The lemmata and any apparatus criticus are transcribed from P.J. Finglass, Sophocles: Oedipus the King (Cambridge, 2018).Footnote 1
I. OT 420–3 (BLAYDES'S ‘WHAT HELICON?’ DEFENDED)
Translators seem to have no difficulty rendering lines 420–1. This would be more reassuring if the translations both accurately rendered the Greek and made sense but, while some do the first and others do the second, none that I know of manages both. I also miss any recognition from the commentators that the usual stylistic verve that characterizes the speech of all the major characters in this play has here completely deserted Teiresias, who is reduced to barely coherent stammering. Here are the difficulties I find in these lines. (I have restated some items on the list given by Lloyd-Jones and WilsonFootnote 2 and added others.)
(1) For line 420 Finglass gives ‘What harbour will there not be for your cries?’. This is accurate but not quite intelligible. Since ‘What X will not?’ is a way of saying ‘Every X will’, it could only be paraphrased as ‘There will be every harbour for your cries’, which just misses being sense. Sense without any clear grammatical justification is given by those translators (Jebb, Grene, Blondell) who smuggle the word ‘place’ into the translation as the noun modified by ποῖοϲ: ‘And what place shall not be harbour to thy shriek?’ says Jebb, though his note translates similarly to Finglass. Even so, all is not well: Teiresias cannot mean that everywhere will be a harbour to Oedipus’ cries.
(2) ‘Harbour’ as a metaphor is hard to understand. Dawe ad loc. glosses it with ‘any place that will receive his cries as a harbour receives a ship’. But harbours do not merely receive but also offer refuge or protection, a notion that has no application to cries. To be sure, the idea of ‘harbour’ does occur a couple of lines later (422–3) to describe the house that received Oedipus after his arrival at Thebes (to his cost, as it was ἄνορμοϲ, ‘not a harbour’, that is, not protective). But in Oedipus’ view at the time the palace was a place of refuge. P.E. Easterling (in JHS 114 , 186–8, at 187) thinks that the metaphor in lines 422–3 helps elucidate the one in line 420. However, as Lloyd-Jones and Wilson make clear, the later harbour does not help with the earlier.Footnote 3 ‘Harbour for cries’ has no inherent plausibility.
(3) Finglass translates line 421 ‘what Cithaeron will not soon resound in accompaniment to them?’. It is hard to know what to make of ‘what Cithaeron?’. Is this by metonymy for ‘what mountain’?Footnote 4 That seems difficult to parallel, and Dawe ad loc. finds this ‘as odd an expression as “what sort of Mt Everest?”’.
(4) If this interpretation is nevertheless correct, it is surprising that, after implying that every place in the world will be the receiver of Oedipus’ cries, Teiresias now restricts this to mountains. The term ‘bathos’ is a good descriptor for such a sharp and unmotivated descent.
(5) When a speaker, whether in tragedy or elsewhere, uses an anaphora such as ποῖοϲ … ποῖοϲ, the expectation is raised that there will be a parallelism of thought. This expectation is defeated here: ‘what harbour’ is not parallel to ‘what Cithaeron’ since ‘harbour’ is a metaphor but Cithaeron is an actual place to be filled with Oedipus’ cries. We also expect parallelism of construction, but that is absent as well: the ἔϲται expressed in line 420 is the substantive verb ‘there will be’, whereas the one implied in line 421 is the copula connecting the predicate adjective ϲύμφωνοϲ with the subject ‘Cithaeron’. Teiresias elsewhere (320–1, 372–3, 413–14, 417–19, 454–60) uses the resources of rhetoric, including parallelism, effectively. Here we have failed parallelism and inept rhetoric.
How do we deal with these difficulties? In my view one alteration sets them all to rights, that of Blaydes.Footnote 5 Blaydes proposes writing, for transmitted ἔϲται λιμήν, ἔϲται ’λικών, that is, ἔϲται Ἑλικών:
The resulting text can be translated as follows: ‘What Helicon, what Cithaeron will not soon join in with your cries, when, etc.’. What advantages in sense and style does this reading enjoy?
(1) It eliminates the absurd implication that every place will receive Oedipus’ cries. Helicon and Cithaeron are two mountains, and two mountains of Boeotia, so the universe of discourse is narrowed from ‘there will be every harbour for your cries’ to ‘the mountains of Boeotia’ will resound with them.
(2) It gets rid of the ‘harbour’ metaphor that cannot be plausibly explained.
(3) Gone likewise is the bathos of ‘There will be every harbour for your cries. Well, at any rate, every mountain will resound.’
(4) It makes ἔϲται in line 420 into a copula to match the copula understood in line 421, thereby restoring the parallelism of construction forecast by the anaphora. And ‘what Helicon, what Cithaeron’ restores parallelism of thought.
An additional advantage is that, when the parallelism of lines 420 and 421 has been restored, there is the possibility of the kind of brachylogy by which words necessary but unexpressed in one line may be supplied from a neighbour.Footnote 6 It is common ground between those who accept the paradosis and those who do not that ἔϲται must be supplied in lines 421. It also seems to be implicit in the interpretation of conservatives that βοῆϲ τῆϲ ϲῆϲ in line 420 is to be understood with ϲύμφωνοϲ in line 421. Now that ἔϲται is copula in both lines, ϲύμφωνοϲ goes naturally with the expressed ἔϲται and βοῆϲ τῆϲ ϲῆϲ with the unexpressed,Footnote 7 a state of affairs Jebb ad loc. recognizes as possible and then rejects on inadequate grounds.Footnote 8 Now Teiresias’ lines have had restored to them the concision and force that his other utterances lead us to expect.
As for the cause of corruption, the confusion of kappa and mu is a frequent phenomenon,Footnote 9 and once λικων had been corrupted to λιμων, the change to a familiar word could have followed easily.
At the end of his note on lines 420–3 Finglass tries to show that Blaydes's conjecture should be rejected. He gives three grounds.
(1) Citing the metaphors of the palace of Thebes as harbour for Oedipus and of the ‘fair sailing’ that brought him there, Finglass complains that Blaydes's conjecture ‘eliminates a key part of this maritime imagery’. But this fails to distinguish ‘imagery’ (a set of more or less consistent pictorial words, such as ‘harbour’ for the place of refuge the Theban palace seemed to be and ‘fair winds’ for the circumstances that brought Oedipus there) from the single and not easily explicable picture at line 420, where a harbour does not perform the protecting or sheltering we would expect.Footnote 10 Finglass's ‘key part’ cannot be maintained since the other maritime images cohere but this does not.
(2) Finglass says, citing Platnauer,Footnote 11 that the suggestion introduces ‘a prodelision unparalleled in tragedy’. Lloyd-Jones and Wilson concede this point,Footnote 12 but they need not have done so since there are two further highly plausible cases in tragedy where -αι causes prodelision of ε-. Platnauer himself cites as a reading that ‘may or may not be right’ Reiske's γενήϲομαι ᾿γώ at Eur. IA 1396.Footnote 13 If this conjecture is not the truth, it is hard to see what could be: the corruption to L's γενήϲομ’ ἐγώ is trivial and easily undone. Diggle also prints Porson's αἱρήϲομαι ᾿γώ at Eur. Hel. 953, a reading argued for by Kannicht, who rejects Platnauer's strictures. These two emendations, as far as I can see, are certain. So this precise kind of prodelision is attested twice in tragedy.
There is a reason for Sophocles to turn here to this rare prodelision. If Ἑλικών, which scans as an anapaestic foot, is to be introduced in unabridged form, the only place where it could be admitted is as the first two elements of the line, where all three tragic poets freely admit anapaests.Footnote 14 But this would mean that the anaphora ποῖοϲ … ποῖοϲ would be difficult to achieve. We should not be surprised at Sophocles’ choice here.
(3) The conjecture produces ‘an unwelcome reference to a mountain irrelevant to Oedipus’. And even if the association of the two mountains could be established by something better than the singing contest between Helicon and Cithaeron mentioned in Corinna,Footnote 15 it would be ‘poetically ruinous to mention both mountains as if they were equally significant’. Actually one might ask what significance Cithaeron has in this prophecy. Cithaeron was meant to be the place of Oedipus’ exposure, and it was where his life was in fact saved. After the revelation of who he is and what he has done, he asks to be sent there (1451–4). But nothing in the play indicates that he actually returns there. And a search of the standard reference works (Roscher, RE, DNP) reveals nothing in poetry, prose, or cult showing Oedipus on Cithaeron subsequent to the discovery of the patricide and incest. So neither Cithaeron nor Helicon will figure in Oedipus’ future, so far as we know. Furthermore, at this point in the play Cithaeron has not yet been mentioned as the place of exposure and rescue. The audience would therefore not experience ‘What Helicon, what Cithaeron’ as the joining of relevant with irrelevant.
