On the Colometry of Sophocles’s Oedipus at Colonus

copyright © 2000, Anne Mahoney

Meter is our best clue to the lost music and choreography;  paying attention to the way meters and metrical themes are deployed through a play helps us recover some of the musical character of the original performance.  Moreover, for a proper understanding of Sophocles’s artistic achievement, we must know what was conventional and what was possible in his day, and how he worked with, extended, or transcended the existing rules.  Building on recent textual work on Sophocles, then, I attempt to establish the correct colometry for the lyrics in Oedipus at Colonus and the correct identification and interpretation of the cola.  I discuss the metrical technique of this play in comparison to Sophocles’s other work and to other contemporary dramatic poetry, and I comment on the contribution that our understanding of metrical phenomena makes to our understanding and appreciation of the play as a whole.    The lyrics of OC are composed mostly of cola from a single metrical family, making them simpler than those of other tragedies, including Sophocles’s other surviving plays.  The metrical simplicity of OC may be intended, at least in part, as a response to the complex metrical mixing practiced by Euripides and other poets of the New Music.

The present study provides two new results about OC.  First, I identify an expanded asclepiad, a pherecratean expanded by three choriambs, as a metrical motif that runs through the first half of the play, appearing at significant points in the growing relationship between Oedipus and the chorus (176~192, 510~521, and 695-697 ~ 707-710).  The colon is not to be analyzed as ionic or anapestic, as some scholars argue, but aeolic.  Second is a new conjecture at 1491.  Detailed analysis of Sophocles’s use of dochmiacs indicates that the free responsion of this strophic pair is unusual;  either the text is more corrupt than has heretofore been recognized, or Sophocles was experimenting with free responsion as a metrical technique, as he almost certainly was at 511-513 ~ 523-525.

Abstract of a dissertation submitted to the Department of Classical Studies, Boston University
HTML by Anne Mahoney, mahoa@bu.edu, last modified 4 March 2000