable behaviour of Odysseus (Palamedes and Philoctetes), Heracles playing with his son’s toys (Auge) and Achilles’ attempts to avoid fighting in the Trojan War by hiding on Scyros, dressed up as a girl (Scyrians). In general, however, Euripides wrote comparatively few plays related to the Trojan War: in this respect he contrasts markedly with Aeschylus and Sophocles. A few titles are based on material from the Iliad or the Epic Cycle (Telephus, Scyrians, Alexandros and Palamedes – the last two being part of a ‘Trojan trilogy’ along with Women of Troy), but Euripides preferred to explore a wider range of mythical material and story types. His plays incorporated such themes as athletic contests (Alexandros, Alope, Hypsipyle), weddings (Dictys, Oenomaus, Phaethon), human sacrifice (Erechtheus, Phrixus), revenge (Antiope, Thyestes, Cresphontes, Alcmeon at Psophis, Stheneboea), reincarnation (Polyidus, Protesilaus), magic (Daughters of Pelias), hunting (Meleager, Melanippe Captive), animals (Alope, Antiope, Bellerophon, Cretans, Melanippe the Wise, Meleager), monsters (Andromeda, Dictys, Cretans, Theseus) and much more besides. As ever when dealing with Greek tragedy, the sheer variety of subject-matter makes generalization difficult. Nevertheless, Euripides does seem to have had a penchant for lesser-known myths, and several of his subjects are not found elsewhere in poetry or drama. This may imply that he invented some of them himself, but it is equally possible that he went out of his way to find obscure material within a pre-existing tradition. The surviving works show that Euripides often selects recherché details, combines elements from different versions, fills in details that no one else mentions and extends mythical narratives beyond the point at which the inherited narratives stop.18 Among the lost plays Alcmeon in Corinth, Antigone, Cretan Women, Protesilaus and Chrysippus are particularly interesting in this respect. Another way in which Euripides can be seen as exploiting the ambiguities and inconsistencies of the tradition is by contradicting his own earlier treatments of myths or creating unusual echoes or dissonances between one play and another (for instance, in Dictys and Danae, or Bellerophon and Stheneboea). The effect is seen most clearly in four cases – the Alcmeon, Hippolytus, Melanippe and Phrixus plays – in which Euripides wrote two separate works with the same title, revisiting characters and myths that he had already dramatized before. Sometimes his motive for doing so was (apparently) to revise and improve an See Wright (2017).



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unsuccessful play, as in the case of the second Hippolytus, but elsewhere the two works were independent treatments of the same material. It seems clear that all these pairs of tragedies were connected in the poet’s mind, and that Euripides was using them to expose the complexities and ambiguities inherent in Greek mythology. Everywhere we look in the fragments, we find evidence of Euripides’ prodigious versatility and fecund powers of imagination. The forty-nine sections that follow can be consulted separately, as a guide to individual plays, but they are also designed to be read as a sequence. Collectively, they form a composite picture of Euripides’ work that is as complete as possible on the basis of the available evidence. There is much that remains unknown, of course, but the study of fragmentary plays allows the overall character of Euripidean tragedy to emerge more clearly and with greater definition.

Aegeus (TrGF 5 F1-13) Like the extant Medea and the lost Daughters of Pelias, this tragedy explored the complex character of Medea. Scholars have speculated as to the relationship between these three works. We know for certain that Daughters of Pelias came first in the series, since it was Euripides’ earliest tragedy. Thus Aegeus (of unknown date) and Medea (431 BCE) can be regarded as ‘sequels’ in some sense, but little is known about either fragmentary play. Most scholars believe that Euripides’ Aegeus is a relatively early work, predating Medea, though the evidence, mostly limited to iconographic parallels and metrical considerations, is inconclusive.19 The fact that Sophocles too wrote an Aegeus, also of unknown date, complicates the picture yet further. It is frustrating to reflect that all these plays were almost certainly written in dialogue with one another, yet any intertextual connections between them remain invisible. (See Chapter 4 for further discussion of Aegeus and other tragedies about Medea.)

Aeolus (TrGF 5 F13a-41) In Aristophanic comedy Aeolus is cited as an example of Euripides’ supposed penchant for risqué subject-matter. The character Pheidippides in Clouds, Kannicht (TrGF 5, p. 152) estimates a date prior to 440 BCE. Cf. Cropp and Fick (1985) 70–1.




invited by his father to recite ‘something from these younger poets’, launches into ‘a speech from Euripides about a brother screwing his own sister’ – an unmistakable allusion to Aeolus, which centred on the love affair between Aeolus’ children Canace and Macareus.20 The plot, which is partially preserved in a papyrus hypothesis and referred to in other ancient sources, showed Macareus, overcome by lust for his sister, sleeping with her (or raping her) and making her pregnant.21 Incest had, of course, featured in other tragedies, but this play seems to have struck theatregoers as especially outrageous – or, at least, Aristophanes chooses to treat it as such. For the purposes of the humour Aeolus exemplifies all that is modern, clever and suspect, and Euripides, who at the time was sixtysomething, is treated as one of the younger generation of poets who are shaking up society. In a later comedy, Frogs, the play is again cited, by the character Aeschylus, as an example of the unedifying content of Euripidean drama, and it is claimed that by putting on stage ‘sisters having sex with their brothers’ Euripides has morally corrupted the Athenians.22 What was so shocking about Aeolus? Even if Aristophanes is exaggerating, the play obviously gained a certain notoriety. Little can be deduced from the fragments, most of which are gnomic, but the bare bones of the plot can be reconstructed from other sources.23 We know from the hypothesis that Macareus, having had his wicked way with Canace, somehow persuaded his father to allow all six of his daughters to be married off to his six sons, by drawing lots.24 This is an extremely odd scenario, no matter what the exact manner or tone in which it was handled. It may be that Euripides, as in several other tragedies, went out of his way to foreground the erotic or romantic aspects of the situation, and it is easy to see how the combination of the love-story motif with incest might have proved too strong a mixture for the audience to swallow. Furthermore, Aristophanes shows that the play’s presentation of incest could be seen as morally dubious. Did the playwright or his characters appear to be questioning conventional morality? Even though Macareus and Canace came to a bad end, thus implicitly reinforcing the standard view that incest was unacceptable, it seems that the play contained provocative speeches or verses which, if quoted out of context, could easily have led to charges of depravity.

Aristophanes, Clouds 1370–3 (with Σ). TrGF Tii (P.Oxy. 2457); cf. TrGF T iiia–ixb. On the question of seduction vs. rape, see Casali (1998) 701–2. 22 Aristophanes, Frogs 1078–81; cf. a reference to ‘unholy unions’ at 849–50 (with Σ). 23 See Webster (1967a) 157–60; Mülke (1996). 24 Cf. TrGF 5 F17-18. 20 21


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According to the hypothesis, Macareus had to persuade Aeolus to allow the brother–sister marriages to take place. This indicates the use of rhetoric to defend – or extol – the practice of incest or the principle of endogamy. One notes that it was specifically a speech from this play that was mentioned in Clouds and that the speech in question was described as ‘clever stuff ’. Indeed, Aristophanes’ description is echoed in a fragment from Aeolus, perhaps spoken by Aeolus himself: ‘My children, it is the mark of a clever (sophos) man to be able to express a big argument concisely in a few words’ (F28). In Clouds and in late fifth-century discourse more generally, ‘cleverness’ (sophia) is an ambivalent quality, often linked with the sophists and their followers.25 From all this we may infer that Aeolus contained at least one sophistic set-piece speech (or an agôn) on the subject of incest. The play’s most notorious line – quoted by several ancient authors, including Aristophanes – probably belongs to such a speech: What is shameful, unless it seems shameful to those who practise it?26

This line was almost certainly spoken by Macareus in justification of his actions, and it demonstrates the influence of the sophist Protagoras. In particular, the speaker’s attitude reflects the Protagorean concept of relativity: that is, the principle that there is no absolute truth and that the moral value of any action depends solely on the point of view of each individual.27 The presence of such radical ideas – whether or not the play was actually designed to endorse them – may help us explain why Aristophanes chose to present Aeolus as a subversive or dangerous work.

Alexandros (TrGF 5 F41a-63) It is often assumed that early fifth-century playwrights, including Aeschylus, tended to write trilogies or tetralogies with a single consecutive storyline, in contrast with later writers’ preference for standalone works, but there is hardly any evidence behind this assumption.28 At any rate, Euripides’ production in 415 BCE shows that an author could present three plays linked by a common theme rather than a single storyline: his tragedies Alexandros, Palamedes and Women

27 28 25 26

See Wright (2012) 25–30. TrGF 5 F19 (parodied by Aristophanes, Frogs 1475; cf. TrGF 5, p. 165). Protagoras DK80 A1, A13-14, B1. See pp. 12–14, 68–9 (with reference to Aeschylus and Sophocles).



of Troy all treated different parts of the Trojan War tradition.29 The first play dealt with the early life of the Trojan prince Paris (also known as Alexandros); the second play dramatized the events leading to the death of the Greek hero Palamedes; and the third play (which survives) showed the suffering of the women of Troy after the sacking of their city. The remains of Alexandros include a handful of gnomic book-fragments and a few snippets of papyrus containing sections of dialogue and lyrics; editors have also made use of the fragments of Ennius’ Alexander, a Latin adaptation of Euripides’ play.30 Our best source of evidence for Euripides’ plot is a papyrus hypothesis, first published in 1974, which quotes part of the play’s first line (‘… and famous Ilium’) and summarizes most of the action:31 Hecabe, [having seen] visions in her sleep, … handed over her child to be exposed … [a herdsman] brought him up as his own son, giving Paris the name Alexandros. But Hecabe, stricken by grief for that day when he was exposed, and at the same time thinking that it should be honoured, bewailed her child and persuaded Priam to establish magnificent games for him. Twenty years later, her child seemed [to be superior] in nature to the herdsman [who had nurtured him]. Because Alexandros’ behaved arrogantly when he was among them, the other shepherds bound him and took him to Priam … he was … before the ruler … he held out against each of his accusers, and he was allowed to compete in the games that were being held in his honour. In the foot race and the pentathlon, and yet again … he annoyed Deiphobus and his companions, who, when they grasped the fact that a slave had beaten them, demanded that Hecabe should kill him. When Alexandros arrived on the scene, Cassandra recognized him, went into a state of possession and prophesied the future, and Hecabe was thwarted in her attempt to kill him. Then the herdsman who had brought him up appeared, and was threatened and compelled to tell the truth. And so Hecabe found her long-lost son

Thus Alexandros combined several plot motifs of which Euripides was fond: children exposed at birth, a herdsman as foster parent, mistaken identity, some sort of test or ordeal, narrowly averted peril, recognition and reunion. Athletics was a prominent subsidiary motif (as in Hypsipyle or the satyr-drama Autolycus), and the funeral games would have provided an opportunity for Euripides to

See Scodel (1980) on the trilogy. It is hard to see how the accompanying satyr-play, Sisyphus, was connected to the tragedies, but see Griffith (2002), esp. 206–7. 30 TrGF 5, pp. 180–204; cf. Collard, Cropp and Gibert (2004) 35–91 for commentary and bibliography. 31 P.Oxy. 3650 (TrGF T iii). Cf. Apollodorus 3.12.5; Hyginus, Fabula 91; Ennius, Alexander F18 (see TrGF 5, p. 180). 29


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rework material from epic and epinician poetry within the setting of tragedy. In addition, the play evidently explored familiar Euripidean themes such as the relationship between one’s social status and one’s character, and the sophistic contrast between convention (nomos) and nature (phusis). The fragments show that the play repeatedly alluded to slavery, nobility, the disparity between words and reality, and the question of how to determine a person’s true worth.32 Poets, dramatists and historians towards the end of the fifth century often seem preoccupied with the origins and causes of the Trojan War more than any of its other aspects.33 Alexandros exhibits the same sort of preoccupation, but it obviously went further back in time than most other accounts, exploring events long before the better-known incidents in Paris’ life (his adulthood, the judgement of the goddesses’ beauty-contest, his abduction of Helen or his Iliadic encounters on the battlefield). In this play Euripides seems to be playing around with hypothetical or counterfactual scenarios, as he was to do in another Trojan War drama, Helen (which imagined a Helen who did not run away with Paris). In each case the counterfactual scenario functions as a means of making the audience reflect on concepts of cause and effect or as an ironical method of emphasizing the horrors of war. What if Paris had died prematurely? Could the war have been prevented? The inevitable pathos of a situation involving the death of a child is undercut by our realization that the child in question will grow up to cause so much suffering. A fragment of dialogue spoken by Priam to Paris (F60) is thus heavy with dramatic irony: ‘Time will reveal what you are: by this evidence we shall be able to know for sure whether you are good or bad.’

Alcmeon I and II (TrGF 5 F65-87a) Though he does not feature at all in the extant plays, Alcmeon was among the most popular subjects for tragedy throughout the classical period. (For an outline of the myth, see entry on Sophocles’ Alcmeon in Chapter 2.) Euripides wrote two separate tragedies about Alcmeon, more than thirty years apart. The first play (Alcmeon in Psophis) was produced at the 438 Dionysia, along with Cretan Women, Telephus and Alcestis, and took second prize. The second (Alcmeon in Corinth) was one of Euripides’ final works, produced posthumously in 405–4

F48-51, 54, 57, 59, 60, 61b, 61c, 61d, 62b. See Conacher (1998) 99–107. See Wright (2007).

32 33



with Bacchae and Iphigenia at Aulis.34 Most of the quotations and references that we possess are attributed simply to Alcmeon, suggesting that the distinguishing subtitles were not much used in antiquity and that the two works were often confused. The plot of Alcmeon in Psophis cannot be reconstructed in detail, but it dealt with the polluted Alcmeon’s arrival in Psophis and his encounter with the king (Phegeus) and his daughter (named either Alphesiboea or Arsinoe in different sources). A few fragments (F70-2) correspond to Apollodorus’ account, which tells us that Alcmeon, following his purification, married Phegeus’ daughter and gave her the necklace and robe that he had taken from Eriphyle when he killed her. Alcmeon (speaking to Phegeus): Hail, aged gentleman! I judge that, by giving your daughter to me, you have become not only my father-in-law but indeed my very father and saviour! (F72)

The author who preserves these lines records the name of the speaker and addressee, showing us that Phegeus was among the characters and implying that the play’s setting was Psophis. Nevertheless, the rest of the plot is more difficult to conjecture, because Apollodorus’ narrative contains several later stages, perhaps too many to fit in a single play. Apollodorus goes on to say that the process of purification remained somehow incomplete, and that because of Alcmeon’s presence the land of Psophis became barren; thus Alcmeon went into exile again, passing through Calydon and Thesprotia before coming to the river Achelous in western Greece, where the river-god finally freed him from pollution. Repeating the same pattern as in Psophis, Alcmeon married the daughter of the one who had purified him and subsequently founded a city by the banks of the Achelous. But his new wife, Callirhoe, demanded the necklace and robe of Eriphyle for herself, and she compelled Alcmeon to return to Psophis and reclaim the objects from his former wife (claiming, falsely, that the Delphic oracle had instructed him to do so). Phegeus, believing Alcmeon’s pretext, handed over the items, but when he learnt the truth from a slave he sent his sons to catch Alcmeon and kill him. The story and character of Alcmeon offer rich scope for a dramatist. This sequence of events is action-packed, and the myth presents plenty of striking details, symbolic objects charged with meaning, wide-ranging topographic settings and an unusual perspective on pollution and purification. Alcmeon Hypothesis to Alcestis; Σ Aristophanes, Frogs 66–7 (TrGF 5 Ti, ia).



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himself – sane or mad, long-suffering hero or matricidal bigamist – has a fascinatingly complex, conflicted nature. Like his father before him, he seems doomed to replay a sequence of events in which hapless men are undone by scheming, greedy women. It is not hard to appreciate why this material inspired so many tragedians. But how much of the myth found its way into Euripides’ play, and where did the action begin and end? What is particularly striking about Apollodorus’ narrative is that it takes place across a long time period in several locations. Did Alcmeon at Psophis include scene changes? Most scholars would hesitate to accept such an idea because it is thought to violate tragic conventions of time and space.35 Nevertheless, we do know of tragedies which incorporated more than one location, and Aeschylus’ Women of Aetna (for example) had up to six separate settings. Perhaps this play’s title might seem to rule out such a scenario, but it was not Euripides’ own title, and, as we have observed, most readers in antiquity did not use it. So an episodic plot with multiple stage locations cannot be ruled out. The alternative would be a plot in which the entire action played out in Psophis. But in that case, it is hard to see how the whole story could have been squeezed in. It is just about possible to imagine a structure in which Alcmeon departed from the stage part-way through the action, followed by creative use of the chorus and narrative speeches to convey his travels and exploits abroad; but this scenario would require the audience to imagine an excessively long time lapse between his departure and his return. Several scholars have debated the point at which the play began, and speculated as to the balance between narrative and action, but no definite conclusions are possible on the basis of the available evidence.36 I suspect that Apollodorus’ busy narrative is actually a conflation of material from several Alcmeon tragedies, not Euripides’ play alone. In the case of Alcmeon in Corinth the fragments are even less revealing, but we are on safer ground when treating Apollodorus as a guide to the plot. This is one of the few places where Apollodorus explicitly names his source: Euripides says that during the period of his madness Alcmeon begat two children – Amphilochus and Tisiphone – by Manto, the daughter of Teiresias. He brought the infants to Corinth and gave them into the care of the king, Creon. But Tisiphone, on account of her surpassing beauty, was sold as a slave by Creon’s wife [Merope], who feared that Creon might make Tisiphone his wife instead. Alcmeon bought Tisiphone at a market and kept her as a slave, not realizing For more discussion, see pp. 245–7. See Webster (1967a) 39–43; cf. TrGF 5, p. 207; Collard and Cropp (2008) I.79-81.

35 36



that she was his own daughter. But when he went back to Corinth to claim his children back, he recovered his son as well; and Amphilochus, in accordance with the oracles of Apollo, founded Amphilochian Argos.37

This account is truncated, but it suggests a plot outline that is characteristic of Euripides. The events narrated here seem to fall into a familiar pattern: cruel stepmothers or foster parents; noble characters reduced to low or servile status; mistaken identity; long-lost children reunited with their parents; joyful scenes of recognition; and an aetiological foundation legend (outlined by a deus ex machina?) to bring about a satisfying resolution. Such a pattern was played out in several other late Euripidean tragedies, including Ion, Helen, Hypsipyle, Auge, Danae and the two Melanippe plays. Another way in which Alcmeon in Corinth may be seen as typically Euripidean is that its events and some of its characters do not seem to have appeared in any other literary version of the myth. (This would explain why Apollodorus names his source, in order to make it clear that the version in question was seen as an idiosyncratic one.) The tradition of Alcmeon’s long quest for purification – which already encompassed separate episodes in Psophis, Calydon, Thesprotia, Arcadia and elsewhere – easily provides scope for the invention of additional episodes. And it would have been unsurprising to learn that the serially amorous Alcmeon had had sexual partners and offspring not recorded elsewhere. Even though only a handful of words remain of Alcmeon in Corinth, it seems reasonably safe to conclude that this play represents another example of its writer’s penchant for mythical innovation.

Alcmene (TrGF 5 F87b-104) Almost all the fragments are gnomic quotations which tell us next to nothing about the play. Much of what we know, or can infer, about Alcmene comes from Plautus. An incidental joke in his comedy The Rope shows that Euripides’ play was well known to Roman audiences during the second century BCE, and that one scene featured a violent storm.38 And it is generally believed that Plautus drew upon Alcmene when writing his ‘tragicomedy’ Amphitryo, though Euripides was probably just one among several sources.39 Apollodorus 3.7.7. Plautus, Rudens 83–7 (TrGF Tiia). 39 See Christenson (2000) 45–55. 37 38


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The plot of Euripides’ play cannot be known for certain, but it probably resembled that of Amphitryo in broad outline. In Plautus’ play Zeus (Jupiter) visits Alcmene one night when her husband Amphitryon is away fighting; Zeus assumes the appearance of Amphitryon and seduces Alcmene, and she subsequently gives birth to Heracles. Plautus’ version is full of comic alterations and distortions, of course, but essentially this story was a well-known one, having previously appeared in Homer and Hesiod. A more detailed account is preserved by Apollodorus.40 In this version, Alcmene’s father Electryon entrusts both his kingdom and his daughter to Amphitryon when preparing to go off and fight against the Taphians and Teleboans. Subsequently, Electryon is accidentally killed by Amphitryon, and Alcmene’s brothers are killed in the war; Alcmene swears that she will marry Amphitryon only when he has avenged her brothers’ death. These same events are dimly glimpsed in a papyrus fragment which has been assigned to Alcmene on this basis: Thebes … Taphian bandits coming … islands projecting into the sea, which men call Echidanes. But she will make a vow not to [marry] any man who will not pursue the Taphians [for killing] her brothers. But a clear oracle … Amphitryon for marriage41

Editors have assumed that these lines would have appeared in a narrative prologue-speech recounting the story up to the point at which the main action began. But what happened in the rest of the plot? One fragment – ‘day and dark night give birth to lots of things for mortals’ (F101) – could hint that the main action, including Alcmene’s pregnancy, took place during a single, miraculously extended night, as in Plautus (and in The Long Night, another version by the Greek comedian Platon). Another clue is provided by that Plautine joke about the storm. It is usually taken as alluding to a scene in which Amphitryon, convinced that Alcmene had deliberately betrayed him, came close to killing her by lighting a pyre around the altar where she had fled for sanctuary, but Zeus intervened by sending a storm to quench the flames.42 Such a scene is not described by Apollodorus or any other author, but it is depicted on several vases, which many scholars see as directly inspired by Euripides’ play.43 Caution is

Apollodorus 2.4.6-8; cf. Homer, Iliad 19. 95-125; Hesiod, Catalogue of Women F195 M-W, Shield 1–56; Pherecydes FGrHist 3 F13. 41 P. Hamb. 119 (TrGF 5 F87b). 42 Webster (1967a) 92–3; Aélion (1981); West (1984) 294–5. 43 See Jouan and Van Looy (1998) 121–8. 40



always needed when using vase-paintings as evidence for lost works, and (as Oliver Taplin points out) the multiple differences between these images may tell against a single specific influence.44 Nevertheless, a fragment from Alcmene – ‘Where did you get hold of a pinewood torch? (F90) – does support the idea that a pyre featured in the plot. Mercury’s prologue-speech in Plautus’ Amphitryo may also allude to a miraculous appearance of Zeus in Euripides’ version: Jupiter himself will take a role in this comedy. What? Are you surprised – as if something genuinely novel were being offered to you now, by making Jupiter one of the actors? Why, only the other year, when the actors came on stage and called on Jupiter for assistance, he came and helped them.45

One commentator on this passage interprets it as a reference to the appearance of Jupiter/Zeus as deus ex machina in a recent production of a Greek tragedy.46 It is hard to see what tragedy this could have been except Alcmene. The evidence is inconclusive, then, but these clues suggest that Alcmene contained a key scene featuring a blazing pyre, an act of supplication, a miraculous storm, a narrowly averted death and a divine intervention. One reason why such a scene would have been particularly striking, as the lines above imply, is that Zeus seldom, if ever, appeared as a character in Greek drama. There is no definite instance of a play in which he did appear, and several scholars have gone as far as to assume that there was a prohibition against portraying Zeus on stage. Nevertheless, Alcmene may provide a rare exception to this rule, and among the lost plays there is at least one other plausible example (Aeschylus’ Psychostasia).47

Alope (TrGF 5 F105-113) A plot motif that Euripides favoured was the rape of a mortal woman by a god, resulting in the birth of a child and further complications such as exposure or some sort of threat to mother or child. Euripides was not the only tragedian to dramatize such myths, as a glimpse at the titles of Aeschylus and Sophocles makes clear, but in the later literary tradition his name became inextricably linked with this story type. In this respect Euripides exerted a powerful influence

Taplin (2007) 170–4, 263. Plautus, Amphitryo 88–92. 46 Christenson (2000) 156. 47 See West (1984) 293–5 (citing Sophocles’ satyric Inachus for another possible appearance); cf. my discussion of Aeschylus’ Psychostasia, pp. 253–6. 44 45


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on the writers of fourth-century comedy, who drew on tragedies such as Auge, Alope, Danae, Ion and Hypsipyle when constructing their own plots.48 It seems likely that Alope in particular – along with Auge – was a model for Menander’s Epitrepontes (‘The Arbitrators’). This comedy features a scene in which a shepherd and a charcoal-burner argue over an exposed child and the trinkets that were found along with it. The scenario is closely comparable with the story of Alope as recounted by Hyginus:49 Poseidon raped Alope, Cercyon’s daughter, on account of her surpassing beauty, and as a result she gave birth to a child, whom, unbeknownst to her father, she handed over to her nurse to be exposed. After the child had been exposed, a mare came and suckled him. A shepherd followed the mare, saw the child and rescued him; and when he had taken him home, in his royal finery, another fellow shepherd asked him to hand over the child to his care. The first shepherd handed him over but without his clothes. A quarrel subsequently broke out between the two men, since the one who had taken the child in demanded the tokens of his free birth but the other refused to hand them over; so they brought their dispute to Cercyon.

Since Hyginus often used Euripidean plays as a source for his mythological narratives, it is normally assumed that his version corresponds to the lost Alope.50 This may well be true, though we cannot say how much of Hyginus’ account is taken from Euripides and how much from elsewhere (e.g. from the tragedies on the same subject by Choerilus and Carcinus).51 Hyginus goes on to narrate subsequent events: Cercyon decrees that his daughter should be imprisoned and left to die; the baby, now named Hippothous, is exposed for a second time, suckled by a mare (again) and rescued by shepherds (again); the hero Theseus fortuitously arrives and kills Cercyon; Theseus rescues Hippothous and takes him to Athens, where he grows up to inherit the kingdom; and Alope herself is ultimately transformed into a spring of water by Poseidon. None of these events would look out of place in a Euripidean play, but there may be too much action here, and too much repetition of motifs, for a single tragic plot. Nevertheless, it is clear that the destiny of Alope’s son as the ancestor of the Hippothoontid tribe of Athens was mentioned in the course of the play: this is confirmed by the second-century CE lexicographer Harpocration.52 Thus it seems that Alope See Gutzwiller (2000); Cusset (2003). Hyginus, Fabula 187 (TrGF Tiib). 50 See TrGF 5, p. 229; cf. Huys (1997); Karamanou (2003). 51 Choerilus (TrGF 1.2 F1); Carcinus (TrGF 1.70 F1b): see LPGT 1, pp. 13–14, 111–12. 52 Harpocration, Lexicon to the Ten Attic Orators 24.8 (TrGF Tiia). 48 49



explored the aetiological connection between myth and the politics of Athenian identity, in a similar way to Ion. The fragments themselves are sparse. The most remarkable fact they reveal is that the play had a chorus of male gymnasts (F105), suggesting that emphasis was placed on Cercyon’s prowess as a wrestler and the milieu of the athletics ground. Otherwise they confirm that Poseidon’s rape of Alope was narrated (F106-7) and that Cercyon found fault with his daughter on the grounds of disobedience or disrespect (F109-11).

Andromeda (TrGF 5 F114-56) One might imagine that a play’s survival or loss depended on its level of popularity in the ancient world, but this is not so. Andromeda, which premiered in 412 BCE,53 was one of Euripides’ most popular plays, to judge by the number of references to it in ancient sources, the large number of surviving fragments (forty-five), the vase-paintings inspired by it and the evidence for productions throughout the Greek and Roman periods.54 Almost as soon as Andromeda had been performed, Aristophanes wrote a full-scale parody of it for inclusion in his Women at the Thesmophoria (411 BCE), an indication of the immediate impact that the tragedy made on the Athenian public. Andromeda was one of Alexander the Great’s favourite plays, and he would quote long extracts from memory.55 It proved so popular in Sicily that the citizens of Abdera literally went crazy after one famous performance (they ran about the streets believing themselves to be characters in the play, according to Lucian).56 It was almost certainly a model for Roman tragedies by Accius, Ennius and Livius Andronicus. And papyrus evidence shows that people were still reading the play at least as late as the second century CE. So why did it not survive? One possible answer to the question is suggested by its subject-matter. Andromeda is a tragedy which, in terms of its characters and plot, is a far cry from later ideas of the tragic. The action took place, unusually, by the coast of Ethiopia. Before the start of the play Poseidon had sent a sea-monster and a tidal wave to punish the Ethiopians after their queen, Cassiepeia, insulted the Nereids. The Greek hero Perseus, who had recently slain the Gorgon Medusa, TrGF T iia-c; Helen was one of the other plays in the same production. See Taplin (2007) 174–85; Vahtikari (2014) 59–60, 64, 71, 119–20, 135–42. 55 Plutarch, Alexander 53. 56 Lucian, On the Writing of History 1. 53 54


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arrived in Ethiopia and caught sight of Cassiepeia’s daughter Andromeda, whom her father Cepheus had bound to a rock and exposed as a sacrificial victim to propitiate Poseidon. Perseus not only rescued Andromeda from being devoured by the monster but also fell in love with her. The plot is difficult to reconstruct, but the play seems to have ended with the lovers going off to get married and live happily ever after.57 Monsters, love affairs and happy endings were found in many other tragedies, as a glance through the pages of this book will show, but tragedies containing these features were much less likely to survive. Over time, for whatever reason, ideas about what counted as ‘tragic’ evolved considerably, and the majority of tragedies were eventually neglected in favour of plays which – with a few notable exceptions – were more consistently sad or sombre in tone. Consequently, modern critics have tended to categorize Andromeda as a ‘romance’, a ‘tragicomedy’ or a ‘melodrama’. As I have argued elsewhere, this sort of approach to genre is misguided, for three principal reasons. Firstly, it is based on anachronistic generic labels that did not exist in Euripides’ time. Secondly, it reflects inherited prejudices about Euripides as a maverick or iconoclastic figure, a distorted image deriving from Aristophanes via Nietzsche. (Note, incidentally, that Sophocles too wrote an Andromeda and other plays along similar lines, but no one ever seems to accuse Sophocles of being less than tragic.) Thirdly, and most importantly, it is based on a very restricted view of what Greek tragedy was.58 A play such as Andromeda may not look ‘tragic’ in the normally accepted sense of the word, but it was certainly tragic for Euripides and his audience. If the study of the lost plays teaches us just one thing, it is that we have to expand our definition of tragedy.

Antigone (TrGF 5 F157-78) Euripides’ version of a subject that has become indelibly associated with Sophocles, whose Antigone is probably the best known and most widely discussed Greek tragedy in the modern world. Sophocles’ play is normally dated to the late 440s BCE,59 and it is likely that Euripides’ version came later, though in the absence of any contextual evidence its date can only be roughly estimated on the For the myth, see, e.g., Apollodorus 2.4.3. See the commentaries of Bubel (1991); Klimek-Winter (1993) and Collard, Cropp and Gibert (2004) 133–68. 58 Wright (2005) 6–43. 59 See Cairns (2016) 1–3, for a convenient summary of the evidence with bibliography. 57



basis of metrical considerations.60 What we know of Euripides’ Antigone suggests that it may have been written with Sophocles’ play in mind, since it apparently followed the same outline but incorporated some striking differences. Here Haemon acted as Antigone’s accomplice in the burial of Polyneices, Antigone did not die and the couple married and had a son (Maeon). These differences could be interpreted in intertextual terms, as a self-conscious or polemical response to the work of a celebrated predecessor. Perhaps Euripides’ Antigone was designed to update, revise or ‘correct’ Sophocles, in much the same way as his Electra, Orestes and Iphigenia tragedies show detailed engagement with Aeschylus’ Oresteia.61 But Euripides may not have been thinking of Sophocles’ Antigone in particular. Perhaps he was simply trying to find an unexpected way of presenting the story, a challenge that every single tragedian had to face when setting out to dramatize a traditional myth. The fragments, mostly consisting of quotable maxims, give little clue to the plot, but they suggest that the theme of love and marriage was prominent, along with an interest in children and heredity; a couple of fragments also suggest, intriguingly, that the god Dionysus played some part in the action (F1778). Most of our information about the play, however, comes from a couple of testimonia: a hypothesis to Sophocles’ Antigone by Aristophanes of Byzantium and a narrative version of the Antigone myth by Hyginus.62 Trying to reconcile these two sources is difficult. Some of the details preserved by Hyginus may derive not from Euripides but from Astydamas the Younger, whose Antigone was produced at the City Dionysia in 341 BCE.63 (See Chapter 4 for further discussion of the character of Antigone.)

Antiope (TrGF 5 F179-227) The outline of this play is preserved by Hyginus, whose narrative of the Antiope myth is explicitly attributed to Euripides.64 The Boeotian princess Antiope became pregnant, after being raped by Zeus, and fled her home, fearing punishment by her father Nycteus. She gave birth to twin boys, Amphion and Zethus, whom she abandoned on Mount Cithaeron: a shepherd discovered them and brought them Cropp and Fick (1985), 70–6, suggest a date c. 420–06. See Torrance (2013) 13–62. 62 TrGF T iia-b. 63 On Astydamas (TrGF 1.60), see LPGT 1, pp. 101–5. 64 Hyginus, Fabula 8; see Huys (1997) 171–2. Cf. Apollodorus 3.5.5. 60 61


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up. Antiope was taken in by Epaphus, ruler of Sicyon, who married her; but Nycteus’ brother Lycus killed Epaphus and took Antiope prisoner. Lycus handed Antiope over to his wife, Dirce, to torture, but Antiope managed to escape and by chance encountered her sons. Dirce also happened to arrive at the same place, having been intoxicated by Dionysiac frenzy. The shepherd told the twins that Antiope was their mother, and they killed Dirce by tying her by the hair to a bull; they were on the point of killing Lycus too until Hermes intervened. It is thus apparent that Antiope had a complex plot, combining several familiar motifs – divine rape, childbirth, exposure, mistaken identity, drastic reversals of status and fortune, recognition and revenge.65 Our best source is a papyrus fragment containing over one hundred lines from the play’s exciting final scene.66 Here we see Amphion talking to Antiope, shortly after the murder of Dirce, and calling on his newly discovered father Zeus to help punish their enemy. Lycus himself then enters, and Amphion and Zethus reveal not only that Dirce is dead but that they mean to kill him too: Lycus: Ah! I have no one to protect me, and these two are going to kill me! Amphion: Do you not lament your wife, now that she is among the dead? Lycus: Dead? Really? What new evil are you telling me? Amphion: Yes, she is dead, pulled apart by a bull. Lycus: I want to know who brought this about! Was it you? Amphion: Since you ask, you may as well know that she perished by our actions. Lycus: Who are you, then? Are you descended from parents unknown to me? Amphion: Why do you ask this? You will discover the answer in the realm of the dead, once you have been killed.

At this point the god Hermes appears ex machina to resolve the action. He prevents further bloodshed but compels Lycus to hand over his kingdom to Zethus and Amphion; he also issues instructions and prophecies relating to the fate of each character. Dirce will give her name to a spring of water near Thebes, while Zethus and Amphion will receive purification, make advantageous marriages and rule the city thereafter. A few of the book-fragments can be connected to specific moments in the plot – including the shepherd’s narrative of past events from the prologuespeech (F179-82), Antiope’s description of pregnancy and childbirth (F207) and See the commentaries of Kambitsis (1972) and Collard, Cropp and Gibert (2004) 259–329; cf. Webster (1967a) 205–11. 66 P. Petrie 1-2 (TrGF 5 F223), overlapping with Stobaeus 1.3.25. 65



a messenger-speech concerning Dirce’s gruesome death (F221) – but most of them seem unrelated to anything in Hyginus’ summary. There are several gnomic quotations, as usual, but, surprisingly, the bulk of the fragments – twenty-three out of thirty-nine – relate to a philosophical debate between the twin brothers Amphion and Zethus.67 This debate, which was well known to Plato and inspired part of his dialogue Gorgias, concerned the relative merits of two different ways of life. A life of action, war and agriculture (exemplified by the vigorous Zethus) is contrasted with a quiet life devoted to music and the arts (exemplified by the lyre-playing Amphion). Some critics have interpreted this contrast in political terms, but what comes across more overtly from the fragments is a concern with ethics and with the social function of poetry and music. It is odd that Hyginus makes no mention of what, for many readers, was the defining scene of the play. It is also difficult to see what such a scene has to do with the main action or where it could fit within the plot structure. This scene was a formal debate, or agôn, of a type familiar from many other tragedies, in which two opponents deliver neatly balanced speeches, as in a law court or classroom.68 Such speeches rely heavily on sophistic rhetorical techniques, and they often draw attention to their own cleverness and artificiality. Many of them are also detached from the play’s main action, which is seldom affected by the outcome of the debate: this tendency would account for our difficulty in finding a connection between this scene and the rest of the plot. All of these characteristics seem to have been present in the agôn of Antiope, which was rather self-consciously signalled as such: If one were clever at speaking, one could institute a debate (agôn) between two arguments (dissoi logoi) on any topic. (F189)

Euripides could hardly have made it any clearer that the scene in question is an example of the sophistic genre of Dissoi Logoi or ‘double arguments’. These lines unmistakably allude to the sophist Protagoras’ principle that contrasting arguments may be constructed on any subject at all.69 It is sometimes assumed that Amphion won the argument, but if the Protagorean principle of relativism was strictly adhered to, one would not expect either party to emerge as the obvious ‘winner’: they would simply be seen as holding alternative viewpoints. Regardless of the precise relationship between agôn and plot, Antiope provides a

See Snell (1971) 77–103; Slings (1991); Gibert (2013). See Duchemin (1968); Collard (1975). 69 D-K 90; D-K 80 B6a. 67 68


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good example of Euripides’ engagement with contemporary intellectual concerns and his penchant for introducing abstract philosophical ideas into his drama.

Archelaus (TrGF 5 F228-64) One of Euripides’ last tragedies, produced during his time in Macedon towards the end of his life, probably between 408 and 406 BCE.70 According to his ancient biographer, Euripides wrote Archelaus to please his patron, the Macedonian ruler who shared his name with the play’s hero.71 A plausible context for the performance is the Olympia at Dion, a festival of Zeus and the Muses instituted by the real-life Archelaus as part of his programme of cultural Hellenization, though there existed other theatrical venues in Macedon, including Aegeae and Pella.72 It is unclear whether the play was ever reperformed at Athens. One of the Euripidean prologues quoted by Aristophanes in Frogs may belong to Archelaus, which, if true, would show that this tragedy was familiar (in some form) to Athenians in 405, but even in antiquity there were doubts about the attribution of the verses in question.73 Nevertheless, Archelaus obviously became a well known and widely quoted work (over thirty book-fragments are preserved), and it remained in the theatrical repertoire for many years: we have records of thirdcentury performances in Argos and Dodona.74 The mythical Archelaus is an obscure figure: his story is scarcely attested apart from a narrative by Hyginus, which is probably based on Euripides.75 Archelaus was the son of the Argive king Temenus and a direct descendant of Heracles. He was banished from Argos by his brothers and took refuge with Cisseus, king of Thrace. Cisseus promised to let Archelaus have both his kingdom and his daughter’s hand in marriage if he could defeat his enemies. Although Archelaus easily succeeded in this challenge, Cisseus reneged on his promise and attempted to kill the hero by luring him into a concealed fiery pit. Archelaus, having learned of the plot from a slave, threw Cisseus himself into See the commentaries of Harder (1985) and Collard, Cropp and Gibert (2004) 330–62; cf. SourvinouInwood (2003) 40–5; Xanthakis-Karamanou (2012b). 71 Life of Euripides §6 (TrGF T ii a); see Harder (1985) 125–6. 72 See Csapo and Wilson (2015) 361–4. 73 Aristophanes, Frogs 1206–8 (with Σ) = TrGF 5 F846. The verses usually identified as the start of Archelaus’ prologue are different (F228). See TrGF 5, pp. 314–16, 885–6; cf. Scullion (2006) 185–91. See also discussion of Meleager, pp. 187–90. 74 TrGF T iib/DID B11 (IG v.2.118). 75 Hyginus, Fabula 219 (TrGF T iiia). On the relationship between Hyginus and Euripides, see Huys (1997), esp. 28–9. 70



the pit and killed him. Subsequently he received an oracle from Apollo which told him to follow a goat and found a city where the goat led him: this new city, in Macedonia, was to be called Aegeae (from aigos, the Greek word for ‘goat’). This tragedy provides a striking example of the way in which a dramatist might manipulate myth for political purposes. The play no doubt reflected glory on the Macedonian ruler by implicitly assimilating him to his mythical namesake. But Euripides seems to have gone further than this, deliberately selecting a myth in order to emphasize – or manufacture – connections between the Macedonians and the Argive Greeks. Certainly he went out of his way to demonstrate exactly how Archelaus was descended from Heracles and the royal family of Argos. The play’s prologue contained a genealogical narrative that was, even by Euripides’ normal standards, unusually long and explicit. Two substantial fragments survive, showing that this speech traced the line of descent back as far as Danaus and quoted an oracle in which Zeus promised to give Temenus a son who would inherit the kingdom.76 If the point of all this information was to provide legitimation for the rule of the present-day Archelaus (who had risen to power in 413 by dubious means and whose claim to the throne was contested), it is easy to see how Euripides’ play would have been pleasing to the king, irrespective of his broader cultural agenda of philhellenism. Perhaps it is also easy to see why some people, including Plato, criticized Euripides as a paid-up apologist of tyranny.77 Nevertheless, many other tragedies are similarly creative when it comes to genealogies or cult aetiologies, and there is no reason to assume that Archelaus was merely a crude exercise in propaganda. (There may be some sort of connection between Archelaus and Euripides’ other tragedies relating to the same family, Temenus and Children of Temenus: see separate entry.)

Auge (TrGF 5 F 264a-281) The play’s action took place in an Arcadian sanctuary of Athena where its title character served as priestess. Auge was raped by Heracles during a night-time festival and later gave birth to Telephus. When Auge’s father Aleus discovered the birth, he ordered Auge to be drowned in the sea and the baby Telephus to be exposed. In the nick of time Heracles returned and rescued mother and baby; he also discovered, by means of a ring that he had left behind during TrGF 5 F228-228a. Plato, Republic 10.568a-d. On poets and their patrons, see Bremer (1991).

76 77


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the rape, that he was Telephus’ father.78 Thus Auge was another tragedy based on the familiar plot sequence of rape, childbirth and recognition (as in Alope, Hypsipyle, Danae and others). This sort of scenario is often unjustly disparaged as ‘sentimental and melodramatic’,79 even though it was popular among the tragedians (not just Euripides) and even though we have insufficient evidence to tell us exactly how these plots were handled. There is no reason to deny Euripides subtlety or profundity, and it is important not to be unduly influenced by later comic treatments of the same basic plot motifs, which were indeed sentimental and silly. But Auge did make an impact on the comedians. It was well known to Aristophanes, who refers to ‘women giving birth in temples’ as a typical Euripidean motif, and to Menander, whose comedy Epitrepontes recycles elements from the play including the token of the ring; Philyllius and Eubulus also wrote comedies entitled Auge which may well have been influenced by Euripides.80 Just a few fragments survive, none more than four lines long, but they contain some revealing glimpses of the plot. Auge, like many other rape victims in ancient drama, received little sympathy from the other characters or from the goddess whom she served: Auge: You rejoice to see spoils taken from slain men and the remnants of corpses. If all this is not offensive to you, then why do you consider it a terrible thing for me to have given birth?

The author who quotes these lines explains that Athena was angry because Auge had given birth in her sanctuary (which would have caused pollution), and Auge was driven to make a speech defending herself.81 Two or three fragments belong to an anxious exchange between Auge and another character, perhaps a nurse, concerning the desirability of escape and the need for someone to save Auge and her baby.82 Other fragments, which must come from the latter part of the play, show that Heracles spoke to Auge and apologized for his behaviour, blaming drunkenness for his sexual misconduct (F272b), and that Heracles held the infant Telephus in his arms and played with him:

For the plot, see Moses of Chorene, Progymnasmata 3.3, Apollodorus 2.7.4, Strabo 13.1.69, and a fragmentary hypothesis (P.Köln 1): TrGF Tiia-b, Tiii, Tiv. 79 E.g. Collard and Cropp (2008) 1.262. 80 Aristophanes, Frogs 1080; see TrGF 5 F265a (=Epitrepontes 1123–4) for quotation of Auge by Menander. See also discussion of Alope above. 81 TrGF 5 F266 = Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies 82 TrGF 5 F271, 271a, 271b: see TrGF 5, pp. 337–8; Webster (1967a) 239–41. 78



I am playing, for I always like a change from my labours […] Is there anyone who does not enjoy playing with toys? (F272, 272a)

These fragments reveal a surprisingly tender, even light-hearted depiction of the relationship between Heracles and Telephus (whether or not Heracles knows at this point that Telephus is his own son).

