Dr. Norman Prinsky, Associate Professor
Department of English and Foreign Languages
Augusta State University / Georgia Regents University
Humanities 2001: Ancient Times through the Renaissance
Notes and Questions on Drama and on Sophocles' Oedipus the King / Oedipus Tyrannus / Oedipus Rex / King Oedipus (Robert Bagg, R.C. Jebb, Thomas Gould, Hugh Lloyd-Jones,
Ruby Blondell, Robert Fagles Translations, and Other English Translations), Plus Analysis of Oedipus the King, Plus Comment on English Translations of Oedipus the King
Bibliographical Table of English Translations of the
Sophocles' Oedipus the King (Part 1, 1679 - 1967)
|Dryden, John & Nathaniel Lee, Oedipus, 1679; rpt. 1682 - 1701||Shelley, Percy Bysshe; Oedipus Tyrannus, or Swellfoot the Tyrant -- A Tragedy in Two Acts; 1820; & rpt.||Phillimore, John Swinnerton; Oedipus Tyrannus; 1902; & rpt||Young, George [Sir]; Oedipus Tyrannus [in The Dramas of Sophocles Rendered in English Verse]; 1928 [Everyman's Library]||Cavander, Kenneth; Oedipus the King; 1961; & rpt|
|Theobald, Lewis, Oedipus, King of Thebes, a Tragedy; 1715||Dale, Thomas [Reverend]; Oedipus Tyrannus; 1824; verse||Coleridge, E[dward] P.; Oedipus Rex; 1908; & rpt.||Fitts, Dudley, and Robert Fitzgerald; Oedipus Rex [in The Theban Cycle]; 1939-1949; & much rpt.||Kitto, H. D. F. (Humphrey Davy Findley); Oedipus the King; 1962; & rpt.|
|Adams, George; The Tragedies of Sophocles; 1729; rpt. 1818||Buckley, Theodore William Alois; The Tragedies of Sophocles in English Prose; 1849; much rpt.||Way, Arthur Sanders; Sophocles in English Verse; 1909-1914; & rpt.||Grene, David; Oedipus the King; 1942; & much rpt. [U of Chicago Greek Plays & Modern Library]||McLeish, Kenneth; Oedipus the King [in Four Greek Plays]; 1964; & rpt.|
|Potter, Robert; Oedipus Tyrannus Translated; 1746 - 1804; rpt. 1813, 1819||Mongan, Roscoe; Oedipus Tyrannus; 1865||Murray, Gilbert; Oedipus, King of Thebes; 1911; & rpt.; rhymed verse||Truman, Nathan Elbert; Oedipus, the King; 1946||Corrigan, Robert Willoughby; Oedipus the King [Laurel Classical Drama]; 1965|
|Francklin, Thomas; The Tragedies of Sophocles; 1758-1759; much rpt.||Plumptre, E[dward] H.; The Tragedies of Sophocles; 1867; rpt.||Storr, Francis; Sophocles [Loeb Classical Library]; 1912-1913; & rpt.||Watling, E.F; King Oedipus; 1947; & much rpt. [Penguin]||Wilson, Frank K.; Oedipus Tyrannus: a New Translation; 1966|
|Maurice, Thomas [Reverend]; Oedipus Tyrannus; 1779; rpt. 1813, 1822||Campbell, Lewis; The King Oedipus and Philoctetes; 1874; & rpt.||Sheppard, John Tresidder; The Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles; 1920; & rpt.||Cook, Albert [Spaulding]; Oedipus Rex; 1948 & 1957||Walker, Charles Rumford; Oedipus the King, and Oedipus at Colonus. A New Translation for Modern Readers and Theatergoers; 1966|
|Wells, Henry Willis; Oedipus Tyrannus; 1779||Newell, William W.; King Oedipus - The Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles; 1881||Harrower, John, et al. Sophocles - Oedipus the King; 1922||Arnott, Peter D.; Oedipus the King; 1949, 1950; & rpt.||Mendell, C[larence]W.; Oedipus the King [in The Theban saga, Sophocles]; 1966|
|Clarke, George Somers; Oedipus, King of Thebes - A Tragedy; 1790||Anderson, Edmund D.; Oedipus the King; 1885||Harvey, Alexander; King Oedipus; 1924; & rpt||Banks, Theodore Howard; Oedipus the King; 1956; & rpt.||Jebb, Richard Claverhouse, and Moses Hadas; Oedipus the King [in The Complete Plays of Sophocles]; 1967 - Recommended|
|Adams, George; Tragedy of Oedipus Tyrannus; 1798||.Jebb, Richard C[laverhouse]; The Oedipus Tyrannus; 1893; much rpt.||Whitelaw, Robert; Oedipus the King [in Attic Tragedies]; 1927||Roche, Paul; Oedipus the King; 1958; rev. ed., 1991|
|FitzGerald, Edward, and Robert Potter; The Downfall and Death of King Oedipus - A Drama in Two Parts; 1801-04?; & rpt.||Lyster, Frederick, and Jules LaCroix; Oedipus the King - Tragedy in Five Acts; 1894||Yeats, William Butler; [Sophocles'] King Oedipus - A Version for the Modern Stage; 1928; & rpt.||Knox, Bernard MacGregor Walker; Oedipus the King; 1959; & rpt.|
Many of these translations have been reprinted various times; the most famous literary translator-adapter-authors are John Dryden, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and William Butler Yeats. The remainder of the Bibliographical Table of Translations is as follows:
Bibliographical Table of English Translations of the Sophocles' Oedipus the King (Part 2, 1970 - 2011 / to date)
|Berkowitz, Luci, and Theodore F Brunner; Oedipus Tyrannus - a New Translation; 1970||Taylor, Don; Oedipus the King [in The Theban plays]; 1986; & rpt.||Rudall, Nicholas; Oedipus the King; 2000||Fainlight, Ruth and Robert J. Littman; The Theban plays : Oedipus the king, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone; 2009|
|Gould, Thomas; Oedipus the King; 1970 ; Recommended||Trypanis, C. A. (Constantine Athanasius); King Oedipus [in Sophocles : the Three Theban Plays]; 1986||Blondell, Ruby ; Sophocles' King Oidipous : Translation with Notes, Introduction and Essay; 2002 - Recommended||Mulroy, David ; Oedipus Rex; 2011|
|Vellacott, Philip; Sophocles and Oedipus: a Study of "Oedipus Tyrannus" with a New Translation; 1971||Stace, Christopher; Oedipus the King [in Oedipus / Sophocles]; 1987||McAuslan, Ian, and Judith Affleck; Oedipus Tyrannus; 2003|
|Burgess, Anthony; Oedipus the King [Translated and Adapted]; 1972; & rpt.||Wertenbaker, Timberlake; Oedipus Tyrannos [in The Thebans / Sophocles]; 1992; & rpt.||Mahon, Derek; Oedipus : a Version of Sophocles' King Oedipus and Oedipus at Colonus; 2005|
|Berg, Stephen, and Diskin Clay; Oedipus the King; 1978 & rpt||Lloyd-Jones, Hugh; Oedipus Tyrannus [in Sophocles : Ajax, Electra, Oedipus Tyrannus] (Loeb Classical Library); 1994 - Recommended||Love, Harry; Oedipus the King [in Introductions and Translations to the Plays of Sophocles and Euripides]; 2006|
|Fagles, Robert; Oedipus the King [in The Three Theban Plays]; 1982; & rpt.||Bolt, Ranjit; The Oedipus Plays : Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus; 1996||Constantine. Peter ; Oedipus the King [in Three Theban Plays] ; 2007|
|Dawe, R. D. (Roger David); Oedipus Rex; 1982; & rpt.||Kessler, Jascha ; King Oedipus. Oedipus at Colonus [Vol. 2 of Sophocles, or Sophocles 2, ed. David R Slavitt & Smith Palmer Bovie; 1998-1999||Johnston, Ian ; Oedipus the King ; 2007|
|Bagg, Robert; Oedipus the King; 1982 ; & rpt. [in The Oedipus plays of Sophocles : Oedipus the king, Oedipus at Kolonos, and Antigone]; also, with James Scully, in The Complete Plays of Sophocles : a New Translation, 2011; also in The Oedipus cycle : a New Translation, 2012||Williams, Frederick; Oedipus Rex [in A Cry of Kings : Six Greek Dramas in Modern English]; 1999||Slavitt, David R. ; Oedipus Tyrannos [in The Theban plays of Sophocles]; 2007; & rpt.|
|Spender, Stephen; The Oedipus Trilogy: King Oedipus, Oedipus at Colonos, Antigone : a Version; 1985||Meineck, Peter, and Paul Woodruff; Oedipus Tyrannus; 2000 ; & rpt.||McGuinness, Frank from a literal translation by Ciaran McGrogarty; Oedipus; 2008|
|Appignanesi, Richard, and Kenneth J McQueenie; King Oedipus [World theatre classics] ; 1986||Mueller, Carl Richard, and Anna Krajewska-Wieczorek; Oedipus Tyrannos [in Sophokles : the Complete Plays]; 2000||Ahl, Frederick ; Two Faces of Oedipus : Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus and Seneca's Oedipus ; 2008|
Problems with Most English Translations; Four Recommended English Translations
Only four translations into English can be recommended for literal fidelity to the Greek text -- listed chronologically, these are by R.C. Jebb as revised by Moses Hadas (1967), Thomas Gould (1970), Hugh Lloyd-Jones (1994), and Ruby Blondell (2002); listed alphabetically by translator, these are by Ruby Blondell (2002), Thomas Gould (1970), R.C. Jebb as revised by Moses Hadas (1967), and Hugh Lloyd-Jones (1994).
Most of the other translations, numerous as they are, add to, or subtract from, or change what is written in the Greek. Many of these alterations have been made in the interest of a production presenting the play live to a modern American or British audience; other alterations have been made by translators who want to "improve" the Greek text by adding words or phrases, not in the original, in order to underline themes and motifs. An example of the translations that delete material is the one by Knox, in the interest of simplifying; thus many of the different names designating personages or gods are eliminated, simplifying to only one name or a few names. Because the play is an example of great literature, these different names suggest different ideas and associations, in context; otherwise, Sophocles wouldn't have used them. (Just being fancy for the sake of being fancy -- e.g., using different names for the same personage just to show off erudition -- produces show-offs, not great and important writers of literature worthy of lasting and being reread again and again to appreciate all that it offers, and to be read and reread for decades, centuries, or millennia.) "Improvers" have been many. For example, in the Theodore Banks translation (1956), Oedipus identifies himself by saying "I have come to you myself, I, Oedipus,/ Renowned in the sight of all" (lines 7-8). Banks adds "in the sight of all," which is not in the Greek, to connect to the prevalent motifs of seeing-blindness, light-darkness, in the play. Other translations, like that of Robert Fagles, also attempt to “improve” the original by injecting material not in the original Greek text. For example, Fagles injects the words, images, and motifs of blindness and feet in the end of Oedipus’ initial speech to the Chorus and Priest: “’You can trust me. I am ready to help,/ I’ll do anything. I would be blind to misery / not to pity my people kneeling at my feet’” (lines 13-15, Fagles). These images and motifs do not appear explicitly at this point in the play as shown by the literal translations -- Jebb-Hadas: “’Be sure that I would gladly give all aid; I should be hard of heart if I did not pity such suppliants as these’” (speech 1, Jebb-Hadas); Gould: “’You may be confident / that I’ll do anything. How hard of heart / if an appeal like this did not rouse my pity!’” (lines 11-13 / Gould); Lloyd-Jones: “’Know that I am willing to render every kind of aid; I would be hard of heart if I felt no pity at such supplication’” (Lloyd-Jones); Blondell: "You can be sure / I wish to aid you fully. I would be immune / to grief, did I not pity suppliants like these" (lines 11-13 / Blondell; Blondell verges on "improving" by substituting "immune," relating to the topic and imagery of disease in the play, versus the more literal rendering "hard of heart"). Another example of adding words or material not in the original Greek text occurs in the injection by E.F. Watling (1947) of “learn” (in his Penguin Classics translation long in print) to introduce the play’s theme of learning and knowledge, in Oedipus’ opening explanation to the Chorus and Priest of why he has appeared: “I have not thought it fit to rely on my messengers,/ But am here to learn for myself” (lines 5-6 / Watling); literal translations of the Greek are -- Gould: “I thought it wrong, my sons, to hear your words / through emissaries, and have come out myself” (lines 6-7 / Gould; one of Gould’s rare missteps, since “sons” should be “children,” the Greek word being tekna -- see the section in these Notes and Questions about “Thematic Family Terms” for an explanation of why “children” is superior to “sons”); Lloyd-Jones: “Thinking it wrong to hear this from the report of others, my children, I have come myself” (speech 1, Lloyd-Jones).
