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When Oedipus knows that his end is near, he leads his
The καταρ: ράκτης ὀδός.
friends to a place called the καταρράκτης ὀδός, the "sheer threshold," “"bound by brazen steps to earth's roots."Soph. OC 1591 There can be no doubt that this "threshold" denotes a natural fissure or chasm, supposed to be the commencement of a passage leading down to the nether world. Such a chasm exists at the foot of the Areiopagus, where Pausanias saw a tomb of Oedipus in the precinct of the Eumenides. Near this, at the S.W. angle of the Acropolis, was a shrine of Demeter Chloë1. Are we to suppose, then, that Sophocles alludes to the chasm at the Areiopagus, and that "the hill of Demeter Euchloüs" means this shrine of Demeter Chloë on the slope of the Acropolis? This view2—which the coincidence might reasonably suggest—seems to present insuperable difficulties. At v. 643 Theseus asks Oedipus whether he will come to Athens or stay at Colonus. He replies that he will stay at Colonus, because it is the scene appointed for his victory over his foes (646). But the victory was to take place at his grave (411); which the poet therefore supposed to be at or near Colonus,—not at Athens. If, then, in the time of Sophocles an Areiopagus-legend already claimed the grave of Oedipus, the poet disregarded it. And, when the grave was to be associated with Colonus, it would be strange to send Oedipus so far for the purpose of vanishing at the Areiopagus. The brevity of the choral ode which separates the final exit of Oedipus (1555) from the entrance of the Messenger (1579) implies, as does the whole context, that Oedipus passed away somewhere near the grove—not at a distance of more than a mile and a half, as the other theory requires. Then the phrase “Εὐχλόου Δήμητρος πάγος(1600) applies to the knoll far more naturally than to a shrine at the foot of the Acropolis. Referring to a tomb of Oedipus which he saw in the precinct of the Furies at the Areiopagus, Pausanias says: "On inquiry, I found that the bones had been brought from Thebes. As to the version of the death of Oedipus given by Sophocles, Homer did not permit me to think it credible."3 (since the Iliad buries Oedipus at Thebes). Thus Pausanias, at least, understood Sophocles to mean that the grave was somewhere near Colonus. It did not occur to him that the Colonus-myth as to the grave could be harmonised with the Areiopagus-myth. Sophocles adopts the Colonus-myth unreservedly; nor can I believe that he intended, by any deliberate vagueness, to leave his hearers free to think of the Areiopagus. The chasm called the καταρράκτης ὀδός must be imagined, then, as not very distant from the grove. No such chasm is visible at the present day in the neighbourhood of Colonus. But this fact is insufficient to prove that no appearance of the kind can have existed there in antiquity4.

1 Schol. on O. C. 1600Εὐχλόου Δήμητρος ἱερόν ἐστι πρὸς τῇ ἀκροπόλει”: quoting the

ἀλλ᾽ εὐθὺ πόλεως εἶμι: θῦσαι γάρ με δεῖ
κριὸν Χλόῃ Δήμητρι.

Μαρικᾶς of Eupolis,
If the scholiast is right as to the situation of the temple, Eupolis used πόλεως in the sense of "acropolis," as Athenians still used it in the time of Thucydides (2. 15).

2 It is beautifully and persuasively stated in Wordsworth's Athens and Attica, ch. XXX. (p. 203, 4th ed.). The author holds that the poet, embarrassed by the rival claims of the Areiopagus and Colonus, intended to suggest the former without definitely excluding the latter.

3 1. 28. 7ἔστι δὲ καὶ ἐντὸς τοῦ περιβόλου μνῆμα Οἰδίποδος. πολυπραγμονῶν δὲ εὕρισκον τὰ ὀστᾶ ἐκ Θηβῶν κομισθέντα: τὰ γὰρ ἐς τὸν θάνατον Σοφοκλεῖ πεποιημένα τὸν Οἰδίποδος Ὅμηρος οὐκ εἴα μοι δόξαι πιστά”, etc. He refers to Il. 23.679 f. See my Introd. to the O. T., p. xiv.

4 Prof. T. McK. Hughes, Woodwardian Professor of Geology in the University of Cambridge, kindly permits me to quote his answer to a question of mine on this point. His remarks refer to the general conditions of such phenomena in Greece at large, and must be taken as subject to the possibility that special conditions in the neighbourhood of Colonus may be adverse to the processes described; though I am not aware of any reason for thinking that such is the case. “"It is quite possible that a chasm, such as is common in the limestone rocks of Greece, might become first choked, so as no longer to allow the passage of the winter's flood, and then overgrown and levelled, so that there might be no trace of it visible on the surface. The water from the high ground during winter rains rushes down the slopes until it reaches the jointed limestone rock. It filters slowly at first into the fissures. But the water, especially when it contains (as most surface water does) a little acid, dissolves the sides of the fissure, and soon admits sand and pebbles, the mechanical action of which hurries on the work of opening out a great chasm, which swallows up the winter's torrent, and becomes a katavothron. But during the summer no water runs in, and, even without an earthquake shock, such a chasm may get choked. The waters which cannot find their way through then stand in holes, and deposit their mud. There would be for some time a pond above, but that would at last get filled, and all trace of the chasm be lost."

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hide References (12 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (8):
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.28.7
    • Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 411
    • Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 643
    • Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 1555
    • Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 1579
    • Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 1591
    • Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 1600
    • Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 646
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (4):
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