Part I. Dramatic Representations of Verse Competition

Part I. Dramatic Representations of Verse Competition

ἀγὼν γὰρ ἄνδρας οὐ μένει λελειμμένους

The contest does not wait for men left behind.

Aeschylus, fr. 37 TGF

1. Stichomythia

Our point of departure will be to survey a variety of competitive verse sequences that are represented in tragedy and Old Comedy, starting with the phenomenon of stichomythia. In stichomythia the “internal” and “external” frames of reference are especially clear. One of the main characteristics of capping in Greek competitive performance is responsion and development of theme, sometimes through improvisation, as set by one speaker and then continued by another. There is also a close correspondence between stichomythia and Greek riddling traditions. In tragedy, Old Comedy, and satyr play, responsion and riddling emerge unmistakably in stichomythic exchanges. This means that stichomythia ought to be analyzable as a form of capping. In any case, it is now possible to contextualize stichomythia more broadly in Greek tradition than has been done in previous scholarship.
Significantly, of course, in drama we are concerned with memorized texts rather than actual improvisation, unlike, as we shall see, the case of skolia and poetic riddling in the symposium. But to what extent can we rule out the representation of improvisation in dramatic stichomythiai? If such an attempt at representation is there, this would provide valuable insight into the kinds of skills demanded by spontaneous poetic performance in other contexts—notably those of the most educated circles. [1] As we examine a sampling of stichomythic patterns and tendencies, beginning with Aeschylus, [2] I would also like to consider the extent to which aspects of live, competitive verse performances (such as those of symposiasts or rhapsodes, discussed in Parts II and III respectively) were incorporated into early tragedy. At the same time, I propose to view stichomythia as a formalized dramatic device that corresponds with other types of responsive song performances—especially antiphonal lament and sympotic skolia—except that it is distinguished by iambics and trochaic tetrameters.
The only definition of stichomythia to survive from antiquity comes from Pollux, which many experts since Adolf Gross have considered inadequate. This judgment is in part because Pollux limited his definition to the line-by-line recitation of iambics: [3] στιχομυθεῖν δὲ ἔλεγον τὸ παρ’ ἓν ἰαμβεῖον ἀντιλέγειν, καὶ τὸ πρᾶγμα στιχομυθία “They called stichomythein replying in one iambic verse after another. They also called the practice stichomythia.” It is also unclear whether Pollux intended the verb ἀντιλέγειν to mean ‘reply’ or something stronger such as ‘counterclaim’. In any case, the verb does not cover the emotional range of stichomythiai, which vary from neutral to highly charged and antagonistic exchanges.
Gross [4] offered a more encompassing and descriptive definition that is sufficient for our purposes:

… eine Stichomythie sei vorhanden, wenn beide Personen, die sich unterhalten, entweder immer je einen Vers sprechen oder immer zwei Verse, was man auch Distichomythie nennen kann, oder immer nur Halbverse, was man … antilabae nennt.
… Stichomythia exists when two characters who are talking either always speak one verse or two, which is also called distichomythia, or only a hemistich, which is called antilabae.

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. [5] In what follows, I will not be concerned with the development of stichomythia within Aeschylus or its adaptation and elaboration by later tragedians, [6] 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.

As recently as 1985, John Herington wrote in Poetry into Drama that we still did not know the origins of stichomythia. [7] Like many other features of tragedy, stichomythia seems already in the plays of Aeschylus to serve a variety of specific dramatic functions. Most experts agree that stichomythia in Aeschylus can be usefully distinguished by dramatic function, and can thus be subdivided into question and answer, argument, persuasion, prayer, and otherwise simple dialogue, with the proviso that pure examples of these are rarer than mixed ones. [8] Others have rightly emphasized the agonistic element in stichomythic exchanges, although remaining careful not to claim that every such exchange displays antagonism. [9] The importance of stichomythia as an exploratory medium for dialogue for Aeschylus, [10] Sophocles, [11] and Euripides [12] has been emphasized in the most recent scholarship, while the effort to discover its origins in the wake of Gross has been discounted as unproductive. [13]
Modern scholarship on stichomythia owes its largest debt to the work of Gross, who after a detailed treatment hypothesized that its origins lay in choral lyrics, and more specifically in the κομμός ‘antiphonal lament’. [14] Although this argument is far from conclusive, in my view Gross’s insight that there are correspondences between these forms has yet to be exhausted. [15] Indeed, one important correspondence cited by Gross [16] but not discussed by him in any detail can be found in two stichomythic fragments of Sappho that follow the pattern of question and answer stichomythia. In fr. 114 L-P we find (with daggers omitted):

παρθενία, παρθενία, ποῖ με λίποισα οἴχηι:
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.

Because the context of these verses is unknown, as is whether they are choral or monodic, there is no point in speculating about whether a chorus of παρθένοι is addressing themselves or a bride. Yet the format strongly suggests an Aeolic lyric tradition of stichic responsion in the archaic period. Lyric responsion in the context of lament, again in a stichic question and answer format, is also attested in Sappho fr. 140a L-P, which is the earliest mention of the Adonis cult:

κατθναίσκει. Κυθέρη᾽, ἄβρος Ἄδωνις· τί κε θεῖμεν;
Delicate Adonis, Cythera, is dying. What are we to do?

καττύπτεσθε, κόραι. καὶ κατερείκεσθε κίθωνας.
Beat your breasts, maidens, and rend your garments.