Background on Drama, Generally, and Applications to Sophocles' Play
Drama or theater is often superficially covered in introduction to literature classes, introduction to literature textbooks, and sometimes in Humanities classes and textbooks. A principal reason for this superficiality is this genre's complexity, which is indicated by its usually being placed last in introductory textbooks: prose fiction, poetry, drama is the usual order for such textbooks, arranged from lesser to greater in complexity and difficulty. A play is not only a written piece of literature, and consequently possessed of all potential literary components of fiction and poetry, but also a script, which should require something physical of a particular theater or stage (setting, props, etc.) as well as of its actors (gestures, actions, blocking or grouping or composition on the stage). The word drama comes from Greek dran 'to do [something], perform a physical action,' which is indicative of its action orientation. If a literary author composes a work which does not mandate physical uses of setting, props, action, or other uniquely dramaturgical components, then the author might have more properly written a short story, novel, poem, or essay, none of which obliges us to go to a theater (or movie theater) to watch it: we could simply and only have read it.
The particular elements of drama, its unique dramaturgical components, are as follows (the first three, are designated with the terminology of Alan S. Downer, a brilliant literary scholar and student of drama, in his essay "The Life of Our Design: The Function of Imagery in the Poetic Drama" [Hudson Review 2 (1949): 242-260; and reprinted in many anthologies of critical essays on the drama and Shakespeare], as well as Downer's text-anthology of drama):
--nonverbal "language" of action (physical motion, gesture, composition or blocking)
--nonverbal "language" of setting (actual, physical scenic elements of the stage, theater, or, in later drama, set design [e.g., tables, chairs, sofas])
--nonverbal "language" of props (actual, physical objects, which the props master or props mistress must furnish for the dramatic performance and are seen on stage)
--sound effects (e.g., screams, thunder, music)
[--lighting effects (available only later in drama, when indoor theaters developed; also in film)]
[--for film, a particular kind of drama, and covered by
the screenplay of Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion, reprinted in volume
2 of the Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, 5th ed. or the
screenplay of Marguerite Duras' Hiroshima Mon Amour in volume 2
of the Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, 6th ed., and available
for rental at some video rental stores, the following elements: (a) camera
distance (long shot, medium shot, close-up); (b) camera angle (horizontal,
up angle, down angle -- or aerial or crane shot, from a height); (c) camera
motion (camera stationary and objects or people move into its view; camera
moving and objects or people static -- a "pan" or dolly shot; zoom shot:
camera zooms into a closeup of something or zooms out to a wide angle shot
away from something; camera moving and objects or people moving, as in
every "B" Western from the 1940's, with a camera on the back of a pickup,
in front of the galloping hero or villain out in the wilds of Burbank or
Northridge, California); (d) camera or film speed (normal motion, fast
motion, slow motion); (e) special effects, the abbreviation "F/X" now immortalized
in two (more to come?) films of this name]
Many times stage directions for plays, indicating the above special dramaturgical elements, are indicated in printed texts of plays by square brackets, indicating that they have been supplied not by the author but rather by the translator or editor. Dramatists often do not bother indicating where and when a certain physical action should take place on stage, prop be supplied, or detail of setting be constructed, first, because the dramatist feels that the script or text "speaks" for itself, second, the dramatist is writing for professionals who will know how to proceed, and, third, supplying all such references would probably expand the script or text to twice its length or even more. Therefore, alert readers, who do not have the opportunity to see a drama on stage, must read the text like a director for a middle school play, realizing that the director is going to have to specify for the youngsters almost all motions, actions, gestures, props, and details of the set that are evoked by, indeed demanded by the language, the words, of the text. Here is where the playwright lives up to the meaning of the suffix of the name, wright, as a genuine maker. As noted by Edith Hall (editor of the Kitto translation, 1962), “No authentic stage directions survive from the ancient world” (p. xxxv). When stage directions have been supplied by the playwright or dramatist to indicate the languages of action, props, setting, or of sound effects, readers should, as with implied languages of action, props, setting, or sound effects, ponder what ideas or themes may be implied, often at a subliminal level, particularly to a theatre audience viewing the play.
G1. The "Language" of Action "Language" of action isn't a character's exclusively verbal reference to some action, gesture, or motion. If a character on stage simply says "Yesterday I turned toward someone and asked him to speak," this reference does not constitute the language of action. However, a genuine or authentic dramatist or playwright (remember the spelling of the latter word, based on the suffix wright, meaning "a maker") instinctively writes words that mandate actions or gestures from the actor or actors. (An authentic or genuine dramatist, instinctively writing for the correct literary genre, will write words that demand physical embodiment on stage.) (G1a-1) For example, Oedipus's opening words to the priest aren't accompanied by any stage directions (remember, as noted above by Edith Hall, no authentic stage directions have been found with ancient Greek plays), but physical actions, with implications, are implied by those words -- Lloyd-Jones: "Come, aged man, tell me, since it is fitting you should speak for these, what is your state . . . ?" (speech 1 / Lloyd-Jones); Blondell: "Come, tell me, aged one -- since you're the natural / and fitting spokesman for these others -- why you're sitting / here: in dread or in desire?" (lines 9-11 / Blondell); Jebb-Hadas: "Tell me then, venerable man, since it is your natural part to speak for these others, in what mood are you placed here, with what dread or what desire?" (speech 1, Jebb-Hadas); Gould: "Old man -- for it is fitting that you speak / for all -- what is your mood as you entreat me,/ fear or trust?" (lines 9-11 / Gould; dilutes the more pointed reference in the demonstrative pronoun "these"); Bagg: "Tell me, old man,/ yours is the natural voice for the rest,/ what troubles you? You're terrified? / Looking for reassurance?" (lines 11-14 / Bagg; dilutes the more pointed reference in the demonstrative pronoun "these"); "Speak up, old man. Your years,/ Your dignity--you should speak for the others./ Why here and kneeling, what preys upon you so?" (lines 9-11; dilutes the more pointed reference in the demonstrative pronoun "these"). The actor playing Oedipus must make some gesture toward the actor playing the Priest, either turning toward him (by body, or by head, or by both), or pointing toward him. Further, as noted in G1-1 of these Notes and Questions, the demonstrative pronoun in "these" would mandate a pointing gesture of the actor playing Oedipus toward the others who are seated (the posture of the others on stage besides Oedipus and the Priest, as is learned definitely later in the episode when they are told to rise). (G1a-2) Since literature is the maximum meaning in the words and literary components used, any example of the "language" of action will also be revealing about character, personality, human nature, or theme. What personality traits about Oedipus are conveyed visually and orally through the reference cited in G1a of this question? What general themes or ideas of the play are embodied here? We see here (perhaps on our second or more reading of the play) that: (1) Oedipus singles out and differentiates an individual from the group; (2) Oedipus defers to an aged person, one of the father figures in the play. (1) The importance of the individual vs. the group: this recurrent topic or motif in the play is meaningful, since a crucial issue that develops is whether one highwayman or a group of highwaymen attacked the former king, Laius; if an individual, then the Oedipus' guilt will be suggested; if a group, then Oedipus' innocence will be suggested. Further, in a certain sense, Oedipus hasn't scored a 100 on the test or quiz given by the Sphinx (and college students think that the stakes are high in their quizzes or tests!), but rather an 80; Oedipus fails to see that the answer he gives to the question "what walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?" applies not just to humanity in general, but to himself in particular, as is visually evident at the end of the play when Oedipus can only walk when supported by someone else or by a staff (that is, walking with three "legs"). Adding all the references to the infancy of Oedipus in the play, Oedipus himself, as an individual, in the play, moves through the three cycles of the quiz question and quiz answer -- an infant crawling (especially since wounded in the ankle or ankles), a proud person in middle years on two feet during most of the play, and a pathetic figure at the end, prematurely aged, who must lean on another or a staff because no longer able to walk on his own. (2) The importance of deference to an aged person, a father figure Oedipus, ironically, has not shown deference to all aged persons or father figures -- indeed, his lapse of self control or self restraint has contributed to the killing of his own father in an incident that is the first reference in Western literature to an example of has become known in modern times as "road rage." (G1b-1) In the Priest's reply to Oedipus' opening speech, several words evoke the language of action, shown in the following passage by italics added for these Notes and Questions: Lloyd-Jones: "you see the ages of us who are seated at your altars, some not yet able to fly far, others weighed down with age. I am the priest of Zeus, and these are chosen from the unmarried young " (speech 2, Lloyd-Jones); Jebb-Hadas: "you see of what years we are who beset your altars, some nestlings still too tender for flights, some bowed with age, priests, as I of Zeus, and these, the chosen youth" (speech 2, Jebb-Hadas); Gould: "you see our several ages, / we who sit / before your altars -- some not strong enough / to take long flight, some heavy in old age, / the priests, as I of Zeus, and from our youths, a chosen band" (lines 15-19 / Gould); Blondell: "You see what age we are who sit here at your altar -- / some who are still not strong enough to flutter far, / others already burdened with the weight of age; / I am the priest of Zeus, and these are chosen youths" (lines 15-19 / Blondell); Bagg: "You can see / who comes to your altars, how varied / we are in years: children too weak-winged / to fly far, others hunched with age, / a few priests -- I am a priest of Zeus -- / joined by the best of our young lads" (lines 18-23 / Bagg; deletion of the demonstrative pronoun and particularizing of a verb, "hunched," not in the Greek). The language of action specified in many particulars of these lines is comprised by a pointing or sweeping gesture for the actor playing the Priest in "you see," the seated position of the actors portraying the Theban afflicted, a pointing gesture toward the actors exemplifying the very young, a pointing gesture toward the actors exemplifying the elderly, and a pointing gesture toward the actors exemplifying an in-between age group. (G1b-2) The language of action in the passage selected in the preceding section (G1b-1) helps suggest the sweeping devastation, encompassing all age groups, brought down on Thebes by the plague. Together with the avian imagery, especially in referring to the very young, the motif of the Sphinx quiz and answer to it is evoked by the encompassing of the very young, the old, and those in between. The language of action, the pointing, also associates actors onstage with the important imagistic motif in the play of rising versus falling, which will apply to Oedipus, who has risen to a great height but has caused his own fall in the process, which will be carried out in the play. The seated position of most of the actors -- the suppliants -- on stage suggests the low level to which the people of Thebes have been brought by plague (and the cause of the plague), but which will begin to be on the mend at the end of the episode or scene when the actor playing the Priest says that the others onstage should rise -- Lloyd-Jones: "Children let us stand up; for his announcement is the thing for which we came" (speech 32 / Lloyd-Jones); Jebb-Hadas: "My children, let us rise; we came at first to seek what this man [Oedipus[ promises of himself" (speech 32 / Jebb-Hadas); Gould: "Rise, my children; that for which we came, / he [Oedipus[ has himself proclaimed he will accomplish" (lines 147-148 / Gould); Blondell: "My children, let us stand. He's just announced to us / the very favor for the sake of which we came" (lines 146-147 / Blondell); Bagg: "Stand up, children. He has proclaimed / himself the cure we came to find" (168-169 / Bagg; attempt to "improve" the Greek text with "cure," to connect to the imagistic motif of disease in the play). The language of action also emphasizes, points out, or interacts with the "language of setting" (see section G2 of these Notes and Questions) by bringing the audience's attention to the altar or altars onstage and thus causing at least subconscious or subliminal awareness of the altar or altars throughout the play; that is, by association, throughout the play the altar or altars radiate to the audience members, even though they may not be consciously aware of the altar or altars, the notion that everything that happens onstage is somehow associated with the gods, or that the gods are constantly in the background influencing what happens. Thus, one of the most notable examples of the "language" of action in the first scene or episode occurs in the contrast between the suppliants' being seated and then standing up. The Priest refers to the first posture by saying to Oedipus' initial speech -- Lloyd-Jones: "Why, Oedipus, ruler of my land, you see the ages of us who are seated at your altars" (speech 1 / Lloyd-Jones); Gould: "You, Oedipus, who hold the power here,/ you see our several ages, we who sit / before your altars" (lines 14-16 / Gould); Blondell: "Oh Oidipous! Oh you who rule my land in power! / You see what age we are who sit here at your altar" (lines 14-15 / Blondell); Bagg (dilutes the reference to being seated, and thus blurs the later command of the Priest for the remaining suppliants to rise, as well as blurs the connection to the repeated imagery of rising and falling in the play): "You rule our land, Oedipus! You can see / who comes to your altars" (lines 18-19 / Bagg); Fagles (who adds "huddling at my altar," not in the Greek in line 2; and likewise blurs, as does Bagg, in "clinging"): "Oh Oedipus, king of the land, our greatest power1 / You see us before you now, men of all ages / clinging to your altars" (lines 16-18 / Fagles). The imagery of rising, from a kind of fallen position (seated), is literally enacted by the actors portraying the suppliants, and is thus connected to the repeated imagery of rising and falling in scene or episode 1, and throughout the play, when the Priest orders the suppliants to stand up, as illustrated at the beginning of this subsection, G1b-2.
