Fragments of Known Plays
ΑΘΑΜΑΣ Α΄ and Β΄
Hesychius in quoting frr. 1–3 and the scholion on Aristophanes, Clouds 255 f, quoted below, show that Sophocles wrote two plays with this title; the outlines of the plot of one of them are known to us, but that of the other is a matter of surmise.
At Clouds 255 Socrates tells Strepsiades to take the wreath which he is handing him, and Strepsiades replies “Ah, Socrates! Take care you don’t sacrifice me, like Athamas!” Athamas, son of Aeolus, was king of Orchomenos in Boeotia, then the home of the Minyae. A scholion explains that in one of the Athamas plays of Sophocles Athamas was wearing a wreath and standing by the altar of Zeus to be sacrificed, when Heracles came up and saved him. Certain manuscripts, and also the Suda and Tzetzes, add that Heracles saved him by explaining that Phrixus, on whose account he was to be sacrificed, was still alive. Athamas had been married to Nephele, a supernatural being whose name means ‘Cloud,’ but had abandoned her for a mortal, Ino, daughter of Cadmus. Nephele had punished him by sending a drought, and when Athamas sent envoys to ask the Delphic oracle how to put an end to this, Ino bribed the envoys to say that the oracle had declared that Athamas’ children by Nephele, Phrixus and Helle, must be sacrificed. In another version of the story Ino
Fragments of Known Plays
ATHAMAS 1 and 2
herself had caused the drought by roasting the seed of the corn, in order to incriminate her rival’s children. Nephele saved her children by sending a ram with a golden fleece to carry them away; some writers say that the ram flew, but according to the best authorities it swam. Helle fell off the ram’s back and was drowned, giving her name to the Hellespont, but the ram conveyed Phrixus to Colchis, where he married a daughter of the king, Aeetes.
It has been conjectured that the other Athamas play told how Hera punished Athamas and Ino for having protected the infant Dionysus by driving them both mad, so that Athamas while hunting mistook his son Learchus for a deer and killed him, and Ino threw their other son, Melicertes, into a boiling cauldron. Ino with the dead child jumped into the sea, and was metamorphosed into a sea goddess, Leucothea; Melicertes became the sea god Palaemon. A relief on a cup of the second century b.c. which shows Hermes handing the infant Dionysus to Athamas (illustration in LIMC II 2, p. 700) has been thought to support this identification, since the remains of a name might be supplemented as that of Sophocles.
Sophocles also wrote a Phrixus (see frr. 721–2); Aeschylus wrote an Athamas and Euripides two plays Called Phrixus and one called Ino.