BMCR 2008.02.09

Response: Edmunds on Fitzpatrick on Edmunds, Oedipus

Response to 2008.01.43

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David Fitzpatrick’s review of my Oedipus (“Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World,” the name of the series, should not have been included in the title) is devoted almost entirely to the question of this book’s accessibility to the “intended readership” of the series. His estimate of the intelligence of this readership is clearly lower than mine was. It would be extremely difficult to determine which estimate is more accurate and thus to determine the justice of his criticisms. One of them, however, is certainly wrong.

He states that my book: “contains a number of illustrations, but there is no obvious rationale for the inclusion of these illustrations.” In his endnote on this sentence he says further: “For example, six illustrations appear in two groups of three. The first group concern [the] medieval Oedipus (pp. 66-68) and the other the Sphinx in art in [the] modern era (pp. 108-110). There is no significant contribution made by the inclusion of the illustrations.” Earlier, in his first endnote, he says: “Edmunds does not pay much attention to ancient artistic evidence and tends to cite it as a backup for literary references rather than treat it in its own right. This handling of the ancient iconographic evidence is odd given Edmunds subsequent discussion of iconography associated with Oedipus in later eras.”

As for the ancient Greek iconography of Oedipus, as I explained in introducing the excursus on the Sphinx in Ch. 5, “In the scores of ancient vase-paintings concerning the Theban Sphinx, the painters limited themselves to two basic scenes. . . The fidelity of the Greek eye to this fundamental image of Oedipus is shown by the astonishing fact that there are only a few Greek vase-paintings illustrating other episodes in his life.” What, then, in a book on the Oedipus myth, would have been gained by treating the ancient iconography “in its own right”? Fitzpatrick seems to know something that even the experts, whom I cited, don’t know, and I wish that he had told us what it is. The one vase that I discussed at length, the famous red figure cup in the Vatican collection (Fig. 3), I discussed apropos of the riddle (18-19). Like all of the illustrations in my book, it is integrated into my argument.

On the matter of the “two groups of three,” in the first of these groups, consisting of illuminations of medieval manuscripts, Figs. 6 and 7 are directly tied to the main peculiarities of what I call “the standard medieval life of Oedipus” (65). In order to grasp the relevance of the illustrations, one must first grasp the peculiarities just referred to and second look at Figs. 6 and 7. In writing as I did and in using these illustrations (which are quite remarkable), I had not thought that I would overtax anyone’s intelligence. The Sphinx (Fig. 7) is also remarkable— evidence as clear as possible for the remaking of the myth in the Middle Ages.

The second group of three (Figs. 9-11) illustrates the excursus “The Sphinx in Art” (106-11), i.e. the Sphinx in nineteenth- and twentieth-century art. I discuss each of the three works in some detail, and I think that I make some original points, but that will be for readers to decide.

[For a response to this response by David Fitzpatrick, please see BMCR 2008.02.37.]