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MonkeyNotes-Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles
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Notes

This second Stasimon provides an account of the off-stage battle between the supporters of Theseus and Creon over the abduction of Oedipus' daughters. The convention of Greek tragedy did not permit direct representation on-stage of violent or hectic action such as a battle. Therefore, the chorus imagines participating in the action. The chorus provides a graphic view of the off-stage action, something that the audience would visually miss. This choral song, like most other Sophoclean stasima, is intimately linked to the offstage dramatic action.

Although the chorus consists of elderly citizens of Colonus, this song is presented as a war chant with the appropriate choreography of a dance in the first strophe and anti-strophe. Toward the close of the second strophe, the energetic and belligerent movements of the chorus turn to poses or attitudes suitable to a prayerful mood, as they address the gods in the second anti-strophe. Thus, the song and steps of the chorus provide sufficient spectacle (one of the elements of tragedy) to make up for what the audience loses in terms of direct involvement.

The main Themes of this chorus are war and religion. In times of dire crisis, such as war, it is only natural that the chorus should turn their thoughts to prayer and the gods. Hence, the various references to gods such as Ares, the god of war, to Pallas Athena, the patron-goddess of their city, or to Zeus, Apollo, Poseidon, Demeter and Artemis. Besides, the Greek tendency to pray at temples and consult oracles at times of dire distress is evident in the references to the Delphic shrine of Apollo and the Temple of the Eleusinian mysteries.


Annotations:

1. Pythian: This is a reference to Pythia, the priestess of Apollo at Delphi, who in pre-Hellenic times was known as Pytho, who was guarded by a monstrous serpent/dragon called "Python". According to early Greek legends, Apollo killed the python and established his famous oracle at Delphi. The chief priestess, Pythia, seated on a tripod over a fissure in the rock, uttered her prophecies in a divine ecstasy, using incoherent words to answer her suppliants on matters of religion and gods, and how men could be reconciled to the gods or avert impending evil.

2. The Great Goddesses or Queens: This is a reference to Demeter and her daughter Persephone in whose honor the principal "Eleusinian mysteries" were celebrated at Eleusis in Attica, about 10 miles from Athens. These mystic rituals entailed highly secretive forms of worship and involved only those initiated into the rites of Demeter. They were probably connected to life beyond the tomb and the fertility ritual of sowing and reaping corn since Demeter was the goddess of corn and agriculture.

3. Eumolpidae: Eumolphus was a son of Poseidon who became king of Thrace. He is the legendary founder of the Eumolpidae who officiated at these sacred rites of Demeter at Eleusis.

4. Rhea: She is often identified with Ge, mother-goddess of earth. Through her marriage with the Titan, Cronus, she was mother of Zeus, Here, Demeter, Hestia, Poseidon, and Hades. Hence, Poseidon, Rhea's son, is lord of Colonus.

5. Artemis: She is the sister of the hunter god, Apollo. As the goddess of wild life, she is a huntress herself. She was attended by a train of nymphs and a herd of swift and dappled deer.

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