Tragedy and Ritual - article ; n°1 ; vol.3, pg 87-109


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Mètis. Anthropologie des mondes grecs anciens - Année 1988 - Volume 3 - Numéro 1 - Pages 87-109
Tragedy and Ritual (pp. 87-109)
Ce travail envisage la possibilité que l'action scénique impliquée par les textes tragiques grecs fournisse des indices importants sur les relations entre tragédie et rituel. On examine de façon assez détaillée des exemples pris dans trois pièces (Ajax, LesEuménides, l'Electre d'Euripide); ils suggèrent que, par l'évocation de l'action rituelle, ce qui est dit et montré sur scène reçoit un sens plus profond. L'idée couramment partagée que l'usage tragique d'un rituel est toujours de quelque façon anormal ou subversif est beaucoup trop restrictive; on envisage ensuite quelques perspectives plus larges de recherche.
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Patricia E. Easterling
Tragedy and Ritual
In: Mètis. Anthropologie des mondes grecs anciens. Volume 3, n°1-2, 1988. pp. 87-109.
Tragedy and Ritual (pp. 87-109)
Ce travail envisage la possibilité que l'action scénique impliquée par les textes tragiques grecs fournisse des indices importants
sur les relations entre tragédie et rituel. On examine de façon assez détaillée des exemples pris dans trois pièces (Ajax,
LesEuménides, l'Electre d'Euripide); ils suggèrent que, par l'évocation de l'action rituelle, ce qui est dit et montré sur scène reçoit
un sens plus profond. L'idée couramment partagée que l'usage tragique d'un rituel est toujours de quelque façon anormal ou
subversif est beaucoup trop restrictive; on envisage ensuite quelques perspectives plus larges de recherche.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Easterling Patricia E. Tragedy and Ritual. In: Mètis. Anthropologie des mondes grecs anciens. Volume 3, n°1-2, 1988. pp. 87-
doi : 10.3406/metis.1988.907 RITUAL TRAGEDY
«Cry 'Woe, woe', but may the good prevail!»
Récent work on ritual has had a stimulating effect on the interprétation of
Greek tragedy. Critics hâve at last felt free to set aside the old question of
origins and the search for archetypal patterns, and to focus attention in-
stead on the ritual language used in tragic texts. The impetus has corne
f rom outside -from structuralist anthropology and the work of such writers
as Karl Meuli, René Girard and Victor Turner- but the application of
thèse théories to ancient drama has only been possible because the
groundwork had been laid by générations of scholars active in the field of
Greek religion, with their studies of sacrifice, mysteries, festivals, cuit
songs, funerary practices and the rest1. Yet despite ail this interest and ac-
tivity, reflected in the publications of the last twenty years in particular,
there has been a curious lack of attention to one potentially fruitful sub-
ject, the connexion between ritual action and action in the théâtre (Walter
Burkert's récent study «Opferritual bei Sophokles. Pragmatik-Symbolik-
Theater» is an important exception)2. Hère, it seems, is a gênerai area
1. Extensively documentée! in Walter Burkert, Greek Religion , trans. J. Raffan, Ox
ford 1985. See also Robert Parker, Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek
Religion, Oxford 1983.
2. Altsprachliche Unterricht, 28, 2, 1985, pp. 5-20. Cf. also Peter Burian, «Supplicat
ion and Hero Cuit in Sophocles Ajax» , Greek, Rom. &Byz, Studies, 13, 1972, pp. 151-
6; Hélène Foley, «The Masque of Dionysus», Trans. & Proceed. Amer. Philol. Assoc,
110, 1980, pp. 107-33; Richard Seaford, «Dionysiac drama and the Dionysiac myst
eries», Classical Quarterly, 31, 1981, pp. 252-75; J.-P. Vernant, «Le Dionysos masqué
des Bacchantes d' Euripide», in J.-P. Vernant and P. Vidal-Naquet, Mythe et tragédie
, Paris, 1986, pp. 237-70. PATRICIA E. EASTERLING
which deserves to be more fully investigated3; this paper attempts to
sketch some Unes of approach.