It has been plausibly conjectured that these lines probably formed part of an antiphonal lament sung between Aphrodite and the nymphs. [17] This identification, if true, would make the lines comparable to the tragic κομμός ‘antiphonal lament’, were we to look for a parallel in Athenian drama. Two of the many characteristic features of antiphonal lament in tragedy are assonance and alliteration. These add effect to the responsion, though at a level different from end-rhyme, gemination, and other echoes characteristic of lament. They serve among other things to emphasize the intense grief the mourners are unable to express in words. [18] Assonance and alliteration can both be observed in the repetition of κ in fr. 140a L-P above. Also, according to Hephaestion these lines illustrate a pure example of an antispastic (⏑ – – ⏑) tetrameter with catalexis. [19] Equally interesting is that κ occurs on the first syllable of the first and fourth metron of the first line, and on the first syllable of the first, second, and fourth metron as well as elsewhere in the second line. This suggests that the responsion is intensified at a rhythmical and acoustic level in the second verse (in this respect note also the repetition of Θ). Perhaps the actions of beating the breasts and rending the garments were meant to be figured in the repetition of κ. In any case, for Gross these lines merely attest a form of lyric responsion that closely approximates stichomythia, granted his thesis that stichomythia derives from choral lyrics. But however tempting this parallelism is, we ought not to limit its evidential value to this correspondence alone. Stichomythiai, as in the Sapphic fragments above, share many features with other types of Greek poetic gaming that we will examine. Thus the Sapphic fragments add to our evidence for a widespread poetic phenomenon extending to Asia Minor that employs the basic principle of stichic responsion. But they need not in themselves suggest an origin for later dramatic forms such as stichomythia.
One observation about tragic stichomythia, especially in Aeschylus, that has not been explored in great detail was suggested in passing by George Thomson. He drew attention to its, at times, overtly riddling nature. [20] Thomson’s interest in riddles as vestigial evidence of earlier mystical initiation ceremonies will justifiably strike readers today as unfounded and typical of the nineteenth-century Cambridge School’s search for ritual origins. [21] Although Thomson has not been the only one to argue for the ritual origins of stichomythia, [22] I do think his observation deserves reconsideration for other reasons. Riddles, particularly the subspecies that deals with logical questions, that are asked and answered in (hexameter) verse form can reasonably be dated to the seventh century BCE, as the famous contest of Calchas and Mopsus reminds us. [23] The question and answer stichomythiai alone seem strongly reminiscent of this much earlier tradition, except that stichomythia is not limited to question and answer, and it also embraces a wider array of punning and verbal repetition. As we shall see, riddles, riddling utterances, and punning in general are also typical features of the kinds of verse exchange that we find in the performance of poetry at the symposium, and they are plausible as features of some rhapsodic performances, especially if the Certamen can be taken as fourth-century evidence for rhapsodic skills (on which see Part III). When we combine these details with the obvious interest in verbal responsion and syntactic symmetry in Aeschylean stichomythia, we see that stichomythia shares important characteristics with the poetry games that will be outlined for several other types of professional and non-professional performer alike, including prophet, rhapsode, and symposiast. Stichomythia’s strict adherence to metrical form, tendency to condensation and closure of thought, as well as subtle use of particles and verbal parallelism, point toward these other common performance types. Having said that, it would not be prudent to locate the origins of stichomythia in contests among prophets or the symposium; rather, it is important to recognize that all of these early forms of verse contest share similar features, while the origins of any of them may lie elsewhere.
Moreover, we cannot forget that stichomythia is a re-presentation/representation of dialogue—hence it purports to render an “actual” exchange of speech within the timeframe of the drama. Thus stichomythia, I propose, is fundamentally a verse capping game that has been transposed to dialogue, which in turn allows it to be subordinated to a variety of different dramatic purposes. But unlike most of the scholarship on stichomythia, which tends to be schematic and comparatively oriented, I intend to make my case by closely elucidating given exchanges rather than shorter excerpts alone, with detailed attention to the nuances achieved. Only in this way can we illustrate the extraordinarily delicate verbal artistry at work. Before we draw any further conclusions, however, let us turn our attention to a series of stichomythic exchanges that best illustrates its riddling nature, among other features of interest.
A productive place to start is the brief exchange between the ghost of Darius and the coryphaeus from the chorus of elders in the Persians. [24] An earlier question and answer stichomythic exchange has already preceded the one in which we are interested, and the ghost of Darius has learned from Atossa the disastrous fate of Xerxes’ army (715-38). There Darius had contextualized Xerxes’ failed military adventures in terms of unspecified and previously unmentioned oracles, which he had prayed would not yet be fulfilled (739-41). [25] The following encounter is all the more significant because it, along with the more complete expression of Darius’ knowledge of events that follows it (800-31), surpasses what he seemed to have known earlier when he was first invoked. Its oracular quality is thus marked. The exchange proper, which moves from stichomythia to distichomythia (793-99), begins after Darius has stated that, for the Athenians, “the land itself is their ally” (αὐτὴ γὰρ ἡ γῆ ξύμμαχος κείνος πέλει, 792):

Χο. πῶς τοῦτ᾽ ἔλεξας; τίνι τρόπωι δὲ συμμαχεῖ;
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. [26]

We shall examine more elaborate stichomythic riddling and punning in a moment, but I would like to draw attention to the hypotactic [27] linking of Darius’ first line in the exchange above through the participle, κτείνουσα ‘by killing’ (794). Successive linking of stichomythic lines with participles is common in Aeschylus, [28] and along with other linking words (e.g. ώστε or ώς to produce clauses of result or purpose), they represent the most “intimate” [29] form of clausal subordination in his stichomythiai. What makes them stand out in particular is that they allow for compelling closures of thought, especially when one speaker wishes to thwart the intention of the previous speakers line. Two excellent examples of this kind can be found in Aeschylus’ Choephoroe in the heated and final exchange between Orestes and Clytaemnestra, before he murders her. In this first pairing (908-9):

Κλ. ἐγώ σ᾽ ἔθρεψα, ξὺν δὲ γηράναι θέλω.
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?

The participle that begins Orestes’ questioning response offers a fluid disjunction from Clytaemnestra’s proffer of good will. At least until Orestes’ incredulous γάρ, [30] which casts doubt on Clytaemnestra’s words, the participle potentially allows for numerous possibilities of force—concessive, temporal, causal, and so forth—until it is shaped by the remainder of Orestes’ line. A similar disjunction occurs in their exchange two lines later, this time with a deliberate repetition of word forms:

Κλ. οὐδὲν σεβίζηι γενεθλίους ἀράς, τέκνον;
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.

Orestes’ participle echoes his mother’s term of affection, and again opens up different possibilities of interpretation until he utters γάρ, contradicting her thought with reference to the misery into which her childbearing has cast him. We may rightly detect a punning or riddling dimension to this kind of participial linkage, yet to be shaped by a succeeding conjunction. A similar pattern can also be seen in Darius’ κτείνουσα ‘by killing’ (794, above), which offers one more puzzlement (the land kills, but how so?) until λιμῶι ‘through famine’ provides the exact sense in which the land ought to be construed as an ally.
It is significant for our purposes that we will observe exactly this kind of participle usage in the context of rhapsodic exchange. As we shall see in Part III, participial linkage is a regular feature of hexameter enjambement. We shall also have occasion there to explore the stylized rhapsodic games, for example in the Certamen, that specifically depend upon a performer’s ability to enjamb an hexameter with a participle that continues, but sometimes radically shifts, the thread of meaning in a preceding line. To find that Aeschylean stichomythiai exhibit the same kind of clever usage of “enjambing” participles offers significant evidence, in my view, that techniques involved in rhapsodic performance (as perhaps in the earlier composition and performance of epic) were incorporated into the structure of tragedy. Other types of stichomythic “enjambement” point in the same direction: for example, the use of infinitives (Choephoroe 528) or particles such as ὥστε and ὡς to produce clauses of result or purpose (cf. both at Agamemnon 541 [ὥστε] and 546, 550 [ὡς]) is a well known enjambement technique used in epic hexameter. [31] Now this is not to say that stichomythia owes its form to rhapsodic performance, since both tragedy and rhapsodic performance as state-sponsored (Peisistratid) entities begin to come into view in the mid to late sixth century BCE, and their early connections are not clear. But the parallelisms in enjambement are too close to be accidental.
Significantly, at least one expert has argued that rhapsodic performances directly prefigured the creation of speaking parts in tragedy. [32] In the words of Gerald Else, “Thespis’ creative act consisted in substituting an epic character speaking verses for a rhapsode reciting verses” (emphasis in original). [33] Defense of this view would take us beyond my present scope, and in any case Else does not directly address stichomythia. Nevertheless, from the evidence presented above, I argue that there is a connection between the highly stylized form of tragic dialogue found in stichomythia and the types of enjambement involved in competitive rhapsodic recitation—and if Else is right, the connection was hereditary. On the other hand, this enjambement technique is not limited to rhapsodic and stichomythic exchange. Participial linking is also shared by the related performance genre of antiphonal lament. Moreover, the punning and riddling in stichomythiai also suggest connections with other traditions that ought not to be left out of account.
A considerably more developed usage of riddling and punning takes place in the Supplices, in an exchange between the coryphaeus and the Argive king Pelasgus, in which we gradually learn of the Danaids’ intention to hang themselves should they be forced to marry the sons of Aegyptus. In the translations given below, I do not aim to do justice to the subtleties of wording and repetition in each exchange, some of which I have underlined, which are clearer in the Greek (455-67):

Xo. πολλῶν ἄκουσον τέρματ’ αἰδοίων λόγων.
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, [34] 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.

