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A SOPHOCLEAN SLIP: MISTAKEN IDENTITY AND TRAGIC ALLUSION ON THE EXETER PELIKE

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  • I am indebted to Professor Brian Shefton for his warm encouragement to work on the pelike and regret that we were able to speak only once before his death in January 2012. Professor Patrick Finglass, Professor Richard Green, Professor Eric Handley, William Kynan-Wilson, and Dr Michael Squire were extremely generous with their time and expertise; I am grateful to them for their comments on this material, and to Professor Barbara Borg for granting access to the pelike and her help in examining it. This paper is dedicated to the memory of Professor Eric Handley, an inspirational scholar, colleague, and friend.

Abstract

This article examines the fourth-century ‘Exeter pelike’ (ARV2 1516.80) by the Jena Painter, situating it within the wider debate over the relationship between vase-painting and tragic text and performance. The front side depicts the meeting of Orestes and Electra at Agamemnon's tomb, and is commonly interpreted as relating closely to Aeschylus’Choephori. However, a widely-missed inscription ‘Ism[ene]’ must be an error on the part of the painter for ‘Chrysothemis’, a confusion caused by knowledge of Sophocles. The inclusion of ‘Chrysothemis’ on the Exeter pelike alludes to Sophocles' Electra, but the painting is not a straightforward representation of any one play. Indeed, in tragedy Electra's recognition of Orestes becomes highly allusive, since both Sophocles and Euripides mediate their treatments of this moment through the corresponding scene in Aeschylus. In the same way, the Exeter pelike engages with numerous pictorial and textual traditions to create a complex and allusive re-telling.

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