A Deep Breath of Clean Air

Seneca, Oedipus 1042-60

“I reject you, speaker of fate, divine protector of truth.
I am in debt only to my father.
I am a double-parricide, more guilty, I fear, since
I killed my mother. She was done in by my crime.
Apollo, you liar, I have outdone my evil destiny.

I pursue lying paths with a trembling step.
Pulling myself away with each slowed print,
I guide my dark sight with a shaking right hand.
I move forward, unsure foot after slipping foot,
Go, flee, disappear. But, stop, don’t fall on mother.

Any who are tired at heart and overcome with sickness,
Lugging around a half-dead body, look at me: I am leaving.
Lift up your gaze to see, a lighter sky follows
My back. Whoever lies in isolation
And still breathes can now take a deep breath
Of clean air. Go, go and help those cast aside.

I take the deadly sicknesses away from this land with me.
Brutal Fate, terrible shaking of Disease,
Starvation and dark Death, maddening Sickness,
Leave with me, Come with me. These are the guides who please me.”

Fatidice te, te praesidem veri deum
compello: solum debui fatis patrem;
bis parricida plusque quam timui nocens
matrem peremi: scelere confecta est meo.
o Phoebe mendax, fata superavi impia.
Pavitante gressu sequere fallentes vias;
suspensa plantis efferens vestigia
caecam tremente dextera noctem rege.
—ingredere praeceps, lubricos ponens gradus,
i profuge vade—siste, ne in matrem incidas.
Quicumque fessi pectore et morbo graves
semianima trahitis corpora, en fugio, exeo:
relevate colla, mitior caeli status
post terga sequitur. quisquis exilem iacens
animam retentat, vividos haustus levis
concipiat. ite, ferte depositis opem:
mortifera mecum vitia terrarum extraho.
Violenta Fata et horridus Morbi tremor,
Maciesque et atra Pestis et rabidus Dolor,
mecum ite, mecum. ducibus his uti libet.

Oedipus at Colonus, by Jean-Antoine-Théodore Giroust.

Oedipus Parody Vases

One of the most iconic images of Oedipus in the 5th century BCE depicts the moment of his interview with the Sphinx. Here is a representative example (Beazley Archive 205372; Gregorian Etruscan Museum, Vatican City, Vat. 16541):

 

oedipussphinxv

This is the moment when the Sphinx asks Oedipus her famous question. The iconic nature of this also makes it ripe for parody.

oedipus-parody-3

This is the best picture I could manage of the scene (if you are interested, see J. Boardman’s article in JHS 90 (1970) 194-195. This vase features the beast masturbating and ejaculating while the hero looks on and holds his sword. It is dated to the mid-fifth century BCE. (I found it in the LIMC, number 69).

There is a much more tame version of the later, which maintains the phallus, but skimps on the erections and ejaculations. This vase is in the Boston MFA, 01.8036.

oedipus-parody-2

 

 

 

The Terrible Origin of Oedipus’ Family Curse

Scholion to Euripides’ Phoenician Women 1760 = FGrHist 16 F10

 

“Peisander records that the sphinx was sent to Thebes in accordance with Hera’s rage from the farthest parts of Aethiopia, because Laios had committed sacrilege in his abnormal lust for Khrusippos* whom he abducted from Pisa but they did not avenge. It was the sphinx, who, as it is written, had the tail of a dragon. She seized and gobbled up great and small men, among whom was Haimon, Kreon’s son and Hippion, the son of Eurunomos who had fought against the Kentaurs. (Eurunomos and Êioneus were sons of Magnêtês the son of Aolos and Phylodikê.) Then Hippios, who was a foreigner, was seized by the Sphinx; but Êioneus, the son by Oinomaus, was killed in the same way along with many suitors [i.e. men who came to solve the riddle].

