Collins, Derek. 2004. Master of the Game: Competition and Performance in Greek Poetry. Hellenic Studies Series 7. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_CollinsD.Master_of_the_Game.2004.
Part I. Dramatic Representations of Verse Competition
The contest does not wait for men left behind.
As Gross recognizes, stichomythia is conversation between actors, or between actor and coryphaeus, but it is the formalized and formalizing nature of this exchange that is of primary interest.  In what follows, I will not be concerned with the development of stichomythia within Aeschylus or its adaptation and elaboration by later tragedians,  since others have already made substantial contributions here. Rather I want to emphasize the features it shares already in its earlier phases with other forms of Greek verbal contest. Only by considering it in this wider context, instead of viewing it as a device peculiar to drama, may we hope to shed light on why this particular type of exchange is such an important form of tragic dialogue.
Maidenhead, maidenhead, where deserting me have you gone?
οὐκέτι ἤξω πρὸς σέ, οὐκέτι ἤξω.
No longer will Ι come to you, no longer will I come.
Delicate Adonis, Cythera, is dying. What are we to do?
καττύπτεσθε, κόραι. καὶ κατερείκεσθε κίθωνας.
Beat your breasts, maidens, and rend your garments.
How do you mean this? In what way is it an ally?
Δα. κτείνουσα λιμῶι τοὺς ὑπερπόλλους ἄγαν.
By killing through famine an overly large foe.
Χο. ἀλλ᾽ εὐσταλῆ τοι λεκτὸν ἀροῦμεν στόλον.
But we shall raise a well-equipped, select army.
Δα. ἀλλ᾽ οὐδ’ ὁ μείνας νῦν ἐν ῾Ελλάδος τόποις
στρατὸς κυρήσει νοστίμου σωτηρίας.
But not even the army now remaining in Greece
will meet with a safe return.
Χο. πῶς εἶπας; οὐ γὰρ πᾶν στράτευμα βαρβάρων
περᾶι τὸν ῞Ελλης πορθμὸν Εὐρώπης ἄπο;
What do you mean? Isn’t the whole army of
barbarians going to cross the Hellespont from Europe?
The initial pun lies in considering the famine produced in the region of Achaea and the cities of Thessaly as a military ally, since we have already learned that many Persians died there (490-1). By riddling thus, Darius shows that he is aware of what has happened and this gives an oracular coloring to his prediction of defeat at Plataea in the remaining lines. Riddling and oracles go hand in hand here, perhaps more so than elsewhere in Aeschylean stichomythiai because of the necromantic context, even if we concede that Darius’ knowledge of the future is derived primarily from his own experience of the past. 
I raised you, and with you I want to grow old.
Op. πατροκτονοῦσα γὰρ ξυνοικήσεις ἐμοί;
What! You murder my father and you’re going to live with me?
Do you not stand in awe of a parents curse, my child?
Ορ. τεκοῦσα γάρ μ᾽ ἔρριψας εἰς τὸ δυστυχές.
No, because after you gave birth to me you cast me into misfortune.
Hear the end of my many compassionate speeches.
Πε. ἤκουσα, καὶ λέγοις ἄν· οὔ με φεύξεται.
I’m listening, speak; it will not escape me.
Xo. ἔχω στρόφους ζώνας τε, συλλαβὰς πέπλων.
I have girdles, and bands to gather my garments.
Πε. τάχ’ ἄν γυναικῶν ταῦτα συμπρεπῆ πελοι.
Perhaps these are fitting for women.
Xo. ἐκ τῶνδε τοίνυν, ἴσθι, μηχανὴ καλή.
From these here then, know it, I have a lovely contrivance.
Πε. λέξον τίν’ αὐδὴν τήνδε γηρυθεῖσ’ ἔσηι.
Tell what speech you will announce.
Xo. εἰ μή τι πιστὸν τῶιδ’ ὑποστήσηι στόλωι—
If you will not pledge support to our company here—
Πε. τί σοι περαίνει μηχανὴ ξυζωμάτων;
What does this contrivance of girdle bands accomplish for you?
Xo. νέοις πίναξιν βρέτεα κοσμῆσαι τάδε.
To adorn these images with strange votive tablets.
Πε. αἰνιγματῶδες τοὔτος· ἀλλ’ ἁπ<λ>ῶς φράσον.
Your statement is riddling; tell me simply.
Xo. ἐκ τῶνδ’ ὅπως τάχιστ’ ἀπάγξασθαι θεῶν.
To hang ourselves as soon as possible from these (images of the) gods.
Πε. ἤκουσα μαστικτῆρα καρδίας λόγον.
I heard speech that scourges my heart.
