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The term [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and the theme of naming in Seven against Thebes and Phoenician Women.


In both Seven against Thebes and Phoenician Women, two plays dramatising the fraternal clash of Oedipus' sons, the term [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and its cognates (such as the adjective [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) are utilised in ways that elucidate each dramas major themes or concerns. Besides being used in contexts where individual characters are identified, these terms are also employed in connection with the idea that personal names may well have an explanatory or self-fulfilling force by mirroring, revealing, or even contributing to the shaping of their bearers' temperament and attributes, their true (and permanent) nature. (1) The most evident example is the association of Polynices' name (meaning 'much strife') with the hero's disposition and choices; Polynices' eagerness to pursue the conflict with his brother by attacking and ruining his homeland is in both plays considered a manifestation of his personal name's aptness. (2) At the same time, however, the dramas present noteworthy differences in the significance that they expressly attach to the meaning and implications of names or to the broader theme of naming; these differences are in fact suggestive of more substantial divergences in the works' outlook or thread(s) of interest.

In this paper, I am by no means concerned with the function of all proper names or with the much wider theme of the significance of words in the dramas, (3) but only with those contexts that involve and/or thematise the term [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and its cognates (and, where appropriate, that of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). I am also far from attempting an overall comparative analysis of the plays; prominent themes of both Seven against Thebes and Phoenician Women, which have provided the subject matter of numerous seminal studies (mostly referring to characterisation, setting, gender, myth and the divine), are mentioned or briefly explored only once they become relevant to the contexts concerned with the theme of naming.

Seven against Thebes

In Seven against Thebes, terms related to names and naming are attached to personal names (and, more rarely, names of places). (4) The majority of these personal names are primarily examined and assessed in respect of their bearers' military image, war ethos, or particular role in the battle. Naming (or misnaming) is actually explored in connection with the idea that beings of any status, mortal or divine, either act or are required to act in ways that fit their name. The first alternative equals an observation or a descriptive remark ('agents act'), based upon factual evidence from past and present experience, while the second one equals an expectation or demand ('agents should act'), supposed to determine the future developments. Being true to one's name is equivalent to upholding familiar attributes or qualities (whether praiseworthy and desirable, or blameworthy and undesirable) and preserving a status quo.

In the first part of the play, that is, up to Eteocles' resolution to fight against his brother, these names are actually expected to function as indicators of how the battle is going to develop--thus pointing to the future and the tangible results of the war--while simultaneously signifying and underlining the gulf that separates the Thebans from Polynices and his army--and the great threat posed by those 'external' enemies. In the second part of the drama, on the other hand, this distance (between 'external' and 'internal') is minimised or annihilated since the brothers are not only mutually slaughtered (after having caused the death of many of their countrymen), but also verbally and morally equated by the Theban Chorus. The theme of the personal names' meaning once more comes to the foreground, this time as a means of expressing and accentuating this sense of unity or fusion.

Given that the crisis is presented from Eteocles' and the Theban community's view, the characters who speak about, and in a way attempt to 'control', the function and anticipated effects of personal names (of both men and gods), all belong to the Theban camp. There is a difference, however, in the mood in which names of mortals and those of gods are invoked or reflected upon. Mortals' names are negatively charged since they concern and virtually visualise the disastrous and possibly transgressive moves and intentions both of the alien attackers (5) and, eventually, of Eteocles himself. Gods' names, on the other hand, as evoked in the first part of the drama, are expected to foreshadow their bearers' benevolent disposition towards Thebes.

Right at the outset, Eteocles wishes that Zeus the Defender [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (6) might uphold his name [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]--by securing his city's victory and rescue (8-9). (7) The Theban women in the parodos themselves pray to a multitude of deities, in a state of terror. When the Scout brings the news about the seven Argives, Eteocles remarks that the goddess Dike, who is supposedly depicted on his brother's shield, will certainly and rightfully be misnamed ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 670-71) should she ally herself with an utterly audacious and hubristic man like Polynices. Eteocles' reference to Dike carries an extra weight, since the latter constitutes a personified abstraction--Zeus' chaste daughter (662), whose traditional duty is to protect the wronged and punish the wrongdoers, thus restoring a balance in the world and human relationships. (8) If the deity assists a wrongdoer, her own essence, as allegedly suggested by her very name, will be invalidated. (9) The hero, in fact, emphatically claims that his brother never had Dike on his side, without elaborating further on the issue (662-67; cf. 414-16); (10) inversely, he does not explain why (he believes that) his own cause is just. In contrast to Phoenician Women, the play as a whole does not dwell on questions pertaining to the proper division of kingship and property (that is, the essence of the disagreement between the brothers), and to the intricate ethical notions of fairness and justice (cf. 906-07). (11) The divine representatives whom Eteocles evokes are expected or called to fulfil (what is perceived as) their prescribed role, which the hero connects with their names and identifies with the promotion of his cause. (12)

On the mortal plane, on the other hand, the association between name and character has particularly dark and unsettling overtones, in so far as the heroes whose names are commented on are viewed as the potential or actual agents of physical destruction, ruin and death. In the first part of the drama, these references concern the Argive assailants (Parthenopaeus and Polynices) and aim at accentuating these men's belligerent and lawless disposition. Yet, once the focus has shifted to the imminent combat between Polynices and Eteocles, the relevant references come to highlight the brothers' shared nature, as allegedly manifested through both their conduct in battle and in each one's very name.