Laios first conceived of this lawless lust. But Khrusyppos, out of shame, used his sword on himself. Then, Teiresias, because he was a prophet, knew that Laios was hated by the gods, and he send him on the road to Apollo where it was proper to make sacrifices to the goddess Hera as the maker-of-marriages. He dishonored this. Then, when he was coming home, he was murdered in the narrowest part of the road along with his charioteer after he struck Oedipus with a goad. After killing them, Oedipus buried them with their clothing but stripped Laios’ belt and sword and took it with him. He collected up the chariot and gave it to Polybos. Then he married his mother after solving the riddle.

After that, once he had completed the sacrifices at Kithaira, he was coming home with Iokastê in his carriage. He remembered the place where the events had happened in the narrowest part of the road and he showed it to Iocasta and explained the event and showed her the belt. She handled it poorly but was silent. For she did not know he was her son. After that, an old horse-hand came from Sikyon and told Oedipus everyone: how he found him, took him, and gave him to Meropê. He also showed him the swaddling clothes and goad and asked for a reward for saving him. In this way, the whole truth was understood. They say that after Iokastê’s death and his blinding, he married Euruganeia, a virgin, and that the four children were born from her. Peisander records these things.”

 

*Khrusippos=Chrysippus, Pelop’s first child before Atreus and Thyestes

laiuschrysippuspelops

ὃς μόνος Σφιγγὸς κατέσχον: ἱστορεῖ Πείσανδρος ὅτι κατὰ χόλον τῆς ῞Ηρας ἐπέμφθη ἡ Σφὶγξ τοῖς Θηβαίοις ἀπὸ τῶν ἐσχάτων μερῶν τῆς Αἰθιοπίας, ὅτι τὸν Λάιον ἀσεβήσαντα εἰς τὸν παράνομον ἔρωτα τοῦ Χρυσίππου, ὃν ἥρπασεν ἀπὸ τῆς Πίσης, οὐκ ἐτιμωρήσαντο. ἦν δὲ ἡ Σφὶγξ, ὥσπερ γράφεται, τὴν οὐρὰν ἔχουσα δρακαίνης· ἀναρπάζουσα δὲ μικροὺς καὶ μεγάλους κατήσθιεν, ἐν οἷς καὶ Αἵμονα τὸν Κρέοντος παῖδα καὶ ῞Ιππιον τὸν Εὐρυνόμου τοῦ τοῖς Κενταύροις μαχεσαμένου. ἦσαν δὲ Εὐρύνομος καὶ ᾿Ηιονεὺς υἱοὶ Μάγνητος τοῦ Αἰολίδου καὶ Φυλοδίκης. ὁ μὲν οὖν ῞Ιππιος καὶ ξένος ὢν ὑπὸ τῆς Σφιγγὸς ἀνῃρέθη, ὁ δὲ ᾿Ηιονεὺς ὑπὸ τοῦ Οἰνομάου, ὃν τρόπον καὶ οἱ ἄλλοι μνηστῆρες. πρῶτος δὲ ὁ Λάιος τὸν ἀθέμιτον ἔρωτα τοῦτον ἔσχεν. ὁ δὲ Χρύσιππος ὑπὸ αἰσχύνης ἑαυτὸν διεχρήσατο τῷ ξίφει. τότε μὲν οὖν ὁ Τειρεσίας ὡς μάντις εἰδὼς ὅτι θεοστυγὴς ἦν ὁ Λάιος, ἀπέτρεπεν αὐτὸν τῆς ἐπὶ τὸν ᾿Απόλλωνα ὁδοῦ, τῇ δὲ ῞Ηρᾳ μᾶλλον τῇ γαμοστόλῳ θεᾷθύειν ἱερά. ὁ δὲ αὐτὸν ἐξεφαύλιζεν. ἀπελθὼν τοίνυν ἐφονεύθη ἐν τῇ σχιστῇ ὁδῷ αὐτὸς καὶ ὁ ἡνίοχος αὐτοῦ, ἐπειδὴ ἔτυψε τῇ μάστιγι τὸν Οἰδίποδα. κτείνας δὲ αὐτοὺς ἔθαψε παραυτίκα σὺν τοῖς ἱματίοις ἀποσπάσας τὸν ζωστῆρα καὶ τὸ ξίφος τοῦ Λαΐου καὶ φορῶν· τὸ δὲ ἅρμα ὑποστρέψας ἔδωκε τῷ Πολύβῳ, εἶτα ἔγημε τὴν μητέρα λύσας τὸ αἴνιγμα. μετὰ ταῦτα δὲ θυσίας τινὰς ἐπιτελέσας ἐν τῷ Κιθαιρῶνι κατήρχετο ἔχων καὶ τὴν ᾿Ιοκάστην ἐν τοῖς ὀχήμασι. καὶ γινομένων αὐτῶν περὶ τὸν τόπον ἐκεῖνον τῆς σχιστῆς ὁδοῦ ὑπομνησθεὶς ἐδείκνυε τῇ ᾿Ιοκάστῃ τὸν τόπον καὶ τὸ πρᾶγμα διηγήσατο καὶ τὸν ζωστῆρα ἔδειξεν. ἡ δὲ δεινῶς φέρουσα ὅμως ἐσιώπα· ἠγνόει γὰρ υἱὸν ὄντα. καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἦλθέ τις γέρων ἱπποβουκόλος ἀπὸ Σικυῶνος, ὃς εἶπεν αὐτῷ τὸ πᾶν ὅπως τε αὐτὸν εὗρε καὶ ἀνείλετο καὶ τῇ Μερόπῃ δέδωκε, καὶ ἅμα τὰ σπάργανα αὐτῷ ἐδείκνυε καὶ τὰ κέντρα ἀπῄτει τε αὐτὸν τὰ ζωάγρια· καὶ οὕτως ἐγνώσθη τὸ ὅλον. φασὶ δὲ ὅτι μετὰ τὸν θάνατον τῆς ᾿Ιοκάστης καὶ τὴν αὐτοῦ τύφλωσιν ἔγημεν Εὐρυγάνην παρθένον, ἐξ ἧς αὐτῷ γεγόνασιν οἱ τέσσαρες παῖδες. ταῦτά φησι Πείσανδρος:

There is a tradition that quotes the Sphinx’s riddle, but few accept it as ‘genuine’.

 

For a fine discussion of this, see Malcolm Davies’ piece on the Oidipodea.

Fragmentary Friday: The Thebais

We have the remains of an ancient epic called the Thebais that was attributed to ‘Homer’ by multiple sources in antiquity (although most scholars today, following Aristotle, agree that ‘Homer’ = Iliad and Odyssey or something like that). This epic seems to have told the Theban tale from the cursing of Polyneices and Eteocles by Oedipus through the events of the Seven Against Thebes.

“The epic called Thebais was composed about this war. Kallinos, when he comes to mention this epic, says that Homer composed it. Many authors of considerable repute have believed the same thing. And I like this poem especially, after the Iliad and Odyssey at least.”

ἐποιήθη δὲ ἐς τὸν πόλεμον τοῦτον καὶ ἔπη Θηβαΐς• τὰ δὲ ἔπη ταῦτα Καλλῖνος ἀφικόμενος αὐτῶν ἐς μνήμην ἔφησεν ῞Ομηρον τὸν ποιήσαντα εἶναι, Καλλίνῳ δὲ πολλοί τε καὶ ἄξιοι λόγου κατὰ ταὐτὰ ἔγνωσαν• ἐγὼ δὲ τὴν ποίησιν ταύτην μετά γε ᾿Ιλιάδα καὶ τὰ ἔπη τὰ ἐς ᾿Οδυσσέα ἐπαινῶ μάλιστα.
Pausanias, IX 9.5

Fr. 1 (found in The Contest of Homer and Hesiod)

“Goddess, sing of very-thirsty Argos, from where the Leaders [departed for Thebes]”

῎Αργος ἄειδε, θεά, πολυδίψιον, ἔνθεν ἄνακτες

Fr. 2 (Found in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists)

“Then the god-bred hero, blond Polyneices,
First placed before Oedipus a fine silver platter,
A thing of god-minded Kadmos. And then
He filled a fine golden cup with sweet wine.
But when he noted that lying before him were the
Honored gifts of his own father, a great evil filled his heart.
Quickly he uttered grievous curses against both
Of his own sons—and he did not escape the dread Fury’s notice—
That they would not divide their inheritance in friendship
But that they would both have ceaseless war and battles.”

