Sophocles, Electra 709-748

Sophocles describes an exciting horse race with four-horse chariots at Delphi with the fictitious charioteer Orestes as protagonist.

They took their stations where the appointed umpires placed them by lot and ranged the cars. Then at the sound of the bronze trumpet, they started. All shouted to their horses, and shook the reins in their hands; the whole course was filled with the clatter of rattling chariots; and the dust flew upward. All of them in a confused throng kept plying their goads unsparingly, so that one of them might pass the wheel-hubs and the snorting steeds of his rivals; for both at their backs and at their rolling wheels the breath of the horses foamed and smattered. Orestes, driving close to the near edge of the turning-post, almost grazed it with his wheel each time and, giving rein to the trace-horse on the right, he checked the horse on the inner side. To this point, all the chariots still stood upright. But then the Aenian's hard-mouthed colts carried him out of control as they passed out of the turn from the sixth into the seventh lap and dashed their foreheads against the rig of the Barcaean. Next, as a result of this one mishap, the cars kept smashing and colliding with each other, and the whole race-ground of Crisa swelled with shipwrecked chariots.
Seeing this, the clever charioteer from Athens drew aside and paused, allowing the equestrian flood to pass in mid-crest. Orestes was driving last, keeping his horses behind, as his trust was in the race's end. But when he sees that the Athenian is alone left in, he sends a shrill cry ringing through the ears of his swift colts, and gives chase. Bringing yoke level with yoke the two of them raced, first one man, then the other, showing his head in front of the other's chariot. Up to now the ill-fated Orestes had driven upright safely through every circuit, upright in his upright car. But then he slackened his left rein while the horse was turning and unwittingly struck the edge of the pillar, breaking the axle-box in two. He spilled forward over the chariot-rail and was caught in the trim reins, and as he fell to the ground, his colts were scattered into the middle of the course.

(transl. R. Jebb)


© KU Leuven, 2012