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The date of the Ajax is unknown; but internal
Date of the play.
evidence affords reasons for believing that, if not the earliest of the seven plays, it is the next oldest to the Antigone.

(1) The Parodos has the form of an anapaestic marching-song (vv. 134—171), followed by a lyric ode (vv. 172—200), as in the Persae, the Supplices, and the Agamemnon of Aeschylus. This simplest type of Parodos occurs in no other play of Sophocles, though that of the Antigone is akin to it.

(2) Anapaests for the Chorus are interposed in the iambic dialogue (vv. 1163—1167). The only other play of Sophocles in which this occurs is the Antigone (vv. 929—943).

These are (I think) the only clear indications of a relatively early date. Some other points, however, have been urged, and demand consideration here.

(3) It has been noted by G. Wolff1 and others that several words and phrases in the Ajax are Aeschylean: e.g. v. 56 “ῥαχίζω” ( Pers. 426 etc.): 412 “πόροι ἁλίρροθοι” ( Pers. 367): 447 “φρένες διάστροφοι” ( P. V. 673): 673 “λευκόπωλος ἡμέρα” ( Pers. 386): 740 “ὑπεσπανισμένον” ( Pers. 489 etc.). Again, the epic “ ῥα” (172, Pers. 954) occurs also in Pers. 633, but not elsewhere in Tragedy; the Doric and epic plural “τοί” (1404), used by Aeschylus ( Pers. 584 etc.), is not elsewhere used by Sophocles. The Persae, it will be seen, furnishes most of these parallelisms2. But such coincidences merely show that the Ajax belongs to a period when Aeschylus had a strong influence on the younger poet's style; and we have no means of setting an inferior limit to that period. In so far, then, as the language of the play has an Aeschylean stamp, it seems more accurate to say that this characteristic is entirely consonant with the hypothesis of a relatively early date than to claim it as a separate indication of such a date. With regard to the epic “ ῥα” and “τοί”, it should be remembered that the play contains several phrases which show a deliberate aim at epic colouring, such as “κλυτῶν ἐνάρων” (177), “ἑλίκεσσι βουσί, κλυτοῖς αἰπολίοις” (374 f.), “οὐλίῳ” (933), “πολύτλας” (954), “κοίλην κάπετον” (1165), which the poet may have deemed appropriate to a subject taken from the Trojan cycle and concerned with a Homeric hero.

(4) Some critics have thought that only twelve choreutae were used in the Ajax, and infer that the play belonged to a time when Sophocles had not yet raised the number of the Chorus to fifteen3. The chief ground of this theory is the fact that verses 892—914 and 938—960 (taken together) contain twelve utterances of the Chorus. It is assumed that each utterance represents a single choreutes. But this is an assumption only; and it does not appear a probable one, when it is observed that verses 900—903, and 908—914, are passionate expressions of a feeling common to the whole Chorus, and would naturally, therefore, be given by the whole Chorus. In verses 866—878, again, the attempt to distinguish twelve parts, one for each of twelve choreutae, involves a highly arbitrary process. The mere fact of “ἡμιχόρια” being there employed proves nothing; for the use of hemichoria occurs in plays written at a time when the number of the tragic chorus was certainly fifteen ( Eur. Or. 1258 ff., Eur. Alc. 93—111, Eur. Alc. 226—232).

(5) Lastly, it has been supposed that the play was written ‘not long after the introduction of a third actor4,’ because three actors are on the scene together only in the prologue (Athena, Odysseus, Ajax), and at the end (Agamemnon, Teucer, Odysseus); Odysseus being silent while Ajax is present (92—117), and Teucer while Agamemnon is present (1318—1373). But it appears very unsafe to assume that these facts indicate an early and tentative stage in the use of the third actor. They may be due simply to the construction of the play and to the requirements of each dramatic situation.

As between the Ajax and the Antigone, the claim to priority would rest with the Ajax, if the form of the Parodos were the test; though the Parodos of the Antigone is also of an early type (see n. on Ai. 134). But much more weight is due to the fact that the Antigone, alone of the seven plays, rigorously adheres to the practice of Aeschylus, in never admitting the division of an iambic trimeter between two or more speakers (“ἀντιλαβή”). This was no trivial detail, but a general rule of composition which materially affected the character of dialogue. When Sophocles at last decided to relax that rule, the result was a marked gain in lightness and rapidity at moments when the dialogue became animated or excited. The fact that he had made this change before he wrote the Ajax seems clearly to indicate that the Ajax is later than the Antigone.


1 In his edition of the play, p. 140 (4th ed. 1887).

2 We may also compare Ai. 789 f., “φέρων...πρᾶξιν” (‘announcing his fortune’), with Pers. 248, “φέρει...πρᾶγος” (in a like sense): and Ai. 769, “ἐπισπάσειν κλέος”, with a similar use of the active “ἐπέσπασεν” in Pers. 477.

3 Muff Chr., Chorische Technik d. Soph. pp. 52, 78 ff.; and O. Hense, Der Chor. des Soph. p. 5. Nauck adopts this view in the 8th ed. of Schneidewin's Ajax, p. 63, and n. on 892 ff.

4 Introd. to Schneidewin's Ajax, p. 64.

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hide References (16 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (12):
    • Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, 673
    • Aeschylus, Persians, 367
    • Aeschylus, Persians, 386
    • Aeschylus, Persians, 426
    • Aeschylus, Persians, 489
    • Aeschylus, Persians, 584
    • Aeschylus, Persians, 633
    • Aeschylus, Persians, 954
    • Euripides, Alcestis, 226
    • Euripides, Alcestis, 93
    • Euripides, Orestes, 1258
    • Sophocles, Ajax, 134
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (4):
    • Aeschylus, Persians, 248
    • Aeschylus, Persians, 477
    • Sophocles, Ajax, 769
    • Sophocles, Ajax, 789
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