January 10, 2013, by Alan Sommerstein

The biggest mouth (2)

Last week, I asked:

“In the 33 plays by (or attributed to) Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides that survive in full, which individual character has the most to say?”

No calculation of this kind can be exact.  Texts are often uncertain, lines are of different lengths and their attribution to speakers sometimes disputed, and so on.  But it is clear that the winners are two children of the murdered King Agamemnon, Electra and Orestes – and probably in that order.  A count based on the Teubner text of Martin West (for Aeschylus) and on the Oxford texts of Hugh Lloyd-Jones and Nigel Wilson (for Sophocles) and of James Diggle (for Euripides) gives Electra (who appears in four plays) about 1,606 lines and Orestes (who appears in seven, not counting another where he is brought on stage as a baby) about 1,575.  Electra is helped by her domination of the two plays named after her.  Third place goes to Oedipus, who appears in only three plays but likewise dominates the two named after him, with about 1,329 lines.  Fourth, a long way behind, is Electra’s and Orestes’ mother and victim, Clytaemestra (who appears in six plays), with about 929.

Did it surprise you that the biggest mouth in Athenian tragedy turned out to be a woman’s?

Posted in Tragedy