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ἐπίκοινα: adverbial (i. 216. 1). For the Milesian half of the response cf. ch. 19n. The oracle is obscure enough to be regarded as a genuine Pythian response. It is not easy to see how it could raise a suspicion of trickery, unless it be assumed that the victory of the female over the male implies a success won by craft over force. But at least three interpretations are possible:

1. Hera of Argos shall defeat and drive out him of Lacedaemon (Cleomenes or Apollo), but it will be a Cadmeian victory, bringing mourning and ruin on Argos. But unless the first lines be applied to the expulsion of Cleomenes by Hera (ch. 82), they promise Argos a victory not recorded by H.

2. Sparta (female) shall conquer Argos (a male hero), so the women of Argos shall make lamentation, and men in time to come count that day the ruin of Argos. In this case, however, ἐξελάσῃ remains unexplained.

3. Later authors (Pausanias, ii. 20. 8; Plutarch, Moralia, p. 245 D, E, quoting Socrates of Argos, F. H. G. iv. 497) tell us how Telesilla, the poetess, armed the women, the infirm, and the slaves, and drove back Cleomenes from the defenceless town after his victory in the field. This tradition, which fits the oracle admirably, is clearly of local Argive origin, whereas H. gives us the official Spartan version, which presents obvious difficulties (cf. ch. 82 n.). But the story of Telesilla appears to be late and is most probably unhistorical, since it seems designed to explain the oracle, and the festival of Wantonness (τὰ Ὑβριστικά) at Argos. At this feast the women dressed as men and the men as women, even wearing veils (Plutarch, l. c.; Polyaenus, viiii. 33). Such exchange of garments is a widely spread religious custom, particularly at the time of marriage; thus Argive brides wore beards (Plutarch, l. c.) and Spartan brides men's clothes on their wedding nights (Plut. Lyc. 15). So too there was in Cyprus a sacrifice to a bearded Aphrodite, at which men were dressed as women and women as men (Macrob. Sat. iii. 8; Servius on Aen. ii. 632); for other parallels see Frazer, Paus. iii. 197; Farnell, ii. 634-5, 748 n. 104. Again, Lucian (Amores 30) says that in consequence of Telesilla's victory the war-god (Ares) was deemed at Argos a god of women, and Plutarch adds (l. c.) that the victorious women built a temple to the war-god (Enyalius), but in view of Pausanias' statement that the statue of Telesilla stood in front of the temple of Aphrodite, it seems likely that the supposed war-god is really an armed Aphrodite, a goddess of Eastern origin (cf. i. 105 n.; Frazer, iii. 338; Farnell, ii. 653-4). The story of Telesilla then seems to be an aetiological myth, founded on a misunderstood rite and a misinterpreted oracle. Wells (op. cit. pp. 91-4) defends the historical character of the tale of Telesilla.

ἀμφιδρυφέας: Homeric (Il. ii. 700), as are κῦδος ἄρεσθαι, ἐπεσσομένων, δουρὶ δαμασθείς.

ὄφις = Argos. Δωριεῖς καὶ μάλιστα Ἀργεῖοι τὴν ὄφιν ἄργαν ἐκάλουν, Bekker, Anec. 442. Again, Ἀργειφόντης, the title of Hermes, who slew Argos or Panoptes, was interpreted as ὀφιοκτόνος. Hence, though the proper crest of Argos is the wolf or wolf's head (Busolt, i. 214), the serpent is used as the symbol of Argos (Soph. Ant. 125) and borne as arms by Adrastus (Eur. Phoen. 1137). It may be added that Sepeia gives further point, since like Mount Sepia in Arcadia, it doubtless got its name from the presence there of the σήψ, a dangerous viper (= ὄφις) described by Pausanias. See Paus. viii. 4. 7, 16. 2, Frazer, ad loc.

τριέλικτος, ‘of three coils’ (cf. τρικάρηνος, ix. 81 n.), an inferior variant metri gratia for ἀέλικτος, ‘coilless.’

ταῦτα πάντα συνελθόντα: loosely used of two things (cf. v. 36. 1), said by Stein to be the invasion and the oracle, but this is vague and unsatisfactory. Bury (Klio ii. 19) ingeniously suggests that one portent (ὄφις τριέλικτος) was realized, in that Sepeia, the place of snakes, was in danger, and the other, the driving forth of the male by the female, in that the waters of the river Erasinus, a male divinity, were driven forth by the Stymphalian lake, a female (cf. 76). The explanation is far-fetched, but not more so than other interpretations. It might well have occurred to the Argives, though not contemplated at Delphi.

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  • Commentary references from this page (5):
    • Euripides, Phoenician Women, 1137
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8.4.7
    • Sophocles, Antigone, 125
    • Homer, Iliad, 2.700
    • Plutarch, Lycurgus, 15
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