Xo. ξυνῆκας· ὠμμάτωσα γάρ σαφέστερον.
You have understood; for I have made it clearer to your mind’s eye.
The first point that we need to make about this entire exchange is that it is not primarily aimed at conveying information,  although information (for characters and audience) does result. As far as information is concerned, all we learn of any import for the plot is that the Danaids here threaten to hang themselves if they are forced to marry. So the question is, why do they need so many lines to make that point, let alone to conceal their intentions from Pelasgus in riddling speech, only finally to compare themselves metaphorically to votive tablets that will hang from the wooden images of the gods? As will be clear from the introduction to this section, I do not think the answer lies in vague notions of formalized tragic discourse, nor need we resort to ritual explanations. Rather, we need to recognize that what is at stake here is the verbal game itself as advanced by the coryphaeus and the care with which it is played in her favor.
Herald of the Achaean host, greetings.
Κη. χαίρω· τεθνᾶναι δ’ οὐκέτ’ ἀντερῶ θεοῖς.
Greetings. I will no longer object to the gods to be dead.
Xo. ἔρως πατρώιας τῆσδε γῆς σ’ έγύμνασεν;
Did love for this fatherland wear you out?
Κη. ὥστ’ ἐνδακρύειν γ’ ὄμμασιν χαρᾶς ὕπο.
So much so that my eyes weep tears for joy.
Xo. τερπνῆς ἄρ’ ἦστε τῆσδ’ ἐπήβολοι νόσου.
You were possessed, then, by this delightful disease.
Κη. πῶς δή; διδαχθεὶς τοῦδε δεσπόσω λόγου.
How so? Only after having learned will I master what you have said.
Xo. τῶν ἀντερώντων ἱμέρωι πεπληγμένοι.
Struck by the desire for those who love in return.
Κη. ποθεῖν ποθοῦντα τήνδε γῆν στρατὸν λέγεις;
You mean that this country longs for the army who longs for it?
Xo. ὡς πόλλ’ ἀμαυρᾶς ἐκ φρενός <μ’> ἀναστένειν.
So that I groaned aloud many times from a dark breast.
Κη. πόθεν τὸ δύσφρον τοῦτ’ ἐπῆν στύγος στρατῶι  ;
Whence came this sorrowful gloom for the host?
Χο. πάλαι τὸ σιγᾶν φάρμακον βλάβης ἔχω.
For a long time I have accounted silence a remedy for harm.
Κη. καὶ πῶς; ἀπόντων κοιράνων ἔτρεις τινάς;
How is that? Were you afraid of certain men when the leaders were away?
Χο. ὡς νῦν, τὸ σὸν δή, καὶ θανεῖν πολλὴ χάρις.
So that now, as you already said, there is much joy even in death.
This is a complex exchange made more difficult by irresolvable textual problems, but nevertheless several main points can be made. Let us first briefly situate this exchange in the context of the play. The watchman (36–39) and chorus (410–28, quoting the prophets) have both already given voice to the ominous state of affairs at the palace, as well as touched upon the need for silence, which the coryphaeus reiterates to Talthybius above (548), as essential for navigating the palace intrigue. However, the implications of the coryphaeus’s riddling insinuations are completely lost on Talthybius; they are aimed, therefore, above all at the audience. This is confirmed by the coryphaeus’s final reference to the χάρις ‘grace’ of death, which darkly resonates with Talthybius’ own lack of resistance to death now that he has returned home (539), to which Talthybius will reply that εὖ γὰρ πέπρακται ‘success has been achieved’ (551).  He then launches into an account of what happened at Troy, which at a later moment the coryphaeus will acknowledge has taught him something, despite the differences in age between him and Talthybius (583–84).
Struck by the desire for those who love in return.
We can see from the underscored portions in the Greek that the coryphaeus has now made the pun explicit, twice over. It is hard to escape the sense that the coryphaeus‘s tone here is mocking or parodic, but nevertheless it is here, at the height of the exchange, that an important point is made. In response to the coryphaeus, Talthybius now tries his own translation of the former’s riddling words, which emerges as a question that picks up the theme of desire: ποθεῖν ποθοῦντα τήνδε γῆν στρατὸν λέγεις; “You mean that this country longs for the army who longs for it? (545).’’ Commentators have noted that the grammar of this line is deliberately ambiguous;  our question, however, is whether that ambiguity is meant only to signal Talthybius’ confused attempt to make sense of what the coryphaeus has been saying, or whether, as I think, the audience is also meant to detect a paradox here. Whose love is the primary motivator: the country’s love for the army, which in turn loves it back, or is it the other way around? In other words, who ultimately is responsible for the present state of affairs, which, we may recall, Talthybius has not yet fully revealed. Yet again the coryphaeus does not answer Talthybius directly; instead he just agrees that the desire for the desirer has made him groan aloud many times (546). At this, Talthybius correctly infers that gloom has settled among the chorus, and so he asks whence the ominous mood developed (547).  But when the coryphaeus now refuses to respond (548), Talthybius asks the question that has overarched this entire exchange: ἀπόντων κοιράνων ἔτρεις τινάς; “Were you afraid of certain men when the leaders were away?” Of course the answer is yes, but the coryphaeus’s answer will be given once again in riddling fashion. Indeed, Talthybius’ own words were more pregnant than he realized when he welcomed death (539), for the coryphaeus now says effectively that death is better than what will transpire in the near future: καὶ θανεῖν πολλὴ χάρις “There is much joy even in death (550).”