G1-1. Grammar and the Language of Action; Grammar and
the Interconnection of the "Language" of Action, Plus "Language" of Setting or
"Language" of Props
Instinctively or intuitively, true dramatists or playwrights are drawn to use certain grammatical constructions like "the demonstrative pronoun"--this, that, these, those--or "relative adverb"--here, there--which evoke action on stage; that is, grammar in the text requires an actor's motion or gesture, which sometimes is further connected to the "language of setting" or "language of props." The demonstrative pronoun, whose grammatical function is the pointing to something in a sentence, virtually makes or forces an experienced actor or actress to point or gesture to something physical on stage; likewise, with the relative adverb. As indicated in G1, above, the demonstrative pronoun or equivalents cause gesturing toward various groups of personages onstage, thus indicating both the magnitude of the plague's effects, as well as pointing to the three main stages of a person's life, with relevance to the Sphinx's question, Oedipus' answer, and ultimately to Oedipus himself within the action of the play from beginning to its end. (G1-1a) For example, when the actor playing Creon enters onstage, he begins his communication with Oedipus by saying (with the demonstrative pronouns italicized to make them clear) -- Jebb-Hadas: "If you would hear while these people are near, I am ready to speak; or else to go inside" (speech 10 / Jebb-Hadas); Lloyd-Jones: "If you wish to hear in these people's presence, I am ready to speak, or else to go inside" (speech 10 / Lloyd-Jones); "If you will hear me with these men present,/ I'm ready to report -- or go inside" (lines 91-92 / Gould); "If you desire to hear me talk with these folk present / I'm prepared to do so -- or to go inside" (lines 91-92 / Blondell); "If you want my report in the presence of these people"(line 103 / Fagles); Bagg: "Do you want me to speak in front of these men? / If so, I will. If not, let's go inside" (lines 103-104 / Bagg). The demonstrative pronoun, "these," must make an experienced actor playing Creon point to the personages onstage. What does Creon's gesture help reveal about him? His pointing gesture helps signal an "us versus them" mentality of some politicians and administrators, who don't want the public involved, at least at a certain point, in information and decision-making. Further, the reference in the Greek text, and English translation, to "inside," may also cause an experienced actor to make some gesture toward the "skene" (the architectural facade into which characters enter or from which characters emerge), which exemplifies the "language of setting,"again creating an "us" (politicians, administrators, behind closed doors) versus "them" (the public, outside the "skene") opposition. Oedipus, in contrast, is all for revealing everything: something both laudable and tragic in his own case.
G2. The "Language" of Setting The "language" of setting is not simply a character's reference to a place or detail of a place, unless that place or detail of place must be embodied onstage and seen by the audience. Besides a great deal of trouble and potentially expense (details of set and also props must be borrowed, rented, purchased, or constructed for the drama, whereas they can merely be verbally referred to in fiction, poetry, or nonfiction), the "language" of setting can be extremely important, since the setting remains in view of the audience for an entire scene, act, or perhaps the whole play. Though the audience may not be paying attention to details or aspects of the set, nevertheless they are seeing them all the time, and these details and their potential meaning or symbolism are registering on the audience's subconscious (perhaps conscious, for the more literarily experienced) for the whole scene, act, or play. As with its use in television advertising (e.g., the fancy restaurant and glamorous nighttime setting, including people in evening dress, all surrounding the automobile being promoted), the "language" of setting in drama, may have a powerful subliminal thematic symbolism. See the figures or illustrations in the art textbook for the course -- for what the Greek theater evolved into, including any overhead diagrams of its parts. From its front view, it probably looked something like the following:
The theater was huge, seating up to 20,000 people (a large
Broadway theater seats about 3,000), which necessitated good stone acoustics
from sound bouncing off the skene and the stone seats of the audience,
as well as certain features of the actors' costumes. The actors wore buskins,
an ancient forerunner of what in the 1970's would be called "platform shoes,"
which helped not only to make the characters being portrayed appear larger
than life, befitting their importance in myth and legend, but also helped
project their voices to the huge audience (no electronic amplification
systems, no Madonna or Janet Jackson body mikes yet). Also, the actors
wore large hollow masks that helped identify to the huge audience who each
character was, magnify the size of the actor to befit the larger-than-life
character or story being portrayed, helped actors "double" roles (play
more than one part, by change of costume and mask), and also amplify the
actor's voice like the megaphone of bygone days (cheerleaders, Rudy Vallee).
Aspects of setting in the ancient Greek drama are held to a minimum, usually involving, for purposes of plot and symbolism, one or two altars, placed in the orchestra area or on the skene or both; the three steps leading up from the orchestra to the raised level of the skene or main backdrop (what Fagles calls the "facade"); a central door in the skene (or "facade"); two pillars (or more) on either side of the skene; and the roof of the skene or "facade." In Aeschylus' play Agamemnon (included in the full not shorter edition of NAWL), spectacular and thematic uses are made of the three steps up to the proskene, as well as the eccyclema (or ekkyklema), a sort of little trolley rolled out of the central door to reveal the results of a murder (always carried out offstage in ancient Greek drama). In lines 1395 and following in the Fagles translation (in NAWL), the central door or curtain would have been opened to roll out what was supposed to be the dead body of the murdered Agamemnon (remember how the Agamemnon story crops up several times in Homer's Odyssey?): sort of the misguided pride of the murderers, Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus at what they've done ("heeere's Johnny!"). A drawing of how the eccyclema (or ekkyklema) might have looked is as follows:
Likewise, Aegisthus' pride is amplified by where he stands when he utters his reply to the recrimination of the Chorus for his adulterous and murderous affair with Clytaemnestra (lines 1647 and following in the Fagles translation): "You say! you slaves at the oars -- / while the master of the benches cracks the whip" (1653-54). He is talking down to the chorus not only in tone and imagery but literally by where he is standing relative to them in the ancient Greek theater (the top step of course, while the Chorus is in the "orchestra" area):
An actor could stand atop the skene to indicate elevation (see the illustration above), as in the opening of Aeschylus' play Agamemnon (included in the full not shorter edition of NAWL), in which a watchman opens the play, complaining (in the translation of Robert Fagles) of "the long watch I keep, one whole year awake . . . / propped on my arms, crouched on the roofs of Atreus/ like a dog" (lines 2-4). Euripides in his play Medea (included in NAWL), a forerunner of the movie Fatal Attraction, makes spectacular and thematic use of the skene and mechane (literally, a "machine": a kind of crane used for special aerial effects, like gods or goddesses ascending or descending, or dragon-drawn chariots ascending or descending). Medea's first several speeches (lines 96-165 in the Fagles translation) in the play are uttered from inside the skene, amplifying her cries as well as suggesting helplessness (the audience's and Medea's, through being separated and bound up or held captive) and the idea of internalizing (Medea has been and will be secretive and sneaky in what she does). At the end of the play, she talks down to her husband, who has been unfaithful to her and attempted to abandon her (something that could only happen in ancient times and ancient literary works, literature, as all non-English majors know, having no relevance or reference to real life), both in her language and her literal physical position onstage: she's in a dragon-drawn chariot (supplied by her grandfather, Helios, the sun god) about to make her escape after committing a couple of murders (okay, four murders) aimed at hurting her persecutors, especially her faithless, opportunistic husband (a character who could only happen in ancient times and ancient literary works . . . ). How the mechane would have functioned is illustrated by the following:
(G2a) The "Language" of Setting and The Altar (or Altars) and "Going
Inside" in Sophocles' Oedipus the King As already
mentioned in G1 of these Notes and Questions, beginning in scene or episode 1,
the Priest's reference to the altar or altars onstage, as well as Creon's
reference sto going "inside" (that is, inside the skene) exemplify the
"language" of setting. Why, thematically,
should the audience's and reader's attention be repeatedly drawn to (Apollo's)
altar? Clearly, we are supposed to continually be subliminally aware of
the role of the gods -- particularly Apollo -- their oracles, and fate
in the action of the play and in human life -- as all these have had their
tragic bearing on Oedipus' life, and the altar or altars, even when the audience
is not paying direct attention must be in the audience's peripheral vision, and
throughout the play (as opposed to someone just reading the play) continually
suggest the gods' impact on human life. Creon's reference in his initial
speeches to Oedipus about delivering the news in the open, in the presence of
the suppliants, versus going "inside" (that is, into the skene) to deliver the news, inevitably suggests
the opposing of politician or administrator versus the public, concealment of
information or knowledge versus bringing it out into the open -- all as will be
applied to Oedipus' tragic quest to find out the truth of Laius' murder and
truths of Oedipus' own life. Typically with the ancient Greeks, the quest is to
G3. The "Language" of Props A character's mere verbal reference to some physical object is not the "language" of props, unless that object must, as a consequence of the text, the script, be placed on stage. As with details of the set, props are extra trouble and expense in the drama; while the other, exclusively verbal literary genres (except for unusual writers like William Blake -- who is represented later in the NAWL), can simply refer to objects (branches wound in wool, crown, staff, sword) without physically providing them, the text or script of a play may require their placement and use onstage, involving rental, borrowing, purchase, or construction of the specific items. (G3a1) If a character refers to someone's crown or garland, this verbal reference isn't the "language" of props, unless the reference happens in such a way as to demand the presence of crown or garland onstage. However, when the Priest says the following words, referring to Creon's first appearance on stage, they require one of the play's props, in addition to the suppliants' special branches or headgear, which becomes a visual emblem throughout scene or episode 1 (a reader may forget about Creon's crown, but an audience seeing the play could not forget, since the crown would be at least part of the audience's peripheral vision for the rest of the scene or episode): Lloyd-Jones: "At a guess, he [Creon[ brings comfort; for else he would not be coming with a head crowned with luxuriant bay leaves" (speech 6 / Lloyd-Jones); Jebb-Hadas: "To all seeming he brings comfort; else he would not be coming crowned so thickly with berry-laden bay" (speech 6 / Jebb-Hadas); Gould: "His news is happy, it appears. He comes, / forehead crowned with thickly berried laurel" (lines 82-83 / Gould); Blondell: "His news is sweet, so I surmise; or else he would / not come towards us crowned with thickly berried bay" (lines 82-83 / Blondell); Fagles: "he's crowned, look,/ and the laurel wreath is bright with berries" (lines 94-95 / Fagles); Bagg: :He must bring pleasing news. If not, why would / he wear laurel dense with berries" (lines 93-94 / Bagg). What might be the meanings or facets of symbolism in this prop, other than signaling that Creon has been to Apollo's oracle for a consultation about the source of the plague troubling Thebes? The idea of a crown implies elevation, power, and, potentially, pride. Oedipus has gotten his crown, along with an attendant pride, by solving (partly--not completely, as he thinks) the Sphinx's riddle and by his elevation to the kingship. But this pride will help lead to his downfall, which will result in a new king -- the very Creon who now enters with this crown. Furthermore, Creon's crown probably is in the back of the mind of Oedipus when Oedipus later accuses Teiresias and Creon of political conspiracy; how would the subconscious thought process work, with reference to this prop and the later accusations -- that is, how would Creon wearing a crown, an image in the back of Oedipus' mind help contribute to Oedipus' later accusation of political conspiracy by Creon and Teiresias to depose Oedipus and gain power for themselves? (G3a2) Furthermore, the point made in the dialogue about the thick berries on Creon's crown suggests their importance -- conveying the idea of fruitfulness. How would the idea of fruitfulness, now associated with this prop, in clear view of the audience, apply in any way or ways to Thebes (suffering from the plague and the continual diminution of its population), to Oedipus (how he has been the fruit of the marriage of his parents; how he has been fruitful in having children with his wife; how his actions have been or haven't been, will be or won't be fruitful), to Jocasta, and to Laius?
