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VII. Particular Interpretative Problems

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2016

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In what follows I shall look either at competing interpretations of an entire play, or at a more specific issue or issues – whichever seems the more useful in a given case. The works are ordered alphabetically.


Sometimes a problem arouses so much interest that the criticism relating to it becomes self-perpetuating. This has happened with the ‘deception speech’ (646-92), now the object of a minor industry. But in spite of the conflicting advice one can make some progress.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995

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1. Segal (1981), pp. 432-3 n. 9 gives an idea of the bibliography.

2. Reinhardt (1979), p. 24; cf. also ‘The Ajax of Sophocles’ in Knox (1979).

3. Sicherl, M., ‘The tragic issue in SophoclesAjax’, YCS 25 (1977), 6798 Google Scholar; for a variant of this see Taplin (1978), pp. 127ff.

4. Winnington-Ingram (1980), p. 75.

5. E.g. Calder, W. M., ‘Sophokles’ political tragedy, Antigone ’, GRBS 9 (1968), 389407 Google Scholar.

6. See Hester, D. A., ‘Sophocles the unphilosophical’, Mnemosyne 24 (1971), 1159 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, for large bibliography; also Petersmann, H., ‘Mythos und Gestaltung in Sophokles’ Antigone’, WS 91 (1978), 6796 Google Scholar. On refusal of burial in Greece see now Jan, Bremmer, The Early Greek Concept of the Soul (Princeton, 1983), pp. 90ffGoogle Scholar.

7. Cf. Petersmann (1978), 92-3.

8. Müller (1967), p. 11: ‘Antigone hat ganz und gar recht, Kreon hat ganz und gar unrecht’; on this see Knox (1979), p. 166.

9. For some references see Segal (1981), p. 444 n. 50. How far the chorus is critical of Antigone is a moot point, the resolution of which is bound up with a detailed linguistic argument (e.g. about 853-6). A. Lesky does not think they are critical of her (Gesammelte Schriften (Bern, 1966), pp. 176-84); Burton (1980), p. 125 disagrees.

10. Reinhardt (1979), p. 65. For Ant. as comprising two interdependent and equally important downfalls see Hogan, J. C., ‘The protagonists of the Antigone ’, Arethusa 5 (1972), 93100 Google Scholar.

11. Winnington-Ingram (1980), p. 226.

12. See in particular Segal, C. P., ‘The Electro of Sophocles’, TAPhA 97 (1966), 473545 Google Scholar.

13. Seale (1982), p. 79. According to Johansen, H. F., the play ‘ends, as it began, in a distressing atmosphere of uncertainty’ (‘Die Elektra des Sophokles’, C & M 25 (1964), 832, at 29)Google Scholar.

14. Segal (1981), p. 280.

15. Sheppard, J. T., ‘ Electro: a defence of Sophocles’, CR 41 (1927), 29 Google Scholar, at p. 4. Sheppard’s view finds a supporter in Kells (1973), pp. 4 ff.; but it is still surely untenable. Nobody in the play suggests that Orestes should have asked ‘Ought I to kill my mother?’ The lines about the oracle are about as unemphatic as they could be. (When Sophocles wants to, he is perfectly capable of making an address to Apollo memorable, cf. 637ff., 1376ff.)

16. On the degree of doubt see Kamerbeek ad loc.

17. As recommended recently by Stevens, P. T., ‘Sophocles: Eleara, doom or triumph?G & R 25 (1978), 111-20Google Scholar.

18. Reinhardt (1979), p. 135.

19. Similarities between Oed. Col. and Phil. are noted by Campbell, L., Sophocles2 (Oxford, 1879), vol. l, pp. 260ffGoogle Scholar.

20. Cf. the chapter on Oed. Col. in Jones (1962).

21. Cf. ch. V n. 23 above.

22. Bowra (1944), p. 355.

23. Lesky, A., Greek Tragedy1 (Eng. tr. London, 1967), p. 129 Google Scholar.

24. For a non-triumphant reading see I. M. Linforth, ‘Religion and drama in Oedipus at Colonus’, Univ. of Cal. Publ. in Class. Philol. 14.4 (1951), 75-191, at 180-4.