The first thing that strikes one is the sheer extent of the évidence offered
by our surviving plays, which is not adequately explained by the fact that
tragedy mimicked the patterns of Greek social life and was therefore
bound to écho some of its ritual activities. Much has been written recently4
about the rite of sacrifice and its central importance in tragedy -Agamem-
non, Women ofTrachis, Héraclès, the Iphigenia plays, are obvious examp
les- but we should not overlook ail the other rituals that are performed or
described or referred to in tragedy; those surrounding birth as in
Euripides' Electra, marriage as in Alcestis or LA. , death, as in the funerals
at the end of Seven against Thebes, or Aj'ax; rites that establish contact
with the dead, such as the necromancy of the Persae or the offerings given
to the dead Agamemnon in plays on the Electra story; purification rituals
as in the water-and-honey libations to be offered to the Eumenides in
Oedipus Coloneus; oath-taking as in Medea; supplication, as in a wide
range of plays from Aeschylus' Suppliants and Eumenides onwards5.
Some of thèse rituals are enacted on stage, like évocation of
the dead and oath-taking; some are prepared for, as when processions
3. Particularly in the light of the interest shown in ritual by modem dramatists and di-
rectors; cf. Christopher Innés, Holy Théâtre, Cambridge, 1981; Richard Schechner,
Between Théâtre and Anthropology , Philadelphia, 1985.
4. See especially Froma I. Zeitlin, «The Motif of the Corrupted Sacrifice in Aesc
hylus' Oresteia», Trans. & Proceed Amer. Philol. Assoc. , 96, 1965, pp. 463-508; Walter
Burkert, «Greek Tragedy and Sacrificial Ritual», Greek, Rom. &Byz. Studies, 7, 1966,
pp. 87-121 and Homo necans, Berlin and New York, 1972; Pierre Vidal-Naquet,
«Chasse et sacrifice dans YOrestie d' Eschyle», Mythe et tragédie en Grèce ancienne,
Paris, 1977, pp. 135-58; Bernd Seidensticker, «Sacrificial Ritual in the Bacchae», in
G.W. Bowersock et alledd. , Arktouros, Berlin and New York, 1979, pp. 181-90; Hélène
Foley, Ritual Irony, Ithaca and London, 1985.
5. On Electra, see Michael J. O' Brien, «Orestes and the Gorgon: Euripides'
Electra», Amer. Journal of Philol., 85, 1964, pp. 13-39 and Froma I. Zeitlin, «The Ar-
give Festival of Hera and Euripides' Electra», Trans. & Proceed. Amer. Philol. Assoc. ,
«Euripides' Alkestis: Five Aspects 101, 1970, pp. 645-69; on Alcestis, Richard Buxton,
of an Interprétation» , in Lyn Rodley (ed . ) , Papers Given at a Colloquium in Honour of
R.P. Winnington -Ingram — Journal ofHell. Studies, Supplementary Papers, 15, 1987,
pp. 17-29; on Iphigenia in Aulide Foley, supra (n. 4), ch. 2; on Septem, G.O. Hutchin-
son's édition (Oxford, 1985) on 822-1004, and in gênerai Margaret Alexiou, The Ritual
Lamentin Greek Tradition, Cambridge, 1974; on Oedipus Coloneus, W. Burkert, supra
(n. 2); on suppliant plays P. Burian, supra (n. 2) and «Suppliant and Saviour: Oedipus at
Colonus», Phoenix, 28, 1974, pp. 408-29. TRAGEDY AND RlTUAL
leave the stage accompanying corpses for burial; some are narrated and
their after-effects displayed, as in Bacchae, when the remains of Pentheus,
torn apart in the sparagmos, are brought on stage.
The range of possibilities is enormously widened by the fact that the
chorus is always there, and it is never simply a group of sympathetic by-
standers or witnesses -elders, local women, attendants- whose function is
to offer reaction and commentary. It is always also a choros ready to per-
form lyrics patterned on ritual song and dance and accompanied by ap-
propriate music: a paean giving thanks for victory, as in the parodos of An-
tigone, or asking for deliverance from plague as in Oedipus Tyrannus, a
funeral lament, a maenadic cuit song, and so on. There is hardly any choral
lyric that is entirely without such associations.