At first, attention is drawn to the names of two of Thebes' enemies (those of Parthenopaeus and Polynices), as viewed and interpreted by the male Theban community (that is, Eteocles and the Scout). (13) This aspect quite expectedly intensifies the polarity between the conflicting armies and Oedipus' sons in particular. While elaborating on the particular identity and image of the seven Argive warriors, the Scout points out that Parthenopaeus ('the son of the maiden') (14) does not at all resemble or match the delicate virgins he has been named after [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], since he is marked by an [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ('a savage spirit') and a terrifying look (536-37). (15) This detail denotes a discrepancy between the hero's name and his physical (532-35) (16) as well as mental and emotional attributes, a reversal of normal expectations that actually maximises the threat posed by the warrior.

Polynices' fitting name, on the other hand, is reinforced by both Eteocles (once he learns of his brother's positioning at the seventh gate) And--reportedly--the seer Amphiaraus. The Scout narrates how the latter, himself a participant in the expedition, (17) attempted to dissuade Polynices from attacking his fatherland; in so doing, the prophet is said to have addressed the hero, calling him by name and dwelling twice upon its latter part, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 'strife' (576-79), before highlighting the impious nature of the impending war ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 580-89). Eteocles' relevant reference ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 658-61) appears itself closely tied to the divine world, since it is paired with the hero's point about the (mis)naming of Dike (662-71), his brother's supposed ally, but also with Oedipus' curse and the status of the Labdacids as a family detested by the gods (653-56). More importantly, shortly after making the comment about Polynices' suitable name, Eteocles expresses his determination to confront his brother, driven by his lust for the latter's blood and death, while also emphasising his and Polynices' common status or bond (as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 'commanders', [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 'brothers', and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 'enemies', 672-76). (18) Thus, whilst Amphiaraus' words clearly distinguish Polynices as a transgressor, Eteocles' speech (653-76) essentially prepares for the brothers' common lot.

At this point, where attention is removed from the approaching Argives and placed on the showdown between the pair, the Chorus concentrate on their king and his own way of handling the situation. (19) Within this frame, Polynices' name is once more alluded to in a negative light; nevertheless, the primary purpose of the reference is to signal the horrifying prospect of the protagonists' assimilation. Upon witnessing Eteocles' reaction, the women, indeed, entreat him not to prove to be of the same temperament as the man whose name is most evil ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 677-78; cf. 351-55). At this stage, and while the Chorus are still treating the brothers as clearly distinct with respect to their disposition and standing, it becomes obvious that Polynices' name and its attendant connotations do not at all preclude Eteocles' assimilation to him.

This is indeed what happens in the end through the brothers' mutual slaughter, which the women seem to perceive as a confirmation of their personal names' aptness. The Chorus conclude that the pair have perished through their impious intentions, in exact accordance with their name and as ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 829-31,). The presence of the Kai, in combination with the preceding remark, that both heroes proved true to their name, leads us to expect another epithet, which would be closely tied to the adjective [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (20) In any case, the brothers are at this point explicitly and conclusively equated, having become truly ouaiuoi ('of the same blood'), since their life has been mingled in the blood-soaked earth (937-39; cf. 734-41). (21)

Phoenician Women

In Phoenician Women, on the other hand, the issue of a name's meaning or value appears to be more complex, since it is (however briefly) explored by various agents in a variety of contexts--in harmony with the drama's multivocal character and the much richer material it deals with. That aspect forms an integral part of the play's distinctive concerns, which differentiate it from the Aeschylean version in several respects. More specifically, the drama's interest in names is twofold. The traditional exploitation of the etymology and particular meaning of personal names stand side by side with an inquiry into the concept of the name and its relation to the actual world. This inquiry is incorporated into the central agon among the leading characters (Eteocles, Polynices, Jocasta), who resort to the discrepancy between name and reality or the controversial relationship between the two, in their attempt to downplay or altogether reject the moral and sociopolitical values or principles of their opponents. Besides relating to the fraternal clash itself, these values or ideals are presented as holding a more general force (by, for example, giving rise to gnomic statements).

For one thing, the Euripidean heroes, and especially Eteocles and Jocasta, utilise the meaning and power of names in ways that roughly echo the Aeschylean treatment of the story; such cases concern the use of personal names, which are occasionally perceived and spoken of as tokens of their bearers' traits. The play, however, rather than dwelling on the immediate situation and facts or expectations surrounding the battle itself, is largely oriented towards the family's and Thebes' history, which are constantly kept in the foreground and interact, particularly through the choral odes, (22) but also through the recollection or interpretation of the family members' names. The focus thus lies on the 'inside' and its perpetual problems rather than on (its relation to) the 'outside'. Indeed, the personal names commented on in the play belong to members of the royal oikos and so more evidently stress their tight bond, and by extension the family's inherent and chronic pollution, rather than distinguish Thebans and Argives (either physically or morally). Even the references to the name of Polynices, though still being centred upon the hero's determination to sack his fatherland or his overall aggressive disposition, at the same time explicitly reinforce his lineage and background. The Labdacid myth and the resulting familial pollution are additionally intermingled with the motif of the internal pollution of Thebes, ever since the city's mythical foundation (the Theban autochthony legend). The fate of the Labdacids and that of the city are closely tied until the surviving members of the house are essentially forced to depart once and for all from the rescued land.

At the same time, and for all the emphasis placed upon the heroes' common background and the city's particular status, Phoenician Women looks into the individual motives or reasons leading to the clash, as these are laid out by the direct, male conflicting parties, but also by Jocasta (443-637). These motives elucidate more intricate issues or questions of moral and sociopolitical significance, (23) and thus exceed both the exceptional identity of Thebes and the exceptional status of the Labdacids, while simultaneously complicating a bare polarity between 'inside' security or salvation and 'outside' threat, as imprinted in the reality of war. Indeed, what actually divides the protagonists is not only the mere, recent so to speak, quarrel over the throne--which is bound up with the family's history--but also their underlying, broader views on the rules that should regulate communal life and an individual's place within it.

Within this largely theoretical exploration of the quarrel over the distribution of kingship and its extensions, the principal heroes resort to the essence and power or function of the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], viewed and assessed in terms of its efficiency to depict, convey or evaluate elements of human experience adequately, or even perceived and defined as the opposite of 'the real thing'. The straightforward correspondence between (personal) name and character or nature that underlines the close bond among the Labdacids (and, by extension, that between past and present) is disrupted or given a new twist when dealing with the name as a concept. The problematisation involving the concept of the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], embedded in the discussion about the reasons leading to the clash, pertains to or becomes a part of the exploration of popular philosophical issues (such as the texture of reality and human ability to convey it or the tension between words/names and deeds/facts) or sociopolitical and ethical considerations (such as the best form of organisation of human society and the interplay between potentially conflicting values), which are not the subject of the Aeschylean drama. These issues or concerns create an additional, more intellectual kind of distance or tension among the conflicting parties (Eteocles, Polynices, Jocasta), which is not really resolved after (or because of) their common death or Thebes' salvation.

The drama starts off by employing names as a means for identifying the characters and occasionally stressing their status, history, or lot (particularly in the prologue and the Teichoscopia scene). (24) Names in these contexts quite expectedly function as a source of knowledge, familiarisation and understanding. (25) In opposition to the prologue of Seven against Thebes, which is fully concerned with the imminent danger, in the prologue of Phoenician Women, Jocasta traces the genealogical line and the adventures or mishaps of Cadmus' descendants, while also mapping out the process by which personal names have been bestowed upon their bearers by others--either family or community members. The vivid interest in naming, as manifested already in the play's opening, on the one hand underscores the decisive impact of the family's history (as effectively encapsulated in some of its members' very names), as well as of the overall history of Thebes, on the subsequent course of events. At the same time, the employment and/or etymology of personal names is quite common in Euripidean prologues, especially those of later dramas, (26) and may very well bear the influence of contemporary intellectual trends. Certain Sophists, notably Prodicus and Protagoras, exhibited a pronounced interest in etymology and language.

When identifying herself, Jocasta mentions that her name was given to her by her father, without inquiring further into this (10-13). (27) By contrast, she goes on to recount how and why her son was named Oedipus (meaning 'swollen foot') (28) by the whole of Greece--a name clearly charged, since it reinforces the guilty, as well as notorious, past of Laius' house (25-27) and its bearing upon the present developments, while also constituting the first of a string of references that foreshadow the actual entrance of Oedipus. Jocasta then speaks about her and Oedipus' offspring, specifying that Oedipus named Ismene, while the queen herself named Antigone (55-58); at this point, there is no mention of how the couple's two sons were named (cf. 636-37). This intimate, domestic and ordinary process is dramatically different from Oedipus' fitting, as well as 'abnormal', and collective/public naming by Hellas.

The next individual name to occupy the scene is that of Polynices, after the hero hesitantly arrives at the Theban palace. The first relevant, though indirect, point does not involve his name's etymology, which would work towards his individualisation, but rather highlights a motif that actually unites the brothers, by virtually placing them outside the borders of the human community. During her exchange with her son, and while hearing of the oracle concerning the latter's marriage, Jocasta wonders what could be the connection between Polynices and the name (equivalent to 'the class') of wild beasts ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; 411-12). The idea about the bestial nature of both Eteocles and Polynices, insinuated at various points in the drama (263, 420, 455-56, 699, 1169), will culminate in the Chorus' characterisation of them as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 'twin beasts of prey' (1296)--following their mutual killing. Similarly to the Theban women in Aeschylus, the Phoenician women ultimately underline the fundamental similarity between the brothers-opponents; in the former case, such an equation was at least in part tied to expectations rooted in etymology (677-78, 829-31). In the Euripidean drama, on the other hand, the brothers are (said to be) equated on an even more profound level, where factors such as names and other individual qualifiers seem secondary and unimportant.

At the same time, as in Seven against Thebes, the particular meaning of Polynices' name is linked to the hero's present conduct; yet, there are two points of differentiation from the corresponding Aeschylean contexts. First, the suitability of Polynices' name is mentioned not only in a reproachful and hostile tone (by his rivals), but also in a compassionate and sorrowful tone (by his loved ones and, more specifically, by Antigone, who integrates her relevant observation into her lament over his death). (29) Second, Polynices' name, besides being exploited in virtue of its bare etymological implications, is explicitly and consistently connected with his pedigree and the family's past (by both Eteocles and Antigone, and for all their profoundly different disposition towards the hero). Such an association is in keeping with Jocasta's allusion to the symbolic naming of Oedipus and her overall dwelling on details of the family's history. On the one hand, Eteocles not only asserts that his brother's name is very apt, (30) but also points out to Polynices that their father was very prudent (actually prompted by some god) in naming him the way he did ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 636-37). (31) This detail, which might have potentially recalled a joyous, caring and intimate process (such as the one described by Jocasta in the prologue, 55-58), reinforces the inescapable, as well as ruinous presence and 'foresight' of Oedipus--whose curse will soon be fulfilled. Antigone, on the other hand, makes the same point ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]...) while expressing her affection for her dead Brother (32) and simultaneously recalling her father's past and the resulting pollution of the house--which she traces back to Oedipus' killing of the Sphinx (1492-513). (33)

Beyond the field of individual names, which primarily elucidate the inevitable, and essentially physical bond among the members of the leading family and their doomed history, the broader theme of naming is explored in connection with humanly-constructed concepts and values (equality, fairness, justice, ambition), which are treated as holding a much wider and virtually diachronic significance--while at the same time generating conflicting responses and being open to subjective interpretations. The name is, in these cases, explored in the light of its (controversial) relation to the particular subject/object/notion it is supposed or expected to define, or of its juxtaposition with reality. This aspect forms a part of the broader, as well as versatile, distinction and interplay between [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ('word') and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ('deed'), which constitutes a popular topic in literary and philosophical works of the later 5th century--notably those of Euripides (cf. for example, Alc. 339; Hipp. 501-02; Hel. 792; PV 336), 34 Thucydides and the Sophists.

This distinction is often accompanied by the assumption or realisation that names and words cannot adequately or reliably depict and communicate reality, or may in fact stand in opposition to reality; such an idea may appear as a neutral and factual observation (35) or as a condition laden with moral implications. Indeed, in Phoenician Women the tension between 'name' and 'fact' or 'being' is utilised in the argument between Eteocles and Polynices, on the one hand, and Eteocles and Jocasta, on the other. (36) In both arguments, the opposing sides attempt to justify or merely explain their views about, and attitudes towards, the issue at stake, that is, the division of the throne, by developing their more general opinions on the validity of principles or rules that are expected or required to govern human society (notably equality, fairness and justice). This is particularly pertinent to Eteocles, that is, the party who initiated the quarrel, and Jocasta, who overall assumes a reconciliatory role and fervently attempts to avert the clash of the armies.

In the first case, that is, the agon between the brothers, Polynices' and the Chorus' (conventional) take on truth, justice and the tension between words and deeds is, at least seemingly, opposed by Eteocles' sophistic position concerning the precise relation between names ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) and reality ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). Polynices claims that the words of truth ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) are naturally simple ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), (37) while the just things or a just case do not need subtle interpretations, in contrast with [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ('the unjust word'), which is inherently sick and therefore requires clever treatment (469-72). (38) The hero clearly thinks and publicly asserts that he has been unjustly deprived of his fair share (492-93; cf. 369, 603), a sentiment shared by the Tutor, Jocasta and the Chorus (e.g. 154-55, 258-60, 319-20)--but also by his brother himself, as we shall see.

Eteocles, in response, at first resorts to his conviction that language constitutes a convention that both unites and separates people--in ways that complicate, obscure or relativise the moral evaluation of deeds (499-502). In contrast with Polynices' belief in the natural simplicity of truth and justice, Eteocles presupposes that men's ideas of honour or good sense are not identical by nature ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 509), a premise that echoes current intellectual inquiries. (39) What is indeed like or equal for men, in Eteocles' view, is their use of identical or equal words/names and not the reality itself; names, then, though providing some common ground to human life, do not have a firm foundation in reality. Since what each man actually understands by each word is not identical with what another man understands, the way in which people relate to and assess ideals and accompanying deeds is not uniform or homogeneous ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 501-02).40 Hence, disagreements and strife are brought about ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 500). The hero at this point does not really defend or even explain his decision to violate the contract, but vaguely locates the source of any (moral) conflict in the relativity of language, which mirrors the relativity or conventionality of values.

