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Violence in Greek drama *

University Press Scholarship Online

Oxford Scholarship Online

The Tangled Ways of Zeus: And Other Studies In and


Around Greek Tragedy
Alan H. Sommerstein

Print publication date: 2010


Print ISBN-13: 9780199568314
Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2010
DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199568314.001.0001

Violence in Greek drama *


Alan H. Sommerstein (Contributor Webpage)

DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199568314.003.0003

Abstract and Keywords


This chapter seeks to identify and explain the constraints on the onstage presentation of
violence in Greek drama. It finds that there were two conventions: that the audience
must never witness any act or occurrence that impinged on a human or animal body so
as to be the proximate cause of a death, and that in tragedy, the audience must not
witness any person inflicting a blow on any other person. The first convention was based
on religious considerations, and was unbreakable; the second was based on artistic
considerations (or perhaps just on generic tradition), and is broken in one play,
Prometheus Bound, for the special purpose of emphasizing the unimaginable agonies that
Prometheus is suffering.
Keywords: drama, tragedy, violence, death, religious, Prometheus

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It is a clich that violence, especially violent death, was not presented visually on the
Greek tragic stage. Yet violence could be presented verbally, through messenger
speeches or other forms of narrative, with virtually no limits on the intensity of the
horrors described; nor were the dramatists in the least squeamish about presenting on
stage the results of violence in the most appalling formthe blinded Oedipus or
Polymestor, the dismembered corpse of Pentheus whose head adorns his mother's
thyrsos, Aias amidst the animals he has tortured and slaughtered. The convention is
evidently a very powerful one; but what precisely are the constraints, and how are they
to be explained?
Any conventional practice or constraint in Greek drama might in principle be ascribed to
causes of one (or perhaps more than one) of several kinds.
1. Religion. On the one hand, the production of plays was part of a festival of
Dionysos, and the god himself was considered to be watching the performances;
hence it might in principle be the case that certain kinds [42] of spectacle were
avoided as being potentially offensive to him. On the other hand, certain acts and
utterances were forbidden absolutely by religious laws, and these would also be
avoided in drama; 1 for example, though two of Aristophanes' surviving plays have
choruses (p.31) consisting, respectively, of women celebrating the
Thesmophoria and of deceased initiates of the Eleusinian Mysteries, neither
contains anything that might divulge any of the secret elements of these rituals to
those who did not already know them.2
2. Competition rules. This is certainly the appropriate explanation for the
requirement that the chorus consist of fifteen (earlier twelve) members, and
almost certainly also for the restriction of tragedy to a maximum of three (earlier
two) speaking actors, with all that flows from that.3
3. Theatrical practicality. There are many things that simply could not be done on
stage, given the resources of the Athenian theatre. There could not be abrupt
changes of scene, except in the rare cases where the chorus made a temporary
exit. Before the invention of the mechane, it had been impossible for characters,
even gods, to be seen flying; contrariwise, after the creation of the skene, it
became virtually impossible4 for the entire action of a play to be set indoors. At all
times, because of the use of [43] masks, it was impossible for characters to eat,5
though they (p.32) could (and in satyrdrama and comedy, sometimes did)
mime drinking.6
4. Aesthetic/artistic considerations. The language, metre, music, costumes,
masks, etc., of tragedy were subject to many conventions that made them, in
general, much more restrained and stylized than those of comedy (satyrdrama
being in most respects intermediate between the two), and most of these can in
origin have had no other rationale than the dramatists' belief that they were
artistically appropriate to the genre.
5. Inertia. Once a convention has become established within a genre it may
become, as it were, a rule of the craft, and be maintained by its practitioners for
no reason that can be articulated except that it is what they have always done. It

