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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 June 2023

Tommaso Suaria*
Sapienza Università di Roma
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Two conjectures are proposed on Sophocles’ Thyestes (fr. 260a Radt) which restore Sophoclean language and metre.

Shorter Notes
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A palimpsest codex in Vienna (Cod. Vindob. Hist. gr. 10) presents, as scriptura superior, a twelfth-century copy of Symeon Metaphrastes's biography of John Chrysostom, copied over the erased pages of a tenth-century copy of an abridged version of Herodian's De prosodia catholica and of an eleventh-century book of the Basilika.Footnote 1 Technological advances have allowed scholars to increase the number of readable sections of the scriptura inferior.Footnote 2

Herodian's De prosodia catholica survives only in epitomes; the palimpsest's Herodian is the least epitomized of these which survives, as it contains the largest number of quotations.Footnote 3 Only the palimpsest (fol. 3v) presents a quotation from Sophocles’ Thyestes. Its original reading, offered by Hunger, was:

τροπή, τροπαῖος· Ἴων ἐν Φρουροῖς· τροπαῖον αὖ με παρεφόβησεν ἅβρα, καὶ Σοφοκλῆς Θυέστῃ· … καὶ Zεὺς τροπαῖος … τοῖς τόποις

Hunger later improved his reading of the passage, which he communicated to Radt, who included it in TrGF vol. 4. The part concerning Sophocles’ text as offered by Radt reads:

καὶ Σοφοκλῆς Θυέστῃ· “ἢ Ἀτρεῖ μούνῳ καὶ Zεὺς τροπαῖος ἐσκεκόμισται τόποις;”

Τhe hiatus between the particle ἢ and Ἀτρεῖ would be impossible in tragedy. Therefore, Lloyd-Jones rightly reads ἢ Ἀτρεῖ as part of Herodian's introduction rather than as the beginning of the quotation. In other words, it is given as an alternative title for the play:

καὶ Σοφοκλῆς Θυέστῃ ἢ Ἀτρεῖ· “μούνῳ καὶ Zεὺς τροπαῖος ἐσκεκόμισται τόποις”

Ἀτρεύς is not known to have been an alternative title for Sophocles’ Θυέστης. Nevertheless, the fact that the two characters are famous for being locked in restless rivalry could easily have meant that the plot concerned them both, and therefore it would hardly be surprising if the same play had been referred to by either name.Footnote 4

The fragment cannot be assigned to any known metre. The prosody of the quotation (μούνῳ – τόποις) is – – – – ⏑ – ⏑ – ⏑ ⏑ – – ⏑ –. Starting from the end, we can easily isolate the last four syllables (-μισται τόποις) which form a regular iambic metron. Immediately before this last sequence we find the first obstacle to an iambic analysis: the text has a pyrrhic (⏑ ⏑: -κεκο-) where an iambic sequence would require an iamb (⏑ –); if an iamb could be restored, the text starting with καὶ Zεύς would form a full iambic trimeter. As for the first word (μούνῳ), it cannot be taken as the ending of the preceding iambic trimeter, since that would require a short penultimate syllable.

The text therefore poses two metrical problems. The one concerning μοῦνος can be solved quite easily: the Ionic prosody of the adjective is unacceptable at the end of the trimeter, and Sophocles regularly employs Attic μόνος where the metre requires a short syllable. It is likely, therefore, that Sophocles’ original line ended with μόνῳ, which was subsequently corrupted into a variant form attested in epic and tragedy.Footnote 5 Its referent cannot be determined.

As for ἐσκεκόμισται, the text as we have it tells us that Zeus Tropaios, probably meaning his cult and victory trophies, which are his characteristic votive offerings, has been introduced to certain places whose identity we do not know. The perfect tense suggests that the physical action of bringing the god into the land has already occurred, but its effect is still ongoing as Zeus and his trophies are currently present. The present ἐσκομίζεται, which would indicate that the trophies are being raised while the action is taking place, presents a meaning that makes no less sense than the transmitted text and allows the restoration of a complete iambic trimeter. A scribe may have misspelled ἐσκομίζεται, or that part of the line could have suffered material damage.

I suggest the following text:

καὶ Zεὺς τροπαῖος ἐσκομίζεται τόποις
to/for (…) alone
and Zeus, the granter of victory, is introduced to places | (…)

ἐσκομίζεται is less intrusive on the paradosis than Lloyd-Jones's εἰσεκώμασεν (‘has stormed into the place’). While it is true that the idea of storming into a place is easier to associate with the king of the Olympians than that of being brought into one (ἐσκομίζεται), the idea that a god's cult and its relative cult-object may be introduced to new places is not difficult.


Editions used and referred to only by the editor's name: H. Hunger, ‘Palimpsest-Fragmente aus Herodians Καθολικὴ προσῳδία Buch 5–7’, JöByz 16 (1967), 1–33; H. Lloyd-Jones (ed.), Sophocles: Fragments (Cambridge, Mass. and London, 20032); S. Radt (ed.), Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta (TrGF) vol. 4, (Göttingen, 19992).


1 The dating is suggested by Gamillscheg, E., ‘Der Codex des Herodian in der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek zur Anwendung neuer Technologien in der Handschriftenforschung’, in Somers, V. (ed.), Palimpsestes et éditions de textes: les textes littéraires (Louvain-la-Neuve, 2009), 101–10Google Scholar.

2 Hunger; Gamillscheg (n. 1).

3 Roussou, S., Pseudo-Arcadius’ Epitome of Herodian's De Prosodia Catholica (Oxford, 2018), 1216Google Scholar; Dyck, A.R., ‘Aelius Herodian: recent studies and prospects for future research’, in Haase, W. (ed.), Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt 2.34.1 (Berlin and New York, 1993), 772–94, at 780–1Google Scholar.

4 For the number and titles of Sophoclean plays about Atreus and Thyestes, see Suaria, T., ‘Sophocles' Thyestes plays: how many is too many?’, in Bruno, N., Dovico, G., Montepaone, O. and Pelucchi, M. (edd.), The Limits of Exactitude in Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Literature and Textual Transmission (Berlin and Boston, 2022), 363–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Cf. F.T. Ellendt, rev. Genthe, H., Lexicon Sophocleum (Berlin, 1872 2), 458–9Google Scholar.