G4. Music and Sound Effects Music and sound effects are acoustic trouble in the drama, insofar as the text of a play, a script, requires their actual implementation (versus mere verbal references to them in the exclusively verbal literary genres). Not only do these components have to be physically produced, but, as with props and set, they increase the possibility of errors or mishaps in actual stage productions (e.g., a missed cue for the music or sound effect). Aristotle in his treatise The Poetics (partially reprinted in NAWL ) refers to them in the Greek drama, and they have been used subsequently in drama and in film. For example, John Williams, following the lead of classical composer Richard Wagner, composed specific melodic motifs for each of the characters in the Star Wars movies, and each time the character appears or is mentioned (as in Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungs) the melody is heard in the soundtrack. (G4a) A wonderful combination of sound effect and the language of setting can be found in Euripides' tragedy Medea, in which we hear the title character's sobs and sorrowful speech from inside the skene, before we ever see her. Euripides manages to convey the ideas of helplessness (we hear the sorrow but feel extra-distanced by not seeing the source of the sound) and internalization (Medea's emotions are driven inside, and she will become secretive in the play) through both sound effect and setting. (G4b) Almost certainly the choruses in Greek tragedy, such as the first one in Oedipus (see the table above, listing the location of Choral Ode 1 in various translations), were danced, as well as chanted or sung, possibly to some form of music. How could these auditory elements be made expressive to match or convey the content of, say, the first choral ode?
G5. Dramatic Irony A special kind of irony is used by playwrights in the drama: dramatic irony. When a character onstage says something that another character onstage or other characters onstage or the audience knows to be only partly true or quite wrong, the playwright is using dramatic irony to bring out ideas, or facets of a character's personality. No play in world literature has more dramatic ironies in it than Oedipus the King. For example, when at the very beginning of the play Oedipus announces to the chorus that he has come himself and not sent a messenger, he says -- Gould: “[I] have come out myself, / I, Oedipus, a name that all men know” (lines 7-8 / Gould); Lloyd-Jones: “I have come myself, I who am called Oedipus, renowned to all”; Jebb-Hadas: “[I] have come here myself, I, Oedipus renowned of all”; Fagles (straying somewhat from the Greek, and adding to it): “Here I am myself -- / you all know me, the world knows my fame: / I am Oedipus” (lines 7-9 / Fagles); Bagg (somewhat straying from the Greek): “So I’ve come out myself. / My name is Oedipus -- the famous -- / as everyone calls me” (lines 9-11 / Bagg); Fitts & Fitzgerald: “I have come myself to hear you -- / I, Oedipus, who bear the famous name” (lines 8-9 / Fitts & Fitzgerald); Grene (straying from the Greek and exaggerating Oedipus’ egotism at this point): “but came myself, -- / I Oedipus whom all men call the Great” (lines 7-8 / Grene). With both irony and dramatic irony, how is it the case that actually only two people really know who Oedipus is -- Teiresias and an old shepherd / herdsman -- and that no one else (including Oedipus himself, Jocasta, Creon / Kreon, the inhabitants of Thebes, or others who know Oedipus’ fame) really knows who Oedipus is (including the full story of how Oedipus got his name)? (Probably the most exaggerated version of these lines occurs in Cook: “I came myself,/ The world renowned and glorious Oedipus” (lines 8-9 / Cook, not conveying as much as the Greek or some translations the concept and importance of knowledge, so important in the play). Thus, in the opening of the play (with a combination of the language of action, as well as verbal speech), when Oedipus declares "Here I am myself--/ you all know me" (lines 7-8 / Fagles), we sense not only some pride, but also irony, for in fact, with two exceptions, no one in the play knows who Oedipus really is, including Oedipus -- an ignorance that has produced and continues to produce terrible consequences. A little later, when Oedipus says that he'll pursue the murderer of Laius even if the trail leads into Oedipus's own household (lines 280-87 / Fagles), the audience and reader wince, knowing that the trail will lead not just into Oedipus's household but to Oedipus himself. Oedipus wrecks (Rex) himself. Such dramatic irony is used by Sophocles throughout the opening lines and throughout the play. Where else?
G6. (G6a) Echeloning of Lines in Verse Translations; Stichomythia as an Element in Ancient Greek Drama (CGa-1) Echeloning Because some translations are mostly in blank verse (attempting to achieve a certain number or range of syllables in each line), they makes use of the convention of the echeloned line, in which part of the same line of poetry is echeloned, as in lines 625-629 of Gould ("I see you cannot think!" to "Hear that, Thebes!"), lines 626-630 of Blondell ("Well for me!" to "I share in it as well"), line 9 of Fagles ("I am Oedipus" plus "Speak up, old man. Your years"), line 11 of Bagg ("as everyone calls me" plus "Tell me, old man"); this echeloning is used to indicate verse paragraph units, or division of a line of poetry between two or more speakers. (G6b) Stichomythia Rapid interchange of dialogue between two speakers, in single lines or small groups of lines, has the technical name in ancient Greek drama of stichomythia. It often indicates, dramatically and poetically, argument or debate.
G7. (G7a) Oedipus the King in Art Besides ancient Greek vase painting (Oedipus conversing with the Sphinx is an especially popular subject), Sophocles' Oedipus the King (in other translations, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus Tyrannos, King Oedipus, etc.) has been rendered by later artists, including J[ean] A[uguste] D[ominique] Ingres (1780-1867), Gustav Moreau (1826-1898), and Francis Bacon (1910- ): e.g., Oedipus and the Sphinx (1826), painting by J.A.D. Ingres; Oedipus and the Sphinx (1864), painting by G. Moreau; Oedipus and Antigone or The Plague of Thebes by Charles Francois Jatabeat; and a modern painting by contemporary British artist Francis Bacon, inspired by the Ingres painting of 1826. For a view of a red-painted Greek vase version of the subject, click here ; for a second ancient Greek vase version of the subject, click here; for a third ancient Greek vase version of the subject, click here. For the Moreau painting, click here or click here or click here. For the Ingres, painting click here. For the Bacon painting, click here. (G7b) Oedipus the King in Music The play has been put into musical terms by Tom Lehrer (popular music, comedy), and in art music by Ruggiero Leoncavallo (1858-1919), in Oedipo Re (1920; posthumous production); Igor Stravinsky, Oedipus Rex (1927); Georeges Enesco, Oedipus (1936; music drama); and Carl Orff, Oedipus the Tyrant (1959; tragedy with music).
G8. Various English Translations of Sophocles' Oedipus the
King, and the Various English Titles
Sophocles' play has been translated scores of times, as indicated by the table (ordered by date of the first publishing of the English translation) at the beginning of these Notes and Questions, which shows the variety of titles (based on the ancient Greek title, which is, in English transliteration, Oidipous Tyrannos; the Greek word tyrannos, from which the English word tyrant is derived, meant primarily just what our word king means today).
Differences in translations in just the very opening of the play, affecting the interpretation of the lines, can be seen in the last part of these Notes and Questions, following the section "General Questions." The translators have had to deal with several difficult issues -- including the reference to Cadmus (Kadmos, in closer English transliteration to the original ancient Greek) -- and have chosen various options (e.g., inserting explanation into the translation, omitting details). The play in the original ancient Greek is in unrhymed verse, but is translated in prose as well as verse in the various English translations.
GQ1. General Components of the Archaic or Geometric Periods in Ancient Greece Connected to the Play Many of the components noted by Professor Walter Evans (and others) in connection with the Archaic or Geometric periods in ancient Greece will also apply to the literature, art, and music of the Classical period, represented in literature by Sophocles' Oedipus the King. How might the following be found in the Sophocles play, as well as examples of art and music brought up in this unit of the course: (a) warrior focus or aristocratic values; (b) individualism; (c) determinism, discipline, rigid patterns; (d) attention to funeral rites or death?
GQ2. General Components of the Classical Period in Ancient Greece Connected to the Play How might the following components noted by Professor Walter Evans (and others) in connection with the Classical period in ancient Greece apply to the literature (represented by Sophocles' Oedipus the King), as well as examples of art and music brought up in this unit of the course: (a) clarity and simplicity (or restraint) of structure; (b) rationality; (c) focus on human beings, this world; (d) idealism; (e) innovation (some struggle against or adaptation of tradition)?
GQ3. The Topic of Knowledge in the Play How do Oedipus, the quest of Oedipus in the play, and the structure of the play all relate to the desire of the ancient Greeks to acquire knowledge, to know things -- e.g., alphabetically, about agriculture and botany (Theophrastus; Hesiod); astronomy -- including the circumference of the earth (!) (e.g., Aristarchus, Hipparchus, Parmenides); geography (the Pythagorean school; Aristotle; Hecataeus; Megasthenes); history (e.g., the writings of Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon); literature and literary criticism (e.g., various writings of Plato, as well as Aristotle's Poetics); mathematics (e.g., the writings and work of Hippocrates, Eudoxus, Archimedes, Euclid, and Pythagoras); meteorology (Aristotle's Meterologica); music ( e.g., writings of Aristoxenus, Plato, Aristotle, and the Pythagoreans); political science (e.g., Plato's Statesman and Laws; Aristotle's Politics); philosophy and metaphysics in general (various writings of Thales, Anaximander, Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Anaxagoras, Plato, and Aristotle); philosophy -- special branches, such as ethics (e.g., Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics), Physics -- including mechanics, optics, acoustics, and even electricity and magnetism (e.g., writings of Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Aristotle, and Archimedes)?
