previous next


The topography of the play, in its larger aspects, is illustrated by the accompanying map1. The knoll of whitish earth known as Colonus Hippius, which gave its name to the deme or township of Colonus2, was about a mile and a quarter N.W.N. from

Colonus Hippius.
the Dipylon gate of Athens. The epithet Hippius belonged to the god Poseidon, as horse-creating and horse-taming (see on 715); it was given to this place because Poseidon Hippius was worshipped there, and served to distinguish this extramural Colonus from the Colonus Agoraeus, or "Market Hill," within the walls of Athens3. In the absence of a distinguishing epithet, "Colonus" would usually mean Colonus Hippius; Thucydides calls it simply Colonus, and describes it as "a sanctuary (ἱερόν) of Poseidon." His mention of it occurs in connection with the oligarchical conspiracy of 411 B.C., when Peisander and his associates chose Colonus, instead of the Pnyx, as the place of meeting for the Assembly which established the government of the Four Hundred. It is a fair, though not a necessary, inference from the historian's words that the assembly was held within the sacred precinct of Poseidon, with the double advantage for the oligarchs of limiting the numbers and of precluding forcible interruption4. The altar of Poseidon in this precinct is not visible to the spectators of our play, but is supposed to be near. When Pausanias visited Colonus (c. 180 A.D.), he saw an altar of Poseidon Hippius and Athene Hippia. A grove and a temple of Poseidon had formerly existed there, but had perished long before the date of his visit. He found, too, that divine honours were paid at Colonus to Peirithous and Theseus, to Oedipus and Adrastus: there were perhaps two shrines or chapels (ἡρῷα), one for each pair of heroes5. He does not mention the grove of the Eumenides, which, like that of Poseidon, had doubtless been destroyed at an earlier period.

About a quarter of a mile N.E.N. of the Colonus Hippius

Demeter Euchloüs.
rises a second mound, identified by E. Curtius and others with the “"hill of Demeter Euchloüs"(1600). When Oedipus stood at the spot where he finally disappeared, this hill was "in full view" (προσόψιος). Traces of an ancient building exist at its southern edge. Similar traces exist at the N.W. edge of the Colonus Hippius. If, as is likely, these ancient buildings were connected with religious purposes, it is possible that the specially sacred region of the ancient Colonus lay between the two mounds6.

1 Reduced, by permission, from part of Plate II. in the Atlas von Athen: im Auftrage des Kaiserlich Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts herausgegeben von E. Curtius und J. A. Kaupert (Berlin, 1878. Dietrich Reimer).

2 The familiarity of the word κολωνός was no impediment to the Greek love of a personal myth; and the hero Colonus, the legendary founder of the township (ἀρχηγός, v. 60) was called ἱππότης in honour of the local god.—Similar names of places were Colonè in Messenia, Colonae in Thessaly and Phocis; while higher eminences suggested such names as Acragas (Sicily) or Aipeia (Messenia): cp. Tozer, Geo. of Greece, p. 357.

3 In the district of Melitè (see map): cp. below, p. 5.

4 Thuc. 8. 67ξυνέκλῃσαν τὴν ἐκκλησίαν ἐς τὸν Κολωνόνἔστι δὲ ἱερὸν Ποσειδῶνος ἔξω τῆς πόλεως, ἀπέχον σταδίους μάλιστα δέκα”.—Grote (VIII. 47) renders ἱερόν "temple," but it seems rather to denote the whole precinct sacred to Poseidon. Prof. Curtius (III. 438, Eng. tr.) supposes the ecclesia to be held on the knoll of Colonus, near (and not within) the sanctuary,—understanding ξυνέκλῃσαν to denote an enclosure made for the occasion, partly to limit the numbers, partly "on account of the proximity of the enemy's army" (at Deceleia). Grote refers ξυνέκλῃσαν to some stratagem used by the oligarchs. I should rather refer it simply to the limit imposed by the ἱερόν itself. Thucydides, as his words show, here identifies Colonus with the ἱερόν. The temenos of Poseidon having been chosen as the place for the ecclesia, the περίστια would be carried round its boundary; after which no person outside of that lustral line would be considered as participating in the assembly. A choice of place which necessarily restricted the numbers might properly be described by ξυνέκλῃσαν.—Cp. n. on 1491.

5 His use of the singular is ambiguous, owing to its place in the sentence: “ἡρῷον δὲ Πειρίθου καὶ Θησέως Οἰδίποδός τε καὶ Ἀδράστου(I. 30. 4).

6 The present aspect of Colonus is thus described by an accomplished scholar, Mr George Wotherspoon (Longmans' Magazine, Feb. 1884): “Was this the noble dwelling-place he sings,
Fair-steeded glistening land, which once t' adorn
Gold-reinèd Aphroditè did not scorn,
And where blithe Bacchus kept his revellings?
Oh, Time and Change! Of all those goodly things,
Of coverts green by nightingales forlorn
Lov'd well; of flow'r-bright fields, from morn to morn
New-water'd by Cephissus' sleepless springs,
What now survives? This stone-capt mound, the plain
Sterile and bare, these meagre groves of shade,
Pale hedges, the scant stream unfed by rain:
No more? The genius of the place replied,
"Still blooms inspirèd Art tho' Nature fade:
The memory of Colonus hath not died."

The "stone-capt mound" is the Colonus Hippius, on which are the monuments of Otfried Müller and Lenormant. If Colonus itself has thus lost its ancient charms, at least the views from it in every direction are very fine; especially so is the view of the Acropolis.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
180 AD (1)
411 BC (1)
hide References (4 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (1):
    • Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 1600
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (3):
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.30.4
    • Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 60
    • Thucydides, Histories, 8.67
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: