BMCR 2004.12.30

Shards from Kolonos: Studies in Sophoclean Fragments

, Shards from Kolonos : studies in Sophoclean fragments. Le rane. Studi ; 34. Bari: Levante, 2003. 573 pages ; 21 cm.. ISBN 8879493078. €61.97 (pb).

This volume makes a valuable contribution to the study of Sophocles. It contains twenty essays and is based on the proceedings of a conference organized by CADRE (the Centre for Ancient Drama and its Reception) at the University of Nottingham in July 2000. There is currently a great resurgence of interest in the fragments of Greek tragedy, to which this collection is a welcome addition.1 As has long been recognized (but often ignored, especially in the study of Sophocles), the fragments encourage us to confront the variety of the tragedians’ subject-matter and ideas and the versatility of their dramatic technique.2 Thus, if one considers the plays and fragments of Sophocles without the inherited lumber of his traditional identity as the most ‘classic’ or ‘conservative’ of dramatists, a very different picture of his oeuvre emerges. Sommerstein (p. 20 of his Introduction) accordingly discerns ‘a Sophocles who is much more like Euripides than we have been accustomed to imagine.’ While this is true, to a point, it is perhaps better to avoid the temptation (understandable though it is, given the plays that have survived) to explain the work of one dramatist in terms of another, since this risks obscuring the diversity and range, both in subject-matter and tone, of fifth-century tragedy as a whole.

The essays are arranged in seven sections, with general titles (e.g. ‘Mothers’, ‘Stepmothers’); the first, ‘Tracing Themes’, is particularly vague. The contributors’ delight in the tantalizing puzzles of the fragments is evident throughout, and some of their reconstructions are stimulating. An important attraction of fragmentary texts, whether poetry or prose, is their capacity to stimulate the imagination, yet there is a clear line between scholarly guesswork and unbridled speculation. That is, in working with fragments, the likelihood that one’s reconstruction is incorrect should encourage restraint.3 Alas, too many of the contributors have not taken this basic dictum to heart. The pages are full of such words and phrases as ‘probably’, ‘perhaps’, ‘it is possible that …’, ‘it may have come from …’, and so on. One can enjoy and profit from such speculation in small and regular doses, provided it is grounded in the surviving texts and testimonia, but its employment willy-nilly is frustrating. Some of the essays manage to avoid this trap, but others pile guess upon guess, so that one often ends up with an impression of a play’s plot, which, upon turning to Radt’s edition ( TrGF I) turns out to be a mirage.

André Lardinois, ‘Broken Wisdom: Traces of the Adviser Figure in Sophocles’ Fragments’, pp. 23-43, seeks to show that the figure of the ‘adviser’ or ‘warner’, well attested from Homer onwards, appears frequently in both the lost and the surviving plays. However, the features that are said to be common to these figures (speech as advice, appeals to reason, the adviser recognized as wise, his association with words rather than actions) are so general as to make any talk of a significant pattern seem forced. As Lardinois himself notes, ‘these characteristics are not unique to adviser speeches’ (p. 37), so that his list of passages where people are said to speak well or others are told to listen hardly proves ‘the conventionality of Sophocles’ characterization’ (p. 43). The plays are inevitably full of ‘advice’, since confrontation and disagreement propel their plots in innumerable ways, but to class certain ‘advisers’ as ‘the same character types’ (p. 43) is useful at only the very broadest level and tells us little about the dynamics of any particular play.

Elizabeth M. Craik, ‘Medical Language in the Sophoklean Fragments’, pp. 45-56, points to the presence of medical terms, principally those of anatomy, but does not reach any conclusion about the significance of such ‘medical nuance’ (p. 56). There is a summary of the evidence for Sophocles’ connection to the cult of Asclepius (pp. 45-7), and Craik distinguishes between marked medical language and expressions (e.g. ‘a salve for grief’) that are ‘little more than clichés and … dead metaphors’ (p. 48). The suggestion that χυμός means both ‘semen’ and ‘liquefied ice’ in fr. 149.6 R (from The Lovers of Achilles, a satyr play) creates a suitably lewd double entendre, yet Craik’s version of the rest of the sentence (‘but liquefaction can’t be stopped, the hardness does not last for long’) is very far from the Greek (one might add that Diggle, TrGFS p. 36, obelizes most of line 6).