(GQ4) The “language of action” -- Vertical Imagery (Rising and Falling, Up and Down) in Physical Actions as well as Verbal Imagery in the Play -- can clearly be seen, in more than one sense, in the specification of the posture of the suppliants in Oedipus’ opening query -- Gould: “My children, ancient Cadmus’ newest care, / why have you hurried to those seats” (lines 1-2 / Gould); Lloyd-Jones: “Children, latest to be reared from the stock of Cadmus, why do you sit like this before me”; Fagles (with his tendency to particularize where the Greek is more general): “Oh my children, the new blood of ancient Thebes,/ why are you here? Huddling at my altar” (lines 1-2; “huddling” fails to indicate clearly the posture designated by the Greek; Fagles); Bagg omits from as well as adds to the Greek in “My children -- you are the fresh green life / old Kadmos nurtures and protects / Why do you surge at me like this” (lines 1-3; failing to indicate clearly the posture designated by the Greek; Bagg). The people of Thebes have been cast down by the plague, and are, as well, supplicating the gods and Oedipus in an abased posture. (Several translations err, not showing the motif of vertical imagery, by not translating the literal references to “sitting,” “sit,” or “seats.”) (GQ4-1) How is this motif of vertical imagery (up versus down) continued in the Priest’s avian imagery applied to the general categories of afflicted Thebans -- Gould: “’you [Oedipus] see our several ages, we who sit / before your altars -- some not strong enough / to take long flight, some heavy in old age’” (lines 15-16 / Gould); Lloyd-Jones: “’you see the ages of us who are seated at your altars, some not yet able to fly far, others weighed down with age’” (Lloyd Jones); Fagles: “’You see us before you now, men of all ages / clinging to your altars. Here are boys,/ still too weak to fly from the next,/ and here the old, bowed down with the years’” (lines 16-20, Fagles; blurs the seated posture, in “clinging”); Bagg: “’You can see / who comes to your altars, how varied / we are in years: children too weak-winged / to fly far, others hunched with age’” (lines 18-21, Bagg; blurs the seated posture in “comes to your altars”). Cook (1948, 1957, 1963) abandons the repeated reference to being seated altogether, in violation of the Greek text (probably in the interest of a modern dramatic production of the play, but violating the up-down vertical imagery throughout the play, including the opening scene) -- “O Oedipus, ruler of my land, you see / How old we are who stand in supplication” (lines 14-15 / Cook). (GQ4-2) How does the motif of vertical imagery intersect with the motifs of repeated nautical imagery and repeated imagery of seeing (or vision) in the Priest’s complaint to Oedipus that -- Gould: “Our city, as you see yourself, is tossed / too much, and can no longer lift its head / above the troughs of billows red with death’” (lines 22-24, Gould); Fagles (adding words not in the Greek): “’Our city -- / look around you, see with your own eyes -- / our ship pitches wildly, cannot lift her head / from the depths, the red waves of death’” (lines 27-30, Fagles); Bagg: “’You can see our city going under,/ too feeble to lift its head clear / of the angry murderous waves’” (lines 27-30, Bagg; omits the specific imagery of blood, in the Greek)? (GQ4-3) How does a climax in the vertical imagery in the first scene / episode occur in the Priest’s request to Oedipus -- Gould: “’with a god’s assistance / you raised up our life, so we believe’” (lines 38-39, Gould) and “’Noblest of men, lift up our land again!’” (line 46 , Gould); Lloyd-Jones: “’no, it is by the extra strength given by a god that you are said and believed to have set right our life’” and “’Come, best of living men, raise up the city!”; Jebb-Hadas: “’no, by a god’s aid, it is said and believed, did you uplift our life’” and “’On, best of mortals, again uplift our state!’”; Fagles: “’A god was with you, so they say, and we believe it -- / you lifted up our lives’” (lines 48-49 / Fagles) and “’Act now -- we beg you, best of men, raise up our city!’” (line 57 / Fagles); Bagg (omits the vertical imagery in the Greek) in “’People say -- they believe! -- you had a god’s / help when you restored life to our city’” (lines 46-47 / Bagg) and “Act as our greatest man! Act / as you did when you first seized fame’” (lines 55-56)? (GQ4-4) How does a climax in the vertical imagery interconnect with the motifs of foot and wayfaring in the Priest’s exhorting Oedipus -- Gould: “’oh let us never look back at your rule / as men helped up only to fall again! / Do not stumble! Put our land on firm feet!’” (lines 49-51 / Gould); Lloyd-Jones: “’let it not be our memory of your reign that we were stood up straight at first only to fall later; no raise up the city so that it does not fall’” (Lloyd-Jones); Fagles: “’Never let us remember of your reign: / you helped us stand, only to fall once more. / Oh raise up our city, set us on our feet’” (lines 61-63 / Fagles); Bagg: “’Don’t let us look back on your rule and say, / He lifted us once, but then let us down. / Put us firmly back on our feet, / So Thebes will never fall again’” (lines 58-61, Bagg; adding a final line, for emphasis, not in the Greek)?
(GQ5) Avian Imagery and Vertical Imagery in the Play How does the avian imagery of the plague’s interaction with Thebes -- Lloyd-Jones: “’the fire-bearing god, hateful Pestilence, has swooped upon the city’” (Lloyd-Jones); Gould: “’and the fire-bearing god / has swooped upon the city, hateful plague’” (lines 27-28, Gould); Fagles: “’and the plague, the fiery god of fever hurls down / on the city, his lightning slashing through us’” (lines 34-35, Fagles; blurring the “swooping” with “hurling”); Bagg: “’A burning god rakes his fire through our town / He hates us with fever’” (lines 34-35 / Bagg, blurring the “swooping” with “raking”) -- connect with the Priest’s earlier catalog of the inhabitants of Thebes, as well as the motif in the play of vertical imagery -- Gould: “’you [Oedipus] see our several ages, we who sit / before your altars -- some not strong enough / to take long flight, some heavy in old age’” (lines 15-16 / Gould); Lloyd-Jones: “’you see the ages of us who are seated at your altars, some not yet able to fly far, others weighed down with age’” (Lloyd Jones); Fagles: “’You see before you now, men of all ages / clinging to your altars. Here are boys, / still too weak to fly from the next, / and here the old, bowed down with the years’” (lines 17-20, Fagles; Fagles adds the repeated “here”); Bagg: “’You can see / who comes to your altars, how varied / we are in years: children too weak-winged / to fly far, others hunched with age’” (lines 18-20 / Bagg)?
Key, Thematic Family Terms in the Play - (GQ5-a1) “children” - The
second word (tekna) of the play’s first three words in the original
Greek -- ho tekna Kadmou (line 1, Greek text; “O children of Kadmos”) --
means “children” some English translations go beyond the Greek (sometimes to
fill out the line in English translation) to add “sons and daughters” and some
English translations stray more seriously from the Greek by mistranslating as
“sons.” (GQ6-a2) How does the use of this word by Oedipus, repeated in
his opening speeches, suggest a genuine interest in the people of Thebes
(backed up by later examples, also)? (GQ6-a3) How does use of this word
by Oedipus, repeated in his opening speeches, suggest a superior or patronizing
attitude toward the people of Thebes (GQ6-a4) How does the use of this
word by Oedipus, repeated in his opening speeches, suggest a dramatic irony
connected to what he knows about his own parentage -- that is, whose child he
is? (GQ5-a5) How does use of this word by Oedipus, repeated in his
opening speeches, suggest a further dramatic irony in application to the
offspring that Oedipus has had with Jocasta / Iocaste? (GQ6-a6) How is
the word “children” repeated throughout the opening speeches of the Priest and
Oedipus, and what idea or ideas might be suggested thereby? (GQ6-a7)
Which English translations given in the conspectus of English translations
linked to these Notes and Questions elaborate beyond the Greek in adding “sons
and daughters” beyond “children”? (GQ6-a8) Which English translations
given in the conspectus of English translations linked to these Notes and
Questions too narrowly translate tekna as “sons,” and what irony -- e.g.,
what Oedipus and others don't know about Oedipus' own children -- in the
original Greek is thus missed or blurred? (GQ6-b) “son” and "son of" How
might the repeated reference in the play to Creon as “son of Menoceceus” (for
example, paida gar Menoikeos, line 69, or o pai Menoikeos, line
1503, Greek text) point to the issue of parentage in connection with Oedipus
(who Oedipus’ parents are, who Oedipus’ children are) -- that is, besides being
repeatedly referred to as “ruler” or “most powerful,” why, for thematic reasons,
can’t the “son of” formula be applied accurately to Oedipus? Bagg omits the
epithet in Oedipus’ first reference to Creon / Kreon -- Gould: “’I sent
Menoeceus’ son, / Creon, brother of my wife, to the Pythian / halls of Phoebus’”
(lines 69-71 / Gould), Blondell: "I have sent Kreon, / Menoikeus' son, my own
wife's brother, to Apollo's / Pythian home" (lines 69-71 / Blondell) vs. Fagles:
"I sent Creon, my wife's own brother, to Delphi -- / Apollo the Prophet's
oracle" (lines 81-83 / Fagles) and Bagg: “’I’ve sent Kreon, / my wife’s brother, to
Phoibos at Delphi’” (lines 80-81 / Bagg). (GQ6-c1) “father” When Oedipus
at the end of the play begs a favor of Creon (“son of Menoeceus”; o pai
Menoikeos, line 1503, Greek text), how is the irony of the family term
“father” sharpened by the juxtaposition of “father” and “son” -- Lloyd-Jones:
“Son of Menoeceus, since you are left as the only father for these girls . . .
do not look on, father, while these that are your kin wander in beggary”;
Gould: "Son of Menoeceus! You are the only father / left to them" (lines
1503-1504 / Gould; omits the repetition of father, pater, line 1505,
Greek text); Blondell: "Son of Menoikeus, you're the only father left / to these
two girls, since both of us who gave them birth / have perished; father, don't
stand by and watch them, your / own kinsfolk, wandering as vagrant beggars"
(lines 1503-1506 / Blondell); Cook:
“’Son of Menoeceus -- since you are alone / Left as father to them . . . / see
that you never let / These girls wander as beggars’” (lines 1503-1506 / Cook);
Fagles omits, abridges, the "son of" epithet, losing the opposition between
"father" and "son"
(as well as the repetition in the Greek text of pater)
in lines 1645-1649; Bagg omits, abridges, the "son of" epithet, losing the
between "father" and "son" (as well as the repetition in the Greek text of
pater) in lines 1702-1705?
(GQ6-c2) "fatherland" vs. "[native] country" or "[native] land" A
misstep in translations of Sophocles' play parallels the misstep in translations
of Homer's Odyssey in not translating the Greek word patridos (or its
various forms) as literally as possible, that is, as "fatherland," rather than
"native land" or "native country." Just as the father-son issue, or
parent-child issue, is so important in Homer's Odyssey, so it is in
Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus; thus translating such occurrences as line
825 of the Greek text literally is important because it forcefully connects to
the issues surrounding Oedipus, as it does Odysseus and Telemachus in Homer's
Odyssey -- Blondell does best in her translation of Oidipous' statement to
Jokasta and the Chorus: "Am I not evil / in my birth, yes, utterly
impure, if I / must flee to exile, and yet never see my kin / or step into my
fatherland" (lines 822-825). Cf. Kreon's statement to Jokasta and Oedipus
(the latter so ignorant about his own father or his own fatherhood), in Blondell's
translation "Blood-sister, Oidipous your husband thinks it right / to do to me
one of two awful evil things: / to thrust me from my fatherland or have me
killed" (lines 639-641 / Blondell). (GQ6-c3) Zeus father The
issue of fatherhood or parentage even occurs in an epithet of Zeus, as found in
Choral Ode 1 (see the Table, above, in these Notes and Questions) -- Gould:
"Fire bearing god . . . / you who dispense the might of lightning, /Zeus!
Father! Destroy him with your thunderbolt!" (lines 200-202 / Gould); Blondell:
"Oh you who wield the power / of fire-bearing lightning,/ oh father Zeus,
destroy him / with your thunderbolt!" (lines 199-202 / Blondell); cf. speech
331, Lloyd-Jones; speech 331, Jebb-Hadas; line 229, Fagles; line 238, Bagg. As
explained by Gould in a footnote to his translation, "the Greek is O Zeu
pater, 'Oh Zeus-father.' Cf. the Roman 'Jupiter,' sometimes spelled Dies
pater, 'father day,' i.e. the sky-god or weather-god, especially as the
hurler of the thunderbolt, Jupiter Tonans. The ideas that Zeus is 'father' and
that he possesses the thunderbolt are found together often . . . Apollo [in line
469 is] called 'Zeus' son" (pp. 39-40).