Eteocles, however, subsequently appeals to a string of major, shared principles or values, which he allegedly upholds and serves by refusing to give up the throne. The hero at first connects his determination to retain maximum gain--royalty and riches--with his perception of masculinity, bravery and honour ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 509-10; cf. 512-14),41 as well as freedom ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 520)--virtues that secure a leader's prominent and respectable position in his community. More suggestively, Eteocles eventually, as well as explicitly, admits that his conduct towards his brother has been unjust, an admission tailored by his belief that doing wrong for tyranny is the best type of injustice, before concluding with the moralisation that man should be pious in all other respects ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 5 24-25). (42) By treating justice and piety as universal, absolute and so to speak clear-cut entities (and by actually agreeing with the rest of the community regarding the injustice of his act), the hero ultimately seems to undermine (or at least 'become oblivious to') his theory concerning the nature of naming and his attendant rejection of constant realities. The real issue does not lie in the inherent relativity or elusiveness of words, names and values, as Eteocles initially suggests, but in his own conscious decision to commit an unjust, transgressive act, which is unanimously perceived and defined as such, in his pursuit of power. That aspect makes the hero's employment of the 'feeble' or hollow nature of names (and of corresponding values) more of a rhetorical figure.

Jocasta, on the other hand, picks up Eteocles' terminology and builds upon his attempt rhetorically to manipulate the intellectually stimulating discrepancy between names and reality. The queen essentially maximises this discrepancy by treating the name as something that opposes or obscures true value and by thus contrasting it with what should actually motivate people and shape their interaction, to the effect of showing that what Eteocles seeks is not simply wrong but also pointless. The queen puts forth the need for respecting the principles of fairness, equality and, by extension, justice as a means for securing the community's well-being or even survival (531-49). (43) After elaborating on the beneficial, unifying nature and role of '[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]('Equality') as opposed to those of the goddess [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Ambition'), who is virtually synonymous with the personified [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII](506), (44) Jocasta confidently states that admiring glances, rather than being valuable or honourable, constitute a hollow pleasure ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 551). In addition, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], wealth and the desire for more, brings about trouble and is in fact nothing more than a name ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 552-53), (45) since mortals do not possess anything of their own (555-58). The queen's reasoning here mingles the practical disadvantages and dangers of excessive riches and tyranny (cf. 549, 560, 566-67) with the more transcendental idea of the profound gulf that separates the human from the divine condition. Hence, in Jocasta's view, Eteocles' cherished values and driving force are not simply a generator of unwelcome or destructive consequences (and thus morally flawed or at least socially disruptive), but also altogether empty and futile, a mere ovoua (and thus a sign of a lack of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 'prudence', 554). Such a premise, besides being proven pragmatically true in the light of the future developments, (46) also offers insights into the broader problematisation of the proper use (or distribution) of power within a city.


The use of names and the exploration of aspects pertaining to the theme of naming in Seven against Thebes and Phoenician Women further each play's particular aims and contribute to its distinctive atmosphere and outlook. Terms relating to [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in Seven against Thebes are exclusively employed in connection with personal names that actually or hopefully mirror their bearers' traits, as primarily manifested in the sphere of war and their physical participation in it. In the first part of the drama, mortals' and, in a different way, gods' names straightforwardly and consistently underline the external threat which Thebes has to face, thus maximising the citizens' fear, agitation and apprehension, or simply highlighting military expectations concerning the forthcoming confrontation, but also stressing the moral difference between the brothers (as perceived by the Theban community). After Eteocles' vehement decision to fight against his brother, personal names no longer divide the two worlds, but come to signify the perceived assimilation and unity of the brothers (and the ultimate fusion of the 'outside' and the 'inside'), which also reinforces the family's shared pollution. The brothers' true kinship, as eventually realised and explicitly affirmed by the Chorus, is partly deduced from or based upon physical, tangible evidence (names, blood, earth). The motif of the correspondence between name and character is retained throughout as a means of illustrating the shifting dynamics of relations between the conflicting parties--both physically and morally. Thus, the relevant contexts promote the play's overall movement from the 'macroscopic' and to some extent generic epic world of battle to the more 'microscopic', as well as particular, world of the family and the city.

As in Seven against Thebes, the Euripidean drama utilises the traditional association of one's name with one's attributes or qualities (more evidently that of Polynices). This association, however, rather than primarily referring to the immediate situation or crisis (that is, the polarity between the two conflicting camps), straight from the outset illuminates the dark past of the royal family's members, as imprinted in their names and manifested by tangible acts or sufferings, (47) and its role in the current events. It is characteristic that the first personal name mentioned in connection with its bearer's special identity is that of Oedipus. The final allusion to Polynices' name, on the other hand, following the mutual fratricide, again reinforces the family's common history and Oedipus' status within it. This is in keeping with the play's pronounced interest in the interplay between past and present, which is explored not only in connection with the tainted history of the Labdacids, but also in connection with the polluted history of Thebes, as primarily reinforced in the choral odes. The way in which personal names are employed itself consistently strengthens the emphasis placed upon the inside of the city and the inside of the family.