In Pelasgus’ speech immediately prior to this stichomythic exchange (438–454), he has already expressed his doubts about the outcome of defending the Danaids and the probable result of bloodshed. Thus he begins the stichomythia with serious reservations about the reasonableness of hosting, and having the citizens of Argos host, the maidens as suppliants. This is all rather straightforward, but I believe that already in Pelasgus’ first stichomythic line (456), in which he urges the coryphaeus to speak and claims that her point will not escape him, he effectively issues a challenge whereby he will need to be convinced to change his opinion of the situation. The stichomythia proceeds paratactically [35] with the coryphaeus’s response to him (457), and the contest becomes gendered and riddling in the sense that reference is made to the bands that the women use for their girdles, to which Pelasgus responds with some indifference (458). He knows that such bands pertain to women, but knows not how they could be relevant to the situation. It is important at this moment to grasp how the riddle unfolds on two levels: on one, the reference to bands concerns women’s clothing, of which no man would be expected to have intimate knowledge; simultaneously, however, these bands will serve as a ‘lovely contrivance’ (μηχανὴ καλή, 459)—a translation that does not do justice to the sarcasm here—yet to be revealed, which now raises the stakes for Pelasgus to discern what exactly the chorus means (460). To the first of his two requests for the coryphaeus to speak clearly (460), she responds with a protasis (461) giving the condition that Pelasgus will not support the suppliants, but which is only answered after a dismissive interruption by Pelasgus to the coryphaeus᾽s μηχανή (462). [36] In response and ridicule, I think, to Pelasgus’ question the coryphaeus answers with a metaphorical and riddling image: the suppliants’ bands will be used to adorn the statues of the gods in the sanctuary with new votive tablets (463). What had begun as a gendered riddle where Pelasgus could not be expected to know or care about women’s girdle bands, now shifts to the field of cult practice, about which he would be expected to know, since votive tablets are routinely dedicated to the gods’ statues. And yet because Pelasgus is further confounded, he now openly refers to the chorus’s speech as enigmatic (464) and requests once again that they speak clearly. With a precise verbal repetition that again refers to the bands (ἐκ τῶνδε, 459 and 465), the chorus now explains that they will hang themselves from the gods as ornaments—that they will be the votive tablets hung in ritual dedication around the gods’ images (465). [37] Pelasgus says for the second time that he hears the coryphaeus (ἤκουσα, 456 and 466), but now the inflection is different and the image in his own mind of the chorus’s intention pains him grievously. At this, the coryphaeus triumphantly declares in a striking metaphorical image that she has given Pelasgus eyes (ὀμματόω, 467) for him to discern her meaning more clearly, which alludes to the ‘keen eye’ (δεδορκὸς ὄμμα) that Pelasgus had earlier stated was needed in his deliberation over the suppliants’ plight (409). Pelasgus has now been moved by the coryphaeus to the point of action on behalf of the suppliants. His action means that from the standpoint of this stichomythia as contest, the coryphaeus has won.
What is evident in the coryphaeus’s point by point responses, however, and which speaks to our broader interest in stichomythia as a game, is that she conceals and reveals herself at the same time. Each hint that she drops draws Pelasgus (and presumably Aeschylus’ audience) in further to know her ultimate intention, but at the same time through line 464 he becomes progressively more confounded. The subtlety of suggestion here, however, is not peculiar to tragic dialogue. The type of verse exchange that we find in the skolion game (on which see Part II) can achieve a similar degree of subtlety and provocation, especially because of the riddling nature of some of its images (cf. PMG 893, 895, 900, 901, 904), which can admit of double entendres and multi-level meanings. In the context of the symposium, the aim is to use traditional or improvised verses to insinuate and simultaneously to draw out another symposiast’s intentions, though perhaps not always directly, and admittedly at least one of these aims is entertainment. Here, by contrast, it is Pelasgus who draws out the true and grave intention of the coryphaeus through his requests for her to speak more clearly, but it would perhaps be more correct to say that it is the coryphaeus who uses metaphor and image (as well as Pelasgus’ progressively less confident responses) to reveal her own intentions. Of course “outside” this immediate encounter, as befits the demands of drama, the audience too has learned the fate that awaits the Danaids in case of Pelasgus’ refusal to help them.
Another instance in which the dramatic interest in revealing information relevant to the plot subtends a riddling and extended stichomythic exchange appears in the Agamemnon. After the entry and first speech of Agamemnon’s herald, Talthybius, the elder coryphaeus engages with him in an exchange which ought, at first glance, to be congratulatory or at least welcoming (538–50):

Xo. κήρυξ ’Αχαιῶν χαῖρε τῶν ἀπὸ στρατοῦ.
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 [38] ;
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). [39] 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).

But that comes later. The heart of this largely hypotactic stichomythic exchange is devoted to testing, challenging, and provoking Talthybius, sometimes through riddling verbal repetition that borders on parody. [40] It begins with Talthybius’ declaration that he will no longer object (ἀντερῶ) to the gods to be dead. The suggestion of ἔρως ‘love’ in ἀντερῶ is picked up immediately by the coryphaeus, who responds by asking whether ἔρως for his homeland has worn him down, literally stripped him bare. But the pun lies in interpreting Talthybius’ statement, οὐκέτ’ ἀντερῶ θεοῖς (539) to mean “I no longer love the gods in return (ἀντεράω).” This allows the coryphaeus to begin exploring the twin themes of disaster, as he thinks, at Troy, and the impending disaster at home that has been prophesied. It is as if this remark of Talthybius, with its inadvertent meaning, were taken by the coryphaeus as a sign of the loss of divine favor. As Talthybius caps (note ὥστε, a connective device that Aeschylus uses elsewhere in stichomythia [41] ) the coryphaeus’s question with a reference to crying from joy (541), the coryphaeus now refers to love and joy as a ‘delightful disease’ (τερπνὴ νόσος, 542), which leaves Talthybius thoroughly confounded (hence his question at 543). Again, we see that as in Pelasgus’ requests for clarification from the coryphaeus of the Danaids (Supplices 460, 464), the riddling here allows for two levels of signification to take place: one is concerned with the immediate exchange and the coryphaeus’s doubts that Talthybius’ joy is warranted, while the other draws in the audience as it points forward (and backward, given the prophecies) to the disaster yet to unfold.
Although the coryphaeus’s pun on ἀντερῶ ‘to object’ ~ ἀντεράω ‘to love in return’ was lost on Talthybius at 540, he returns to it in 544, delivering a masterstroke. In response to Talthybius’ question for clarification about why joy is a disease (543), the coryphaeus now answers with (544):

τῶν ἀντερώντων ἱμέρωι πεπληγμένοι
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; [42] 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). [43] 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).”

As in the stichomythic exchange from the Supplices earlier, we have once again an exchange that incorporates sophisticated verbal responsion by the coryphaeus, mocking in tone, which is aimed not at eliciting information so much as suggestively hinting at other programs and agenda not readily apparent to Talthybius. Information is inadvertently revealed, of course: at the least, the audience is clued in once again to the chorus’s sense of impending doom while Talthybius’ uplifted mood has been decisively questioned. But the revelation of information cannot be the primary aim of this exchange, if only because the chorus has already made its apprehensions about the palace activities quite clear (410–28). Indeed, immediately following the exchange Talthybius clarifies exactly what happened at Troy and justifies his initial expression of joy in a straightforward description (551–79, and note esp. 580–82). What the coryphaeus has done through stichomythia, however, is to strip Talthybius of his excessive confidence and to forecast for the audience once again that individuals within the palace are still to be feared.
Aeschylus most explicitly and directly converges the riddling dimension of stichomythiai with prophecy in another scene from the Agamemnon, in exchanges between the prophetess Cassandra and the coryphaeus. [44] Here the stichomythiai combine riddling, question and answer, as well as prophecy in a series of exchanges designed to discover the origins of Cassandra’s gift of prophecy and present state (1203–13), the meaning of her prophecy of Agamemnon’s death (1246–35), and the inescapability of her own prophesied death (1299–1312). The riddling dimension of Cassandra’s responses, however, are almost self-consciously manipulated by her, as in the following example (1246–55):

Κα. Ἀγαμέμνονός σέ φημ’ ἐπόψεσθαι μόρον.
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 [45] 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.

