Hostname: page-component-6b989bf9dc-llglr Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-04-11T19:13:25.329Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false


Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 November 2019

Francesco Cannizzaro*
University of Pisa
Stefano Fanucchi*
Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa
Francesco Morosi*
Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa
Leyla Ozbek*
Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa


In Sophocles’ Oedipus Coloneus, after laying hands on Antigone and Ismene, Creon ridicules Oedipus by saying these words (OC 848–9):

      οὔκουν ποτ’ ἐκ τούτοιν γε μὴ σκήπτροιν ἔτι

Then you shall never more walk with the aid of these two props!

It is possible that Creon is here alluding to Oedipus’ actual appearance throughout the play. As far as we know, Oedipus comes on stage with no walking stick, and uses Antigone and Ismene as a crutch while walking. Creon's comparing Oedipus’ daughters to a crutch, however, is also metaphorical. Such a metaphor is quite common in some modern languages (for example in Italian, ‘bastone della vecchiaia’, or in French, ‘bâton de vieillesse’), but was known by ancient Greek poetry as well. In Euripides’ Hecuba, for instance, Hecuba depicts her daughter Polyxena as her crutch (281 βάκτρον).

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 2019

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Although the paper was conceived and written collectively by the authors, parts I and V, II, III, and IV are to be attributed respectively to: Leyla Ozbek, Stefano Fanucchi, Francesco Cannizzaro, and Francesco Morosi. We are grateful to Luigi Battezzato, Patrick Finglass, Enrico Medda and Glenn W. Most for their generous reading of, and helpful comments on, an earlier version of this paper.


1 The text of Sophocles, except for Oedipus Rex, is quoted from Lloyd-Jones, H. and Wilson, N.G., Sophoclis Fabulae (Oxford, 1992 2)Google Scholar; the translations are quoted from Lloyd-Jones, H., Sophocles (Cambridge, MA, and London, 1997–8)Google Scholar. Unless otherwise specified, the text and translation of Soph. OT are quoted from Finglass, P.J., Sophocles Oedipus the King (Cambridge, 2018)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For other authors, see West, M.L., Homerus Ilias (Stuttgart, 1998–2000)Google Scholar; West, M.L., Homerus Odyssea (Berlin and Boston, 2017)Google Scholar; Diggle, J., Euripidis Fabulae (Oxford, 1984–94)Google Scholar.

2 An actual walking stick is never mentioned among Oedipus’ props throughout the drama, and as a consequence the most recent overview of the staging (Guidorizzi, G., Sofocle Edipo a Colono [Milano, 2008], 199 on vv. 1–116Google Scholar) does not include any walking stick in the description of Oedipus’ outfit.

3 In their commentaries, Matthiessen, K., Euripides Hekabe (Berlin, 2010), 291CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Collard, C., Euripides Hecuba (Warminster, 1991), 135 on v. 80Google Scholar point out that a similar metaphor is applied to Polydorus at Hec. 80. In terms of imagery, however, the two metaphors differ significantly (at Hec. 80, Polydorus’ strong support is described as an anchor, ἄγκυρα, and not as a staff).

4 Cf. Easterling, P.E., ‘Oedipus and Polynices’, PCPhS 13 (1967), 113, at 5Google Scholar; Saïd, S., La faute tragique (Paris, 1978), 374Google Scholar; Kamerbeek, J.C., The Plays of Sophocles. Commentaries 7 (Leiden, 1984), 126Google Scholar; Guidorizzi (n. 2), 310–11; Demont, P., ‘Tyrannie et royauté dans l’Œdipe à Colone de Sophocle’, Ktèma 40 (2015), 105–13, at 113Google Scholar.

5 Cf. Guidorizzi (n. 2), 311.

6 Cf. Easterling (n. 4), 5: ‘The implication here, of course, is that Oedipus’ σκῆπτρα are far more worthwhile than the σκῆπτρα fought for by Polynices and Eteocles.’

7 Hephaestus walks with a ‘thick σκῆπτρον’ (Hom. Il. 18.416); in the Odyssey, the walking stick is part of Odysseus’ disguise as beggar (Hom. Od. 13.437, 14.31, 17.199–203).