Bellerophon (TrGF 5 F285-312) Euripides wrote two separate tragedies about Bellerophon. Considerably more is known about the other tragedy, Stheneboea, but we have little information about the plot of Bellerophon.83 Our best source is Aristophanes’ parody of one of its scenes at the beginning of Peace. Here the character Trygaeus mounts a dungbeetle and ascends to heaven in order to rail at the gods for their cruel treatment of mankind, just as in Euripides’ tragedy Bellerophon ascended to heaven on the winged horse Pegasus for much the same purpose. The similarity between the tragic and comic scenarios is obvious from the context, but it is spelled out in more detail by Aristophanes’ ancient commentators: the humour lies partly in the fact that the clunky flying-machine (mêchanê) was used in both dramas, for either serious or silly ends.84 A few surviving fragments belong to a scene or scenes in which Bellerophon rides Pegasus through the air (F306-309a) before falling to the ground, maimed or perhaps fatally injured like Phaethon (F31011). All of this will probably have occurred towards the end of the play, but what led up to that point is unknown. The other fragments give no clue to the plot, while a couple of papyrus scraps that have been identified as from ancient plotsummaries contain almost no intelligible details.85 The myth of the Corinthian hero Bellerophon is best known from the Iliad, which narrates Bellerophon’s encounter with Proetus and Stheneboea in Tiryns – as dramatized by Euripides in Stheneboea – and goes on to describe his exploits in Lycia, including his narrow escape from murder, his defeat of the Chimaera, the Solymi and the Amazons, his marriage to the daughter of king Iobates, his children and his miserable later life as an outcast who had become hateful to the gods.86 Any part of this myth could have found its way into Bellerophon, either See the commentary of Collard, Cropp and Lee (1995) 98–120. Aristophanes, Peace 56–178, with Σ to 136–48 (TrGF T iia-b). See Rau (1967) 89–97; Dobrov (2001) 89–104. 85 P.Oxy. 3651, 4017 (TrGF T iiia-b). 86 Homer, Iliad 6. 155–211; cf. Apollodorus 2.3; Gantz (1993) 314–16. 83 84


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as the main action or as featured in a narrative flashback or prophecy. Because one fragment (F285) features Bellerophon looking back sadly at his previous good fortune, and because Stheneboea dramatized the earlier events in Tiryns, it has been assumed that Bellerophon dealt with the latter stages of the story or that Bellerophon was conceived as a ‘sequel’ to Stheneboea. But it is hard to be confident that this is true, and the relationship between the two works, along with their dating, remains unclear. Perhaps they were alternative, mutually contradictory versions of the same events, following the pattern of other Euripidean tragedies (e.g. Trojan Women and Helen, Electra and Orestes, or the two Alcmeon plays). The fact that a recent re-examination of the evidence can make a plausible case for seeing Stheneboea as a major character in Bellerophon demonstrates just how little we really know about this tragedy.87 As things stand, the most interesting feature of Bellerophon is that two fragments come from speeches which are openly critical of the gods: Does anyone claim, then, that gods exist in heaven? They do not! They do not! – unless one is foolish enough to adhere to old stories. But consider the matter for yourselves; do not let me tell you what to think. I say that tyranny kills very many people and deprives them of their possessions, and that tyrants break their oaths and destroy cities, and in doing these things they are happier than people who live quiet, pious lives from day to day. And I know that small cities which honour the gods are subject to cities which are bigger and less pious: they are overpowered by a greater number of weapons. I believe that, if some idle person were to pray to the gods to make a living without working, you would … [text missing] … they build up the gods like towers, and terrible calamities (F286) If the gods do anything shameful, they are not gods. (F286b.7)

These passages are central to the study of Euripidean religion and theology, and have been widely discussed.88 Tim Whitmarsh remarks of the first fragment above that ‘this is one of the most explicitly atheistic utterances in all of ancient culture’; he also points out that the language used by Euripides echoes the work of Diagoras of Melos, one of the most notorious atheists in fifth-century Greece, who was apparently prosecuted for his religious beliefs.89

Dixon (2014). See, most recently, Lefkowitz (2016), esp. 24–48; cf. TrGF 5 T170-171b on the ancient tradition of Euripides as atheist. 89 Whitmarsh (2015) 109–14, comparing ‘build up like towers’ (purgous’, F286.15) to the title of Diagoras’ work Apopurgizontes Logoi (‘Arguments That Knock Down Towers’). 87 88



Lines like these were treated in antiquity, by writers from Aristophanes onwards, as evidence that Euripides himself was an atheist, but this is a naïvely literal approach. We cannot treat any statements in a play as straightforwardly representing the author’s own sentiments; they have to be read in context, as utterances of particular characters in particular situations.90 In the case of the fragments above, we do not know the identity of the speaker or what happened to prompt these outbursts. But in other Euripidean dramas where characters express heterodox or shocking views of this sort, the unfolding events of the play ultimately confirm the gods’ existence and power: this shows that the characters’ disbelief, while understandable in the circumstances, was unfounded.91 It is easy for modern readers to assume that whenever a character expresses an apparently heterodox opinion about the gods, this is equivalent to an ‘enlightened’ atheistic or rationalist position such as one of our own contemporaries might hold. Perhaps the words of the character in Bellerophon were meant to undermine religion, but it seems to me that they embody a more complex attitude, somewhere in between doubt, frustration, criticism and weary acceptance that the gods’ behaviour is essentially unfathomable.

Danae (TrGF 5 F316-330a) A tragedy about the circumstances leading to the birth of Perseus, after his mother, Danae, was raped by Zeus in the form of a shower of gold. This myth was also the subject of plays by Aeschylus (Polydectes and the satyr-play Netfishers) and Sophocles (Acrisius, Danae and Men of Larissa).92 All the fragments of Euripides’ Danae are gnomic and reveal nothing about the plot, though it is notable that they all cluster around just a few subjects – love and marriage, children and money – reflecting the play’s themes. An additional fragment, purporting to be the beginning of the prologue, is preserved in a fourteenth-century manuscript along with several complete Euripidean plays.93 This is clearly a fake, dated by Martin West and others to the fifth or sixth century CE, and even though it may in some respects derive from the genuine

Cf. similar sentiments in Euripides, Helen 1212–13; Heracles 1340–4; Hippolytus 612; Ion 453–73; Orestes 423. 91 See Wright (2005) 262–84. 92 For the myth, see discussion of Sophocles’ Acrisius, p. 76. 93 Palatinus Gr. 287 (usually known as manuscript ‘P’). See Zuntz (1965) 135–6, 176, 179–80. 90


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Danae (via intermediary sources such as Lucian), it adds nothing of value to our knowledge of the play or the myth.94 The lexicographer Pollux reports that Danae contained a choral ode resembling the parabasis in a comedy, in which the chorus ‘steps aside’ from its normal role and addresses the audience in the persona of the poet himself: Comedians naturally do this sort of thing, but it is not tragic. Nevertheless, Euripides has done it in many plays: in his Danae, for instance, he wrote an ode for the chorus (of women) to step aside and sing on behalf of himself, but he accidentally made them speak in a masculine fashion, forgetting that they were women. Sophocles also does the same sort of thing occasionally when he is trying to emulate Euripides, as in his Hipponous.95

Modern scholars mostly agree that tragedy, unlike comedy, never breaks the ‘fourth wall’, and so it is normally assumed that Pollux was mistaken.96 Certainly the tendency to read passages from drama in a naïvely literal or autobiographical fashion is widespread among ancient writers. Perhaps Pollux, or his source, noticed a grammatically masculine form in a choral ode performed by women and invented an explanation.97 Nevertheless, we should not automatically dismiss this evidence. We need to remember that all our views about normative generic rules and conventions are based on the extant plays. If a lost play seems to have behaved differently from normal, it need not necessarily be seen as breaking the rules: we ought to be more flexible and openminded when considering what tragedy could or could not accommodate. It is hard to believe that Euripides or any other tragedian would have included a parabasis as such, but it is possible to imagine a less overt version of such a technique whereby some form of self-conscious authorial comment was more subtly conveyed. Indeed, it has been shown that Euripidean tragedy does contain many features which are implicitly metatheatrical or metapoetic, even though the dramatic illusion is maintained.98 Without the full text of Danae before us we can only speculate as to what sort of effect was intended. But it is clear that the choral lyrics in this play were unusual and that they ‘stood out’ in some way.

Included by Kannicht as TrGF 5 F1132; cf. Karamanou (2006) 225–38. Pollux, Onomasticon 4.111 (TrGF T iii). 96 See Bain (1975), esp. 14–17; Taplin (1986). 97 So Kannicht (TrGF 5, p. 371), comparing Euripides, Hippolytus 1102–7 (with Σ). 98 See most recently Wright (2010); Torrance (2013). 94 95



Dictys (TrGF 5 F330b-348) This play could almost be seen as a narrative sequel to Danae, but the relationship between the two tragedies is unknown, as is their relative dating. Dictys was not part of the same production as Danae: it was performed at the City Dionysia of 431 BCE, alongside Medea, Philoctetes and the satyr-play Reapers.99 Danae might have been written before or afterwards: its date cannot be estimated with any accuracy.100 Euripides probably followed the outline of the myth preserved by Apollodorus and other sources.101 Dictys, brother of Polydectes (the ruler of Seriphos), rescued Danae and Perseus from the chest in which they had been imprisoned. Sometime later, Polydectes fell in love with Danae, but his plan to marry her was impeded by Perseus, now grown to adulthood; so Polydectes claimed that he was going to marry Hippodameia instead and requested wedding gifts from those around him. Perseus promised to give him anything he wished, even the Gorgon’s severed head, and Polydectes took him up on his offer, thinking that he would be killed in the process of obtaining it. But Perseus defeated the Gorgon and brought her head back to Seriphos, where he discovered that his mother and Dictys had fled to an altar to escape Polydectes’ brutality. Perseus used the Gorgon’s head to turn Polydectes and his friends to stone, and the kingdom passed to Dictys. The fragments of the play (mostly gnomic) add nothing to indicate exactly how Euripides handled the myth. It is unclear at what point the play’s action started, or how Euripides accounted for the long period of time that had elapsed since Danae and Perseus arrived in Seriphos, but no doubt a narrative prologue-speech will have made these things plain. Perseus’ mission to obtain the Gorgon’s head – an episode which also featured in Aeschylus’ Daughters of Phorcys – was probably narrated in a messenger-speech or choral ode, since the play’s main action was set before the Seriphian royal palace and altar. The most remarkable feature of the play is the fact that several of its characters were petrified. Such a phenomenon is extraordinary but probably not unique: Aeschylus’ Niobe and Euripides’ Andromeda provide likely parallels.

TrGF T ii (Aristophanes of Byzantium, Hypothesis to Euripides’ Medea). Cropp and Fick (1985) 78. 101 Apollodorus 1.9.6, 2.4.2-3. See the commentary of Karamanou (2006) on both Danae and Dictys. 99



The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

Erechtheus (TrGF 5 F349-70) The relationship between tragedy and politics has fuelled much scholarly discussion during the last few decades.102 It is frustrating that the nature of the remains seldom allows us to say anything about this aspect of the lost plays. In many cases we might strongly suspect some sort of political meaning or purpose, and we might try to conjecture what it was, but the fragments hardly ever preserve political content (aside from gnomic generalities about power, status, tyranny and so on). In this respect Erechtheus stands out. Not only was it one of the few tragedies set in Athens itself, but the portions that survive show that Athenian ideology formed its central focus; it has even been thought that it was written to convey a direct political message to its audience. The play used the myth of the Athenian king Erechtheus and his family as a way of exploring the theme of patriotism in the face of foreign threat, and its events exemplify the value of personal sacrifice in order to ensure the safety of the polis community.103 The play’s plot is summarized by Lycurgus, who cites it in his speech Against Leocrates (330 BCE) during a discussion of civic duty: It is said that Eumolpus, the son of Poseidon and Chione, came with the Thracians and laid claim to Athens. As it happened, the king at that time was Erechtheus, and his wife was Praxithea, the daughter of Cephisus. When a great army was about to invade their country, Erechtheus visited Delphi and enquired how he might overcome the enemy. The god gave the instruction that if he sacrificed his daughter before the two armies clashed, he would defeat the enemy; so Erechtheus obediently did this, and thus forced the invaders out of the country. For this reason one might praise Euripides, and quite rightly: not only was he a good poet in various other ways, but also he chose to dramatize this particular myth, believing that its characters’ actions would serve as a very fine example for the citizens of Athens – actions which they could look to, reflect upon, and train their souls to love their native land.104

Lycurgus illustrates the play’s ideological content by quoting from a speech in which Praxithea explains her reasons for giving up her daughter to be sacrificed (F360). She begins by praising Athens and contrasting its autochthonous people with the supposedly unsettled and random population of other cities; she claims

See Carter (2007) and (2011). Similar themes recur in other Euripidean plays, e.g. Children of Heracles, Phoenician Women, Iphigenia at Aulis: see Wilkins (1990). 104 Lycurgus, Against Leocrates 98 (TrGF T ii). 102 103



that the main reason for begetting children is to protect one’s country and its gods; she says that if she had sons she would be sending them out to fight, and she adds that her daughter, by dying, will gain glory comparable to those who die in battle. Her speech concludes: Citizens! Take and make use of the child to whom I gave birth! Be saved! Win victory! There is no way that I shall not save this city, not for the sake of a single life. O my native land! If only all who inhabit you could love you as much as I do! Then we should live at ease in you, and you would suffer no harm.

This sort of sentiment is likely to strike modern readers as rebarbative, but how did Euripides’ audience see it? Do Praxithea’s words really sum up the ‘message’ of the play? Are we supposed to admire or empathize with a mother who talks in this way about the loss of her own child? These questions are difficult to answer without access to the full text of Erechtheus (or any clear sign of a specific date or political context for the play).105 However, our interpretation will depend on our overall view of tragedy or of Euripides. Does tragedy seek to affirm or question civic ideology? Is Euripides an orthodox upholder of traditional values or a subversive ironist? Critics have always been divided over these central issues.106 Certainly Lycurgus chose to represent the play and its ‘message’ in straightforward, unproblematic terms, and he may be echoing the reactions of others in antiquity. Nevertheless, as Johanna Hanink has shown, Lycurgus can be seen as deliberately appropriating Erechtheus and its author for his own ends, in an attempt to recast fifth-century tragedy as a source of political inspiration for his own times and to transform Euripides into ‘the paradigm of an Athenian citizen’.107 So it may be thought that Lycurgus was oversimplifying matters by ironing out the play’s complexities and ambiguities. Apart from Lycurgus’ quotation and a handful of short gnomic and lexicographic fragments, we have two substantial extracts from the play. F370, one of the longer Euripidean papyrus fragments, preserves over a hundred lines from the final scene, culminating in an appearance by Athena. The goddess gives instructions for the burial of the dead (including not only the sacrificed girl but also her sisters and Erechtheus himself) and ordains the institution of religious cults, thus showing that this play resembled many others in having an aetiological conclusion.

Plutarch (Nicias 9.7) suggests a date of 422 BCE, but this has been doubted: see TrGF, p. 394. For contrasting interpretations, see Wilkins (1990) and Vellacott (1975) 177–91. 107 Hanink (2014) 28–39. 105 106


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The other long fragment, F362, is more unusual. It is quoted by the anthologist Stobaeus as a continuous passage, apparently from a speech by Erechtheus to one of his sons,108 in which the king announces that he is passing on a ‘treasure trove’ (keimêlia) of advice for life: My son, it is correct that you have asked me this question, and – since you are already a thoughtful person and, if I should die, you will preserve your father’s wise sayings – I wish to give you a treasure-trove of advice that is fine and useful to young people. I shall speak briefly, but sum up a great deal.

There follows a string of eight maxims, one after another, without linking material – a phenomenon almost unparalleled in tragedy.109 Stobaeus quotes some of these maxims separately elsewhere in his anthology: this emphasizes the inherent detachability of the verses as well as their lack of inherent connection to one another or to their dramatic context. Euripides’ tendency to fill his plays with conveniently excerptable aphorisms is well known. On many occasions Euripides seems to be going out of his way to assist readers and future anthologists by deliberately framing certain lines so that they stand out as ‘quotations’ even within their original setting. Such framing techniques include the epigrammatically neat formulation of the utterances in question, the fact that they usually fill complete iambic lines (thus increasing their memorability and excerptability), the use of certain words or phrases as quotation markers and the careful positioning of ‘quotations’ at the beginning and end of speeches or scenes.110 Nevertheless, this passage from Erechtheus goes much further than any other Euripidean play in explicitly drawing attention to its own status as a repository of quotations. In effect, Erechtheus’ speech is not so much a speech as a ready-made anthology: a miniature book of quotations that actually announces itself as such. By piling quotation upon quotation in this artificial way, and by describing the resulting collection as a ‘treasure trove’, Euripides is self-consciously gesturing towards a particular type of reading practice that was on the increase during his own time. As Xenophon describes it:

Stobaeus 3.3.18; for speaker and addressee, see Collard, Cropp and Lee (1995) and TrGF ad loc. Lines 1–5 are quoted here. 109 Cf. Euripides, Phoenician Women 390–407, 529–58, and Chaeremon TrGF 1.71 F14b: see LPGT 1, pp. 125–6. 110 See Wright (2016); cf. Friis Johansen (1959). 108



As for the treasure-trove (thêsauros) of the wise men of old, which they wrote down in their books and left behind as a legacy, I unfold it and go through it with my friends; and if we see anything good there, we excerpt it.111

Thus Erechtheus emerges as not just political but also metapoetical in its preoccupations – an intriguing mixture. But these two strands are not entirely separate, since the question of how to read the play’s political content is affected by our reading of its moral content as embodied in all these maxims. We might prefer to see irony and ambiguity everywhere we look, or we might conclude that Euripides’ audience were more willing than modern critics are to seek lessons or messages in drama.

Theseus (TrGF 5 F381-90) One of several Euripidean tragedies with a Cretan setting, this play dramatized Theseus’ defeat of the Minotaur. The hero was assisted by king Minos’ daughter Ariadne, with whom he fell in love; Ariadne persuaded Theseus to take her with him when he sailed back to Athens, but he abandoned her on Naxos, where she was later to marry Dionysus.112 Our knowledge of Euripides’ version of the story was increased by the publication (in 1983 and 2003) of two important Oxyrhynchus papyrus fragments: part of a messenger-speech describing Theseus’ ferocious struggle with the Minotaur and a section of an ancient plotsummary.113 Book-fragments preserve a couple of other details, such as the anguished cries (in lyric song) of the Athenian children whom Theseus saved from the Minotaur (F385-6) and the ball of linen thread which Ariadne gave Theseus to help him escape from the labyrinth (F386aa). It seems likely that the love affair between Theseus and Ariadne will have been central to the plot, and it has been suggested that Ariadne was portrayed as active or brazen in her erotic pursuit of Theseus – a scenario comparable, perhaps, to the portrayal of Ariadne’s sister Phaedra in Hippolytus I.114 Until recently our main evidence for this consisted of a five-line gnomic fragment about love (quoted several times by anthologists without indication of speaker

Memorabilia 1.6.14. On the development of anthologies and excerption as a reading habit, see Konstan (2011). 112 Apollodorus, Epitome 1.7-9; Plutarch, Theseus 19.1; Diodorus Siculus 4.61. 113 P. Oxy. 3530, 4640 (TrGF 5 F386b; Tiiia). 114 Mills (1997) 254–5. 111


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or context) and an Aristophanic scholion that cites Ariadne, with Phaedra and Pasiphae, as an example of Euripides’ penchant for depicting wanton women.115 The papyrus hypothesis now seems to confirm this scenario, with its reference to Ariadne’s desire and her efforts to induce Theseus to take her with him. However, we still have no real clue how the emotions of Ariadne or Theseus were articulated or where the balance of sympathy lay. Nor can we be sure how the character of Theseus was presented in this play, but his defeat of the Minotaur may imply that he appeared, at least initially, in a positive light as hero and saviour. This is the view of Sophie Mills, who contrasts Theseus’ ‘highly conventional’ portrayal here with his more ambivalent appearances in other plays. Mills interprets Theseus’ triumph over the Minotaur as a paradigm of Athenian ideology: ‘he comes from afar to assert himself as he restores order, a pattern which has analogies with Athenian imperial expansionism’.116 This is an attractive suggestion, but of course this admirable image might have been tarnished by Theseus’ treatment of Ariadne. (What if he was made to seem callous or despicable, like Jason in Medea?) The most interesting fragment is F382, often cited as an example of anachronism in tragedy. This is a description, by an illiterate shepherd, of the letters spelling out Theseus’ name (ΘΗΣΕΥΣ): I haven’t got any knowledge of writing, but I shall tell you the shapes of the letters and give a clear description. There is a circle, measured out as if with compasses, and this has a firm mark in the middle. The second letter has, first of all, two lines, and then another one holding these two apart at the centre. The third letter looks like some sort of curly lock of hair; and then the fourth consists of one part standing upright and three other parts which are attached to it at an angle. The fifth is not easy to describe: there are two lines which stand apart from one another but then converge into a single point at the base. And the final letter is the same as the third.

It is unclear how this moment fitted into the plot, or where the name Theseus was written – perhaps on an object such as a shield or sword, or on Theseus’ ship, or in a written document. But the fragment is comparable to other passages in which Euripides ‘updates’ the world of heroic myth by inserting incongruous references to literacy and written texts.117 In this particular case,

TrGF 5 F388; Σ Aristophanes, Frogs 850. Mills (1997) 252. 117 See Wright (2010) 176–9; cf. Easterling (1985) 3–7. 115 116



the anachronism is perhaps being used to make a political or ideological point (by contrasting literate, advanced Athenians with illiterate, uncivilized Cretans), but the passage is more broadly significant in terms of Euripides’ recurrent concern with intellectual developments and their impact on human relationships. The lines above obviously made a big impression, since both Agathon and Theodectes wrote tragedies containing almost identical passages.118

Thyestes (TrGF 5 F391-397b) The myth of Thyestes is well known in outline: he committed adultery with Aerope, the wife of his brother Atreus, and was exiled from Mycenae; some years later Atreus pretended to welcome him back but killed Thyestes’ children and served them up to him for dinner. The story is often alluded to in classical literature, and many Greek and Roman tragedians wrote plays in which Thyestes was the title character, but all except Seneca’s Thyestes have vanished.119 Several familiar tragedies – the Oresteia, Orestes and the two Electras – centre on the House of Atreus, but their main focus is on the later generations. It is unfortunate that we know so much less about the earlier parts of the story. In fact Thyestes is one of Euripides’ most obscure works: its few fragments tell us almost nothing. A suggestive reference in Aristophanes’ Acharnians reveals that the Euripidean Thyestes wore rags.120 If this means that he appeared in an abject state after a period of exile, perhaps the play dwelt on the latter stages of his story (the return to Mycenae, the infanticide and the cannibal feast) rather than the earlier stages (the power-struggle between Atreus and Thyestes, the affair with Aerope and the golden lamb). But it is possible that the play dealt with a different strand in the mythical tradition – Thyestes’ rape of his own daughter Pelopia, leading to the birth of Aegisthus, the much later killing of Atreus by Aegisthus and the restoration of the kingdom to Thyestes.121 (Thyestes and Aerope also featured in Euripides’ Cretan Women.)

Agathon (TrGF 1.39 F4), Theodectes (TrGF 1.72 F6): see LPGT 1, pp. 87–8, 172–3. TrGF 5, pp. 437–8; LPGT 1, p. 205. 120 Acharnians 433 (with Σ) = TrGF Tii. 121 Apollodorus, Epitome 2.13-14; Hyginus, Fabula 88; Dio Chrysostom, Oration 66.2. 118 119


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Ino (TrGF 5 F398-423) The remains of Ino exemplify a general problem affecting the study of fragmentary plays. That is, our knowledge is not necessarily proportional to the quantity of fragments that survive. There are twenty-five book-fragments of Ino, totalling nearly eighty lines – a particularly good haul, representing maybe five per cent of the work in total. But nearly all of these fragments are gnomic quotations which have been preserved precisely because of their universal applicability and lack of incidental details. Our best evidence for the contents of Ino is a prose summary of the plot by Hyginus:122 Athamas, the king of Thessaly, had a wife, Ino, who bore him two sons; because he believed that Ino had perished, he married Themisto, daughter of a nymph, and had twin sons by her. Afterwards he discovered that Ino was on Mount Parnassus, where she had gone in order to participate in Dionysiac cult. He sent men to bring her back, and then concealed the fact that she had returned. Themisto learnt that the woman had been found, but did not know her identity. She conceived a desire to kill Ino’s sons, and she recruited Ino herself as an accomplice, believing her to be a slave: she told her to veil her own sons in white garments and Ino’s sons in black. But Ino did the opposite: consequently Themisto was tricked into killing her own sons. Furthermore, Athamas, driven mad, killed his own elder son Learchus while hunting. But Ino threw herself into the sea, together with their younger son Melicertes, and became a goddess.

Hyginus, unusually for him, names Euripides as his source, perhaps because the myth was unfamiliar: no other Greek tragedian seems to have dramatized it. Euripides himself alludes to it in a choral ode from Medea, though there the details are strikingly different (Ino, like Medea, is said to have killed both her own sons).123 This demonstrates Euripides’ fluid approach to myth – even with respect to central or defining details – and his lack of concern for consistency between individual plays. The extent of Hyginus’ reliability as evidence has sometimes been doubted, but his account is apparently confirmed by a new papyrus fragment, published as recently as 2012, which fills in a little more detail. This is part of a scene showing the reaction of Athamas and Ino as the dead body of Learchus is brought on stage Hyginus, Fabula 4 (TrGF Tiii). Medea 1283–9.

122 123



by attendants and the start of a lyric lament by Ino.124 Much remains obscure, but we have enough clues to discern a typically complex Euripidean plot structure of mistaken identity, recognitions and unexpected reversals. We can also detect several important motifs that find echoes elsewhere in Euripides – such as infanticide, madness, Dionysiac ritual, sexual jealousy, wicked stepmothers and a preoccupation with costume as a problematic marker of status and identity.125

Ixion (TrGF 5 F424-7) Tragedies on the subject of Ixion, the notorious murderer and rapist, were written by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Callistratus as well as Euripides.126 We can appreciate how Ixion’s crimes and their awful consequences might have appealed to audiences in search of easy thrills or simple moral lessons, but it is harder to imagine how the myth – a black-and-white tale of evil deeds justly punished – could have provided much in the way of subtlety or complexity. It is hard not to call to mind Aristotle’s dictum that the best tragedies avoid portraying the downfall of figures who are excessively wicked – ‘such an arrangement might satisfy our human feeling, but it arouses neither pity nor fear’.127 Certainly Plutarch regarded Euripides’ Ixion as a morality tale. He cites it as an example of a play whose action explicitly embodies a lesson (mathêsis) for the audience, and adds128: It is said that Euripides responded to his critics, who complained that his Ixion was impious and corrupt, by saying: ‘But I did not take him off the stage before nailing him to the wheel!’

This testimony suggests that Euripides’ play contained speeches from the mouth of Ixion which, if read out of context, might have been interpreted as evidence of the poet’s own immorality. F426 may belong to such a speech: this is a maxim extolling the wondrous things – including tyranny – that men can achieve by acts of audacity. Similarly shocking sentiments were expressed by other Euripidean characters, including Bellerophon, Heracles and Hippolytus, and the ancient biographical tradition records that Euripides was charged with P.Oxy. 5131. See Finglass (2014) for discussion in the light of the new fragment; cf. Webster (1967a) 98–101. On costume and identity, cf. pp. 277–80 on Telephus. 126 See pp. 34–5, 95 for details of the myth and other treatments. 127 Aristotle, Poetics 1453a1-4 (cf. 1455b34-6). 128 Plutarch, Moralia 19e (TrGF Tiii). 124 125


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impiety or religious heterodoxy (though such stories are probably apocryphal).129 Plutarch here is acknowledging – unusually for him – that poetry does not necessarily represent the poet’s own opinions, and that interpreters must balance the content of Ixion’s speeches against what happened to him in the end. (It is implied that the play ended with Ixion displayed on stage attached to the wheel: this would have been a horrifying closing scene, comparable to the opening scene of Prometheus Bound.130) A somewhat suspicious testimonium deriving from the Hellenistic historian Philochorus records that in Ixion Euripides made ‘riddling’ reference to the recent death of the sophist Protagoras.131 If reliable, this evidence could suggest a date for the play (since Protagoras died in 421/20 BCE), but it would be very unusual for a tragedy to make reference, even obliquely, to a real-life event, and it is hard to imagine the dramatic point of such a reference here. Collard and Cropp suggest that Euripides portrayed Ixion in a ‘sophistic’ light, implying, perhaps, that his character was designed to recall Protagoras,132 but any sort of alignment of dramatis personae with individuals from the real world would be more in line with the conventions of comedy than of tragedy.133

Hippolytus I (TrGF 5 F428-47) The surviving Hippolytus, also known as Hippolytus the Garland-Bearer (Stephanêphoros or Stephanias), was said to be a revised version of an unsuccessful earlier play called Hippolytus Veiled (Kaluptomenos). According to Aristophanes of Byzantium, in his description of the later work, ‘This Hippolytus is the second version, and is also called The Garland-Bearer; it was clearly written later, because the elements that were inappropriate and worthy of criticism have been corrected in the new version.’134 Our knowledge of the original version is limited to a handful of fragments and a couple of mutilated papyrus hypotheses, which makes it impossible to see what the similarities and differences were. It has been almost universally assumed that the two plays dramatized the same events – Phaedra’s unreciprocated love for her stepson Hippolytus and its aftermath – and See Lefkowitz (1987). See Sourvinou-Inwood (2003) 474–80, with ref. to vase-paintings; cf. Webster (1967a) 160–1. 131 Philochorus (FrGHist 328 F217) quoted by Diogenes Laertius 9.55 (=TrGF Ti). 132 Collard and Cropp (2008) 1.461. 133 See Taplin (1986). On hidden allusion (emphasis) in comedy cf. Bakola (2010) 198–203. See also discussion of Aeschylus’ Telephus (pp. 56–7). 134 TrGF 5 T i. 129 130



that the ‘inappropriate’ elements in the original version included the depiction of Phaedra as a brazen seductress. Nevertheless, several scholars have attempted more adventurous reconstructions of the evidence, arguing that the two plays were very different from one another,135 or even that the extant Hippolytus was the first rather than the second version.136 The fact that such radical reinterpretations can be attempted shows just how precarious our knowledge is. The fragments of the lost Hippolytus tell us almost nothing about its plot. Only one of them definitely suggests a scenario similar to that of the surviving play. This is F446, from a choral ode: O blessed one, Hippolytus the hero! How great are the honours that you have won on account of your chastity! Among humans there has never been any greater power than virtue; sooner or later there comes a fine recompense for piety.

These verses, which probably come from the end of the play, are aetiological, referring to the hero-cult of Hippolytus that would be established after his death: they are reminiscent of a similar choral passage at the end of the extant Hippolytus.137 They also show that in both plays Hippolytus remained chaste and rejected Phaedra’s advances. Most of the other fragments are gnomic, with no indications of the speaker. Some of these maxims – relating to themes such as misleading speech (F439), the unstrustworthiness of women (F440) and aidôs (a sense of shame or sexual continence, F436) – might seem to echo the surviving play, but these are universal themes that might relate to any context. A couple of the fragments are concerned with erotic passion: Those humans who flee love excessively suffer just as much as those who chase after it excessively. (F428) I have a teacher of daring and boldness who is very resourceful in the face of difficulties. His name is Eros, the most irresistible god of all. (F430)

The second of these quotations in particular has been seen as significant in the light of Aristophanes of Byzantium’s assessment of the lost play. Was Phaedra was the speaker? If so, perhaps her conduct was the aspect that was judged to be ‘inappropriate and worthy of criticism’. This interpretation might seem to find

Danek (1992); Roisman (1999); Hutchinson (2004). Gibert (1997); Butrica (2001) 51–7. 137 Seen by Kannicht (TrGF 5, p. 474), comparing Hippolytus 1423–9. 135 136


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support in Aristophanes’ Frogs, where Phaedra is called a ‘harlot’.138 Consequently, the majority of scholars have concluded that the original Phaedra, crazed by lust, abandoned all shame and openly tried to seduce Hippolytus on stage: this depiction would contrast sharply with the more complex and internally conflicted character whom we see in the surviving play.139 Such a reading is plausible, but it has to be admitted that the evidence is flimsy, and an awful lot of weight has to be placed on that Aristophanic joke (which is meant to be funny, not a literal description, and which could just as easily relate to the Phaedra of the extant work). The picture is complicated by the evidence of the papyrus hypotheses, which might suggest that the plots of the two Hippolytus plays were more different than is usually supposed.140 These papyri, the contents of which overlap, are badly damaged and hard to interpret. What emerges from them is a collection of suggestive words and phrases (‘scratching’ … ‘young women’ … ‘bedrooms’ … ‘(s)he killed’ … ‘Hippolytus’ clothing’ … ‘veiling himself ’ … ‘testing’ … ) rather than any continuous narrative. There are hints that the story was dramatized in a quite different way from the extant play, but many unanswered questions remain. What was happening in the bedrooms? Who, apart from Hippolytus, was killed, and why? What was the significance of the clothing? Why did Hippolytus veil himself, if he did at all? What does Kaluptomenos, both in the hypothesis and in the play’s subtitle, really mean?141 Is the word grammatically middle (‘veiling himself ’, ‘concealing himself ’) or passive (‘veiled’, ‘concealed’ or even ‘shrouded’ like a corpse)? Ultimately, we must conclude that the lost Hippolytus is an almost complete mystery.

Cresphontes (TrGF 5 F448a-59) The plot of this tragedy, a thrilling drama of revenge and attempted murder in the Messenian royal family, is thought to be preserved in the mythographic narrative of Hyginus: Polyphontes, the king of Messenia, killed Cresphontes, usurped the throne and took his wife Merope. The infant son whom Merope had borne to Cresphontes Aristophanes, Frogs 1043 (T iiia); cf. the Euripidean Life §2 (T iiib). See Snell (1971) 25–51; Zwierlein (2004) 57–136. 140 P.Oxy. 4640, P. Mich. inv. 6222A (TrGF 5 T iia-b): see van Rossum Steenbeck (1998) 15–16, 195–6, and (2003); cf. Hutchinson (2004). 141 On this particular question, see Craik (1987). 138 139



she sent away secretly to the care of a friend in Aetolia; but Polyphontes took very great pains to track the boy down and promised a reward in gold to anyone who would kill him. When Cresphontes reached adolescence, he made a plan to avenge the deaths of his father and brothers, and thus he came to king Polyphontes to claim the reward, saying that he had killed Telephontes, the son of Cresphontes and Merope. For the time being the king instructed him to stay in a guest-bedroom so that he might make further inquiries. When Cresphontes, exhausted, had fallen asleep, an elderly man who acted as a messenger between mother and son came to Merope in tears, saying that the boy had left the Aetolian friend’s house and gone missing. Merope, in the belief that the sleeping house-guest was her son’s killer, came into the room with an axe, unwittingly meaning to murder her own son; but the old man recognized him and restrained Merope from committing the crime. Afterwards Merope realized that she had been provided with an opportunity to have her revenge, so she behaved in a gracious manner towards Polyphontes; then, as the king was happily sacrificing to the gods, Cresphontes pretended to have slaughtered the victim but actually killed the king and came into possession of his paternal kingdom.142

This play provides a striking example of the Euripidean motif of averted catastrophe followed by recognition, seen also in Helen, Ion, Iphigenia among the Taurians and other plays. Merope’s near-filicide was chosen by Aristotle in the Poetics as a paradigmatic illustration of a mistake (hamartia) based on ignorance, and Plutarch later described the sensational effect that this key scene had on theatre audiences.143 A few book-fragments exist, including a couple of much-anthologized passages which also happen to be preserved (and further supplemented) in papyrus form.144 One of these passages (F453) is part of a hymn to the goddess Peace: the papyrus reveals that this was the beginning of a choral ode, immediately following lines in which Cresphontes outlined his plan to kill Polyphontes by stabbing him. Otherwise our main source of evidence is a papyrus fragment containing about seventy continuous lines of dialogue and the start of another choral ode.145 This scene obviously belongs early in the play, soon after Cresphontes’ incognito return to Messenia. It begins with Cresphontes at the palace door, questioning Polyphontes’ slave about previous events in the household, and it continues Hyginus, Fabula 137 (TrGF Tiia). Aristotle, Poetics 1454a4-5 (cf. Ethics 1111a11-12); see Burnett (1971) 18–21. Cf. Plutarch, Moralia 998e (TrGF 5 F456). 144 TrGF 5 F449/P.Fayum; F453/P.Köln 398 (see TrGF 5 Addenda, pp. 1161–2). 145 P.Oxy. 2458 (TrGF 5 F448a, incorporating material from P.Oxy. 2458 and P.Mich. inv. 6973). Harder (1985) and Collard, Cropp and Lee (1995) 121–47 provide commentaries. 142 143


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with a deliberative inner monologue (of a type paralleled in other tragedies) in which Cresphontes anxiously debates what course of action to follow and finally steels himself to kill his father’s murderer.146 The choral ode that ensues is the entry-song (parodos) of the chorus of old men: they describe their own sluggish progress onto the stage, aided by walking sticks, and they lament their wretched old age and the sufferings of the household. Exactly what happened in each of the following scenes is unknown, but we can discern what looks like a recurrent technique in the construction of the plot. As we have seen, Merope is brought terrifyingly close to the point of killing Cresphontes, but then a recognition-scene takes the place of the anticipated murder. Two of the play’s scenes culminate in agitated threats, but then music strikes up and suddenly alters the mood. The first word of one ode – ‘peace’ – contrasts sharply with the violent language that precedes it, while the exaggeratedly slow, moribund character of the parodos slows the action down almost to a standstill. In other words, Euripides is repeatedly building suspense up to a peak before slackening it and thus prolonging our wait for the inevitable outcome. As we can infer from Hyginus, the killing of Polyphontes will have provided the play’s dénouement and the ultimate release of all this dramatic tension.

Cretan Women (TrGF 5 F460-70a) It is often said of Euripides that he ‘invents’ myths, but it would be more accurate to say that he creates odd versions of existing myths by selecting arcane details or combining disparate versions into a single story. This tendency is seen in several extant plays, notably Helen, Orestes and Iphigenia among the Taurians, and it is sometimes regarded as a characteristic of late Euripides.147 But Cretan Women, first produced in 438 BCE, provides a much earlier example of the playwright’s fluid and provocative use of myth. In this case Euripides seems to have amalgamated at least two different traditions relating to Aerope, daughter of the Cretan king Catreus. He seems to have gone out of his way to depict Aerope as sex-mad, by selecting several of her erotic liaisons from different accounts and incorporating them all within a single

F448a.52-67; cf. Euripides, Medea 1019–55, Bellerophon (TrGF 5 F308); Neophron (TrGF 1.15 F2) etc. 147 See Wright (2017). 146



plotline. This is reflected by Aristophanes’ description of Euripides as ‘a collector of Cretan monodies, filling the stage with unholy unions’ – a passage which one ancient commentator glosses as a reference to ‘Aerope behaving like a prostitute’ in Cretan Women.148 Aerope was best known as the wife of Atreus, whose affaire with Atreus’ brother Thyestes was the cause of trouble for the Mycenean royal family (as dramatized in the Oresteia and numerous other plays, including Euripides’ Thyestes). We know that this aspect of the myth featured in Cretan Women and that both Atreus and Thyestes appeared among the characters.149 But the play also featured Aerope’s secret love affair with one of Catreus’ servants, as well as her marriage to Pleisthenes. As an ancient commentator on Sophocles’ Ajax (which briefly alludes to this tradition) reports: The story is told in Euripides’ Cretan Women that when Aerope’s father found out that she had been to bed secretly with a servant, he handed her over to Nauplius and instructed him to drown her. But Nauplius did not carry out the order; instead he pledged her in marriage to Pleisthenes.

A glimpse of this side of the plot is preserved in a fragment from a dialogue between Nauplius and Catreus (F466, ‘I am not going to kill your children as a favour to you’). So it would appear that the play showed Aerope as ‘prostituting herself ’ with four different men. But the fragments tell us little; and no amount of scholarly ingenuity has been able to determine how these different liaisons fitted together within the plot, or in what order they happened, or where the play’s action took place (if indeed it took place in a single location).150 The most ingenious suggestion is that of Wilamowitz, who proposed that the ‘servant’ who went to bed with Aerope was none other than Thyestes in disguise.151 This would be a neat way of tying together the different strands in the plot, and the resulting drama would no doubt have been fascinating, but we have no way of knowing whether this was the play that Euripides wrote.

Cretans (TrGF 5 F471-472g) Until the early twentieth century almost nothing was known about this tragedy except that it featured a monody by Icarus and a chorus of initiates of Idaean Aristophanes, Frogs 849–50 (with Σ) = TrGF Tiiib. Atreus is the speaker of F465 and is named in a hypothesis which may relate to the play (P. Harris 13 = TrGF Tv); Aristophanes says that Thyestes appeared here in rags (Acharnians 433 = TrGF Tiv). 150 See Webster (1967a) 37–9; Jouan and Van Looy (2002) 293–6; Collard (2005) 52–7. 151 Wilamowitz (1875) 255. 148 149


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Zeus, and that it had something to do with Pasiphae. All that survived of Cretans, apart from its title, was a couple of fragments and a few minor references in ancient scholarship.152 But an extraordinary papyrus fragment, first published in 1907, showed that the play centred on the myth of the Minotaur, the monstrous hybrid creature born from the union of Pasiphae and a bull.153 Minos, Pasiphae’s husband, had become king of Crete by claiming to have a special connection with the gods. He prayed to Poseidon to send a bull out of the sea as a sign of his authority and promised to sacrifice the bull to Poseidon. The god miraculously obliged by sending a bull, but this animal was so fine that Minos kept hold of it and sacrificed an inferior bull in its place. Poseidon in his fury made Pasiphae fall in love with the bull, and she contrived to have sexual intercourse with the animal, using a hollow wooden cow devised by the architect Daedalus: thus the Minotaur was born.154 So goes the story, according to Apollodorus. It remains unclear how much of this story made its way onto the stage, or where the plot began and ended,155 but our main papyrus fragment (F472e) preserves part of a scene in which Minos discovers what has taken place and Pasiphae tries to account for her behaviour. Minos’ contribution is largely missing, but it seems likely that this was a formal debate or agôn, of a type found in many (especially Euripidean) tragedies. Pasiphae delivers a forensic-style defence speech, using numerous advanced rhetorical techniques of the type pioneered by the sophists – including the argument from probability (eikos), the argument from character (êthos), the rhetorical question (hypophora), repetition (anaphora), exaggeration (hyperbolê), counter-accusation (antikatêgoria) and the anticipation of points that one’s opponent might raise (prokatalêpsis). This astonishing speech is worth quoting in full: Clearly I should never persuade you by continuing to deny what I did, for the facts are now entirely out in the open. If I had thrown myself at a man, selling sexual favours in secret, I should be revealed as a wanton woman, and quite rightly. But as it is, I was assailed by divine power and driven out of my mind; and so I am in pain, but my crime was not deliberate. Indeed, it was not at all probable. What did I see in a bull that made me succumb to this most shameful sickness and gnaw away at my heart? Was he so attractive to behold? So well TrGF 5 F472, F472f, T iia-b. P. Berol. 13217 (TrGF 5 F472e). 154 Apollodorus 3.1.3; cf. Hyginus, Fabula 40.2-4. 155 See the commentary of Collard, Cropp and Lee (1995) 53–78. 152 153



dressed? Did his flaming-red hair and eyes gleam so brightly? Did his cheeks glow with the colour of wine? No indeed: his was not the well-proportioned body of a bridegroom. Was it for the sake of such a marriage that I [put myself into] the hide of an animal that walks on the ground … ?156 Nor … [for the sake of] children … to make him my husband. Why, then, did I suffer this sickness and go crazy? It is this man’s destiny that has brought me my own fill of troubles, and it is he who will [bear blame] most of all, because he did not slaughter the bull which he promised to sacrifice to the god of the sea when it appeared as a portent. [Addressing Minos] It was because of all this, I say, that Poseidon has weakened you and made you pay the penalty, but it was on me that the sickness descended. So do you then cry out and call the gods to witness, you who did this yourself and brought shame upon me? And I myself – the mother, the wholly blameless one – I hid the heaven-sent blow, while you, o husband with the most evil of minds, proclaim to all and sundry these deeds of your wife – fine and seemly acts to display to the world! – as if people will think that you have nothing to do with them. It is you who have destroyed me! Yours was the crime! You are responsible for my sickness! Well, if you think it right to kill me, then kill me! Throw me in the sea! You are, after all, well versed in bloody deeds and the art of murder. Or if you have an appetite to eat my flesh raw, here it is! Feast away! Do not stint yourself! For I am going to die – I who am free and completely innocent – because of the penalty that belongs to you.