αὐτὰρ ὁ διογενὴς ἥρως ξανθὸς Πολυνείκης
πρῶτα μὲν Οἰδιπόδηι καλὴν παρέθηκε τράπεζαν
ἀργυρέην Κάδμοιο θεόφρονος• αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα
χρύσεον ἔμπλησεν καλὸν δέπας ἡδέος οἴνου.
αὐτὰρ ὅ γ’ ὡς φράσθη παρακείμενα πατρὸς ἑοῖο
τιμήεντα γέρα, μέγα οἱ κακὸν ἔμπεσε θυμῶι,
αἶψα δὲ παισὶν ἑοῖσιν ἐπ’ ἀμφοτέροισιν ἐπαρὰς
ἀργαλέας ἠρᾶτο• θοὴν δ’ οὐ λάνθαν’ ᾿Ερινύν•
ὡς οὔ οἱ πατρώϊ’ ἐνηέι φιλότητι
δάσσαιντ’, ἀμφοτέροισι δ’ ἀεὶ πόλεμοί τε μάχαι τε

Fr.4 (Found in Scholion to Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus, 1375)

“When [Oedipus] noticed the cut of meat, he hurled it to the ground and spoke:
‘Alas, my children have sent this as a reproach to me…’
He prayed to King Zeus and the other gods
That they would go to Hades’ home at each other’s hands.

ἰσχίον ὡς ἐνόησε, χαμαὶ βάλεν εἶπέ τε μῦθον•
‘ὤ μοι ἐγώ, παῖδες μέγ’ ὀνειδείοντες ἔπεμψαν …’
*
εὖκτο Διὶ βασιλῆϊ καὶ ἄλλοις ἀθανάτοισι
χερσὶν ὑπ’ ἀλλήλων καταβήμεναι ῎Αιδος εἴσω.

The Sphinx’s Riddle in Epic Meter: Scholia and Athenaeus

An ancient scholar records an interesting fragment with the famous riddle of the Sphinx from the story of Oedipus (Scholia to Euripides Phoenician Women 46):

“It is two-footed, three-footed, and four-footed on land,
But has one voice. It alone changes its form of all the creatures
Who creep over the earth, through the sky and the sea.
But whenever it walks leaning on multiple feet,
Then its strength remains the weakest in its limbs.”

ἔστι δίπουν ἐπὶ γῆς καὶ τετράπον, οὗ μία φωνή,
καὶ τρίπον• ἀλλάσσει δὲ φυὴν μόνον ὅσσ’ ἐπὶ γαῖαν
ἑρπετὰ γίνονται ἀνά τ’ αἰθέρα καὶ κατὰ πόντον.
ἀλλ’ ὁπόταν πλεόνεσσιν ἐρειδόμενον ποσὶ βαίνῃ,
ἔνθα μένος γυίοισιν ἀφαυρότατον πέλει αὐτοῦ:

A version of this also appears in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists (10.83) with some slight changes (he says that the fragment comes from the Greek historian Asclepiades.

ἔστι δίπουν ἐπὶ γῆς καὶ τετράπον, οὗ μία φωνή,
καὶ τρίπον, ἀλλάσσει δὲ φύσιν μόνον ὅσσ’ ἐπὶ γαῖαν
ἑρπετὰ γίνονται καὶ ἀν’ αἰθέρα καὶ κατὰ πόντον•
ἀλλ’ ὁπόταν πλείστοισιν ἐρειδόμενον ποσὶ βαίνῃ,
ἔνθα τάχος γυίοισιν ἀφαυρότατον πέλει αὑτοῦ.