(GQ7) The Motifs of Feet and Hands in the Play (GQ7-1) Foot, Feet While Fagles is premature in introducing the motif of "foot" or "feet" in the play, injecting the word in Oedipus' opening speech, which does not have it in the original Greek text (see in these Notes and Questions the section "Problems with Most English Translations; Four Recommended English Translations"), the motif does occur in the play. In the first episode, Creon replies to Oedipus' accusation of not immediately investigating Laius' murder by saying -- Lloyd-Jones: "The Sphinx with her riddling song forced us to let go what was obscure and attend to what lay before our feet" (speech 30 / Lloyd-Jones), literally translating posi (line 130, Greek text; literally "feet") in e poikilodos Sphigx to pros posi skopein / mephentas hemas taphane prosegeto (lines 130-131, Greek text); cf. Gould: "The subtle-singing Sphinx asked us to turn / from the obscure to what lay at our feet" (lines 130-131 / Gould); Blondell: "The devious-singing Sphinx led us to set aside / the mystery and look at what lay at our feet" (lines 130-131 / Blondell); cf. Fagles: "The singing, riddling Sphinx. / She . . . persuaded us to let the mystery go / and concentrate on what lay at our feet" (lines 147-149 / Fagles); Bagg: "The Sphinx's song. So wily, so baffling! / She forced us to forget the dark past / to confront what lay at our feet" (lines 148-150 / Bagg). A rare misstep in the Jebb-Hadas translation is Creon's "The riddling Sphinx had made us let dark things go and was inviting us to think of what lay at our doors" (speech 30 / Jebb-Hadas). The "foot" motif actually can be understood to begin in line 128 of the Greek text -- kakon de poion empodon tyrannidos / outo pesoustes eirge tout exeidenai (lines 128-129, Greek text) in Oeidpus' accusing question to Creon of why the Thebans did not immediately investigate the murder of Laius, since empodon can mean not only "blocking" or "preventing" but also, based on its root, "underfoot," as Blondell translates in having Oidipous begin his accusation with "What evil underfoot," versus Gould: "what kind of trouble blocked you from a search?" (line 129/ Gould) or "what trouble prevented you from knowing all?" (speech 29 / Lloyd Jones). As footnoted by Blondell in her translation: "Lines 128-131 [of the Blondell translation, corresponding to the same line numbers in the Greek] provide the first . . . appearances of the 'foot' motif, which links Oidipous' name [= 'swellfoot'] both with the riddling of the Sphinx and with the pervasive theme of physical and intellectual travel [the latter sometimes designated by figurative language referring to the foot or feet]" (p. 27). How does this motif occur in the Priest's request to Oedipus in the early part of the play to prevent the Thebans from stumbling or falling, or to restore the Thebans to an upright stance on firm feet? (GQ7-2) Hand, Hands Although some translations repeatedly blur and thus omit the synecdoche of "hand" or "hands," the anatomical reference or synecdoche is important both dramaturgically (via the "language" of action and "language" of props, the latter through turning part of the actor's anatomy into a visual symbol), as in passages connected with the Loxias name of Apollo. When Oedipus is asked by a messenger if the messenger may hear the oracle that Oedipus received, Oedipus' answer evokes both the "language" of action and "language" of props by turning his hands into symbols for the theater audience of Oedipus' ignorance, crime, and intemperance -- Gould: "[Oedipus:] It is [permitted for Oedipus to disclose the oracle he received]. Loxias once said to me / I must have intercourse with my mother / and take my father's blood with these my hands" (lines 994-996 / Gould); Blondell: "[Oidipous:] It is certainly permitted. Loxias once said / I must have intercourse with my own mother and / must take my father's blood with my own hands" (lines 994-996); Lloyd-Jones, speech 270; Jebb-Hadas, speech 270; Fagles, lines 1089-1092; Bagg1136-1138. Another vivid passage occurs when at the end of the play Oedipus calls for his children -- Gould: "Where are you, children? Come to me! Come here / to these my hands, hands of your brother, hands / of him who gave you seed, hands that made / these once bright eyes to see now in this fashion [self-blinding]" (lines 1480-1483 / Gould); Blondell: "Where are you, children? Come to me! / Come to your brotgher's hands, which did a favor to / the eyes, once shining, of the father who begot / you both, by making them see thus" (lines 1480-1483 / Blondell); Lloyd-Jones, speech 425; Jebb-Hadas, speech 425; Fagles, lines 1620 ff.; Bagg, lines 1678 ff. (In a footnote to line 1481 of his translation, Gould notes the occurrence of reference to hands in lines 107, 811, 821, 1466, and elsewhere.)
(GQ8a) Repeated References to Seeing, Vision, or Blindness in the Play (GQ8a1) While some English translations are premature in injecting or superimposing references to seeing, vision, or blindness in the play (versus the Greek text), how are these references indeed repeated, and what ideas are suggested, individually and collectively? For example, in the second speech of the play, the Priest connects the act of seeing to Oedipus -- Lloyd-Jones: "For the city, as you see yourself, is grievously tossed by storms" (speech 2, Lloyd-Jones); Gould: "Our city, as you see yourself, is tossed / too much" (lines 22-23 / Gould); Jebb-Hadas: "For the city, as you yourself see, is now too sorely vexed and can no more lift her head from beneath the angry waves of death" (speech 2, Jebb-Hadas); Blondell: "As you yourself can see, the city's now so badly / storm-tossed that it can no longer keep its head / from sinking down below the towwing waves of blood" (lines 22-24 / Blondell); Fagles (exaggerating for effect, with words not in the Greek, and extrapolates "ship," not explicitly in the Greek): "Our city -- / look around you, see with your own eyes -- / our ship pitches wildly, cannot lift her head / from the depths" (lines 27-29 / Fagles); Bagg: "You can see our city going under, / too feeble to lift its head clear / of the angry murderous waves" (lines 27-29 / Bagg). (Lloyd-Jones and Jebb-Hadas succumb to "improving" or extrapolating in the Priest's reference to Oedipus being the "mightiest to all [in Thebes]" by adding a reference to vision or eyes not explicitly in the Greek -- "mightiest man in the sight of all" [Lloyd-Jones], "king glorious in all eyes" [Jebb-Hadas].) (GQ8a2) How is this motif especially emphasized by Scene 3 (see the Table of Episodes in these Notes and Questions) as well as what punishment Oedipus self inflicts in the last part of the play? (GQ8a3) How does this motif interconnect with the topic of knowledge, noted in GQ3 of these Notes and Questions? (GQ8a4) How does this motif interconnect with the repeated imagery of light vs. dark in the play?
(GQ8b) Repeated References to Light vs. Dark in the Play (GQ8b1) How is the imagery of shining or light notable in Choral Ode 1 (see the Table of episodes, above, in these Notes and Questions)? (GQ8b2) How is the imagery of the contrast between light and dark especially notable in Scene 3 (see the Table of episodes, above, in these Notes and Questions), with the suggestion of two different kinds of light or two different kinds of darkness? (GQ8b3) How does this motif interconnect with the topic of knowledge, noted in GQ3 of these Notes and Questions? (GQ8b4) How does this motif interconnect with the topic of knowledge, noted in GQ8a of these Notes and Questions?
(GQ9) Recurrent Nautical Imagery in the Play How do references to the sea and sailing ships recur in the play, and what ideas do they suggest both individually and collectively? Very early in the play, in the second speech of the play, the Priest laments about the condition of Thebes, using imagery of the sea or ocean -- Lloyd-Jones: "For the city, as you see yourself, is grievously tossed by storms, and still cannot lift its head from beneath the depths of the killing angry sea" (speech 2 / Lloyd-Jones); Gould: "Our city, as you see yourself, is tossed / too much, and can no longer lift its head / above the troughs of billows red with death" (lines 22-24 / Gould); Jebb-Hadas: "For the city, as you yourself see, is now too sorely vexed and can no more lift her head from beneath the angry waves of death" (speech 2 / Jebb-Hadas); Blondell: "As you yourself can see, the city's now so badly / storm-tossed that it can no longer keep its head / from sinking down below the tossing waves of blood" (lines 22-24 / Blondell); Fagles (adding "ship," not in the Greek, and so foreclosing on the idea that the state is perhaps a drowning person, not just a sinking ship): "Our city -- / . . . see with your own eyes -- / our ship pitches wildly, cannot lift her head / from the depths, the red waves of death" (lines 27-30 / Fagles); Bagg: "You can see our city going under,/ too feeble to lift its head clear / of the angry murderous waves" (lines 28-30 / Bagg). Where else do references to the sea and sailing ships recur in the play, and what ideas do they suggest both individually and collectively? Why would such references be especially appropriate to Athens and Athenians of the time of Sophocles?
(GQ10) The Motif of Fire Imagery in the Play How does the repeated verbal imagery of fire in the play contrast the productive with the destructive? For example, worship and prophecy are counterposed against the plague, in terms of fire. Worshipful suppliants have situated themselves at an altar where fire is used in contacting the divine; the Priest says that suppliants have posted themselves "near the . . . prophetic ashes of Ismenus" (speech 2, Lloyd-Jones); Gould: "[at] the prophetic embers of Ismenos" (line 21 / Gould); Jebb-Hadas: "where Ismenus gives answer by fire" (speech 2, Jebb-Hadas); "[at] the shrines / of Pallas and Ismenos's prophetic ash" (lines 20-21 / Blondell); Fagles (adding details and explanation not explicitly in the Greek): "kneeling before . . . / . . . the river-shrine where embers glow and die / and Apollo sees the future in the ashes" (lines 25-27 / Fagles); Bagg: "Some [suppliants and worshipers] at Ismenos' shrine are watching / ashes for the glow of prophecy" (lines 26-27 / Bagg). In contrast, the plague is spoken of with the imagery of fire by the Priest -- Lloyd-Jones: "the fire-bearing god, hateful Pestilence has swooped upon the city and harries it, emptying the house of Cadmus" (speech 2, Lloyd-Jones); Gould: "And the fire-bearing do / has swooped upon the city, hateful plague, / and he has left the house of Cadmus empty" (lines 27-29 / Gould); "And that flaming god, the malign plague, has swooped upon us and ravages the town" (speech 2, Jebb-Hadas; omitting the reference to the "house of Cadmus"); Blondell: "the fiery god / has swooped down, a most hateful plague, to scourge / the city, emptying the house of Kadmos" (lines 27-29 / Blondell); Fagles (superimposing imagery not in the Greek): "and the plague, the fiery god of fever hurls down / on the city his lightning slashing through us -- / raging plague ijn all its vengeance, devastating / the house of Cadmus!" (lines 34-37 / Fagles); Bagg: "A burning god rakes his fire through our town. / He hates us with fever, he empties / the House of Kadmos" (lines 34-36 / Bagg). Apparently in contrast with the fiery destructive force of the plague is the hearth of Oedipus, as the Priest says to Oedipus -- "I and these children are seated at your hearth . . . because we judge you to be the first of men, both in the incidents of life and in dealing with the higher powers" (speech 2, Lloyd-Jones); Gould: "I and the children sit here at your hearth,/ . . . as the first of men, in troubled times / and in encounters with divinities" (lines 32-34 / Gould); Jebb-Hadas: "I and these children are suppliants at your hearth . . . deeming you first of men, both in life's common chances and when mortals have to do with more than man" (speech 2, Jebb-Hadas); Blondell: "I and these, your children, sit here at your hearth, / . . . as the first of men, both in life's circumstances / and in dealings with divinities" (lines 32-34 / Blondell); Fagles omits the reference to hearth (as a metaphor for Odysseus' altar) in lines 39-43; Bagg: "We haven't come to beg at your hearth / because we think you're the gods' equal. / We've come because you are the best man / at handling trouble or confronting gods" (lines 38-41 / Bagg). Ironically, how, unbeknown to the suppliants, is Oedipus' "hearth" in some sense not a refuge or protection from the fiery plague but the cause of it? What other occurrences of the imagery of fire or heat can be found in the play?