In earlier plays Aeschylus used riddling expressions and puns to explore the progressive revelation of information pertinent to a character’s future situation, at times unbeknownst to the character (e.g. Talthybius). Such expressions served as details of the plot for the audience. Here, however, the riddling is conscious and almost formal. We expect Cassandra to speak in riddles because she is prophetic, and earlier she herself had already called attention to this quality of her speech by telling the chorus that she would “no longer inform them of future events through riddles” (φρενώσω δ’ οὐκέτ᾽ ἐξ αἰνιγμάτων 1183). The tendency toward condensation of thought in Aeschylean stichomythiai practically makes riddling irresistible, if riddling was not already an inherent feature of this form of exchange. But my aim here is not to critique Aeschylean style. Rather, I want to establish that stichomythiai, like sympotic skolia and other verse riddling games, are always working on at least two (and sometimes more) levels: one for the characters in their immediate situation and one for the audience. Nor do these layers of meaning ever have to converge, because at times the characters themselves are not fully aware of the implications of what they are saying. The more the riddling by one party seems to escape the understanding of another (such as Pelasgus, Talthybius, or the coryphaeus above), the more it keys the audience into the larger implications of the exchange.
Aeschylus can explore close verbal responsion in stichomythic exchanges in a manner that does not produce mockery or parody so much as the effort deliberately to transform or appropriate meaning through repetition. For example, consider the following paratactic exchange between Antigone and the herald in the Seven Against Thebes. The herald has announced the decree debarring the burial of Polyneices after which Antigone threatens to bury him anyway (1028). The clash of wills is reflected in their language (1042–53):

Κη. αὐδῶ πόλιν σε μὴ βιάζεσθαι τάδε.
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 [46] 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.

Attention has been drawn to this entire exchange for the rarity of its verbal parallelism, [47] as well as for the singular instance in which the same word (αὐδῶ ‘I charge’) is used by an interlocutor at the same point in the line. [48] By now the general drift of how stichomythia operates should be evident, and we need not cover this exchange point by point. Here I want only to highlight how the verbal responsion allows for Antigone repeatedly to appropriate, transform, or mock at the officiousness of the herald, while at times, the herald can also mock at Antigone in return. It begins with her declaration (αὐδῶ ‘I charge’, 1043) that she will not tolerate the herald’s proclamations, but her repetition of the term (begun at 1042) strips the herald’s words of their force—if he can declare things, so can she. To this the herald replies by reminding Antigone that a city freshly saved from disaster can be especially ‘harsh’ (τραχύς) in the face of new violations. Despite problems with the intransitive usage of τραχύνω ‘to be harsh’ in Antigone’s reply, [49] the effect achieved must have been similar to the preceding lines. “If the people are harsh, then so be it” seems to be what Antigone means at 1043, although we must also allow that the original sense may be lost.
In any case, from here we proceed to a looser set of responsions. When the herald questions whether Antigone will honor (τιμήσεις, 1046) Polyneices with funeral rites, she declares that he is not finished being honored (διατετίμηται, 1047). Nor is the herald’s reply lacking in wit, because his answer, οὔ, πρίν γε χώραν τήνδε κινδύνωι βαλεῖν “No, not until he cast this land into danger (1048),” [50] deliberately forces a different construction on the verb δια-τιμάω. Instead of the verb meaning ‘to finish honoring’, as for example with funeral rites, the herald implies that Polyneices was ‘punished’ by the gods with death for betraying the polis. Polyneices was not “honored” (with death) by the gods “until he cast this land into danger.” [51] Thus the ambiguity of meaning in τιμάω ‘I honor/pay a price’ can serve the mutually exclusive aims of the herald and Antigone. Antigone grasps the ambiguity, because in her reply she adds another one: Polyneices, she says, παθὼν κακῶς κακοῖσιν ἀντημείβετο “For suffering evilly he requited with evils (1049).” One who suffers evils repays with evil, but in this reply we must also not miss the reference through the verb ἀνταμείβεσθαι ‘to requite/reply’ to the present exchange between the herald and Antigone. She confirms that both of them are involved in an exchange that will equally extend itself in time in a tit-for-tat manner, [52] which leads her to conclude in Hesiodic fashion that Ἔρις περαίνει μῦθον ὑστάτη θεῶν “Eris is the last of the gods to finish an argument.” This is most certainly a recollection of Works and Days 24–26, except that now Aeschylus seems to be saying through Antigone that this is not a good Eris since there is no end to verbal dispute. Words are not sufficient, and so Antigone concludes by repeating her claim—ἐγὼ δὲ θάψω τόνδε “I will bury this man” (1052) ~ ἐγώ σφε θάψω “I will bury him” (1028)—that she will bury her brother. [53] Nor, demands Antigone (μὴ μακρηγόρει “Don’t be long-winded,” 1052), should the herald continue speaking at all, so hollow have his threats rung. When he does finally forbid Antigone to bury her brother, in full acknowledgment that she is following her own will on the matter, his prohibition (ἀπεννέπω δ’ ἐγώ “I forbid it,” 1053) is not answered because it need not be: he has clearly lost this exchange.
Since this play is the third tragedy in the tetralogy that Aeschylus presented and won in 468/7, [54] I would suggest that even more weight could be added to this final stichomythic exchange, as well as to Antigone’s determination to act upon rather than dispute the fate of her brother. We have once again been given information by the exchange—since we now know what Antigone intends to do, while the stichomythia might even be said to have hardened her resolve. Yet, as with the exchange in the Supplices (455–67) that we examined above, the aim seems rather to be the revelation of a characters intentions, which are otherwise slighted, dismissed, or misunderstood, than the direct imparting of information relevant to the plot. These stichomythiai act to illuminate more clearly the respective positions of the characters, but they take the form, at least in part, of riddling, puns, and transformative repetitions because these can be used more effectively to suggest multiple layers of meaning.
The clearest example of a related type of exchange to which we may compare the elements of echoing and repetition in the stichomythia above from the Seven Against Thebes comes from antiphonal lament, as represented in Aeschylean tragedy. In chapter 16, we will briefly compare the structure of lament performance as represented in Homeric poetry with the performance technique of rhapsodes. But the presentation of lament in tragedy shows similar techniques of responsion and paratactic linking with Aeschylean stichomythiai. Consider the κομμός [55] between Xerxes and the chorus toward the end of the Persians (1002–10):