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Violence in Greek drama *


is generally difficult or impossible to distinguish a convention maintained for this
reason from one maintained for aesthetic/artistic reasons, particularly since those
who live within a cultural tradition are very prone to invent (and then hand on, as
part of the tradition) ostensibly rational explanations for irrational features of the
tradition; but sometimes it can be discerned that a traditional practice which is
irrational or arbitrary under the circumstances obtaining at the time under
consideration would have been rationally explicable, or even inevitable, under the
circumstances of an earlier time. In the case of drama, one can well envisage that
the circumstances of its early history (one actor, no backscene, etc.) might have
given rise to conventions that came to be regarded as part of the essence of the
genre, and continued to be observed even when the circumstances from which
they had arisen no longer existed. Whether any such fossil conventions can in
fact be identified is another matter.
I began by saying it was a clich that violence was not presented visually on the Greek
tragic stage. But violence (and likewise its Greek equiv[44]alents, and its
derivatives) does not have a single, universally agreed meaning; and some acts that most
people would regard as violent unquestionably can be presented visually on the tragic
stage. Most of us, I am sure, would regard it as an act of violence if a person was seized
and dragged against her will from a (p.33) holy place in which she had taken sanctuary;
and in tragedy we find no less a personage than Poseidon agreeing with us.7 Yet actions
such as that are certainly not kept off the tragic stage: forcible seizure, detention, and
restraint are in fact relatively common, and manhandling and dragging are not unknown.8
Only two kinds of onstage violence are completely, or almost completely, avoided in
tragedy: killing (including suicide) and striking (whether with a body part or with a
weapon or other implement). These two forms of violence will now be examined in more
detail.
Killing is never represented on stage, in comedy 9 or in tragedy (two apparent exceptions
will be considered presently). This applies alike to killing by sword or poison or any other
means; it applies to homicide, to suicide, to death by accident or act of god. But it is only
true under a very precise definition of killing. What may not be shown is the act that
causes deaththe blow of the weapon, the tying of the noose10 (not that that could have
been staged anyway, regardless of conventions), the drinking [45] of the poison (which,
contrariwise, would have been very easy to simulate, and would have made a most
convenient device for presenting some of tragedy's many (p.34) female suicides). There
is no bar on the stage presentation of death itself, and in fact it occurs twice in surviving
tragedy, in Euripides' Alkestis and Hippolytos, in both of which the title character is
brought on stage dying from the effect of an act of god that we have not seen actually
take place. Still less, of course, is there any bar on the exhibition on stage of the corpses
of those who have died by violence; in at least one case (Neoptolemos in Euripides'
Andromache) we see a character dead whom we had never, during the play, seen alive.
Just as we may see the events that follow a fatal act, we may also see the events leading
up to it. In two cases, both of them suicides, our view is cut off only at the very last

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Violence in Greek drama *


moment. The more famous and more controversial case is that of the suicide of Aias. At
the beginning of his last speech (Soph. Aias 81522) he announces that he has just planted
his sword in the ground, ready to fall upon it; at its end he makes it plain (864) that he has
spoken his last words on earth. If we did not know the conventions, and if we did not have
the rest of the play, we might well be tempted to suppose that the suicide itself had
occurred in sight of the audience. But in fact we know from 8912 that when Tekmessa
discovers his body, she is in a grove () and, crucially, out of sight of the chorus11
(who ask each other whose voice they are hearing). It follows that the sword must have
been planted where the audience could not see it, and that the fatal stroke it (passively)
delivers occurs offstage.12 Less problematic, from our point of view,13 is the suicide of
Euadne in Euripides' Suppliants: she leaps to her death (on the burning funeral pyre of
her husband [46] Kapaneus) from some elevated point, no doubt on the skeneand no
doubt lands behind it, so that we see the leap but not the fatal (p.35) landing.14 Similar,
in a sense, is what happens in Sophocles' Niobe (fr. 441a): we apparently see Apollo and
Artemis shoot their arrows at Niobe's children, but they are shooting into the house (cf.
line 4 )15 and therefore we will not see the arrows hit their mark. Another way
whereby the audience can be taken to the brink of a killing on stage, but not over it, is for
the killing itself to be prevented at the last moment by some intervening cause; the
closest shave of this kind is in Sophocles' Philoktetes (1299302) where Neoptolemos
forcibly prevents Philoktetes from shooting the arrow which he has aimed at Odysseus
and which, if loosed, would certainly have been fatal.16
It is not only humans who may not be killed on stage, in any form of drama; the same
prohibition seems to apply to animals.17 In two plays of Aristophanes, Peace (9371022)
and Birds (8481057), elaborate preparations are made for a sacrifice, and some of the
preliminary rituals (in Peace, all of them) are performed onstage; in both they are
abruptly cut short, and the actual slaughter takes place out of sight of the audience. Each
time, to be sure, an excuse is given: in Peace it is said that a bloody sacrifice ought not to
take place in the presence of the goddess Peace (101920); in Birds the sacrifice has
been interrupted five times by annoying visitors, and Peisetairos decides he must get
out of their way if he ever wants to finish it (let's get away from here as quickly as we
can, Birds 1056). In Peace, additionally, we are given a joky extradramatic reason for
keeping the sacrifice offstageto save a sheep for the choregos (Peace 1022). In fact,
however, the cost of a sheep or goat would be trivial in (p.36) comparison with the
choregos' overall expensesparticularly since he could (and seemingly as a rule did, at
least for comedy) choose an infe[47]rior animal18and the avoidance of onstage
sacrifice must have a different, and probably a religious, explanation. One might think of
suggesting that it would be thought inappropriate, perhaps dangerous, to have
performers go through the motions of making an offering to a god when the whole
procedure was only a pretence; but this cannot be so, since other kinds of offering not
involving bloodshed (e.g. libations and the burning of incense) are common in drama.
More plausibly it might be argued that the problem was precisely that in one important
respect the procedure would not be a pretence. Slaughter could not be simulated; 19 a
real animal would have to be really killed, not in order to please the god to whom it was
ostensibly being offered but merely for the purpose of making a show. The complex, and