There is nothing else quite like this in tragedy. It is the precise combination of content, form and language that is so striking in these particular lines, but the entire scenario is utterly strange. Other plays contain weird and grotesque details of one sort or another, but nowhere else do we find bestiality at the heart of the plot. Inevitably one wonders to what degree Pasiphae was presented as a sympathetic figure. By giving his audience access to her intimate thoughts and feelings, perhaps Euripides was trying to make Pasiphae’s shocking behaviour comprehensible, showing that one could relate to her experience rather than simply recoil in horror. In some ways Pasiphae’s condition resembles that of Phaedra, Stheneboea and other tragic heroines who fall in love uncontrollably as a result of divine intervention: such women tend to come across as suffering victims rather than agents of evil. But it remains possible that her bestiality marked Pasiphae out as different from these other women, as an object of The text contains several gaps: see TrGF 5, pp. 513–14 for details and supplements.



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disgust rather than pity. It may well be that her self-defence speech, for all its rhetorical flourishes, was meant to seem inadequate. And it does appear that the play accentuated the terrible or lurid aspects of the situation, by dwelling on the monstrous appearance of the Minotaur (details of which are glimpsed in a further papyrus fragment)157 as well as the gruesome specifics of the sexual encounter and the mechanics of Daedalus’ artificial cow.158 In this play Euripides seems to be testing the limits of what sort of subject-matter the tragic stage could accommodate.

Licymnius (TrGF 5 F473-9) Licymnius was one of the sons of the Mycenean king Electryon as well as halfbrother to Alcmene and uncle to Heracles. No doubt his story would have been well known to Euripides and his audience from now-lost epics about the exploits of Heracles, but nowadays it can only be glimpsed through a series of brief allusions in other texts.159 It is impossible to say which version Euripides followed. One strand of the tradition centred on the deaths of most of Electryon’s sons in a conflict with the Taphians (Licymnius, still a child at the time, was the sole survivor); another strand concerned the death and cremation of Licymnius’ son Argeius during an expedition with Heracles, while some sources told how Licymnius himself was killed (either accidentally or on purpose) by Heracles’ son Tlepolemus. It appears that Heracles appeared as a character in Euripides’ play (F473), and that, intriguingly, the play treated Apollo and Dionysus as one and the same god (F477), but none of this gets us very far. A number of ancient scholars suggest that a puzzling phrase in Aristophanes’ Birds – ‘Licymnian thunderbolts’ – is a reference to Euripides’ Licymnius.160 But they disagree over the precise meaning and its supposed context within the tragedy. The fact that they had to argue about it means that they were not in a position to read the text and find out: thus it seems that (perhaps as early as the Hellenistic period) the text of Licymnius was already lost or hard to access.

P.Oxy. 2461 (TrGF 5 F472b-d); cf. F472a. TrGF 5 F988 (‘You may be a builder, but what you practised was not carpentry’) is sometimes seen as a reference to Daedalus and attributed to Cretans: see Collard, Cropp and Lee (1995) 66–7, 78. 159 Apollodorus 2.4.6, 2.8.2; Homer, Iliad 2.653-70 (and Σ Iliad 1.52); Pindar, Olympian 7.27-30, etc.; cf. TrGF 5, p. 519. 160 Aristophanes, Birds 1242 (with Σ ad loc.): TrGF 5, p. 519. See Parker (1997) 626. 157 158



Melanippe I and II (TrGF 5 F480-514) Euripides is well known for his interest in the experience, psychology and social status of women.161 But Melanippe stands out as an exceptional figure. The two tragedies that bear her name not only depicted her as a philosopher, but they also explicitly challenged traditional ideas about the relative status of men and women. One of these tragedies was known as Melanippe the Wise. Its unusual subtitle sophê can be translated as ‘wise’ or ‘clever’, and it obviously denotes the heroine’s mental powers, but ‘cleverness’ (sophia) was also a buzzword of fifth-century intellectualism, frequently used in connection with modern philosophy, rhetoric and the sophistic movement.162 Allusions to philosophical thought are found among the fragments: F483 is concerned with astrology, while F484 expounds a cosmological theory. An attitude of theological scepticism or rationalism is also visible: the play is said to have caused such a scandal with Melanippe’s opening line (‘Zeus – whoever Zeus is, for I know only what people say,’ F480) that Euripides was forced to rewrite it. It is impossible to say how deeply these ideas were woven into the fabric of the play, but in other tragedies where philosophical ideas are found (such as Helen and Orestes) these are integrated into the plot: Euripides was not called ‘the philosopher of the stage’ for nothing.163 ‘I may be a woman, but I possess an intellect’, declared Melanippe at some point in the play, no doubt in the face of male criticism. These words were later quoted by none other than Aristophanes’ Lysistrata – an important fact, suggesting that the comedian saw Melanippe as a symbol of the struggle between female and male values.164 This struggle seems to have constituted a central theme not just in Melanippe the Wise but also in the second play, Melanippe Captive. The fragments of both works feature statements in defence of women, along with some conventionally misogynistic generalizations about the evils of women or the disadvantages of marrying a wife who ‘enslaves’ her husband.165 Such passages can be read as embodying an enlightened protofeminist viewpoint or profound male anxieties about dangerous females. But

See Powell (1990). Cf. Smit (2002) on the tradition of Euripides as a proto-feminist. See Wright (2012) 25–30; cf. on Aeolus, pp. 144–6. 163 On Euripidean tragedy and philosophy, see Conacher (1998); Wright (2005). 164 F482 (Aristophanes, Lysistrata 1124). 165 Pro-female sentiment: F493, F494. Misogyny: F497-8, F502-3. 161 162


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one long fragment in particular, probably part of a speech by Melanippe herself, is among the most striking statements of a female point of view in the whole of Greek literature:166 So men’s criticism and abuse of women is in vain, then, like an arrow that misses its mark. Women are better than men – and I shall show you how. … unwitnessed contracts … not denying … troubles [for?] one another … brings shame … a woman will cast out … They manage households, and they keep cargo safe inside the house. Without a woman’s presence, no home is neat or happy. And furthermore, we play a very large part in the worship of the gods, something which I judge to be of the utmost importance. It is women who utter the prophecies of Loxias in the temple of Phoebus Apollo, and around Dodona’s sacred foundations it is the female sex that conveys the thoughts of Zeus to those Greeks who wish to discover them. And as for the rituals which are performed for the Fates and the Nameless Goddesses, these are not open to men, but are honoured entirely by women. This is our female custom as regards the gods. Why, therefore, should womankind have a bad reputation? Will there be no end to men’s condemnation of us, †or those who are too prone to think† that if one bad woman is found, they must condemn all women equally? I shall make a distinction in my argument. Nothing is more evil than an evil woman, but a good woman is better by far than anything else: their natures are different.

Of course we cannot treat these lines as literally representing Euripides’ own views on the topic, and perhaps Melanippe’s viewpoint ended up being somehow discredited by the events of the plot; but, as it stands, it is hard not to read this speech as an eloquent polemic on behalf of women. This is not to say that Melanippe was perceived as a wholly admirable character. Both Aristophanes (who may be exaggerating for comic effect) and Aristotle (who certainly isn’t) describe Melanippe as ‘bad’ or ‘unseemly’, specifically in connection with her use of rhetoric.167 The evidence relating to this pair of plays is confusing. Many fragments – as in the case of other homonymous tragedies such as Alcmeon or Phrixus – are assigned simply to Melanippe, and there is nothing in them to tell us which play they belong to. In the case of Melanippe Captive we know almost nothing about the plot. We may infer from the testimonia, including Hyginus and Diodorus, that Melanippe was imprisoned (by someone) and that her twin sons, having been separated from her at birth and having survived an attempt (by someone)

F494: this consists of several overlapping papyrus fragments, with lacunae. See TrGF 5, pp. 514–14. Aristophanes, Women at the Thesmophoria 546–8; Aristotle, Poetics 1454a28 (TrGF T iiia-b).

166 167



to kill them during a hunting expedition, are later reunited with their mother and free her, but our sources are hopelessly contradictory and muddled.168 About Melanippe the Wise more can be said, since part of a papyrus hypothesis survives.169 Here we learn that Melanippe, daughter of Aeolus and Hippe, was raped by Poseidon and gave birth to twin sons, whom she hid in a stable. The children were suckled by cows and later seen by a servant, who believed them to be the cows’ own monstrous offspring. Aeolus, following the advice of his father Hellen, decided to kill the children by burning them alive, and he ordered Melanippe to dress them as for a funeral. This she did, and then made a speech pleading for their lives to be spared … but the papyrus breaks off at this point, and the rest of the plot is unknown.

Meleager (TrGF 5 F515-39) Along with one or two other Euripidean plays (Melanippe the Wise and, perhaps, Archelaus), Meleager existed in alternative versions with variant opening lines.170 Two separate versions of the prologue are attested. The first version is quoted by Aristophanes in his Frogs of 405 BCE, during a famous scene in which a number of Euripidean opening speeches are turned into nonsense by the addition of the phrase ‘… lost his little bottle of oil’ (lêkuthion apôlesen).171 Once upon a time Oeneus reaped a plentiful harvest from the earth, and in sacrificing the first-fruits … … lost his little bottle of oil.

The point of the joke has always been slightly obscure: perhaps Euripides’ prologues are being criticized on the grounds that they are all essentially the same in their format, or that they have a tendency to dwell on mundane details. But there is no reason to think that the prologue of Meleager is being singled out for special condemnation: it just represents a typical example of Euripidean prologue technique. (This puts it in a different category from the prologue of Melanippe Wise, which was allegedly rewritten because of the offence that it caused.) It is unclear to what extent the plot is preserved in Hyginus, Fabula 186 or Diodorus Siculus 4.67 (TrGF T iii). See TrGF 5, pp. 537–9; Collard, Cropp and Lee (1995) 242–4. 169 P.Oxy. 2455 (TrGF T i; cf. T iia-iiid). 170 Cf. the interpolated opening of Iphigenia at Aulis. The phenomenon is discussed by Haslam (1975) 70–2; cf. Scullion (2006) 185–91. 171 Aristophanes, Frogs 1240–1 (=TrGF 5 F516). See Dover (1993) 340–2. 168


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The ancient commentators on the Frogs passage pointed out that the text available to them had a different opening: This land is Calydon, and its fortunate plains are situated across the strait from the country of Pelops. The king of this Aetolian land is Oeneus, son of Porthaon, who once upon a time married Althaea, blood-relative of Leda and maiden daughter of Thestius …

This version was obviously the one that was known during the fourth century BCE and long afterwards, since it is also quoted by Aristotle and others.172 It is hard to see it as an improvement on the original, for not only does it represent exactly the same sort of scene-setting narrative preamble as the version that it replaced but also it is clumsily written. So how can we explain the existence of two different versions? Several scholars have suggested that Aristophanes had made it impossible for anyone to take the original lines seriously – in other words, that the effect of the scene in Frogs was so devastating, and so longlasting, that no one could ever afterwards hear the parodied prologues without mentally inserting the phrase ‘… lost his little bottle of oil’.173 If this is the true explanation, Euripides himself cannot have been responsible for the revision, because he was already dead before Frogs was performed: the alteration must have been carried out by some later writer, actor or producer (this might also explain the clumsiness of the new lines). Nevertheless, this is not the only possible explanation, and it may be thought that it overestimates the influence of Frogs. In fact there are many reasons why textual variants may have come into being. Euripides himself might have decided to revise or improve the play in some way, just as he did in the case of his Hippolytus. Alternatively, a later director might have made changes to suit the needs of a particular production. Even though existing discussions have centred on just the first few lines of the play, the problem goes deeper than that. It seems likely that the text of Meleager – or any other Greek tragedy – would have undergone a period of considerable fluidity between its original appearance and the establishment of a fixed text at the start of the Hellenistic period. Presumably these plays existed in multiple copies, largely unauthorized, reflecting different performance contexts and readerships, and incorporating revisions, cuts, interpolations, deliberate changes or accidental mistakes. The beginning of a book roll, containing a play’s first lines, would be a place where alternative versions or discrepancies would

TrGF 5 F515 (Σ Frogs 1238, Aristotle, Rhetoric 1409b8, etc.) Haslam (1975) 171; cf. TrGF 5, pp. 556–7.

172 173



have been particularly noticeable, but major and minor variants will surely have existed throughout the whole work. Nevertheless, there is no indication of any substantial changes to the plot, which in both versions obviously centred on the myth of the Calydonian boarhunt. This myth is recounted by Apollodorus, whose narrative probably owes a good deal to Euripides, though (as usual) we cannot be certain about the precise extent of the debt, and other tragedians, including Phrynichus, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Antiphon, also dramatized the same myth.174 According to Apollodorus, when Oeneus was offering to the gods first-fruits from the harvest, he forgot Artemis, and in her anger she responded by sending an enormous, powerful boar against the Calydonians […] Oeneus assembled all the bravest heroes in Greece to hunt this boar, and he proclaimed that he would give the boar’s hide as a prize to the man who managed to kill the animal.

Apollodorus goes on to list all the hunters, including the Arcadian Atalante, the only woman to join the hunt: Although Cepheus, Ancaeus and certain others thought it unworthy of their dignity to go out on a hunt with a woman, Meleager compelled them to go out hunting with her. This was because he wished to have a child by Atalante, even though he was already married to Cleopatra.

The hunt begins, and Atalante hits the boar with an arrow, but the death-blow is struck by Meleager, who later presents Atalante with the hide. This causes the sons of Thestius (Meleager’s uncle) to quarrel with Meleager, and he kills them, but Meleager’s mother Althaea in turn causes Meleager’s own death by burning a magical wooden brand. Most scholars agree that the main action of Euripides’ play will have included the preparation for the hunt, a narrative of the hunt itself (perhaps in a messengerspeech) and the death of Meleager. The fragments can be loosely connected to a plot structure resembling Apollodorus’ narrative. Most of the fragments are gnomic, lacking context or speaker, but we also have several narrative excerpts. F530 is part of a messenger-speech, including a list of hunters assembled for the boar-hunt, while F531-531a comes from a description of Theseus, armed with an iron-weighted club. Since Atalante is mentioned among the hunting party in F530, it seems likely that she appeared as a main character. F522, from some Apollodorus 1.8 (TrGF Tiiic). On Aeschylus’ Atalante and Sophocles’ Meleager, see pp. 21–2, 102; on Phrynichus’ Women of Pleuron and Antiphon’s Meleager, see LPGT 1, pp. 20–1, 144–5.



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sort of debate about the normal activities of men and women, could belong to a scene, hinted at by Apollodorus, in which the male hunters cavilled at the inclusion of a woman among their number; it could also be read – along with many other Euripidean passages – as challenging traditional Greek assumptions about gender. What if men concerned themselves with the task of weaving, while women passionately devoted themselves to combat? Removed from their normal realm of expertise, they would no longer be good for anything at all. 175

Several other fragments from the play (F520-527) are maxims on related subjects such as female virtue, marriage and child-rearing, the proper conduct of a wife and the nature of love. All of this makes it reasonable to conclude that a key aspect of the play was Meleager’s love for Atalante and his wish to have children by her. An emphasis on love and marriage can be seen as a characteristically Euripidean motif and a way of injecting new life into a familiar myth.

Oedipus (TrGF 5 F539a-557) As far as we can tell, the broad outlines of the story in Euripides were much the same as in Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus. But Euripides incorporated at least two major differences: his Oedipus did not blind himself, and Jocasta did not commit suicide.176 These details are likely to strike modern readers as startling alternatives to the ‘canonical’ version, but it is important to bear in mind that Sophocles’ version had not yet become canonical within the fifth century.177 It is also worth pointing out that we do not know whether Euripides’ play was written before or after Sophocles’, nor can we be sure about the relationship of either play to Oedipus tragedies by Achaeus, Xenocles and others.178 Because Oedipus Tyrannus is nowadays treated as the classic Greek tragedy par excellence, scholars have expended much energy on the remains of Euripides’ alternative version, attempting to assess the extent of Euripides’ originality or to understand Sophocles better.179 Unfortunately, the nature of our fragments TrGF 5 F522. On Euripides’ ‘distinctive and provocative’ approach to gender, see Mueller (2017). TrGF 5 F541, F545a. 177 See Chapter 4, pp. 214–21, for more discussion of the character and myth of Oedipus. 178 Metrical evidence may (provisionally) suggest a date c. 418–06 BCE: see Cropp and Fick (1985) 22, 70, 85. Cf. Xenocles’ Oedipus (415 BCE) and Meletus’ Oedipodeia (c. 410). 179 For bibliography, see TrGF 5, pp. 569–70; cf. Collard, Cropp and Lee (1995) 105; Liapis (2014); Finglass (2017). 175 176



precludes any sustained attempt at interpretation. Apart from a useful (but scrappy) Oxyrhynchus papyrus about the defeat of the Sphinx, first published in 1962,180 what we have is predominantly a collection of maxims, quoted without any hint of dramatic context or speaker. A further source of evidence has been identified in Hyginus, who suggests that Periboea (wife of Polybus, king of Corinth, and adoptive mother to Oedipus after his exposure) may have played a significant part in the story as dramatized by Euripides, but there is no way of proving this.181 Essentially, the main problem faced by anyone who tries to imagine the plot is that there are many different stages to the story, stretching over a considerable period of time – the oracle warning Laius against having children, the birth and exposure of Oedipus, the child’s adoption by Periboea and Polybus, the growth to adulthood of Oedipus, the murder of Laius, Oedipus’ arrival at Thebes, the defeat of the Sphinx, the wedding of Oedipus and Jocasta, the birth of their children and so on. It is impossible to imagine a tragedy whose main action incorporated all of these separate events, which means that much of the story must have been narrated or alluded to in flashbacks. But we do not know how much of the myth was included in the play. Like most Euripidean tragedies, it began with a scene-setting monologue recounting the story so far. Its opening line was: ‘Although Phoebus Apollo forbade it, Laius fathered a child … ’ (F539a). But at what point did the narrative end and the main action begin? It is impossible to tell. Perhaps we can tentatively glean something about the play’s themes from the content of the gnomic extracts, which cluster around a few topics – love and marriage, intellect versus stupidity, virtue, envy, justice and the changeability of fortune – but such speculation cannot take us far.182 A more interesting reading of these verses suggests itself when we reflect that the conventional nature of many of them will have been ironically undermined by the context – for how could the audience not have been appalled to hear normative views on marriage and family life being spouted in relation to the most notorious incestuous union in Greek myth? But none of this can shed any light on what actually happened in the play. These gnomic lines and the language in which they are expressed have struck many readers as banal. A recent discussion, by Vayos Liapis, takes a radical line of approach, arguing that these fragments cannot be made to fit together into

P.Oxy. 2459, fr. 1-2 (TrGF 5 F540-540a). Hyginus, Fabulae 66.2, 67.7. See TrGF 5, pp. 569–70; Collard (2005) 60–1. 182 TrGF 5 F542-54. 180 181


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a coherent storyline, and, moreover, that most of them are too feeble and trite to have been composed by Euripides himself. It is claimed that they originated in some sort of ‘versified rhetorical exercise’ from later antiquity and that those who quote the lines have made a mistake of attribution.183 This hypothesis strikes me as excessively sceptical. As Patrick Finglass has pointed out, in a response to Liapis, such a misattribution – by many writers, over a long time period – would amount to a ‘failure of judgement’ on an enormous and unparalleled scale. Furthermore, there are countless other maxims in the remains of Greek tragedy, especially Euripidean tragedy, which in content and style are closely comparable: their apparent banality is not sufficient justification for judging them spurious. If we were to accept Liapis’ basic principles and methodology, we would need to apply them not to Oedipus alone but to the entire contents of TrGF – and in consequence we would have to reject literally hundreds of fragments, eliminating at a stroke our entire knowledge of many lost works.

Oeneus (TrGF 5 F558-70) The title character was the king of Calydon and father of Meleager, whose story was a popular subject in tragedy; here Oeneus found himself dethroned by his brother Agrius and reduced to beggary. This is known chiefly from Aristophanes, who cites Oeneus, ‘that unfortunate old man’, as an example of Euripides’ ragged heroes (along with Telephus, Bellerophon and others).184 An ancient commentator on the passage in question explains the allusion as follows: This has been written in Euripides’ play Oeneus. After Tydeus’ death and Diomedes’ expedition against the Thebans, Oeneus was deposed from power by the sons of Agrius because he was so old. He wandered about in a wretched state until Diomedes returned, killed Agrius and handed back the kingdom to Oeneus.

Eleven insubstantial fragments survive, the most interesting of which (F562) describes Oeneus’ utter humiliation as he becomes the target in a game of kottabos (in which drops of wine were flicked from cups). This not only accentuates the pathos of Oeneus’ downfall, but it also shows that the play, unusually for a tragedy, evoked the milieu of the symposium.185 This setting is Liapis (2014); cf. Finglass (2017). Aristophanes, Acharnians 418 (with Σ); cf. Frogs 1063 and Hyginus, Fabula 175 (TrGF T iia-b, iiib). 185 Euripides, Pleisthenes F631, seems to be the only other such reference. 183 184



normally associated with other literary genres such as comedy, elegy or lyric poetry, so it might seem incongruous here, but no doubt it is an example of tragedy’s widespread tendency to distort or pervert positive experiences into negative ones. Nonetheless, to judge by the description above, the play seems to have had a happy ending.

Oenomaus (TrGF 5 F571-7) Very little is known about this tragedy. It seems to have been based on the story of Oenomaus’ treatment of the suitors who wanted to marry his daughter Hippodameia – a myth that was dramatized in Sophocles’ Oenomaus and alluded to in many other works.186 The remains consist of seven small gnomic fragments, so there is no way of knowing how Euripides’ version differed from Sophocles’. It has been suggested that the portrayal of Oenomaus was different in each case, but there is no real evidence to support such a suggestion.187

Palamedes (TrGF 5 F578-90) Produced in 415 BCE as part of the ‘Trojan trilogy’, along with Alexandros and Women of Troy. The story of Palamedes, the clever Greek hero who met his death after being plotted against by Odysseus, was dramatized by several tragedians, including Aeschylus and Sophocles. All of these tragic treatments seem to have underlined the injustice of Palamedes’ death by stressing his admirable achievements. Plato, in his discussion of tragedies on this subject, writes that Palamedes invented the system of numbers and counting, and thus managed to organize the division of the army at Troy and to count the ships for the first time.188 One fragment shows that here Palamedes himself described other ways in which he had benefitted his fellow Greeks: On my own I established remedies for forgetfulness, which are without speech and yet speak, by creating syllables; I invented writing for men’s knowledge, so a man absent over the ocean’s plain might have good knowledge of all matters back there in his house, and the dying man might write down the size of his wealth

For the myth, see on Sophocles, pp. 108–9. Webster (1967a) 115; cf. TrGF 5, p. 593. 188 Plato, Republic 7.522d (TrGF T vi). 186 187


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when bequeathing it to his sons, and the receiver know it. And the troubles that afflict men when they fall to quarrelling – a written tablet does away with these and prevents the telling of lies.189

Another fragment (F588), part of a choral lament, reproaches the Greeks and reminds them of the extent of their loss: O Danaans! You have killed, you have killed the Muses’ nightingale, that man who was clever in every way, who did harm to nobody.

The play cannot be reconstructed in detail, but we know that one of Palamedes’ inventions – the letters of the alphabet – had a significant function in moving the plot forward. After Palamedes’ death his brother Oeax wrote down what had happened on oar-blades, which were cast into the sea and carried to their father Nauplius, who read the message and took revenge on the Greeks. (We owe this knowledge to Aristophanes, who parodied this section of the play in his Women at the Thesmophoria.190) Palamedes thus emerges as one of several plays in which Euripides anachronistically introduced the motif of writing and literacy into the world of myth in order to engage with contemporary debates about the status of the written word.191

Daughters of Pelias (TrGF 5 F601-16) Euripides’ first tragedy, produced in 455 BCE; the ancient Life tells us that it won third prize, but the festival or companion plays (if any) are not specified.192 The play presented the character of Medea in her traditional guise as a sorceress, first boiling up a ram in a cauldron to demonstrate her magical powers of rejuvenation, before dismembering and boiling Pelias. This much is indicated by a couple of ancient summaries of part of the play’s plot (including a fragmentary papyrus hypothesis first published in 1962).193 Beyond this, the fragments (almost all gnomic) are frustratingly unrevealing. (See Chapter 4 for further discussion of this and other plays about Medea.) TrGF 5 F578. Text and translation are uncertain: the version quoted is from Collard and Cropp (2008) 53. 190 Aristophanes, Women at the Thesmophoria 765–84, with Σ (TrGF 5 F588a). 191 See also on Theseus. Cf. Alcestis 962–72; Iphigenia at Aulis 34–41, 98–123, 794–800; Iphigenia among the Taurians 584–6, 791–4; Erechtheus (TrGF 5 F369), etc.; see Wright (2010) 176–9. 192 Life of Euripides §9 (TrGF 5 T1). See Mierow (1946); Pralon (1996). 193 P.Oxy. 2455 fr. 18 col. II; Moses of Chorene, Progymnasmata 3.4 (TrGF Tiiia-b). 189



Peleus (TrGF 5 F617-24) The basic scenario is familiar from the story of Hippolytus and Phaedra: an older woman falls in love with a young man who rejects her love, and awful consequences ensue. The myth, according to Apollodorus, was as follows: Peleus, polluted by the crime of murder, was purified by Acastus, king of Iolcus, but Acastus’ wife Astydameia fell in love with Peleus and tried to seduce him. When he resisted her advances, she falsely accused him of attempted rape. Acastus was reluctant to kill a man whom he had purified, but he tried to bring about Peleus’ death by abandoning him on Mount Pelion among wild animals, having hidden Peleus’ sword in a heap of cow manure while he was sleeping. Peleus was rescued by Cheiron and the centaurs, and married the goddess Thetis.194 It is easy to see how such a story could have formed the basis for a tragic plot, but nothing is known about Euripides’ version: the six tiny fragments are completely unrevealing. Sophocles also wrote a Peleus, which is equally obscure.

Pleisthenes (TrGF 5 F625-33) Perhaps the most shadowy of all the lost tragedies of Euripides. Eight small fragments survive, but they give no clue to the play’s subject or plot. Apparently no one else wrote a tragedy on the same subject. Even the mythical character Pleisthenes is a mystery. He was a member of the well-known tragic House of Atreus, but those few sources that mention him disagree about his status in the family or his relationship to other characters (was he a son of Atreus, husband of Aerope, or father of Agamemnon?).195

Polyidus (TrGF 5 F634-46) A drama about divination, magic and reincarnation, based on a myth that was dramatized also by Aeschylus (in Cretan Women) and Sophocles (in Prophets).196 The tale of how the prophet Polyidus managed to find and resuscitate Minos’ dead son Glaucus is an unusual one, seldom encountered in literature, and it Apollodorus 3.13.3; cf. Gantz (1993) 231–2. See TrGF 5, p. 618. Fowler (2013) 439 calls Pleisthenes a ‘baffling’ figure. 196 For the myth, see on Aeschylus’ version, pp. 39–40. 194 195


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seems likely that Euripides’ version was written in the light of one or both of these other tragedies, but there is not enough evidence to identify similarities or differences between the three plays. One or two fragments reveal an interest in ornithomancy, a detail which corresponds with Hyginus’ narrative of the myth (where an owl reveals to Polyidus the location of Glaucus’ body).197 A handful of other fragments are mostly gnomic, but one of them (F638) is especially striking: Who knows if life is death, or if death is life, according to those down below?

These verses were quoted within antiquity as an example of Euripides’ penchant for paradoxical or provocative subject-matter. Aristophanes poked fun at this general tendency, accusing Euripides of corrupting the Athenians by ‘putting pimps on stage, showing women giving birth in temples, sleeping with their brothers, and claiming that life is not life’. He also parodied these particular lines, making one of his characters ask: ‘Who knows whether life is death, or eating is sleeping, or sleeping is a woolly fleece?’198 Perhaps the point of the joke is to imply that questions of this sort are really rather silly, or perhaps Aristophanes is merely drawing attention to a characteristically Euripidean topos that easily lent itself to parody. (Similar utterances about life and death are found in several other Euripidean plays.199) But even if Euripides was perceived as overly fond of paradoxes, in this case the sentiment would have been prompted naturally by the events in the plot.

Protesilaus (TrGF 5 F646a-657) At the start of the Trojan War Protesilaus was the first Greek to set foot on the shore at Troy, whereupon he was immediately killed by Hector.200 His story is told, with some variant details, by Apollodorus, Hyginus and Eustathius: their versions are normally assumed to reflect Euripides’ play, the only known tragedy on the subject.201 It is a deeply affecting story of love and death. Protesilaus’ wife Laodameia loved her husband so much that she could not bear to lose him. She made a replica of him (eidôlon, which may denote a statue or an image made of wax or wood) and,

TrGF 5 F636 (and T iii); cf. Hyginus, Fabula 136 (T iva): the detail is absent from Apollodorus 3.3.20. Frogs 1077–82, 1477–8; cf. Wright (2012) 151–2. 199 E.g. Helen 138, Phoenix 816, Phrixus F833. 200 Homer, Iliad 2.695-702; Cypria F17 Davies. 201 Apollodorus, Epitome 3.29-30; Hyginus, Fabulae 103–4; Eustathius on Iliad 2.700-2 (TrGF T iiia-b). 197 198



by keeping this in the house and embracing it, pretended that Protesilaus himself was still by her side. The gods took pity on Laodameia, and Hermes was dispatched to bring Protesilaus back from the dead for a brief time. Laodameia was overcome with joy when reunited with her husband, but she later committed suicide, either because the gods took Protesilaus back to the Underworld or because her father Acastus found out about the replica and ordered it to be burnt. There seem to be two quite distinct story types underlying these narratives: the motif of the eidôlon as a ritual substitute for Protesilaus and the motif of the miraculous temporary return from death. It is not clear which version of the myth Euripides followed or whether he combined both motifs within a single plot. The sparse fragments show that Protesilaus did return from the dead, led by Hermes, and that he was a speaking character, but there is no definite sign of the eidôlon, either among the fragments or in a testimonium that summarizes the plot.202 Nevertheless, both motifs find parallels in other Euripidean plays concerning marital love: an eidôlon or phantom-double recurs in Helen, while a return from the Underworld is central to the plot of Alcestis. The attempt by one spouse to rescue the other from death also recalls the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, which may lead us to speculate as to a possible connection between Protesilaus and Orphic beliefs.203

Stheneboea (TrGF 5 F661-71) The plot is summarized in a papyrus hypothesis.204 Its main character was Bellerophon, who fled to Tiryns as a polluted killer and was purified by king Proetus. Stheneboea, Proetus’ wife, fell in love with Bellerophon, but when he resisted her she falsely accused him of rape. Proetus, believing her, sent Bellerophon to Caria to deliver a letter to Iobates: this letter, when opened, contained instructions that Iobates should send Bellerophon to fight the Chimaera and thus meet his death. But Bellerophon defeated the monster and returned to Tiryns, where Proetus still planned to do him harm. Bellerophon took his revenge by persuading Stheneboea to go away with him: the two of them mounted the winged horse Pegasus and flew into the air, but Bellerophon threw Stheneboea down into the sea near Melos and killed her.

TrGF 5 F646a, F647; cf. Σ Aelius Aristides 3.365 (T ii). On Orphism and tragedy, see Assaël and Markantonatos (2016). 204 P.Oxy. 2455 (TrGF T iia). For discussion and commentary, see Collard, Cropp and Lee (1995) 79–97. 202 203


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It is impossible to say how much of this action was staged and how much was narrated, but the hypothesis suggests an eventful and complicated plot, falling into three main sections. The appearance of Pegasus – stage-managed, presumably, with the use of the flying-machine, as in Bellerophon – will have been a visually stunning moment. It is unclear exactly how the play ended, but one of the fragments (F671) shows that Stheneboea’s body was recovered and brought back to Tiryns, where Proetus said: Take her indoors! No sensible man should ever trust a woman.

It is tempting to think that this misogynistic maxim may have been the closing line or even the ‘moral’ of the play, just as the play also began with a maxim (‘No man exists who is fortunate in every respect’).205 In several respects – the thwarted love of an older woman for a younger man, the false accusation, the motif of the misleading letter and the sea as a setting for disaster – this play resembles the extant Hippolytus. A further couple of parallels – the depiction of erotic love as a form of madness and the presence of an old Nurse who encourages her mistress – emerge from the fragments.206 But there were some significant differences too, including the depiction of the two main characters. Stheneboea actively pursued Bellerophon, using persuasive speeches and guile to entice him into her bed, as he explained in his scenesetting prologue-speech.207 Indeed, her behaviour was such that Aristophanes could refer to her (no doubt with a touch of exaggeration) as a ‘prostitute’ and a bad moral influence on the audience.208 Bellerophon himself is a far cry from the chaste and priggish Hippolytus, and he seems to have rejected Stheneboea’s advances not because he shunned sex in general but because he considered her ‘a stupid woman’ (F661.5). In the latter stages of the plot Bellerophon actually pretended to fall in love with Stheneboea in order to persuade her to elope with him.209 (The later doings of Bellerophon were dramatized by Euripides in Bellerophon).

F661.1. This was one of Euripides’ most often cited verses: see Wright (2016). F665; F661.10-14. 207 F661.8-9: the whole fragment consists of thirty-one lines preserved by the Byzantine scholar Ioannes Logothetes in his commentary on Hermogenes. 208 Aristophanes, Frogs 1043–51 (TrGF T iic). 209 TrGF T iib (Tzetzes on Aristophanes, Frogs 1051). 205 206



Scyrians (TrGF 5 F681a-686) This tragedy was based on the tradition that Thetis tried to protect Achilles from fighting at Troy by concealing him on the island of Scyros disguised in girls’ clothing. The story was popular in Hellenistic and Roman literature, though it does not feature in Greek epic and its ultimate source is obscure.210 Euripides’ version is almost as obscure, but a papyrus hypothesis allows us to piece together part of its plot.211 Here we learn that Thetis left her son for safekeeping with Lycomedes, king of the Scyrians; Lycomedes had a daughter, Deidameia, whose mother had died, and he raised Achilles as a girl alongside her. When Achilles grew up, he seduced Deidameia and made her pregnant. Later Agamemnon and the Greeks learnt from an oracle that they could not set off for Troy without Achilles, so they sent an embassy to Scyros to find him and fetch him back. At this point the papyrus breaks off. It is likely that the rest of the plot included the birth of Pyrrhus (later known as Neoptolemus) and the arrival of Odysseus and Diomedes to retrieve Achilles: this is suggested by a couple of the fragments, though their interpretation and context are not beyond doubt.212 So we remain largely in the dark about this play, but we have definite signs that it featured several familiar motifs – mistaken identity and disguise, a love story, the birth of a child and a recognition scene – as well as a very unfamiliar and unheroic side to Achilles’ character.

Telephus (TrGF 5 F696-727c) A Trojan War–themed tragedy, based on material from the Cypria. Telephus was the leader of the Mysians, who was wounded by Achilles during the Greeks’ first, unsuccessful expedition to Troy. An oracle revealed that he could be healed only by the one who had wounded him, so Telephus went to Argos, disguised as a beggar, to seek help from his Greek enemies. He took the baby Orestes hostage, threatening to kill him unless the Greeks helped him. Eventually he was healed and became the Greeks’ ally and guide in their later attack on Troy.

See, e.g., Apollodorus 3.13.8, Hyginus, Fabula 96, [Bion], Epithalamium for Achilles and Deidameia, Ovid, Art of Love 1.681-704, Statius, Achilleid 1.293-960 etc. Cf. West (2013) 104, 184; Fantuzzi (2012); Gantz (1993) 580–2. 211 PSI 1286 (TrGF T iia). 212 F682 (probably a nurse’s description of Deidameia); F683a (cited by Plutarch without attribution and not definitely from Scyrians). 210


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The story is told by Hyginus and others who may have been influenced by Euripides,213 but one of our most important sources of evidence is Aristophanes, who twice parodied Telephus at length. The character Dikaiopolis in Acharnians slips into the role of Telephus when he needs to make a persuasive speech to the assembly, while the Kinsman of Euripides in Women at the Thesmophoria copies Telephus when he pretends to take a baby hostage.214 These comic versions cannot be taken as a completely trustworthy guide to the plot of Telephus, but Aristophanes tells us a couple of important things about the play. First of all, he pinpoints some of its most striking features: the thrilling hostage scene, the motif of disguise, the contrast between appearances and reality, the use of persuasive rhetoric and above all the incongruous sight of Telephus as a beggar (the inspiration, no doubt, for a long-running joke about Euripides’ ragged heroes).215 Secondly, he shows us that Telephus was popular among Athenian audiences, not just at the time of its first production (in 438 BCE) but for at least fifty years afterwards. The parodies in Acharnians (425) and Women at the Thesmophoria (411), and many other quotations and allusions in other comedies right down to Wealth (388), suggest that Telephus was one of Aristophanes’ own favourite tragedies, but it must have remained well known to the audience too, either from reperformances or from books, if they were to appreciate the humour fully. In addition, the fact that many Greek and South Italian vase-paintings are related to the Telephus myth has been seen as a sign of the play’s wider popularity, though it is hard to be certain that they reflect the influence of Euripides’ play (rather than other known dramatic versions by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Agathon, Iophon or Cleophon).216 We also have four papyrus fragments, three of which are badly damaged but allow glimpses of the action (including Telephus’ confrontations with Agamemnon, Achilles and Odysseus); the fourth preserves in full the first sixteen lines of the play, consisting of a monologue in which Telephus describes his life and background. Together with the book-fragments, they can be seen to correspond roughly to the outline of Hyginus’ narrative, but there is considerable doubt and disagreement about how all the fragments fit together. Several good modern editions exist, apart from TrGF, but they each

Hyginus, Fabula 101 (TrGF T iiic); cf. TrGF 5, p. 681. Acharnians 280–625; Women at the Thesmophoria 689–734. See Rau (1967) 17–50; cf. Taplin (1993), 36–41, on the latter scene and its representation in vase-painting. 215 E.g. Acharnians 411–34, Frogs 842, 937–991; see Zuckerberg (2016). 216 Taplin (2007) 205–10; Vahtikari (2014) 194–6. 213 214



reconstruct the plot slightly differently and arrange the fragments in a different order.217

Temenus and Children of Temenus (TrGF 5 F727e-751a) These tragedies were based on the legend of the return of the Heraclidae, an aetiological myth which accounted for the division of the Peloponnese into separate Dorian kingdoms. As Thucydides puts it in his account of early Greek migration and invasion, ‘the Dorians, led by the descendants of Heracles, gained possession of the Peloponnese eighty years after the sack of Troy’.218 Temenus was one of Heracles’ grandsons, who after various struggles obtained the kingdom of Argos; he was also the father of the hero Archelaus, whose exploits in Thrace and Macedonia were dramatized by Euripides in Archelaus.219 The division of material between Temenus, Children of Temenus and Archelaus is impossible to discern clearly, as is the relationship between these plays. We have several papyrus fragments containing parts of some sort of narrative of the Heraclidae myth, including references to Temenus and his sons: these have been identified as the remains of dramatic hypotheses, but it is uncertain which play they may relate to or even whether they are hypotheses at all.220 The fragments of Temenus and Children of Temenus (all gnomic, with one exception) suggest nothing else about either play beyond the fact that they had something to do with the Peloponnese. Our longest fragment, a mixture of quotation and paraphrase cited without attribution by Strabo, is part of an extended geographical description of Laconia and Messenia: it comes from a scene in which the Heraclidae cast lots for the different regions.221 Scholars have sometimes suggested that the two Temenus plays, along with Archelaus, were produced together as a trilogy in Macedon (c. 408–06 BCE).222 This suggestion is impossible to prove or disprove, but our response to it will depend on how far we are willing to believe that Euripides wrote tragic trilogies with a sequential narrative. His thematically linked ‘Trojan trilogy’ of 415 Handley and Rea (1957); Collard, Cropp and Lee (1995) 17–52; Jouan and Van Looy (2000) 91–132; Preiser (2000); cf. the reconstruction of Webster (1967a) 43–8. 218 Thucydides 1.12; see Osborne (2009) 47–51. 219 On the myth, see Apollodorus 2.8.2-5 and other sources at TrGF 5, p. 719; cf. Archelaus (pp. 160–1). 220 P.Oxy. 2455, fr. 9-11; P.Mich. inv.1319 (TrGF T i-iv): see Harder (1979) and (1991). 221 F727e (Strabo 8.5.6). 222 Suggested by Zielinski (1925) 236; cf. Harder (1985) 127–9; Scullion (2006); Webster (1967a) 252–7. 217


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provides a partial parallel, but we cannot assume that trilogies were the norm in the Macedonian performance context.

Hypsipyle (TrGF 5 F752-69) In a sense, as I have said before, one can describe some lost plays as more lost than others.223 Hypsipyle is the least lost of all the fragmentary Greek tragedies, in terms of the number of words that survive. In fact it was almost completely lost for many centuries and only a few book-fragments remained. But in 1905 archaeologists at Oxyrhynchus unearthed a papyrus roll containing the remnants of a complete text of the play.224 This was an extraordinarily exciting moment of rediscovery, and the Hypsipyle papyrus is still the most substantial and valuable dramatic fragment to have emerged from Oxyrhynchus (apart from Sophocles’ satyr-play The Trackers).225 The text is badly damaged, but we have several hundred lines or parts of lines, allowing us to see the overall shape of the first half of the play and get a clear sense of some of its scenes. Modern editors are even able to include reasonably accurate continuous line-numbers, based on the ancient notation system that is partially preserved in the papyrus. There are some very large gaps and uncertainties, but for a modern-day reader the experience of reading Hypsipyle comes tantalizingly close to the activity of reading a continuous text. At the point where the plot begins, Hypsipyle, a member of the Lemnian royal family, is living in obscurity at Nemea, having fled into exile before being sold as a slave to Lycurgus, priest of Zeus. Many years ago Hypsipyle gave birth to two sons, Euneos and Thoas, who were taken away from her by their father Jason. Now, as chance would have it, these sons, grown to adulthood, have just arrived in Nemea in search of their mother. Hypsipyle, Euneos and Thoas, unaware of one another’s identity, come face-to-face, and Hypsipyle exclaims: ‘Oh, blessed was she who gave you birth – whoever she was!’ (F752d). The irony of this moment is heightened by the fact that Hypsipyle is apparently nursing a baby in her arms as she speaks the words. This baby is Opheltes, son of Lycurgus and his wife Eurydice, to whom the unfortunate Hypsipyle is acting as a nurse. Later Hypsipyle accidentally causes Opheltes’ death by letting him out of her sight: LPGT 1, chapter 6. P.Oxy. 852. 225 See Parsons (2007) on the Oxyrhynchus excavations. Cf. Bond (1963); Cockle (1987) and Collard, Cropp and Gibert (2004) 169–258, for commentaries. 223 224



while she guides the seer Amphiaraus to a spring of water, a snake kills the baby. Eurydice threatens to kill Hypsipyle as a punishment, but Hypsipyle begs her to spare her life; she goes on to supplicate Amphiaraus, who responds by defending her and persuading Eurydice that Opheltes’ death was a portent for the Argives’ expedition against Thebes. Funeral games at Nemea are instituted in honour of the dead boy, and Euneos and Thoas compete in the games and are later reunited with their mother. Much of this action (especially in the earlier stages) is visible in the papyrus text, but the rest can be confidently conjectured on the basis of Apollodorus and other testimonia.226 Even though the play is incomplete we can see it was a tragedy full of incident and emotional power. Many of its central plot motifs – long-lost parents and children, scenes of recognition and supplication, athletic contests and a concern with aetiology – will be familiar from other Euripidean plays. Several other features of interest emerge, such as the play’s innovative use of music (F752f-g, discussed in a later chapter) and the mysterious presence of Dionysus, who is repeatedly alluded to but whose role in the plot is uncertain (F752, F758a-b, F765). The play’s complex, busy plot, its music, its handling of metre and its greater-than-average length (shown by the papyrus to have exceeded 1700 lines) all suggest that this was one of Euripides’ later works. This impression is confirmed by an Aristophanic scholion which records that Hypsipyle was produced shortly before Aristophanes’ Frogs (405 BCE).227

Phaethon (TrGF 5 F771-86) One of the best-preserved fragmentary tragedies (after Hypsipyle). It also survived as a complete text longer than any other lost play known to us: papyri show that Phaethon was still being read in Egypt during the fifth or sixth century CE.228 The plot can be partially reconstructed from papyrus fragments, including part of a hypothesis and some scenes of dialogue and song totalling about three hundred lines of text.229 This is especially fortunate, since the myth of Phaethon in the form that Euripides uses is not much seen elsewhere (apart from Aeschylus’ Daughters of Helios, about which little is known). Without this clear evidence for the play’s content we might have assumed that it followed the Apollodorus 3.6.4; cf. TrGF (T iiib-c). Σ Frogs 52 (TrGF T ii): see Collard, Cropp and Gibert (2004) 183. 228 TrGF 5 F772a-773. 229 See commentaries by Diggle (1970) and Collard, Cropp and Lee (1995) 195–239. 226 227


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version reflected by Hesiod, Apollodorus and others, in which Phaethon was the son of Eos and Cephalus, snatched up and ravished by Aphrodite on account of his beauty and later installed as the guardian of her temple.230 Indeed, this case serves as a valuable illustration of the pitfalls of using independent literary sources to ‘reconstruct’ lost tragedies. When the play begins Phaethon, who believes himself to be the son of the Ethiopian king Merops and his wife Clymene, is about to get married to a goddess (whose identity can only be guessed at). On the morning of his wedding-day, Clymene reveals to him that his real father was the sun-god Helios. Phaethon refuses to believe her, so Clymene tells him to visit the god and ask him to confirm the relationship by giving him a gift. Helios, perhaps reluctantly, lets Phaethon have his magical chariot, but Phaethon is unable to control it and is killed by Zeus’ thunderbolt after flying dangerously close to the earth. His smouldering corpse is brought back to Merops’ palace as preparations for the ill-fated wedding are still in full swing; Clymene hides the body indoors while the chorus sing a horribly mistimed marriage hymn. At this point our evidence gives out, and the rest of the plot is unknown, but it is generally assumed that it featured a scene of confrontation between Clymene and Merops when the full truth was revealed, followed by instructions for Phaethon’s burial and subsequent commemoration in religious cult. The play provides a striking example of two well-documented characteristics of the tragic genre: the close interweaving of the motifs of marriage and death, and the tendency to present wedding ritual as inverted or distorted.231 Most discussions of these themes have centred on the woman’s experience and the ritual role of the bride, but in Phaethon the bridegroom was obviously the central focus. We do not even know the identity of Phaethon’s intended bride (though this is a consequence of the gaps in our evidence). What is especially striking is the ironical juxtaposition of elements within the plot, together with the varying levels of knowledge and ignorance among the characters and chorus. The joyful wedding-song of the chorus is utterly out of place when the groom is lying dead, and its effect is peculiarly unsettling. Nonetheless, the nexus of motifs in this play – wedding preparations going awry, misapprehension and error, mistaken identity, characters at cross purposes, characters with disputed parentage and so on – later became the stock-in-trade of fourth-century comedians such as

Hesiod, Theogony 986–91 and F150 M-W; Apollodorus 3.14.3; Pausanias 1.3.1. See Gantz (1993) 31–4; Diggle (1970) 10–27. 231 Seaford (1987); Rehm (1992). 230



Menander. The version of these motifs that Euripides gives us is horrifying, but the later comedians could see the humour rather than the horror in such a scenario.

