A Wind That Blows from Thrace: Dionysus in the Fifth Stasimon of Sophocles' Antigone
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A Wind That Blows from Thrace:
Dionysus in the Fifth Stasimon of Sophocles' Antigone

I. Introduction

The fifth stasimon of Sophocles' Antigone is a kletic hymn to the god Dionysus. The chorus in this hyporcheme celebrate the god, who ranges over Italy, Eleusis, Delphi, and (possibly) Euboea, asking him to return to the city of his birth to cleanse it from disease with his purifying foot (1143). This disease is either the pollution incurred by Kreon's edict that Polyneices' body should be left unburied, or, more convincingly, as Scott Scullion has argued, the civic strife and mental sickness, which "infect" Thebes as a whole.1 The katharsis is to be effected by ecstatic Dionysiac dancing (hence the emphasis on inline graphic at 1143). In the final antistrophe, the chorus request an epiphany of the god in his Eleusinian guise of Iakchos, "chorus leader of fire-breathing stars, who watches over voices in the night" (1154).2 In its dramatic context, the ode expresses the (deluded) hope of the chorus that all may be well now that Kreon has realized his double error of leaving a dead man unburied and "burying" Antigone alive.

A strange feature of the fifth stasimon, which has received little scholarly attention subsequent to its treatment by the scholiast, is the fact that although many places are named quite specifically (Thebes, Eleusis, Italy, and Delphi, by means of references to Parnassus and the Kastalian spring), lines 1131–1133 and 1145 make rather more allusive references to the "the ivy-clad slopes of the Nysaean mountains and the green grape-laden shores" and the "moaning strait," respectively. Many commentators and scholars confidently assert, following Jebb, that the references are to Euboea, 1131–1133 to Euboean Nysa, and 1145 to the Euripus, as if the name Euboea itself was mentioned by the chorus.3 Other scholars are more tentative, [End Page 3] but none seriously investigate alternative locations and their possible significance.4

The claim made in this paper is that the Nysaean mountains of 1131 may be a reference to Thrace rather than Euboea, and that while the "moaning strait" of 1145 is plausibly a reference to the Euripus, the significance is that this strait is notoriously dangerous owing to the strong northern winds blowing from Thrace. These fierce Thracian winds are invoked earlier by the chorus in a simile describing the doom falling on the house of Labdacus in the second stasimon at 582–592, and Thrace is the well-known home of Lycurgus in the fourth stasimon, where the Edonian king, "swift to wrath" (955) and imprisoned by Dionysus for his taunts, is employed as an exemplum. The Thracian allusions in the fifth stasimon suggest further unity in the themes and imagery of the play's choral lyrics than has previously been perceived and illuminate the role of Dionysus in the play as a whole.

II. The Geography of the Fifth Stasimon

The argument for Thracian allusions in 1131–1133 and 1145 and their significance is set, below, within a discussion of the significance of the ode's geography. For as Froma Zeitlin has argued, the role of Dionysus in Antigone must be considered "in spatial terms through an extensive network of geographical allusions to other locales that by assimilation or contrast affect the situation in Thebes."5 In the fifth stasimon, the chorus sing in a mood of high confidence. But the locations with which they link Dionysus suggest a deep irony. The chorus desire a Delphic and Eleusinian divinity promising purification and the renewal of prosperity. In calling him from Thrace, however, they also invoke a violent agent of retribution, and his imagined journey from Thrace over the Aegean and the Euripus mirrors the course of another violent divinity, the north wind Boreas.

Before considering lines 1131–1133 and 1145, I consider below the significance of the geographical references to Italy, Eleusis, Delphi, and Thebes in the ode. In strophe α lines 1120–1121, "You rule in the folds, open to all, of Eleusinian Deo," evoke the chthonic aspect of Dionysus, suggesting not only death but also fertility and the renewal of life. This aspect of Dionysus would have been very familiar to the...