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Violence in Greek drama *


partly obfuscatory, rituals that surrounded Greek animal sacrifice and especially its
central act20 show how serious a matter the taking of a domestic beast's life was
perceived to be, even though it was a necessity both for humans and for gods; it would
have been unthinkable to do such a thing outside its true ritual context.
If that explanation of why animal slaughter was avoided in drama is correct, it evidently
cannot be applied directly in explaining why drama also avoided direct presentation of the
killing of humans; for simulating that would have presented no difficulty to producers. But
a quite different parallel may be suggestive. Tragedy talks incessantly about killing but
never shows us (a simulation of) the act itself, though it can come very close to doing so.
In precisely the same way, comedy, especially Old Comedy, talks incessantly about sex
but never shows us (a simulation of) the act itself, though, again, it can come very close to
doing so.21 Sex and killing (including suicide) (p.37) could both cause ritual pollution
(Parker [48] 1983: 74143), and both were prohibited in sanctuaries (as was
childbirth); 22 when we find that (simulations of) both are also avoided in dramawhich
was performed in a sacred place, during a festival, and in the presence of the god's
image, altar, and priestthe likeliest explanation is that we are dealing with an extension of
this taboo. How deeply entrenched it was is well exemplified by a passage in
Aristophanes' Frogs (107982) where, in a catalogue of the shocking immoralities of
Euripidean drama, giving birth in temples is given precedence over brothersister
incest.23
Thus the avoidance of killing in tragedy is probably to be ascribed to religious
considerations. What of the other form of violence that tragedy avoids, striking? There
can be no question here of a religious prohibition: blows are frequently struck in comedy,
and in a famous surviving scene (Ar. Frogs 61573) Dionysos himself is subjected to a
flogging. Yet in tragedy, full though it is of quarrels and angry words, no one (that we
know of) ever inflicts a blow on another person24with one remarkable exception, to
which we will come. As in the other cases we have considered, there are some close
approaches, but the line is never crossed,25 as may be seen by an examination of the
passages concerned.
(p.38) In Aeschylus' Suppliants (825ff.) the Egyptians who attempt to seize the Danaids,
with a view to forcing them into marriage to their cousins, make some extremely colourful
threats, ranging from dragging by the hair (884, 909) to decapitation (840) and including
the promise to get you sit[49]ting in the boat, streaming blood (847); yet when the
Argive king comes to their rescue he can threaten the Egyptian herald with condign
punishment should you lay a finger on them ( , 925), implying that they have
not at that moment been touched. Of menacing choreography there has doubtless been
plenty; of violent contact, none.
Towards the end of Aeschylus' Agamemnon a fierce quarrel breaks out between
Aigisthos and the chorus of Argive elders. Aigisthos orders his bodyguard to have their
swords at the ready (16501); the chorus may prepare to mount a doomed defence with
the nearest thing they have to a weapon, their walkingsticks (1652)but at the moment
when the storm is about to break, Klytaimestra intervenes, begs Aigisthos to desist
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Violence in Greek drama *


(16546), and sends the elders home (1657ff.).26
When Oedipus learns that he is not, as he had thought, the son of Polybos of Corinth, but
had been brought to Corinth as a baby by a shepherd who had, in turn, been given him
on Mount Kithairon by another shepherd working for Laios, he orders the latter to be
summoned and interrogates him. The Theban shepherd, however, not only proves
reluctant to answer his questions, but is furious with the Corinthian who, without being
asked to, answers them for him, and he at least threatens the Corinthian with violence
(Soph. OT 1146), as is shown by Oedipus' urgent response (Stop, don't hit him, 1147).
It is not clear from this passage alone whether a blow is actually delivered, but the
Corinthian does not cry out (indeed, he never speaks again), and since both men are
aged (990, 1001, 1009, 1013, 111213, 1121, 1147, 1153) it is a reasonable supposition
that (p.39) the Theban does no more than raise his fist or staff. A little later, still proving
recalcitrant, he is threatened by Oedipus with beating or torture27 (11524); the threat
is enough to crack his resistance for the moment, though it has to be renewed each time
another question is put (1158, 1166).28
[50] In Euripides' Andromache, Andromache and her son are about to be led off to their
deaths by Menelaos when Peleus arrives (Andr. 545) in response to a message she had
sent him some time earlier (7990). She supplicates him to save her, and he at once
orders the attendants guarding the condemned pair to release them before someone
gets hurt (5778). Menelaos tells them to disregard the order, and says to Peleus you
will never take her out of my hand (587); to which Peleus replies Yes, I will, when I have
bloodied your head with this staff (588).29 On these words he no doubt brandishes the
staff, but he is not within striking range, as Menelaos' taunting reply shows: Touch me,
and you'll knowcome closer! (589). The confrontation thereupon turns into a verbal
agon, which as usual30 leads to no decisive conclusion; but then Peleus simply orders the
attendants out of the way (71516) that I may discover whether anyone is going to stop
me untying this woman's handsand no one, Menelaos included, makes any attempt to
interfere.
More than a decade later, in Helen, we find another instance, on a smaller scale, of the
same pattern. Theoklymenos, rushing into the palace to take revenge on his sister
Theonoe for helping Helen and Menelaos escape, is obstructed by a slave of Theonoe,*
who seizes his robe (1629) and will not let go. Get out of my way, says Theoklymenos
(1628); I won't, says the servantand then for nine lines nothing happens, as the two
conduct a hemistichomythic verbal fencing bout. The action unfreezes when
Theoklymenos says You (p.40) seem to long for death (1639), to which the slave gives
a resolute reply, and at that point the Dioskoroi appear. There is no sign that any blow has
been struck.
The even briefer confrontation of Menelaos and the Old Man in Iphigeneia at Aulis (309
16) has features reminiscent of both the scenes just mentioned. The Old Man (a servant
of Agamemnon), on his way from Aulis to Argos with a letter countermanding
Agamemnon's previous instructions to send Iphigeneia to Aulis, has been intercepted by

