Sunday, March 02, 2008

Oedipus Tyrannos 370-371

Lines 370 and 371 of the OT of Sophocles are a beautiful couplet in several respects. We are in the middle of a heated exchange between Oedipus and Teiresias, when Oedipus threatens (368): ἦ καὶ γεγηθὼς ταῦτ᾽ ἀεὶ λέξειν δοκεῖς; This translates very loosely: "Do you really think you can speak like that and get away with it?" Teiresias responds:
εἴπερ τί γ᾽ ἐστὶ τῆς ἀληθείας σθένος

Then Oedipus shoots back with these lines:
ἀλλ᾽ ἔστι, πλὴν σοί· σοὶ δὲ τοῦτ᾽ οὐκ ἔστ᾽, ἐπεὶ
τυφλὸς ττ᾽ ὦτα τόν τε νοῦν ττ᾽ ὄμματ᾽ εἶ

Perhaps the most striking element is the string of "t" sounds in the second line. Along with "p" sounds, the alliterative use of "t" seems to be a particular favorite in Greek literature, as least from what I've encountered in my reading to date. I've come across it in Homer, but it seems more prevalent in later poets. Compare the Ajax of Sophocles (687-688):
ὑμεῖς θ᾽ ἑταῖροι ταὐττῇδε μοι τάδε
τιμᾶτε Τεύκρῳ τ᾽ ἢν μόλῃ σημήνατε

For alliterative "p" sounds, consider these examples:
πέντ᾽ ἐππεντήκοντα πόδας πήδησε Φάϋλλος
[Page FGE 1496]

πίμπλησι πεδίον πᾶσαν αἰκίζων φόβην

ποίνιμα πάθεα παθεῖν πόροι

τὰ τοῦδε πενθεῖν πήματ᾽ ἐς πλεῖστον πόλεως

Not too much further in the OT (425) we come across "sigmatism", as Dawe calls it:
σ᾽ ἐξισσει σοί τε καὶ τοῖς σοῖς τέκνοις

Sometimes the effect is enhanced by other repetitions, such as Ms or Ts, and with the repetition of the "t" sound, there are often additional dental "d" sounds. For an interesting example of repetition with both "t" and "p" sounds, see Aesch.Cho.363-371; for more on the general subject, see Opelt, Glotta 37 (1958) 205-232, and for more on this passage, see the commentaries of Dawe and Kamerbeek.

In addition to the playful sound, the accusatives of respect with this figurative use of the word τυφλὸς, blind, are striking. Oedipus accuses Teiresias of being "blind" in the ear (οὖς), in the mind (νοῦς), and, finally, in the eye (ὄμμα), which conclusion gives us the literal organ of blindness. There is, of course, irony here, since it is Oedipus who is "blind" to the nature of his situation, and he will wish for "blindness" of ears, mind, and eyes later (1384ff.), and actually blind himself in the end.

But look at this couplet again:
ἀλλ᾽ ἔστι, πλὴν σοί· σοὶ δὲ τοῦτ᾽ οὐκ ἔστ᾽, ἐπεὶ
τυφλὸς τά τ᾽ ὦτα τόν τε νοῦν τά τ᾽ ὄμματ᾽ εἶ

There is also a neat chiasmus here with the words ἔστι and σοί which adds to the effect of the lines. It is quite a powerful response by Oedipus in his anger.


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