Philoctetes (TrGF 5 F787-803) A tragedy along the same lines as the extant Philoctetes of Sophocles and the lost Philoctetes of Aeschylus.232 The hero Philoctetes, afflicted by a suppurating wound caused by a snakebite, was abandoned by Odysseus and the Greeks on the island of Lemnos, where he eked out a miserable existence for a decade. But the seer Helenus revealed that Troy could fall only with the aid of Philoctetes and his bow, so Odysseus was dispatched to Lemnos to get him back. Fewer than twenty book-fragments survive, and while some of them obviously relate to the events of the story, they are not especially interesting. Most of our knowledge about Euripides’ tragedy comes from the rhetorician Dio of Prusa, who knew the play well. Two of Dio’s works contain valuable information.233 Oration 59 includes a prose paraphrase of part of the prologue and the scene where Odysseus and Philoctetes first come face-to-face, while the whole of Oration 52 is an extended comparison of the Philoctetes tragedies by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. This latter work has been widely discussed as an illustration of trends in scholastic criticism during the first century CE and later. Ancient scholars in general were fond of doxographical ‘triads’ when constructing accounts of intellectual history, but Russell and Winterbottom observe that the technique of comparison (synkrisis) was a particular characteristic of literary criticism in this period. They go on to suggest that ‘we may well owe to this taste the preservation of plays by all three tragedians on Orestes’ vengeance on Clytemnestra’,234 though if this is true we might have expected other such trios of tragedies to have survived, including the Philoctetes plays themselves. Much of what Dio has to say about the three plays reflects well-established view (or clichés) about the general character of their respective authors. Aeschylus is said to represent ‘grandeur and archaic splendour’, in contrast to Euripides’ ‘cleverness, craftsmanship and rhetorical effectiveness’, while

See Avezzù (1988); Müller (1997) and Müller (2000) for exhaustive discussion and commentary; cf. Collard, Cropp and Gibert (2004) 1–34. 233 Included in TrGF 5 as T iiib, iiiv; F789b-d. 234 Russell and Winterbottom (1972) 504. 232


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Sophocles come somewhere in between the two, ‘combining great charm with sublimity and dignity’. This critical assessment is utterly conventional: Dio is reflecting an orthodox view of the relative status of the three ‘classic’ tragedians. What Dio says about the details of each play is more interesting from our point of view. He explicitly identifies six important differences between Euripides’ version and the others: (i) Odysseus, like his Homeric counterpart (and several other Euripidean heroes), appeared in disguise; (ii) the chorus consisted of natives of Lemnos, and Euripides went out of his way to explain why they had never previously helped Philoctetes, thus identifying and avoiding a narrative implausibility in Aeschylus’ version; (iii) a Lemnian herdsman called Actor was among the characters; (iv) the style, and particularly the language of Odysseus, was markedly rhetorical; (v) Odysseus delivered the prologue-speech, explaining the background to the plot and his own deliberations; (vi) Diomedes, rather than Neoptolemus, was Odysseus’ companion. All of this not only helps us to reimagine Euripides’ play but also increases our understanding of what it meant for different tragedians to handle the same material. All three versions follow the same basic outline, but the variations, which might be major or minor, make significant differences to our interpretation of the characters and their actions. None of the plays can be said to represent a definitive version from which the others deviate, although Sophocles’ is the version that has, inevitably, come to seem authoritative. It is not certain whether the three plays were completely independent treatments of the myth or whether they can be seen as intertextually linked, but it is likely that any earlier versions (including also the Philoctetes of Achaeus) would have influenced the choices made by later authors.235 In this case we happen to know that the order was Aeschylus–Euripides–Sophocles. The date of Aeschylus’ play is unknown, but Euripides produced his Philoctetes in 431 BCE (along with Medea, Dictys and the satyr-play Reapers), and Sophocles’ version followed in 409.236 This information is important because it is easy to assume, on the basis of Dio or the conventional image of the tragic triad, that Euripides’ version would have been the latest or most unconventional of the three.

On Achaeus’ version (TrGF 1.20 F37), see LPGT 1, pp. 35–6. TrGF T ii; cf. TrGF 1 DID C12, C17.

235 236



Phoenix (TrGF 5 F803a-18) A drama centring on sexual jealousy and its consequences; its basic pattern of events shows parallels with tragedies about Hippolytus, Bellerophon, Peleus and Oedipus. Euripides evidently followed the myth (recounted by Apollodorus) that Phoenix was blinded by his father, Amyntor, after Amyntor’s concubine falsely accused him of seducing her; later Peleus took Phoenix to the centaur Cheiron, who cured his eyesight and made him king of the Dolopians.237 The story goes back as far as the Iliad, though the blinding is not mentioned there. It has often been thought that Euripides was the first to introduce this detail, but this is uncertain: perhaps it also featured in tragedies on the same subject by Sophocles or Ion. Fifteen fragments survive, almost all gnomic. Our longest fragment is quoted by the orator Aeschines from a scene in which Phoenix had to defend himself before Amyntor.238 Aeschines’ framing discussion and summary shows that these lines come from an agôn scene and that the argument from character (êthos) was used. The speaker is either Phoenix or (more likely) an older supporter, such as Cheiron, and the speech attempted to persuade Amyntor to base his judgement on the overall quality of a man’s life and habits rather than slander or suspicion. But the rhetoric, as so often, failed to have any effect.

Phrixus I and II (TrGF 5 F818c-838) This pair of lost tragedies raises interesting questions about the creative process, the act of revision and Euripides’ attitude to the mythical tradition. They dealt with the same section of the myth of the Boeotian (or Thessalian) king Athamas, his children Phrixus and Helle, and their treatment by their wicked stepmother Ino.239 Both plays followed the same outline, up to a certain point, but the second version had a completely different ending. Our knowledge of the plots comes primarily from papyrus remains of hypotheses to both plays: these are incomplete, but the information that they provide can be supplemented by the narratives of Apollodorus and Hyginus.240 Apollodorus 3.13.8 (TrGF T iiid); cf. Homer, Iliad 9.444-84, with Σ (TrGF T iib-c). Aeschines, Against Timarchus 152–3 (F812). On speaker and context, see Kannicht, TrGF 5, p. 847; Collard and Cropp (2008) 416–17. 239 See Euripides’ Ino for a different part of the Athamas/Ino story; cf. Gantz (1993) 176–80. 240 P.Oxy. 2455, 3652 (TrGF T iia); Apollodorus 1.9.1; Hyginus, Fabulae 2.1-4, 3.1. 237 238


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Each version seems to have begun in the same way: Phrixus and Helle, Athamas’ children from his marriage to Nephele, lived with their father and his new wife, Ino, but when Ino gave birth to two children of her own (Learchus and Melicertes) she came to hate Phrixus and Helle and plotted against them. Ino contrived to bring about a famine by persuading the local women to roast the seed before sowing it. When the Boeotians sent envoys to Delphi to ask the god for help, she somehow persuaded the envoys to report, falsely, that the oracle had told them to sacrifice Phrixus to Zeus if they wanted the famine to end. At this point the two versions diverged. In Phrixus I (the version represented by Apollodorus), Athamas came to the very point of sacrificing Phrixus at the altar, but Nephele snatched Phrixus away and removed him and Helle from the country, flying across the sea on a magical golden ram that she had obtained from Hermes. Helle fell into the sea and was drowned, and the sea was renamed the Hellespont after her, but Phrixus survived and ended up in Colchis. In Phrixus II (according to the hypothesis), Phrixus and Helle were driven mad by Dionysus and danced into the wilderness, where they were almost killed by the maenads, but Nephele came down from heaven and saved them. Hyginus provides a couple of extra details: that Phrixus voluntarily offered himself up for sacrifice, and that the sacrifice was halted when one of the envoys from Delphi took pity on Phrixus and confessed to Athamas about Ino’s wicked plot. But these last details are absent from – or perhaps incompatible with – the hypothesis, and are not reflected in the fragments, so we cannot know whether they actually derive from Phrixus II. The evidence does not allow any firm conclusions about the contents of each play or any similarities and differences between them. The existence of two homonymous tragedies with similar contents seems to have confused ancient readers. Most of the fragments are simply attributed to Phrixus, making it impossible to say which version they belong to, or they are mistakenly attributed to the wrong version (as in the case of F818c). All that we can say for certain is that the two plays ended differently. But this fact is very significant, since it places the Phrixus tragedies in an unusual category on their own. We know of four other cases in which Euripides produced two different tragedies with the same title, but elsewhere the later work is a revised version of the first (Hippolytus the Garland-Bearer) or a new composition based on a different part of the story (Alcmeon in Corinth, Iphigenia in Aulis or Melanippe Captive). It is not quite clear what impulse led Euripides to write the second Phrixus. Was it conceived of as a rewrite or as a completely separate work? Either way, it seems clear that Euripides was – as on many



occasions – playing around provocatively with myth, deliberately highlighting and exploiting variant details within the inherited account. Experimenting with alternate endings to the same story might almost seem to anticipate postmodern literary techniques (as in, for instance, John Fowles’ novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman). But at any rate it can be seen as a way of creating a surprising narrative twist, cheating the audience’s expectations or drawing attention to the problems and inconsistencies inherent in the mythical tradition.

Chrysippus (TrGF 5 F838a-844) There was a tradition that Euripides was in love with his fellow tragedian Agathon and wrote Chrysippus as a present for him. This is a charming story, but almost certainly untrue: it may well be based on the plot of a comedy (such as Strattis’ lost Chrysippus, widely seen as a parody of Euripides).241 Nevertheless, it reflects the fact that this tragedy was famous in antiquity for its theme of homosexual love. Several ancient writers mention this aspect of the play, citing its main character, Laius, as the first pederast in the history of Greece.242 But Euripides’ portrayal of love and its effects seems to have been far from celebratory. The plot, which can be tentatively pieced together from miscellaneous testimonia, was as follows: Laius was so infatuated with Chrysippus, the beautiful son of Pelops, that he abducted him in a chariot and raped him. Chrysippus later committed suicide out of shame, and (possibly) Pelops uttered a curse on Laius and his descendants.243 This version of the myth, which differs substantially from other versions of Chrysippus’ and Laius’ stories, is sometimes believed to have been invented especially for the purpose by Euripides, but this is uncertain. Much scholarship has centred around the question of whether the material dramatized here was known to earlier writers such as Aeschylus. Hugh Lloyd-Jones, for example, believed that Aeschylus’ Laius included not only the abduction and rape but also Pelops’ curse, and, furthermore, that these events have to be understood as underlying other dramatic treatments of the Laius and Oedipus story.244 Aelian, History of Animals 6.15, Historical Miscellany 2.21 (TrGF T iva, ivc); cf. Strattis’ Chrysippus F54-6 K-A, with Storey (2011) III.260-3; Platon’s Laius (F65-8 K-A) is another possibility. On Agathon, Euripides and sexuality, cf. LPGT 1, pp. 62–4. 242 TrGF 5, pp. 877–8. 243 Apollodorus 3.5.5; Σ Euripides; Phoenician Women 1760; Hypothesis min. 8 to Phoenician Women, etc. See TrGF 5, pp. 878–9; cf. Gantz (1993) 488–92. 244 Lloyd-Jones (1971) 120–1. Cf. pp. 190–2, 214–21. 241


The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

However, there is no evidence for any of this in the (admittedly meagre) remains of Laius, nor is there any explicit reference to Chrysippus or an ancestral curse in any of the other tragedies on the same myth cycle, such as Aeschylus’ Seven against Thebes, Sophocles’ Theban plays or Euripides’ Phoenician Women.245 The fragments of Chrysippus contain suggestive glimpses of the play’s contents: almost all of them are concerned with love and sex. In F842 physical beauty is compared unfavourably with wisdom and moral character. In F841 a character (almost certainly Laius) exclaims: ‘Alas! This is a terrible evil for men, whenever one perceives right behaviour but fails to practise it,’ sentiments which unmistakably recall the Euripidean Phaedra’s attempts to master her desires in similar circumstances.246 Laius is probably also the speaker of F840: ‘I am fully aware of your advice, but although I am capable of rational thought, my nature (physis) forces me to act thus.’ This not only tells us that the clash between reason and passion was an important theme of the play but also suggests that Euripides was contributing to the long-running debate over whether nature, convention or conscious choice determines a person’s sexuality.247 F839 is part of a choral song imagining the creation of the natural world as resulting from the sexual union of Earth (Gaia) and Air (Aithêr). This has been interpreted as a sign that the play is implicitly rejecting sterile homosexual love in favour of fertility and heterosexual marriage.248 Indeed, it has been pointed out that here and elsewhere Euripides consistently presents a negative view of same-sex love, in contrast to Aeschylus and Sophocles; it may be that his attitude reflects changes in late fifth-century democratic society and the marginalization of pederasty as an elite practice.249 On balance, then, it seems unlikely that Euripides would have written this play as a present for a male lover. Nevertheless, it will be clear that Chrysippus is not only a fascinating and unusual lost play but also an important piece of evidence for the history of sexuality.

See Mastronarde (1994) 13–14, 31–8; West (1999); Jouan and Van Looy (2002) 373–6; Hubbard (2006) 233–7. 246 Cf. Hippolytus 375–90; see Hubbard (2006) 225–6. 247 Chrysippus is cited by Plato in relation to this debate: see Laws 8.836c (TrGF 5, p. 877). 248 Poole (1990) 146–7. For similar cosmogonic passages in tragedy, cf. Aeschylus, Daughters of Danaus F44, Euripides F898 (from an unknown play). 249 Hubbard (2006), esp. 240–4. 245


Unfamiliar Faces

Investigating lost plays is an important activity for anyone with an interest in Greek mythology, not least because it reminds us that mythical stories and characters were fluid and changeable. Nowadays it can easily seem as if the extant plays, which are very familiar to us, represent the definitive treatment or the ‘authorized version’ of a myth, but this is not so. The tragedies which happened to survive did so as a result of processes that are not entirely understood, but there is no reason to assume that their stories and characters already had any special status within the fifth century. At the time of the original performances each individual play would have been seen as just one among several versions differing from one another in large or small details. The myths which furnished their subject-matter were flexible, and mythical characters – even very wellknown faces such as Orestes, Electra, Agamemnon and Helen – existed in numerous different incarnations. Almost all of them, of course, had already appeared in earlier poetry. But such characters belonged to the world of myth; they were neither the creation nor the exclusive property of any one author in particular. The concept of a truly definitive version of any Greek myth or character is difficult to sustain. Most tragic myths incorporate a large number of variant details and inconsistencies. The extent to which one can talk about ‘the myth’, in the sense of a single, unified body of material, is uncertain. Even a text such as Aristotle’s Poetics, which lays down as a precept of tragedy the instruction that ‘one may not alter the traditional myths’, does not define what is meant by ‘the traditional myths’; and Aristotle goes on to concede that ‘one ought to be creative and use the traditional material well’, blurring the line ambiguously between tradition and invention.1

Aristotle, Poetics 1453b22-6; cf. 1451b23-4, where Aristotle admits that tragedians need not adhere to the ‘traditional myths’ at all costs.



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Even within the small corpus of surviving tragedies we can see significant variations in the presentation of major characters. Compare, for instance, the way in which the members of the House of Atreus appear in different plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides; or the contrast between the Sophoclean and the Euripidean Heracles; or the surprising differences between Euripides’ Helen, Women of Troy and Orestes in the way that they portray Helen. But the lost plays provide many more examples of characters in unfamiliar guises. Most strikingly, they include alternative versions of characters who, in our own times, have become indelibly associated with certain ‘classic’ tragedies. Today it is almost impossible to imagine Oedipus, for instance, without thinking of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King or to talk about Medea without reference to Euripides’ Medea. In these and a few other cases, it can seem as if the character is practically synonymous with their appearance in a single famous work. But this is a result of the later influence of the plays in question, combined with the disappearance of all the other versions. What we have to do, in effect, is to try to forget the last two and a half millennia of reception history, abandon any anachronistic assumptions about classic status and canonicity, and instead think ourselves back into the world of fifth-century Greece when these plays were first performed. This was a world in which many different tragedies, and many tellings and retellings of the myths, existed side by side. As we can clearly see from the fragments, the lost tragedies featured an Oedipus who did not blind himself, a Medea who did not murder her children, an Antigone who married Haemon and bore him a child, a brazenly promiscuous Phaedra and other surprises. To modern readers these unfamiliar faces of familiar characters are bound to seem astonishing. Perhaps we might be tempted to see them as deliberately provocative innovations, or as radical revisions or rejections of the inherited tradition. But we cannot assume that their original audiences saw them this way, and we should not overestimate their shock value. To use such labels as ‘alternative’ or ‘unorthodox’ when talking about lost plays is to accord privileged status to a few surviving plays and to imply, misleadingly, that those versions were already normative within the fifth century. It may be, of course, that certain tragedies made such an impact on their original audiences that within a short time they effectively displaced other earlier versions, but we can point to no clear example of such a tragedy. Given the importance of intertextuality in characterization,2 it may well be that some of these characters were consciously conceived of by their authors as differing See Goldhill (1990).


Unfamiliar Faces


from a specific earlier incarnation, but once again it is hard to find a definite example from a lost play. Even in those cases where the same author produced more than one version of the same character, the exact details or the precise relationship between the individual plays can be hard to discern. One major factor preventing definite conclusions about the relationship between one play and another is our almost total lack of information regarding production dates. In any given case it is seldom possible even to say whether the lost plays pre- or post-date the ones that survive. In general, it seems better to avoid thinking in terms of ‘authoritative’ versus ‘alternative’ versions and instead to view Greek tragedy as a genre characterized by variety and plurality. It is extremely telling that the tragedians kept returning over and over again to the same stories. As has often been pointed out before, of all the tragedies known to us – several hundred in number – considerably more than half have titles, subject-matter or characters in common.3 All of our playwrights seem to have been doing more or less the same thing: revisiting the same repertoire of myths and characters, not in order to lay claim to them or to fix them down forever, but rather to entertain and challenge their audiences by finding new aspects and providing unexpected variations on familiar themes. It was later readers and critics who produced seemingly authoritative versions out of this diverse pool of material, by concentrating on their favourites and neglecting the rest. But, as I have been at pains to stress throughout this work, if we want to understand the genre of tragedy we need to look at it synoptically, as if through the eyes of its contemporaries, in all its original breadth and detail, rather than in the drastically pruned-down form in which it has come down to us. This chapter examines the three characters from fragmentary tragedy who seem most unfamiliar because they differ radically from their ‘classic’ portrayals in the extant plays: Oedipus, Antigone and Medea. Much is unclear about the lesser-known versions, but what we can glean from the fragments prompts us to think again about these characters and what they represented. These glimpses of unfamiliar faces can be fascinating in their own right, but they also give us a new perspective on the ‘classic’ plays. They show that the poets’ conception of character was malleable and inconsistent; they bring to our attention choices that the authors might have made, and (by contrast) underline the significance of the choices that they did make, in each particular case; they show how much

Cf. Burian (1997) 183–6; see also the indices in TrGF (with LPGT 1, pp. 202–5).



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variation could exist among different incarnations of ‘the same’ character; and in general they make the familiar come to seem less familiar.

Oedipus The story of Oedipus is often cited – somewhat misleadingly – as an example of a myth that was universally well known and consistent in its details. This is partly due to the fourth-century comedian Antiphanes, who joked that tragedians have an easy life (by comparison with comedians) because they have no need to invent their own plots: ‘If the poet so much as mentions the name Oedipus, the audience know everything else: that his father was Laius and his mother Jocasta, and who his daughters were, and what will happen to him, and what he did in the past.’4 But this is an exaggeration for comic effect. In fact the myth of Oedipus was told in numerous ways, from the Theban Epic Cycle and the Odyssey onwards, and there were significant discrepancies between different authors’ accounts. For example, the name of Oedipus’ wife is sometimes given as Epicaste (as in Homer) rather than Jocasta, and she sometimes survives, rather than committing suicide, after the revelation that Oedipus is her son (as in Euripides’ Phoenician Women, which also reverses the more usual roles of Oedipus’ sons Eteocles and Polynices); elsewhere Oedipus has a quite different wife, Euryganeia, who may or may not be identified with his mother.5 It is easy to assume that Sophocles’ surviving masterpiece Oedipus Tyrannus represents the Authorized Version, but it was just one among many adaptations of the story – and it may well have been seen by its original audience as an idiosyncratic treatment rather than simply the story that everyone knew. Indeed, Sophocles’ play depends for its effect on the unknowability of the precise facts surrounding Laius’ death. Far from merely accepting the traditional account, it blurs the details and draws attention to the gaps, inconsistencies and ambiguities inherent in the myth.6 Another notable aspect of Sophocles’ tragedy is its central but somewhat indistinct focus on questions of guilt and causation: how far is Oedipus responsible for the awful fate that befalls him, and to what degree is the outcome determined

Antiphanes, Poetry F189.3-8 K-A. Cf. Aristotle, Poetics 1453b2-7, which implies that a brief reference to Oedipus’ story is enough to cause a shudder. 5 See Edmunds (2008) on all aspects of the myth; cf. Gantz (1993) 488–506. 6 See Vernant (1988) 113–40; Segal (1993); Dawe (2006) 1–17. 4

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by other forces, such as the gods or a family curse?7 These questions will no doubt have been at the forefront of Aeschylus’ dramatization of the myth, in his Oedipodeia tetralogy of 467 BCE (Laius, Oedipus, Seven against Thebes and the satyr-play Sphinx). It seems unlikely that Aeschylus provided his audience with straightforward answers, but his use of the connected trilogy format will have provided a longer perspective on the family’s history over many years, together with (presumably) a more visible chain of cause and effect than in Sophocles. Richard Jebb wrote, a little too confidently, that the Oedipodeia ‘traced the action of an inherited curse in the house of Labdacus, even as the Oresteia traced the action of such a curse in the house of Pelops’.8 Similarly, Hugh Lloyd-Jones assumed that Aeschylus’ Laius, like Euripides’ Chrysippus, was concerned with the guilt incurred by Laius through his abduction of the beautiful boy Chrysippus – an aspect of the myth which Sophocles’ version too (it is claimed) ‘takes for granted’, though Sophocles never actually mentions it.9 Such scenarios are certainly plausible, but the sad truth is that the remains of Laius and Oedipus are so jejune that almost nothing can be said for certain about the plays’ contents. It is clear that Aeschylus was interested in the entire family, treating Oedipus’ father and sons as important characters in their own right, but that is about as far as one can go. The date of Oedipus Tyrannus is unknown, but it was almost certainly composed after the Aeschylean tetralogy.10 This means that Sophocles will probably have been aware of the Oedipodeia and written his own Theban tragedies in the light of it, though there is not enough evidence to show exactly how the respective treatments compared to one another. Nevertheless, we can identify at least one suggestive difference between the two versions. Sophocles is clear that the fatal confrontation between Laius and Oedipus occurred on the road to Delphi as Laius was on his way to consult the oracle: Oedipus: I thought I heard you say that Laius was done to death at the place where three roads meet. Jocasta: This was indeed what was said – and the report has not yet faded away. Oedipus: And where is this place where the painful event happened? Jocasta: The land is called Phocis; the road splits, leading to the same point from Delphi and from Daulis.11

See Lurje (2004), with copious doxography; cf. Lloyd-Jones (1971) 104–28. Jebb (1902) xvi–xvii. 9 Lloyd-Jones (1971) 120–1. On Euripides’ Chrysippus, see pp. 209–10. 10 Sophocles’ theatrical career began before 467 (TrGF 3 T32-8), but Oedipus Tyrannus is usually dated to 430 or later on account of its references to plague: see Knox (1956). 11 Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus 729–34; cf. 716, 800–4. 7 8


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Readers have always been struck by this memorable scene, in which the mention of the locus in quo acts as a trigger for Oedipus’ growing feelings of unease. The overt symbolism of the crossroads – as a metaphor for momentous decisionmaking or as a place associated with Hecate, goddess of death – has not escaped the notice of critics; it has had a particularly important place in psychological readings of the play.12 But this key detail was apparently not Sophocles’ own invention: either it came from Aeschylus or it was part of the inherited tradition. Aeschylus’ version of the same incident also features the crossroads motif, but within a completely different topographic setting: En route we were coming to a place where three roads, marked by wheel-tracks, meet at the division of the path, where we crossed the junction of the three roads at Potniae.

These lines are quoted, without comment, in an ancient marginal note on the Sophoclean passage. They must come from either Laius or Oedipus, and they were evidently spoken by a servant of Laius who survived the attack (such a character appears in Oedipus Tyrannus and in Euripides’ Oedipus) or by Oedipus himself.13 The fragment is significant because it shows that the circumstances of the murder, as well as the motivation for Laius’ journey, were surprisingly different in Aeschylus’ version. In each case one is struck by the high degree of geographical specificity, while the similarity between the two passages suggests that one version is deliberately recalling the other and drawing attention to the discrepancy. Sophocles’ version (which I take to be the later one), with its reference to ‘what was said’ in the past, implicitly acknowledges the existence of earlier versions and questions their reliability. If this interpretation is valid, it may be that some of the other references in Oedipus Tyrannus to ‘old stories’ or ‘reports’ of past events are in fact veiled allusions to Aeschylus in particular.14 It is unclear where Aeschylus’ Laius was going, or why he should have been on the road to Potniae (near Plataea, and not far from Thebes itself), though one notes the existence of a tradition in which the king of Plataea, Damasistratus, gave burial to Laius’ body.15 At any rate, this detail suggests that Aeschylus’ plot did not involve a visit to Delphi by Laius, and that the role of Apollo and the Delphic oracle, so central to Sophocles’ version, was less prominent here.

Van der Sterren (1974) 71–8; Halliwell (1986); Segal (1993) 116. TrGF 3 F387a (Σ Oedipus Tyrannus 733); on speaker and attribution, see TrGF 3, p. 434. 14 E.g. Oedipus Tyrannus 219–20, 290–3, 493–5, 715–16, 845–54. Cf. Segal (1993) 115–16 on ‘rumour’ (phatis). 15 Apollodorus 3.5.8, Pausanias 10.5.4; noted by Podlecki (1975) 8–9. 12 13

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Indeed, there are signs that the theological colouring of the Aeschylean version was distinctively different. It may well be significant that Potniae had a special connection with the gods Demeter and Persephone, who were worshipped in cult there and gave the place its name (which means ‘The Mistresses’).16 Perhaps Laius and Oedipus were concerned with the mystery-cult in some way. It is impossible to guess precisely how, but several other sources refer to some sort of connection between Oedipus and Demeter. One ancient scholar records that Oedipus was a suppliant at the sanctuary of Demeter in Athens; another tradition sees Oedipus being buried in a shrine of Demeter and eventually worshipped in hero-cult alongside the goddess; and (most intriguingly) an ancient biographical testimonium records that Oedipus was one of the plays with which Aeschylus got into trouble with the authorities by revealing secrets from the Mysteries.17 It is hard to know what to make of such clues, or how far they relate to Aeschylus at all, but it has been suggested that Aeschylus’ trilogy may have offered an aetiology for a joint cult of Oedipus, Demeter and the Erinyes in Boeotia.18 All other attempts to ‘reconstruct’ (i.e. invent) the contents of Laius and Oedipus are inevitably based on fantasy alone.19 Nothing is known about the way in which the characters of Laius, Jocasta or Oedipus were presented. Many have inferred, on the basis of Seven against Thebes (772–91), that a motif of Oedipus was the curse uttered by Oedipus against his sons, but this is open to doubt. Otherwise the only certain facts about Aeschylus’ treatment are that the infant Oedipus was exposed in a ceramic pot, a detail not apparently mentioned by Sophocles or anyone else, and that Oedipus was shown as having tasted and spat out the blood of his victim – apparently a ritual act to avoid pollution, but a vividly unpleasant detail nonetheless.20 Tragedies about Oedipus were composed by other fifth-century authors, including Achaeus, Xenocles and Meletus, but not one significant detail from any of them survives.21 More is known about Euripides’ Oedipus. We are not in a position to reconstruct the plot, but several striking features emerge from the fragments.22 First of all, this tragedy marks a contrast with Sophocles, who is

Pausanias 9.8.1. Σ Odyssey 11.271; Lysimachus FGrHist 382 F2; Androtion FGrHist 324 F62; Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 3.2,1111a8, with Σ (TrGF 3 T93b). 18 Edmunds (1981), esp. 227–9; cf. Nauck (1889) 57 (who prints F387a as Oedipus F173). 19 E.g. Robert (1915), criticized by Podlecki (1975) 8–14. 20 TrGF 3 F222, 222a (from Laius). 21 See LPGT 1, pp. 114–15, 196, 200, 220. 22 There have been many attempts at reconstruction, all differing widely from one another: see Collard, Cropp and Lee (1995) 105–32 and other works cited there; cf. Liapis (2014). 16 17


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relentlessly preoccupied with the past – the murder of Laius, the investigation and the process of discovering the facts. Euripides seems to have been more interested in what happened after Oedipus arrived at Thebes – the defeat of the Sphinx, Oedipus’ ascent to the throne and the marriage of Oedipus and Jocasta. It is impossible to say how much of the myth found its way into Euripides’ play, or where the cut-off points came at the beginning or end of the plot, but it is generally accepted that this was, in the words of one source, ‘a play about Oedipus and Jocasta and the Sphinx’.23 Unlike Oedipus Tyrannus, which opens in medias res with Oedipus addressing the plague-ridden Thebans, Euripides’ Oedipus began with a narrative prologuespeech, the first line of which survives: ‘Although Phoebus Apollo forbade it, Laius fathered a child’ (F539a). The speaker is unknown, but the function of this opening monologue was obviously to provide a clear account of what actually happened in the past – something that is conspicuously lacking from Sophocles’ version. It may be that the other narrative fragments also belong to the expository prologue, though this has been keenly debated by scholars. One of these fragments, from a papyrus, is part of a description of the monstrous Sphinx and her defeat by Oedipus, who managed to solve her riddle.24 The words of the riddle refer to ‘intellect’ (sunesis), a quality of Oedipus which was no doubt a prominent aspect of his characterization in this play: several other bookfragments also allude to cleverness or point a contrast between intelligence and stupidity.25 Another fragment shows, astonishingly, that Oedipus did not blind himself. He was blinded forcibly and against his will by the servants of Laius, one of whom says: We fall on Polybus’ son, pressing him to the ground, and we put out his eyes, destroying his pupils.26

Interpreters have argued inconclusively about the exact circumstances being described here. At what point in the story can this deed have taken place? Why is the present tense being used? Why is Oedipus still being described as the son of Polybus rather than Laius? Was Oedipus blinded before the revelation of his true identity? Did the blinding take place immediately after the murder, before

25 26 23 24

John Malalas, Chronographia 2.17 (writing in the sixth century BCE). P.Oxy. 2459 (TrGF 5 F240-240b). TrGF 5 F548, F552, F553. Cf. Collard, Cropp and Lee (1995) 112. TrGF 5 F541. The scene is possibly depicted on a South Italian vase-painting: see Robert (1915) 307 (LIMC s.v. ‘Oedipus’, 85).

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he ever arrived at Thebes? Why did the servants take it upon themselves to blind Oedipus, rather than kill him or punish him by some other means? Such questions are unanswerable, much as one would like to know the answers. But the crucial point is that this single detail marks a big difference from the Sophoclean version, in which self-blinding is a central element with a powerful symbolic significance. Regardless of precisely where it fitted into the plot structure, the meaning of this act will have been quite different in Euripides’ version, and it will have had huge implications for the audience’s interpretation of Oedipus as a character. The paradoxical combination of blindness and insight remains a key character trait, but it is manifested in an unfamiliar way: Oedipus’ self-destructive impulse is missing, and his own responsibility for what happens to him is diminished. This Oedipus seems to come across in a more passive guise; he is more than ever a victim of forces outside his own control. (If we follow Freud in regarding blinding as an equivalent or substitution for castration, the difference between the two versions comes to seem even greater.27) Another way in which the Sophoclean Oedipus can be seen as self-destructive is in his relentless urge to uncover the truth, even though it will inevitably lead to his ruin, but there is no way of knowing whether this same urge characterized his Euripidean counterpart. It is unclear how Euripides contrived to reveal Oedipus’ identity and his crime, but there is no particular reason to suppose that his plot, like that of Oedipus Tyrannus, took the distinctive shape of a ‘whodunit’ with Oedipus as the detective. The only other known fact about the plot – if we follow Kannicht in accepting the attribution of F545a to Oedipus – is that Jocasta did not commit suicide, but carried on living and indeed remained a faithful and supportive wife to Oedipus throughout his troubles: If her husband should suffer something terrible, it is a good thing for a wife to adopt a sad countenance in harmony with his own, and to share jointly in his grief as well as his pleasure. I for my part shall be with you, suffering and enduring even as you suffer; I shall help you carry the burden of your evils, and the task will in no way be hateful.

Clement of Alexandria, the anthologist who quotes these verses among numerous passages illustrating womanly virtue, describes them as ‘an approving and majestic portrait by Euripides of a wife who loves her husband’.28 The lines

Freud (2001) 151. Edmunds (2008), 42, cites other Greek myths in which eyes and genitals are symbolically linked. 28 TrGF 5 F545a.9-12 (Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies 4.20): on attribution and textual problems, see TrGF 5, pp. 577–8; but cf. Liapis (2014) 335–41, Finglass (2017) 18–19. 27


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have normally been read as implying that Jocasta leaves Thebes and accompanies Oedipus into exile, a scenario which would make her role seem to resemble that of Antigone in Oedipus at Colonus. This may or may not be so, but if Jocasta really is the speaker of these lines, her portrayal here constitutes another major difference from Sophocles. Indeed, even if we are inclined to discount F545a, there are distinct signs among the other fragments that the central relationship between Jocasta and Oedipus was handled in a surprising way. Several of the book-fragments from anthologies are moralizing maxims on the theme of marriage – the value to a man of a wife and children, the obligations of a sensible wife, the difficulty of fighting with a wife and the relative status of wives and husbands.29 Euripides even seems to have foregrounded the issue of sexual attraction between Jocasta and Oedipus – an aspect of the myth decorously glossed over by others – since the characters are made to speculate on the number of types of love (erôs) that exist or to compare the relative merits of physical beauty (eumorphia) and intellect (nous).30 These fragments not only suggest a preoccupation with spousal love and affection as a recurrent thematic motif of the play, but they also show that the incestuous union was presented – at least initially – in an extraordinarily positive light. It is possible to read all these utterances as indicating that Oedipus and Jocasta enjoyed a genuinely loving relationship characterized by mutual affection and solidarity. Of course, such a state of affairs could not continue unchallenged. Otherwise, this play would have been as shocking as Euripides’ Aeolus, which scandalized audiences with its portrayal of brother–sister love. There is no evidence that Oedipus caused such controversy; it was Diogenes of Sinope, several decades later, who provoked outrage by writing an Oedipus that deliberately presented incest as a good thing.31 Nevertheless, it is easy to see how, by showing Oedipus and Jocasta as happily married, Euripides could have achieved a big impact in terms of dramatic reversal (peripeteia). The inevitable revelation about Oedipus’ identity would thus have seemed all the more appalling, and its effect on the characters’ lives would have been even more catastrophic than in Sophocles, where there is little observable intimacy between husband and wife. The moment at which Euripides brought about the revelation of Oedipus’ identity – however he actually managed it – will inevitably have called into play powerful and complex emotions. As Christopher TrGF 5 F543-6. TrGF 5 F547, F548; cf. F545a.1-5, which also mentions physical beauty and describes what happens when a wife ‘melts in union’ with her husband (ἀνδρὶ συντέτηκε). 31 TrGF 1.88; see LPGT 1, pp. 154–60. 29 30

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Collard acutely observes, this scene must also have constituted a grotesquely ironical twist on the characteristic Euripidean recognition scene (as in Ion, Hypsipyle, Helen, Iphigenia among the Taurians and other tragedies) in which long-lost relatives are joyfully reunited.32

Antigone Modern-day readers will be well acquainted with the image of Antigone as a fiercely resilient woman, who defies political authority to do what she considers her personal duty, even though she knows it will lead to her ruin. Indeed Antigone, to a greater extent than most other characters from Greek mythology, has been treated not just as a person but as a symbol – of heroism, of solitary resistance, of the power of the human will, of the clash between state and individual, of a strong woman standing up for herself in a world dominated by men. In some ways she seems to transcend her status as an individual character, becoming instead a metaphor or an embodiment of universal ideas. ‘Why’, asks George Steiner, ‘should a handful of Greek myths, that of Antigone among them, recur in the art and thought of the twentieth century to an almost obsessive degree?’33 The question does not admit of an obvious answer, but it needs to be acknowledged that the enduring appeal of Antigone is not really based on the myth as such. It depends on the unique influence of one extant play – Sophocles’ Antigone – and also, indirectly, on the many works of modern art, literature, philosophy and criticism which this play has inspired. Even Sophocles’ surviving Oedipus at Colonus, in which Antigone also appears, has not had a comparable impact on the later reception of the myth or character. The Antigone who is most familiar to us is a prime example of the type of character whom Bernard Knox described as the ‘Sophoclean hero’ – an isolated, unyielding, strongly principled figure who is shown as facing a supreme crisis or ‘tragic dilemma’.34 Such a figure is found in six out of the seven extant plays by this author, and Knox argued on this basis that the focus on a single, central character was a hallmark of Sophoclean tragedy. One of the difficulties in accepting this suggestion is that the lost plays offer no obvious example of a ‘Sophoclean hero’. Collard, Cropp and Lee (1995) 109. Steiner (1984) 300. Steiner’s book surveys the influence of the Sophoclean Antigone on Kant, Hegel, Rousseau, Schlegel, Kierkegaard and dozens of other Western artists and thinkers; cf. Zimmermann (1993) on later classical literature and art. 34 Knox (1964), esp. 1–27. 32 33


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But it may be that Sophocles carefully shaped and manipulated his Antigone in order to depict her in the same mould as his other troubled heroes such as Ajax, Philoctetes, Electra or Oedipus. This possibility has an important bearing on how we interpret the character and her wider significance. The fact that we have no pre-Sophoclean account of the myth makes it hard to assess the extent of Sophocles’ originality. Antigone almost certainly appeared in the Theban Epic Cycle and elsewhere in early Greek poetry, and she may also have appeared in the Oedipus tragedies by Aeschylus and others mentioned in the last section, but all these works are now lost.35 Nevertheless, Antigone was not Sophocles’ own creation, and his version, however compelling or influential, cannot be treated as representative of the myth of Antigone in a general sense. It may be that Euripides’ Antigone – which was unlike Sophocles’ play in several respects – was closer to these lost earlier versions. Whether or not that is true, it seems inevitable that the modern Western tradition of literature and philosophy would have been very different if the Euripidean rather than the Sophoclean Antigone had happened to survive. Certainly the question of what the character ‘stands for’ (if we want to think in such terms) would need to be answered in a quite different way if we had Euripides’ play before us. Just on the basis of its fragments we can say something useful about the presentation of Antigone’s character here and the significance of her actions, even if we cannot attempt any ambitious philosophical generalizations. Our principal evidence for the plot of the Euripidean Antigone is found in a hypothesis to the Sophoclean version by Aristophanes of Byzantium: Antigone, in defiance of the city’s proclamation, buried Polyneices, but she was caught in the act and condemned to death, being cast into an underground tomb by Creon. Haemon also died in distress because of his love for Antigone: he killed himself over her body with a sword. […] The same story (mythopoeia) is also found in Euripides’ Antigone – except that there Antigone is caught in the act together with Haemon, and she is married to him, and gives birth to a child, Maeon.36

This brief summary reveals huge differences between the two tragedians in their presentation of Antigone’s character and situation. The fact that Euripides’ play ended happily, with the marriage of the two central characters rather than their

See Zimmermann (1993) 57–96; cf. Griffith (1999) 4–12. The earliest surviving reference is from Pherecydes (FGrHist 3 F95); Antigone also features at Aeschylus, Seven against Thebes 1005–78, but this passage is widely seen as an interpolation. 36 TrGF 5 T iia. 35

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deaths, is bound to surprise anyone familiar with Sophocles. What is even more striking is that the most distinctive aspect of the Sophoclean Antigone – her isolated individualism – was missing from Euripides’ version.37 Here Antigone did not stand completely alone against Creon and the laws of the state, and she did not carry sole responsibility for the burial of Polyneices; instead, she was aided and abetted by Haemon. Though still a bold and defiant character, she relied on the help of a man to carry out her actions, thus conforming more closely to conventional female gender roles. In this respect, one also notes the absence of Ismene, whom Sophocles uses as a ‘foil’ figure to make Antigone’s singular qualities as a woman stand out more sharply. All of this means that Antigone’s actions and status would have been interpreted in a very different light from her Sophoclean counterpart. At any rate, it will be clear that this Antigone ceases to resemble the ‘Sophoclean hero’ type. The fragments themselves do not permit detailed reconstruction of the plot. A few of them offer glimpses of some sort of debate about rulers and laws, suggesting that Antigone’s conflict with Creon was thematically central to the play, as in Sophocles: It behoves the tyrant to please the masses. (F171) It is not reasonable to have power, nor should there be a tyrant, without laws. It is stupid even to want […] … who wishes to have sole power over his equals. (F172) If a city is divided, civil strife tends to arise. (F173)

None of this, perhaps, is very remarkable, given that the basic scenario in both Sophocles and Euripides was the same. It has been suggested that the political angle (and, in particular, a preoccupation with tyranny and civil conflict) was one way in which Euripides differed from Sophocles: perhaps he was somehow responding to the contemporary political situation at Athens towards the end of the Peloponnesian War (as he did in, for example, Orestes in 408 BCE).38 This may or may not be so: our lack of hard evidence for the date of production makes it impossible to say.39 What is much more remarkable is that the play, like many other Euripidean works, explored the theme of erotic love and its effects:

Antigone’s singular responsibility is emphasized elsewhere: e.g. Aeschylus, Seven against Thebes 1032–45, Apollodorus 3.7.1, Philostratus 2.29. 38 Inglese (1992), esp. 188–90. 39 The play is tentatively dated to c. 415–06 on metrical grounds: Cropp and Fick (1985) 74. 37


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I was [or they were] in love; and so it seems that love for humans is a form of madness. (F161) If a young man has his eye on Aphrodite, it is impossible to keep him under supervision, for even if he is useless in other respects, every man is extremely clever in matters of the heart. †To grasp hold of love is a very pleasant thing, if Aphrodite approves. (F162) For I am going to have a marriage which, I tell you, will justly prosper, and my wife and I shall grow old together. (F162a)

Because we do not know the speaker of any of these fragments, it is impossible to know how they relate to the dramatic context. But when we juxtapose them with the testimony of Aristophanes of Byzantium, it seems inevitable that they refer to the relationship of Antigone and Haemon, and that this relationship was depicted as a love match. Thus we can perceive another very significant difference from Sophocles’ version, in which Antigone and Haemon, though betrothed, never directly address a word to one another, and Antigone’s death is grotesquely presented as a sort of ‘marriage’. Indeed, Sophocles’ play is often cited as a key example of tragedy’s tendency to conflate wedding and funeral imagery or to subvert wedding ritual.40 But in Euripides’ hands, these same motifs appear in a much more positive, straightforward light. This means that his Antigone serves as an important exception to the general rule, showing that tragic weddings were not invariably given a negative colouring (one could cite Euripides’ Andromeda for another good counterexample). It also makes us think again about what the mythical character Antigone represents. Clearly she did not always have to function as an archetype of the doomed bride or perpetually liminal virgin, despite what Sophocles or broader generic conventions might lead us to suppose. If F175 belongs to this play (as accepted by Kannicht in TrGF), another startlingly unfamiliar aspect of Antigone’s character can be seen. In this badly damaged papyrus fragment a character – perhaps Creon – addresses a female character in threatening language, urging her to leave her place of sanctuary or else be dragged away by her hair: You have come here, having wandered through the [haunts?] of birds … [and] plains … apart from … dressed in a fawnskin … for these sacred emblems that you possess are not your own.41 See Seaford (1987) and Rehm (1992). P.Oxy. 3317.5-8 (TrGF 5 F175), sometimes assigned to Antiope rather than Antigone. On attribution and other problems, see TrGF 5, pp. 270–2; Scodel (1982); Xanthakis-Karamanou (1986); Inglese (1992) 180–4.