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Menelaos, who has seized, opened and read the letter. The Old Man tries to grab it back,
and a tug of war ensues; Menelaos, in almost the same [51] words Peleus had usedto
Menelaos!in Andromache, threatens to bloody your head with my sceptre; the Old
Man, like the servant in Helen, retorts that it is glorious for a slave to die for his master. A
moment later, however, he is appealing to Agamemnon for assistance, and Menelaos is
evidently in firm possession of the letter. Had Menelaos struck the Old Man, the latter
would certainly have complained to Agamemnon of this assault by Menelaos on a slave
not his; so we can safely assume that there was again no blow, and that Menelaos was
able to tear the letter out of the Old Man's hand (as he had already done once before)
simply because he was the younger man and had the stronger arms and fingers.
Even in the late Rhesos the convention continues to be observed. The author carefully
keeps the Greeks and Trojans apart, for all but seventeen lines of the play. When the
Greek raiders, Odysseus and Diomedes, arrive on the scene (565), even the chorus are
absent, and Dolon has already been killed. Paris is seen approaching at 627, but Athena
tells Odysseus and Diomedes to ignore him, and gets rid of him herself by providing
some disinformation31 while they are slaying Rhesos offstage. But then, unexpectedly,
they do meet the enemy onstage after all, as the chorus return with menacing words and
actions; but menaces is all they are, because the chorus, not knowing for certain whether
they have met friends or foes, cannot attack until they have asked for the password (684,
688)and Odysseus knows it.
I mentioned that there was one great exception to the rule that no person strikes another
in Greek tragedy. This is the impaling of (p.41) Prometheus. Not the clamping of his
arms, chest, and legs ([Aesch.] Prom. 5562, 7181); that is merely a more drastic
version of the common enough actions of seizure, arrest, or physical restraint. But the
driving of a wedge right through his chest (645) is unique: not only is it a blow,32 but if
the victim were not immortal, it would be a fatal blow.
[52] Commentators and critics do not appear to have taken on board the uniqueness of
this action not only in Aeschylus but in all tragedy. They have, of course, tried to explain
how it was managed theatrically that Prometheus should seem to be impaled, but not
why it was acceptable for the audience to see him seemingly impaled, in breach of so
strong a convention. Whether or not Prometheus Bound is by Aeschylus, it is certainly a
fifthcentury play, and was almost certainly performed in Athens.33 Either, then, the
convention that prohibited the striking of blows in tragedy was for some reason not
applicable in this case, or it was deliberately broken for effect.
This question cannot be decided separately from that of how to explain the convention
itself. If, for example, the avoidance of striking was based on religious considerations or
on a competition rule, it would have been no more possible to break the convention than
it would have been to have a fourth speaking actor in tragedy or to present simulated sex
on stage in comedy; if it was a purely artistic norm, an occasional breach of it might well
be risked if it was dramatically effective, as might (say) the use of lexemes from an
undignified stratum of vocabulary (Sommerstein 2002), or a major, signalled change of
imaginary location (such as occurs in Aeschylus' Eumenides and probably 34 Sophocles'
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Aias).
(p.42) In fact, of the five explanatory strategies (15) above, we can quickly rule out a
religious one (1); for the occasion and the environment of performance were no less
sacred in the case of comedy than of tragedy, yet there is no restriction on the striking of
blows in comedy. For the same reason, the convention can hardly be a matter of
theatrical practicality (3).35 One might fleetingly think that it could be a historical
hangover, due to inertia (5), from the days of singleactor drama, when it would not have
been possible for one character to strike another. However, even in singleactor drama,
violent confrontation between a character and the chorus would still have been a
possibility; as we have seen, this is avoided by a [53] whisker in Agamemnon, and it
probably occurred from time to time in comedy.36 And in any case, such an explanation
would, as it were, explain too much: in singleactor tragedy it would have been equally
impossible for one character to seize, hold, or drag another, yet as we have seen this
becomes quite frequent at least from the 440s onwards.
It is hardly plausible prima facie that there should have been a rule of the tragic
competition (1) prohibiting the striking of blows; in any case such a rule, if it had existed,
would have had to be observed without exceptionand the violation of the convention in
Prometheus is about as total and as spectacular as it could possibly have been.
Thus the only kind of explanation available to us is an aesthetic/artistic one (4): tragic
dramatists felt (and/or expected their audiences to feel) that the infliction of blows by one
dramatis persona on another would in general not be appropriate to the type of effect
(p.43) which, as tragic dramatists, they were trying to create,37 and therefore avoided
presenting itwhile implicitly reserving the right to do so in exceptional circumstances. If
so, the author of Prometheus Bound evidently considered that the circumstances of his
play were exceptional. He was already committed to showing Prometheus being
subjected, on stage, to a bodily punishment equivalent to the Athenian penalty of
apotympanismos (cf. Sommerstein 1996 a: 30910) though in one way even greater
inasmuch as it could not be terminated by death and was indeed intended to last for ever
(267); but he could have done thisand had he not written verses 649, he would have
done it, very neatlywithout violating the nostriking convention. But this was not enough
for him. Prometheus' agonies must be [54] shown to exceed all human bounds not only
in their duration but also in their intensity: he must be shown suffering, over an extended
period, the pain of a wound that no mortal can imagine because no mortal could survive
it. Moreover, if this wound is to be inflicted at all, it must be inflicted onstage. Prometheus
is to spend the entire play onstage clamped and pinned to a rock, and therefore we have
to see the clamping and pinning being done. In principle, to be sure, the play could have
begun (as Prometheus Unbound presumably did) with Prometheus already in his bonds,
and he could have informed us in a prologue of what had just happened to him; but then
we would lose the opening scene, and the play would seem even more static than it
already is. We would also lose the vivid sense of the ruthlessness of Zeus's tyranny
conveyed by the implacability of Kratos and Bia,38 nor would we see how extremely
reluctant Hephaistos is to carry out the punishment of Prometheus' crime even though