8 Cf. Chantraine, P., Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque. Histoire des mots (Paris, 1968), 1016Google Scholar s.v. σκήπτομαι; Beekes, R.S.P., Etymological Dictionary of Greek (Leiden and Boston, 2010), 2.1350Google Scholar s.v. σκήπτομαι. Homer himself plays on this etymology (Hom. Od. 17.199–203).

9 Hom. Il. 2.109. Cf. Kirk, G.S., The Iliad: A Commentary. Volume I: Books 1–4 (Cambridge, 1985), 124 on HomCrossRefGoogle Scholar. Il. 2.86; Hornblower, S., ‘Sticks, stones, and Spartans. The sociology of Spartan violence’, in van Wees, H. (ed.), War and Violence in Ancient Greece (London, 2000), 57–82, at 62Google Scholar (= id., Thucydidean Themes [Oxford, 2011], 250–74Google Scholar). See also Od. 18.103–7.

10 Cf. Gernet, L., ‘“Value” in Greek myth’, in Gordon, R.L. (ed.), Myth, Religion and Society. Structuralist Essays by M. Detienne, L. Gernet, J.P. Vernant (Cambridge, 1981), 111–46, at 138Google Scholar.

11 Cf. Easterling, P.E., ‘Agamemnon's skēptron in the Iliad’, in Mackenzie, M.M. and Roueché, C. (edd.), Authority. Papers Presented to Joyce Reynolds in the Occasion of her Seventieth Birthday (Cambridge, 1989), 104–17, at 110–14Google Scholar.

12 Cf. e.g. Kirk (n. 9), 128–9 on Il. 2.109.

13 Cf. Griffin, J., Homer on Life and Death (Oxford, 1980), 1011Google Scholar; Easterling (n. 11).

14 Its link with θέμις makes σκῆπτρον an instrument to take an oath upon (Hom. Il. 1.234–9, 10.321, 10.328) or to mark a solemn statement (Hom. Il. 7.412). Cf. Ruzé, F., Déliberation et pouvoir dans la cité grecque de Nestor à Socrate (Paris, 1997), 50–2CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Pulleyn, S., Homer Iliad I (Oxford, 2000), 192Google Scholar on Hom. Il. 1.239; Bouvier, D., Le sceptre et la lyre. L’Iliade ou les héros de la mémoire (Grenoble, 2002), 273–4Google Scholar.

15 Cf. Griffin (n. 13), 11–12; Nagy, G., The Best of the Achaeans (Baltimore and London, 1979), 179–80Google Scholar; Easterling (n. 11), 112–14; Bouvier (n. 14), 274–9.

16 Cf. Gernet, L., Anthropologie de la Grèce antique (Paris, 1968), 240Google Scholar (with particular emphasis on the sceptre as instrument of shared sovereignty).

17 For the Homeric resonance of these lines, see Easterling (n. 11), 115–16.

18 Cf. Finglass, P.J., Sophocles Electra (Cambridge, 2007), 217Google Scholar on Soph. El. 420–1; Mueller, M., Objects as Actors. Props and the Poetic of Performance in Greek Tragedy (Chicago and London, 2016), 44–6Google Scholar (see also 204 n. 10 on the visual importance of the token).

19 Cf. Moorhouse, A.C., The Syntax of Sophocles (Leiden, 1982), 5CrossRefGoogle Scholar; cf. Bers, V., Greek Poetic Syntax in the Classical Age (New Haven, 1984), 44–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

20 Cf. Benedetto, V. Di and Medda, E., La tragedia sulla scena (Torino, 2002), 184Google Scholar. To picture the exact shape of a king's sceptre, we might turn to vase-paintings (though frequently from a later period than the first performances of classical tragedy): cf. e.g. Taplin, O., Pots & Plays. Interactions Between Tragedy and Greek Vase-Painting of the Fourth Century (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2007), 159–60 and 167Google Scholar. See also ‘scepter’ in Taplin (this note), 295.