Ξε. βεβᾶσι γὰρ τοῖπερ ἀργέται στρατοῦ.
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. [56]
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.

Similarly, toward the end of the Seven Against Thebes when Antigone and Ismene lament the deaths of Polyneices and Eteocles, [57] their antiphonal lament produces tight parallelisms of expression and divergences of thought at the same time (961–65):

Αν. παιθεὶς ἔπαισας.Ισ. σὺ δ’ ἔθανες ατακτανών.
Stricken you struck.Having killed you died.
δορὶ δ’ ἔκανες.— δορὶ δ’ ἔθανες.
With this spear you killed.With this spear you died.
— μελεοπόνος.— μελεοπαθής.
Wretched in deed.Wretched in suffering.
— ἴτωo γόος.—— ἴτω [58] δάκρυ.
Let forth the lament.Let forth the tears.
— πρόκεισαι.— κατακτάς.
You lie dead.Having killed.

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. [59] This recalls the wordplay in stichomythia, especially when similar or identical expressions are used to contrast meaning. Yet rather than insist with Gross [60] 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. [61] 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.

Not all of Aeschylus’ stichomythic exchanges are meant to diverge in thought. There are several exchanges that operate to reach a common understanding of a situation between two parties, although the burden of enlightenment may still rest primarily on one of them. Such is the case in the first stichomythia in the Persians between Atossa and the coryphaeus. It proceeds by question and answer, with the coryphaeus filling Atossa in on who the Athenians are, why Xerxes should have desired to attack them, and how they are possessed of wealth and, especially, great military virtue. I quote from this concluding sequence (239–45):

Ατ. πότερα yὰρ τοξουλκὸς αἰχμὴ διὰ χερῶν αὐτοῖς πρέπει;
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.

From a dramatic point of view, each of Atossa’s questions allows the coryphaeus to glorify Athenian military prowess in a progressive build-up to its final tetrameter. The first two responses by the coryphaeus proceed essentially by negation; “do Athenians use the bow?—no, spears and armor;” “who commands them?—no one,” until we reach the third response, which becomes emphatic by virtue of its positive assertion and hypotaxis: “then how could they defend themselves?—so as to have destroyed your dead husband’s army.” Atossa has now been made abruptly aware of the enemy’s virtues, while the coryphaeus has expressed his view that the Athenians remain a formidable opponent. This comes in the wake of the chorus’s interpretation of Atossa’s dream, and its stated interest in neither stirring the queen to excessive fear or boldness (215–16). Atossa momentarily deflects the personal implications of the coryphaeus’s final line above by concluding the entire sequence with a reference to the parents of the Persian army (245):

Ατ. δεινά τοι λέγεις ἰόντων τοῖς τεκοῦσι φροντίσαι.
You speak of terrible things, indeed, for the parents of those gone away to consider.
But the coryphaeus knows better. He tells Atossa that she, instead, will soon learn the whole story (246), which is followed by the appearance of the messenger with news of Persia’s defeat (249–55).
Question and answer stichomythiai perhaps always exhibited a certain forensic quality, and Aeschylus exploits this fully in the Eumenides where it is used expressly for the cross-examination of witnesses. The clearly agonistic quality of the Eumenides stichomythiai has been noted by others, [62] and need not generally detain us here because this feature is so common. However, the exchange between the chorus of Erinyes and Orestes (588–604) is especially interesting because of its almost programmatic character as a contest between equally rhetorically-matched opponents, as well as for the markedly athletic metaphors used to describe it. Verbal competition here most closely approximates physical competition. It begins with a virtual definition of stichomythia, with the chorus stating that although they are many, they intend to speak concisely (585–87):

πολλαὶ μέν ἐσμεν, λέξομεν δὲ συντόμως.
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.