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(as Kratos reminds him, 78) he was the victim of it if anyone was. Whether this artistic
decision by the author was a correct one is (p.44) another mattera matter, in the first
instance, for the audience and the competition judges to decide; and we do not know
what their decision was.39 What we can say is that the author's decision is of a piece with
what he does in several other scenes of the play in which he goes close to or beyond the
normal limits of tragic practice for spectacular effectfor example the flying entry of the
chorus, the gratuitous use of the mechane and of a fourlegged bird in the Okeanos
scene, and the swallowing up of Prometheus and his rock at the end of the playand that
whether or not this approach won him success in the competition, it did not win him
imitators.
We may conclude, then, that the clich with which we began can be disassembled into two
conventions. The firstbased on religious considerations, and unbreakablewas that the
audience must not, in any form of drama, witness any act or occurrence which impinged
on a human or animal body so as to be the proximate cause of a death. The second
convention applied only to tragedy; it was based on artistic considerations, [55] and we
find it broken in one production which we know to have been exceptional in other ways. It
was that the audience must not, in tragedy, witness any person inflicting a blow on any
other person. We can safely assume that the tragic dramatists were fully conscious of this
convention, at least by the time of Aeschylus' maturity: Aeschylus, Sophocles, and
Euripides can all be found teasing the audience, as it were, with the possibility that they
might violate it, while being careful not to transgress the limits the convention set. We do
not know who first made it part of the tragic dramatist's style manual, or why. One
obvious possibility to consider initially is that the object was to draw a clear distinction
between tragedy and satyrdrama, especially once they had begun to be produced
together by the same poets as part of the same competition; but this is unlikely in view of
the fact that in satyrdrama too, so far as our evidence goes, the infliction of blows was
normally (p.45) avoided.40 Perhaps at first it was simply taken for granted that
performers in the early, simple tragic and satyric performances would not hit each other
(after all, they certainly would not have done so in the predramatic choral performances
from which these genres originated), and this tacit assumption was only articulated as a
conscious convention when there appeared on the scene the new genre of comedy,
which, like the from which it took its name, had no such inhibitions.41

Addenda
p. 34 n. 13it has been plausibly suggested by Scott Scullion (see Morwood 2007: 219
20) that what the chorus can see is not the pyre itself but the smoke rising from it.
p. 39the speaker whom I, like Diggle (1994), Kovacs (2002), Burian (2007: 2889), and
others, have identified as a slave of Theonoe (or Second Servant or the like), is labelled
. by the sole manuscript, and this attribution to the chorusleader has been defended
by several recent critics (e.g. Dale 1967: 1656; Kannicht 1969: ii. 4224; Taplin 1977: 90;
Allan 2008: 338). This speaker, however, is a person who is in some sense a slave both of
Theoclymenus and of Theonoe (using the word in reference to both: 1627,
1640) and who has at least as close a connection with the latter as with the former (being