40 41

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In other words, Antigone – if this really is Antigone – appeared as a maenad, or in the disguise of a maenad, at some point in the play. This is a curious detail, and it is hard to think how it might have been integrated into the plot, but it is not implausible. It might connect up somehow with a book-fragment in which Dionysus is directly addressed (F177: ‘O Dionysus, son of Dione, how great a god you are, and how utterly impossible for men to resist!’); and it has also been noted that Euripides elsewhere makes a passing reference to Antigone as having been a follower of Dionysus.42 Antigone’s appearances in these unfamiliar guises – as bacchante, conspirator, lover, happily married wife and mother – make her seem almost unrecognizable. Indeed, we may well start to wonder whether, or in what sense, she is ‘the same’ character as in the more familiar Sophoclean version. Exactly what is it that makes Antigone Antigone? Is she defined by inherent character traits, or by the actions that she performs within the myth, or by her relationships with other characters in the myth? It is surprisingly difficult to answer these questions, or to pin down the essential or ‘core’ features of the character in contrast to the variable or optional ‘extra’ details. A few basic ingredients seem to remain consistent across different incarnations of Antigone – her identity as the daughter of Oedipus, her betrothal to Haemon and her decision to bury Polyneices in defiance of Creon’s decree – but otherwise there were many variables which a creative poet could exploit and gaps which he could fill. Of course the same is true, to a greater or lesser extent, of all mythical characters, but this degree of built-in indeterminacy seems all the more surprising in the case of a character who has come to assume such a powerful symbolic and paradigmatic significance in our own times. Much the same questions could be posed of the mythical tradition more generally. What constitutes ‘the myth of Antigone’? Which events or actions were seen as absolutely essential, and which were peripheral? Were certain elements treated as implicitly present in, or underlying, any given version, even if they were not explicitly mentioned? Once again, it is impossible to give a definitive answer to questions of this sort.43 But we need to come up with some sort of working definition of terms, at least, in order to make sense of the word mythopoeia in that plot-summary by Aristophanes of Byzantium. As we have seen, Aristophanes says that both Sophocles and Euripides make use of ‘the same mythopoeia’, despite the fact that their plays were different in

Scodel (1982), 38–9, citing Phoenician Women 1751–4; cf. F178, a further reference to Dionysus. Webster (1967a), 182–3, speculates that Dionysus appeared as deus ex machina. 43 Wright (2005), 62–80, explores these issues in relation to narratological theory. 42


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several crucial respects. Clearly he does not mean to say that the plots were exactly the same, so he must mean that the underlying myth was the same. But a certain amount of ambiguity remains.44 It is obvious that both plays were about the events surrounding the burial of Polyneices, and we may assume that the ‘back story’ about Oedipus and the assault on Thebes and its aftermath was more or less the same in each case. Was this minimal level of correspondence enough to qualify as ‘the same mythopoeia’? Perhaps so, but it leaves huge scope for divergence in terms of what actually happened on stage (or was narrated) during the course of the play, or of which particular features Euripides chose to emphasize or downplay. The point in the story at which the main action began is unknown: this means that the basic scenario familiar from Sophocles could have been dealt with briefly in a scene-setting prologue-speech or just tacitly understood as having happened in the background, provided that the play did not explicitly contradict it.45 It may be that the main body of the plot was taken up with other business, such as the love-story, the marriage, the birth of Maeon – or something else. All of this is worth emphasizing because of the existence of another source that is sometimes treated as a summary of the plot of Euripides’ Antigone. This is a mythographic narrative by Hyginus – who, as we have seen already, often draws closely on Euripidean tragedy.46 Creon, son of Menoeceus, decreed that no one should give burial to Polyneices or any of those who accompanied him, since they had come to attack their own city. Polyneices’ sister Antigone and his wife Argia recovered his body secretly by night and placed it on the same funeral pyre on which Eteocles’ body lay. When the women were apprehended by the guards, Argia managed to escape, while Antigone was brought before the king. Creon handed her over to his son Haemon – to whom she was betrothed – to be put to death. But Haemon disobeyed his father’s command because of his love for Antigone, and entrusted her to the care of shepherds, and lied that he had killed her. Antigone later bore a son, and when he reached manhood he came to Thebes to participate in the games. Creon recognized him, because all those of the race of the dragon have a birthmark on their body. Heracles begged Creon to forgive Haemon, but the king did not grant his request. Haemon killed himself and his Paton (1901), 268–70, provides a useful (but inconclusive) survey of the term mythopoeia and similar phrases in other hypotheses. 45 The play’s opening lines (F157-8) show that there was indeed a prologue-speech going back in time as far as Oedipus’ change of fortune. 46 Hyginus, Fabula 72 (TrGF 5, p. 262): see Huys (1997). Cf. Taplin (2007), 185–6, on a vase-painting (Ruvo, Museo Jatta J423[36734]) depicting similar events to those in Hyginus’ account. 44

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wife Antigone. Creon, however, gave his own daughter Megara to Heracles in marriage, and the couple produced two children, Therimachus and Diopeithes.

Some of the details in Hyginus’ account seem to overlap with Aristophanes of Byzantium, but the story is extended much further. This in itself is not problematic, since Euripides is well known for extending mythical narratives beyond the stage at which the story traditionally ends: he did the same sort of thing in Helen, Orestes, Alcmeon in Corinth, Bellerophon and elsewhere. In fact, if we did not have the evidence of the hypothesis we would find it easy to accept Hyginus as a guide to Euripides’ play, since his narrative contains many characteristic Euripidean motifs – intrigue, danger averted, long-lost children, herdsmen, recognition by birthmarks, athletic contests and so on. But there are several significant discrepancies between Hyginus and Aristophanes, such as the presence of new characters (Argia and the shepherd), the downgrading of Haemon’s role (from Antigone’s accomplice to her potential executioner) and the eventual deaths of Haemon and Antigone. It has also been thought that there is too much material here, covering too long a time frame, to fit comfortably into a single tragic plot. Consequently, the majority of recent scholars have rejected the evidence of Hyginus, preferring to believe that his account is based, at least in part, on a completely independent source – such as the lost Antigone by the fourth-century tragedian Astydamas the Younger.47 Whether or not Hyginus preserves the plot of Euripides’ Antigone is ultimately unknowable. However, for the purposes of this discussion, it is less important to attribute specific details to Euripides than to demonstrate that numerous variant details were circulating in some form during the classical Greek world, and that Sophocles’ version was not the only one in existence. What strikes us above all is the plurality and flexibility of the myth and its central character. We may think we know and understand Antigone well, but the evidence of fragmentary tragedy should make us think otherwise.

Medea Euripides’ Medea of 431 BCE is the only extant tragedy about Medea, and its main character has come to be regarded, in our own times, as the definitive version of Medea – and indeed, for many people, as the quintessential tragic See Kannicht (1992); Inglese (1992); Zimmermann (1993) 161–88; Huys (1997) 18–19. On Astydamas (TrGF 1.60), see LPGT 1, pp. 101–5: all that we know about his Antigone is its title.



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heroine.48 But the ancient mythical and literary tradition incorporated other tellings and retellings of Medea’s story, of which Euripides’ tragedy of 431 was originally just one. Throughout the fifth and fourth centuries Medea appeared on the tragic stage remarkably often, in plays by writers such as Antiphon, Aphareus, Carcinus, Dicaeogenes, Diogenes of Sinope, Euripides II, Melanthius, Neophron, Theodorides and others (most of which have already been discussed in Volume 1 of this work).49 Aeschylus and Sophocles also wrote plays on the same subject, and even within Euripides’ own oeuvre the 431 Medea is only one of several different attempts to imagine the character and her story. These lost works differed significantly from Euripides’ Medea and from one another. Several of the lost plays centred on Medea’s early life in Colchis, her exploits in Iolcus and her career as a magician or witch. This is true of Nurses, an intriguing but extremely obscure work by Aeschylus.50 Very little evidence exists for this play, but the general theme and outline are mentioned in one of the ancient hypotheses to the Euripidean Medea, where it is said that Nurses depicted Medea as a sorceress, boiling up human bodies in order to rejuvenate them. Unlike other versions, in which Pelias, Jason or Aeson were the ones boiled, in Aeschylus’ play the bodies in question were those of the nurses of Dionysus and their husbands.51 This odd detail shows that Aeschylus’ version was surprisingly different from any other account of the myth, and it has also been taken to suggest that Nurses was a satyr-play, not a tragedy.52 It is certainly difficult to make sense of the connection, not seen elsewhere, between Medea and Dionysus, but the presence of nurses is linked in some way, even if only indirectly or suggestively, to the motif of motherhood and child-bearing that is such a central aspect of Medea’s story elsewhere. The date of Nurses is unknown, but it is obviously a relatively early work, and it must predate the earliest Medea play for which a date is securely attested (Euripides’ Daughters of Pelias, from 455 BCE). Thus it is possible that Aeschylus’ play marked Medea’s first appearance in Athenian drama.53 Whether or not that is so, it is significant that it was the grotesque and magical aspects of Medea’s character that were displayed in Nurses, perhaps in an absurd or ludicrous See, e.g., Aélion (1986) 244; Boedecker (1997). LPGT 1, pp. 36–45, 96, 112–14, 144, 148, 161–2, 186, 188, 192. Cf. the obscure Biotus (TrGF 1.205 F1) and the anonymous papyrus fragments TrGF 2 adesp. F701; CGFPR F350 (P. Lit. Lond. 77). 50 TrGF 3 F246a-d. 51 Hypothesis I to Euripides, Medea (=TrGF 3 F246a). 52 Sommerstein (2008) 248–9; cf. Radt ad loc. (TrGF 3, p. 350); Krumeich, Pechstein and Seidensticker (1999) 197–202. 53 Assumed by Melero (1996) 59. 48 49

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fashion (if this was a satyr-drama) or a terrifying fashion (if it was a tragedy). It is also surprising that Aeschylus does not seem to have put Medea on stage in any other work, despite her rich appeal as a dramatic character. This may suggest that he regarded her as essentially a monstrous or marginal figure, without the same potential for complexity and human sympathy that the other playwrights recognized in her.54 The more terrifying side to Medea’s character was also seen in Sophocles’ tragedy Root-Cutters.55 The fragments of this play provide a tiny but vivid glimpse of Medea as a barbarian witch, boiling up strange potions and crying out loud as she performs rituals to Hecate: And she [Medea], with a backward glance, received the juice, with its white cloud of foam, in bronze pots < … > And hidden boxes concealed the cut portions of roots, which this woman, naked and crying out loud, severed with bronze sickles. (F534) O Helios, master and sacred fire, the spear of Hecate Einodia, which she bears as she attends her mistress in the sky and as she inhabits the sacred crossroads of the earth, crowned with oak and the woven coils of savage dragons. (F535)

Apart from its characterization of Medea, all other details about this play are obscure, including its plot and setting. It would be reasonable to suppose that Sophocles was writing about the boiling of the ram and subsequent killing of Pelias, but the play might have dramatized an earlier episode from Medea’s life in Colchis.56 The only other fragment (F536) is a reference to someone or other being ‘annihilated in the fire’: this enhances the flavour of sorcery and ritual but makes it no easier to imagine the plot or characters.57 Elsewhere, in his Women of Colchis, Sophocles dramatized an episode from the Argonauts’ exploits in Colchis, including Jason’s meeting with Medea and his acquisition of the Golden Fleece.58 Our information about this play derives in part from the scholia to Apollonius’ Argonautica, which narrates the same events: we are told that Sophocles showed Medea helping Jason and telling him how to succeed in the dangerous task that Aeetes had set him to carry out.59 It is also recorded that the play included Medea’s murder of her own brother Noted by Aélion (1986) 148; Melero (1996) 59. TrGF 4 F 534-5. 56 See Lloyd-Jones (1996), 286–9, who speculates that Root-Cutters was identical to Women of Colchis. 57 See TrGF 4, p. 411, for various attempts to explain or emend F536. 58 TrGF 4 F337-46. 59 Σ LP Apollonius, Argonautica 3.1040c (see TrGF 4, p. 316). 54 55


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Apsyrtus, though this detail was handled differently from the version found in the Argonautica, in which Apsyrtus was killed at sea while pursuing the Argonauts. Here Apsyrtus was a mere child, and he was killed in Aeetes’ palace.60 We might attribute this striking difference to a desire for mythical innovation (a feature usually associated more with Euripides than Sophocles), or perhaps Apollonius’ later version, which has come to seem familiar, was the more unusual one. Either way, the effect of this detail in Sophocles’ play would have been to reinforce the image of Medea as a child-killer.61 It is not clear to what extent sorcery or witchcraft were crucial elements in Medea’s portrayal in Women of Colchis. F340 has been taken as a reference to the drug Prometheion, which Medea gave to Jason in the Argonautica. If so, it seems that the play may have depicted Medea as a witch or pharmacist, but this interpretation is uncertain.62 Nevertheless, the general situation and her developing relationship with Jason requires that Medea must have been presented with at least some degree of sympathy and humanity. Unfortunately, the only fragment that (arguably) relates to Medea is F339: ‘Do you promise on your oath to do one good turn in exchange for another?’ It has been suggested that this line was spoken by Medea to Jason and that the ‘good turn’ in question was marriage.63 Women of Colchis appears to have been very similar to another Sophoclean tragedy, Scythians, though the relationship between the two plays is disputed, and even less is known about the latter title. Two or three fragments of Scythians refer to geographical locations and coastal features, which have been taken as signs that ‘this play dealt with the voyage of the Argonauts, in all probability with the return voyage’.64 The only plot detail that is certain is that Scythians, like Women of Colchis, showed Medea as the murderer of her brother Apsyrtus. In F546 one of the characters points out that Medea and Apsyrtus were only half-siblings (they had the same father, Aetes, but different mothers), though it is hard to assess how this would have affected the play’s presentation of events. The same fragment describes Apsyrtus as ‘the Nereid’s child’, which may imply that here, as in Women of Colchis, Apsyrtus was only a small child when he was killed, but the text is corrupt and cannot be entirely trusted.

Σ LP Apollonius, Argonautica 4.223-30d (TrGF 4 F543). Cf. Bremmer (1997) on Medea as ‘kin-killer par excellence’. 62 See TrGF 4, p. 318; cf. Apollonius, Argonautica 3.828-87. 63 Cf. Euripides, Medea (esp. 20–3, 160–3, 169–70, 209, 439–40, 488–97). 64 Lloyd-Jones (1996) 274. See esp. F547, F548, F549. 60 61

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Euripides’ Aegeus, by contrast, dramatized a much later stage in Medea’s story: her sojourn in Athens under the protection of Aegeus, following her flight from Corinth.65 It might be considered as a sort of ‘sequel’ to Euripides’ Medea but for the fact that its date is uncertain, as is its relationship to Sophocles’ Aegeus (an obscure tragedy which may or may not have featured Medea).66 The play’s plot has been tentatively reconstructed on the basis of mythographic narratives by Apollodorus and others as well as contemporary vase-paintings.67 Its main action centred on the arrival in Athens of Theseus, who at this point was a stranger to his father Aegeus. Medea apparently recognized Theseus but convinced Aegeus that he had come with hostile purpose; she persuaded Aegeus to give the newcomer a cup of poisoned wine, but at the last moment Aegeus recognized Theseus’ true identity by means of his distinctive sword and prevented him from drinking the poison; thereupon he banished Medea from Athens. No matter what the chronological relationship between Aegeus and Medea, and whether or not the audience was specifically encouraged to make any connections between the two plays, the crucial point to be stressed is that Euripides was capable of putting on stage utterly different versions of the same character. The Medea of Aegeus was evidently a clever, cunning woman with the ability to influence men by persuasion or guile, an expert in drugs and poisons (as in her traditional Colchian guise), and a dangerous outsider figure. Perhaps her barbarian status was given particular emphasis, if the evidence of vase-paintings can be taken as a guide to the play’s costumes or themes.68 There has been some doubt whether Apollodorus actually used Euripides’ play as a source,69 but some of the surviving fragments can be seen to correspond to his account. In particular, F3 (‘Spineless masters have outspoken wives’) points up a contrast between weak men and powerful women, F4 is a comment upon dangerous stepmothers (‘A second wife is the natural enemy of her husband’s children by a previous marriage’) and both F3 and F5 are concerned with the theme of dangerous speech. All these fragments could plausibly relate to Medea’s character and situation. F12a confirms that this play also dealt with Medea’s murder of her brother Apsyrtus.

TrGF 5 F1-12a. TrGF 4 F19-25a; see Hahnemann (1999) and (2003); Mills (2003). 67 Apollodorus 3.16.1, Epitome 1.5-6; cf. Plutarch, Theseus 12.4. For a catalogue of literary and iconographic evidence, see TrGF 5, pp. 151–2. 68 Several vases c. 460–40 BCE depict Aegeus, Theseus and the Bull of Marathon with a woman (probably Medea) in Oriental costume: LIMC I. 360–1, 364–5. See Simon (1954); Guirard (1996). 69 See Hahnemann (1999) and (2003); Mills (2003). 65 66


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It is unclear how prominent Medea’s role was within the structure of the play or how much emphasis was placed on her character in comparison with Aegeus or Theseus. It was assumed by T.B.L. Webster that Medea was Euripides’ central focus of interest and that Aegeus belonged to a distinct sub-group of tragedies within his oeuvre that were concerned with exploring ‘Bad Women’ (the other tragedies assigned to this group including Stheneboea, Phoenix, Hippolytus Veiled and the second Phrixus).70 Perhaps this assumption goes somewhat beyond the evidence, but it is true that Euripides had a recurrent interest in dangerous or transgressive female characters, and it may be that the Medea of Aegeus was a notable example of this type of woman. However, it would be harder to place the heroine of the extant Medea in the ‘Bad Woman’ type. Daughters of Pelias is of particular interest because it was not only Euripides’ first attempt to put Medea on stage; it was also his first play, produced in 455 BCE. The prologue’s opening line was ‘Medea beside the royal palace’ (Μήδεια πρὸς μὲν δώμασιν τυραννικοῖς, F601). This means that ‘Medea’ was the first word that the public ever heard from the pen of Euripides – a fact that seems to bear a significance beyond mere curiosity-value. Its comparatively early date means that Daughters of Pelias may have influenced several of the other Medea tragedies, including the versions by Sophocles, but there is no way of knowing whether this is true. As elsewhere, the basic outline has to be reconstructed from other texts, on the basis that later writers will almost certainly have known Euripides’ play and that Apollodorus and others demonstrably used tragedy as a source of mythological material.71 Obviously this play was based on Medea’s exploits in Iolcus, and it depicted her as a witch, first of all rejuvenating a ram by boiling it and later inducing Pelias’ daughters to kill their father by boiling him; it also seems to have dramatized Medea’s relationship with Jason and the couple’s escape to Corinth.72 Beyond the bare bones of the plot, it is hard to say anything else for definite about the play or its characterization of Medea. Her role in the action demands that she must possess supernatural or magical powers, but it is impossible to say how Euripides handled other aspects of her character, or to what degree Medea was made to appear barbaric, grotesque, alien, dangerously feminine or otherwise unsympathetic. Webster (1967a) 77–86. See Apollodorus 1.9.27, Pausanias 8.11.2-3, Hyginus, Fabula 24, and other sources listed at TrGF 5, pp. 608–9. 72 Suggested by the remains of ancient plot-summaries: P. Oxy. 2455 fr. 18 col. II; Moses of Chorene, Progymnasmata 3.4 (TrGF T iiia-b). 70 71

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F602 is identical to line 693 of the surviving Medea: ‘by doing what? Tell me more clearly’ (τί χρῆμα δράσας; φράζε μοι σαφέστερον). This self-quotation is unusual and slightly puzzling, since the verse in question does not seem very significant or striking. Did any of the audience or readers of Medea notice the verse and identify its source? If so, it suggests that Euripides wanted to remind them of Daughters of Pelias and make them aware of a relationship – of some sort – between his earlier and later plays on the same subject. In that case, the self-quotation in F602 was probably not unique: I suspect that if Daughters of Pelias survived we would be able to trace other allusions and intertextual echoes between the two plays. It may even be that Medea was even deliberately designed as a ‘sequel’ to Daughters of Pelias.73 In that case, the presentation of Medea in the later play will have depended in part on the audience’s knowledge of the earlier plays, and the character will have been constructed specifically on the basis of similarity to or difference from these alternative versions. In recent times two separate papyrus fragments have been taken as evidence that the Medea of 431 was in fact a revised version of an earlier Medea by Euripides. One of these fragments, part of a collection of dramatic hypotheses dating from the second century CE, contains the first line of the surviving Medea, quoted under the unusual heading ‘Β Μήδεια’ and preceded by fragments of what looks like another hypothesis:74 … Iolcus … … but he himself (?) having made [or written] … B Medea, the opening of which is: ‘If only the Argo had not winged its way to Colchis’ Jason, on account of the murder of Pelias …

This heading was interpreted by Wolfgang Luppe as ‘the second Medea’. By way of comparison Luppe cited other Euripidean dramas, such as Hippolytus and Phrixus, that existed in earlier and later versions. If his interpretation is correct, the two lines above that heading may represent the end of a hypothesis of ‘the first Medea’ (which would have had the heading Α Μήδεια). Certainly a play about Medea or Jason is suggested by the first line, which indicates that the play in question was set in (or alluded to) Iolcus.75 Nevertheless, as other scholars have pointed out, no parallel can be found for the use of Β Μήδεια (as opposed Melero (1996), 62–3, identifies possible thematic and verbal echoes. Pap. IFAO, inv. PSP 248: see van Rossum-Steenbeek (1998) no. 9, 16–17 and 198–9; Meccariello (2014) 288–92. 75 Luppe (2010). 73 74


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to Μήδεια Β) to refer to a revised play. The numeral would normally come after the title, not before. Thus the heading Β Μήδεια more probably indicates that the hypothesis to Medea was the second hypothesis in a numbered collection of hypotheses.76 The other possible piece of evidence for an earlier Medea is provided by a recently published Oxyrhynchus papyrus text that purports to describe the circumstances in which Euripides’ first Medea came to be revised and even quotes some verses attributed to the earlier version.77 It is said that the original Medea represented the infanticide on stage, thus horrifying and scandalizing the audience: So they felt disgust at the spectacle, rightly. Hence Euripides, correcting this part, and crossing out those lines that some people recall – ποῖ δῆτα μητρὸς χεῖρα δεξ̣[ι]ὰν στυγῶν φεύγεις, ἀνάνδρου βήματο̣ς τιθεὶς ἴχνος; ‘Where then do you flee, hating your mother's right hand, placing the footprint of a coward step?’ – and changing the plot on the whole, slaughtered both sons indoors, as if the child-murder would be less striking if it were not carried out in public – and then he was defeated none the less. (col. iv. 1–11, tr. Colomo)

Thus it would seem that Euripides was persuaded to revise the play to make it less shocking, just as, in other sources, he is said to have revised his Hippolytus and Melanippe plays for a similar reason.78 If we accept this evidence, it substantially alters our view of the surviving Medea and gives an insight into the play’s genesis. However, Colomo, in her first edition of the papyrus, denies that it contains any factual truth. She assigns the text to the category of ‘rhetorical epideixis’ and links it to some sort of educational context; it is assumed that its content represents the type of quasibiographical anecdote and free invention that we find in other declamatory or scholarly texts from the Hellenistic and Roman periods.79 Colomo is probably right to question the authenticity of this evidence, but a few doubts linger. As Colomo herself admits, it is not at all clear what genre of text is preserved here: ‘in what context 5093 originated, we do not know, but

Colomo (2011a) 47–8 (citing numerous examples); Meccariello (2014) 250, 291. This was originally Luppe’s own interpretation: see Luppe (1986). 77 P. Oxy. 5093: see Colomo (2011b), whose translation I quote here. 78 See pp. 176–8, 185–7. 79 Colomo (2011b) 90–1; cf. Colomo (2011a) 48–50. 76

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can only guess’.80 Another cause of unease is that, as she points out, other writers in antiquity seem to have known a text of Medea that differs from our own.81 Furthermore, there is nothing about the two quoted verses that would rule out Euripidean authorship. Thus the possibility that there really was an earlier version of Medea cannot entirely be rejected. I wonder whether Colomo’s reluctance to take the evidence at face value is implicitly based on the assumption – shared by most scholars – that the surviving Medea is a classic and unique work. The existence of a flawed first draft might seem to diminish its status as a perfectly realized work of art. But in any case we are not obliged to view P.Oxy. 5093 as some sort of rhetorical exercise. Even if the biographical anecdote is an invention, it may be that the writer is quoting verses that were genuinely thought to be the work of Euripides. Another possible explanation is that there has been a mix-up between the work of two tragic playwrights of the same name. It is worth entertaining the possibility that the supposed ‘Ur-Medea’ of Euripides was in fact the Medea of another (completely unrelated) poet, ‘Euripides II’, which is independently attested.82 One can imagine a scenario in which scholars in later antiquity, confronted with a ‘Euripidean’ Medea different from, or inferior to, the famous Medea of 431, might have assumed it to be an earlier, discarded version rather than the work of a long-forgotten homonymous author. Many of the precise details are hazy, then, but what we see in all these fragments is an extraordinary multiplicity of Medeas. It is impossible to say which of these versions, if any, was regarded within antiquity as offering an authoritative portrayal, but it seems to me that in the ancient world no one ever created, or intended to create, a truly definitive version of the character or her story. Even Euripides himself did not set out to pin down Medea’s character for all time in a single form: this is demonstrated beyond doubt by his own radically different attempts to revisit or reimagine the character at different points during his career. As a number of modern scholars have pointed out, by the standards of Greek myth Medea is an unusually complex and elusive figure, and her mythical tradition, not just in tragedy but in Greek literature more generally, encompasses

Colomo (2011b) 89. E.g. Σ Aristophanes, Acharnians 119 quotes (as from Euripides’ Medea) a line that is absent from the transmitted manuscripts (=TrGF 5 F858); Cicero, Ad Familiares 7.6.2 quotes from Ennius’ Medea a phrase that is not in the extant Euripidean Medea (qui ipse sibi sapiens prodesse non quit nequiquam sapit): see Colomo (2011b) 112–13. 82 TrGF 1.17 T1: see LPGT 1, p. 96. 80 81


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many separate strands.83 It is not simply that there are many parts to Medea’s story – her birth and early life in Colchis, her association with Jason and the Argonauts, her voyages to Iolcus, Corinth and Athens, and her subsequent adventures. There are also many different aspects to her character – as Scythian, sorceress, wise woman, prophetess, lover, wife, mother and murderer. At times Medea elicits both sympathy and revulsion; at times she seems to exemplify or to transcend the characteristics of her gender; at times she appears either Greek or barbarian, human or superhuman. It has proved frustratingly difficult to interpret Medea as a character or to understand what she represents. But our impression of her should not be formed on the basis of a single appearance in a single tragedy. If we want to gain a better understanding of how Medea – or indeed any mythical character – was perceived by Greeks in the classical period, we have to turn to the lost plays.

On the Medea myth in literature and art, see Moreau (1994); Clauss and Johnston (1997).



Lost Tragedies in Performance

The study of fragments has always had a predominantly textual focus: it is all about preserving, collecting, reconstructing and interpreting the words on the page. This is as true for tragic fragments as for any other type of fragments. It is easy to forget, as we scrutinize the densely annotated pages of TrGF, that we are dealing with drama, and that every single fragment represents the trace, however faint and disjointed, of a particular moment in performance. In this chapter I ask whether it is possible to do performance criticism of fragments, and, if so, how one might go about the task. The fact that our tragic ‘texts’ are actually scripts, incomplete in themselves until fully realized on the stage, is a familiar tenet, even a cliché, of modern classical scholarship. And yet, as far as I can tell, no previous work on tragic fragments has dealt explicitly with the question of performance; nor has anyone raised the specific problem of whether performance criticism of fragmentary playscripts represents a different sort of exercise from performance criticism of ancient drama in general. These are difficult problems, requiring a certain amount of methodological selfexamination, and individual critics and readers are bound to differ from one another in their approach to the material. I begin by restating an important fact: our knowledge of every aspect of Greek tragedy is inadequate. Most of our conventional beliefs and assumptions about tragedy represent scholarly constructs and hypotheses rather than hard facts. It is important to be honest about this state of affairs, even though it may seem offputtingly pessimistic. We cannot remind ourselves often enough of the enormous gaps in our knowledge. But writing about performance is an even more tentative and uncertain activity than writing about any other aspect of Greek drama. This is because, even though we can read what remains of the scripts, we can never actually see a performance, and we know virtually nothing for certain about Greek theatre production in the classical period. Almost everything that we say or think is based on educated guesswork.


The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

In order to do performance criticism properly, we would need to have access to particular types of evidence, such as detailed eyewitness accounts of specific performances, actors’ reflections and reminiscences, annotated playscripts, stage directions, producers’ working notes and diaries, programme notes, costumes and props, photographic stills, filmed recordings of performances – and so on. But of course nothing like this survives from the fifth century, if it ever existed in the first place. The evidence that we do have consists of archaeological remains and artefacts (which mostly date from after the fifth century), vase-paintings (which may be only distantly related, if at all, to our plays), scattered references to tragic performance in a motley collection of ancient texts (mostly much later than the plays they describe) and the internal evidence of the tragic playscripts themselves (which contain no stage directions and can only give us partial clues as to how they were realized in performance). To this sad collection of disjecta membra we might also add the testimonia, scholia and other sorts of framing material in the texts that preserve our fragments, but it is notable that fragments are almost never quoted for any reason specifically to do with performance. Thus it is obvious that none of these sources can really help us very much. Nearly all the basic ‘facts’ repeated in standard textbooks about the Greek theatre are subject to doubt. For instance: we have no firm idea of the shape, size or design of the Athenian Theatre of Dionysus (or other theatres) during the fifth century, which means that any discussion of the use or configuration of space must remain merely hypothetical.1 We do not know when the stagebuilding (skênê) was first used, or by whom, or what it looked like, or how many doors or openings it had.2 Several sources mention something called ‘scenepainting’ (skênographia), but we do not know whether this was equivalent to representational set design or whether it was used in the fifth century.3 It is impossible to be certain whether or not there was a raised stage distinct from the larger performance area (orchêstra).4 We do not know when other stage resources, such as the portable stage (ekkyklyêma or exôstra) or the flyingmachine (mêchanê, kradê or geranos), were introduced or how often they were used.5 Discussions are often based on a concept of the playwright as auteur, with total artistic control over every single aspect of the production, but there is no

Csapo and Slater (1994) 79–80; Goette (1995) and (2007); Moretti (1999–2000); Roselli (2011) 64– 72. 2 Hourmouziades (1965) 93–5. 3 Small (2013); Hourmouziades (1965) 43–57. 4 Hourmouziades (1965) 58–74; Mastronarde (1979); Wiles (1997) 63–6. 5 Hourmouziades (1965) 147–50; Taplin (1977) 434–51. 1

Lost Tragedies in Performance


evidence to show whether this was invariably the case.6 We know that at different periods these productions employed two or three principal actors to play the main speaking rôles, but we do not know when or why the number increased, and there is no positive evidence to indicate whether there was a ‘three-actor rule’ or a prohibition on the use of more than three actors if desired.7 We know that the actors wore masks, but beyond that it is difficult to describe the acting style or to say what degree of realism or stylization was conventional.8 Most of the textbooks have traditionally centred on the theatre that is best known (or least obscure) to us, the Theatre of Dionysus at Athens; but there is a growing awareness among scholars that an exclusively Athenocentric or Dionysocentric focus fails to represent the full scope and range of Greek theatre history. Nevertheless, we do not know precisely how many other theatres, festivals or other performance venues existed in Greece or elsewhere during the fifth century, or how many opportunities any given tragedy would have had for public performance. Many scholars who write on this topic have conveyed the misleading impression that the Athenian Dionysia and Lenaea festivals represented the main (or exclusive) venues for tragic performance, or even that a play’s premiere at one of these festivals would have represented its one and only performance. But there is no real basis for such assumptions, apart from certain ideological preconceptions about the centrality of Athens and the nature of its festivals in relation to politics and society. More recent research suggests that in fact plays could expect to receive multiple performances, in Athens and much further afield.9 In sum, we are working in a realm of radical uncertainty and ambiguity, where almost everything is up for grabs. It will be obvious that the shortcomings of our evidence severely hamper any discussion of theatrical performance, no matter whether we are dealing with extant plays or fragmentary ones. Ancient theatre history in general is a deeply frustrating business. So how are we to proceed? It may be thought that the whole enterprise of performance criticism, in any meaningful sense of the term, is impossible in the case of Greek tragedy. Perhaps it is better to give up the attempt and instead examine our lost plays from some other more ‘literary’ angle. But perhaps the situation may not be so desperate as all that. It is still possible to make reasonable

8 9 6 7

Taplin (1977) 13–15. Pickard-Cambridge (1988) 142–4; Sifakis (1995); Ashby (1999) 128–38. Taplin (1978) 15; Wiles (2007); Meineck (2011). Deardon (1999); Csapo (2010); Bosher (2012); Vahtikari (2014); Csapo and Wilson (2015).


The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

inferences about the way in which a playscript might have been performed, even if we cannot prove our ideas. Many critics have attempted to ‘reconstruct’ the staging of ancient dramas, making the most of what little can be known or conjectured about acting, costume, gesture, masks, props, entrances and exits or the semiotics of theatrical space.10 Such ‘reconstructions’, although they must always be acknowledged as provisional rather than definitive, can often seem to bring the plays to life or suggest new lines of interpretation. It is more or less universally acknowledged that the playscripts themselves constitute the most valuable source of clues for ‘reconstructing’ performances.11 This seems basically sensible and uncontroversial. But a couple of very influential twentieth-century critics went much further than this, arguing that the playscripts contained all the information necessary to reconstruct the important aspects of the performance. This is a more questionable claim. Wilamowitz’ formulation of this position is memorable for its boldness and vigour: Certainly I contend just as vehemently today as I ever did that the action is inferred with sufficient certainty from the poets’ words, and that anyone who off his own bat invents what is not shown by the poet’s words is insane.12

Some sixty years later, Oliver Taplin restated and elaborated Wilamowitz’ principle, in two important works which remain the most widely cited scholarly books on ancient drama: The significant stage instructions are implicit in the words. There is no call for extra stage-directions because they would add nothing worth adding to what is already contained in the words themselves.13

Taplin is more moderate than Wilamowitz, and he is interested mainly in what he calls ‘significant’ action (i.e. any aspect of the performance that he views as integral to the play’s meaning), but the basic principle is the same in each case. If the principle holds good (and many other scholars seem to accept it), the consequences for the study of lost plays could be rather worrying. If, that is, the words of the script provide the only legitimate way of reconstructing the performance, what are we supposed to do in a situation where almost all the words are missing? For a survey of work in this area, see Liapis, Panayotakis and Harrison (2013). See Revermann (2006) 46–65. 12 Wilamowitz (1914) xxxiv (sed id sane ut olim edixi ita hodie acerrime contendo, e verbis poetarum satis certo colligi actionem, proprio Marte fingere quae verbis poetae non monstrantur esse delirantis); my translation/italics. Cf. Wilamowitz (1917) 140–2. 13 Taplin (1977) 26; (1978) 17. 10 11

Lost Tragedies in Performance


I shall sidestep that uncomfortable question by asking instead whether the ‘poet’s words’ theory is really a sound one. It is not difficult to understand the impulse behind this sort of approach. It seems only natural that scholars should wish to introduce a reassuring degree of certainty into a field of study where there is so much uncertainty, or to impose a visible methodological rigour on the sort of work that is all too easily criticized for excessive speculation or fantasy (or even insanity!). But still it seems to me that the Wilamowitz/Taplin method of reconstructing the action is unhelpful. The ‘significant action’ principle in particular has been criticized on various grounds, including the crucial problem that it is difficult to agree on what counts as ‘significance’ or to judge exactly which elements are integral to the play’s meaning.14 These matters are endlessly debatable. Taplin writes as if it were actually possible to know a playwright’s intentions and use these as a basis for determining the significance of any given action, but this is a highly controversial assumption. My own main objection to the Wilamowitz/Taplin method is that it seems to be unduly restrictive. Our fundamental problem, as outlined above, is that our evidence for staging is inadequate. The most natural response to this problem would be to admit that we simply do not have enough evidence, and that we cannot envisage the plays in performance unless we go beyond the available evidence (which means using our imagination). But the response adopted by Wilamowitz and Taplin is almost the exact opposite of this: they seem to have persuaded themselves that we do have enough evidence and that it is all in the words of the text. If we choose to adopt the principle that the plays were staged using only the resources for which we have direct evidence, then we are committing ourselves to an artificially circumscribed, oddly minimalist conception of the Greek theatre. In effect, what is being put forward is a very distinctive aesthetic vision of tragedy. This strikes me as unpersuasive, but it is exactly what Taplin proposes, especially in the case of Aeschylean tragedy (his principal object of study). Taplin acknowledges that there will have been some stage action that is not indicated in the script, but that any such action will have been insignificant. He goes out of his way to argue that there was much less spectacle in Aeschylus’ plays than is traditionally thought, stripping down the stage action to the absolute minimum implied by the scripts in an attempt ‘to obliterate … inessential visual effects’.15 He also explicitly states that ‘the great artist is not going to squander time and See Goldhill (1986) and (1989); Wiles (1997) 5–14; Revermann (2006) 46–65. Taplin (1977) 40.

14 15


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attention on superfluous or superficial stage business’.16 In other words, this sort of drama is seen as relying on ultra-minimalist performance conventions, and it is preferable to imagine an almost empty stage than to imagine that there were important aspects of the drama that must remain unknown to us. This may or may not represent the truth of the matter. (How could we know?) But we have now come a long way from the apparent rigour and objectivity implied by Taplin’s positivist, textually grounded methodology. In fact, Taplin’s view of tragic performance turns out to be based on underlying aesthetic preferences and personal assumptions about ‘great art’ that are as subjective or speculative as anyone else’s imaginative fantasies. I suggest that we need a different approach to performance criticism – not just where lost plays are concerned but for all Greek drama. Here are some working principles of my own that I have adopted in this chapter:17 (i) The nature of the subject and the limitations of the evidence demand flexibility and open-endedness. The danger of self-imposed rigour is that it can lead to rigidity: this should at all costs be avoided, given that we are operating in a context of radical uncertainty. We should be dogmatic only to the extent of avoiding overconfident ‘factual’ claims or pronouncements about how the plays were or were not performed. (ii) As will be apparent, I find the ‘significant action’ theory difficult to swallow. I prefer to assume that our playscripts are to be treated as inherently underspecified texts – that is, that they do not, and never did, contain all the significant information about their own performance. We have to go beyond the evidence of the texts themselves. (iii) We need to acknowledge not only the inevitability of using our powers of imagination but also the value of doing so. To vilify all criticism that is based on imagination or speculation is an easy option, but it should not be an automatic reflex. Classical scholars, and fragmentologists in particular, need to use their imaginations. There is nothing wrong with this, so long as we openly acknowledge that we are doing so and try to rein in our wilder flights of fancy. It is impossible to imagine a completely objective method of dealing with this material. Every single interpretation or reconstruction of fragmentary material requires us to make personal choices and to go beyond the available evidence. Even the word ‘reconstruction’ is a misnomer. It implies that all the pieces are

Taplin (1977) 19–20; cf. 41 (‘a great deal of spectacle alleged by scholars is simply not warranted by the plays themselves’). 17 Cf. my principles for ‘reading’ lost works in general: LPGT 1, pp. xxiii–xxvi. 16

Lost Tragedies in Performance


lying there waiting for us to reassemble them into some sort of whole, like a jigsaw puzzle. What we are really doing, whatever our individual methodologies may be, is not so much reconstruction as construction, based on our own individual perception of the problems and our own imagination. There is no escaping the fact that scholarship on lost works is often, in effect, a branch of creative writing. This does not, in my view, devalue it as an activity. (iv) I remain sceptical towards the hypotheses that a play normally received only a single performance, and that the playwright was invariably in complete control of every aspect of a play’s production. Nor do I believe that an author’s original meaning or intentions can be accessed. I see no reason not to assume that plays would typically have been staged numerous times in different venues in and beyond Athens. Thus, in general, it seems to me that whatever our exact approach to the material may be, we need to get away from the idea of a single, definitive performance that we attempt (in vain) to reconstruct, and instead move towards a more fluid conception of playscripts with the potential to be realized on stage in a variety of ways. (v) Definitive answers to questions of staging are impossible. What we should be aiming for is a provisional scenario, or, better still, one or more alternative scenarios, representing possible ways in which the playscript might have been performed. In other words, we need to think in terms of the performance potential of the material. This term is borrowed from the work of Judith Milhous and Robert Hume, whose study of British Restoration theatre is a good example of an approach to performance analysis in a non-classical context where evidence is often equally thin on the ground. Any sort of evidence that might possibly aid our (re-)construction of the theatrical experience is admissible: the aim is to accumulate as much textual and extra-textual information as possible, and to use it to generate a plurality of plausible (if unprovable) scenarios. What should emerge is a sense of multiple possibilities in actual performance … the result should be improved understanding of the performance potentialities of the play at issue.18

How might the play have worked on stage? What can we actually know and what has to be guessed? What can this speculation add to our understanding of the play? What are the consequences for our understanding of theatre history? Identifying the right sort of questions to ask can have a certain value, even if the answers cannot be definitely known. Milhous and Hume (1985) 10.



The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

(vi) Sometimes it is worth experimenting with what we might call the ‘Chekhov’s gun’ principle. This derives from the often-quoted dictum of Anton Chekhov, much beloved of modern theatre producers: ‘One must never put a loaded gun on the stage if it isn’t going to go off.’19 I suggest that the principle, if modified slightly, could provide a way of posing an important question about lost plays. That is: why would a dramatist put a myth on the stage if he wasn’t willing or able to exploit its full dramatic potential? It is hard to explain why a playwright would deliberately choose a myth with powerful visual associations but then refrain from staging those very elements. Several of the myths that were selected for dramatization do indeed contain a ‘loaded gun’ – the flying horse Pegasus in Bellerophon and Stheneboea, the metamorphosis in Tereus, Zeus and his weighing-scales in Psychostasia, the emergence from underground of the Palici in Women of Aetna and so on. If we can imagine a practical way of achieving these visual effects in line with what we know of fifth-century technological resources, then why not entertain the possibility that they were presented on stage? The question is worth posing, not least because it makes us think again about the limits of available stage resources, the differences between dramatic and narrative poetry, and the whole nature of the theatrical experience. (vii) In the absence of any real evidence, it is almost impossible to falsify any reasonable conjecture relating to performance. Obviously there are some scenarios that can be rejected – glitter balls, strobe lighting, dry ice and so on. But in general we need to acknowledge that all our hypotheses are equally unprovable. It is much easier, and methodologically more justifiable, to come up with ways in which a scene could have been performed than to declare, on equally conjectural grounds, that a scene couldn’t have been performed in a particular way. It would be over-optimistic to expect this method to lead to any definite conclusions, but it seems to me that it is preferable to open up rather than close down possibilities. The more possibilities we consider, the more likely it is that we will come up with new ideas about our plays and their interpretation. I realize, of course, that such an open-ended, provisional approach may well seem frustrating or evasive to many. In what follows I do not assume that the reader will share my own perspective, but I have aimed (as ever) to present the evidence in a way that is transparent enough to let individual readers easily get a grip on the material and form their own conclusions.