Phusis for phuê is a typical post-classical rendering; the superlative πλείστοισιν (“most”) instead of the comparative πλεόνεσσιν (“more, many”) doesn’t make much sense to me; and without the noun μένος (“strength,energy, fury”) in the first version, I have trouble understanding the genitive αὐτοῦ (“his”), unless “speed” (τάχος) is the subject…

This may be the oldest version of the Sphinx’s riddle available. Since it is in dactylic hexameter, some have argued that it originally comes from an epic about Oedipus (e.g. Oedipodeia). The earliness of the fragment is dubious: not only does it seem to be lacking formulae and language clear from other extant epics, but some words are clearly later (e.g. ἀλλάσσει).  And, to my taste, these are particularly poor lines of hexameter. The only universally accepted fragment from the lost Oedipodeia, has better rhythm and more traditional language:

“and then [the Sphinx killed] the most beautiful and desire-inducing of all men,
the dear child of blameless Creon, shining Haemon.”

ἀλλ’ ἔτι κάλλιστόν τε καὶ ἱμεροέστατον ἄλλων
παῖδα φίλον Κρείοντος ἀμύμονος, Αἵμονα δῖον

Those of you who know Sophocles might be surprised to find Haemon dead here, but the tragedians need not agree with epic!

The riddle was also a popular motif, versions of it appeared in a lost play by Aeschylus, and plays by Sophocles and Euripides. The following is my favorite picture of Oedipus and the Sphinx, by Gustave Moreau (1864):

A Little Death?
A Little Death?

#MythMonth Madness: The Story of Erginos

The following fragment of Pherecydes, the fifth century mythographer, is from a Scholion to Euripides’ Phoenissae 53. Fowler (Early Greek Mythography, 2001) prints this as Pherecydes fr. 95):

“Pherecydes says these things about the children and the marriages of Oedipus: “Kreon,” he says, “gave the kingdom and Laios’ wife, his own mother Iokasta to Oedipus, and from here were born Phrastôr and Laonutos, who died thanks to the Minyans and Erginos. Then a year had passed, Oedipus married Euryganeia, the daughter of Periphas, and from her were born Antigone and Ismene, the girl Tydeus took at the stream and for that reason the stream is called Ismene. The sons Eteokles and Polyneices were also born to Oedipus from here. When Euryganeia died, Oedipus married Astymedea, the daughter of Stenelos. And some people add that Euryganeia was the sister of Oedipus’ mother Iokaste.”

γαμεῖ δὲ τὴν τεκοῦσαν: Φερεκύδης τὰ κατὰ τοὺς Οἰδίποδος παῖδας καὶ τὰς γημαμένας οὕτως ἱστορεῖ· ‘Οἰδίποδι, φησὶ, Κρέων δίδωσι τὴν βασιλείαν καὶ τὴν γυναῖκα Λαΐου, μητέρα δ’ αὐτοῦ ᾿Ιοκάστην, ἐξ ἧς γίνονται αὐτῷ Φράστωρ καὶ Λαόνυτος, οἳ θνῄσκουσιν ὑπὸ Μινυῶν καὶ ᾿Εργίνου. ἐπεὶ δὲ ἐνιαυτὸς παρῆλθε, γαμεῖ ὁ Οἰδίπους Εὐρυγάνειαν τὴν Περίφαντος, ἐξ ἧς γίνονται αὐτῷ ᾿Αντιγόνη καὶ ᾿Ισμήνη, ἣν ἀναιρεῖ Τυδεὺς ἐπὶ κρήνης καὶ ἀπ’ αὐτῆς ἡ κρήνη ᾿Ισμήνη καλεῖται. υἱοὶ δὲ αὐτῷ ἐξ αὐτῆς ᾿Ετεοκλῆς καὶ Πολυνείκης. ἐπεὶ δὲ Εὐρυγάνεια ἐτελεύτησε, γαμεῖ ὁ Οἰδίπους ᾿Αστυμέδουσαν τὴν Σθενέλου.’ τινὲς δὲ Εὐρυγάνειαν ἀδελφὴν λέγουσιν εἶναι ᾿Ιοκάστης τῆς μητρὸς Οἰδίποδος: —