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ready to die defying Theoclymenus for Theonoe's sake: 16401); whereas the chorus
have not at any time during the play given any indication that they consider themselves
(p.46) Theonoe's slaves in any sense at all, never speaking of her as their mistress but
always as the young woman or the maiden or the Nereid's daughter or the
prophetess (318, 324, 328, 515, 996). He is perhaps an old family slave (his mask and
hair will have made his age evident) who had once served the virtuous Proteus.
p. 41 n. 34Scullion's thesis is no more satisfactory in the modified form offered by
Heath and Okell (2007), who suggest (p. 364) that the grove in which Ajax's body will be
found, part of the wild, unoccupied territory beyond the camp, is represented by one of
the flanking doors of the skene concealed by appropriately painted scenery. Ajax would
not choose for his suicide a spot within sight of his own hut; that, indeed, would be
inconsistent with his declared intention to go to an untrodden place where he would not
be seen by anyone (Aj. 6579), nor could he have known in advance that Tecmessa and
the chorus, warned by a messenger that he had deceived them, would depart from the
camp in search of him, thus conveniently leaving the area clear for him to return to.
Whether we assume with Scullion that Ajax does not go to the seashore at all, or with
Heath and OKell that he goes there and then comes back to the grove, we would have to
put him down as a fool whose careful plan to deceive his friends and evade their efforts to
save him depended for its success on a flukish coincidence. See also Finglass (2009: 273).
Finglass (forthcoming) notes further, as Lobeck had done in 1835, that Teucer's alarmed
and urgent response to the information that Eurysaces is alone by the hut (Aj. 9859)
would be absurd if the hut were only a few steps away; Scullion's counterargument
as if they did not exist, while
(1994: 1234) effectively elides the words
Heath and OKell seem to elide the preceding word when they say that Eurysaces
is brought to [Teucer] from where he is being kept safe [emphasis mine: AHS] in the
camp (Heath and Okell 2007: 374 n. 36).
Notes:
(*) I am most grateful to Eleanor OKell, and to an anonymous referee for Ordia Prima,
for their comments on earlier version of this chapter.
(1) Aeschylus, to be sure, is said to have been accused of divulging secrets of the
Eleusinian Mysteries in his plays, and this story was well enough established in Aristotle's
time for him apparently to take its truth for granted (EN 1111a810). But even if true, it
of course proves only that, as we would expect, such divulgation was punishablenot
that Aeschylus had actually done what he was accused of. At any rate, if charged, he must
certainly have been acquitted, since if convicted he could hardly have escaped the death
penalty. See Sommerstein (1996a: 256).
(2) Aistophanes sails near the wind of this prohibition in Thesm. 62633, when the
disguised male who has infiltrated the Thesmophoria is tested by being asked questions
about last year's ritualsbut he then quickly snatches away the forbidden fruit: the old
man's answers, though (at first) apparently accurate, reveal only what all male spectators
thought they knew anywaythat if women assemble together in the absence of men,

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their main activity will be drinking. We shall soon be seeing many other examples of this
ploy of threatening to violate a convention and then avoiding the violation, often at the last
moment.
(3) For example, the sending away of Tekmessa at Soph. Ai. 9859, and her silence from
the time she returns (1168) till the end of the play: evidently the returning Tekmessa is
played by a nonspeaking performer, because from 1316 to 1373 three speaking actors
will be on stage playing other parts (Teukros, Agamemnon, Odysseus). On the parallel
rule in comedy (where the limit in Aristophanes' time was four), see MacDowell (1994).
(4) Virtually, because there is at least one close approach; there is good reason to
believe that the great contest in Aristophanes' Frogs (8301478) is imagined as taking
place in the hall of Plouton's palace, with his throne and the Chair of Tragedy visible to
the audience (see Sommerstein 1996 c: 229). This would be done by means of the
ekkyklema.
(5) Olson (1998: 313) was more than justified in rejecting the suggestion of Sommerstein
(1984: 152 n. 36 that the chorus of Aristophanes' Peace begin at 1315 (his 1317) to eat
the food that Trygaios has placed before them; as he points out, the very last words of
the play ( , ) show that the chorus have then still
not begun to eat the they saw roaming about unattended at 1314. They are
presumably just about to do so (perhaps they already have food in their hands) when
they are interrupted by the return of Trygaios.
(6) Cf. Eur. Kykl. 55178; Ar. Knights 10524.
: Athena has just described this
(7) Eur. Tro. 70 '
seizure as an act of hybris against her and her temple, and Poseidon is in full agreement.
(8) Cf. [Aesch.] Prom. passim; Soph. Ant. 939 (Antigone), OT 1522 (Antigone and Ismene),
Phil. 81418, 100354, 13002 (Philoktetes), OC 83147 (Antigone), 87286 (Oedipus),
possibly also (as a referee for Ordia Prima suggests) OT 115266 where the Theban
shepherd may have been subjected to armtwisting or other lowgrade physical pressure
during his interrogation; Eur. Herakleidai 6176 (Iolaos), Andr. 425726 (Andromache),
Hek. 12826 (Polymestor), Tro. 7869 (Astyanax), IT 45669 (Orestes and Pylades), Hel.
1629 (Theoklymenos), Or. 15671672 (Hermione), Ba. 43452 (Dionysos), and above all
Andromeda (frr. 122, 127, 128). See also Fitzpatrick (2003: 255) on Sophocles' Aias
Lokros, where the audience may have seen Aias dragging Kassandra away after seizing
her from Athena's temple. There appear, however, to be no instances in the six
undisputed plays of Aeschylus.
(9) It is almost, but perhaps not quite, true in our evidence that death cannot even occur
during the action of a comedy. The exception, if there is one, appears in Eupolis' Demes
(fr. 99.<112>), where (if Krte's brilliant restoration ' '[ ] is correct)
Aristeides orders a sykophant to be taken away for execution; cf. Sommerstein (2000a:
442, 4489 n. 33).