* Chekhov first formulated the principle in a letter to Alexander Semenovich Lazarev (1 November 1889) but reiterated it several times: see Simmons (1962) 190.


Lost Tragedies in Performance


In the remainder of this chapter I present and discuss carefully selected scenes or key moments from the lost plays in performance. Ideally, I would have liked to be able to illustrate each moment with a still photograph or video clip. Obviously this was impossible, but I have tried to come as close as possible to the verbal equivalent of this, envisaging in as much detail as possible what the spectators might have seen and heard. In other words, I have tried to put the above principles into practice and to imagine the performance potential of each moment. The examples here have been chosen for several different reasons – because in these instances we are fortunate to possess more clues than normal; or because they seem to represent moments which were particularly striking; or because they pose special problems or ambiguities; or because they illustrate the pros and cons of different categories of evidence; or because they suggest a range of visual or theatrical effects that are not otherwise represented in the extant plays. Far from being a frustrating, hopeless or self-indulgent activity, the performance criticism of fragmentary plays can be enormously valuable. It cannot (alas) be claimed that study of the lost plays brings about any astonishing new discoveries about fifth-century theatre practice, but the exercise does remind us that the whole enterprise of ancient theatre studies is precarious, uncertain and fragmentary – and this needs to be emphasized as often as possible. At stake here are many crucial and unresolved questions not just about the lost plays but about the whole nature of tragic theatre. Trying to do performance criticism of lost works also makes us think again about conventions or supposed generic rules which the fragmentary plays might seem to be violating. The exercise continually makes us aware that such ‘rules’ are usually constructed on the basis of surviving plays or of insufficient evidence. It is good to remind ourselves yet again that the extant plays, disproportionately few in number, should not be taken as providing a representative or normative framework for the study of the whole subject.

Changes of scene in Aeschylus’ Women of Aetna Most of the surviving plays exhibit the so-called classical unities of time and place, in that their main action is played out in a single setting and conventionally on a single day. It tends to be assumed that this constituted a generic rule, and that any plays that behave differently are to be seen as exceptional (the only surviving examples that ‘break the rule’ are Aeschylus’ Eumenides and


The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

Sophocles’ Ajax).20 Tragedy’s supposedly static scene-setting is often contrasted with the more fluid use of space in comedy, as a way of pointing up generic norms.21 Indeed, the presupposition that tragic plots normally avoided scenechanges is sometimes used as a principle for ‘reconstructing’ lost plays. However, it may be that scene-changes were more frequent in the lost plays. The plot of Women of Aetna, in particular, seems to have unfolded across five different locations. This is revealed by a papyrus fragment of what seems to be a hypothesis or some sort of critical discussion: for at the start the play’s setting is Aetna, followed, secondly, by Xouthia, followed, thirdly, by a return to Aetna, then after that the scene changes to Leontini, and after that Syracuse, and the remainder plays out in […]e.22

Edgar Lobel believed that Aeschylus’ play consisted of five distinct ‘acts’, thus foreshadowing a dramatic structure which was to become standard for later (Hellenistic and Roman) tragedies and comedies.23 But this comparison is not helpful, since the five-act structure does not anywhere else correspond to five different scenic settings, and in any case, Lobel’s arithmetic is wrong, for there are surely six ‘acts’ being described here. Even if scene-changes in tragedy were more common than normally assumed, it is likely that this play was extraordinary in containing not just one but many changes of location. Critics who are strongly attached to the notion of dramatic unity have doubted whether such a work could have been dramatically effective, supposing that it must have been chaotic, incoherent or maybe not even a tragedy in any normal sense of the word.24 But it is unfair to condemn as artistically deficient a play that we have not read and cannot read. Why not make the more charitable assumption that it was a work of notable originality in its dramatic technique? This is the assumption made by Letizia Poli-Palladini in a recent discussion. ‘Why assume’, she asks, ‘that Aeschylus could not master his own resources and skills?’25 Why not, indeed? But whatever our views on matters of qualitative criticism (always a tricky area,

See, e.g., Lowe (2000) 170 (‘tragic illusionism insists on unity of location’), cf. 42–3, 164–6; see also Aristotle, Poetics 1450b21-34. 21 Lowe (1988) and (2006); Revermann (2006) 108–29. 22 P.Oxy. 2257 (=TrGF 3, pp. 126–7), incorporating supplements by Lobel (1952), who records Pfeiffer’s conjecture that the missing final location was Temenite. 23 Lobel (1952) 66; cf. Horace, Ars Poetica 189. 24 Fraenkel (1954), 71, sees it as an episodic ‘Festspiel’ rather than a tragedy; Taplin (1977), 416–18, questions the factual evidence of the hypothesis. 25 Poli-Palladini (2001) 290. 20

Lost Tragedies in Performance


especially where lost works are concerned), the crucial point to be made here is that Women of Aetna used dramatic space in a way for which no known parallel exists. It is important to be clear about what we mean when we talk about ‘scenechanges’ in this context. It is impossible to know whether the production used visual or realistic means of creating a mise-en-scène, such as movable scenery, flats, painted backdrops or other properties. Such devices seem possible in principle, but their practical use would have been limited by the necessity for quick changes and by the total visibility of the open-air stage at all times. It seems likely that any visual or illusory ‘scene-setting’ would have been fairly minimal and that the spectators would have been required to use their imagination. Lobel is probably right to say that the multiple reconfigurations of space in Women of Aetna, whether physical or virtual, must have been effected during act-dividing choral songs of one sort or another. (How else could it have been done?) Perhaps these songs also contributed verbal ‘scene-setting’ in the form of literal references to travel, geographical details and so on, but not a single verse from any of these songs survives. Apart from its use of dramatic space, another feature which marks out Women of Aetna as significant is that it was originally written for performance in Sicily. The play was composed to celebrate the founding of the new town of Aetna in 476–75 BCE, which means that it may well have been staged in the theatre at Syracuse, rebuilt in stone by Hieron at around the same time.26 The most substantial fragment (F6) purports to explain the name of the Palici, chthonic gods of Sicilian religion who were born out of the earth after their mother, Thalia, was impregnated by Zeus and then disappeared underground.27 ‘Palici’ is here linked etymologically to the Greek palin and hikein (meaning ‘to come back’). A.  What name, then, will mortals give to them? B.  Zeus gives the instruction that they shall be called the holy Palici. A.  And is this name bestowed with good reason? Will it abide? B.  Yes, for they have come back (palin … hikous’) out of the darkness to this world of light.

TrGF 3 T1.33-4 (Life of Aeschylus §9). On the theatre, see Polacco and Anti (1981) 167–78; cf. Marconi (2012) 203–6 (on the theatre at Syracuse) and 193–4 (on Catana-Aetna). 27 See Macrobius, Saturnalia 5.19.17, who quotes the Aeschylean fragment; cf. Stephanus of Byzantium 496.7 (=TrGF 3 F7). 26


The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy

This fragment has further implications in terms of staging and production. Did this play merely narrate the emergence of the Palici from underground, or did it visually represent this key moment on stage? The theatre at Syracuse may have possessed the necessary resources to do so, in the form of an underground staircase and passage from which actors could pop up to make a surprising entrance. This device is mentioned by the lexicographer Pollux, who calls it the ‘Charonian steps’.28 Although it has often been doubted whether all the features mentioned by Pollux were in existence as early as the fifth century, several scholars have been prepared to credit the use of the ‘Charonian steps’ here.29 The fact that Aeschylus’ Persians also contains an important scene in which a character (the ghost of Darius) is raised up from below ground, and that this play was performed in Syracuse during its author’s lifetime, has been taken to suggest that both Persians and Women of Aetna were deliberately developed with the Syracusan theatre and ‘Charonian steps’ in mind.30 This lost play, though so much about it remains obscure, is significant in several ways. Not only does it raise important questions about tragedy’s handling of narrative space and theatrical space, but it also serves as a reminder that the study of fifth-century theatre production is not limited to the Athenian theatre of Dionysus.

The entry of the chorus in Aeschylus’ Daughters of Nereus It is widely assumed that this play was part of a trilogy about Achilles, the other related plays being Myrmidons and Phrygians.31 Near the beginning of the play Achilles, in mourning for Patroclus, was visited by his mother Thetis. As in epic, Thetis was accompanied by her sisters, the daughters of Nereus.32 It seems likely that the play began with the arrival in the orchêstra of Thetis and the chorus together.33 This is suggested by F150, which consists of a mere four words but which conveys something of the sound and rhythm, and even (perhaps) provides a clue to the chorus’ choreography and costumes:

Pollux, Onomasticon 4.132: see Csapo and Slater (1994) Appendix A. Taplin (1977) 447–8. 30 Bosher (2012) 100–4, comparing Persians 623–839. 31 See pp. 42–4, 61–2. 32 Cf. the lost Aethiopis, in which the Nereids emerged from the sea to lament Achilles (Proclus, Chrestomathia p. 47 Davies). 33 West (2000) 342; Michelakis (2002) 53. 28 29

Lost Tragedies in Performance


δελφινηρὸν πεδίον πόντου διαμειψάμεναι Travelling over the expanse of the sea, home of the dolphins

The words are anapaestic. Their rhythm can be approximately represented, using modern musical notation, as follows: ♩   ♩   ♩  ♩ | Del-phī-nē-ron

♪  ♪  ♩   ♩    ♩ pe-di-on pon-tou

♪♪  ♩   ♪         ♪        ♩ di-a-mei-psa-me-nai This metre is common in tragedy, where it is characteristic of choral entries and exits in particular – as in Aeschylus’ Persians and Suppliant Women, which both open with long passages of choral anapaests. Most critics have thus assumed that the words above were sung or chanted by the chorus as part of their opening song-and-dance routine.34 There would have been some form of musical accompaniment too, but this is almost impossible to imagine. We are dealing with so-called ‘marching’ anapaests, then, but did the chorus exactly march onto the stage? Surely not. After all, the daughters of Nereus were graceful, aquatic goddesses, and in poetry and art they were often depicted as swimming or riding on dolphins. It seems preferable to imagine a style of mimetic choreography designed to evoke the sinuous movement of sea-borne creatures through the waves. It has even been thought that the mention of dolphins in the words of the script is an indication that the chorus actually appeared riding on the backs of dolphins – that is, wearing dolphin-shaped costumes to suggest this mode of transport. This is an attractive idea, and it would have made for a visually arresting entrance. But is it plausible? There are no other clues in the remains of the play itself. Nevertheless, evidence from Greek art makes the idea of a dolphin-riding chorus seem more likely. Trendall and Webster drew attention to some sixth-century vasepaintings which apparently depict figures dancing in formation – that is, in some sort of choreographed performance. The most interesting of these vases is an Attic black-figure skyphos, dating from c. 520–10 BCE, depicting six men on the back of dolphins.35 Each man has the inscription ΕΠΙΔΕΛΦΙΝΟΣ (‘upon

See West (2000) 342, Michelakis (2002) 53. (F151 and F152 of the same play are also anapaestic.) Trendall and Webster (1971) I.15 (Cambridge, MA: Norbert Schimmel coll.); cf. I.11 (Boston 20.18), I.14 (Palermo, Selinunte). For further discussion of such images and their relation to drama, see Rothwell (2007) 58–60.

34 35


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a dolphin’) coming out of his mouth, as it were in a speech bubble; and it has irresistibly been suggested that these words – which form an anapaestic dimeter – were deliberately meant to evoke a choral ode, maybe an entry song.36 That particular vase must be at least two or three decades earlier than Aeschylus’ play, so it can be seen only as a suggestive comparandum. However, another, later vase-painting may actually have been influenced by Daughters of Nereus. This is a badly damaged Attic red-figure kalyx-krater (c. 450–40 BCE), the fragments of which seem to belong to a scene depicting Thetis and the Nereids bringing Achilles his armour: the crucial feature is that dolphins also appear in the picture.37 As Trendall and Webster point out, the connection of Nereids with dolphins or sea-monsters, though common in later Greek art, is not encountered before this date. This fact leads them to speculate that ‘the original artist was inspired by Aeschylus’ chorus’, and that ‘Aeschylus himself seems to have adapted to his new needs the traditional chorus of dolphin-riders’.38 Of course, this is only speculation. And, as I have already observed, we have to be very cautious when discussing the relationship between drama and vasepainting. It may be that the artist knew Aeschylus’ play, but whatever it is, this vase is not in any straightforward sense an ‘illustration of Greek drama’ (as Trendall and Webster assumed). The image cannot be treated simply as evidence for the staging of Daughters of Nereus. Unlike the earlier ‘choral’ vase-paintings, it does not even depict the human figures as riding the dolphins; the animals appear to be, as it were, floating about in the background. But it is hard to doubt some sort of connection between Aeschylus’ play and these vase-paintings. We can never know for certain how the scene was originally staged. Even if the entire playscript were to turn up tomorrow, it would remain an insoluble problem. It is up to us, therefore, to decide whether to adopt an open-minded or a more sceptical approach. It seems perfectly possible that the chorus entered the stage as if on dolphin-back. If they did not, then it is up to us to imagine an alternative mode of entry.39 But if they did, the dramatic effect will have been powerful – not only visually stunning, but unexpected, especially in contrast to the choruses of the other plays in the same trilogy (whatever these actually were). Perhaps it was also designed to lend an archaic flavour to the performance. Theriomorphic choruses and costumes belonged to an earlier 38 39 36 37

Sifakis (1967) 36; Trendall and Webster (1971) 22–4. Trendall and Webster (1971) III.1, 18–19 (Vienna University 505). Trendall and Webster (1971) 54–5. Podlecki (2013), 144, points out that in myth and art the Nereids used other modes of transport, e.g. winged horses or other sea-creatures, but this does not solve the problem.

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stage in the development of drama, and even though they survived in the setting of Athenian old comedy, it would have been rare to encounter such a chorus in a fifth-century tragedy.

The metamorphosis in Sophocles’ Tereus Was the ornithic metamorphosis physically represented on stage, or was it narrated or predicted by one of the other characters, such as a messenger or a god from the machine? Few clues are to be found in the remains of Tereus itself. The only fragment that mentions the metamorphosis is not only ambiguous but somewhat problematic in other ways. τοῦτον δ’ ἐπόπτην ἔποπα τῶν αὑτοῦ κακῶν πεποικίλωκε κἀποδηλώσας ἔχει θρασὺν πετραῖον ὄρνιν ἐν παντευχίαι [The god?] has adorned this creature, the hoopoe with a bird’s-eye view of his own misfortune, with varied colours, and has revealed him as a bird who dwells among the rocks, bold in his full panoply. (F581. 1-3)

One might think that the reference to ‘this creature’ (τοῦτον), together with the emphasis on revealing (ἀποδηλώσας), implies that the figure of Tereus was visible on stage at this point, but this is open to doubt.40 Indeed, it is not certain whether these lines belong to Tereus at all. Aristotle, who quotes them, attributes them to Aeschylus, but most modern editors have reassigned them to Sophocles’ Tereus, on the grounds that Aeschylus is not known to have written a tragedy on this subject.41 In fact there is no reason why Aeschylus could not have included a description of Tereus in any of his lost plays, even if only as a subsidiary theme or mythical paradigm. Nor should it be assumed, even if Aeschylus was not the author, that Sophocles is the only alternative candidate: Philocles would be another possibility.42 On the basis of the pun which they contain, the lines have even been suspected of being too comical for a tragedy.43

Sommerstein, Fitzpatrick and Talboy (2006) 191; cf. Hourmouziades (1986) 135–6. TrGF 4 F581 = Aristotle, History of Animals 633a18-27; see TrGF 4, p. 37. Sommerstein, Fitzpatrick and Talboy (2006), 189–90, argue for Sophoclean authorship on linguistic grounds. 42 On Philocles’ Pandionis (TrGF 1.24 T6), see LPGT 1, pp. 99–100. 43 Burnett (1998) 183. The pun, based on the similarity between epops (hoopoe) and epoptês (viewer), is hard to translate into English, as my own attempt (‘bird’s-eye view’) shows all too clearly. 40 41


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It is probably better to ignore the doubtful F581 altogether: even if genuine it does not help us solve the problem of staging. A much more significant piece of evidence comes from another author who knew Sophocles’ Tereus well and reacted to its bizarre plot by making fun of it. This is Aristophanes, who parodied Tereus in the opening scene of his comedy Birds (414 BCE). Here the travellers Peisetaerus and Euelpides arrive in Cloudcuckooland and encounter Sophocles’ Tereus there in hoopoe form: Peisetaerus: O, boy! What on earth is this creature here? What’s this plumage? What sort of crest is this? Tereus: Who are these people who seek me? Euelpides: It looks as if the Twelve Gods have been messing about with you. Tereus: You’re not mocking me for the appearance of my plumage, are you? Because if you are, let me tell you, my friends, that I was once a human being. Peisetaerus: It’s not you we’re making fun of. Tereus: No? Who is it, then? Euelpides: It’s your beak that strikes us as ridiculous (geloion). Tereus: But Sophocles is to blame for that! This is how he maltreats me – Tereus! – in his tragedies.44

As usual, we have to be careful when interpreting the evidence of comedy, which is full of jokes and distortions. What exactly can Aristophanes tell us about Tereus? First of all, it is obvious that Aristophanes expects his audience to be familiar with the plot of Sophocles’ play: so either it must have been produced shortly before 414 or it was sufficiently outré to stick in the memory for long after it had been seen. Perhaps it is simply the oddity of Tereus’ metamorphosis into a hoopoe that is being drawn to our attention: this detail may be a significant Sophoclean innovation or modification of the traditional myth.45 But it does seem that it is specifically the appearance of Sophocles’ hoopoe-Tereus that is the target of the humour here.46 This is suggested by the repeated focus on the character’s incongruous visual aspects, including specific features of the costume and mask (the plumage, triple crest and beak); it is precisely the beaked mask that is said to be ‘ridiculous’.

Aristophanes, Birds, 93–101. Sommerstein, Fitzpatrick and Talboy (2006) 144–6. 46 Observed by Kock and Schroeder (1927) ad loc.; cf. Dobrov (2001) 108–9. Cf. Birds, 279–83, which ridicules Philocles’ Tereus: here again the costume and mask seem to be important. 44 45

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On balance, it seems to me likely that Sophocles did arrange for his audience to see Tereus transformed into a hoopoe and that this coup de théâtre is what Aristophanes is responding to. Theriomorphism or animal masks were rare but not unknown on the tragic stage: one commentator finds a parallel in the bovine Io of Prometheus Bound,47 and we might also add the example of Hippo in Euripides’ Melanippe the Wise. But how and when the appearance was managed remains uncertain. Gregory Dobrov has made the intriguing suggestion that the metamorphosis of Tereus and the other characters was described at the end of the play by a god from the machine. Dobrov imagines that the skênê doors and portable stage were used at this point to display a static tableau and that ‘tokens representing each character appeared on the ekkyklêma to symbolize the metamorphoses’.48 (This method would have had the added element of surprise, since at this point the plot might have seemed to be leading up to a conventional murder-scene, with death-cries audible from within the building or corpses displayed through the open doors.49) The lack of an obvious parallel for such a technique has led some critics to reject this suggestion, but in view of the fact that no one actually knows how the doors and ekkyklêma were used, in this or any other production, the lack of parallels should not be seen as ruling out Dobrov’s elegant and practical idea. All the same, it is only one possible solution among several. One can imagine other feasible ways of staging the scene, involving quick costume changes, mute characters, rooftop appearances, the flying-machine or similar devices.

The weighing-scales in Aeschylus’ Psychostasia According to Plutarch, Psychostasia dramatized an episode from the Epic Cycle in which the souls of Achilles and Memnon were weighed in the scales against one another by Zeus: ‘Aeschylus placed next to Zeus’ scales Thetis on one side and Eos on the other, both of them pleading for their sons who are fighting.’50 Thus we have to imagine a scenario – apparently unique in Greek tragedy – in which the god Zeus appeared in person on stage, accompanied by a set of weighing-scales (which, one presumes, were ‘prop’ scales, larger and thus more

Dunbar (1995) 164–5. Dobrov (2001) 115. 49 See Hamilton (1987). 50 Plutarch, How the Young Man Should Study Poetry 2 (Moralia 16f): see TrGF 3, p. 375. 47 48


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visible than normal ones).51 Pollux also mentions this key scene in his catalogue of theatrical properties, explicitly describing the means used to stage the scene by producers during his own time: The theologeion is a platform above the skênê on which gods appear on high, for instance Zeus and the others with him in Psychostasia. And the geranos is a type of mechanical device that moves in mid-air to pick up a body: Eos uses this device to snatch up the body of Memnon.52

Pollux is often disregarded as a ‘late’ (i.e. unreliable) source, but nothing that he describes here seems particularly remarkable or impossible for the fifth century. (It is unclear whether or not the geranos was identical with the mêchanê, but it seems possible that some sort of flying-machine was used by Aeschylus, as in various other fifth-century tragedies, even if it was not the exact device that Pollux names.) Our evidence tells us that the soul-weighing scene was seen as especially memorable, and that the play continued to be read and performed for many years after its original production. The play’s unusual title even suggests that this scene was the defining moment of the whole work. The motif of the weighingscales in the contest between Aeschylus and Euripides in Aristophanes’ Frogs has also been taken as a deliberate allusion to Psychostasia.53 If so, this is a significant example of visual intertextuality, as well as a further sign of how powerful an impression this iconic scene made on audiences. It has been suggested that the scene constituted a prologue, regarded as somewhat separate from the main action: this is because Zeus and his scales would more naturally have been imagined as on Mount Olympus, while the human action takes place on earth.54 This arrangement would involve an atypical scene-change after the prologue, but it is quite easy to imagine.55 However, it seems more likely to me that the weighing-scene would have marked not the very beginning of the plot but its decisive turning-point or peripeteia. Perhaps the skênê roof platform could have been used, as suggested by Pollux, to represent an Olympian scene up on high, notionally separate from the activity down below on stage, but nonetheless visible simultaneously: by this means the

Cf. Revermann (2013), 85, on the visibility of props on stage. West (2000) 345, suggests that the souls themselves were represented by two small boys. 52 Pollux, Onomasticon 4.130: see Csapo and Slater (1994) 397–8. 53 Aristophanes, Frogs 1365–1412; see Sommerstein (1996) 280, Rehm (2017). 54 Wilamowitz (1914) 58–9; Radt (TrGF 3, p. 375) cites other views pro and contra. 55 See pp. 245–7, on scene-changes. 51

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weighing-scene could have been introduced at any point during the plot without requiring a scene-change or any ‘refocusing’ of the stage area.56 Thus we have reasonably convincing evidence that the weighing-scene was staged in a striking and spectacular manner, even if we do not know the precise details. But Oliver Taplin rejects this evidence, preferring to believe that the crucial scene was not staged at all.57 The fact that Zeus is not definitely known to have appeared in any other tragedy is taken as a sign that it was actually forbidden to represent the god on stage: on this basis Taplin concludes that Zeus cannot have appeared in Psychostasia and that Plutarch is simply mistaken. Taplin also rejects the details given by Pollux, on the grounds that this author is late in date, highly unreliable and unlikely to reflect Aeschylus’ own production practices. The alleged use of the flying- machine is judged to be impractical, ‘late’ and un-Aeschylean, as is the apparent need for three actors rather than the more usual two.58 Taplin’s own case is based on conjectures about the sort of special effects that were or were not possible in the first half of the fifth century and the sort of playwright that Aeschylus was. He doubts whether the skênê was used before the Oresteia in 458 and whether the flying-machine was used at all by Aeschylus.59 But these are only suppositions, not facts. Taplin’s main reason for adopting such a sceptical approach to the material is that, as I have already discussed, he happens to hold a very particular, starkly austere view of Aeschylean stagecraft, in contrast to many generations of scholars who, following the account given in the ancient Life of Aeschylus, have seen the poet as fond of visual effects. Taplin’s aim is to show that Aeschylus avoided the ‘gratuitous’ use of spectacle. This means that, wherever possible, he attempts to show that stage-machinery, props and other visual spectacles were not used. But, as I have said, this is only one possible way of approaching the material. In this particular case anyone who prefers to think of Aeschylus as an ultra-minimalist must try very hard indeed to explain away the indications that this was an extraordinary piece of theatre. Even if we choose to disregard certain apparently ‘late’ elements (such as the use of three actors and the flying-machine), we are left with the supposedly unparalleled presence of Zeus on stage and the striking visual motif of the

See Dale (1969) 119–20, on ‘refocusing’ or ‘fluctuations’ of scene (e.g. Aeschylus, Persians 140–9, Libation-Bearers 653–875, Eumenides 685). 57 Taplin (1977) 431–3. 58 West (2000), 345–6, also judges these features too ‘late’, but he comes to the surprising conclusion that Aeschylus’ son Euphorion, not Aeschylus, was the author of Psychostasia. 59 Taplin (1977) 438–40, 443–7. 56


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weighing-scales. In fact there are strong indications that Zeus appeared in Euripides’ Alcmene, and several other lost plays provide plausible contexts for other appearances. The scales also find a parallel in Aeschylean practice elsewhere.60 We know that Aeschylus used a giant set of weighing-scales in his Phrygians, where – in what must have been an amazing and shocking scene – the corpse of Hector was balanced on the scales against an equivalent weight in gold that was to be offered as a ransom.61 Both of these weighing-scenes are closely connected to the central themes of their respective plays, and both of them will have had significant power to move the emotions. It is hard to see either of them as offering merely ‘gratuitous’ spectacle.

Music and mask in Sophocles’ Thamyras It is easy to forget that a Greek tragedy was not just a performance but a musical performance. Our tragic texts are not so much playscripts as libretti, and these works, with their choral odes, solo songs and lyric duets of various sorts, probably resembled operas more than any other type of performance. Unfortunately, our knowledge of Greek music is even shakier than our knowledge of the Greek theatre in general. We possess verbal descriptions of musical instruments, modes and styles of performance, we can infer a certain amount about the rhythm of the music from analysis of the poetic metres, and we even have a few papyrus scraps of lyrics with musical notation, but none of this gives us more than the haziest idea how the words might have been accompanied or how tragic music actually sounded.62 One of the most promising sources of evidence for tragic music, as for tragic performance in general, consists of the words of the plays themselves. In particular, many tragic choruses provide self-reflexive descriptions of their own music, instrumentation and dancing.63 This odd sort of self-consciousness Aeschylus also uses the language of weighing and scales as a recurrent metaphor: see Rehm (2017). Agamemnon 437 is particularly relevant here. 61 Σ Homer, Iliad 22. 351; cf. TrGF 3, p. 365, for other sources. Cf. Taplin (2007), 85–7, on an Apulian vase-painting (St Petersburg, State Heritage Museum B1718) apparently inspired by the weighing scene from Phrygians. 62 On Greek music generally, see West (1992); on music in Greek drama, see Csapo (1999–2000); Kovacs (2013). For Euripidean musical notation (which may or may not reflect the original fifthcentury music), see Pöhlmann and West (2001) 10–21. 63 From lost plays, cf. Aeschylus, Edonians (TrGF 3 F57), incert. fab. F291, F339a; Sophocles, Mysians (TrGF 4 F412), Peleus (TrGF 4 F490-1), incert. fab. F768, F849, F966; Euripides, Palamedes (TrGF 5 F586), Hypsipyle (TrGF 5 F725f). In Phrynichus, Phoenician Women (TrGF 1.3 F11), and Diogenes, Semele (TrGF 1.45 F1), choral music is described by other characters. 60

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is hard to account for or interpret. It has been studied mainly in terms of what it seems to imply about the chorus’ civic or ritual identity rather than its musicality as such.64 But whatever effect it was originally intended to create, it is incidentally of huge value to the theatre historian. The fragments of Sophocles’ Thamyras contain several examples of this sort of musical self-referentiality:65 Joiner-made lyres and harps that give octave concords, and the instruments carved from wood to give sweet music that exist among the Greeks … … the trigônos [a type of triangular harp] … These melodies in which we celebrate you get the feet forward, arms and legs moving swiftly! For gone are the songs resounding from the striking of the harp; the lyres and … single pipes … Breaking the horn bound with gold, breaking the harmony of the strung lyre … And I was seized by an urge to be made for music, and went to the place of assembly, and urge inspired by the lyre and by the measures [nomoi] with which Thamyras makes music supremely.

Such descriptions are not (as in many plays) merely incidental. Music was thematically central to the plot and whole conception of Thamyras, and it even seems that the chorus consisted of the nine Muses.66 Sophocles himself is said to have played the kithara in the play’s first performance.67 Whether this implies that Sophocles took the rôle of Thamyras is unclear. It is elsewhere recorded that Sophocles gave up acting in his own plays because of his weak voice, so it may be that he was merely one of the accompanying instrumentalists rather than one of the main actors. However, another piece of evidence has been taken to suggest that Sophocles did in fact take the title rôle.68 This is an Attic red-figure hydria of c. 450–40 BCE, which depicts Thamyras holding a lyre and surrounded by a number of female figures. Some of these figures are labelled ΧΟΡΟΝΙΚΑ (‘victorious in the chorus’) and some of them are labelled as Muses. These inscriptions show that what we have here is a rare example of a vase-painting that undoubtedly relates to a particular Henrichs (1994–5); Calame (1999); Gagné and Govers Hopman (2013). TrGF 4 F238, F239, F240, F241, F244, F245: tr. Lloyd-Jones (1996) 103–5 with ref. to West (1992) 70–3. 66 See Chapter 2, pp. 93–5. 67 Life of Sophocles §5; Athenaeus 1.20e-f (TrGF 4 T1, T28). 68 Rome, Vatican inv. 16549 = Trendall and Webster (1971) III.2.9. 64 65


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theatrical performance. Since no other tragedian is known to have written a play about Thamyras, it seems likely that Sophocles’ play is depicted. If this is true, the artefact also strongly suggests that the play’s chorus was indeed composed of Muses. Another of the female figures, who has been identified as Thamyras’ mother Argiope, is labelled ΕΥΑΙΟΝ ΚΑΛΟΣ, ‘the handsome Euaion’. The vase is one of several with the same inscription which have been grouped together as depictions of the actor Euaion, son of Aeschylus, in some of his most notable rôles.69 Thus it has been concluded that Euaion played Argiope and that Sophocles himself played Thamyras.70 Does this image really preserve a portrait of Sophocles performing in his own play? It would be rather wonderful if this were true, but it is important not to be carried away by wishful thinking. Even if the vase-painter was inspired by a production of Sophocles’ Thamyras, we do not have to assume that the production in question was one in which Sophocles acted. There is no positive indication that this was so, since the Thamyras-figure is not labelled at all – perhaps surprisingly, if it really is a representation of the famous playwright. Even the story about Sophocles’ lyre-playing has been mistrusted, along with much of the detail in the ancient Lives of poets: maybe it is no more than a colourful anecdote.71 So the identity of the actor playing Thamyras must remain a tantalizing mystery. Meanwhile the same vase-painting may contain a clue to another quite different aspect of this play’s performance. Thamyras’ face – that is, his theatrical mask – is seen in profile, which means that only one side is visible. Trendall and Webster made a connection between this image and the lexicographer Pollux’s list of theatrical mask types, which includes a special Thamyras mask with one blue eye and one black eye.72 Can Pollux, together with the vase, be taken as evidence for use of the mask in the original fifth-century production? If so, it seems that the actor playing Thamyras must have employed the mask, along with gesture, posture and acting style, in a remarkable manner. He would have had to hold his head in an unnatural way so as to present contrasting aspects to the spectators at different points during the play, before and after his blinding by the Muses. As Trendall and Webster point out, this is significantly different from another tragic ‘blind’ mask, that of Oedipus, since the actor playing Oedipus See Trendall and Webster (1971) 4–5, 63–5. Hall (2002) 9–10; Kovacs (2013) 496–7. 71 Lefkowitz (2012) 78–82; Lloyd-Jones (1996) 103. 72 Pollux 4.141; cf. Σ Euripides, Rhesus 916. See Trendall and Webster (1971) 69 (with images III.2.9 and III.2.10, both of which represent Thamyras’ face in profile). 69 70

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would have changed masks inside the stage-building before emerging as newly blind. Representing both the sighted and the blind face of Thamyras on a single mask would have been extremely unusual, and it is hard to imagine how it would have come across in performance.73

Mass-murder in Sophocles’ Niobe The killing of the children is inevitably the central aspect of the story, but it is not easy to see how it was staged. There are several different problems. First of all, how were the children represented on stage while still alive? Even though the number of children attributed to Niobe is disputed in ancient sources, it is recorded that Sophocles gave Niobe fourteen children (seven daughters and seven sons).74 This would have been a convenient number for a tragic chorus, and serious consideration has been given to the possibility that the children formed the chorus here (either the main chorus or a secondary chorus, as in Euripides’ Hippolytus).75 Plays such as Aeschylus’ Suppliant Women and Daughters of Danaus show that the chorus could on occasion be treated as the ‘main’ character. But can we really imagine a scenario in which the chorus was killed off during the play? This is not impossible, but it would have been an utterly extraordinary phenomenon.76 Probably it is better to imagine a different chorus (I suspect that it actually consisted of the boyfriends of Niobe’s sons, mentioned by Plutarch as a notable presence in the play77), but this still leaves us with the problem of how the children were presented on stage. Some of them, both male and female, obviously had speaking parts,78 but it is inconceivable that all of them did. Many of them must have been represented by mute actors. Whatever the solution to this problem, it appears that the stage must have been unusually busy and crowded at times. A second problem concerns the handling of the murders in relation to the plot structure. It is not clear how the events in Niobe’s story were adapted or expanded by Sophocles into a dramatic plot, or at what exact point the murders

See Coo (2016), arguing against this use of the mask; cf. Wiles (2007) on masked performance. TrGF 4 F446. 75 Sutton (1984) 86–7. 76 Ion’s Guards (TrGF 1.19 F43a-49a) may supply a parallel: see LPGT 1, pp. 32–3. 77 Plutarch, Amatorius 17.760d. F448, in which one son cries out to his lover to help him, could be an appeal to the conventionally ineffectual chorus. 78 TrGF 4 F442 (a daughter), F448 (a son); cf. F444 (which calls for a spoken response from a daughter). 73 74


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took place.79 Were the sons and daughters all killed at once, in the space of a single, terrible scene? This is assumed by Dana Sutton, who refers to ‘what was in all probability the climactic scene of the play’,80 but the evidence might seem to suggest at least two distinct episodes. The hypothesis (fr. 1, line 11) states that Niobe’s sons had gone off hunting, and a papyrus fragment from the play seems to describe some sort of hunting scene.81 These details correspond to the version given by Apollodorus, in which Niobe’s sons were killed on Mount Cithaeron. Furthermore, another vivid fragment in which one of the sons calls out for help (‘Oh! Get ready […] for my sake!’ F448) seems to show that the killing of the sons was actually acted out on stage. Taken together, these clues indicate that the male children were killed separately from their sisters, and unless their deaths were reported in a messenger speech we will have to assume that the play incorporated a change of scene. Apollodorus and the author of the hypothesis both record that Niobe’s daughters were shot down by Artemis, egged on by Apollo, in or around the palace.82 A couple of fragments definitely belong to this moment in the play’s action, and they confirm that the spectators were presented with an astonishing scenario in which both gods appeared, firing arrows, while Niobe and her daughters were visible on the stage, fleeing and cowering. Apollo: Do you see that girl there – the terrified one, inside, on her own, crouching down among the storage-jars and boxes? Quick! Aim an arrow at her, before she can hide and get out of the way! Chorus [uttering a terrible, inarticulate cry]: The family is doomed! Only a short interval will separate the deaths of the unmarried girls from the deaths of the boys! This disaster is attaining terrible proportions!

These lines (F441a) show that Apollo and Artemis have a privileged vantagepoint and a clear aim. Probably they appeared on high, making their entrance on the flying-machine or the roof of the stage-building. But Apollo’s words imply that he and Artemis can see inside the palace and observe details of its interior, since he is able to describe some sort of store-cupboard where the girl is hiding. It is unclear whether the audience themselves would have been able to see this Aristotle (Poetics 18.1456a16-19) criticizes some poets for incorporating too much of Niobe’s story into a single plot, in contrast with Aeschylus; since Sophocles is the only other tragedian known to have written a Niobe, I assume that Sophocles is being criticized here. 80 Sutton (1984) 85. 81 P.Grenf. II.6 fr. 2 (TrGF 4 F443): see Barrett (1974) 171–235. The fragment is lacunose, but contains the following crucial words: ‘horses … your son … is coming at him … sword’. 82 P.Oxy. 3653 fr. 2, lines 25–6. 79

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inner scene. It is also unclear whether the actor playing Artemis would have been physically able to aim an arrow inside the skênê door from the roof, so perhaps the flying-machine is indicated. Alternatively, we could suppose that the ekkyklêma was used to display the ‘interior’ scene. But elsewhere in the same episode (F442) Artemis is aiming an arrow at another girl who is obviously outside the house in full view. The girl first of all talks to her mother, who describes herself as having been ‘driven from the palace’, and then she directly addresses Artemis: ‘I beseech you, mistress … not to [shoot] an arrow and kill me!’ These details pose a further staging problem, because it is generally thought that deaths could not be shown on stage, either in tragedy or in comedy. Is this another example of a dramaturgical ‘rule’ that was broken more often than commonly assumed? (Sophocles, after all, did break the rule in his Ajax.) It is possible to imagine a way round the problem, if we assume that the gods chased all the girls inside the palace before entering the skênê door after them and killing them off-stage, audibly but invisibly. But there is nothing in the fragments to support this solution (which would also involve bringing the gods from on high to ground level), and it would still leave open the question of whether Niobe’s sons were killed on stage. I conclude this section with a couple of other equally unanswerable questions. First, did the dénouement of Sophocles’ play involve the sort of melodramatic scenario familiar from Jacobean revenge tragedy, in which the stage is piled up with corpses at the end? The body count in this play may well be higher than in any other tragedy. And second, did Sophocles require one of the members of his company to be a skilled archer? Even if he did, it is hard to see how he would have overcome the dangerous challenge of firing real arrows within close range of the other players and the audience. A similar problem is posed by the key scene in Aeschylus’ Prometheus Unbound in which Heracles is required to shoot an arrow at the eagle that torments Prometheus.83 (Was a real bow and arrows used? Was a real or ‘prop’ eagle visible? Were any animals harmed in the making of these plays?) Scenes of this sort conjure up a spectrum of possibilities: at one end there is maximum spectacle and quasi-realistic visual representation, and at the other end there is absolute minimalism, with a largely empty performing space and most of the work left to the spectators’ powers of imagination. Modern critics are at liberty to choose their own position somewhere on the spectrum.

See esp. TrGF 3 F200 (‘May Apollo Agreus make straight my arrow!’), spoken by Heracles as he shoots the bird (according to Plutarch, Amatorius 14.757d). This scene inspired vase-paintings: see De Vries (1993) 517–23.



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There are (as usual) more questions than answers here. And yet Niobe strikes me as a particularly interesting test case – not because it is possible to say much for definite about the play’s production, but because it prompts us to pose several important questions about fifth-century dramatic practice and about the principles that we adopt when attempting to decide how a play may or may not have been produced. If we assume that tragedy never ‘broke the rules’, we are obliged to give certain restricted sorts of answer to these questions. But we need to be aware that this is a highly conservative approach. The more open-minded critic will take the opportunity to re-examine the basis on which these supposed rules are constructed. If some of the more extreme possibilities mentioned above really were realized on stage, it may be that in several important respects this was a very unusual production indeed. But whatever the truth might be, it is undeniable that Sophocles’ play was visually and thematically very different from Aeschylus’ play on the same subject.

Niobe’s stony silence in Aeschylus’ Niobe Nobody knows whether Sophocles’ version or Aeschylus’ version came first, but the fact that the two Niobe plays were so different from one another is suggestive. It seems likely that the later play would have been written with the earlier one in mind – not necessarily as a deliberate response (in the way that, say, Euripides’ Electra is a response to the Oresteia), but as an attempt to do something inventive with the same material. The two tragedians selected quite distinct parts of the myth: whereas Sophocles’ play seems to have put Niobe’s children and their terror at the centre of the plot, Aeschylus’ version dwelt only on the after-effects of their death, and its main focus was on the suffering figure of Niobe herself. But also in visual terms the two productions were designed to look very different from one another. Sophocles’ play was obviously an action-packed drama with a full, busy performance area. Aeschylus’ version, by contrast, represented almost the precise opposite: it became notorious on account of its exaggeratedly slow, static composition. Aristophanes was still able to make jokes about this aspect of Niobe in his Frogs (produced in 405 BCE, more than half a century after Aeschylus wrote his tragedy). The comedian’s response to Aeschylus is interesting for a number of reasons and has been widely discussed. But the fact that Aristophanes criticizes the play specifically on the grounds of its staging shows that he and his audience associated Niobe above all with a certain performance style, and that they were

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immediately able to visualize the play on stage, whether or not they had seen a recent production. The lines below come from a scene in which the character Euripides accuses Aeschylus of being a charlatan and exposes the dramatic techniques that he uses to cheat his audiences:84 Euripides: He would first of all take some single character, an Achilles or a Niobe, and make them sit down with their head veiled, concealing their face and not making a sound, not even the tiniest whisper – a mere pretence of a tragedy! Dionysus: My word, you’re quite right. Euripides: And then the chorus would let rip with four continuous clusters of lyrics, one after another; but the characters maintained their silence. Dionysus: I rather liked that silence – at any rate, it gave me no less enjoyment than modern-day chatterboxes. Euripides: And do you know why? Because you’re a fool. Dionysus: Yes, I know … But why did Aeschylus do this, the old so-and-so? Euripides: It was pure charlatanism (alazoneia)! He did it so that the audience would sit there and wait for the moment when Niobe would say something. And the play would go on. And on. Dionysus: Oh! The utter wretch! How I was taken in by him! [He addresses Aeschylus.] Why are you wriggling and fussing about like that? [Aeschylus remains silent.] Euripides: It’s because I’m exposing him as a fraud. And then, after all that nonsense, the play was already half finished

It is Niobe’s opening scene in particular that was used to memorable effect. Aristophanes makes it easy for us to imagine the scenario in the theatre. Aeschylus chose to begin the play with a prolonged period of silence and inactivity that was extended to the point of being almost unendurable. He presented his spectators with a stage that was empty apart from the veiled figure of Niobe, seated on a tomb. It is not quite clear how or when they will have realized that the play had begun. As is well known, there was no curtain in the Greek theatre, and the entire acting area was in full view of the spectators at all times: this means that there would normally have been a ‘cancelled’ first entry, to allow the players and properties to get into the required positions before the start of the prologue.85 On this particular occasion, then (unless the ekkyklêma was used to reveal a ready-assembled tableau), the audience must have watched, perhaps not very Aristophanes, Frogs 911–24; cf. TrGF 3, pp. 265–6 (with T 1.20-1). See also Sommerstein (1996) 236–7; Taplin (1972). 85 See Taplin (1972) 61–2. 84


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attentively, as the actor playing Niobe entered the stage, assumed his position on top of the tomb, adjusted his veil and settled down to wait. In most other cases, the first spoken words, or the sound of music, would have functioned as the ‘raising of the curtain’, that is, the formal sign that the action had started and that the stage now represented the world of the play. But in this case, at least initially, there were no spoken words and no music – only silence. Somehow the spectators would have slowly become aware that the play had, indeed, started. Their own chattering and other background noises would have gradually faded away as their attention shifted to the stage below. But still nothing happened. After a time, no doubt, many of the spectators would have started to feel uncomfortable or confused. (Had something gone wrong with the production? Had the actor forgotten his lines? Was this a bad dream? Were they to imagine themselves as being in the real world still, or in the world of the play?) Something of this sort of feeling is conveyed by Aristophanes. No doubt he is exaggerating when he says that as much as half of the play passed in this way, but he underlines the fact that an unnaturally, painfully long time went by without anything happening. And so the audience kept on waiting. And waiting. Aristophanes affects to believe that Aeschylus, by doing nothing at all, was simply being lazy, and that Niobe was not even really drama at all but merely a ‘pretence’ of tragedy.86 This is a joke, but, in a sense, Aristophanes is right. Aeschylus’ dramatic technique here is so radical that it does seem almost nondramatic (or even anti-dramatic). The total absence of action, movement and sound means that the opening scene had to function purely as visual spectacle – not so much a theatrical performance as a static artwork. Nevertheless, far from being the work of a charlatan, this is in fact an amazingly bold use of the stage. It seems to be designed to make the audience pause and reflect on scenic conventions, the blurry line that divides reality and make-believe, and the very nature of the theatrical experience itself. It may be that the agonizing period of waiting is also calculated to make the spectators, as it were, suffer alongside Niobe, and thus make them more susceptible to an extreme emotional response to what follows. But above all the technique would have heightened their awareness of the single focal point on the stage in front of them; it would have compelled the audience to fix their attention with intensity on the figure of Niobe and her grief. Eventually, as Aristophanes records, the chorus entered the stage, things finally started happening and the long silence gave way to singing and dancing. Frogs 913.