25. Waldock (1951), p. 219. The inadequacies of the ‘filling out’ approach are well highlighted by Burian, P., ‘Suppliant and saviour: Oedipus at Colonus’, Phoenix 28 (1974), 408-29CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

26. On the very end of Oed. Col. see also Burton (1980), p. 272, where stress is laid on the sense of loss conveyed by the concluding lamentations.

27. Cf.Vellacott, P., Sophocles and Oedipus (London, 1971)Google Scholar.

28. Towards Greek Tragedy (London, 1973), pp. 496ff. Lesky, A., in AAHG 20 (1967), 208 Google Scholar, is briefer (with reference to an earlier paper by Vellacott): ‘Damit ist natürlich das Kunstwerk verfehlt’.

29. Dodds (1966). See also ch. V n. 2 above.

30. Waldock (1951), pp. 159-60.

31. E.g. Anzieu, D., ‘Oedipe avant le complexe’, Les Temps Modernes 22 (1966), no. 245, 675715 Google Scholar. This reading is a comprehensively psychoanalytical one. (‘In order to make sense of the drama of Oedipus it is necessary to assume an incestuous relationship between Creon and Jocasta, and jealousy on the part of Oedipus towards his wife’s and his mother’s brother’ -p. 695.)

32. ‘Oedipus without the Complex’, in Vernant and Vidal-Naquet (1981), pp. 63-86.

33. The discrepancy between ‘one’ and ‘many’ is highlighted by Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1917), pp. 79-80.

34. Reinhardt (1979), pp. 119-20.

35. Waldock (1951) entitles his chapter on the play ‘Sophocles improvises’.

36. Cf. Robinson (1969), 47.

37. Bowra (1944), p. 265; Alt, K., ‘Schicksal und ϕύσις im Philoktet des Sophokles’, Hermes 89 (1961), 141-74Google Scholar, at 143.

38. Cf. Waldock (1951), pp. 200ff. See also Steidle (1968), pp. 169-70; Buxton (1982), pp. 129-30.

39. Easterling(1978), 27.

40. For Phil. as an exploration of Neoptolemus’ growth to social adulthood see Vidal-Naquet’s article on the play in Vernant and Vidal-Naquet (1981). That Neoptolemus does not grow psychologically is argued by Erbse, H., ‘Neoptolemos und Philoktet bei Sophokles’, Hermes 94 (1966), 177201 Google Scholar.

41. Cf. Steidle (1968), p. 190.

42. See Easterling (1978), 36-7.

43. Lucas, D. W., The Greek Tragic Poets2 (London, 1959), p. 145 Google Scholar. The wording at this point is the same as in the 1st edn (1950), p. 130.

44. See especially Segal, C. P., ‘Sophocles’ Trachiniae: myth, poetry, and heroic values’, YCS 25 (1977), 99158 Google Scholar.

45. BCH 44 (1920), 392; Cf.Nilsson, M., ‘Der Flammentod des Herakles auf dem Oite’, ARW 21 (1922), 310-16Google Scholar, repr. in his Opusculo Selecta (Lund, 1951-60), vol. 1, pp. 348-54.

46. P. E. Easterling, ‘The end of the Trachiniae’, ICS 6.1 (1981), 56-74, at 65-6.

47. Cf. Easterling (1981), 66.

48. Compare Ewans, M., Wagner and Aeschylus (London, 1982), p. 56 Google Scholar, who makes some excellent comments on the audience’s ‘provisional knowledge’ of the stories dramatized in Greek tragedy.

49. More on the apotheosis in Segal (1977), 138ff. and (1981), pp. 99-100.

50. The word is used by Seale (1982), p. 208; he softens it in his n. 47. On the startling idea that Heracles here shows his love for Iole (Bowra (1944), pp. 142-3) see the criticism of MacKinnon, J. K., ‘Heracles’ intention in his second request of Hyllus: Trach. 1216-51’, CQ 21 (1971), 3341 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 33-4.

51. Note that no squeamishness is expressed about son and father uniting with the same woman: the sexual issue does not arise. Incidentally, the situation is paralleled mythically when Odysseus’ son Telegonus marries Penelope, and Telemachus marries Circe; cf. Apollodorus, ed. Frazer (Loeb) vol. ii, fn. on p. 303, and vol. i, p. 269 with fn. 4; also Radt (1977), p. 375, on ΟΔΥΣΣΕΥΣ ΑΚΑΝΘΟΠΛΗΞ.

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