Many of the ritual moments are also high points in the dramatic action,
like the summoning up of Darius in the Persae, the great «Panathenaic»
procession at the end of Eumenides, Oedipus pronouncing his solemn
curse on the unknown murderer of Laius, or Creusa taking refuge at the
altar in the Ion6. Related to this is the fact that the ritual forms and ritual
language are very fully integrated and used with great intensity in our sur-
viving plays. The familiar form of the threnos, for example, could hâve
been used merely to create an émotive but relatively empty atmosphère of
grief as a backing to the utterances of the leading characters, but the
threnoi that we actually find are adapted in more subtle ways to their
dramatic contexts. So in the Persae the final lament picks up and élabo
râtes thèmes that were important earlier in the play. Whereas in the
parodos the setting out of the Persian army and Xerxes' yoking of the Hel-
lespont were described in comparatively neutral terms, now the connexion
between the king's actions and the disasters suffered by his troops is finally
understood and expounded, and the ritual context seems to add power to
this tragic illumination7.
Any attempt to account for this very rich and varied use of ritual él
éments must take note of the gênerai truth that ritual and drama hâve a
great deal in common. To begin with the most obvious point, they work
through similar forms, as Hélène Foley notes: «Ritual, like tragic theater,
involves staging, symbolic gestures, dressing up, and role-playing. Both
6. Persae, 598-680; Eumenides, 1003-47 (discussed below); Oedipus Tyrannus, 222-
75; /on, 1250-1319.
7. Gerald F. Else, «Ritual and Drama in Aischyleian Tragedy», Illinois Class.
Studies, 2, 1977, pp. 70-87; cf. J.A. Haldane, «Musical Thèmes and Imagery in Aes-
chylus», Journal ofHell. Studies, 85, 1965, pp. 35-6. 90 PATRICIA E. EASTERLING
ritual and drama may offer an expérience of liminality that establishes or
confirms links between past and présent, individual and society, as well as
among man, god and nature»8.
Secondly , both ritual and drama deal in displacement and pretence. Ad-
mittedly the Greeks practised blood sacrifice, but the killing of the animal
victim, large or small, was always symbolic of some other act of violence.
Much has been written about the «comedy of innocence», in Greek sacrifi-
cal ritual: the hiding of the knife, the supposed willingness of the victim,
and so on9. Similarly it is the crucial élément of make-believe in drama that
makes possible that vital paradox tragicpleasure. It is surely of enormous
importance that tragedy should observe very careful limits: the extrême
horror of the situations imagined -murder, incest, cannibalism- is ba-
lanced by extrême stylisation, or avoidance altogether, of the violence and
bloodshed evoked by the language10.
Thirdly , time as experienced in ritual is similar to time as experienced in
drama: the events of the Agamemnon when performed exist in the same
temporal relation to their audience as the singing of the paean or the
dithyramb or the cérémonies of the Panathenaea (or the célébration of the
Mass, for that matter), détachable from the «real time» -the minutes or
hours— taken by the performance or procession11. And in the same way
each is infinitely repeatable12.
Thèse are important common features, and it is no accident that modem
Avant-garde dramatists, in their attempts to revive the power of the
théâtre in an «alienated» society, hâve looked to ritual forms for inspira
tion13. But it is one thing to recognise in gênerai terms that drama and
ritual hâve close interconnexions ; it is quite another to read the meaning of
this relationship in any particular Greek play . At least thèse gênerai points
should remind us to pay close attention to the form and structure of the
events as presented on stage, to the connexion between what is said and
8. Supra, (n. 4), p. 63.
9. See especially W. Burkert (n. 4) and H. Foley (n. 4), ch. 1.
10. Cf. Nicole Loraux, Façons tragiques de tuer une femme, Paris 1985, pp. 63, 83.
1 1 . On the comparability of theatrical and liturgical time see the case history («The
lost mariner») described in Oliver Sacks, The Man who mistook his Wife fora Hat, Lon-
dôn, 1985, ch. 2.
12. This point bears on the distinction, sometimes too readily drawn by critics, bet
ween the uniqueness of drama and the repetitiveness of ritual. See e.g. Brian Vickers,
Towards Greek Tragedy, London, 1973, pp. 33, 41-2 and Oliver Taplin, Greek Tragedy
in Action, London, 1978, pp. 161-2.
13. Cf. supra, n. 3. AND RlTUAL 91 TRAGEDY
what is shown, in so far as the text allows us to grasp it.