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These ‘continuous clusters of lyrics, one after another’ are lost, but it is implied that they occupied another considerable period of time, during which Niobe herself remained still and mute just as before. A few lines survive from a little later on in the opening scene, at a point where an unknown speaker is addressing the chorus:87 She can only lament the fact that her father Tantalus, who begot her and gave her away [to Amphion], ran the ship of her marriage aground on such a harbourless shore, for an evil wind [is attacking?] … Behold the outcome of her marriage … This is the third day that she has been sitting on this tomb, brooding over her dead children … as if she were a sitting bird, [spoiling?] her beautiful appearance in her suffering … [A person] in distress is no more than a shadow.

These lines have significant implications for dramatic time: the spectators thus learn that the long wait which they have just endured represents three days, and the play’s action is to be seen as encompassing three or four days rather than the usual one. We know that Niobe did eventually break her silence (F162, from some point later in the play, is attributed to her), but for the time being she maintains her troubling silence even though action and dialogue are continuing around her. Her behaviour is extremely odd; it even seems somehow to negate her identity as a person, reducing her to the status of a mere ‘shadow’. This audacious opening scene would have been remarkable in any tragedy (and one notes that a similar technique was used by Aeschylus in the first scene of his Myrmidons), but it is particularly effective in a play about Niobe because certain details of staging seem designed to accentuate important features of her character and myth – this is very far from being ‘gratuitous’ spectacle. In the first place, as Richard Seaford has pointed out, the idea of marriage and the wedding ritual is evoked both verbally and visually, especially in the focus on Niobe’s beauty and in the detail of the veil, which is reminiscent of the ceremony of anakaluptêria.88 But, more strikingly still, Niobe’s silent stillness reminds us that she was famous, not just for her unending grief but for the fact that she was eventually turned into stone by the gods. This detail appears in a famous passage of the Iliad, where Homer says:89 And now, somewhere among the rocks, among the desolate mountains in Sipylus – where, people say, the goddesses have their resting-places, the vigorous F154a.1-9 (PSI 1208; certain lines are also quoted by other sources): see TrGF 3, pp. 267–72. Cf. Sommerstein (2008) 163. Text and translation are uncertain in places. 88 Seaford (2005). 89 Homer, Iliad 24. 614-17; cf. Apollodorus 3.5.6. 87


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nymphs who dwell about Achelous – in that place, even though she is a stone, she still broods over her troubles sent by the gods.

It seems inevitable that many spectators would have recalled this story, and they may even have begun to wonder, as they looked at the motionless figure before them, whether Niobe had already been petrified in Aeschylus’ version. Were they looking at a human being or a statue? Until Niobe broke her silence, it would have been impossible to decide. In this case the analogy of a static work of art becomes all the more poignant and strange. Indeed, in the absence of any evidence for how the plot developed, it has sometimes been suggested that the play actually ended with Niobe’s petrifaction.90 Several vase-paintings, which may relate in some way to Aeschylus’ play, depict Niobe with the lower part of her body painted white, showing that she is in the process of turning into stone.91 If Aeschylus’ Niobe did literally end up as a statue, this fate may have been predicted in a speech (by a god from the machine) rather than acted out on stage, but either way it would have formed a poignant and ironic echo of the opening scene as well as a neat framing device for the whole play.

Visual intertextuality in Euripides’ Andromeda The date of Niobe’s first production (or of any subsequent revival) is unknown, but Aristophanes shows that this play was still a readily identifiable cultural reference point in 405 BCE, decades after Aeschylus’ death. It seems to me that one of Euripides’ later plays is also responding to Aeschylus’ Niobe. The opening scene of Andromeda (412 BCE) contains elements which lend themselves to being read as visual and thematic allusions to the earlier play. Euripides’ tragedy, like Niobe, opens with a static tableau resembling an artwork. The audience is confronted with the spectacle of the immobile figure of Andromeda, who has been chained to a rock and exposed as a human sacrifice. At any moment she expects to be devoured by a flesh-eating sea-monster, a fate from which she will be saved by the unexpected arrival of the hero Perseus. As in Niobe, this opening scene may have been assembled in place either with the use of the ekkyklêma or by means of a ‘cancelled’ first entrance. Many critics See, e.g., Seaford (2005) 120, who also suggests the attribution to Niobe of P.Oxy. 213 (which includes the phrases ‘an image of worked stone’, λι]θουργὲς εἰκόνισμα, ‘like the mute rocks’, κωφαῖσιν εἴκελον πέτραις). 91 See Trendall and Webster (1971) III. 1.23; Keuls (1978); Taplin (2007) figs. 15–16, pp. 74–7; cf. LIMC ‘Niobe’ 10, 11, 12, 14, 16. 90

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favour the ekkyklêma here, presumably for its potential to create greater surprise. It is true that this play was full of sudden happenings: the air-borne arrival of Perseus on the flying-machine, the motif of love at first sight, the attack of the sea-monster and other unexpected plot twists.92 But to me this method seems less likely, partly because the skênê on this occasion seems to have represented a cave on the seashore93 and partly because the ekkyklêma seems to have been designed to display scenes that are notionally indoors. Andromeda is outdoors, and she is probably not imagined as having come out of the cave. The arresting use of the tableau as opening device may have been enough to suggest a connection in the audience’s minds between the still, statue-like Andromeda and the Aeschylean Niobe; but Euripides also reinforces the similarity between the two heroines on a verbal level. When Perseus arrives on the scene, he is so amazed by the appearance of Andromeda that he exclaims: Ah! What is this rock that I see, washed around by the foam of the sea? It is the statue of a young girl, fashioned out of a piece of solid stone, the work of a skilled hand. (F125)

Andromeda is so still and so beautiful that she is actually mistaken for a work of art rather than a real-life person.94 There may be some implicit authorial comment here about the nature of art in relation to reality, the expertise of the artist or the psychological effect of artworks on the beholder. Euripides was said to have begun his career as a painter before he turned to poetry, and it has been noted that his plays are unusually rich in visual and artistic language.95 But anyone who recalled the myth of Niobe and the motif of petrification will surely have perceived an extra layer of significance. Indeed, we happen to know that petrification – or, at least, the threat of petrification – did feature later on in the plot of Andromeda, for Perseus is said to have in his satchel the Gorgon’s severed head, which has the magical power to turn to stone anyone who gazes at it.96 Thus it is possible that one of the characters here was actually turned to stone on stage – a scenario that would have been astonishing to watch but also challenging to perform for the actor in question. See Hourmouziades (1965) 46–7; Jouan and van Looy (2004) 141–2. On surprise and suddenness, see Gibert (1999–2000). 93 Hourmouziades (1965) suggests that the scene changed part-way through the play, and the skênê later represented Cepheus’ palace. Cf. above, pp. 245–7, on scene-changes. 94 Cf. Ovid, Metamorphoses 4.675 (probably inspired by Euripides), where Andromeda is described as a marmoreum opus. See also Wright (2005) 121–4, 321–2. 95 See Barlow (1971) 1–16; Stieber (2010). 96 F123. On the possible use of the Gorgon’s head in the play, see Bubel (1991) ad loc.; cf. Aeschylus’ Polydectes and Euripides’ Dictys. 92


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Evidence from Greek art confirms that certain people did make some sort of eidetic connection between Andromeda and Niobe (whether suggested by drama or the mythical tradition more generally). This has been demonstrated by Eva Keuls in a study of a fourth-century Apulian dish that depicts both Niobe (petrified) and Andromeda (bound to the rock).97 Keuls sees these images as inspired by tragedy, and she identifies several motifs that may have led the artist to combine the two apparently disparate plays. Both Niobe and Andromeda features static opening tableaux, long laments by the heroines, significant scenes of conflict between the heroines and their fathers and – most significantly – the motif of petrification, whether as a verbal image or a staged action. In addition, Keuls interprets the meaning of the artefact, which was discovered in a grave, in terms of funerary symbolism: ‘Andromeda is miraculously saved and returned to life, Niobe dies and is granted eternal peace … One is a happy ending with symbolic implications, the other is a consolatory one.’ So it is plausible that Euripides’ opening scene marks a significant moment of visual intertextuality. The way in which the scene was staged, and its combination of visual and thematic motifs, seems to bring out unexpected connections between the two plays and adds resonance and complexity to Euripides’ treatment of his theme. Furthermore, both scenes are notable – albeit in sharply contrasting ways – for their innovative use of sound to convey powerful emotions. Whereas Aeschylus notoriously exploited the power of silence, Euripides filled the theatre with unusual music right from the start. Andromeda may be immobile, but she is far from silent: in fact, the play begins when she bursts into song (‘O holy night’).98 This is an astounding occurrence. All other known tragic openings involve either a spoken prologue or some sort of choral song, but a solo aria in lyric anapaests, performed by the main actor before a single word has been spoken, is an apparently unparalleled opening technique. As I have pointed out, we need to be wary of the assumption that a tragedian is ‘breaking the rules’, but this device certainly seems surprising. Even more surprisingly, the heroine’s solo song later develops into an odd duet – she is accompanied by the offstage character Echo, who uncannily reproduces the sound of Andromeda’s own words – before the chorus join in the performance (F118-21). We possess only small fragments of the script, many of which come to us through the distorting lens of Aristophanes (who Taranto 8928; Keuls (1978) 162–3. F114 (identified as the opening lines by Σ Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae 1065).

97 98

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parodied the scene in his Women at the Thesmophoria), and it is not possible to reconstruct the full details, but this was without doubt an amazing and uncategorizable musical extravaganza. (Critics cannot decide whether to label it a prologue, a monody, a prooemium, an amoibaion, a kommos, a parodos or something else.)99 A couple of other elements in the staging of the opening tableau invite comment. First, if the skênê represented a cave on the Ethiopian coastline, it seems possible that the orchêstra itself represented the sea, and, if so, this could be seen as an innovation in the use of theatrical space, though such a possibility would depend in part on the identity of the chorus (were they sea-nymphs or humans?) and on the availability of a stage area separate from the orchêstra for the use of the other actors.100 Secondly, what was the precise method used to represent Andromeda’s rocky prison? A couple of fourth-century vase-paintings have been thought to provide a clue.101 These two Apulian vases depict the figure of Andromeda in a very similar way, with arms outstretched and attached to an object which must be a rock (this detail contrasts with other vase-paintings in which Andromeda appears to be tied to trees or stakes). The rock is represented in an oddly stylized manner: only its outline is painted, using a thick, frilly line resembling a rounded arch or canopy, and the artist’s unsure grasp of perspective makes it hard to judge whether Andromeda is imagined as being in front of, behind or enclosed by the frilly line. Taplin refers to this feature as a ‘rocky arch’ and suggests that the two paintings depict a stage property used by Euripides or other producers: ‘if they wanted the skênê door to represent a cave, they would put a painted arch in front of it’.102 This suggestion may or may not be valid. A portable prop of this sort can be easily enough imagined in practical terms, but there is no evidence to support it, either in the fragments of Andromeda or in any other text (even the Onomasticon of Pollux, where one would surely expect to find a reference to a ‘rocky arch’ in his catalogue of stage-properties). Nor is there any reason to think that these two vases more than any others constitute illustrations of specific dramatic moments in performance.

Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae 1011–1100. See TrGF 5, pp. 238–45. See Hourmouziades (1965) 78; cf. TrGF 5 F116-17. 101 Würzburg H4606; Malibu, Getty 84.AE.996 = Taplin (2007) figs. 60–61. 102 Taplin (2007) 39; later (p. 80) it is claimed that use of this ‘standard item’ is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. 99



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Monologue and mask in Euripides’ Melanippe the Wise The atypicality of Andromeda’s opening scene appears in even sharper relief by comparison with its author’s other plays. As is well known, Euripides had a penchant for opening his tragedies with long narrative prologue-speeches. The stage is empty but for a single character who stands before the audience and delivers a monologue in iambic verse. Such speeches typically supply background material and scene-setting details, introduce the characters and recount the story so far; the play ‘proper’ only begins when the monologue has ended. The function of these monologues is primarily to communicate information to the spectators, and it is hard to decide to what extent they belong to the illusory world of the drama or the real world of the audience. (This extra- or metadramatic status was perceived, and exploited more overtly, by the fourth-century comedians who inherited the device.103) As Barbara Goward has neatly observed, ‘Aeschylus and Sophocles tended to minimize the separate status of prologue material. Euripides stresses it’.104 In a theatre without programmes or programme notes to explain what was going on, and in a culture where the mythical tradition incorporated so many variant stories and arcane details, it is easy to see how such a technique could be of great practical help to the audience in terms of basic orientation. We can also appreciate the technique in artistic terms as a deliberate signature device of Euripides. Using the same formal method of opening his plays time after time could be seen as a simple and economical way of making it clear from the first moment that this was not just any old tragedy but a Euripidean tragedy. A direct comparison can be made with the films of Woody Allen, nearly all of which (from Sleeper onwards) open with an austere black-and-white typographic credit sequence overlaid by a vintage jazz soundtrack – a technique that induces an immediate sense of familiarity, even though the films themselves are characterized by a prolific variety and unpredictability. It is also easy to see how this trademark device might have struck certain people as unexciting, boringly predictable or more akin to narrative poetry than drama. This is implied by Aristophanes’ cruelly perceptive parody in Frogs, which is based on the premise that all Euripidean prologues are essentially the same.105 But Aristophanes, as ever, is exaggerating for comic effect. Actually there is See Hunter (1985) 124–35. Goward (1999) 124–5. 105 Aristophanes, Frogs 1177–1247 (with Σ on 1219); cf. [Anon.], Life of Euripides §4; Σ Euripides, Alcestis 1; Σ Trojan Women 36; see Sommerstein (1996) 263–4; Erbse (1984) 1–19. 103 104

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considerable flexibility in Euripides’ deployment of the opening monologue, and even minor variations can have interestingly nuanced effects. It is also possible to question the extent to which Euripides employed the device or the degree to which Euripides’ practice distinguished him from the other tragedians. While it is true that all his surviving plays open in the same manner (with the exception of Iphigenia at Aulis, which has been altered by later producers, and Rhesus, which is probably non-Euripidean), his lost plays provide examples of prologues which do not fit the ‘trademark’ pattern (such as Andromeda and Daughters of Pelias), as well as a large number of cases where it is impossible to say what style of prologue was used.106 The lost plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles also contain a number of fragments which, on the basis of their style or content, may well come from prologue-speeches of the ‘Euripidean’ type (Aeschylus’ Carians or Europa, Mysians and Niobe are especially plausible candidates for consideration in this respect).107 Thus anyone wishing to discuss opening monologues has plenty of examples to choose from, but I have selected Melanippe the Wise in particular because we happen to possess some information that may help us to recreate something of the exact moment of its first performance, including its effect on the theatre audience. No doubt you have heard what an uproar Euripides caused when he began his Melanippe with the line: ‘Zeus – whoever Zeus is, since I know only what people say.’ But he was awarded another chorus – it seems that he had confidence in the play, which was written in a grand and elaborate style – and he altered the line, resulting in the version that we now possess: ‘Zeus, as the name is uttered by the voice of truth’.108

This anecdote, recorded by Plutarch, is interesting partly because it represents a rare occurrence – albeit unscripted and unforeseen – of audience interaction in a tragic performance. Rare, but not unique: other Euripidean lines are also said to have provoked horrified disbelief or open protest from time to time. For On Andromeda (TrGF 5 F114), see above; cf. Daughters of Pelias (TrGF 5 F601). Lost Euripidean plays which definitely had opening monologues are Alcmeon in Corinth, Archelaus, Melanippe the Wise, Meleager, Oedipus, Oeneus, Polyidus, Stheneboea, Telephus, Hypsipyle, Phaethon, Phoenix and both Phrixus plays (cf. F846, which is unassigned); those which probably did are Aeolus, Alexandros, Alcmene, Antigone, Erechtheus and Scyrians; we have no information about the opening scenes of other plays. 107 TrGF 3 F99, F143, F154a. Other possibilities are Aeschylus’ Semele or Water-Carriers and Philoctetes (TrGF 3 F215a, F249) and Sophocles’ Andromeda, Hermione, Erigone, Men of Camicus, Meleager, Niobe, Polyxena, Scythian Women and Troilus (TrGF 4 F126, F202, F236, F323, F401, F441aa, F546, F523, F618); cf. Women of Trachis. 108 TrGF 5 F480/481.1 (Plutarch, Amatorius 13, 756b). 106


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instance, Plutarch elsewhere tells a similar story about a notorious Protagorean bon mot in Euripides’ Aeolus – ‘What is shameful, if it seemeth not so to those who practise it?’ – and he uses very similar language to describe the ‘uproar’ that this line provoked in the theatre.109 And yet the example from Melanippe is different because it was supposedly the first line of the play. If the original opening line quoted by Plutarch is authentic, it may be seen as a calculated attempt to exploit the very first few seconds of the play for maximum dramatic value. This is not only an attention-grabbing gesture and a provocation to the pious but also a brilliant variation on the ‘trademark’ opening device, even though on a formal level the technique remains exactly the same as usual. Aristophanes may have pretended that Euripidean monologues were dull and predictable, but this one seems to have been anything but. Some scholars have doubted whether Plutarch’s story (or the expunged ‘original’ first line itself) can be trusted. Admittedly, the anecdote has a whiff of the ben trovato about it; and the fact that very similar anecdotes can be found in Plutarch’s work and elsewhere might suggest that we are dealing with a conventional story-type rather than hard factual evidence for the première of Melanippe. But if the story itself is not authentic, what are we to do with the supposedly original opening line? Did Plutarch simply invent it, or did he invent the story on the basis of the verse (which, in fact, is quoted by a number of other ancient writers)? Wolfgang Luppe makes a plausible case for thinking that the verse was the first line of Melanippe Captive rather than Melanippe the Wise.110 Even though it was known in antiquity that Euripides had written two separate tragedies about Melanippe, the subtitles were not systematically used, if at all, and consequently there are many examples of confusion and misattribution in our sources. Luppe suggests that Plutarch, or his source, attributed the line to the wrong Melanippe tragedy, perhaps not realizing that there were two distinct plays. It is easy to see how an ancient scholar, comparing the citation to the first line of the text of Melanippe the Wise that was in circulation, might have invented the anecdote as a colourful explanation of the apparent discrepancy.111 Nevertheless, Luppe’s suggestion does not altogether solve the problem. As he points out, there is another complicating factor, in the form of a fragmentary hypothesis of the play TrGF 5 F19, spoken by the incestuous Macareus: quoted by Plutarch (How the Young Man Should Study Poetry 12, 33c) and others (TrGF 5, p. 165). Other notorious lines that prompted an immediate reaction include Hippolytus 612 and Danae F324 (=Seneca, Letter 115.15); cf. Ixion Tiii (=Plutarch, Moralia 19d-e; see TrGF 5, p. 456). 110 Luppe (1983); cf. TrGF 5, pp. 530–1. 111 On ancient biographical fictions and anecdotes, see Arrighetti (1987); Lefkowitz (2012). 109

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which quotes part of a third, slightly different version of the first line.112 But in any case, even if the ‘original’, heterodox verse quoted by Plutarch was indeed the first line of Melanippe Captive, this does not at all alter our view of its dramatic effect: it remains a strikingly provocative opening device. Furthermore, if both Melanippe plays really did begin with almost identical forms of wording, it seems likely that one of them was self-consciously responding to the other, in which case the tamer version in Melanippe the Wise still looks very much like an attempt at a revision or recantation – or maybe an ironical wink at any spectators who remembered the shocking original. A great deal would have depended on the tone of voice and the gestures adopted by the actor playing Melanippe. However that may be, the opening monologue of Melanippe the Wise, as we have it, later continues as follows, in the conventional ‘signature’ style:113 They call me Melanippe; the daughter of Chiron bore me, and Aeolus was my father. Now Zeus gave my mother a coat of tawny horse-hair, because she sang prophetic songs to humans and told them how to cure and soothe their pains. She was driven away by a powerful storm, leaving behind the realm of the Muses and the Corycian mountain. And now people call this prophetess Hippo because of her altered body.

These lines show that Melanippe’s prologue-speech, whatever its first line may or may not have been, never really had much to do with Zeus, who was mentioned mainly in his capacity as progenitor of Hellen and Aeolus. It is considerably more interesting for what it tells us about Melanippe’s mother, Hippo. As the commentators note, the account of Hippo’s metamorphosis given here is slightly different from other surviving versions of the myth, which may be another sign that Euripides is trying to be provocative, as so often elsewhere in his selection and manipulation of mythical details.114 Indeed, the explanation of the reason behind the metamorphosis seems somewhat baffling. But the most remarkable feature here is the fact that Hippo was turned into a horse and yet (apparently) continued her normal life and her activities as a wise woman just as before. Other mythical characters were transformed into animals, and one of them even appeared on the tragic stage: the bovine Io, in Prometheus Bound. So are

P.Oxy. 2455 (=TrGF 5 Ti, p. 525) gives the opening of the line as Ζευς δ.[, which differs from both F480 (Ζεὺς ὅστις ὁ Ζεύς, οὐ γὰρ οἶδα πλὴν λόγωι) and F481 (Ζεύς, ὡς λέλεκται τῆς ἀληθείας ὕπο). Jouan and van Looy (2000), 354–5, view this as an insoluble problem. 113 TrGF 5 F481.13-21. 114 [Eratosthenes], Catasterisms 18; Σ Aratus, Phaenomena 205; Hyginus, Astronomica 2.18. See TrGF 5, pp. 528–9; cf. Collard, Cropp and Lee (1995) 267–8; Jouan and van Looy (2000) 378. Even Hippo’s name appears in two versions (she is Hippe in some sources). 112


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we to assume that Hippo, in equine form, was among the speaking characters in this play? There is nothing in the fragments to indicate this, but we have the testimony of Pollux, who records that a special horse-shaped mask type existed for the character Hippe (Hippo) in Euripides.115 Several critics have taken this as a sure sign that Hippo did appear on stage, though they differ as to their estimate of her precise rôle.116 Hippo’s presence would certainly fit in with a broader theme of human–animal relations that is discernible in the play’s plot. We know that in the course of the play Melanippe, having been raped by Poseidon, gave birth to twin sons and hid them in a stable, where they were suckled along with the calves and taken to be the monstrous offspring of a cow.117 Thus it seems that this play required its audience to accept strange and freakish phenomena as normal and relatable. The evidence also raises further questions of performance, such as the mannerisms, body language and posture adopted by the actor playing the part of Hippo, and the precise way in which the stable and its inhabitants might have been represented on stage. Did the skênê stand in for the stable? Were real cows used in the production? Such questions are, as usual, unanswerable, but they conjure up intriguing possibilities.

Baby and lullaby in Euripides’ Hypsipyle In several of his later plays Euripides appears to be striving for greater variety by developing a more flexible style of opening sequence, combining spoken portions with various types of song-and-dance routine. Andromeda, with its startling actor’s monody, is one example of such an experiment. Another is Hypsipyle, which started off with a ‘trademark’ monologue by the title character but followed this up with an elaborate opening number with sections of spoken dialogue, monody and a lyric duet between Hypsipyle and the women of the chorus.118 After the initial section of dialogue, Hypsipyle is given an extraordinary solo song: this is a lullaby which she sings to baby Opheltes. We possess, in a damaged papyrus fragment, the last few verses of this lullaby, just before the chorus join Hypsipyle for their entry-song (parodos) in the form of a lyric duet.

Pollux, Onomasticon 4.141 (TrGF 5, p. 528); cf. Pickard-Cambridge (1988) 195. Webster (1967a) 149; Collard, Cropp and Lee (1995) 241. 117 TrGF 5 Ti, iia-b. 118 TrGF 5 F752; cf. Tiiia. 115 116

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… to behold … as in a mirror … gleaming with a certain light … your growth … I may […], child, or with care and affection. Listen! This is the sound of castanets … These songs that the Muse wishes me to play are not Lemnian songs to soothe the task of weaving; but whatever seems suitable for a little boy, to charm him to sleep or to tend to his needs, these are the songs that I melodiously sing.

Even without the music, it is easy to imagine the emotional power of this intimate and tender song. It is more difficult to imagine the precise style of performance. From the self-reflexive lyrics we know that the song did not sound like Lemnian popular music, and we know that it had a percussive accompaniment – Hypsipyle accompanies her singing with castanets, which she seems to be demonstrating for the amusement of the child in her arms – but beyond that it is impossible to know exactly how the music sounded. Nevertheless, the varied and complex metrical structure, the lack of responsion with the other surviving portions of the lyrics and the loose syntactic structure of the words have all struck editors as characteristics of the so-called ‘New Music’.119 This was a radically modern style of music that emerged during the last decades of the fifth century and was much in fashion among certain avant-garde dramatists and lyric poets, including such figures as Agathon, Timotheus, Philoxenus and Cinesias as well as Euripides himself. We have a rough idea what the ‘New Music’ sounded like because it is described – usually in pejorative terms – by ancient music theorists and philosophers, and also parodied by various contemporary comedians.120 It was marked by audacious use of harmony and chromaticism, rhythmical freedom, a tendency towards astrophic solo song rather than strophic choral odes, innovative instrumentation, imitative sound-effects, ornamentation, heightened emotionalism and a relaxed approach to word-setting. It was intended to sound strange, shocking and aggressively modern. This is certainly the impression that we get from devotees such as Timotheus (one of whose songs included the instruction ‘Begone, old Muse!’) or critics such as Pherecrates (who depicted Music as a woman having

See West (1992) 356–72; Csapo (1999–2000); D’Angour (2011) 198–206. Cf. LPGT 1, pp. 78–80, on Agathon. 120 Barker (1984) 89–116, collects and translates all relevant sources. 119


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been sexually assaulted by the New Musicians).121 So it seems that we have to imagine a lullaby which is quiet enough to lull an infant to sleep, yet loud enough to be audible to the spectators in the back row; which is soothing and gentle, yet jarringly new-fangled. Hypsipyle’s lullaby belongs to a notable category of actors’ monodies which are increasingly common in later Greek tragedy and above all in Euripides’ plays. As Edith Hall observes, ‘Euripides’ astrophic monodists are mostly selfabsorbed women, who use song to express intimate and passionate emotions.’122 These arias seem designed to showcase the individual talents of versatile soloists, and they have been linked to the rise in prominence of the acting profession towards the end of the fifth century, the introduction of acting prizes alongside the other prizes at festivals and the emergence of the ‘star’ actor. We have no idea who played Hypsipyle in the original or subsequent productions, but the rôle obviously required a virtuoso combination of musical and histrionic skills. Reflecting on this play reminds us once again that the closest modern analogy to tragic performance is to be found in the world of opera. Another intriguing aspect of this scene is the on-stage presence of the infant Opheltes. There are several babies in tragedy, often used as a prominent focus of the plot (one thinks particularly of the infant Orestes in Euripides’ Telephus or Perseus in Danae), but we do not know how realistically they were presented on stage. Was a real child used in the production, or was it some sort of baby doll? In other words, to what extent did Opheltes function as a character or as a prop? One can imagine advantages and disadvantages of both alternatives. It is clear that Hypsipyle must establish a convincing and emotionally affecting relationship with Opheltes (who is to die horribly later in the play), and there is a certain amount of interaction between her and the child, not just in the lullaby scene but earlier on: it may be thought that a real-life baby is needed if these moments are to seem genuinely pathetic rather than ludicrous. But a real baby on the stage would cause obvious practical difficulties. At the beginning of the scene, Opheltes is said to be crying, so that Hypsipyle offers him toys to play with as a distraction,123 but can one expect a baby to start and stop crying on cue? And what happened in the later scene in which Opheltes was devoured by a serpent?124 It is impossible to say for certain. No doubt the death itself occurred off stage, but it would have been fatal for the play’s success if the baby had later Timotheus F796 PMG; Pherecrates, Cheiron F155 K-A. Hall (2002) 9. 123 TrGF 5 F752d.1-2. 124 TrGF 5 F753c-3, F754. 121 122

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been heard crying (from inside the skênê or somewhere in the wings) after its ‘death’. So on balance it seems more likely that a baby doll was used.

Costumes and props in Euripides’ Telephus Our knowledge of tragic costumes is hazy, and what evidence we possess comes from problematic sources. Aristophanes is our main source for the costume of the Euripidean Telephus: he appears to reveal specific details of the character’s clothing and props, and he suggests how the significance of such details might be interpreted. In a sense, as we have already noted, Aristophanic comedy constitutes fairly good evidence: it is close in time to the plays it describes, and it gives a vivid impression of tragedy’s contemporary reception at Athens. However, given the nature of comedy and its exaggerations and distortions, it is unwise to treat Aristophanes as a straightforward source of factual information. Dikaiopolis, the hero of Aristophanes’ Acharnians, finds himself in the position of having to make an ingratiating speech to the hostile Acharnians, and he decides that the best way to do this is to adopt the persona of an eloquent character from tragedy.125 The persona he chooses is that of Telephus, the wounded Mysian hero who in Euripides’ play had to make a persuasive speech before the Achaean assembly. Telephus had been badly wounded by Achilles and later told by an oracle that only the man who had wounded him could heal him; so he was obliged to go to the Greeks and plead for healing, offering in return to guide the army safely to Troy. For his own protection Telephus was initially disguised as a beggar: in this respect, and in his rhetorical skill, he has been likened to Odysseus.126 The motif of disguise was obviously important in Euripides’ tragedy and even more so in Aristophanes’ comedy. In the Aristophanic version of the scenario, Dikaiopolis appears disguised as Telephus disguised as a beggar, and this composite, multilayered persona is complicated yet further by the fact that Dikaiopolis also (in some sense) represents an average Attic farmer, a demesman from Cholleidai, a personification of the city of Athens and the figure of the poet himself.127 There are many different strands to the humour in Acharnians, and the Telephus scene is not simply a parody of Euripides. Even if it were, we could Aristophanes, Acharnians 410–70 (TrGF 5 T iva); cf. Rau (1967) 19–50. TrGF 5 Tiiic (Hyginus, Fabula 101), F697-8, F703, F712a, F727a fr. 6; cf. F705 (Telephus’ false explanation for his wound). See Jouan (1966) 251; Collard, Cropp and Lee (1995) 23. 127 See Wright (2012a) 11–12. 125 126


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not be confident in using Aristophanes as straightforward factual evidence for the content of Euripides’ lost play. Nevertheless, Aristophanes is undoubtedly reflecting something distinctive about the plot of Telephus and its staging. It is worth pointing out that Aristophanes parodies, or alludes to, Telephus more than any other tragedy: it obviously made a big impression on him and his audience.128 At the time when Acharnians was written (425 BCE), it was already thirteen years since Telephus (438) had first appeared on stage, and yet the play was still so vividly established in people’s memories that Aristophanes could make jokes about specific visual details of the production. Part of the crucial scene in Acharnians is as follows. Dikaiopolis has gone to visit Euripides in order to acquire the necessary tragic costume from him:129 DIKAIOPOLIS: [to Euripides] Why are you wearing that wretched costume, rags from a tragedy? It’s no wonder that your characters are beggars. But I beseech and supplicate you, Euripides, give me a rag from one of your plays – for I have to make a big speech to the chorus, and if I speak badly it will result in my death. EURIPIDES: Rags? What rags?

The tragedian proceeds to list a number of characters who appeared in rags in his tragedies, including Oeneus, Phoenix, Philoctetes and Bellerophon, showing that Telephus, even though memorable, was not unique in this respect. Finally, Euripides lights on the example of Telephus, who is described as ‘an eloquent beggar with the gift of the gab’. Euripides hands over the costume of Telephus to Dikaiopolis, who says:130 O Zeus, you who see through and observe all that goes on in the world, kit me out in as wretched a way as possible! Euripides, seeing as how you have done me this favour, can you also give me those things that accompany the rags – that is, the little Mysian felt cap for my head? For ‘I must appear to be a beggar’ today, ‘be and yet not seem to be myself ’.131 The spectators must realize who I am, but not the chorus – they must stand about like idiots, so that I can make mincemeat of them with my little speech.

Dikaiopolis seems to feel himself turning into Telephus as he puts on the character’s costume and cap: this has been interpreted as a self-conscious comment on the function of costume in the creation of identity. Rosie Wyles, in her recent book See Rau (1967) 19–50; TrGF 5, p. 680 and Tiii-v. Acharnians 412–18. 130 Acharnians 435–44. 131 Telephus F698. 128 129

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on costume in Greek tragedy, argues that the whole Aristophanic scene ‘adds up to the idea that “becoming” a character depends on putting on costume’, and she even suggests that the Euripidean original was already implicitly metatheatrical in its exploration of disguise as ‘an easy analogy to theatre costume’.132 This latter suggestion may or may not be right (and there is nothing in the fragments to help us decide), but Aristophanes certainly suggests that the character of Telephus and the costume of Telephus could be treated, even if only for comic effect, as one and the same.133 Even when Dikaiopolis has put on the costume and assumed the character, the transformation is not quite complete. ‘But I still need a beggar’s staff ’, he says. Euripides gives him the staff, but he then goes on to demand further items: a little basket with a burn-mark from a lamp, a small cup with a chip in its rim, a pot with a sponge inside, some withered leaves and finally some chervil from Euripides’ mother (who was reputed to run a vegetable-stall).134 From our point of view the main problem lies in deciding how much of this paraphernalia, if any, corresponds to the actual props used by the tragic Telephus. The humour seems to rely on the premise that Euripides’ play did use props – perhaps rather a lot of them – and they contributed to the creation of a particularized, quasi-realistic mise-en-scène. If we want to see the parody as embodying some sort of critical comment on Euripides, perhaps Aristophanes is implying that there was too much clutter on the stage, or perhaps he is implying that Telephus more than other tragedies was characterized by a squalid, everyday realism.135 But beyond that it is impossible to be sure whether the parody constitutes a true and detailed recollection of the original tragedy, a more general impression of its character or a mixture of exaggeration and outright fantasy.136 In fact the list of props supplied in this scene is not exhaustive: we know from another Aristophanic reference elsewhere that Telephus carried a small leather satchel, but this is not mentioned here.137 A more serious problem is that the list obviously escalates in silliness with each item, culminating in a ‘punchline’ item (Euripides’ mother’s chervil) which certainly cannot have featured in Telephus.

Wyles (2011) 62–4, 96. Pollux (4.117) lists Telephus as an example of a particular type of ragged costume. 134 Acharnians 446–7, 448, 453, 459, 463, 469, 478. 135 Cf. Frogs 842, where it seems to be implied that Euripides’ tragic art in general is less grand than that of his rivals: see Sommerstein (1996) ad loc. 136 See Handley and Rea (1957) 29; Rau (1967) 29–36; Collard, Cropp and Lee (1995) 24 (displaying different degrees of scepticism). 137 Aristophanes, Clouds 924 (TrGF 5 T iiia, p. 680). 132 133


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But if some items in the list are genuinely Euripidean and others are comic inventions, it is impossible to know where to draw the dividing line between fact and fiction.

Earthquake and demolition in Euripides’ Erechtheus Erechtheus poses a specific sort of challenge to the ‘significant action’ theory of stagecraft. Even when unquestionably significant features are explicitly mentioned in the words of the script, it is possible to doubt whether they were actually presented on the stage. What did the audience actually see and hear? The closing scene of Erechtheus in particular features elements which, if physically staged, might seem to stretch the resources of the theatre to their limits. This is a tense and terrible moment, marking the culmination of the plot. The play’s heroine, Praxithea, appears on the stage bewailing the deaths of her daughters (who have either committed suicide or been sacrificed to save the city of Athens) and of her husband Erechtheus (who has been swallowed up in a chasm in the earth opened up by Poseidon’s trident). We see this unfortunate woman, distraught almost to the point of madness, joining the women of the chorus in a lyric lament (kommos) – but this performance is suddenly interrupted by two unexpected happenings: an earthquake and an epiphany of Athena. PRAXITHEA: O … we are ruined! We are ruined! Who is so cruel that he could refrain from weeping and not lament my sufferings? CHORUS: Alas! Alas! Oh, Earth! Flee … ! … if there could possibly be any end to my ordeal. … of the land … subterranean … An earthquake is making the city’s ground dance! Poseidon is attacking the city by shaking it … … which most unhappily … for me … troubles are present; the building is collapsing! The army has … we are ruined … all … … inspiring with frenzy everything in the palace. ATHENA: Poseidon, god of the sea, I bid you to turn your trident away from this place, and not to unsettle my land or destroy this lovely city of mine.138

TrGF 5 F370.43-57 (P.Sorb. 2328): on the textual problems of this fragment, see TrGF 5, pp. 413–15.


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If we take the words of the text literally, as (in effect) stage directions, then we have to suppose that somehow the director managed to create the sound and sensations of an earthquake and the demolition of the skênê building that represented the royal palace. The first of these special effects is easier to imagine than the second. Tremors and vibrations could have been suggested via imitative sound-effects, involving the use of loud percussion instruments – not only drums and cymbals but also rhomboi (‘bull-roarers’, used in Dionysiac ritual contexts) and perhaps some version of the bronteion (‘thunder-machine’) mentioned by Pollux, if such a thing already existed in the fifth century.139 Choreography could also have played a part: one can easily imagine the chorus and actors throwing themselves to the ground suddenly or miming the bodily effects of earth tremors. But a collapsing skênê would have been harder to manage.140 Some sort of collapsing mechanism would probably have been feasible, especially if the skênê was built of wood at this date, but it is not quite clear how the technology would have worked or how the collapse could have been brought about safely and precisely on cue. Such practical problems would have been greatly magnified if the skênê was a permanent stone structure, and in either case the elimination of the stage-building would have had serious consequences for any other plays being performed in the same festival. These and other commonsensical considerations have caused some critics to think that the skênê remained intact and that the spectators merely had to visualize its collapse in their imaginations. A partial parallel can be found in Euripides’ Bacchae, where there is a similar earthquake, resulting in the apparent collapse of the palace of Pentheus. There is also a further parallel in Aeschylus’ Edonians, where it is Dionysus again who causes an earthquake to shake Lycurgus’ palace.141 All of these scenes together pose important questions about the relative power of words and staged illusion, but critics have differed in the extent to which they are prepared to accept a quasi-realistic mode of staging.142 One commentator on the Bacchae passage finds an ingenious solution to the problem (or evades it altogether) by pointing out that the Dionysiac thiasos quite often, even in non-tragic contexts, evoked verbal imagery of earthquake, thunder and lightning, and he argues that these

Pollux, Onomasticon 4.79: the bronteion involved bags of stones which were smashed against bronze vessels. See Csapo and Slater (1994) 397. 140 It would also rule out the possibility that Athena appeared on the skênê roof, as supposed by Mastronarde (1990) 278–80. 141 Euripides, Bacchae 576–607, 632–5; Aeschylus, Edonians (TrGF 3 F58). 142 See Goldhill (1986) 277–84 (with further bibliography). 139


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associations do not require corresponding visual effects. Furthermore, it is pointed out that ‘characteristic of Dionysus is to see things which others do not see’.143 In other words, the specific contextual features of the earthquake and destruction in Bacchae (and, presumably, in Edonians too) are Dionysiac, and so we may be dealing with an example of mass hallucination. But none of this applies to our scene in Erechtheus, where Poseidon is the god causing the earth to quake. So the problem remains unsolved. What did the spectators see? If they were told that certain events were happening in front of them, even though they could see perfectly well that they were not, this would have been an odd sort of experience. Maybe it would not have been confusing if they were already used to such a convention, but in that case we are bound to wonder whether such an experience was typical of the tragic theatre. How much else in tragedy was talked about as if visible yet actually invisible? How much of the ‘dramatic’ effect really depended on narrative, on telling rather than showing? Was there anything at all on stage except the actors? Once a principle of invisibility has been established, it is hard to know where to draw the limits of its applicability. But as soon as we accept such a principle, the consequences are far-ranging. We will have to reevaluate our ideas about the creation of the dramatic ‘illusion’ and the audience’s suspension of disbelief, and in general Greek drama may start to look less and less dramatic.

Seaford (1996) 195–8, comparing Pindar, Dithyramb F70b, Sophocles, Antigone 152–4, Euripides, Helen 1362–3, Bacchae 918–24.


Bibliography and Abbreviations There follows a list of all works cited, which also serves as a general bibliography for the study of fragmentary tragedy and a guide to further reading. I have marked with an asterisk (*) any items which are likely to be of particular use to the beginner or non-specialist. It may help the reader to know that the following abbreviations are very commonly used throughout the book: adespota (texts that cannot be assigned to a particular author) adesp.   Davies

M. Davies (ed.), Epicorum Graecorum Fragmenta (Göttingen, 1988)


H. Diels and W. Kranz (eds.), Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker6 (Berlin, 1951–2)


fragment (i.e. either a verbatim quotation from a lost text in the work of another ancient author or a portion of an ancient papyrus manuscript)


R. Fowler (ed.), Early Greek Mythography (Oxford, 2000–13)


F. Jacoby et al. (eds.), Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker (1923–)


Inscriptiones Graecae (1873–)


R. Kassel and C. Austin (eds.), Poetae Comici Graeci (Berlin and New York, 1983–)


Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (1981–2009)


M.E. Wright, The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy, Volume 1: Neglected Authors (London, 2016)


The Oxyrhynchus Papyri (1898–)


D.L. Page (ed.), Poetae Melici Graeci (Oxford, 1962)


Bibliography and Abbreviations


E.C. Walz (ed.), Rhetores Graeci (Tübingen, 1832–6)


testimonium (i.e. an ancient citation or discussion of a lost text that does not quote that text verbatim)


R. Kannicht, B. Snell and S. Radt (eds.), Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta (Göttingen, 1971–2004)


an anonymous marginal comment (scholion) transmitted in an ancient manuscript

Aélion, R. (1981) ‘Le bûcher d’Alcmène’, RPh 55: 225–36. Aélion, R. (1986) Quelques grands mythes héroïques dans l’oeuvre d’Euripide (Paris). Allan, W. (2000) The Andromache and Euripidean Tragedy (Oxford). Arrighetti, G. (1987) Poeti, eruditi e biografi: momenti della riflessione dei Greci sulla letteratura (Pisa). Arnott, P.D. (1959) ‘Animals in the Greek theatre’, G&R 6: 177–9. * Ashby, C. (1999) Classical Greek Theatre: New Views of an Old Subject (Iowa City). Assaël, J. and Markantonatos, A. (2016) (eds.) Orphism and Greek Tragedy, special issue of Trends in Classics (Berlin). Austin, N. (2011) Sophocles’ Philoctetes and the Great Soul Robbery (Madison). Avezzù, G. (1988) Il ferimento e il rito: la storia di Filottete sulla scena attica (Bari). Bain, D. (1975) ‘Audience address in Greek tragedy’, CQ 25: 13–25. Bakola, E. (2010) Cratinus and the Art of Comedy (Oxford). Bardel, R. (2005) ‘Spectral traces: Ghosts in tragic fragments’, in F. McHardy et al. (eds.), Lost Dramas of Classical Athens: Greek Tragic Fragments (Exeter): 83–112. * Barker, A.D. (1984) (ed.) Greek Musical Writings, I (Cambridge). Barlow, S. (1971) The Imagery of Euripides (London). Barrett, W.S. (1964) (ed.) Euripides: Hippolytus (Oxford). Barrett, W.S. (1974) ‘Niobe’, in R. Carden (ed.), The Papyrus Fragments of Sophocles (Berlin): 171–235. Battezzato, L. (2013) ‘Teseo ed Eribea: Sofocle (?), P.Oxy. XXVII 2452’, in G. Bastianini and A. Casanova (eds.), I papiri di Eschilo e di Sofocle (Florence): 95–117. Blondell, R. (2013) Helen of Troy (Oxford). Boedecker, D. (1997) ‘Becoming Medea: Assimilation in Euripides’, in Clauss and Johnston (1997): 127–48. Bond, G. (1963) (ed.) Euripides: Hypsipyle (Oxford). * Bosher, K. (2012) Theater Outside Athens (Cambridge). * Boyle, A.J. (2006) Roman Tragedy (London). Bremer, J.M. (1991) ‘Poets and their patrons’, in Hofmann and Harder (1991): 39–60. Bremmer, J.N. (1997) ‘Why Did Medea Kill Her Brother Apsyrtus?’ in Clauss and Johnston (1997): 83–100.