Continue reading “#MythMonth Madness: The Story of Erginos”

Mythography Madness: Oedipus Had Three Wives (!) and the Heroic Life of Erginos

The following fragment of Pherecydes, the fifth century mythographer, is from a Scholion to Euripides’ Phoenissae 53. Fowler (Early Greek Mythography, 2001) prints this as Pherecydes fr. 95):

“Pherecydes says these things about the children and the marriages of Oedipus: “Kreon,” he says, “gave the kingdom and Laios’ wife, his own mother Iokasta to Oedipus, and from here were born Phrastôr and Laonutos, who died thanks to the Minyans and Erginos. Then a year had passed, Oedipus married Euryganeia, the daughter of Periphas, and from her were born Antigone and Ismene, the girl Tydeus took at the stream and for that reason the stream is called Ismene. The sons Eteokles and Polyneices were also born to Oedipus from here. When Euryganeia died, Oedipus married Astymedea, the daughter of Stenelos. And some people add that Euryganeia was the sister of Oedipus’ mother Iokaste.”

γαμεῖ δὲ τὴν τεκοῦσαν: Φερεκύδης τὰ κατὰ τοὺς Οἰδίποδος παῖδας καὶ τὰς γημαμένας οὕτως ἱστορεῖ· ‘Οἰδίποδι, φησὶ, Κρέων δίδωσι τὴν βασιλείαν καὶ τὴν γυναῖκα Λαΐου, μητέρα δ’ αὐτοῦ ᾿Ιοκάστην, ἐξ ἧς γίνονται αὐτῷ Φράστωρ καὶ Λαόνυτος, οἳ θνῄσκουσιν ὑπὸ Μινυῶν καὶ ᾿Εργίνου. ἐπεὶ δὲ ἐνιαυτὸς παρῆλθε, γαμεῖ ὁ Οἰδίπους Εὐρυγάνειαν τὴν Περίφαντος, ἐξ ἧς γίνονται αὐτῷ ᾿Αντιγόνη καὶ ᾿Ισμήνη, ἣν ἀναιρεῖ Τυδεὺς ἐπὶ κρήνης καὶ ἀπ’ αὐτῆς ἡ κρήνη ᾿Ισμήνη καλεῖται. υἱοὶ δὲ αὐτῷ ἐξ αὐτῆς ᾿Ετεοκλῆς καὶ Πολυνείκης. ἐπεὶ δὲ Εὐρυγάνεια ἐτελεύτησε, γαμεῖ ὁ Οἰδίπους ᾿Αστυμέδουσαν τὴν Σθενέλου.’ τινὲς δὲ Εὐρυγάνειαν ἀδελφὴν λέγουσιν εἶναι ᾿Ιοκάστης τῆς μητρὸς Οἰδίποδος: —

Continue reading “Mythography Madness: Oedipus Had Three Wives (!) and the Heroic Life of Erginos”

Fragmentary Friday: The Remains of the Lost Archaic (Homeric?) Thebais

We have the remains of an ancient epic called the Thebais that was attributed to ‘Homer’ by multiple sources in antiquity (although most scholars today, following Aristotle, agree that ‘Homer’ = Iliad and Odyssey or something like that). This epic seems to have told the Theban tale from the cursing of Polyneices and Eteocles by Oedipus through the events of the Seven Against Thebes.

“The epic called Thebais was composed about this war. Kallinos, when he comes to mention this epic, says that Homer composed it. Many authors of considerable repute have believed the same thing. And I like this poem especially, after the Iliad and Odyssey at least.”