We need to look closely at some examples, and Sophocles'/iy&Ymakes a
good starting point, as this is a play whose possible links with ritual hâve
long been of interest to scholars. The closing anapaests (vv. 1402-20) con-
sist of Teucer's instructions to his unnamed helpers, chorus or super-
numeraries, perhaps both, to prépare his brother's funeral, and the play
thus ends with a procession which demonstrates that due and public hon-
our is to be paid to Ajax, despite the hostility of Menelaus and Agamem-
non. Taken by itself this might seem like a rather perfunctory, or at least
straightforward, use of ritual to provide a suitable departure scène at the
end of the play. But the scène is not to be taken by itself: it represents the
culmination of most of the play's important thèmes and illustrâtes the way
in which ritual action can powerfully intensify verbal meaning.
From the start the play asks the question «What will become of Ajax and
how can he escape disgrâce?». In the earlier scènes the emphasis is on the
likelihood of his death and its implications for Ajax himself, Tecmessa and
the sailors, not explicitly yet on what will happen to his corpse; but at vv.
574-7 Ajax himself introduces the idea, and it eventually cornes to domi-
nate the play. In bequeathing his shield to his son, Ajax envisages that ail
the rest of his armour will be buried with him, which is presumably to be
seen as an honorific treatment of his corpse on the analogy of e.g. Iliad,
VI, 418, where Achilles as a mark of respect to Eetion burns his body with
ail his armour (cf. Odyssey, XI, 74)14. Later Ajax makes clear that he rec-
ognises the threat of exposure, the ultimate offence that an enemy can in-
flict15, but he mentions it only to reject it, when he prays that news of his
death will reach Teucer, who will raise his corpse and save it from being
thrown to the dogs and birds (vv. 827-30). After his suicide the corpse is
visible in the théâtre16 as a reminder for the audience of the ever more ur
gent question «What will become of Ajax?»
The corpse's présence is emphasised in the références to stage business
which punctuate the lamentations of Tecmessa, the Chorus, and Teucer.
14. On the distinction betweenburningandburialseebelowp. 10. Ajax himself speci-
fically envisages burial (v. 577).
15. SeeR. Parker(n. 1), pp. 41-8. The thème hasstrong associations with the Iliad; cf.
in gênerai Charles Segal, The Thème of the Mutilation ofthe Corpse in the Iliad, Leiden,
1971 = Mnemosyne, suppl. 17; J.-P. Vernant, «La belle mort et le cadavre outragé» in
G. Gnoli and J.-P. Vernant (edd.), La mort, les morts dans les sociétés anciennes, Camb
ridge, 1982, pp. 121-31.
16. Ajax dies at v. 865; the corpse is found by Tecmessa at v. 891. On the problems of
staging see David Seale, Vision and Stagecraft in Sophocles, London, 1982, pp. 165-67. 92 PATRICIA E. EASTERLING
Tecmessa respectfully covers the body with a cloak as soon as she finds it
(vv. 915 sqq.), and at once she begins to think of the funeral: whatphiJos is
there -who from among Ajax's family and friends- to raise the corpse? (τίς
σε βαστάσει φίλων; ω. 920). The only Teucer would corne and «lay it out»
(συγκαθαρμόσαι, ω. 922). When Teucer does arrive he asks for the body to
be uncovered (v. 1003)'; the sight of it prompts his speech of despair, but he
is the responsible philos whose task (as he acknowledges) is to remove the
sword from the body (v. 1024) and (as the Chorus pressingly remind him)
to bury Ajax, resisting the mockery of his enemies (vv. 1040-43). The
sailors' is justified: Menelaus cornes not only to mock, but also to anxiety
forbid the burial of one who is so plainly a traitor to the Greek cause, a
shocking outrage to the corpse of a former comrade (vv. 1047 sqq., vv.
1062-5: the corpse is to be thrown out on the yellow sand, as prey for the
sea birds, vv. 1089, 1092). Teucer's response is that he will «rightly and
duly» bury his brother (v. 1109), but Menelaus challenges his view of di
vine law by counting Ajax as a public enemy who has forfeited his claim to
burial (vv. 1129-34). The unresolved issue is epigrammatically summed up
at vv. 1140 sqq.:
ME. εν σοι φράσω* τόνδ' εστίν ούχι θαπτέον.
αλλ' άντακούσει τοϋτον ώς τεθάψεται. ΤΕΥ.
Menelaus: Hear my last word - that man must not be buried.
Teucer: And hear my answer - he shall be buried forthwith.
(Jebb's translation)
The Chorus's comment on this scène is interesting: they recognise that
nothing is y et settled, since there is a further trial of strength to corne
(εσται μεγάλης έριδος τις άγων, ν. 1163), but they urge Teucer to go and
look for a hollow grave ( κοίλη ν κάπετον) for Ajax, «where he shall hâve
his mouldering tomb, forever remembered by men», ένθα βροτοις τον
άεΐμνηστον / τάφον εύρώεντα καθέξει (νν. 1167 sqq.). For the modem
reader the Homeric echoes hère in rhythm and diction are reminders of the
traditional importance of posthumous honour, but for an audience to
whom hero cuit was a vivid reality, and Ajax a major local hero, the lan-
guage would surely also suggest the exceptional significance attached to
this burial17. The whole design of the latter part of the play certainly makes
17. The famé of Ajax's tomb on the shore of the Hellespont should also be taken into
account. See Jebb's Introduction, pp. xxx-xxxii. One can recognise the importance of
thèse implications without having to accept Jebb's argument that the unity of the play dé
pends on the idea that Ajax will become a cuit hero. Tragedy And ritual 93
it the focus of attention, nowhere more intensely than in the scène which
now follows.
At v. 1168 Tecmessa and Eurysaces arrive to «tend the burial» (τάφον
περιστελοϋντε). As Jebb notes, in life off-stage this would entail the wash-
ing and dressing of the corpse and the pouring of liquid offerings to the
dead. But what is enacted on stage is a remarkable scène of supplication:
Teucer, on his way to prépare the grave, instructs the child to take a
suppliant position beside his father's corpse, holding three locks of hair in
his hand, Teucer's, Tecmessa's and his own. As he cuts a lock from his own
head Teucer pronounces a curse on anyone who tries to force the child
away from his place of sanctuary, his father's body to which he must cling
(vv. 1175-81):
ει δε τις στρατοΰ
βία σ' άποσπάσειε τοϋδε του νεκροΰ,
κακός κακώς αθαπτος έκπέσοι χθονός,
γένους άπαντος ρίζαν έξημημένος,
αϋτως δπωσπερ εχ' αυτόν, ώ παϊ, τόνδ' και φύλασσε, εγώ τέμνω μηδέ πλόκον. σε
κινησάτω τις, άλλα προσπεσών εχου.
«But if anyone from the army should forcibly drag you from this
corpse, then may he suffer evil for evil and be cast out of the land un-
buried, and may his race be eut off, root and branch, even as I eut
this lock ...».
The scène has been perceptively analysed by Peter Burian18, who notes
that three separate ritual acts are interwoven hère, supplication, an offer-
ing to the dead and a solemn curse. He continues (pp. 152-53):
«The vocabulary of supplication runs throughout the passage.
Eurysaces is to be ικέτης and προστρόπαιος, the usual désignations
of the suppliant in tragedy. He is to sit or kneel (θακεΐ, προσπεσών)
at his father's corpse like a suppliant at the altar. He faces the threat
of forcible removal from his place of refuge (βία σ' άποσπάσειε). Yet
thèse suppliant commonplaces take on a new meaning in the context
of the scène.
Eurysaces lays his hand upon the body not merely as a suppliant,
but also as its guardian in Teucer's absence. Thus, his own safety is
absorbed into the immédiate necessity of protecting the dead Ajax
18. Supra n. 2. 94 PATRICIA E. EASTERLING
from his foes. To drag the suppliant from his refuge would not only
violate suppliant rights but also call down upon the enemy Teucer's
terrible curse. The curse, in turn, is directed specifically against the
violator of suppliant rights, against the man who would break the
sacred bond between Eurysaces and the body of Ajax.
That the traditional threat to the suppliant's safety hère becomes
part of Teucer's curse is but one example of the subtle linking of
ritual motifs in this passage. Eurysaces holds in his hands not the
suppliant's olive branch but locks of hair, a traditional offering to the
spirits of the dead (εν χεροΐν έχων κόμας); but this offering is also his
«suppliant treasure» (ίκτήριον θησαυρόν). Teucer extends this al-
ready complex constellation of rituals by making the shearing of his
τόνδ' εγώ τέμνω πλό- hair the seal upon his curse (αυτως όπωσπερ
κον), a gesture of sympathetic magie designed to ensure its efficacy».
Comparing this scène with «typical» instances of supplication in
tragedy, P. Burian points out that it is anomalous, since the
takes place not within a sacred precinct, at an altar or a tomb, but over a
corpse: «Eurysaces becomes a suppliant as much to protect the corpse as to
protect himself ... The child, by seeking protection from the seemingly
helpîess warrior, reveals that Ajax is not helpless after ail. Indeed, the
body becomes in effect a hallowed place, for it is recognised to hâve the
power of a hero's tomb even before the question of his burial is settled» (p.
Eurysaces' 154). Burian supplication concludes symbolically that «through enacts its his very father's anomaly transformation as ritual,
into a sacred hero» (p. 155). We shall need to return to the question of ano
maly, but this does not reduce the value of Burian's reading of the scène.
The stage action is indeed extraordinary, and its significance can be more
fully understood if we go on to consider the rest of the play.
The ritual actions themselves do not contribute to Agamemnon's
change of mind; this dépends on Odysseus, who obtains permission for
Ajax to be buried as a favour to himself as Agamemnon's valued friend
(vv. 1370-73, cf. vv. 1330-31). But Odysseus also offers arguments of prin-
ciple, which seem designed to win the approval of the audience if not of the
Atridae. He argues for the burial of Ajax in the name of justice (vv. 1335,
1342, vv. 1344-5): Ajax deserved well of the Greeks, and even if their lead
ers had reason to hâte him, they had no right to deny him burial. This is in
accordanede with «the laws of the gods» (vv. 1343-44) and is what «ail the
Greeks» would think just (v. 1363); as Odysseus présents the case, it is
clinched by the thought that he too will need burial one day (ν. 1365)19. So
19. For a discussion of Odysseus' arguments, see R.P. Winnington-Ingram, Sopho-
"les, an Interprétation, Cambridge, 1980, pp. 66-72. TRAGEDY AND RITUAL 95
the ritual action with which the play closes can be seen as a démonstration
of the civilised community's shared (idéal) values, and if the burial also
confirms what was prefigured in the scène of supplication, that Ajax is to
become a sacred hero, there is a strong implication that those who share in
the ritual can also share in the benefits to corne from his power. But how
far is the burial of Ajax a public event, shared by the community? The At-
ridae, of course, hâve dissociated themselves and are explicitly excluded
by Teucer, but what of Odysseus and the army? Critics hâve often been
troubled by Teucer's refusai of Odysseus' offer to help with the funeral as a
philos ought (vv. 1376-80) , but they hâve not always given close enough at
tention to exactly what he says in this speech (vv. 1381-99).
He begins with words of unqualified praise for Odysseus, admittinghis
surprise that the man who was once Ajax's deadliest enemy was the only
one to stand by him, in sharp contrast with the Atridae, who insulted his
corpse and wanted to throw it out unburied. «Therefore may the father
who rules over Olympus and the mindful Fury and Justice the fulfiller
bring the evil men to an evil end, even as they wished to insuit and expose
him undeservedly» (vv. 1389-92). Thèse Unes quite closely écho the pas
sage in Ajax's suicide speech where he calls on the Furies to fulfil his curse
on the Atridae (vv. 835-44) and ends with an appeal to the Furies to «glut
their wrath» on the whole army (vv. 843-4):
ϊτ' ώ ταχεΐαι ποίνιμοί τ' Ερινύες,
γεύεσθε, μή φείδεσθε πανδήμου στρατού.
Now Teucer marks the change that has taken place: the only persons to
be cursed and excluded are the Atridae, whereas Odysseus and any of the
army he chooses to bring are invited to attend the funeral, although Teucer
dares not let Odysseus hâve any close ritual contact with the dead man (vv.
σε δ', ώ γεραιοΰ σπέρμα Λαέρτου πατρός,
τάφου μεν όκνω τοΰδ' έπιψαύειν εάν
ποώ' μή τω θανόντι τοϋτο δυσχερές
τα δ' άλλα και ξύμπρασσε, κει τίνα στρατού
θέλεις κομΐζειν, ουδέν άλγος εξομεν.
εγώ δε τάλλα πάντα πορσυνώ' συ δε
καθ' ημάς έσθλος ών έπίστασο. άνήρ
«But Ι scruple, son of aged Laertes, to allow you to lend a hand20 in
20. This is an inadéquate translation of έπιψαύτιν, which lays more emphasis on phys-
ical contact; cf. Jebb and Stanford adloc.