21 Some scholars have interpreted Peleus’ σκῆπτρον at Eur. Andr. 588 as a generic crutch: see Bond, G.W., Euripides Heracles (Oxford, 1981), 130Google Scholar on Eur. HF 254; Lloyd, M., Euripides Andromache (Warminster, 1994), 136Google Scholar. However, the sceptre appears again at 1222–3, when Peleus shouts: ‘No longer do I have a city, away with this sceptre (σκῆπτρα … τάδε)’. As τάδε clarifies, Peleus is referring to the staff he was using at 588. Peleus is here refusing his prerogatives as king: therefore, the σκῆπτρον that he brandished at 588 and he is now carrying is not a generic staff but his sceptre.

22 Cf. Medda, E., Eschilo Agamennone (Roma, 2017), 3.252–3Google Scholar. Cassandra and other seers might carry σκῆπτρα in other dramas as well (Cassandra in Trojan Women, Tiresias in Oedipus Rex). However, in no other extant play is such a prop mentioned or implicitly needed.

23 Cf. Medda (n. 22), 2.56 on Aesch. Ag. 75. This was probably true for comedy as well: cf. e.g. Cratinus, fr. 133 K.–A. and the Choregos vase (Naples, Museo Nazionale 248778, c.400–380 b.c.e.).

24 Greek tragedy seems to ignore βακτηρία, a common word in fifth-century prose (cf. also Ar. Plut. 272): Hornblower (n. 9), 61–2.

25 As Mastronarde, D.J., Euripides Phoenissae (Cambridge, 1994), 579–80 on vv. 1539–40 and 582 on vv. 1548–9Google Scholar demonstrates, in all likelihood the term refers to a real staff.

26 Later iconography pictures Oedipus as a blind man wandering with a walking stick with his daughter Antigone: cf. Krauskopf, I., ‘Antigone’, LIMC i/1 (1981), 820 nos. 2–3Google Scholar; ead., ‘Oidipous’, LIMC vii/1 (1994), 10 nos. 89–90.

27 The only scholar suggesting an ironic reading of this passage is, to the best of our knowledge, G.W.M. Harrison, quoted by Konstan, D., ‘Propping up Greek tragedy: the right use of Opsis’, in Harrison, G.W.M. and Liapis, V. (edd.), Performance in Greek and Roman Theatre (Leiden and Boston, 2013), 70 n. 11Google Scholar. See Finglass (n. 1), on vv. 454–6.

28 Cf. Jebb, R.C., Sophocles The Oedipus Tyrannus (Cambridge, 1893 3), 111Google Scholar (‘staff’); Masqueray, P., Sophocle (Paris, 1922), 1.169Google Scholar (‘bâton’); Dain, A. and Mazon, P., Sophocle (Paris, 1958), 2.101Google Scholar (‘bâton’); Ferrari, F., Sofocle Antigone, Edipo Re, Edipo a Colono (Milano, 1982), 221Google Scholar (‘bastone’); Bollack, J., L'Oedipe roi de Sophocle. Le texte et ses interprétations (Lille, 1990), 1.241Google Scholar (‘bâton’); Lloyd-Jones (n. 1), 1.407 (‘stick’); Paduano, G., Tragedie e Frammenti di Sofocle (Torino, 1996), 1.479Google Scholar (‘bastone’); Manuwald, B., Sophokles König Ödipus (Berlin and Boston, 2012), 182Google Scholar (‘Stab’). For a different interpretation, see Finglass (n. 1), on vv. 810–13 (‘sceptre’).

29 Such a staff is a common part of Oedipus’ iconography: cf. Krauskopf (n. 26 [1994]), 3–9 and especially nos. 10, 16, 39, 41, 43, 44, 49 and 55 (Oedipus meeting the Sphinx). In some depictions of Laius’ death both Laius and Oedipus brandish staffs: cf. Touchefeu-Meynier, O., ‘Laios’, LIMC vi/1 (1992), 185–7Google Scholar.

30 Some notable exceptions being Taplin, O., Greek Tragedy in Action (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1978)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Segal, C., ‘Visual symbolism and visual effects in Sophocles’, CW 74 (1980), 125–42Google Scholar; Seale, O., Vision and Stagecraft in Sophocles (Chicago and London, 1982)Google Scholar.