ἐποιήθη δὲ ἐς τὸν πόλεμον τοῦτον καὶ ἔπη Θηβαΐς• τὰ δὲ ἔπη ταῦτα Καλλῖνος ἀφικόμενος αὐτῶν ἐς μνήμην ἔφησεν ῞Ομηρον τὸν ποιήσαντα εἶναι, Καλλίνῳ δὲ πολλοί τε καὶ ἄξιοι λόγου κατὰ ταὐτὰ ἔγνωσαν• ἐγὼ δὲ τὴν ποίησιν ταύτην μετά γε ᾿Ιλιάδα καὶ τὰ ἔπη τὰ ἐς ᾿Οδυσσέα ἐπαινῶ μάλιστα.
Pausanias, IX 9.5

Fr. 1 (found in The Contest of Homer and Hesiod)

“Goddess, sing of very-thirsty Argos, from where the Leaders [departed for Thebes]”

῎Αργος ἄειδε, θεά, πολυδίψιον, ἔνθεν ἄνακτες

Fr. 2 (Found in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists)

“Then the god-bred hero, blond Polyneices,
First placed before Oedipus a fine silver platter,
A thing of god-minded Kadmos. And then
He filled a fine golden cup with sweet wine.
But when he noted that lying before him were the
Honored gifts of his own father, a great evil filled his heart.
Quickly he uttered grievous curses against both
Of his own sons—and he did not escape the dread Fury’s notice—
That they would not divide their inheritance in friendship
But that they would both have ceaseless war and battles.”

αὐτὰρ ὁ διογενὴς ἥρως ξανθὸς Πολυνείκης
πρῶτα μὲν Οἰδιπόδηι καλὴν παρέθηκε τράπεζαν
ἀργυρέην Κάδμοιο θεόφρονος• αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα
χρύσεον ἔμπλησεν καλὸν δέπας ἡδέος οἴνου.
αὐτὰρ ὅ γ’ ὡς φράσθη παρακείμενα πατρὸς ἑοῖο
τιμήεντα γέρα, μέγα οἱ κακὸν ἔμπεσε θυμῶι,
αἶψα δὲ παισὶν ἑοῖσιν ἐπ’ ἀμφοτέροισιν ἐπαρὰς
ἀργαλέας ἠρᾶτο• θοὴν δ’ οὐ λάνθαν’ ᾿Ερινύν•
ὡς οὔ οἱ πατρώϊ’ ἐνηέι φιλότητι
δάσσαιντ’, ἀμφοτέροισι δ’ ἀεὶ πόλεμοί τε μάχαι τε

fr.4 (Found in Scholion to Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus, 1375)

“When [Oedipus] noticed the cut of meat, he hurled it to the ground and spoke:
‘Alas, my children have sent this as a reproach to me…’
He prayed to King Zeus and the other gods
That they would go to Hades’ home at each other’s hands.

ἰσχίον ὡς ἐνόησε, χαμαὶ βάλεν εἶπέ τε μῦθον•
‘ὤ μοι ἐγώ, παῖδες μέγ’ ὀνειδείοντες ἔπεμψαν …’
*
εὖκτο Διὶ βασιλῆϊ καὶ ἄλλοις ἀθανάτοισι
χερσὶν ὑπ’ ἀλλήλων καταβήμεναι ῎Αιδος εἴσω.

The Sphinx’s Riddle in Epic Meter: Scholia and Athenaeus

An ancient scholar records an interesting fragment with the famous riddle of the Sphinx from the story of Oedipus (Scholia to Euripides Phoenician Women 46):

“It is two-footed, three-footed, and four-footed on land,
But has one voice. It alone changes its form of all the creatures
Who creep over the earth, through the sky and the sea.
But whenever it walks leaning on multiple feet,
Then its strength remains the weakest in its limbs.”