We shall have occasion later to observe how the semantics of ἀμείβεσθαι ‘to exchange’ in Homeric poetry already contain the notion of contest and can be used expressly of physical contests (chapter 16). Such may well be implied here. But the expression ἔπος δ’ ἀμείβου πρὸς ἔπος “answer us verse for verse” can also be directly compared with a similar phrase from Aristophanes’ Clouds (1374–75, examined in detail in Part II), in which Strepsiades explains to the chorus how he and his son began their quarrel: κᾆτ’ ἐντεῦθεν, οἶoν εἰκός, | ἔπος πρὸς ἔπος ἠρειδόμεσθ’ “and from that point forward, as you might expect, we hurled word against word. The context of this passage bears significantly upon the sense of the expression used: according to Strepsiades, the context was sympotic, and Pheidippides had refused to recite anything from Aeschylus or Simonides for his father, preferring instead to recite a speech from Euripides about incest (1354–72). This enraged Strepsiades to the point of rebuking his son with foul words (1373–74), then followed with the expression above. Whether Aristophanes here had Aeschylus in mind is less relevant than that similar expressions can be used to describe both the mutual insult (note the mention of λοιδορεῖσθαι ‘to revile one another’ at Clouds 1353) that can take place when a sympotic exchange gets out of hand, as well as a stichomythic exchange. It may be important to stress, however, that despite the broad applicability of Aeschylus’ expression to describe stichomythiai, what happens in the Eumenides is no ordinary (question and answer) stichomythic exchange: it actually stands out because of its belligerence. The equation of verbal and physical engagement is made explicitly in the lines that follow those above (588–90):

Oρ. ἔκτεινα· τούτου γ’ οὔτις ἄρνησις πέλει.
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.

What begins as a forensic exercise then metaphorically shifts to the arena, with Orestes denying that he has been thrown for the first of the needed three times by his opponent. [63] There will of course be no clear winner and loser by the end of this match when Apollo is called upon to intercede, but that in itself is a victory of sorts for Orestes because he is not intimidated by the chorus. We do not need to treat this exchange in detail to observe that the elements of contest and cross-examination, which are especially evident here, reflect once again that stichomythia can represent an idealized form of dialogue. But its “idealization,” if I may call it that, does not emerge in a vacuum. Sharp, carefully crafted and often riddling lines draw upon the archaic and classical Greek penchant for live improvisation and the display of cleverness in formal and informal verse competitions. Tragic stichomythia in Aeschylus, like tragic lament, above all represents an improvised verbal dexterity; it is not an actual one insofar as it involves previously-composed poetry that is memorized and performed. Nevertheless, stichomythia is best understood as a formalized poetic adaptation of a “live” mode of contestation. In due course we shall see that the repetition, antithesis, thematic variation, riddling, and innuendo of stichomythia make it comparable to the capping games of rhapsodes and the sympotic performers of elegy, iambics, and skolia.