I say that you will look upon Agamemnon’s death.
Ko. εὔφημον ὦ τάλαινα κοιμήσον στόμα.
Calm your mouth, poor girl, to a favorable word.
Κα. ἀλλ’ οὔτι Παιὼν τῶιδ’ ἐπιστατεῖ λόγωι.
But no Apollo presides over this speech.
Ko. οὔκ, εἴπερ ἔσται γ’· ἀλλὰ μὴ γένοιτό πως.
No, if it will be; but may it not happen.
Κα. σὺ μὲν κατεύχηι, τοῖς δ᾽ ἀποκτείνειν μέλει.
You may pray, but their concern is to kill.
Ko. τίνος πρὸς ἀνδρὸς τοῦτ’ ἄχος πορσύνεται;
By which man is this pain being contrived?
Κα. ἦ κάρτα <μακ>ρὰν  παρεκόπης χρησμῶν ἐμῶν.
Surely you have lost the track of my prophecies.
Ko. τοῦ γὰρ τελοῦντος οὐ ξυνῆκα μηχανήν.
Yes, because I do not understand the design of the one who will accomplish the deed.
Κα. καὶ μὴν ἄγαν γ’ Ἕλλην᾽ ἐπίσταμαι φάτιυ.
And yet all too well do I understand Hellenic speech.
Ko. καὶ γὰρ τὰ πυθόκραντα, δυσμαθῆ δ’ ὅμως.
As do Pythian oracles also, although they are hard to understand.
I charge you not to commit this violence against the city.
Αν. αὐδῶ σὲ μὴ περισσὰ κηρύσσειν ἐμοί.
I charge you not to proclaim overmuch to me.
Κη. τραχύς γε μέντοι δῆμος ἐκφυγὼν κακά.
Yet harsh is a citizenry that has escaped evils.
Αν. τράχυν’· ἄθαπτος δ’ οὖτος οὐ γενήσεται.
Call them harsh; this man will not be unburied.
Κη. ἀλλ᾽ ὃν πόλις στυγεῖ, σὺ τιμήσεις τάφωι;
But whom the city hates, will you honor him with funeral rites?
Αν. εἰ δὴ  τὰ τοῦδ’ οὐ διατετίμηται θεοῖς.
If in fact he is not finished being honored by the gods.
Κη. οὔ, πρίν γε χώραν τήνδε κινδύνωι βαλεῖν.
No, not until he cast this land into danger.
Αν. παθὼν κακῶς κακοῖσιν ἀντημείβετο.
For suffering evilly he requited with evils.
Κη. ἀλλ’ εἰς ἅπαντας ἀνθ’ ἑνὸς τόδ’ ἔργον ἦν.
But this deed of his was against all instead of one.
Av. Ἔρις περαίνει μῦθον ὑστάτη θεῶν·
ἐγὼ δὲ θάψω τόνδε· μὴ μακρηγόρει.
Eris is the last of the gods to finish an argument.
But I will bury this man; don’t make a long speech.
Κη. ἀλλ’ αὐτόβουλος ἴσθ’· ἀπεννέπω δ᾽ ἐγώ.
Well, be self-willed; but I forbid it.
They have gone, the leaders of the army.
Χο. βεβᾶσιν, oἴ, νώνυμοι.
They have gone, unnamed.
Ξε. ἰή ἰή, ἰώ ἰώ.
Χο. ἰώ ἰώ δαίμονες …
Alas!, gods …
Ξε. πεπλήγμεθ’, οἵαι δι᾽ αἰῶνος τύχαι. 
We are stricken by such fate as lasts forever.
Xo. πεπλήγμεθ’· εὔδηλα γάρ.
We are stricken; that is clear.
Ξε. νέαι νέαι δύαι δύαι.
By fresh woe, fresh woe.
|Αν. παιθεὶς ἔπαισας.
