Ichneutai and Other Fragments of Sophocles.

I have so much affection for Sophocles and I remember not so long ago finishing his surviving works and being disappointed it was all over, so you can imagine my excitement when I found Ichneutai and some other fragments (I read them in Three Dramas of Old Age published by Everyman, 2000)!

I'll begin with Ichneutai (Ἰχνευταί), which is also known as Searchers, Trackers, or Tracking Satyrs. These fragments were discovered in Egypt in 1912. It's a satyr play: the only complete satyr play to have survived is Euripides' Cyclops (408 B.C.); Ichneutai is the second best preserved ancient satyr play. It would appear that it is based on one of the poems in the Homeric Hymns, a poem to Hermes (Hymn IV) in which the author (these poems, from the 7th and 6th Century B.C. were wrongly attributed to Homer) describes how Hermes stole Apollo's cattle. Sophocles' play begins (with six lines missing),
To all the gods and all mankind I, Loxias,
proclaim that I will give a fine reward
to anyone who's seen my cattle near or far;
it's terrible, it wounds my soul
that someone had abducted all my cows
and calves and herds of heifers.
All are lost. I'm following their tracks
in vain; they've simply vanished from my stables, just
as if a god had taken them! I never would have thought
that any of the gods or mortal men
would even dare to try to do this deed.
As soon as I found out, distracted by my care
I go, I search, and broadcast out aloud
to gods and mortal men so all may know;
... I hunt in mad pursuit,
I visited the tribe of Thrakia, to see which
solider could...
From here many lines are missing but it picks up again with the entry of Silenos who assures Apollo "I'll bring back your cows - if you make good your gift". The prize will be "Freedom for you and all your sons", so Silenos and the satyrs depart in search of the cattle, following their tracks to a cave on Mount Kyllini (in modern-day Corinthia) where they hear music. There they meet Cyllene (or Kyllene), a mountain nymph who is caring for the young Hermes. They talk of the music (it is Hermes playing his newly invented lyre) and, of course, the cattle, but the play cuts off. From the remaining surviving lines it appears that Apollo appears, rewarded the satyrs, and Hermes gave him is lyre.

Mt. Kyllini.
The remaining fragments are just snatches. First, Aias the Lokrian, which is set during the sack of Troy. Aias the Lokrian has raped Kassandra in the temple of Athena, as well as pulling down the statue of Athena, then took refuge at her altar to escape punishment. What has survived is a speech from Athena rebuking the Greeks. 

Next, Aleus' Sons, from which only a speech has survived (the speaker is unknown):
Wealth finds men friends, and privileges,
and then finally the throne on high
of royal power, the nearest to the gods.
No one was ever born an enemy
to wealth - or if they are, they will not say.
For riches have a terrifying power to creep
in everywhere, even to sacred sites, and places where
a poor man, even if inside, could not obtain what he desires.
Wealth makes an ugly person beautiful,
an incoherent speaker clever with his tongue;
alone, wealth knows how to find joy even in
a sick-bed, and conceal its miseries.
Eurypylos follows, in which the death of Eurypylos is described; then, a short speech from Kreousa, a speech from a messenger from Laokoon, speeches from unknown speakers from Nauplios and Men of Skyros, and then several fragments from Niobe; by the time the surviving fragments have begun Apollo has killed Niobe's seven sons and six daughters of whom she was so proud, and her husband (Ovid tells this story in Book VI of Metamorphoses). Only one of her daughters, Chloris, is alive during this scene:
Wᴏᴍᴇɴ: ...
... she's gone mad ....
Nɪᴏʙᴇ: Phoibos and his sister have destroyed me!
Why drive me from my home? Why don't you aim
1 Wᴏᴍᴀɴ: .... woman of many sorrows.
Should I try to waft her steps this way?
Nɪᴏʙᴇ: I am destroyed. My children have all gone
to the caverns of Tartaros. Where shall I hide?
Cʜʟᴏʀɪs: (inside the skene) I beg you, lady Artemis, don't shoot me; don't kill me.
1 Wᴏᴍᴀɴ: ... unhappy girl....
Following Niobe, a speech by Agamemnon from Polyxena, the chours of Roof-Cutters (related to the Medea myth), three speeches from Terus and two from Teukros including the speech by Oileus in attempt to comfort Telamon after the suicide of Ajax:
You might well see the greatest and wisest men
being just like Oileus is now, attemping to
bring comfort to someone who's suffering.
But when the daimon of a man who once was fortunate
swings back the balance of his life, most of
their sayings, good though they may be, just disappear.
After Teukros, two speeched from Thyestes, one from Tyro, then two from two unknown tragedies. One is spoken by Menelaos:
My fate revolves on Fortune's
swiftly circling wheel, and changes shape,
just as the moon's appearance cannot stay
two nights in the same form.
First it emerges from invisible to new,
then makes its face more beautiful and full,
and then - as soon as it has reached its loveliest -
it flows away again and goes to nothingness.
And following the unknown tragedies, three fragments of satyr plays: Achilleus' Lovers, Inachos, and Oineus.

I don't want to sound like I'm overdoing this, but reading these fragments was a surprisingly emotional experience, not something I expected at all. These were very distant echoes I was trying so hard to hear, and some, particularly Niobe (I know this story from Ovid) I felt I was really straining, but there is so much lost that no matter how hard we may try to hear Sophocles he is just too far away to capture. It was very sad and frustrating wanting to read more of one my favourite authors and only having these bits and pieces here and there, but at the same time I am of course very grateful for what remains and I loved what I read, particularly those bits I quoted in full, so I'll keep an eye out for any more fragments that may be dotted around in the backs of books as these were.


  1. That's so exciting to hear about your experience. I know what you mean about those echoes of the past ...... at times they seem tantalizingly close, then they slip right out of your grasp. At some point I need to get back to the Greek playwrights but Herodotus is taking up my mind at the moment. Time well spent though ......

    1. I really enjoyed Herodotus - I read it straight through rather than do a long read, and I believe it was beneficial, however (one day) I do want to revisit it and read it as you are. I lack time right now, though, that's the problem!

      And tantalising is the word: you get into it, then it breaks off, then back again, then gone again... I love Sophocles. :)

  2. tantalizing echoes... at one time i considered majoring in Greek and Latin; now i'm rather sorry i didn't, sometimes... fossilized words: would that they could be excavated and rebuilt like buildings...

    1. Indeed - that's a beautiful way of putting it :)


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