(GQ11) The Various Names of Apollo -- Phoebus (or Phoibos), Loxias, Pytho, Lykeian/Lycian Apollo, Apollo, and Paean -- in the Greek Text Versus English Translations of the Play - (GQ11-1) Many translations of Sophocles' play that simplify (often for modern live productions) also in effect abridge, as, for example, the various references to differing names (and connotations and meanings, in context) of Apollo -- e.g., Phoebus, Loxias, Pytho, and Paean. (GQ11-2) Paean A problem for English translations occurs early in Oedipus’ opening address to the Chorus and Priest in the reference to the kind of songs being intoned by the Theban supplicants expressing sorrow and seeking divine relief from the plague. The Greek text is particular about the variety of poem-song seeking aid -- paianon (line 5, Greek text; literally “paeans”) -- which is associated so closely with Apollo (especially Apollo as healer) that it is one of Apollo’s names and is used as such in line 154 (Choral Ode 1) of the Greek text (ieie Dalie Paian) ; Lloyd-Jones: “why is the city filled . . . with the sound of paeans and lamentations?” (speech 1 / Lloyd-Jones); Gould: “The city is weighed down . . . / with hymns to the Healer and the cries of mourners” (lines 4-5 / Gould); Jebb-Hadas: “why are you set before me thus . . . while the city . . . rings with prayers for health and cries of woe?” (speech 1 / Jebb-Hadas); Blondell: "The city is filled up alike with incense-smoke, / alike with prayers to Paian and with groaning cries" (lines 4-5 / Blondell); Fagles: “Our city . . . / rings with cries for the Healer and wailing for the dead” (lines 4-5 / Fagles); Bagg: “the city is . . . / reeking . . . prayers sung / to the Healing God?” (lines 5-7 / Bagg; the parallelism would indicate that the prayers are, with some inappropriateness, part of “reeking,” while the lamentations are omitted); Grene: “The town is heavy with . . / . . . groans and hymns and incense” (lines 4-5 / Grene; omits the particular kind of hymns). From Choral Ode 1 (ieie Dalie Paian, line 154, Greek text)-- Gould: “Delian healer invoked with cries”; “Delian Healer, summoned by ‘ie!’” (line 154 / Gould); “O thou Delian healer to whom wild cries arise” (Choral Ode 1 / Jebb-Hadas); Fagles: “and I cry your wild cries, Apollo, Healer of Delos” (line 172 / Fagles; “Apollo” inserted explanatorily but not in the Greek text); Bagg: “Our wild cries reach out to you,/ Healing God from Delos” (lines 177-178 / Bagg); Grene: “terror and trembling hold / my heart, O Delian Healer” (lines 153-154 / Grene; omission of the “wild cries” -- that is, an equivalent for ieie in the Greek text). (GQ11-3) Phoebus / Phoibos Apollo is referred to as Phoebus (or Phoibos) in line 96 of the Greek text, the name meaning "bright" and associated with "light," and thus connected to the motifs of opposition between seeing vs. blindness, and light vs. dark, throughout the play; Creon reports to Oedipus and the assembled Thebans -- Lloyd-Jones: "The lord Phoebus orders us plainly to drive out from the land a pollution" (speech 12 / Lloyd-Jones); Gould: "The task Lord Phoebus sets for us is clear: / drive out pollution sheltered in our land" (lines 96-97 / Gould); Blondell: "Phoibos commands us clearly to drive out a taint / upon this land that has been nurtured here" (lines 96-97 / Blondell); Fagles simplifies and omits in lines 108-109; Bagg simplifies and omits in lines 106-108. Cf. line 133 in the Greek text, and how the idea of "light" is embedded sharply in the name Phoebus in what Oedipus says in the translations of Lloyd-Jones ("Well, I shall begin again and light up the obscurity. Phoebus is right . . . to show this concern on behalf of the dead man"), Gould ("Then I shall begin again and make it plain./ It was quite worthy of Phoebus . . . / to turn our thoughts back to the murdered man" [lines 132-134 / Gould]), Blondell ("I'll start again then, and reveal these things as well. / For fittingly has Phoibus . . . / paid such attention on behalf of him who died" [lines 132-134 / Blondell]); Fagles simplifies and abridges, concerning the god's name, in lines 150-152 of his translation; Bagg simplifies and abridges in lines 151-154 of his translation. While the Greek phano (line 132) can be translated as "make clear" or "reveal," it can also be translated as "bring to light," as Lloyd-Jones so translates. The name Phoebus (or Phoibus) is repeated in lines 149, 279, 285, 305, 712, 788 and is translated with trustworthy literalness by Lloyd-Jones, Jebb-Hadas, Gould, and Blondell (although Blondell substitutes "Phoibus" for Apollon, "Apollo," in the Greek text of line 720). (GQ11-4) Loxias Another repeated name for Apollo is Loxias, to be found in the Greek text, lines 410, 853, 994 -- Gould: "[Tiresias:] You are the king, and yet I am your equal / in my right to speak. In that I too am Lord. / For I belong to Loxias, not you" (lines 408-410 / Gould); Blondell: "[Teiresias:] You may be king, but I've an equal right to answer / equally; in this I too have power, since I / live not as your slave but as that of Loxias" (lines 408-410 / Blondell); Lloyd-Jones, speech 88; Jebb-Hadas, speech 88; Fagles distorts the Greek by translating "Apollo" in lines 464-467 of his translation; Bagg distorts the Greek by translating "Apollo" in lines 490-495 of his translation. Both Gould and Blondell footnote the first reference to Loxias as follows: "Greeks believed the word to have come from the adjective loxos ('slanting,' 'oblique'), and explained it as a reference to Apollo's habit of giving ambiguous responses" (Gould, p. 64); "Loxias is a common name for Apollo. Though its etymology is disputed, the ancient Greeks associated it with a word meaning 'oblique,' and thus with Apollo's oracular evasiveness" (Blondell, p. 39). The repetition of this name for Apollo is important, since an important issue in the play is, indeed, how the gods' oracles and gods' will should be interpreted, as well as the issue of what human responsibility is in actions and life. The particular contexts in which the name is used in the play are also important; for example, in the passage already cited, Oedipus claims superiority to the priest of Loxias (Teiresias / Tiresias), and even the gods, because Oedipus could interpret the riddle of the Sphinx and not Tiresias; however, Tiresias responds, ambiguously, that Oedipus has failed to understand the key oracle regarding Oedipus himself, and thus brought about catastrophe for all concerned. The other passages are as follows. Gould: "[Jocasta:] But even if he [the messenger reporting the murders by one bandit] swerves from what he said,/ he'll never show that Laius' murder, Lord,/ occurred just as predicted. For Loxias / expressly said my son was doomed to kill him" (lines 851-854 / Gould) ; Blondell: "[Jokasta:] But even if he deviates from what he said / back then, never will he reveal that it is true, / my lord, that Laios' murder was predicted right,/ for Loxias expressly said that he must die / at my son's hands" (lines 851-855 / Blondell). Lloyd-Jones, speech 227; Jebb-Hadas, speech 227; Fagles distorts by simplification in lines 941-945; Bagg distorts by simplification in lines 982-986. Gould: "[Oedipus:] It is [permitted for Oedipus to disclose the oracle he received]. Loxias once said to me / I must have intercourse with my mother / and take my father's blood with these my hands" (lines 994-996 / Gould); Blondell: "[Oidipous:] It is certainly permitted. Loxias once said / I must have intercourse with my own mother and / must take my father's blood with my own hands" (lines 994-996); Lloyd-Jones, speech 270; Jebb-Hadas, speech 270. Although some translations repeatedly blur and thus omit the synecdoche of "hand" or "hands," the synecdoche is important both dramaturgically (via the "language" of action and "language" of props, the latter through turning part of the actor's anatomy into a visual symbol), as in the preceding passages connected with the Loxias name of Apollo. See (GQ11-5) Lycian / Lykeian Apollo The name for Apollo as "Lycian Apollo," or just the elliptical "Lycian" (with Apollo understood) occurs in lines 203 and 920 of the Greek text, as well as the literal translations, and, as with the other names of Apollo, is suggestive as used instead of merely "Apollo." Blondell explains in a footnote to line 203 of her translation (in the final stanza of the first choral ode), "'Lykeian' is a frequent epithet of Apollo . . . Since it resembles a root meaning 'light,' it connotes primarily brightness (a chief attribute of this god [Apollo]. But it also evokes the epithet Lycian [as in the Lycian mountains, also mentioned in the last stanza of the first choral ode], and sometimes alludes to Apollo's role as a protector -- specifically, against wolves -- since the root lyk- resembles the [Greek] word for a wolf (lykos)" (pp. 30-31). (GQ11-6) Pythian As explained by Blondell, in a footnote to line 72 of her translation, "Apollo is the principal god of prophecy, and 'Pythian' is one of his most common epithets. His 'Pythian home' is Delphi, his most important oracle, also called Pytho" (p. 24).
(GQ12) Agriculture, Fertility, Seed, Sowing in the Play How may the motif of agriculture / fertility / seed / sowing be found from the beginning of the play (reference to the infertility of crops and women caused by the plague; the flourishing berries in the crown worn by Creon / Kreon returning from Apollo's oracle) to the end of the play (the reference of Oedipus to his children of misplaced seeding and plowing)? (Some translations interpret the images of seed, etc., in more general or abstract terms, thus blurring the motif.) What themes or ideas area suggested by this motif, both in specific passages, as well as generally in the whole play? How might any of the ideas be especially applicable to an early civilization, dependent on agriculture -- and not knowing some of agriculture's scientific bases -- more than some later civilizations? See, for instance, the address of Oedipus to his children near the end of the play -- Gould: "hands / of him who gave you seed . . . he fathered you where his own seed was plowed" (lines 1481-1485 / Gould); Blondell: "The father now / revealed as having sown you, children, in the place / where he was sown" (lines 1483 -1485); cf. Fagles: "I fathered you in the soil that gave me life" (line 1626 / Fagles); Bagg: "He fathered you where his own life began, / where his own seed grew" (lines 1683-1684 / Bagg). Also, how are the legends associated with Cadmus / Kadmus connected to the issue of sowing and the origins of Thebes?
(GQ13) Tyche / Tuche, Chance, Luck -- Vs. Fate in the Play
(GQ14) Plague in the Play, in Literature, Film, and in Human History While mythical Thebes has been devastated by plague in the play, historic Athens was devastated by the real thing; during the Peloponnesian War (around 430–429 BCE) Pericles fell victim to a terrible plague that raged through the crowded city, killing a large part of its army as well as many civilians. Thucydides survived an attack of the plague and left a vivid account of its impact on Athenian morale in one of the great early works of history that is also literature: The History of the Peloponnesian War. (Other great works of history that are also great literature include, from ancient Greece, Herodotus’ History; from ancient China, Ssu-ma Ch'ien's Records of the Grand Historian; from the historical books of the Old Testament [e.g., Exodus, Numbers, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings]; from ancient Rome, Tacitus’ Histories and Annals, and Livy’s Annals / Histories; from eighteenth-century British literature, Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 3 vols. [1776–88]; from nineteenth-century British literature, Thomas Carlyle’s The French Revolution, 3 vols. ). Epidemics have had serious impacts on human history and civilization, as recounted in William H. McNeill's Plagues and Peoples, R.S. Bray's Armies of Pestilence: The Impact of Disease on History, and Frederick Cardwright's and Michael D. Biddiss' Disease and History. The Black Death of the fourteenth century (CE), subject of several fine history books, killed anywhere from one-fifth to one-fourth of Europe (and, paradoxically, helped give birth to the Renaissance); its outbreak and effects are described in the great Italian literary work The Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio (and also the great modern film The Seventh Seal , by Ingmar Bergman). Plague broke out periodically in London, closing Shakespeare’s theaters (and probably promoting the time Shakespeare was able to devote to his sonnets), and serving as the basis of Daniel Defoe’s combination documentary and novel Journal of the Plague Year. The influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 -- also called the Spanish influenza epidemic -- in terms of total numbers of deaths, has been among the most devastating epidemics in human history. Outbreaks of the flu occurred in nearly every inhabited part of the world, first in ports, then spreading from city to city along the main transportation routes. The epidemic was a contributing cause of the ending of World War I. Epidemic serves as the foundation of the novel The Plague (in French, La Peste) by Nobel-prize French fiction writer Albert Camus. The idea in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King that epidemic is connected to a deity or to deities can also be found in the Bible, for example, in 1 Samuel.
S1. (S1a) What might be the multiple meanings or symbolism,
some of them ironic and unwitting, in Oedipus' repeated initial address
to his people as his "children"? (S1b) What positive elements of Oedipus'
nature are suggested by his repeated reference to the suppliants and Thebans as
his "children"? (S1b) What
negative elements of Oedipus' nature are suggested by his repeated reference to
the suppliants and Thebans as his "children"? (S1c) What dramatic irony or ironies,
applied to Oedipus (but unknown to him), may be suggested in
Oedipus' repeated reference to the suppliants and Thebans as his "children"?
