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ἀμφὶ μὲν νεῶνἑδωλίοις: ‘when fire was now blazing around the quarter-decks of the ships at their sterns (“ἄκροισιν”).’ Three points should be noted.

(1) There is strong evidence that the term “ἑδώλια” was used in the 5th cent. B.C. to denote a raised deck, a quarter-deck, at the stern of the ship. This is clear in Her. 1. 24: Arion asks leave, “στάντα ἐν τοῖσι ἑδωλίοισι ἀεῖσαι”: the officers of the ship consent, and are then said “ἀναχωρῆσαι ἐκ τῆς πρύμνης ἐς μέσην νέα”,— leaving Arion alone on the “ἑδώλια”. In Helen. 1571, “Ἑλένη καθέζετ᾽ ἐν μέσοις ἑδωλίοις”: which is clearly a place distinct from that where the rowers sat; of them it is said, “τοίχους δεξιοὺς λαιούς τ᾽ ἴσοι ἀνὴρ παρ᾽ ἄνδρ᾽ ἕζοντο”. (For further evidence on this point, see Appendix.)

(2) ἄκροισιν denotes the position of the “ἑδώλια” at the extremities, or sterns, of the ships. Though the Iliad is not closely followed here, Sophocles may probably have had in mind how the Trojans fired the ship of Protesilaüs at the stern: Il. 16. 124ὣς τὴν μὲν πρύμνην πῦρ ἄμφεπεν”. In Il. 9. 241 it is said of Hector, “στεῦται γὰρ νηῶν ἀποκόψειν ἄκρα κόρυμβα”,—the ‘crowning ensigns’ (“ἄφλαστα”, aplustria) at the sterns. “ἄκροισιν” might also mean ‘topmost,’—the “ἑδώλια” being a raised deck. This, however, would suggest rather flames shooting up to a great height; but in Il. 15. 716 f., where Hector grasps the “ἄφλαστον”, it appears that even this can have been only some 7 to 9 feet from the ground, and that the “ἴκρια” at the stern (the Homeric equivalent of “ἑδώλια” here) can have stood only about 5 feet from the ground. (See Dr Warre E. in Smith's Dict. of Ant., 3rd ed., vol. II. p. 211 b, art. Navis.

(3) ναυτικοῖς, after “νεῶν”, is pleonastic, if “ἑδώλια” be explained as above; whereas, if “ἑδώλια” meant the rowers' seats, “ναυτικοῖς” could mean, belonging to the “ναῦται”. This is a fair objection to the interpretation given above. But in reply to it we may observe:—(1) the word “ἑδώλια” means ‘dwellings,’ ‘abodes’ in El. 1393, Aesch. Ch. 71, Aesch. Theb. 455.The nautical sense occurs (apart from Her. 1. 24) only here, and in Helen. 1571, Cycl. 238.Hence the distinctive epithet is intelligible. (2) Further, as the purport of the passage is to mark the urgency of the danger to the ships, on which the ultimate safety of the Greeks depended, there is excuse for the emphatic iteration, “νεῶνναυτικοῖςναυτικά”.

Other views of the passage, and some emendations which have been proposed, will be found in the Appendix.


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hide References (8 total)
  • Commentary references from this page (8):
    • Aeschylus, Libation Bearers, 71
    • Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes, 455
    • Euripides, Cyclops, 238
    • Euripides, Electra, 1393
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.24
    • Homer, Iliad, 15.716
    • Homer, Iliad, 16.124
    • Homer, Iliad, 9.241
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