ἔστι δίπουν ἐπὶ γῆς καὶ τετράπον, οὗ μία φωνή,
καὶ τρίπον• ἀλλάσσει δὲ φυὴν μόνον ὅσσ’ ἐπὶ γαῖαν
ἑρπετὰ γίνονται ἀνά τ’ αἰθέρα καὶ κατὰ πόντον.
ἀλλ’ ὁπόταν πλεόνεσσιν ἐρειδόμενον ποσὶ βαίνῃ,
ἔνθα μένος γυίοισιν ἀφαυρότατον πέλει αὐτοῦ:

A version of this also appears in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists (10.83) with some slight changes (he says that the fragment comes from the Greek historian Asclepiades.

ἔστι δίπουν ἐπὶ γῆς καὶ τετράπον, οὗ μία φωνή,
καὶ τρίπον, ἀλλάσσει δὲ φύσιν μόνον ὅσσ’ ἐπὶ γαῖαν
ἑρπετὰ γίνονται καὶ ἀν’ αἰθέρα καὶ κατὰ πόντον•
ἀλλ’ ὁπόταν πλείστοισιν ἐρειδόμενον ποσὶ βαίνῃ,
ἔνθα τάχος γυίοισιν ἀφαυρότατον πέλει αὑτοῦ.

Phusis for phuê is a typical post-classical rendering; the superlative πλείστοισιν (“most”) instead of the comparative πλεόνεσσιν (“more, many”) doesn’t make much sense to me; and without the noun μένος (“strength,energy, fury”) in the first version, I have trouble understanding the genitive αὐτοῦ (“his”), unless “speed” (τάχος) is the subject…

This may be the oldest version of the Sphinx’s riddle available. Since it is in dactylic hexameter, some have argued that it originally comes from an epic about Oedipus (e.g. Oedipodeia). The earliness of the fragment is dubious: not only does it seem to be lacking formulae and language clear from other extant epics, but some words are clearly later (e.g. ἀλλάσσει).  And, to my taste, these are particularly poor lines of hexameter. The only universally accepted fragment from the lost Oedipodeia, has better rhythm and more traditional language:

“and then [the Sphinx killed] the most beautiful and desire-inducing of all men,
the dear child of blameless Creon, shining Haemon.”

ἀλλ’ ἔτι κάλλιστόν τε καὶ ἱμεροέστατον ἄλλων
παῖδα φίλον Κρείοντος ἀμύμονος, Αἵμονα δῖον

 

Those of you who know Sophocles might be surprised to find Haemon dead here, but the tragedians need not agree with epic!

The riddle was also a popular motif, versions of it appeared in a lost play by Aeschylus, and plays by Sophocles and Euripides. The following is my favorite picture of Oedipus and the Sphinx, by Gustave Moreau (1864):

A Little Death?
A Little Death?

Following Metagenes on April Fool’s Day and Mocking Homer: Protect your Beverage, Man!

In an earlier post I mentioned Metagenes’ playing with a line from the Iliad:

 

Metagenes (fr. 19 Athenaeaus 270e)

 

“One Bird Omen is best: defend your dinner!”

εἵς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ δείπνου

 

Homer, Iliad 12.243:

 

“One bird-omen is best: defend your fatherland”

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ πάτρης.

 

And since I have been musing on some alterations in a Metagenic spirit:

 

 

For Polyphemos, the goat-herding Cyclops:

“One bird-omen is best: protect your cheese”

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ τύρης

 

 

For Telemachus:

“One bird-omen is best: defend your daddy”

 

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ πάππου

 

For Odysseus

“One bird-omen is best: save your homecoming.”

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ νόστου

 

 

For Paris

“One bird-omen is best: defend your ‘booty’ “

 

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ πύγης

 

 

For Oedipus

“One bird-omen is best: defend your mommy”

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ ματρὸς

 

 

For any old Satyr

 

“One bird-omen is best: defend your wine”

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ οἴνου

 

For The Big Lebowski

 

“One bird-omen is best: protect your beverage, [man]”

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ πὀτου

 

If that seems mysterious, watch this: