“A New Papyrus of Sophocles” Prof Patrick Finglass Review

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CANI was delighted to welcome Professor Patrick Finglass from the University of Bristol to deliver our winter lecture.  There was an excellent turnout from CANI members and supporters to hear Prof Finglass, as well as sample the refreshments and peruse the CANI bookshop.  CANI Convenor Helen McVeigh welcomed everyone to the lecture and reminded supporters of forthcoming events.

Prof Finglass began by summarising the myth of Tereus: Tereus rapes Philomela (sister of his wife Procne) and cuts her tongue out so she cannot implicate him. When Procne discovers what has happened she kills her son Itys and serves him to his father Tereus. Sophocles’ play Tereus does not survive but was influential in Greek and Roman literature such as Aristophanes’ Birds and Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

512fffb62e2134edd7de971d4da43a13The papyrus in question was discovered in Oxyrhynchus around a century ago, and was published in 2016. The right column of the papyrus contains the extension of a speech in Tereus, which provides the basis for an attempt to reconstruct some of the play’s lay out. The fragment shows that after the speech by Procne about the difficulties of marriage and being a woman, she continues to speak with the chorus and a shepherd enters with an announcement. Prof Finglass asserted that the chorus must be female because Procne would not have spoken in such intimate terms before a male chorus. The presence of the chorus on stage allows the scene to be identified as scene two. A similar scene occurs in Sophocles’ Trachiniae with Deianira making a speech of similar subject-matter in the presence of a chorus of women.

The shepherd as a messenger is a long-established literary trope. He does not begin by exclaiming good news which bodes ill. Later he offers to swear an oath which suggests he is bringing at least neutral but potentially disastrous news, possibly about the discovery of the mutilated Philomela. A recognition scene may have followed.

index6Prof Finglass highlighted that Tereus revolves around the reaction of the woman to the wrongs of the man, and compared this myth to that of Medea.  Both women are active in punishing their husbands by killing their own children, although Procne goes a step further and serves Itys, her son with Tereus, to him to eat.

At this grisly juncture, Prof Finglass concluded his lecture and answered a number of questions regarding the possibility of discovery of more papyri, the preservation of popular plays, and dramatic performance.

CANI wishes to thank Professor Finglass for his marvellous lecture.

Helen McVeigh


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