Re: Sophocles and John

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu Aug 28 1997 - 15:49:13 EDT

At 5:37 AM -0500 8/28/97, Clayton Bartholomew wrote:
>I've been reading Oedipus Rex and John's Gospel and have
>noted a structural difference in the way they use the language.
>Sophocles is often very *economical* in the use of words. He
>seems to let a single adverb or pronoun serve for more than
>one verbal idea. For example in Oedipus' speech (385-387
>Oxford text) the adverb LAQRAi and the pronoun ME are
>associated with more than one verbal idea.
>Now John, on the other hand tends to repeat elements from the
>immediately preceding context so that each verbal idea has
>it's own set of complements. Is this difference between John's
>structure and Sophocles a dialect difference between Attic
>and Koine? Or is it a difference between Tragedy and Gospel
>(literary forms)? Or is it semitizing on John's part?

Whatever else it may be, I don't think it's a matter of dialect but rather
of mode of composition. Each is so distinct that you can't even really
compare Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides with each other in ways that go
much beyond the superficial (they all write dialogue in Attic dialect,
lyric in mixed-Doric, they all write iambic trimeters, they all have
prologues and epilogues in the same anapaestic meter, they all intersperse
choral odes with episodes, etc., etc.) The thing that has always struck me
about Sophocles in particular is the kaleidoscopic wont-stay-putness of his
irony--just when you think you see two distinct dimensions of meaning in a
word or phrase, yet a third and maybe a fourth rises in the reader's
awareness. Of course there's irony in Aeschylus and Euripides also, but the
phrases in them don't shimmer with the same kind of ever-wavering surface
of implications.

I started to say something about John, but the more I think about it, I
think it's a matter of apples and oranges. I'm just not convinced that this
sort of comparison serves any very useful purpose in helping one to
understand or appreciate the art of either Sophocles or John the evangelist.

>In my study of Acts I have discovered occasions where Luke's
>clauses have show an *economical* use of words similar to

Economical use of words is a by no means uncommon feature of quite a bit of
very good, careful writing. I've had three-page papers that said a lot more
than ten-page papers on the same subject matter.

>Someone needs to give Major Domo a few bran muffins. The
>digests have been running about 36 to 48 hours late and some
>posts to b-greek seem to have been sent to e-mail purgatory
>never to return.

Do you think the good major really likes bran muffins? I'm not sure but
what the problem may be in your own linkage somewhere. I've been getting
the digests at least once a day, often more frequently--even as much as
three times a day when the list volume is heavy, and this in the very last
few days. But there was that time back in July when several people were
getting B-Greek mail regularly and several of us were getting none at all.
You probably need to go see what the Major likes best and satisfy his

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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