At the same time, by thematising the individual causes or motives of the fraternal clash, as laid out by the conflicting parties themselves, the drama deals with issues concerning the city as a sociopolitical entity. (48) The principal characters express their diverging opinions about key aspects of the institution of the polis, a problematisation that does not directly or narrowly concern the actual battle and the military aspect of the story or, for that matter, the family's and the city's history--nor is it resolved after the war. In this frame, the Euripidean drama's interest in names expands to an inquiry into the essence of the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and its precise connection with reality--and, more particularly, with the central values or ideals that divide the protagonists (equality, fairness, justice, power, ambition, wealth). The relevant contexts thus promote the drama's exploration of sociopolitical issues that lie at the heart of the crisis at hand but also have a wider significance and actually constitute a common concern of (late) Euripidean tragedy.

That second thread of interest marks an obvious difference from the Aeschylean play. Even though both dramas ultimately demonstrate the similarity between the brothers and the common fate of the Labdacids (in part through the exploitation of their personal names' particular meaning), Phoenician Women at the same time highlights the intellectual or moral distance that separates the leading characters (more evidently Eteocles and Jocasta). This distance is imprinted in those characters' views on the importance of fundamental values, notions or institutions, the very substance or validity of which is at least partly assessed in terms of the polarity between names and reality.


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Garland, R. 1990. The Greek Way of Life: From Conception to Old Age. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Gould, J. 1996. 'Tragedy and collective experience.' In M. Silk (ed.), Tragedy and the Tragic: Greek Theatre and Beyond, 217-243. Oxford: University Press.

Hecht, A. & Bacon, H. 1973. Seven against Thebes (transl.). Oxford: University Press.

Hilton, I. 2011. A Literary Study of Euripides' Phoenissae. PhD thesis: University College London.

Hutchinson, G. 1985. Aeschylus: Septem contra Thebas. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Kovacs, D. 1982. 'Tyrants and demagogues in tragic interpolation.' GRBS 23:31-50.

Lamari, A.A. 2010. Narrative, Intertext, and Space in Euripides' Phoenissae. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Mastronarde, D.J. 1986. 'The optimistic rationalist in Euripides: Theseus, Jocasta, Teiresias.' In M. Cropp, E. Fantham & S.E. Scully (edd.), Greek Tragedy and its Legacy, 201-211. Calgary: UC Berkeley.

Mastronarde, D.J. 1994. Euripides: Phoenissae. Cambridge: University Press.

Papadodima, E. 2011. 'Forms and conceptions of dike in Euripides' Heracleidae, Suppliants, and Phoenissae! Philologus 155:14-38.

Snell, B. 1953. The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Sommerstein, A.H. 1996. Aeschylean Tragedy. Bari: Levante.

Von Fritz, K. 2007. 'The character of Eteocles in Aeschylus' Seven against Thebes.' In M. Lloyd (ed.), Oxford Readings in Classical Studies: Aeschylus, 141-173. Oxford: University Press.

Winnington-Ingram, P.R. 1983. Studies in Aeschylus. Cambridge: University Press.

Zeitlin, F. 2009 [1982]. Under the Sign of the Shield: Semiotics and Aeschylus' Seven against Thebes. (Second edition). Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books.

Efi Papadodima

University of Ioannina

* I am grateful to the anonymous reviewers of Acta Classica for their thoughtful suggestions.

(1) This idea of the nomen omen came to constitute a traditional view in popular Greco-Roman thought and literature. To confine ourselves to tragic poetry we may recall Aesch. Ag. 681-98 (about Helen's name); PV 732-33 (about Bosporus' name) and 848-50 (about Epaphus' name); Soph. Aj. 430-33 (about Ajax's name); Eur. Hel. 1-15 (about the names of Theoclymenus and Theonoe); IT 32-33 (about Thoas' name). Comprehensive studies on the functioning of proper names and its complexities in Greek and Latin literature include Calame 1995: Ch. 5 and Booth & Maltby 2006.

(2) Cf. Soph. Ant. 110-11.

(3) See e.g. Cameron 1970:95-118 for the power of words in Seven against Thebes.

(4) Thebes is called a city named for Cadmus, its mythical founder (... [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 135-36).

(5) For the image of the Argives as foreign invaders, see e.g. Sommerstein 1996:115-16, 425.

(6) Cf. Soph. OC 143; see Hutchinson 1985 on line 8f. about a supposed Theban cult of Zeus [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]..

(7) Cf. 449-50, where Eteocles calls upon the guardian Artemis [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; and 485, where the Chorus pray to Zeus the Requiter [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

(8) Dike (order', 'right', 'justice') is the daughter of the Titaness Themis and Zeus, and the sister of Eunomia ('good order') and Eirene ('peace') in Hes. Theog. (901-03) and Pind. Ol. 13.6-10, as well as the mother of Hesychia ('rest', 'quiet') in Pind. Pyth. 8.1-2. For her role as the enemy of Koros ('satiety') and his mother, Hybris ('insolence'), see Hes. Erga 213-85; Pind. Ol. 13.6-10; Bacch. 15.54-63; Aesch. Ag. 381-84, 763-80; Hdt. 8.77.1.