Katerina Zacharia, ‘Sophocles and the West: The Evidence of the Fragments’, pp. 57-76, considers a number of references to Italy and Sicily, arguing that such passages should be related to an Athenian audience’s ‘imperial’ interest in that area. While some scholars have seen references to places beyond Athens (and reports of Aeschylus’ activities in Sicily) as evidence for the early spread of tragedy, Zacharia turns the focus neatly back on Athens itself, while adding that ‘the context is more imperial than domestic’ (p. 74). That this ‘imperial’ dimension is no less Athenocentric than its ‘domestic’ equivalent does not undermine Zacharia’s case, which is based on a careful analysis of the fragments. Yet to infer from two references to Italy in frr. 598 and 600 of Triptolemus that the play may have had ‘an imperial sub-text’ (p. 65) seems precipitate, since the hero’s journey at the behest of Demeter will have taken him all around the earth (cf. TrGF IV p. 446). Similarly, the claim that Sophocles may have made Daedalus ‘a western colonizer, or … an Athenian’ (p. 72) is not supported by the fragments themselves, and there is scarcely enough evidence to say that The Men of Camicus was ‘a play with a western imperial subtext’. Nevertheless, the essay raises the issue of the political and ideological tendentiousness of particular tragedies and satyr plays in a provocatively direct manner.

Amy C. Clark, ‘ Tyro Keiromene‘, pp. 79-116, and Glenn Moodie, ‘Sophocles’ Tyro and Late Euripidean Tragedy’, pp. 117-38, examine Sophocles’ treatment of the Tyro myth. Both agree that frr. 653, 654 and 656 point to two separate plays, rejecting the notion that the second Tyro was simply a revision of the first. Clark discusses fr. 659, in which Tyro laments her brutal treatment at the hands of her stepmother Sidero. Though Clark takes a long time to get to the point (Sidero gives Tyro ‘a bowl-cut’, p. 92), she quotes several telling passages to illustrate the humiliation involved in having one’s hair forcibly shorn. (Again, the text is less certain that it is made to appear: cf. Diggle, TrGFS p. 75, on lines 6-7 of fr. 659.) However, the contrast between the ‘pathos’ of the recognition-scene in Sophocles’ second Tyro and the ‘sophism and contrivance’ of Euripides’ Melanippe plays (p. 81; cf. p. 116) is very slap-dash (tellingly, no fragments of Euripides are quoted). Moodie’s essay, by contrast, is a model of clarity and concision. Having established 415 as a terminus ante quem for both plays, he relates the latter Tyro‘s tense recognition plot and happy ending to the Ion, IT and Helen. He rightly challenges ‘the views that such plots were exclusively Euripidean and that Euripides was solely responsible for such innovations’ (p. 122). Yet one misses a reference to the Odyssey, an eminent precursor to such story-patterns, and it is unfortunate that Moodie does not also challenge the view that Euripides’ so-called happy-ending tragedies ‘differ significantly from the traditional tragic type’ (p. 128).

Jenny March, ‘Sophocles’ Tereus and Euripides’ Medea‘, pp. 139-61, argues that the infanticide in Euripides’ play inspired Sophocles’ treatment of the Tereus myth. Her claim that ‘it is usually assumed that Euripides’ theme of vengeful child-murder in Medea was inspired by Procne’s deed in Sophocles’ (p. 141) seems odd: who are the people who regularly assume this? March proposes that when the chorus of the Medea say they have heard of only one woman, Ino, who killed her own children (1282-4), their statement means that Euripides did not know of a child-killing Procne and that, therefore, Sophocles’ play must be later than Euripides’ and Sophocles must have got the idea from Euripides’ play (p. 151). Such a series of inferences is highly implausible. Even if Euripides’ chorus were not being rhetorical with the truth (as they obviously are, to magnify the enormity of Medea’s act), it is far from certain that Sophocles invented Procne’s murder of her son.4 Moreover, in reconstructing Sophocles’ play, March presupposes that ‘because she [Procne] was a Sophoclean hero, audience sympathy must have remained with her’ (p. 155). But how can she be sure of this? Could Sophocles write only one kind of ‘hero’ role? Does audience sympathy remain with Antigone, for example? Finally, March finds fr. 581 unworthy of Sophocles (and of Aeschylus, to whom Aristotle ascribed it) ‘in sense and style’ (p. 161, n. 55), but neither quotes the passage nor explains why it is unworthy.

