Σφίγγα, δυσαμεριᾶν πρύτανιν κύνα
Aristophanes, Frogs 1287 with scholia
After becoming king of Mysia (see on Mysians), Telephus was wounded by Achilles when Agamemnon’s army landed in his country in the belief that they had arrived near Troy. Being told by an oracle that his wounder would also be his healer, he went to Argos (or Mycenae), where the army was assembled, pleaded for assistance, and was eventually healed by the verdigris from Achilles’ spear-point; in return he agreed to guide the fleet on its voyage to Troy. This story was as old as the cyclic epic, the Cypria (Arg. §7 West), and was famously dramatized by Euripides in 438 bc. The most sensational episode in Euripides’ play, Telephus’ seizure of the infant Orestes as a hostage, may have featured already, in a somewhat different (and less violent) form, in Aeschylus’ play; this is stated by a scholiast on Aristophanes, Acharnians 332, and Csapo and Preiser
The Sphinx, the bitch2 that presided over days of ill-fortune
(see below) have argued that iconographic evidence supports the view that Orestes was first brought into the Telephus story not in 438 but in or around the 460s.
This play seems to have been lost, or at least to have become a bibliographic rarity, at an unusually early date. There is only one unequivocal citation of it by any author later than the mid fourth century; and fr. 238, which is ascribed by one Hellenistic scholar (Timachidas) to Telephus and by another (Asclepiades) to Iphigeneia, was not to be found in any Aeschylean text in the Alexandrian Library in the time of the great Aristarchus (mid second century bc).
Recent discussions: E. G. Csapo, “Hikesia in the Telephus of Aeschylus”, QUCC 63 (1990) 41–52; C. Preiser, Euripides: Telephos (Hildesheim, 2000) 51–59.
- 1The verse is lyric (dactylic). The Aristophanic scholia explicitly ascribe it to The Sphinx, in which the most plausible place for it would be in a retrospective song after the monster’s destruction; but Naeke may have been right to suggest that the ascription is erroneous and that the line actually came from Oedipus.
- 2The Sphinx is called a dog because she snatched up her prey; in Seven against Thebes (776–7) she is τὰν ἁρπαξάνδραν κῆρα, in Sophocles (Oedipus the King 391) ἡ ῥαψῳδὸς . . . κύων.