Stricken you struck.
— δορὶ δ’ ἔκανες.
With this spear you killed.
Wretched in deed.
— ἴτωo γόος.
Let forth the lament.
You lie dead.
|Ισ. σὺ δ’ ἔθανες ατακτανών.
Having killed you died.
— δορὶ δ’ ἔθανες.
With this spear you died.
Wretched in suffering.
— ἴτω  δάκρυ.
Let forth the tears.
The closely worded parallelisms in this exchange produce antitheses of style and thought, which are some of the most common features of antiphonal lament in tragedy.  This recalls the wordplay in stichomythia, especially when similar or identical expressions are used to contrast meaning. Yet rather than insist with Gross  that lament (and beyond that, music generally) is the basis for stichomythia—not because the suggestion is implausible, but because it is unprovable—instead we should recognize that stichomythia, lament, and, as will be seen, rhapsodic and sympotic performance techniques have a good deal in common. Indeed, I would venture to suggest that lament, especially antiphonal lament, owes something to competition for the development of its formal parallelisms and contrasts. As Margaret Alexiou has demonstrated in detail, antiphonal lament, whether performed by the next of kin or by non-kinsmen, can take the explicit form of an improvised competition.  While we are here dealing with lament in tragedy, the improvisational background to early Greek lament suggests strongly that we are to view tragic laments as spontaneous and lyrical outpourings of grief, while nevertheless maintaining a traditional form. The formal parallelisms of expression in tragic lament suggest, then, that the second singer (the chorus in the example from the Persians, and Ismene in the example from the Seven given above) models his/her response on that of the first, not to mock, parody, or riddle as in some stichomythiai and other competitive poetic genres, but to heighten the emotional effect of sadness for the loss of the loved one. This can take some interesting forms. For example, in the passage from the Seven above, because it is not clear whether each of the sisters is addressing her lament to one of the dead brothers or to both, doublings such as δορὶ δ’ ἔκανες “With this spear you killed”/δορι δ’ ἔθανες “With this spear you died,” μελεοπόνος “Wretched in deed’’/μελεοπαθής “Wretched in suffering,” ἴτω γόος “Let forth the lament”/ἴτω δάκρυ “Let forth the tears,” have the effect of progressively implying that Polyneices and Eteocles are more alike than different. Both have killed and died by the spear, both have suffered wretchedly, for which lament and tears together are appropriate. And when we reach 965, πρόκεισαι “You lie dead’’/κατακτάς “Having killed,” the brothers have merged into one “sibling” who lies dead before them. This convergence is achieved on both an emotional and a syntactic level: once again we have a participial linkage (κατακτάς) by the second singer to the first, exactly as we have seen in hypotactic stichomythiai. Whereas Aeschylean stichomythiai often aim toward producing divergences of thought and stance for its speakers, antiphonal lament in Aeschylean tragedy, unconcerned as it is with the revelation of information, can work in the reverse direction to intone a more generalized grief. But its connective techniques, whether through parallelism of expression or participles, and its improvisational background belong to a widespread and more commonly held tradition of Greek competitive performance.
Is the bow-drawing arrow distinguished in their hands?
Χο. οὐδαμῶς· ἔγχη σταδαῖα καὶ φεράσπιδες σαγαί.
Not at all; spears for close combat and shield-bearing armor.
Ατ. τίς δὲ ποιμάνωρ ἔπεστι κἀπιδεσπόζει στρατῶι;
Who is their lord and commands the army?
Χο. οὔτινος δοῦλοι κέκληνται φωτὸς οὐδ᾽ ὑπήκοοι.
Of no man are they called the slaves or subjects.
Ατ. πῶς ἂν οὖν μένοιεν ἄνδρας πολεμίους ἐπήλυδας;
How then could they withstand an attack of invading enemies?
Χο. ὥστε Δαρείου πολύν τε καὶ καλὸν φθεῖραι στρατόν.
So as to have destroyed the great and noble host of Darius.
You speak of terrible things, indeed, for the parents of those gone away to consider.
ἔπος δ’ ἀμείβου πρὸς ἔπος ἐν μέρει τιθείς.
τὴν μητέρ’ εἰπὲ πρῶτον εἰ κατέκτονας.
Although we are many, we shall speak concisely.
Answer us verse for verse by taking turns.
Tell us, first, if you killed your mother.
I killed her; there is no denial of this.
Χo. ἓν μὲν τόδ’ ἤδη τῶν τριῶν παλαισμάτων.
This is already one of the three (wrestling) falls.
Oρ. οὐ κειμένωι πω τόνδε κομπάζεις λόγον.
You make this boast to a man not yet lying down.