Marianne Moore: Poetry

June 7, 2011

“Elephants” and Sophocles

Filed under: Poem Sources — by moore123 @ 7:29 pm
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Lateran Sophocles, Vatican

In “Elephants,” Moore writes of Sophocles and the image of a bee carved on his grave in lies 49-52 (Complete Poems, p. 129). She does not footnote her source but the images come together in the following passage:

“Nor have [the tragedies] of Sophocles escaped the injury of  time better, though one hundred and seventeen in number, and according to some one hundred and thirty. He retained to extreme old age all the force and vigour of his genius, as appears from a circumstance in his history. His children, unworthy of so great a father, upon pretence that he had lost his senses, summoned him before the judges, in order to obtain a decree, that his estate might be taken from him, and put into their hands. He made no other defence, than to read a tragedy he was at that lime composing, called Oedipus at Colonos, with which the judges were so charmed, that he carried his cause unanimously; and his children, detested by the whole assembly, got nothing by their suit, but the shame and infamy due to so flagrant ingratitude. He was twenty times crowned victor. Some say he expired repenting his Antigone, for want of power to recover his breath, after a violent endeavour to pronounce i long period to the end ; others, that he died of Jot upon his being declared victor, contrary to his expectation. The figure of a hive was placed upon his tomb, to perpetuate the name of Bee, which had been given him, from the sweetness of his verses [bold added], whence it is probable, the notion was derived of the bees having settled upon his lips, when in his cradle. He died in his ninetieth year, the fourth of the ninety-third Olympaid.”

–Charles Rollin, The Ancient History of the Egyptians, . . . Grecians and Macedonians Including a History of the Arts and Sciences of the Ancients  Vol. I (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1839). P. 404

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