There are two ways for them both to be relevant to Oedipus, and they involve treating the two mountains as a synecdoche for Boeotia as a whole. Teiresias might mean that all of Boeotia will soon be filled with Oedipus’ cries. Alternatively, Boeotia may be ϲύμφωνοϲ with Oedipus’ shout because even its sparsely inhabited regions will cry out in horror and pity in answer to the cry with which Oedipus greets the discovery of his fate. Both of these are hyperbole, of course, but they are hyperbole of a kind seen elsewhere in the play: see lines 1295–6, where the Exangelos says that even those who hate Oedipus will utter words of pity for him. Note also the hyperbole at lines 1227–31, where the Exangelos says that neither the Ister nor the Phasis could cleanse the Theban palace of all its stain. Of course, a different plausible explanation of the relevance of Cithaeron to Oedipus’ future might one day be thought up, but until then it would appear that it is only conjectural ‘Helicon’ that provides relevance to transmitted ‘Cithaeron’.Footnote 16
In my view none of Finglass's three points disproves a conjecture that has a great deal to recommend it.
II. OT 118–23
The first hand of MS K omits line 121. It was added in the margin, perhaps by the original scribe. It is missing entirelyFootnote 17 from P.Oxy. 2180: see below, n. 19, where I discuss the possibility of bracketing the line as interpolated.
Finglass ad loc. translates lines 120–1 ‘What is that? One thing might lead to the discovery of many things for us to learn, if we could grasp some brief beginning of hope.’ This is an accurate translation of what is transmitted. Unfortunately it makes imperfect sense. In line 120 Oedipus says that one thing they already possess (the survivor's one assertion) might lead to further knowledge. The second line says ‘if we were to get some brief (or slight) beginning of hope’, but there is no ‘if’ about it on the theory Oedipus is entertaining: Oedipus supposes that they already have a brief beginning of hope, one piece of knowledge that might lead to more. No further supposition is required.Footnote 18 The ‘if’ is irrational and the line redundant.Footnote 19
Sense that is not redundant would be obtained if we put a raised point at the end of line 120 and wrote ἀρχὴν βραχεῖαν ἂν λάβοιμεν ἐλπίδοϲ. My translation of this text (see n. 1 above) reads ‘What's that? One thing might be the clue to many: we might have grounds for hope, however slender.’ The explanation for the corruption is simple: the ἄν was lost by haplography, and someone who saw that a syllable was missing supplied an εἰ that seemed plausible before the optative verb.
Possible objections to the position of the modal particle can be answered. To be sure, the ἄν that goes with potential optatives and counterfactual indicatives often stands either second or third in its word group or just behind the verb. But position later than the third and right before the optative or the past indicative is common enough (cf. OT 77, 282). There is also no reason to object to ἄν immediately after the penthemimeral caesura (cf. OT 282, 561, 599, 970).
III. OT 528–31
531 om. Π1: habent Ω
There is a problem in line 530.Footnote 20 The Chorus Leader has been asked about something he has seen with his own eyes, whether Oedipus’ manner when he made his accusation exhibited the steady gaze of sanity or showed signs of madness, such as eyes constantly in motion. Why does he say he does not know? He was there. Why does he give the general reason that he does not see what his rulers are doing? Many things a king does are hidden from his gaze, but not this particular thing.
DaweFootnote 21 admits that the Chorus ‘do know and did see’. But he explains that they are ‘the soul of discretion where their betters are concerned’. For this to work as an explanation, however, the Chorus Leader must believe that Oedipus did show signs of madness. He must suspect that Oedipus is about to enter and hence hesitates to say what he thinks for fear of offending him. But there is no indication in the text that Oedipus rolled his eyes or otherwise acted like a madman or that the Chorus Leader thinks he did. If he held the view that Oedipus was not mad and declared it, the only person it might offend would be Creon. But Creon is unlikely to take offence since he has thrown out this explanation only as a somewhat desperate hypothesis.