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(10) More strictly, perhaps, the kicking away of the stool (or equivalent act); it would
presumably not be impossible for a captive, say, to appear on stage with a halter around
her neck.
(11) Garvie (1998: 211), who is for other reasons committed to the view that the suicide
[took] place in full view of the audience (ibid. 203), is forced to suppose that at 891 the
chorusmust be looking in the wrong direction. Since the chorus have been on the
scene, searching for Aias, since 866, they could hardly have failed to see the corpse by
now if it had been visible to the audience, and moreover, on hearing Tekmessa's sudden
cry, they would instinctively have turned towards its source (for they perceive where
the voice is coming from, though not whose it is).
(12) Where exactly this was in the theatrical space, and how and when the body was
brought into the prominent position which it certainly occupies by 1003 at latest, are
difficult questions which fortunately are not germane to the present discussion.
(13) Though in some respects no less difficult in detail (e.g. the chorus can apparently see
Kapaneus' pyre: Supp. 9803, 100911).*
(14) If, when Euadne made her leap, she had found herself falling into a deep pool instead
of onto a pyre, she would probably have survived; it is thus not the leap that kills her, but
the impact and/or the fire.
(15) Alternatively, as suggested by Ewans in Ewans, Ley, and McCart (2000: 169), Apollo
(onstage) may be giving instructions to Artemis (within) to shoot the girl cowering in a
storeroom.
(16) For Philoktetes' arrows, inherited from Herakles, never miss their target (Phil. 105,
198).
(17) Herakles in Prometheus Unbound shot the eagle that was tormenting Prometheus
(Aesch. fr. 200); but this bird will not have been visible to the audience (cf. Winnington
Ingram 1983: 191), any more than were the birds that Ion threatens to shoot in Eur. Ion
15483.
(18) Cf. Ar. Birds 9012 (nothing but beard and horns); Men. Dysk. 438 (it's nearly
dead already), Sam. 399404.
(19) It would not have been possible to represent the animal by a dummy, since a
sacrificial beast had to be led, not carried, to the altar. A fourlegged pantomime animal
seems to have been used for the donkey in Aristophanes' Wasps (for it brays on cue at
179 and 180), but would hardly have been workable for any beast smaller than that.
(20) See Burkert (1972/1983), esp. 38.
(21) Notably in Ar. Lys. 90453 (where Myrrhine says yes, in a minute, or the
equivalent, at least six times to her desperately frustrated husband Kinesias, and then,