31 Cf. e.g. Brooke, I., Costume in Greek Classic Drama (London, 1962)Google Scholar. A good testimony of kings dressed magnificently is Ar. Ran. 1061–4, where Aeschylus claims to have dressed demigods and kings comme il faut.

32 A fourth-century Sicilian crater (Siracusa, Museo Archeologico Regionale ‘Paolo Orsi’ 66557) depicts a bearded man speaking with a high-ranking character wearing a lavish costume and holding a sceptre, while a female figure is covering her face with the edge of her cloak. Cf. Trendall, A.D. and Webster, T.B.L., Illustrations of Greek Drama (London, 1971), 111.2, 111.8Google Scholar; Green, R., ‘Towards a reconstruction of performance style’, in Easterling, P.E. and Hall, E. (edd.), Greek and Roman Actors: Aspects of an Ancient Profession (Cambridge, 2002), 93126Google Scholar; Taplin (n. 20), 90–2; id., How was Athenian tragedy played in the Greek West?’, in Bosher, K. (ed.), Theater outside Athens. Drama in Greek Sicily and South Italy (Cambridge, 2012), 226–50, at 229–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar; id., The Siracusa tragedy-vase: Oedipus and his daughters?’, Engramma 150 (2017)Google Scholar (online). Scholars usually think that this vase-painting depicts the agnition of Oedipus Rex (with the Corinthian messenger, Oedipus and Jocasta). In any case, the crater gives no evidence for Oedipus’ costume in the original Sophoclean scene.

33 Cf. already Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, U. von, Aeschyli tragoediae (Berlin, 1914), xxxivGoogle Scholar and E. Fraenkel on Agamemnon 502, 503. The most influential restatement of this assumption can be found in O. Taplin's works (cf. e.g. The Stagecraft of Aeschylus. The Dramatic Use of Exits and Entrances in Greek Tragedy [Oxford, 1977], 2839Google Scholar).

34 Cf. e.g. Sofer, A., The Stage Life of Props (Ann Arbor, 2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bennett, J., Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham, 2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Chaston, C., Tragic Props and Cognitive Function. Aspects of the Functioning of Images in Thinking (Leiden and Boston, 2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Harrison and Liapis (n. 27); Mueller (n. 18).

35 Cf. Chaston (n. 34), 131–77; Mueller (n. 18), 112–26; Barone, C., ‘Stage props and the extrascenic dimension: the casket in Trachiniae and the urn in Sophocles’ Electra’, in ead., Coppola, A., Salvadori, M. (edd.), Gli oggetti sulla scena teatrale. Funzione, rappresentazione, comunicazione (Padova, 2016), 3544, at 41–3Google Scholar.

36 Cf. Fletcher, J., ‘Weapons of friendship: props in SophoclesPhiloctetes and Ajax’, in Harrison, G.W.M. and Liapis, V. (edd.), Performance in Greek and Roman Theatre (Leiden and Boston, 2013), 199215CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Most, G.W. and Ozbek, L. (edd.), Staging Ajax's Suicide (Pisa, 2015); Mueller (n. 18), 1934Google Scholar.

37 Cf. Barone (n. 35).

38 Cf. Fletcher (n. 36); Mueller (n. 18), 38–40.

39 Chaston (n. 34), 3; cf. Revermann, M., ‘Generalizing about props: Greek drama, comparator traditions, and the analysis of stage objects’, in Harrison, G.W.M. and Liapis, V. (edd.), Performance in Greek and Roman Theatre (Leiden and Boston, 2013), 77–88, at 80–2 and 85–6Google Scholar.

40 Cf. Mueller (n. 18), 126. See also Barone (n. 35).

41 Mueller (n. 18), 125–6.

42 This hypothesis was first proposed by Segal (n. 30), 139: ‘Presumably Oedipus at the end bears the skêptron which he carried as king at the beginning.’ On the presence of a walking stick in the last scene of OT, cf. also Konstan (n. 27), 70.