Bibliography and Abbreviations


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Index Accius 92, 93, 120, 155 Achaeus 16, 130, 133, 190, 206, 217 Achilles 35, 42–4, 46, 49, 61–2, 63, 75, 84, 87, 90, 97, 111, 112, 113, 116, 120, 123, 129, 133, 134, 143, 199, 200, 248, 250, 253, 263, 277 actors and acting 11, 42, 48, 53, 60, 68, 95, 104, 108, 153, 188, 237–9, 248, 255, 257, 258, 259, 261, 263–4, 267, 268, 269, 273, 274, 276, 281–2 Aegeus 70, 74, 95, 98, 115, 144, 231, 232 Aerope 83, 141, 173, 180, 181, 195 Aeschines 108, 207 Aeschylus 11–65, 251 Catalogue of works 12, 18, 21, 32, 45, 51, 64 chronology 11–12, 25, 43, 53, 60, 61, 215, 247 life and works 11–16, 17, 33 prizes 11, 26 trilogies and tetralogies 12–14, 15, 17, 21, 25, 26, 32, 35, 38, 40–1, 42–3, 45, 46, 50, 52, 53, 61, 215–17, 248, 250 Agamemnon 86 Alcmene 14, 79, 80 Amymone 13, 17, 26 Argo 15, 20–1, 36 Atalante 6, 16, 21–2, 80, 102 Athamas 14, 15, 16–17 Bacchae 14, 22–3, 80 Bassarai or Bassarides 13, 22–3, 28, 48 Bone-Gatherers (Ostologoi) 15, 50, 52, 84 Callisto 14, 15, 37 Carians (Kares) 14, 15, 16, 37–8, 271 Chamber-Builders (Thalamopoioi) 32, 80 Children of Heracles (Herakleidai) 30–2 Cretan Women 14, 15, 16, 39–40, 101, 195 Daughters of Danaus (Danaides) 12, 15, 17, 26, 32, 259

Daughters of Helios (Heliades) 14, 15, 29, 203 Daughters of Nereus (Nereides) 12, 15, 16, 42, 46, 61, 248–51 Daughters of Phorcys (Phorcides) 15, 61 Edonians 13, 23, 28–9, 281–2 Egyptians (Aiguptioi) 13, 15, 17, 26 Eleusinians 14, 20, 27 Epigoni 20 Eumenides 94, 245 Europa 14, 15, 16, 37–8, 271 Female Archers (Toxotides) 14, 33, 57–8 Glaucus of Potniae (Glaukos Potnieus) 12, 15, 16, 23, 25–6, 61 Glaucus the Sea-God (Glaukos Pontios) 15, 16, 23–5, 40 Hypsipyle 14, 15, 20, 36, 59 Iphigenia 33, 35–6 Ixion 14, 34–5 Judgement about the Arms, The (Hoplon Krisis) 15, 32, 55 Kabeiroi 14, 15, 20, 36, 37, 101 Laius 12, 40–1, 209, 215–17, 222 Lycurgeia 13, 23, 28, 45 Lycurgus 13, 23, 29, 45 Memnon 15, 16, 38, 42 Men (or Women) of Salamis (Salaminioi or Salaminiai) 15, 32 Myrmidons 12, 14, 15, 16, 42–4, 61, 248 Mysians 44–5, 102, 271 Nemea 16, 45–6, 80 Niobe 14, 16, 38, 43, 46–8, 262–6, 271 Nurses (Trophoi) 15, 16, 58, 228–9 Oedipus 6, 33, 40–1, 48–9, 215–17, 222 Oreithuia 14, 37, 64–5 Oresteia 11, 12, 98, 119, 157, 173, 262 Palamedes 15, 193 Penelope 15, 52–3 Pentheus 14, 22–3, 48, 51 Persians 11, 25–6, 36, 38, 61, 248, 249 Philoctetes 59–60, 205, 271 Phineus 12, 14, 15, 20, 36

Index Phrygians (or The Ransoming of Hector) 15, 16, 42, 61–2, 113, 134, 248, 256 Polydectes 53, 76, 165 Priestesses (Hiereiai) 33–4 Prometheus Bound (Desmotes) 11, 37, 61, 176, 261, 273 Prometheus (satyric) 13 Prometheus Unbound (Luomenos) 53–4 Propompoi 54–5 Psychagogoi 15, 52, 62–3 Psychostasia 14, 15, 16, 38, 40, 63, 153, 244, 253–6 Semele 14, 37, 55–6, 58, 271 Seven against Thebes 13, 20, 40, 48, 210, 215–17, 222 Sisyphus the Stone-Roller 33 Sphinx 13, 215–17 Suppliant Women (Hiketides) 11, 13, 15, 26, 94, 249, 259 Telephus 14, 44, 56–7, 119 Thracian Women 15, 32–3, 49, 55 Weighing of the Souls, The (Psychostasia) 14, 15, 16, 38, 40, 63, 153, 244, 253–6 Women of Aetna (Aitnaiai) 12, 14, 244, 245–8 Women (or Men) of Argos 19–20 Women (or Men) of Lemnos (Lemniai or Lemnioi) 14, 15, 20, 36, 59, 101 Women (or Men) of Salamis 55 Women of Perrhaebia (Perrhaibides) 14, 34–5, 52 Wool-Carders (Xantriai) 14, 22–3, 48 Youths (Neaniskoi) 13, 14, 23, 45 aetiology 18, 37, 45–6, 54, 58, 64, 93, 122, 151, 155, 158, 161, 169, 177, 201, 203, 217, 247 Aetna 17–19, 85, 150, 244, 245–8 Agamemnon 35, 56, 60, 84, 86, 89, 97, 112, 113, 134, 135, 195, 199, 200, 211 Agathon 17, 82, 119, 173, 200, 209, 275 Ajax (son of Oeleus) 72–4, 82 Ajax (son of Telamon) 32–3, 49, 55, 72, 92, 118, 222 Alcidamas 77 Alcmene 19, 79–80, 152, 184 Alcmeon 4, 27–8, 78–9, 148–51, 164, 208 Alexis 5, 22 Allen, Woody 271


Amphitryon 19, 79–80, 152 Andromeda 80–1, 155–6, 167, 224, 266–70, 274 animals 16, 22, 25, 28, 37, 39–40, 45, 54, 58, 63, 74, 77, 83, 91, 92, 100, 102, 108, 115, 120, 122, 123, 126–7, 130, 135, 143, 154, 161, 163, 173, 182–4, 187, 189, 195, 196, 197, 203, 208, 249–51, 251–3, 261, 273–4 Antenor 73, 82, 87, 131 Antigone 13, 124, 131, 132, 140, 143, 156–7, 212, 213, 220, 221–7 Antiphanes 5, 41, 78, 108, 214 Antiphon 102, 189, 228 Aphareus 228 Aphrodite 22, 25, 26, 41, 44, 87, 100, 124, 125, 128, 204, 224 Apollo 28, 33, 46, 54, 72, 75, 89, 97, 100, 134, 135, 151, 161, 184, 186, 191, 216, 218, 261 Apollodorus 7, 16–17, 19, 20, 21–2, 27, 28, 30, 36, 37, 39–40, 41, 73, 74, 77, 81, 86, 87, 98, 103, 105, 108, 109, 111, 121, 123, 125, 149, 150, 152, 167, 182, 189, 190, 195, 196, 203, 204, 207, 208, 229, 230, 231, 232, 260 Apollonius of Rhodes 20–1, 36, 59, 60, 98, 229–30 Apsyrtus 98, 116, 230, 231 Arcadia 15, 22, 37, 97, 151, 161, 189 Argonauts 20–1, 36, 41–2, 59, 60, 64, 85, 98, 101, 116, 128, 131, 132, 229–30, 233, 236 Argos 15, 19, 26, 27, 39, 76, 151, 160–1, 199, 201 Aristarchus 117 Aristias 22 Aristophanes 33, 39, 42, 43, 44, 47–8, 56, 59, 69, 72, 119, 120, 125, 132, 135, 140, 145–6, 155–6, 160, 162, 163, 165, 173, 177–8, 181, 184, 185, 186, 187–8, 192, 194, 196, 198, 200, 203, 222, 252–3, 254, 262, 263, 264, 266, 268, 269, 270, 272, 277–80 Aristophanes of Byzantium 68, 157, 167, 176, 177, 222–3, 224–5, 227 Aristotle 33, 34, 39, 41, 43, 44, 46, 47, 49, 52–3, 61, 78, 84, 91, 99, 105, 115, 116, 118, 120, 126, 127, 129, 133, 175, 179, 186, 188, 211, 214, 251, 260

300 Artemis 33–4, 35, 37, 46, 57, 93, 97, 105, 135, 189, 260, 261 Asclepius 130–1, 132 Astydamas the Younger 5, 16, 19, 51, 133, 157, 227 Antigone 157, 227 Atalante 21–2, 80, 102, 141, 189–90 Athamas 16–17, 71–2, 133–4, 174, 207–9 Athena 49, 73–4, 77, 99, 112, 161, 162, 169, 280–1 Athenaeus 50, 61, 94, 104 Athens 17, 19, 74, 97, 122, 138, 154, 155, 160, 168, 171, 217, 223, 231, 236, 239, 243, 277, 280 athletics 22, 70, 76, 78, 143, 147, 155, 203, 227 Atreus 56, 82–3, 93, 173, 181, 195, 212 audience 42, 43, 57, 69, 70, 105, 107, 126, 139, 142, 145, 148, 150, 151, 156, 166, 169, 171, 175, 179, 183, 184, 191, 198, 200, 209, 212, 213, 214, 215, 219, 220, 231, 233, 234, 245, 247, 252, 253, 254, 258, 260, 261, 262, 263–4, 266, 267, 270, 271, 273, 274, 276, 278, 280–2 Auge 44–5, 76, 151, 161–2 barbarism 81, 109, 121, 123, 229, 231, 236 Bellerophon 5, 96, 140, 142, 163–5, 192, 197–8, 207, 227, 278 biographical tradition in antiquity 11, 33, 36, 104, 131, 138, 140, 141–2, 160, 166, 175, 217, 234–5, 235, 255, 258, 272 blindness 28, 60, 94, 131–2, 190, 207, 212, 218–19, 258–9 bronteion (thunder-machine) 281 Calchas 73, 87 Callimachus 57, 93 cannibalism 82, 119, 173 Capaneus 19–20 Carcinus 55, 82, 154, 228 Cassandra 72, 99, 147 catalogues in tragedy 36, 101 Chaeremon 82, 170 character 44, 70, 90, 107, 109, 127, 183–4, 185–6, 198, 207, 211–36 Charonian steps 248 ‘Chekhov’s gun’ principle 244

Index children 14, 16, 30, 33, 37, 38, 39, 40, 45, 46–7, 55, 56, 57, 64, 72, 76, 77, 78, 83, 91, 92, 96, 97, 100, 105–6, 108, 119, 120, 124, 125–6, 131, 132, 133, 135, 141, 145–6, 147–8, 150–1, 153, 154, 158, 161, 162, 165, 169, 171, 173, 178–9, 181, 183, 184, 187, 189, 190, 191, 199, 200, 202–3, 208, 212, 217, 218, 220, 222, 227, 228, 230, 231, 234, 259–62, 265, 274–7 Choerilus 11, 122, 154 chorus 11, 19–20, 21, 25, 28, 29, 30–1, 33, 36, 40, 42, 43, 46, 48, 50, 52, 54, 60, 62, 63, 68, 71, 73, 75, 92, 94, 96, 99, 102, 111, 115, 121, 124, 130, 150, 155, 166, 180, 181, 204, 206, 248, 249, 250, 251, 256, 257, 258, 259–62, 263, 264, 265, 268, 269, 274, 278, 280, 281 and dancing 46, 62, 71, 248–51 Cicero 54, 106–7, 118, 235 ‘classic’ status and canonicity 2, 6, 67, 205–6, 211–14, 235 Clement of Alexandria 162, 219 Cleophon 82, 119, 200 Clytemnestra 35, 97, 98, 113, 124, 205 Colchis 20, 70, 98, 116, 131, 208, 228, 229, 230–1, 233, 236 comedy 22, 41, 42, 47, 57, 96, 108, 120, 132, 139–40, 141, 144, 145, 151, 153, 156, 162, 166, 176, 193, 204–5, 209, 246, 251, 261, 275–6, 277 Corinth 40, 74, 96, 98, 107, 138, 139, 143, 150–1, 163, 191, 208, 227, 231–2, 236 costumes 11, 23, 24, 37, 81, 114, 175, 178, 231, 238, 240, 248, 249, 250, 252, 253, 277–9 Cratinus 87 Crete 37–8, 39–40, 52, 85, 95, 101, 171–3, 182, 195 Critias 137–8 curses 48–9, 209–10, 215, 217 Daedalus 85–6, 182, 184 Danae 53, 76–7, 165–7, 276 Delphi 28, 89, 97, 149, 168, 208, 215, 216 Demeter 33–4, 122, 217. See also mysterycult Demosthenes 108

Index deus ex machina 31, 81, 120, 151, 153, 158, 225, 253, 280–2 Diagoras of Melos 164 Dicaeogenes 228 Dictys of Crete 111 Diodorus of Sicily 52, 80, 129, 143, 183, 186–7, 198, 199 Diogenes of Sinope 82, 220, 228 Diomedes 99, 116, 192, 199, 206 Dionysia 11, 13, 14, 17, 23, 28, 68, 72, 78, 95, 132, 138, 148, 157, 167, 239 Dionysius of Halicarnassus 100 Dionysius of Syracuse 19, 62 Dionysus 14, 16, 22–3, 28–9, 45, 48, 51, 55–6, 58, 72, 92, 124, 127, 157, 158, 171, 174, 184, 203, 208, 224–5, 228, 238, 239, 248, 263, 281–2 Dio of Prusa (Dio Chrysostom) 31, 59–60, 130, 205–6, 173 disguise 52, 79, 99, 106, 113, 114, 125, 143, 178–9, 181, 199, 200, 206, 225, 277–9 disputed works and titles 19, 20, 22–3, 32, 41, 53–4, 64–5, 68, 76, 79, 80, 82–3, 84, 85, 86, 97, 98, 106–7, 125–7, 132–3, 137–8, 186–7, 234–6 divination 39–40, 51, 101–2, 207. See also oracles; prophecy dreams 26, 38 ekkyklema (portable stage) 238, 253, 261, 263, 266–7 Ennius 8, 147, 155, 235 epic 15, 27, 36, 48, 53, 65, 70, 85, 88, 100, 101, 105, 113, 119, 122, 147–8, 160, 184, 196, 211, 226, 260 Epic Cycle 15, 27, 38, 50, 63, 70, 82, 85, 110, 112, 116, 131, 133, 142, 143, 214, 222, 253 Aethiopis 42, 63, 75, 248 Cypria 84, 87, 108, 110, 111, 112, 116, 123, 133, 196, 199 Epigoni 27–8, 78 Iliou Persis (‘The Sack of Troy’) 72–4, 99, 100, 106, 112, 115 Little Iliad 49, 61, 82, 91, 99, 115, 116, 131 Telegony 106 epigraphic evidence 69, 77, 95, 119, 123, 127 Eratosthenes 80, 81, 93


Erechtheus 64, 97, 98, 114, 169–71, 280–2 Eriphyle 27, 78–9, 149 erotic content. See love and sex Euaion 258 Eubulus 108, 162 Euripides 16, 17, 19, 22, 51, 59, 137–210 chronology 135–6, 138, 139–40, 143, 146, 148, 155, 156–7, 160, 167, 176, 180, 193, 194, 201–2, 203, 206, 223, 227, 228, 231, 232, 233, 266, 278 intellectualism 142, 145–6, 148, 159–60, 164–5, 172–3, 175–6, 185, 196, 210 life and works 137–40, 160–1 Macedon 138, 160–1, 201–2 music 142, 159, 180, 203, 268–9, 274–6 myth 143–4, 174, 180–1, 190, 191, 207–9, 209–10, 226–7, 230 prizes 138, 148, 194 ragged heroes 142, 173, 192, 200, 278–80 trilogies and tetralogies 146–7, 148–9, 193–4, 201–2 women 141–2, 183, 185–7, 189–90 Aegeus 74, 144, 231–2 Aeolus 140, 142, 144–6, 220, 271 Alcestis 40, 148, 197 Alcmene 79, 141, 151–3, 271 Alcmeon at Psophis 139, 143, 148–51, 164, 186 Alcmeon in Corinth 107, 138, 139, 141, 143, 148–51, 164, 186, 208, 227, 271 Alexandros 77, 139, 141, 143, 146–8, 193, 271 Alope 141, 143, 153–5 Andromache 70, 88–9, 130 Andromeda 81, 139, 140, 142, 155–6, 266–9, 271, 274 Antigone 140, 143, 156–7, 271 Antiope 142, 143, 157–60 Archelaus 139, 187, 271 Auge 77, 141, 143, 151, 161–3 Bacchae 22, 138, 149, 281–2 Bellerophon 96, 140, 142, 143, 163–5, 198, 227, 244 Children of Heracles (Herakleidai) 30–2 Children of Temenus (Temenidai) 161 Chrysippus 140, 143, 209–10 Cresphontes 141, 143, 178–80 Cretans 140, 142, 143



Cretan Women 107, 139, 140, 142, 143, 173, 180–1 Danae 53, 76, 96, 141, 143, 151, 165–6, 167, 276 Daughters of Pelias (Peliades) 138, 143, 144, 194, 232–3, 271 Dictys 53, 76, 139, 140, 143, 167, 206 Electra 157, 164, 173, 262 Erechtheus 143, 168–71, 271, 280–2 Hecuba 112 Helen 87, 88, 99, 107, 142, 151, 164, 179, 180, 185, 197, 212, 221, 227 Heracles 30 Hippolytus (extant version) 25, 128, 143, 144, 176–8, 188, 208, 259 Hippolytus (lost version) 128, 140, 142, 143, 171, 176–8, 208, 232 Hypsipyle 6, 40, 45, 139, 141, 143, 151, 202–3, 221, 271, 274–7 Ino 72, 141, 174–5 Ion 151, 179, 221 Iphigenia among the Taurians 35–6, 135–6, 157, 179, 180, 221 Iphigenia at Aulis 35, 97, 113, 135, 138, 149, 157, 208, 271 Ixion 34, 142, 175–6 Licymnius 184 Medea 58, 144, 167, 174, 206, 212, 227–36 Melanippe Captive (Desmotis) 143, 151, 185–7, 208, 272–3 Melanippe The Wise (Sophe) 37, 140, 141, 143, 151, 185–7, 253, 270–4 Meleager 140, 143, 187–90, 271 Oedipus 140, 190–2, 214–21, 271 Oeneus 142, 192–3, 271 Oenomaus 108, 140, 143, 193 Orestes 107, 157, 164, 173, 180, 185, 212, 223, 227 Palamedes 139, 143, 146, 193–4 Peleus 110, 140, 195 Phaethon 6, 29, 143, 203–5, 271 Philoctetes 139, 142, 143, 167, 205–6 Phoenician Women 210, 214 Phoenix 133, 142, 207, 232, 271 Phrixus (I and II) 72, 143, 186, 207–9, 232, 271 Pleisthenes 195 Polyidus 39, 101, 143, 195–6, 271 Protesilaus 40, 140, 143, 196–7

Rhesus 137–8, 271 Scyrians 116, 140, 143, 199, 271 Stheneboea 96, 140, 142, 143, 164, 197–8, 232, 244, 271 Suppliant Women (Hiketides) 27, 94 Telephus 56, 139, 142, 199–201, 271, 276, 277–80 Temenus 161 Theseus 140, 143, 171–3 Thyestes 140, 142, 143, 173, 180 Women of Troy (Troades) 47, 111, 146–7, 164, 193, 212 Eustathius 88–9, 104, 196 exile 55, 79, 110–11, 149, 163, 173, 192, 202, 220 fakes and forgeries 18–19, 165 festivals 13, 17, 54, 67, 93, 95, 138, 160, 161, 194, 239, 276 flying-machine (mechane) 163, 184, 238, 254, 260, 281 funerals and funeral ritual 27, 30–1, 46, 169, 187, 224, 226, 268 funeral games 25, 78, 90, 147, 203 Furies (Erinyes) 55, 78, 217 genre 5, 21, 24–5, 36, 40, 50, 58, 65, 70, 84–5, 96–7, 101, 102, 104–5, 111– 12, 114, 122, 132–3, 138–44, 147–8, 155–6, 176, 184, 191–2, 193, 204–5, 207–9, 211–14, 224, 245, 246, 248, 250–1, 261–2, 268, 281–2 ghosts 63, 70, 112, 113, 248 gnômai (maxims) 6–7, 12, 47, 73, 77, 83, 86, 98, 100, 117, 125, 128, 145, 147, 151, 157, 159, 165, 167, 168, 169, 170–1, 174, 175, 177, 185, 189, 191–2, 193, 194, 196, 198, 201, 207, 219–20, 231 gods 14, 18–19, 23–4, 25, 36, 45, 64, 117, 163–5, 185, 215, 280–2 Gorgias 110, 118 Gorgons 53, 61, 81, 155, 167, 267 Hecate 115, 216, 229 Hector 43, 61–2, 63, 111, 113, 134, 196, 256 Hecuba 112, 123, 141, 147 Helen 32, 82, 87, 88, 99, 107, 118, 124, 125, 126, 141, 142, 148, 151, 155, 179, 180, 197, 211, 212

Index Hellenistic literature 8, 91, 93, 176, 199, 234 Hellenistic scholarship 56–7, 80, 137, 176, 184, 188–9, 234 Hera 34, 37, 48, 72 Heracles 16, 19, 30–2, 33, 44–5, 54, 72, 77, 79–80, 114, 143, 152, 160, 161, 162, 163, 184, 201, 212, 226, 227, 261 Hermes 28, 63, 117, 158, 197, 208 Herodotus 35, 64, 124 heroes and heroines 4, 14, 44, 67, 74, 90, 107, 142–3, 183–4, 199, 221–3. See also character Hesiod 7, 19, 21, 37, 57, 96, 119, 152, 204 Hesychius 19, 21, 92 Hieron I, ruler of Syracuse 17–18, 247 Hippolytus 25, 128, 129, 134, 140, 142, 143, 171, 176–8, 188, 195, 198, 207, 208, 272 Homer 7, 15, 28, 38, 42, 43, 46, 47, 50, 52–3, 61–2, 62–3, 70, 82, 86, 88, 90, 91, 92, 94, 96, 99, 102, 104, 105, 106, 107, 113, 143, 152, 163, 206, 207, 214, 265 humour 14, 84–5, 111, 132, 162–3 hunting 37, 57–8, 102, 105, 114, 121, 141, 143, 174, 187, 189–90, 260 Hyginus 7, 58, 83, 92, 93, 98, 102, 103, 108, 134, 135, 154, 157–9, 160, 174, 178, 180, 182, 186, 187, 191, 196, 200, 207, 208, 226–7, 232 hypotheseis (plot-summaries) 7, 43, 53, 58, 59, 75, 103, 105, 119, 121, 145, 146, 147, 157, 162, 172, 178, 187, 194, 197, 198, 203, 208, 222, 227, 228, 233–6, 246, 260, 272 Hypsipyle 41, 45, 59, 202–3, 274–7 imagery 62, 64, 65, 109, 120, 126, 224, 256, 281 incest 70, 82, 83, 109, 140, 142, 144–6, 173, 191, 218–21, 272 Ino 16–17, 72, 134, 141, 174–5, 207–8 inscriptions. See epigraphic evidence interpolation 35, 127, 188, 222 intertextuality (and related phenomena) 30, 35–6, 56, 62, 70–1, 89, 93, 99, 101, 106–7, 129, 134, 135–6, 144, 157, 172–3, 190–1, 195–6, 206, 212–13, 214–16, 217–19, 222–3,


230, 232, 233, 254, 262–3, 266–8, 273 Ion of Chios 19, 82, 99, 207, 259 Iophon 57, 119, 200 Iphigenia 35–6, 97–8, 113, 135 irony 100, 103, 114, 148, 169–71, 191, 202, 204, 221, 266, 273 Ixion 34–5, 52, 95, 117, 175–6 Jason 36, 41, 98, 116, 172, 202, 228, 229, 230, 232, 233, 236 Jocasta 190, 191, 214–21 John of Sicily 64 Kabeiroi 14, 36, 101 Laius 40–1, 191, 209–10, 214–18 lamentation 19–20, 29, 33, 38, 43–4, 92, 106, 112, 118, 158, 175, 180, 194, 248, 265–6, 280 Lenaea 62, 68, 69, 95, 123, 127, 239 lexicographic fragments 6, 12, 16, 19, 75, 80, 86, 90, 92, 96, 98, 113, 116, 128, 154, 166, 169, 248, 258 Longinus 64–5, 112, 140 love and sex 4, 14, 22, 26, 32, 41, 42–4, 53, 58, 59, 70, 76, 80, 81, 83, 90–1, 105, 109, 113, 114, 116, 123, 125, 128–9, 134, 140–1, 145, 151, 156–7, 165, 167, 168, 171, 176–8, 180–1, 182, 183, 190, 191, 193, 195, 196, 197, 198, 199, 204, 207, 209–10, 219–20, 222–4, 225, 226, 259, 267 Lucian 108, 155, 166 Lycurgus (Athenian) 168–9 Lycurgus (Edonian) 28–9, 45, 48, 77, 202, 281 lyric poetry 1, 7, 140, 193 Macedon 17, 138, 160–1, 201–2 madness 28, 30, 78–9, 107–8, 140, 150, 175, 198, 224 magic 15, 24, 39–40, 58, 62, 109, 114–15, 122, 143, 189, 194, 195, 197, 204, 228, 232, 267 marriage 14, 26, 32, 35, 81, 120–1, 124–5, 128, 140, 145–6, 149, 152, 157, 158, 160, 163, 165, 181, 183, 190, 191, 196–7, 204, 210, 218–20, 222, 224, 226, 227, 230, 265. See also wedding



masks 11, 126–7, 239, 240, 252–3, 256–9, 270–4 Medea 40, 58, 70, 74, 85, 98, 109, 115, 116, 141, 144, 167, 172, 174, 194, 212–13, 227–36 medicine 131–2. See also sickness Melanippe 5, 140, 141, 151, 185–7, 234, 253, 270–4 Melanthius 228 Meleager 102, 141, 143, 187–90, 192 Meletus 190, 217 Memnon 42, 63, 75, 102, 253–4 Menander 5, 126, 154, 162, 205 Menelaus 87–8, 89, 112, 142 messenger-speeches 25–6, 32, 58, 92, 100, 159, 167, 171, 179, 189, 251, 260 metamorphosis 15, 22, 23–4, 29, 37, 47, 53, 58, 70, 80–1, 120, 167, 244, 251–3, 265–6, 273 metatheatricality (and related phenomena) 88, 94, 96–7, 166, 171, 270, 273, 278–9 Minos 39–40, 85–6, 101, 171, 182–3, 195 Minotaur 95, 171–2, 182–4 miracles 24–5, 35, 39–40, 83, 134, 152, 153, 182, 197, 268 monody 142, 181, 256, 268–9, 274–6 monologues 48, 54, 180, 191, 200, 218, 270–4 monsters 60, 61, 70, 74, 80–1, 85, 95, 143, 155–6, 171–2, 182–4, 187, 197, 218, 250, 266–7 Muses 33, 93–5, 160, 194, 257–9, 273, 275 music 28, 46, 71, 93–5, 103, 124, 142, 159, 180, 181, 203, 249, 256, 257–9, 264, 268, 269, 275–6 mystery-cult 33–4, 36, 49, 122, 217 myth 7, 14–16, 22, 30, 71, 78, 85, 91, 94, 101, 138, 139, 142, 143–4, 151, 153, 154, 155, 157, 161, 174, 180–1, 190, 194, 201, 203–4, 206, 207–9, 211–36, 244, 270 mythical innovation 35–6, 49, 57, 89, 91, 107, 135–6, 139, 143–4, 151, 157, 161, 172, 174, 180–1, 190, 207–8, 209, 211–13, 226–7, 230, 252 Naevius 28–9 Nauplius 50–1, 103, 104, 110, 181, 194 Neophron 5, 180, 228

Neoptolemus 89, 91, 111, 116, 129, 133, 199, 206 Nietzsche, Friedrich 138–9, 156 Niobe 46–8, 71, 94, 105–6, 167, 259–66, 267, 268, 271 nurses 15, 16, 58, 78, 106, 154, 162, 198, 199, 202, 228 Odysseus 49, 52–3, 59–60, 62–3, 87, 90, 91, 99, 104, 106, 107, 108, 110, 116, 118, 119, 128, 130, 143, 193, 199, 200, 205, 206, 277 Oedipus 40–1, 48–9, 190–2, 207, 209, 212, 213, 214–21, 222, 225, 226, 258 oracles 33, 40, 76, 77, 83, 90, 109, 117, 130, 149, 151, 152, 161, 191, 199, 208, 215, 216, 277. See also divination; prophecy Orestes 56, 78, 89, 93, 107, 108, 135, 157, 173, 199, 205, 211, 223, 227, 276 Orpheus 197 Ovid 24, 37, 58, 113, 120, 199, 267 Pacuvius 8, 22, 106–7 Palamedes 50–1, 103–4, 108, 110, 118, 143, 146–7, 193–4, 256 Palici 14, 18–19, 244, 247–8 Panyassis 30, 122 papyri 6, 24, 25–6, 31, 37–8, 47, 73, 83, 91, 92, 95, 103, 105, 117, 119, 120, 121, 145, 147, 152, 155, 158, 163, 169, 171, 172, 174, 176, 178, 179, 182, 184, 186, 187, 191, 194, 197, 199, 200, 201, 202–3, 207, 218, 224, 228, 233–6, 246, 256, 260, 274 Paris 32, 77–8, 111, 131, 146–8 Parthenius 90–1 Pasiphae 141, 172, 182–3 Patroclus 38, 42–4, 46, 90, 248 Pausanias 23–4, 37, 45, 73, 76, 77, 78, 82, 105, 110, 122, 204, 216, 217, 232 Pegasus 96, 163, 197–8, 244 Peleus 22, 110–11, 129, 134, 140, 195, 207, 256 Pelias 22, 25, 115, 125–6, 194, 228, 229, 232–3 Pelops 108–9, 117, 188, 209, 215 Penelope 15, 52, 53, 63, 90 performance 16, 24, 37, 42, 43, 44, 47, 53, 62, 87, 108, 134, 163, 237–82

Index peripeteia (reversal) 141, 158, 175, 220, 254 Perseus 53, 61, 76, 77, 80–1, 155–6, 165, 167, 266–7, 276 petrification 47, 53, 81, 167, 266–8 Phaedra 95, 109, 128–9, 134, 141, 171–2, 176–8, 183, 195, 210, 212 Phaethon 29, 143, 163, 203–4, 271 Phaethon 29, 143, 163, 203–5 Pherecrates 275–6 Pherecydes 30, 52, 58, 76, 113–14, 122, 152, 222 Philochorus 176 Philocles 51, 52, 119, 251–2 Philoctetes 42, 59–60, 107, 130–1, 142, 143, 205–6, 222, 278 Philyllius 22, 104, 162 Phineus 14, 15, 21, 25, 36, 42, 60–1, 70, 81, 103, 124, 127, 131–3 Phoenix 43, 86, 116, 133, 134, 142, 207, 278 Phrynichus 20, 102, 117, 123, 189, 256 Pindar 24, 33, 34, 36, 45, 49, 52, 82, 86, 109, 117, 118, 184, 282 Plato 24, 47, 51, 64, 138, 159, 161, 193, 209–10 Platon 152, 209 Plautus 19, 151–3 Pliny the Elder 29, 108, 122 plot and dramatic structure 22, 34–5, 38, 52–3, 71, 91, 100, 105, 107, 112, 119, 125, 150, 154, 159, 167, 175, 180, 189, 194, 197, 203, 219, 225–7, 246, 259–60, 267 Plutarch 27, 57, 63, 74, 91, 92, 96, 105, 140, 155, 169, 171, 175, 176, 179, 199, 231, 253–5, 259, 261, 271–3 politics 14–15, 17–19, 27, 38, 57, 71, 122, 138, 155, 159, 160–1, 168–9, 171, 173, 201, 223, 239, 257 pollution and purification 34–5, 41, 52, 78–9, 149, 151, 158, 162, 195, 197, 217 Pollux 42, 94, 96, 126, 127, 166, 248, 254, 255, 258, 269, 274, 279, 281 Poseidon 61, 80, 100, 111, 125, 126, 131, 154, 155, 156, 168, 182, 183, 187, 274, 280, 282 Pratinas 11, 117 Praxithea 64, 168–9, 280 Priam 61–2, 98, 112, 113, 147, 148


Proclus 49, 63, 72–3, 84, 87, 99, 100, 106, 108, 111, 112, 115, 116, 123, 131, 133, 248 prologues 38, 112, 142, 152, 153, 158, 160, 161, 165, 167, 187–9, 198, 205, 206, 218, 226, 232, 254, 263, 268, 269, 270–3 prophets and prophecy 15, 40, 60–1, 63, 73, 87, 101–2, 116, 131, 147, 158, 164, 186, 195, 203, 236, 273. See also divination props and objects 11, 42, 91, 126, 149, 154, 162, 172, 238, 240, 247, 253–4, 255, 261, 263, 269, 276–7, 277–9 Protagoras 146, 159, 176, 272 Protesilaus 40, 111, 140, 143, 196–7 quotation 6, 57, 71, 76, 140, 149, 151, 159, 169–71, 174, 191–2, 200, 201, 233 rape 14, 18, 34–5, 37, 38, 41, 55, 64, 70, 72, 76, 77, 96, 110, 119, 124, 125, 127, 131, 132, 133, 134, 139, 140, 141, 145, 152, 153, 154–5, 157, 158, 161–2, 165, 170–1, 173, 187, 195, 197, 204, 209, 215, 274 reception of tragedy in antiquity 6, 47–8, 92, 108, 125–6, 132, 144–6, 151, 153–4, 155, 162, 180–1, 187–8, 200, 204–5, 212, 214, 221, 252, 254, 262–3, 266–9, 271–2, 275–6, 277–80 recognition 52, 91, 107, 120, 125, 126, 135, 139, 141, 147, 151, 158, 162, 175, 179, 180, 199, 203, 204, 220–1, 227 reconstruction 4, 26, 38, 43, 110, 121, 177–8, 190–1, 200–1, 202–3, 204, 207–9, 217, 226–7, 240, 242–3 reincarnation 15, 39–40, 143, 195, 196–7 religion and ritual 18–19, 23, 28–9, 33–4, 35, 36, 41, 45, 48–9, 63, 93, 114, 115, 124, 175, 177, 181–2, 185, 186, 197, 204, 217, 224–5, 229, 257, 265, 280–2 reperformance 48, 95, 108, 160, 200 revenge 50, 70, 82–3, 89, 103, 110, 119, 143, 158, 173, 178–80, 194, 197, 261 revision (actual or putative) 19, 71, 101, 132, 136, 176–8, 187–9, 207–9, 233–5, 271–3



rhetoric 49, 118–19, 142, 145–6, 159, 182–4, 185–6, 192, 200, 206, 207, 234, 277 Roman tragedy 8, 22, 28–9, 92, 93, 106–7, 120, 147, 155, 173, 246 sacrifice 16, 35, 63, 72, 81, 97, 112–13, 124, 135, 143, 168–9, 182–3, 208, 266, 280 Sarpedon 37–8, 124 satyr-drama 3, 12, 13, 17, 19, 20, 21, 23, 25, 26, 32, 33, 35, 36, 40, 50, 53, 54, 58, 59, 65, 68, 76, 79, 85, 87, 101–2, 119, 122, 133, 137, 147, 153, 165, 167, 202, 206, 215, 228–9 scene-changes 18–19, 150, 245–8, 255, 260, 267 scholia 17, 32–3, 51, 56, 59, 72, 98, 102, 108, 123, 124, 132, 134, 163, 172, 181, 188, 192, 203, 229, 238 sea (as setting for drama) 24, 35, 46, 76, 111, 155, 194, 197, 198, 208, 230, 248, 266, 269 Seneca the Younger 8, 129, 173, 272 sequels 54, 71, 90, 93, 116, 118, 130, 134, 135, 144, 164, 167, 231, 233 shepherds 40, 78, 80, 92, 93, 111, 121, 125, 126, 147, 154, 157, 158, 172, 206, 226, 227 Sicily 15, 17, 61, 85, 245–8 as venue for tragic performance 17–19, 61, 155, 247–8 sickness 60, 70, 79, 107, 129, 130–1, 182– 3, 199, 205–6. See also medicine silence 43–4, 62, 134, 262–6, 268 skene (stage-building) 238, 253, 254–5, 261, 267, 269, 274, 277, 280–2 sophistic movement 87, 118, 142, 146, 148, 159, 176, 182, 185, 272 Sophocles 15, 16, 49, 51, 59, 65, 67–136 and Asclepius 130–1, 132 chronology 67–9, 81, 122, 123, 127, 130, 135–6, 156, 206, 215, 252 interest in music and chorus 71 life and works 67–9, 131 performs in his own plays 71, 94–5, 104, 257–9 prizes 69 trilogies and tetralogies 68–9, 77, 78–9, 104, 119

Acrisius 76, 165 Aegeus 70, 74, 95, 231 Ajax 49, 70, 75, 92, 118, 181, 245–6 Alcmeon 70, 78–9 Alexandros 77–8 Amphitryon 70, 79–80 Andromache 80 Andromeda 69, 70, 80–1, 271 Antigone 13, 132, 210, 212, 221–7 Athamas (I and II) 71–2, 127, 133 Atreus 82–3 Children of Aleus (Aleadai) 70, 77, 103, 119 Chryses 71, 134–6 Clytemnestra 98 Creusa 70, 97 Daedalus 70, 85–6 Danae 70, 76, 165 Demand for Helen’s Return, The (Helenes Apaitesis) 82, 87–8, 99, 111, 124 Dolopians 86, 133 Electra 26, 70, 83, 93, 173 Epigoni 27, 78–9 Erigone 9, 71, 92–3, 271 Eriphyle 78–9 Ethiopians (Aithiopes) 75 Eumelus 90 Euryalus 71, 90–1 Eurypylus 77, 91–2, 103, 119 Eurysaces 92 Fellow-Diners (Syndeipnoi) 84–5 Female Prisoners (Aichmalotides) 75, 127 Footwashing, The (Niptra) 71, 106–7 Gathering of the Achaeans, The (Achaion Syllogos) 84–5, 111 Helen’s Wedding (Helenes Gamos) 87 Hermione 70, 88–9, 130, 271 Hipponous 71, 96–7 Iobates 70 Ion 70, 97 Iphigenia 97, 98 Ixion 34, 95 Laocoon 70, 82, 99–100, 115 Locrian Ajax (Aias Lokros) 72–4, 82, 99, 115 Mad Odysseus (Odysseus Mainomenos) 70, 107–8 Meleager 71, 102, 271 Memnon 75

Index Men of Camicus (Kamikioi) 85–6, 271 Men of Larissa (Larisaioi) 70, 76, 165 Minos 85–6 Muses 93–5, 256–9 Mysians (Mysoi) 71, 77, 91, 102–3, 119 Nauplius (I and II) 70, 103–4 Nausicaa (or Washerwomen) 104–5, 127 Niobe 46–7, 71, 105–6, 259–62 Odysseus Wounded by the Spine (Akanthoplex) 70, 106–7 Oedipus at Colonus 13, 69, 210, 220, 221 Oedipus Tyrannus 13, 40, 190–1, 210, 214–21 Oenomaus 70, 108–9, 193 Palamedes 110, 193 Peleus 110–11, 129, 195 Percussion-Players (Tympanistai) 71, 124, 127, 133 Phaeacians 127, 128 Phaedra 70, 95, 128–9 Philoctetes 69, 70, 107, 130, 205 Philoctetes at Troy 70, 130–1 Phineus (I and II) 127, 131–3 Phoenix 133, 207 Phrixus 133–4 Phrygians 134 Phthian Women (Phthiotides) 129–30 Polyxena 70, 112–13 Priam 113 Procris 70, 113–14 Prophets (or Polyidus) 39, 70, 101–2, 195 Root-Cutters (Rhizotomoi) 70, 115, 229 Scythians 70, 116, 230, 271 Shepherds (Poimenes) 80, 111–12 Sinon 91, 99, 115–16 Sons of Antenor (Antenoridai) 82, 99, 115 Spartan Women (Lakainai) 91, 99 Tantalus 70, 117 Telepheia 69, 77, 91, 103, 119 Telephus 77, 103, 119 Tereus 70, 119–21, 244, 251–3 Teucer 92, 118–19 Thamyras 71, 93–5, 256–9 Theseus 70, 95 Thyestes (I, II and III) 70, 82–3, 127 Triptolemus 69, 121–2 Troilus 69, 123, 271 Tyndareus 99, 111, 124–5 Tyro 70, 123, 125–7 Water-Carriers (Hydrophoroi) 75, 127


Women of Colchis (Kolchides) 70, 229–30 Women of Lemnos 41, 101, 127 Women of Mycenae (Mycenaiai) 82–3 Women of Trachis (Trachiniai) 30–2, 114, 271 Sphinx 41, 191, 215, 218 Spintharus 30, 55 stagecraft and staging. See performance stepmothers (mostly wicked) 32, 125, 132, 134, 151, 175, 176–8, 207, 231 Stesichorus 30, 57, 124–5 Stheneboea 5, 96, 134, 140, 141, 142, 143, 163–4, 183, 197–8, 232, 244, 271 Stobaeus (John of Stobi) 117, 118, 120, 158, 170 Strabo 65, 82, 112, 162, 201 Strattis 22, 209 Suda 5, 11, 68, 137 suicide 32, 49, 55, 87, 88, 93, 190, 197, 209, 214, 219, 280 supplication 26, 56–7, 152–3, 203, 217 symposia 33, 192 Tantalus 46, 47, 70, 117, 265 Telemachus 91, 108 Telephus 5, 44–5, 56–7, 77, 91, 102–3, 108, 119, 126, 139, 142–3, 161–3, 192, 199–200, 271, 276, 277–80 Teucer 55, 70, 92, 118 textual transmission 12, 56, 101, 126–7, 130, 132, 137, 187–9, 219, 235, 272–3 Thebes and Theban myths 19–20, 27, 28, 40–1, 48–9, 78–9, 158, 191, 203, 209–10, 214–27 Themistocles 57, 88 Theodectes 17, 173 Theodorides 228 theologeion (viewing platform) 254–5 Theseus 27, 74, 95, 129, 140, 143, 154, 171, 172, 189, 194, 231–2 Thespis 18 Thetis 46, 49, 63, 87, 111, 116, 195, 199, 248, 250, 253 Thyestes 5, 70, 82–3, 95, 103, 127, 140, 142, 143, 173, 181 Timocles 16, 133 Timotheus 275–6 titles 19, 20, 48, 54–5, 68, 75, 103, 106–7, 124, 127, 176, 178, 254



trilogies and tetralogies 12–14, 15, 17, 21, 23, 26, 32, 35, 38, 40–1, 42–3, 45, 46, 48, 50, 52, 61, 68–9, 77, 78–9, 104, 116, 119, 130, 143, 146–7, 193, 201, 202, 215–17, 248, 250 Trojan War 15, 38, 42–4, 49, 50–1, 56–7, 59–60, 61–2, 70, 72–4, 75, 82, 84–5, 87–8, 90, 91–2, 97, 102–3, 103–4, 107–8, 110, 111–12, 112–13, 115– 16, 116–17, 118, 119, 123, 124–5, 130–1, 133, 134–6, 143, 146–8, 196–7, 199–201 twins 18, 122, 125–6, 157–9, 174, 186, 187, 274 Tyndareus 89, 99, 111, 124, 125 underworld 61, 63, 73, 129, 197 vase-painting 8, 28–9, 43, 47, 54, 56, 61, 72, 81, 122, 152–3, 200, 226, 231, 238, 249–50, 257–9, 266, 268–9 Vergil 25, 99, 100, 110

weddings and wedding-ritual 26, 27, 32, 35, 87, 96, 134, 143, 167, 191, 204, 222, 224, 265. See also marriage weird and grotesque subject-matter 15–16, 24–5, 39–40, 61, 101–2, 119, 182–4, 187, 228–9, 232, 273–4. See also monsters writing and literacy 51, 88, 90–1, 96, 110, 122, 172–3, 193–4, 197 Xenocles 190, 217 Xenophon 170–1 Zeus 14, 16, 18, 19, 20, 22, 29, 33, 34, 37–8, 47, 54, 55–6, 57, 63, 72, 73, 76, 79, 113, 124, 128, 152, 153, 157, 158, 160, 161, 165, 182, 185, 186, 202, 204, 208 as on-stage character? 63, 153, 253–6