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when she has no excuses left for procrastination, runs away) and Thesm. 120110
(where the Scythian archer takes the dancinggirl Elaphion somewhere just offstage, and
returns, highly satisfied, nine lines later).
(22) Whose onstage presentation, even had there not been religious considerations
telling against it, would almost certainly have been judged impracticable.
(23) Herodotos (2.64), noting that apart from the Greeks and Egyptians almost no nation
known to him prohibits sex in sanctuaries, and referring to the plausible argument that
such acts cannot be offensive to the gods since animals and birds freely mate on sacred
sites, feels impelled to add These people [i.e. barbarians other than Egyptians], citing
arguments like this, do what I for my part find distasteful [emphasis mine].
(24) Characters and choreutai may, however, strike themselves; breast and head
beating are sometimes explicitly attested in tragic texts (e.g. Aesch. Pers. 1054; Cho. 30
1, 4238) and may have been common in other passages of lamentation (significantly
called at least as early as Aristotle, Poet. 1452b24); see Foley (1993).
(25) It has often been thought that the line is in fact crossed in the prologue of Euripides'
Herakleidai. The confrontation of the Herald and Iolaos ends with the latter lying
sprawled on the ground (756), and recent editors (Wilkins 1993; Kovacs 1995; Allan
2001) speak of his being knocked down; but ' begone (67) is an odd word to
accompany a blow, and it is more likely that the Herald merely drags or pushes Iolaos
out of his way and the old man stumbles and falls.
(26) There is a somewhat similar confrontation between the chorus (old men again) and
Kreon in Sophocles' Oedipus at Kolonos (83586), when Kreon's men have seized
Antigone and he himself is attempting to seize Oedipus. The chorus seem to crowd
around Kreon (8424, 856), and one can well imagine (though nothing in the text makes it
certain) that they brandish their sticks; but they fail to prevent the seizure (Kreon's last
words in the scene, , ' (883), mark his apparent triumph) and can only
cry out for assistance, which rapidly arrives in the shape of Theseus.
(27) To which, as a slave (1123), he is legitimately liable.
(28) It is possible that some form of physical pressure other than blows was applied to
the old man (see n. 8 above).
(29) can denote either a ruler's sceptre or an old man's walkingstick; Peleus is
in fact still a king (Andr. 223), but during the rescuescene (545765) his age is
mentioned fourteen times and his status as a ruler only once (and that after Menelaos'
departure: 75960). In IA 311 (see below) it is another matter, since Menelaos is not an
old man.
(30) The agon in Euripides rarely achieves anything (Lloyd 1992: 15).
(31) Pretending to be Paris' guardian goddess Aphrodite, she assures him that the

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rumour he has heard, that there are Greek spies in the Trojan camp, is false (661).
(32) Probably only one. Hephaistos, though reluctant to perform his terrible duty,
finishes each task with remarkable speed once he has begun it (e.g. securing
Prometheus' legs, , in the interval between lines 74 and 75); evidently he
works with divine ease, and one hammerstroke therefore ought to be enough for the
wedging. The arm clamps need more than one (cf. 58), but that is because Hephaistos
does not at first put forth his full strength (as Kratos warningly complains).
(33) Aristophanes adapts Prom. 59 and 613 in Knights 759 and 836 respectively (425/4),
and Kratinos' Ploutoi, produced a few years earlier (probably in 429: West 1979 a: 141;
Kassel and Austin 1983: 204, 206), is based to a substantial extent on Prometheus
Unbound (cf. especially Kratinos fr. 171).
(34) Scullion (1994: 10928) argues that there is no change of scene at Aias 814; against
this, see Garvie (1998: 2034).*
(35) See, however, n. 37 below on the problems of striking blows when wearing masks.
(36) In the surviving comedies of Aristophanes there are many threats of violence by the
chorus against individual characters or (less often) vice versa; there is no absolutely
clear case of such a threat being carried out (though water is thrown over the chorus at
Peace 969, and one half of the chorus do likewise to the other half at Lys. 3815), but
Olson (2002: 153) is willing to accept that in Ach. 2803, when the Acharnians break up
Dikaiopolis' phallic procession and put his daughter and slaves to flight, they have let
loose a wild volley of stones (perhaps represented by bits of leather or the like, he
prudently adds), and it is hardly likely that these all missed their targets.
(37) It may be relevant that, as Eleanor OKell points out to me from experience, it is
difficult to place a blow with precision when wearing a mask. In tragedy, a blow that went
wild might produce a ludicrous effect, and one that connected too well (and hurt) risked
breaking the boundary between fiction and reality, which tragedy in general strictly
respects. In comedy, one might argue, the latter would be no great problem, and the
former might actually be an advantage.
(38) Made manifest, we must suppose, by the appearance of both of them, as well as by
the words of the former.
(39) We know that Aeschylus' son Euphorion won four victories with suites of hitherto
unperformed plays which he presented as the work of his father (Suda 3800), and much
the least implausible hypothesis about the authorship of the Prometheus plays is that they
were written by Euphorion as part of such a production (West 1990 b: 6772). We cannot
be sure, however, that Euphorion won first prize every time he used this ploy.
(40) In the satyric corpus of Krumeich, Pechstein, and Seidensticker (1999)plus
Euripides' Kyklops, whose text they do not includethere is no passage or fragment
indicating clearly or even probably that someone is or has been struck, on stage, by
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another person (statements about intentions for the future are not adequate evidence, in
view of the frequency of unrealized threats in all the dramatic genres). The nearest
approach is at Eur. Kykl. 6834, where the blinded Polyphemos hits his head on a rock
(part of the skene wall?) as a result of being misdirected by the chorus.
(41) This chapter was originally published in Ordia Prima 3 (2004) 4156 (the last page
contained only bibliography). I am most grateful to Ediciones del Copista for giving
permission for this republication.

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