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There are, however, strong grounds of internal coincidence for believing that the Electra is among the later plays of Sophocles. It cannot, on any view, be placed more than a few years before the Euripidean Electra, of which the probable date is 413 B.C. The traits which warrant this conclusion are the
Internal evidence.
following. (1) The frequency of “ἀντιλαβή”, i.e. the partition of an iambic trimeter between two speakers. The ordinary form of such partition is when each person speaks once, so that the trimeter falls into two parts (a, b). Taking the two latest plays, we find 22 such examples in the Philoctetes, and 52 in the Oedipus Coloneus. The Electra ranks between them, with 25. Next comes the Oedipus Tyrannus, with only 10. Further, verse 1502 of Electra is so divided between two persons that it falls into three parts (a, b, a). The other Sophoclean instances of this are confined to the Philoctetes (810, 814, 816)1, and the Oedipus Coloneus (832).

(2) Anapaestic verses (1160—1162) are inserted in a series of iambic trimeters. The only parallel for this occurs in the Trachiniae (v. 1081, vv. 1085 f.), a piece which may be placed somewhere between 420 and 410 B.C. (Introd. to Trach., p. xxiii). It was an innovation due to the melodramatic tendency which marked the last two decades of the century. In the earlier practice, a series of iambic trimeters could be broken only by shorter iambic measures, or by mere interjections.

(3) The ‘free’ or ‘melic’ anapaests in El. 86—1202 are of a type which can be strictly matched only in plays of a date later than circ. 420 B.C., such as the Troades, the Ion, and the Iphigeneia in Tauris.

(4) The actors have a notably large share in the lyric element of the play. (a) Thus the anapaests just mentioned are delivered by Electra as a “μονῳδία”. Such a monody can be paralleled only from the later plays of Euripides. It is characteristic of the new music—satirised by Aristophanes in the Frogs—which came into vogue circ. 420 B.C. (b) Again, the Parodos of the Electra is in the form of a lyric dialogue (“κομμός”) between the heroine and the Chorus. Here, too, it is only in the latest plays that we find parallels. A ‘kommatic’ parodos occurs also in the Oedipus Coloneus. That of the Philoctetes has something of the same general character, although there Neoptolemus replies to the Chorus only in anapaests. (c) Another illustration of the same tendency is the lyric duet between Electra and the coryphaeus in vv. 823—870, which may be compared with similar duets in the Philoctetes (e.g. 1170 ff.), and the Oedipus Coloneus (178 ff., 1677 ff.). (d) In the “μέλος ἀπὸ σκηνῆς” between Electra and Orestes (1232—1287), the Chorus take no part. On the other hand, the songs given to the Chorus alone are of relatively small compass (472—515; 1058—1097; 1384—1397).

(5) The Parodos shows different classes of metre (the “γένος ἴσον” and the “γένος διπλάσιον”) combined within the same strophe; and, at the close, the epode re-echoes them all. This “πολυμετρία” is a further sign of a late period3.

When all these indications are considered, there seems to be

at least a very strong probability that the Electra was written not earlier than 420 B.C. There is only one point that might seem to favour an earlier date. The long syllables of the trimeter are here resolved more rarely than in any other of the seven extant plays4. But, though a very great frequency of such resolution (as in the Philoctetes) has a clear significance, a negative application of the test would be, as the statistics show, most unsafe; and, in this instance, all the other internal evidence is on the opposite side. Those, then, who hold (as I do) that the play was produced before the Electra of Euripides (413 B.C.), will conclude that the years 420 and 414 B.C. mark the limits of the period to which it may be referred.

Ancient repute of the play. Translation by Atilius.

1 Ph. 753 is unique in being similarly divided so that it falls into four parts.

2 Vv. 88 f. are two successive paroemiacs.

3 See Metrical Analysis, p. lxxiii. These lyric criteria for the date are searchingly examined by Prof. v. Wilamowitz in Hermes, vol. XVIII. pp. 242 ff.

4 The statistics are given in G. Wolff's Elektra (3rd ed., revised by L. Bellermann), p. 123, n. 1. The ratio of the number of resolved feet to the whole number of trimeters in each play is stated as follows:— 1. Electra, 1 to 30 1/2. 2. Antigone, 1 to 26. 3. Trachiniae, 1 to 18 1/2. 4. Ajax, 1 to 18. 5. Oedipus Coloneus, 1 to 18. 6. Oedipus Tyrannus, 1 to 14 1/2. 7. Philoctetes, 1 to 9 1/2. The extraordinarily high proportion in the Philoctetes (409 B.C.) must be considered as indicative of the poet's latest period, and showing the influence of Euripides. But the danger of inference from a comparison of lower ratios is evident. The ratio in the Oedipus Coloneus is lower than in the earlier Tyrannus, and only the same as in the Ajax, which is the oldest play after the Antigone.

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    • Sophocles, Electra, 86
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    • Sophocles, Philoctetes, 753
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