Dan Curley, ‘Ovid’s Tereus : Theater and Metatheater’, pp. 163-97, attempts to reconstruct Sophocles’ tragedy from Ovid’s narrative of the Tereus-Procne-Philomela myth ( Met. 6.424-674). The essay seems rather out of place in this collection, since it is concerned primarily with Ovid rather than Sophocles. In any case, Curley’s claim that Ovid’s text can be used to reconstruct Sophocles’ play seems precarious and is not made any more plausible by his attempts to ‘decode’ Ovid. Curley alters the conventional meaning of ‘metatheatrical’ so that it becomes ‘shorthand for Ovid’s strategy in rewriting Greek tragedies’ (p. 165). There follows a discussion of several events that are ‘onstage’ in Ovid’s narrative (i.e. Ovid narrates them). Given the ‘code’ of some scholars, talk of ‘the codes of tragedy and epic’ (p. 169) leads one to expect a bit of ‘negotiation’, and we are promptly told that ‘one must never discount the will of the artist, who is the final negotiator of all codes’ (p. 170). Ovid may well have known many ‘codes’, but on the evidence of his narrative and Sophocles’ fragments, it is far from certain that one can use the former to reconstruct the plot of the latter, nor that ‘every retelling of a tragedy in the Metamorphoses is a matter of recodification’ (p. 183).

Carolin Hahnemann, ‘Sophokles’ Aigeus : Plaidoyer for a Methodology of Caution’, pp. 201-18, offers a welcome ‘meditation on methodology’ (p. 201), which, as her title indicates, can be summed up in one word, and she draws attention to the uncertainty of many conjectural ascriptions. Her own deployment of the securely ascribed fragments rests upon the assumption that Apollodorus’ Epitome preserves the outline of Sophocles’ plot, which remains extremely uncertain (and rather improbable, given the tendency of epitomists to rely on the compendia of earlier mythographers rather than on specific poetic sources). Sophie Mills, ‘Sophocles’ Aegeus and Phaedra‘, pp. 219-32, takes issue with Hahnemann’s reconstruction of the Aegeus and discusses fr. 24 in relation to Athenian myths about the division of Attica among the sons of Pandion (pp. 228-30). She closes with a very brief section on Sophocles’ Phaedra (pp. 231-2), arguing that Phaedra may have been more brazen (i.e. more like Eurpides’ first version of her) than is sometimes assumed, but this must remain conjecture as long as the Sophoclean fragments tell us nothing about Phaedra’s approach to Hippolytus.

The essays by Thomas H. J. U. Talboy, ‘A Tell-Tale Tail: Sophocles Phaidra fr. 687 and 687a’, pp. 233-40, and David Fitzpatrick, ‘Sophocles’ Aias Lokros‘, pp. 243-59, are rather slight. Talboy would assign fr. 687a as well as fr. 687 (on Cerberus wagging his tail) to a speech by Theseus. His claim that fr. 687a also refers to Cerberus (rather than to Poseidon’s bull, as is sometimes thought) is not impossible but depends largely on the amount of ‘frothy saliva’ one might expect from these animals, and I am less certain than Talboy that a monstrous bull could not compete with a dog in that respect. (Incidentally, the number of Cerberus’ heads varies, but is usually plural (from two to fifty: e.g. Hes. Theog. 312), whereas fr. 687a speaks of only one tongue.) Fitzpatrick’s discussion adds nothing of value to those of Pearson and Haslam.5