There is another possibility worth considering, namely that two or three lines have perished before line 530 (three if the pattern of lines 525–8 is continued), in which the Chorus Leader answered that Oedipus seemed in his right mind, not crazed, and Creon asked something about Oedipus that the Chorus Leader could not answer. What could this be? One thing the Chorus Leader does not know is the movements of the king and their expected schedule. What if Creon's question were whether Oedipus would soon emerge from the palace? The Chorus Leader could easily plead ignorance for precisely the reason he gives, namely that he does not know what his sovereign is doing. When it left Sophocles’ hand, the passage might have looked something like this.
If the Chorus Leader's reply began with a form of οὐ (as suggested above), the wandering of a scribe's eye from the first negative to the second could have caused the omission.
IV. OT 1204–6
τανῦν δ’ ἀκούειν τίϲ ἀθλιώτεροϲ, str. 2
τίϲ †ἐν πόνοιϲ τίϲ ἄταις ἀγρίαιϲ† 1205
ξύνοικοϲ ἀλλαγᾶι βίου;
1205 τίϲ ἄταιϲ ἀγρίαιϲ, τίϲ ἐν πόνοιϲ Hermann
As transmitted line 1205 does not give the required metre, which is ba cr ia, and accordingly editors dagger it. A further problem, as most have seen, is that the comparative idea (or its functional equivalent) is needed in the second and third lines as well as in the first. Hermann's conjecture fails to supply the comparative. Lloyd-Jones and Wilson's apparatus criticus suggests ‘fort. τίϲ ἄταιϲ ἀγρίαιϲ τόϲαιϲ πονῶν (τόϲαιϲ Heimsoeth, πονῶν Dawe), vel τίϲ ἄταιϲ, τίϲ ἀγριωτέροιϲ πόνοιϲ’. The first of these conjectures gives the meaning ‘Who lives closely with alteration of his life, labouring with so many cruel ruinations?’ The question seems awkward, and the parallelism with line 1204 is weak since τόϲαιϲ, which might take the place of a comparative, is in the participial phrase. Furthermore the repetition of τίϲ in line 1205 is too good to give up. The second gives (with the comparative adjective taken ἀπὸ κοινοῦ) ‘Who dwells with crueller ruinations, who with crueller toils in the alteration of his life?’ Now the datives in line 1205 go with ξύνοικοϲ, but the final ἀλλαγᾶι βίου seems a falling off, and the dative (of circumstance?) is confusing after the two datives in line 1205. Finglass in his commentary suggests τίϲ ἄταιϲ ἀγριωτέραιϲ ἀνήρ. This, though supplying a comparative, likewise gives up the repetition and is furthermore so straightforward that it does not invite corruption. Additionally here also we have trailing ἀλλαγᾶι βίου.
I propose τίϲ ἄταιϲ μᾶλλον ἢ τίϲ ἀγρίαι | ξύνοικοϲ ἀλλαγᾶι βίου; ‘Who dwells on closer terms with ruinations or who with cruel alteration of life?’ Now there are only two dative nouns, both complements to ξύνοικοϲ, not three, two of which are complements and the third is not. Now the final phrase does not trail but is integral. There is a pleasing separation between ἀγρίαι and ἀλλαγᾶι (possibly causing part of the corruption) as well as between μᾶλλον and ξύνοικοϲ. The adjective ‘cruel, harsh’ is arguably otiose with ‘ruinations’ (in the transmitted text), but with ‘alteration of life’ (as in my conjecture) it is welcome: there is more than one kind of life change. Both sense and style are thus improved. For a comparative adjective (ἀθλιώτεροϲ) followed by a positive adjective plus μᾶλλον, see lines 815–16.
Admittedly the alteration from my suggestion to the wording of our manuscripts is difficult to map out with certainty, but the adjustment of adjectives to agree with neighbouring nouns they originally did not modify is a common form of corruption, and it could have played a role here.Footnote 22 Let us suppose that ἀγρίαι had already been corrupted to ἀγρίαιϲ and that ἐν πόνοιϲ is a gloss on ἄταιϲ. Perhaps the gloss somehow obliterated not ἄταιϲ but the μᾶλλον ἤ of my proposal. The resulting τίϲ ἄταιϲ ἐν πόνοιϲ τίϲ ἀγρίαιϲ may have then been deliberately or unconsciously reshuffled to put the noun and adjective together. However difficult the postulated corruption may be, against this difficulty must be set the gains in sense and style described in the last paragraph, a combination of gains offered by none of the competing conjectures known to me.