(9) Cf. Aesch. Cho. 948-51, where the Chorus sing in relief that Dike has been proven the true daughter of Zeus ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). For Dike's close association with Zeus, as well as the Furies and Fate (Aiaa and Moipa), in tragedy, see also Aesch. Ag. 463-70, 524-26, 1432-33, 1535-36; Cho. 244-45, 306-18, 646-52, 783-89; Eum. 510-65; Soph. Aj. 1389-92; Ant. 450-52; El. 475-76, 489-91; Trach. 808-09.

(10) Where Melanippus, one of the Theban generals, is spoken of as a kinsman [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] of Dike.

(11) See further Papadodima 2011:31-35.

(12) Despite acknowledging the gods' malevolence towards his family at the major turning-point of the plot (653-55), i.e. upon learning that Polynices will fight at the seventh gate.

(13) More loosely, Eteocles remarks that the arrogant symbol on Tydeus' shield would be rightly and justly named after its bearer [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] should night fall upon the latter's eyes as he meets his death (403-06). This is something to which Eteocles aspires, since the identification of the haughty symbol with its bearer's fate would equal the rival's death; cf. 518-20.

(14) Parthenopaeus was the son of Atalanta. See also Eur. Phoen. 150; Verg. Aen. 6.480; Stat. Theb. 9.

(15) Cf. Aesch. Cho. 190-91, where Electra admonishes her mother's inappropriate [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Clytemnestra's status as a mother par excellence mismatches her disposition towards her children [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

(16) The physical description of Parthenopaeus--a beautiful half man, half boy, whose beard's first growth is just now advancing on his cheeks ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 534-35), resembles the young Polynices' image, as recollected by his brother ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 665-66).

(17) Amphiaraus holds a special position, partly on account of his close connection with the divine. Eteocles considers the seer pious, just and virtuous (609-10); at the same time, the hero essentially complains about the gods' occasional practice of pairing just and unjust men in one group and treating them identically (597-625); cf. 670-71.

(18) Based upon this relationship, Eteocles concludes that nobody other than himself has a more just claim ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; 673). For an interpretation of the relationship between the brothers after line 653, see Bacon 1964:30-32 and, more broadly, Zeitlin 2009: Ch. 17.

(19) See Von Fritz 2007:141-73 for Eteocles' characterisation and for a critical treatment of popular scholarly views about the hero's quality as a king and his character's consistency, as well as for a comparison between his portrayal in Aeschylus and that of Polynices in Phoenician Women.

(20) According to Winnington-Ingram 1983:34 n. 49, it is not unlikely that this reference was preceded by a statement alluding to the etymology of Eteocles' name. Hecht & Bacon 1973:14f. suggest a double etymology from [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 'fame' and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 'to lament', combined with the adjective [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 'true'. Cf. Hutchinson 1985 on line 830, who argues that the name Eteocles is not etymologised elsewhere and appears primarily for the sake of the contrast.

(21) See Cameron 1964:1-8 for the role of the earth in the play.

(22) See further Arthur 1977:163-85. The Phoenician women repeatedly claim to be of the same blood as the people of Thebes-through Agenor, the father of Phoenix, founder of Phoenicia, and Cadmus, the founder of Thebes (214-19 [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 239-49 [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 291-92, 678, 828-29); at the same time, their Phoenician origin and foreign features are also emphasised (280, 293-95, 301, 679-80, 819, 1301-02). The women's regularly reinforced ethnic 'duality' or 'liminality' maximises their ability to provide a full and at the same time more detached view on the play's past and present crisis. See also Gould 1996:217-43 and Easterling 1997:33 n. 50.

(23) See further Hilton 2011:60-96 for a discussion about the role of politics in the drama.

(24) Where Antigone inquires into the Argive assailants' names without dwelling on their meaning or implications. Cf. Eteocles' reluctance to name the seven Theban warriors in the light of the forthcoming battle ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 748-52), thus distancing himself from the Aeschylean account and reinforcing the different ways in which names are handled in this play. Indeed, as already mentioned, the names commented on in Phoenician Women belong to the members of the royal family.

(25) Personal names also retain their traditional function as synonyms for reputation and afterlife. After Menoeceus' sacrifice, Creon speaks about his son's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 'noble name', which is nevertheless [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 'grievous' to him (1314). It thus generates conflicting emotions and responses, which partly relate to the tension between public and private.

(26) E.g. Hel. 1-15 (about Theoclymenus' and Theonoe's name) and IT 32-33 (about Thoas' name).