C. W. Marshall, ‘Sophocles’ Nauplius and Heron of Alexandria’s Mechanical Theatre’, pp. 261-79, presents a fascinating account of a miniature Hellenistic mechanical theatre, as described in a technical manual by Heron of Alexandria, written sometime close to the early Flavian period. Heron’s account of the theatre’s scenes (created by a system of clockwork mechanisms powered by a descending weight) includes ‘Nauplius holding a torch and Athena standing next to him’, followed by a lightning bolt that ‘fell in the theatre itself, upon the figure of Ajax, which disappeared’. To use this automatic theatre to reconstruct the Nauplius Pyrkaeus, as Marshall does, requires a leap of faith, and much of the plot that he builds around it depends on other late sources, such as Hyginus’ Fabulae, which are open to the same caveats as Apollodorus’ Epitome. Nevertheless, Heron’s description offers an enticing insight into the lesser known by-ways of ancient mechanics and toys.

Eleanor Okell, ‘The “Effeminacy” of the Clever Speaker and the “Impotency” Jokes of Ichneutai‘, pp. 283-307, discusses Silenus’ tirade against the satyrs in 145-68, but exaggerates its rhetoric of ‘effeminacy’ and ‘impotency’. When Silenus calls his sons ‘mere bodies and tongue and phalluses’ (150-1), he is indeed drawing attention to their unmanly cowardice, which he contrasts with his former sexual conquests, but Okell’s lengthy catalogue of passages that link cowardice and effeminacy do not make up for the absence of any reference to effeminacy in the text. Silenus calls the satyrs ‘babies’ (161), not women. The connection between ‘sexual passivity’ and ‘effeminacy/softness’ outlined in pp. 286-7 is well known, but it is far from clear that there is an ’emerging connection’ between those qualities and ‘oratory’, as Okell alleges. Yet even if this vague ‘cluster of associations’ (p. 288) were valid, what does the suspicion of clever speakers have to do with Silenus here? Silenus is haranguing his sons so that they will stop being scared and help him find Apollo’s cattle; to connect this with a contemporary ‘nexus of ideas’ (p. 306) regarding the ‘clever speaker’ or ‘sexual deviant’ seems strained and the link is not clearly explained. As regards the second alleged ‘impotency’ joke at 362ff. (pp. 291-2), Cylene is asking the satyrs to stop stroking their expanding phalluses, an act which is not usually considered a sign of impotency. Okell’s lengthy quotations from the Loeb text and translation call attention once again to the danger of basing one’s interpretations on an edition whose remit and format entail the masking of genuine uncertainties: lines 369-70, for example, quoted on p. 292, are marked ‘non intelleguntur’ in Diggle’s apparatus ( TrGFS p. 61). There is surprisingly no reference to J. Diggle, ‘Sophocles, Ichneutae (fr. 314 Radt)’, ZPE 112 (1996) 3-17.

Arlene L. Allan, ‘Cattle-Stealing Satyrs in Sophocles’ Inachos‘, pp. 309-28, offers a new reconstruction of the Inachus, plausibly defending its identity as a satyr play (for linguistic detail, see the essay by Redondo, especially p. 430). The phrase ‘no doubt’ occurs too often. I suspect there is a great deal of doubt whether Allan’s version of the plot (extending over several pages, 320-7) will be found persuasive: she admits it ‘may strike some as rather fanciful’ (p. 327). But the reminder of how irreverently myth can be treated in satyr drama is apposite. Pierre Voelke, ‘Drame satyrique et comédie: à propos de quelques fragments sophocléens’, pp. 329-51, considers points of overlap between satyr drama and comedy, but his points are hard to pin down: it is not clear, for example, how ‘la gestualité’ of the satyr chorus differs from that of the comic chorus, or, one might add, from the tragic (pp. 333-5: cf. e.g. Soph. Ajax 693ff.). He concludes that ‘le drame satyrique revêt une fonction essentiellement cohésive, loin des effets subversifs attachés à la comédie’ (p. 350). Yet this seems too schematic. If the comic dramatists are ‘subversive’, we surely need some examples to back up such a comprehensive statement about their plays’ socio-political impact. And where is the evidence that satyr drama is (generally speaking) ‘cohesive’ in its ‘function’?