S2. Robert Fagles, along with some other translators, deletes some specific details of the original Greek text, broadening them or paraphrasing them or abridging them. One such detail is the repeated reference to Cadmus (or Kadmos) , which can be found initially in the opening speeches of the play (see the translation excerpts in the section below, "A Conspectus of Various Translations"). The name Cadmus, indeed, is the third word of the play in the original Greek: O tekna, Kadmou tou palai nea trophe. (S2a) Cadmus or Kadmos (sometimes the adjective "Cadmean" or "Kadmean" is used by the original Greek text, and sometimes the translations) is the paternal great-great grandfather of Oedipus (though Oedipus is unaware of this fact). (See the handy family charts in Gould, p. 48; and Meineck & Woodruff, p. xxxiii.) Libya (granddaughter of Zeus and Io) and Poseidon had the son Agenor; Agenor had the son Cadmus; Cadmus and his wife, Harmonia, had the son Polydorus; Polydorus had the son Labdacus; Labdacus had the son Laius; and Laius had the son Oedipus. How does this detail contribute one of the numerous dramatic ironies in the play? (S2b) Semele, one of the two daughters of Cadmus and Harmonia, with Zeus, had the son Dionysus (sometimes called Bacchus). How does this fact bear (in more than one sense of the word "bear") on the play, including any explicit reference to Dionysus or Bacchus in the play? (S2c) Cadmus founded Thebes. He was directed to follow a cow and settle where it would lie down; he did so, after a long wandering. On the spot, prior to building the city, he wanted to make a sacrifice to Athena. Several of his men sent to fetch water for the rite from a nearby spring did not return, and when Cadmus investigated, he found a dragon or serpent feasting on the bodies of Cadmus' men. Cadmus killed the snake with a stone, unaware that it was the guardian of a spring sacred to Ares, and Cadmus was threatened with being transformed into a snake himself; however, Athena appeared and directed Cadmus to draw the dragon's teeth and sow half of them (she reserved the other half for herself). Cadmus had no sooner plowed the teeth into the ground when armed men began springing up (called "Sparti," meaning "sown-men"). They immediately began to fight one another -- in some versions of the tale, because Cadmus was instructed to fling a stone among them. The battle claimed the lives of all but five of the fighters, who made peace with one another and Cadmus. All then participated in the founding of Thebes. How might the following ideas or concepts in the story of Cadmus (his name so often referred to in the play) be implied, and how might any of them have any thematic application in the play: (S2c1) sowing and reaping, consequences; (S2c2) aggression, violence, and killing; (S2c3) irrationality or anger; (S2c4) the role of the gods?
The Family Tree of Oedipus (Two More Marriage Lines Need to Be Drawn: One Between Laius & Jocasta, and One Between Oedipus & Jocasta)
A Simplified Version of the Oedipus Family Tree:
S3. As initiated in the first episode of the play (see the Table of episodes, above, in these Notes and Questions) -- (S3a) how do references to parentage and lineage form a motif in the play, and relate to or help express what themes or ideas? (S3b) how do repeated references to seeing/blindness and light/dark form motifs in the play, expressing what themes or ideas? (S3c) how do repeated references to foot or feet form a motif in the play, or to hand or hands form a motif in the play, expressing what themes or ideas?
S4. In Oedipus' first speech to the Thebans, when Oedipus refers to the extent of his fame ("Here I am
myself -- / you all know me, the world knows my fame" [lines 8-9 / Fagles]; "I .
. . / have come out myself,/ I, Oedipus, a name that all men know"
[lines 6-8 / Gould]; "I have come myself, I who am called Oedipus, renowned to
all" [Lloyd-Jones]), he implies that everyone knows him, with the underlying
idea of knowledge implied, which some translators try to bring out more
explicitly. (S4a) How does the idea of the extent of fame relate to
Oedipus' problem with hubris? (S4b) How does the idea of universal
knowledge about Oedipus convey dramatic irony? Despite the assumptions of all
the characters in the play, how do only two persons (or characters) -- Teiresias
and the former palace guard / chariot driver / shepherd -- really know who
Oedipus is? (S4c) How do Oedipus' words in several other places in Scene
1 / Episode 1 (see the Table of episodes, above, in these
Notes and Questions) exemplify dramatic irony?
S5. In the Priest's first speech, or reply, to Oedipus (within the first episode of the play; see the Table of episodes, above, in these Notes and Questions) -- (S5a) How does the Priest flatter Oedipus, but also make a careful distinction between the greatness of Oedipus and another kind of greatness? (S5b) How does Oedipus illustrate hubris (overweening pride) by forgetting the distinction made by the Priest in Oedipus' later remark to the Chorus about praying -- Gould: "I hear your prayer. Submit to what I say / . . . and you’ll get help and a relief from Evils" (lines 216-218); Blondell: "You pray: as for these prayers, if you are willing to / listen and take my words in, ministering to / your sickness, you may gain protection and lift up / your heads above these evils" (lines 216-219); Jebb-Hadas: "You pray; in answer to your prayer -- if you will give a loyal welcome to my words and minister to your own disease -- you may hope to find succor" (speech 34); Fagles: "You pray to the gods? Let me grant your prayers" (line 245); Bagg: "I heard your prayer. It will be answered / if you trust and obey my words" (lines 257-258) -- Oedipus' remarks about prophets and the divine or supernatural in his interrogation of Teiresias, and remarks about prophecy or the divine in Oedipus' reaction when hearing the news of his supposed father's death? (S5c) Where in the Priest's first speech is the ship of state metaphor used, and how does this metaphor become a motif in the play (where else is the metaphor used or implied), and what ideas or meanings might be conveyed by the metaphor and motif? (S5d) Where in the Priest's first speech is the motif of knowledge initiated, where else is the term used or implied, and what ideas or meanings might be conveyed in individual passages or cumulatively in the play? (S5e) What "language of action" is suggested for the actor playing the Priest when the Priest says to Oedipus to look at the general devastation (see GQ8 of these Notes and Questions); how might the action take in the play's audience as well as the Chorus, and what idea or ideas may be conveyed by the visual symbolism of this language of action? (S5f) What "language of action" is suggested by the Oedipus' and the Priest's references to the posture of the suppliants in Oedipus' and the Priest's first speeches in scene 1, and what idea or ideas may be conveyed by the visual symbolism of this language of action? (S5f) In the Priest's reference to Thebes as the "towered city" (line 68 / Fagles) -- cf. "A towered city or a ship is nothing / if desolate and no man lives within" (lines 56-57 / Gould); "since a wall or a ship is nothing without men who live inside it" (Lloyd-Jones); "Ships are only hulls, citadels are nothing,/ When no life moves in the empty passageways" (lines 58-59 / Fitts & Fitzgerald); "For neither tower nor ship is anything / when empty, and none live in it together" (lines 56-57 / Grene); "Since nothing is either ship or fortress tower / Bare of men who together dwell within" (lines 56-57 / Cook) -- what connections are made to the vertical imagery (including nonverbal "language" of action) and the issue of Oedipus' hubris in the play?
S6. Throughout the second half of scene 1, there is a repeated discrepancy or discordance between the use of the plural by people reporting the crime against Laius, and Oedipus's use of the singular. How is Sophocles suggesting something about Oedipus's subconscious knowledge through this discrepancy? How does this issue emerge later in the play as crucial?
S7. How is Oedipus's criticism of the Thebans' failure
to pursue what happened to Laius, both in talking to Creon / Kreon in scene 1,
and later to the Chorus in scene 2, unwittingly applicable
to Oedipus himself, given an earlier traffic accident (precursor of L.A.
freeway shootings) he's been involved in himself?
S8. Choral Ode 1 (S8a) (see the Table of Episodes, earlier in this document) How, individually, as well as collectively (for instance, so many gods referred to by the Chorus here) are the references to Zeus (Gould / lines 151, 202; Blondell / lines 151, 201), Apollo (Gould / lines 153, 154c, 163, 186, 203; Blondell / lines 153, 155, 162, 185, 203), Athena (Gould / lines 159, 188; Blondell / lines 159, 187), Artemis (Gould / lines 161, 207; Blondell / lines 160, 207), Ares (Gould / line 190; Blondell / line 190), Amphitrite (Gould / line 195; Blondell / line 195), Bacchus / Bakkhos (Gould / line 211; Blondell / line 211)? (S8b) How are the various names of Apollo used in Choral Ode 1 meaningful -- Pytho (Gould / line 153; Blondell / line 153), Delian Healer (Gould / line 154c) / Delian Paian (Blondell / line 155), Phoebus, who shoots from afar (Gould / line 163) / far-shooting Apollo (Blondell / line 162; inexact -- the Greek of line 163 is ka Phoibon hekabolon aito), the Healer (Gould / line 186) / The Paian (Blondell / line 185), Lycean / Lykeian lord Lord (Gould / line 203; Blondell / line 203) ? How is Apollo not only a healer, as shown by the epidemic in Thebes? (S8c1) What idea or ideas might be suggested by the epithet of Athena as "daughter of Zeus" (Gould / line 159; Blondell / line 159)? (S8c2) Why would Athena be particularly important for the main geographical location of the presentation of this drama, as well as the other Greek plays? (S8d) How do the various strands of imagery in Choral Ode 1 of gold, light, fire, and lightning (or thunderbolt) interconnect (through parallel or contrast or both)?
S9. (S9a) In Scene 2 (see the Table of Episodes, earlier in this document), how do the first words of Oedipus in answer to the song of the Chorus in Choral Ode 1 suggest the flaw of hubris? (S9b) In Scene 2, how are Oedipus' words about the murderer or murderers of Laius pervaded by dramatic irony, like many of Oedipus' words in Scene 1? (S9c) How is Oedipus' censorious question to the Chorus about not inquiring into the murder of Laius both unjust and ironic, in relation to whether Oedipus delved into the multiple homicides he committed at the "place where three roads meet"?
S10. (S10a) What other major literary work that you know features Tiresias / Teiresias (scene 3) as a major character, and what might account for the popularity of this figure? (S10b) How are two different senses of sight / seeing, as well as light / darkness conveyed in scene 3 -- in connection with whether Tiresias or Oedipus can see, or whether Tiresias or Oedipus is enlightened?
S11. How do Oedipus's charges against Teiresias and Creon (scenes 3 and 4) suggest what happens to the chief executive of a state -- or city-state (Oedipus; some Presidents of the United States) -- through wielding power?
S12. How does Oedipus's interchange with Teiresias and Creon (scenes 3 and 4) exemplify the ancient Greek dramatic device of stichomythia, and what does this device help convey about Oedipus and people in like social or political or psychological situations?
S13. While Oedipus exults in having solved the riddle of the Sphinx, how is his partial failure, by not seeing how the riddle applies to him personally, suggested in the last portion of scene 3 and the end of the play (scenes 9-10)?
S14. What might be the symbolism of a climactic event in Oedipus' life -- a serious traffic accident, probably the first (literarily) recorded occurrence of "road rage" -- occurring in the particular place it does (where "three roads meet")? What might be the symbolism, that is, of the place itself?
S15. Why did Sigmund Freud find Jocasta's / Iocaste's statement about Oedipus' dreams in scene 6 of this play very interesting -- Gould: "This marriage with your mother -- don't fear it. / How many times have men in dreams, too, slept / with their mothers!" (lines 980-982); Lloyd-Jones: "do not be afraid of marriage with your mother! Many have lain with their mothers in dreams too" (speech 261); Blondell: "So don't be fearful of your mother's marriage-bed; / for many mortal men have shared their mother's bed / in dreams as well" (lines 980-982); Jebb-Hadas: "But do not fear touching wedlock with your mother. Many men before now have so fared in dreams also" (speech 261); Fagles: "And as for this marriage with your mother -- / have no fear. Many a man before you,/ in his dreams, has shared his mother's bed" (lines 1073-1075); Bagg: "This marriage with your mother -- don't fear it./ In their dreams, before now, many men / have slept with their mothers" (lines 1122-1124)?
S16. What might be the symbolism of the particular
details involved in (a) Jocasta's suicide and (b) Oedipus' self-chastisement
S17. What are the implications of the very last lines of the play, spoken by the Chorus, and could there be any truth in them for people today -- Gould: "Here is the truth of each man's life: we must wait, and see his end,/ scrutinize his dying day, and refuse to call him happy / till he has crossed the border of his life without pain" (lines 1528 -1530); Lloyd-Jones: "one should wait to see the final day and should call none among mortals fortunate, till he has crossed the bourne of life without suffering grief" (speech 441); Blondell: "Therefore one should never say a mortal man / is prosperous while he still waits to look upon his final day,/ until he passes life's last limit having suffered no distress" (lines 1528-1530); Jebb-Hadas: "Therefore, while our eyes wait to see the destined final day, we must call no one happy who is of mortal race, until he has crossed life's border, free from pain" (speech 441); Fagles: "Now as we keep our watch and wait the final day,/ count no man happy till he dies, free of pain at last" (lines 1683-1684); Bagg (straying furthest from the literal Greek of the six translations): "To know the truth of a man, wait / till you see his life end. / On that day, look at him. / Don't claim any man is god's friend / until he has passed through life / and crossed the border into death -- / never having been god's victim" (lines 1740-1746)?
A Conspectus of Various Translations, Organized by
Date, of Sophocles' Oedipus the King: Click on This Line