[ back ] 1. Thus Merkelbach 1956:130-1 overstates the emphasis on the popular elements that underlie verse forms such as stichomythia, and does not account adequately for their development in educated circles.
[ back ] 2. For reasons of convenience, I leave aside analysis of the Prometheus Bound in what follows. Some critics, such as Jens 1955:33, view the stichomythiai in this play as “unbelievably Sophoclean” and thus indicative of non-Aeschylean authorship. Others, such as Seidensticker 1971:185n5, argue that Aeschylean tragedy shows too many peculiarities of form to use his stichomythiai as a criterion of genuineness. Since I am not primarily interested in stylistic comparison or development in stichomythic form, and since virtually the full range of stichomythic possibilities are attested in Aeschylus’ other plays, we lose no ground by excluding the Prometheus from our analysis.
[ back ] 3. Onomasticon 4.113.
[ back ] 4. Gross 1905:9.
[ back ] 5. On antilabae, see Hesychius, s.v. ἀντιλαβαί· διαλογικαὶ ῥήσεις ἐξ ἡμιστιχίων λεγόμενσι κατὰ μικρὸν παρὰ τραγικοῖς. “Antilabae: dialogue speeches, built from hemistichs, spoken in small pieces in tragedy.”
[ back ] 6. E.g. there is considerable development and formalization of Aeschylean stichomythia between the Persians and the Oresteia, on which see Jens 1955:102-3 and especially Seidcnsticker 1971:185-99. As Rosenmeyer 1982:202 notes, this suggests that Aeschylus became more interested in the dramatic possibilities of the form in his later plays.”
[ back ] 7. Herington 1985:123. A decade before him, Seidensticker 1971:219 had made the same point.
[ back ] 8. Ireland 1974:509n3.
[ back ] 9. Hancock 1917:1-4, 10.
[ back ] 10. See Rosenmeyer 1982:201-5 and Ireland 1974.
[ back ] 11. Jens 1955:34-102, Seidensticker 1971:200-9.
[ back ] 12. Seidensticker 1971:209-19.
[ back ] 13. Hancock 1917:6, 10. Similarly, the excessively symmetrical theory of Myres 1948 has also been criticized as fundamentally misguided (see Ireland 1974:509n1).
[ back ] 14. See Gross 1905:95-102, esp. 96, where he cites Aeschylus’ Persians 1002-77 and Seven Against Thebes 961-1104 as the earliest examples of antiphonal lament. Wallochny 1992:17 accepts Gross’s thesis without defense.
[ back ] 15. Seidensticker 1971:219n72, following Gross, argues: “Ein Zusammenhang zwischen lyrischem und iambischem schnellen Sprecherwechsel ist wahrscheinlich.” “A connection between lyric and iambic rapid speaker exchange is plausible.”
[ back ] 16. Gross 1905:101.
[ back ] 17. Alexiou 1974:55.
[ back ] 18. Else 1977:77. Cf. Aeschylus, Persians 1004-5 and especially the sequence 1066-75.
[ back ] 19. Enchiridion 10.4.
[ back ] 20. Thomson 1941:178-79.
[ back ] 21. In the preface to the first edition (1941:vii), Thomson notes that he was especially influenced by the work of Jane Harrison and Sir William Ridgeway.
[ back ] 22. Gerald Else 1977:84 with n27 argued that question and answer stichomythiai had their origin in the questioning of an oracle.
[ back ] 23. See Hesiod fr. 278 and 279 MW from Hesiod’s Melampodia, with the discussion of Ohlert 1886:36-39. Cf. Certamen 140-45 and 161-75.
[ back ] 24. All text citations of Aeschylus are taken from the Teubner editions of Martin West. For the sake of convenience, I have omitted West’s daggers while nevertheless drawing attention to those textual issues that are particularly problematic.
[ back ] 25. For more on these oracles in the context of those mentioned by Herodotus (8.96 and 9.43) on the fate of the Persian invasion, see Broadhcad 1960 ad 739.
[ back ] 26. Ogden 2001:239-40.
[ back ] 27. For the term, see Ireland 1974:519.
[ back ] 28. Persians 349 (gen. absolute), 736; Seven Against Thebes 260, 715, 719 (gen. absolute), 807, 1049; Supplices 215, 341; Agamemnon 1208, 1653; Choephoroe 909, 913 (discussed below, and cf. 106); Eumenides 421, 428 (gen. absolute), 590, 602.
[ back ] 29. The term is Irelands 1974:519.
[ back ] 30. Garvic 1986 ad 909.
[ back ] 31. For enjambing infinitives, consider Iliad 11.705 (with the discussion in Part III); for particles, consider Odyssey 13.402 (ὡς) and 17.21 (ὥς τ’).
[ back ] 32. Else 1957:34–9, esp. 39.
[ back ] 33. Else 1957:39.
[ back ] 34. As Ireland 1974:519, for example, implies.
[ back ] 35. On this form of exchange, see Ireland 1974:510.
[ back ] 36. On the rarity of this tactic in Aeschylus, see Friis Johansen and Whittle 1980 ad 459–65.
[ back ] 37. This image does not correspond with the actual practice of laying tablets on or next to divine statues, on which see Friis Johansen and Whittle 1980 ad 463.
[ back ] 38. On the problem with this word, see Fraenkel 1950 ad 547.
[ back ] 39. See further Fraenkel 1950 ad 550.
[ back ] 40. Ι should stress that I am only highlighting tendencies by designating certain stichomythiai as paratactic or hypotactic. Τhese forms can be used interchangeably within a single exchange. While hypotaxis is, in the words of Ireland 1974:519, “the most intimate form of linking to occur within stichomythia,” its usage, like that of parataxis, does not appear to be determined by the dramatic situation. Thus alienation and convergence of thought and emotion can be achieved by both forms.
[ back ] 41. Persians 244.
[ back ] 42. Fraenkel 1950 ad 545. Aeschylus had already used this image before at Persians 61–2, where the chorus makes it clear that it is the country that longs for its army. He wrote of the Persian men who went to war: “concerning whom the whole land of Asia, who nursed them, groans with fierce longing” οὕς περὶ πᾶσα χθὼν Ἀσιῆτις | θρέψασα πόθωι στένεται μαλερῶι.
[ back ] 43. The decision whether to accept στρατῶι as genuine is fraught with controversy. However, I disagree with Fraenkel 1950 ad 547 and Denniston-Page 1957 ad 547 when they conclude that gloom for the army is somehow incoherent in the mouth of Talthybius. This seems a reasonable question in the wake of 544–45.
[ back ] 44. For more on riddling in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon generally, outside the context of stichomythia proper, see Ferrari 1997.
[ back ] 45. Τhis emendation is from a suggestion of Fraenkel (1950 ad 1252), against which he himself warned, in favor of τἄρα. Editors agree that the manuscript’s ἄρ’ ἂν is corrupt.
[ back ] 46. ἤδη ‘already’ is read in most manuscripts.
[ back ] 47. Jens 1955:9–10.
[ back ] 48. Hutchinson 1985 ad 1043. Although cf. the repetition of μέμνησο ‘remember’ at Choephoroe 491–92, ἔχρησας ‘you prophesied’/ἔχρησα ‘I prophesied’ at Eumenides 202–3, and the exclamation εἶα δή ‘well then!’ at Agamemnon 1650–51.
[ back ] 49. See Hutchinson 1985 ad 1045.
[ back ] 50. This answer deserves separate consideration because it recalls Antigone’s own desire to cast herself into danger by burying her brother (1028, κἀνὰ κίνδυνον βαλῶ ‘I will risk the danger’). The herald thus all the more cleverly aligns Antigone’s actions with those of Polyneices.
[ back ] 51. See Hutchinson 1985 ad 1048.
[ back ] 52. For more on the semantics of ἀμείβεσθαι see chapter 16.
[ back ] 53. See further Jens 1955:10.
[ back ] 54. The hypothesis in manuscript M records that Aeschylus presented the Laius, Oedipus, and Seven Against Thebes in that year, along with the satyr play Sphinx. Cf. P. Oxy. 2256 fr. 2 with the discussion of Hutchinson 1985:xvii–xviii.
[ back ] 55. For more on the κομμός, see Broadhead 1960:310–17.
[ back ] 56. I have departed from West’s conjecture on this line in favor of the more common reading.
[ back ] 57. Cf. Hutchinson 1985 ad 961–1004, who thinks that the singers are not Antigone and Ismene but two anonymous members of the chorus. However, according to Alexiou 1974:10–14, in the archaic period the γόος ‘lament’ (cf. Seven 964) is typically reserved for the kinswomen while the θρῆνος ‘dirge’ is performed by non-kinsmen.
[ back ] 58. On the onomatopoeic associations of the verb ἴτω ‘let forth’ with the tradition of the mourning nightingale, see Nagy 1996:41 with n7.
[ back ] 59. Alexiou 1974:137, 150–60 (the passage above, Seven 961–65, is discussed on pp. 150–51).
[ back ] 60. Gross 1905:95–97, esp. 97.
[ back ] 61. Alexiou 1974:40, 46, 123–25.
[ back ] 62. Hancock 1917:9.