Section VI, ‘Satyr-drama or tragedy?’, is, on the whole, the most satisfying. Alan H. Sommerstein, ‘The Anger of Achilles, Mark One: Sophocles’ Syndeipnoi‘, pp. 355-71, argues for the play being a tragedy, despite the references to food, bellies, and a smelly chamber pot in frr. 563-5. (The fragments are not fully quoted, but merely referred to on p. 360). Sommerstein persuades that these elements are potentially compatible with a serious handling of the myth, but he does not counter the linguistic criteria adduced by López Eire (pp. 398-400) and Redondo (p. 420), which favour its being a satry play. The safest verdict seems to be a Scottish one: non liquet. Ralph M. Rosen, ‘Revisiting Sophocles’ Poimenes : Tragedy or Satyr Play?’, pp. 373-86, seeks to show how Sophocles might have made ‘a plausible satyr play’ (p. 376) out of the Greeks’ first assault on Trojan soil, including Hector’s killing of Protesilaus and Achilles’ killing of Poseidon’s son Cycnus. Rosen sees Sophocles’ choice of a chorus of shepherds as proof of satyric quality since ‘such a chorus would so easily evoke the unflattering stereotypes of rustics that prevailed in fifth-century Athens’ (p. 377), but in the world of heroic myth there is no such disgrace in being a shepherd or herdsman (cf. Iliad 20.188-90 (Aeneas), 24.29 (Paris)). Nor is Cycnus’ boast that he kicked someone in the buttocks (fr. 501) conclusive, for, as Rosen himself notes (p. 379), the word γλουτός is used regularly by Homer to describe the entry point of wounds. He detects ‘humorously trivial detail’ in fr. 503 (p. 381), on the migratory patterns of the πηλαμύς (‘young tunny’), and comic or paratragic bathos in the placement of φθείρει (fr. 504). Yet, in the latter case, the verb is not necessarily hyperbolic since the fish are being killed. Nevertheless, Rosen has made as good a case as could be made for Poimenes being a satyr play (for further linguistic features pointing in the same direction, cf. Redondo, pp. 428 and 431), though he also notes that ‘the meager evidence we have about the play will never allow for a consensus’ (p. 374).

The articles by Antonio López Eire and Jordi Redondo are outstanding. In the first, ‘Tragedy and Satyr-Drama: Linguistic Criteria’, pp. 387-412, López Eire offers a detailed, nuanced, and much-needed analysis of the language of satyr drama, which he outlines as follows (pp. 387-8): ‘Satyr-drama is neither a tragedy nor a comedy, neither a parody of tragedy nor a special kind of Old Comedy. Its effect rests on the mixture of two unharmonious elements, the tragic and the satyric, a mixture clearly reflected in its language, sometimes noble, sometimes full of licentiousness and impudence.’ He discusses and exemplifies many features of satyric vocabulary, morphology, and syntax, showing that, on the whole, the language of satyr drama is closer to that of tragedy than to that of comedy. In his essay, ‘Satyric Diction in the Extant Sophoclean Fragments: A Reconsideration’, pp. 413-31, Redondo takes a slightly different approach, emphasizing those features (including crasis, use of dialects, colloquialisms, hapax legomena, vulgarisms, word-play, and loanwords) where the languages of satyr play and comedy have much in common. The evidence Redondo collects is then applied to several plays of disputed genre and he is able to make a strong case for thirteen plays being satyric (in addition to the thirteen securely attested as satyric in ancient sources).

The collection concludes with a discussion of Sophocles’ non-dramatic works: Francesco De Martino, ‘Sofocle “stravagante”‘, pp. 435-64. De Martino’s remark, ‘È certo difficile credere che Sofocle abbia scritto un discorso Sul coro‘ (p. 441), requires justification. What prompted the story, if it is untrue? Was it the claim that Sophocles reduced the number of chorus members from fifteen to twelve? De Martino defends as genuine Sophocles’ famous description of the evolution of his own style from Aeschylean ὄγκος to one that is ἠθικώτατον (pp. 447-8). There follows a useful commentary on the elegiac (frr. 1-5 West) and melic fragments (fr. 737 PMG), though the latter, Sophocles’ Paean to Asclepius, is treated more fully by W. D. Furley and J. M. Bremer edd., Greek Hymns: Selected Cult Songs from the Archaic to the Hellenistic Period (Tübingen, 2001) 1.261-2, 2.219-21.

