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The ground on which the grove of the Eumenides at Colonus
The χαλκοῦς ὀδός.
stands is called “"the Brazen Threshold, the stay of Athens"(57). How is this name related to that of the spot at which Oedipus disappeared, — “"the sheer threshold"(1590)? One view is that the same spot is meant in both cases. We have then to suppose that in verses 1-116 (the "prologue") the scene is laid at the καταρράκτης ὀδός, "the sheer threshold"; and that at v. 117 the scene changes to another side of the grove, where the rest of the action takes place. This supposition is, however, extremely improbable, and derives no support from any stage arrangements which the opening scene implies. Rather the "Brazen Threshold" of v. 57 was a name derived from the particular spot which is called the "sheer threshold," and applied in a larger sense to the immediately adjacent region, including the ground on which the grove stood. The epithet "brazen" properly belonged to the actual chasm or "threshold," — the notion being that a flight of brazen steps connected the upper world with the Homeric "brazen threshold" of Hades. In its larger application to the neighbouring ground, "brazen" was a poetical equivalent for "rocky," and this ground was called the "stay" or "support" (ἔρεισμα) of Athens, partly in the physical sense of "firm basis," partly also with the notion that the land had a safeguard in the benevolence of those powers to whose nether realm the "threshold" led.

Evidence from Istros.
This view is more than a conjecture; it can be supported by ancient authority. Istros, a native of Cyrene, was first the slave, then the disciple and friend, of the Alexandrian poet Callimachus; he lived, then, about 240 B.C., or less than 170 years after the death of Sophocles1. He is reckoned among the authors of Atthides, having written, among other things, a work entitled Ἀττικά, in at least sixteen books. In the later Alexandrian age he was one of the chief authorities on Attic topography; and he is quoted six times in the ancient scholia on the Oedipus Coloneus. One of these quotations has not (so far as I know) been noticed in its bearing on the point now under discussion; it does not occur in the scholium on v. 57, but on 1059, in connection with another subject ("the snowy rock"). It would appear that in the first book of his Ἀττικά Istros sketched an itinerary of Attica, marking off certain stages or distances. Along with some other words, the scholiast quotes these:—“ἀπὸ δὲ τούτου ἕως Κολωνοῦ παρὰ τὸν Χαλκοῦν προσαγορευόμενον: ὅθεν πρὸς τὸν Κηφισὸν ἕως τῆς μυστικῆς εἰσόδου εἰς Ἐλευσῖνα”. We do not know to what ἀπὸ τούτου referred: but the context is clear. Two distances are here indicated: (1) one is from the point meant by τοῦτο, "along the Brazen Threshold, as it is called," to Colonus: (2) the second is from Colonus "in the direction of the Cephisus, as far as the road by which the Initiated approach Eleusis," — i.e., as far as the point at which the Sacred Way crosses the Cephisus (see map). A third stage is then introduced by the words, ἀπὸ ταύτης δὲ (sc. τῆς εἰσόδου) βαδιζόντων εἰς Ἐλευσῖνα, etc. Thus the course of the second stage is from N.E. to S.W.; and the third stage continues the progress westward. Hence it would be natural to infer that the unknown point meant by τοῦτο, from which one set out "along the Brazen Threshold," was somewhere to the E. or N.E. of Colonus. At any rate, wherever that point was, the question with which we are chiefly concerned is settled by this passage. The "Brazen Threshold" was not merely the name of a definite spot. It was the name given to a whole strip of ground, or region, "along which" the wayfarer proceeded to Colonus. And this perfectly agrees with the manner in which Sophocles refers to it (v. 57).

1 Müller, Fragm. Hist. I., lxxxv., 418.

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  • Cross-references from this page (4):
    • Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 1059
    • Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 117
    • Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 1590
    • Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 57
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