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Meter and Voice in Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus

Abigail Akavia

University of Chicago

This paper concerns the parodos of Sophocles’ “Oedipus at Colonus”. It argues that the metrical aspects of the song contribute to the overall meaning of the dramatic interaction. On these grounds, the paper defends the non-corresponding form of the transmitted text.

Since Hermann’s 1824 edition, most scholars assume a lacuna and suggest emendations to restore exact responsion between the second strophe and antistrophe of the song (see Lloyd-Jones and Wilson 1990a, 1990b). A few have argued that the transmitted text is sound, and that instead of corresponding strophes we should think of “two parts that have much in common” (Kamerbeek; cf. Wilamowitz-Moellendorff). While such a non-corresponding lyric structure would be rare in tragedy (less so in comedy), the present paper offers some additional considerations to support the transmitted text, arguing that the lack of exact responsion can be understood as dramatically purposeful. The formal difference between the two parts of the song enhances the emotionally charged interaction between Oedipus, Antigone and the chorus, and highlights Oedipus’ idiosyncratic use of his voice. In particular, Oedipus’ exclamations draw attention to his body as the object of Antigone’s care, thus projecting on the chorus a demand for empathy. This deviation from the metrical pattern is a response to the chorus’ mention of ἄφιλον, a description that fits the outcast, defiled Oedipus all too well. The threat that the chorus will reject Oedipus once they learn his identity and recognize that he actually is ἄφιλος, is preemptively met by turning the focus to the physical and vocal aspects of his presence. This focus comes about in and through the metrically unexpected lines of the (so called) antistrophe.

The paper traces two related developments in the song. First is the chorus’ gradually changing reaction to the trespassing Oedipus: their initial suspicion becomes dread when they first see his body; then, his equally apparent infirmity and nobility prompt an attitude of respect and avowed reciprocity, which finally gives way to open and vigorous hostility once his identity is revealed. Their use of the term ἄφιλον, I suggest, is an important pivot in the transition from civility to enmity, for it recalls that the cultural terms which condition the chorus’ tolerance towards Oedipus in fact entail his exclusion. The second development concerns the way Oedipus’ body and voice affect his surroundings, with special attention turned to the metrical aspect of Oedipus’ participation in the parodos. It has been noted that in both chanted and sung sections Oedipus and Antigone respond in meters similar to those used by the chorus (Scott; Dhuga). The present paper puts even more weight on meter as a dramatically significant element of the song, taking the metrical patterns as signifiers in the broader phenomenon of Oedipus’ vocal authority. The parodos makes clear that, while his blindness renders Oedipus physically dependent on Antigone, he has a remarkable command of the space and of the people around him. From the moment he introduces himself, Oedipus’ physical attributes, including his voice, push the boundaries of normal social interaction as well as those of conventional stage action and discourse (as Edmunds observes, he inhabits a “negative space”). His compatibility with the chorus’ meters betrays an ability to influence the people with whom he shares the stage, and an attempt to arouse their empathy. The non-corresponding lines of the parodos highlight Oedipus’ limit-pushing voice as his exclamations cut through Antigone’s speech and disturb the seeming responsion. Seen in terms of the metrical and emotional dynamic dramatized in the parodos, I suggest Oedipus deliberately responds to ἄφιλον, thus attempting to exert his influence and avert the chorus’ imminent hostility.

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Rhythm and Style

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