(27) Children's names were typically given to them by their father (on the dekate). See Eur. El. 654, 1224-28, IT 469. For the mother's role in the process, see Ar. Nub. 62-67. For the dekate, see further Garland 1990:94-95. Oedipus' mother is named Epicasta in Homer (Od. 11.271-74; cf. Apollod. 3.5.7). The precise meaning of the name Jocasta is unclear; it is most probably associated with the notions of 'brightness', 'adornment', 'embellishment' through the verbal types [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 'to be distinguished, to excel, to furnish'. See e.g. Pind. Ol. 1.26-27.

(28) This etymology of the name Oedipus, which recalls the piercing of the hero's ankles with iron spikes, is presented in both Phoenician Women ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 25-27) and Soph. OT 1032-36. See also Ar. Ran. 1192 ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), where Aristophanes parodies the etymology of the hero's name, and Sen. Oed. 812. Cf. OT 397 ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) for the possible connection of Oedipus' name with the verb [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 'to know'.

(29) On the other hand, after having been asked by the Chorus, Polynices identifies himself by saying that he is called Polynices by the Theban people ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 290)-in an informational tone.

(30) In the same exchange, Eteocles introduces another aspect pertinent to the theme of naming by suggesting that one's moral status or disposition is expected to determine the names or particular forms of address one is allowed to use; Eteocles more specifically claims that it is [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 'unlawful', if Polynices addresses his dear mother ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 612-13).

(31) The family's past certainly plays its own part in Seven against Thebes, but is not explicitly linked to comments on personal names or to the process/history of naming (as is the case in Phoen. 636-37). Oedipus' curse (and the events preceding it, notably 720-91) constitutes a recurring motif, especially in the second part of the drama, while its impact on the present action is fully manifested in Eteocles' urge to stand against his brother (and to kill and be killed), for all the Chorus' attempts to dissuade him from doing so (653-719). As already mentioned, the Aeschylean Eteocles indeed points out, shortly after mentioning Oedipus' curse (653-61), that Polynices' name is very appropriate, yet this context more evidently signals Eteocles' own assimilation to his brother (in the light of the curse and the family's shared pollution), rather than distinguishing the pair or singling out Polynices on account of his distinct name. For the drama's connection with the earlier plays of the trilogy (Laius and Oedipus) and for the way in which these plays compose the grim history of the oikos, see Winnington-Ingram 1983:40-48; Hutchinson 1985:xvii-xxx; Sommerstein 1996:121-30.

(32) While embarking on exile with her father, the heroine repeats that her brother's name is very dear to her (1702)-if the line reads [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and not [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 'eye'.

(33) Cf. 49-50, 1047-50, 1352-55 for the implication that the Sphinx had been at least partly responsible for the destruction of the house of Oedipus.

(34) The discrepancy between one's words and one's deeds in particular appears morally charged; see e.g. Eur. Med. 579-85; Or. 454-55. See also note 38.

(35) See e.g. Heraclitus DK B48 ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) with Snell 1953:141. In a different manifestation of the discrepancy between words and deeds or facts, Polynices responds to his mother's question about the consequences of exile by claiming that losing one's fatherland is harder to bear than tell ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 387-89). The hero cannot successfully put his inferior status as an apolis into words, since actual experience proves to be much stronger and more immediate. On a significantly different level, the hero is prohibited from expressing his true views and opinions (lack of parrhesia) in the city where he has found refuge because of external, socially constructed, constraints (391-92).

(36) See further Lamari 2010:59-70 for a detailed analysis of each interlocutor's arguments.

(37) Cf. Rhes. 394-95, 423; Eur. IA 926-27; Hipp. 928-31.

(38) The Chorus reinforce this idea when uttering the gnomic statement that speaking well on deeds that are not good or noble is bitter to [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 52627). Cf. note 34.

(39) See e.g. Conacher 1998 for major points of contact between the doctrines of the Sophists and Euripidean tragedy.

(40) Cf. Eteocles' view that the tongue eventually proves an unerring accuser of men's foul thoughts in reference to Capaneus' irreverent threats in Seven against Thebes ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], 438-39).

(41) See also Cairns 2005:309-10.

(42) Foley 2001:298 points out that the hero's argument echoes the kind of arguments made in Thucydides for Athenian imperialism.

(43) See further Mastronarde 1986:204-06 and 1994 on lines 532 and 536.

(44) Cf. 567, where Jocasta calls Eteocles [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. In the view of De Romilly 1967:108-12, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (literally meaning 'love of honour' and often used in a bad sense) is the central ideological theme of the play. On Eteocles' and Jocasta's exchange, see Balot 2001:207-10.

(45) It has been argued that lines 549-67 should be deemed spurious; see Kovacs 1982:42-45 and Craik 1988 on lines 549-67. For the broader problems of interpolation in Phoenician Women, see Mastronarde 1994:39-48.

(46) Even if Eteocles' imminent death fulfills his father's curse, it still makes his drive for power futile.

(47) Cf. 611 about the tension or ambiguity between acting and suffering: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

(48) Such a problematisation does not only relate to Thebes, but also to any given city, including, no less, democratic Athens.
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Author:Papadodima, Efi
Publication:Acta Classica
Article Type:Author abstract
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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