All in all, then, this is a rewarding and stimulating collection. The best pieces are those that use the fragments to raise larger, controversial, and difficult issues — whether of ideology, genre, or language — and, in so doing, relate the variety of Sophocles’ plays to a view of tragedy which is a good deal less bound by ‘norms’ (whether of tone, subject-matter, or story-pattern) than is often the case. As a result, a less familiar or ‘middling’ image of Sophoclean tragedy emerges. There is at times, as has been noted, far too much speculation about plots, and some of the essays could have stated their main points more briefly, but there is also much to be thankful for. It is reported (p. 13) that Prof. Sommerstein, in collaboration with others, is engaged in a project to produce annotated editions of selected fragmentary tragedies of Sophocles, which I understand will, like those of Euripides, be published by Aris and Phillips (see n. 1 below). These will make the fragmentary plays more widely accessible and should expand our conception of Sophoclean tragedy yet further.

In Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia (Act 1, Scene 3), the tutor Septimus Hodge comforts his pupil, Thomasina Coverly, who cannot bear to think of ‘all the lost plays of the Athenians’, telling her that ‘The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language.’6 Until either of those predictions comes true, however, we can only make the most of what we have and this volume will help us to do so better.7


1. Cf. most recently R. Kannicht ed., Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta, Vol. 5: Euripides (Göttingen, 2004); C. Collard, M. J. Cropp and J. Gibert edd., Euripides: Selected Fragmentary Plays, Vol. II (Warminster, 2004).

2. Though one should bear in mind the caution expressed by Stefan Radt, ‘Sophokles in seinen Fragmenten’, in J. de Romilly ed., Sophocle: Entretiens sur l’Antiquité classique 29 (Vandoeuvres-Geneva, 1983) 185-222, p. 185: ‘Was die Fragmente zu unserem Sophoklesbild beitragen, kann selber auch nur fragmentarisch sein.’ (This important essay is reprinted in H. Hofmann and A. Harder edd., Fragmenta Dramatica: Beiträge zur Interpretation der griechischen Tragikerfragmente und ihrer Wirkungsgeschichte (Göttingen, 1991) 79-109 and in A. Harder, R. Regtuit, P. Stork and G. Wakker edd., ‘Noch einmal zu … ‘: Kleine Schriften von Stefan Radt zu seinem 75. Geburtstag (Leiden, 2002) 263-92.)

3. Cf. A. S. Hollis, ‘A Fragmentary Addiction’, in G. W. Most ed., Collecting Fragments: Fragmente sammeln (Göttingen, 1997) 111-23, p. 111, on his edition of Callimachus’ Hecale : ‘While engaged in the work, one may feel inclined to adapt the words of St. Augustine, “Let a complete text of the Hecale be found, but not quite yet.” After publication, the editor must face the near-certainty that, if a complete text were found, most of his or her ideas (however ingenious and plausible) would be proved wrong.’

4. W. Burkert, Homo Necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth. Trans. P. Bing (Berkeley, 1983) 180-1.

5. A. C. Pearson ed., The Fragments of Sophocles. 3 vols. (Cambridge, 1917); M. W. Haslam ed., ‘P. Oxy. 3151’, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri 44 (1976) 1-23; cf. also Diggle, TrGFS p. 34.

6. Similar distress is expressed by ‘Grenfell’ in Tony Harrison’s The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus : ‘Horrible to contemplate! How can a person sleep | while Sophocles is rotting on an ancient rubbish heap?’

7. I spotted very few typos: p. 258 read ‘trial’ for ‘trail’; p. 335 ‘identité’ for ‘identite’; p. 484 line 9, ‘109’ for ‘105’. However, the formatting of the main text and Index Locorum is extremely wasteful of space (the latter alone takes up almost seventy pages).