The Ichneutae also known as the Searchers, Trackers or Tracking Satyrs, is a fragmentary satyr play
Satyr play
Satyr plays were an ancient Greek form of tragicomedy, similar in spirit to burlesque. They featured choruses of satyrs, were based on Greek mythology, and were rife with mock drunkenness, brazen sexuality , pranks, sight gags, and general merriment.Satyric drama was one of the three varieties of...

 by the fifth-century Athenian
Classical Athens
The city of Athens during the classical period of Ancient Greece was a notable polis of Attica, Greece, leading the Delian League in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. Athenian democracy was established in 508 BC under Cleisthenes following the tyranny of Hippias...

Theatre of Ancient Greece
The theatre of Ancient Greece, or ancient Greek drama, is a theatrical culture that flourished in ancient Greece between c. 550 and c. 220 BC. The city-state of Athens, which became a significant cultural, political and military power during this period, was its centre, where it was...

Sophocles is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides...

. Three nondescript quotations in ancient authors were all that was known of the play until 1912, when the extensive remains of a second-century CE papyrus
Papyrus is a thick paper-like material produced from the pith of the papyrus plant, Cyperus papyrus, a wetland sedge that was once abundant in the Nile Delta of Egypt....

 roll of the Ichneutae were published among the Oxyrhynchus Papyri
Oxyrhynchus Papyri
The Oxyrhynchus Papyri are a very numerous group of manuscripts discovered by archaeologists including Bernard Pyne Grenfell and Arthur Surridge Hunt at an ancient rubbish dump near Oxyrhynchus in Egypt . The manuscripts date from the 1st to the 6th century AD. They include thousands of Greek and...

. With more than four-hundred lines surviving in their entirity or in part, the Ichneutae is now the best preserved ancient satyr play after Euripides
Euripides was one of the three great tragedians of classical Athens, the other two being Aeschylus and Sophocles. Some ancient scholars attributed ninety-five plays to him but according to the Suda it was ninety-two at most...

' Cyclops
Cyclops (play)
The Cyclops is an Ancient Greek satyr play by Euripides, the only complete satyr play that has survived antiquity. It is a comical burlesque-like play on the same story depicted in book nine of Homer's Odyssey.-Background:...

, the only fully extant example of the genre.

The plot of the play was derived from the inset myth of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. A new-born Hermes
Hermes is the great messenger of the gods in Greek mythology and a guide to the Underworld. Hermes was born on Mount Kyllini in Arcadia. An Olympian god, he is also the patron of boundaries and of the travelers who cross them, of shepherds and cowherds, of the cunning of thieves, of orators and...

 has stolen Apollo
Apollo is one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities in Greek and Roman mythology...

's cattle, and the older god sends a chorus
-Musical:* Choir, a vocal ensemble* Chorus effect, the perception of similar sounds from multiple sources as a single, richer sound; signal processors design to simulate the effect* Refrain or chorus of a song, pre-chorus may refer to bridge...

 of satyrs to retrieve the animals, promising them the dual rewards of freedom and gold should they be successful. The satyrs set out to find the cattle, tracking their footprints. Approaching the cave in which baby Hermes is hiding, they hear him playing the lyre
The lyre is a stringed musical instrument known for its use in Greek classical antiquity and later. The word comes from the Greek "λύρα" and the earliest reference to the word is the Mycenaean Greek ru-ra-ta-e, meaning "lyrists", written in Linear B syllabic script...

, which he has just invented. Scared by the strange sound, the satyrs debate their next move. The nymph of the mountain in which Hermes is hiding, Cyllene, explains to them the nature of the musical instrument. Outside the cave the satyrs see some sewn cow-hides and are convinced that they have found the thief. Apollo returns as the papyrus breaks off.

External links

  • English translation of the Ichneutae by Ann Mahoney (accompanied by the Greek text from P.Oxy. IX) at the Perseus Digital Library.
  • A.S. Hunt, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri: Part IX, including the editio princeps
    Editio princeps
    In classical scholarship, editio princeps is a term of art. It means, roughly, the first printed edition of a work that previously had existed only in manuscripts, which could be circulated only after being copied by hand....

     of the first discovered fragments at the Internet Archive
    Internet Archive
    The Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library with the stated mission of "universal access to all knowledge". It offers permanent storage and access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, music, moving images, and nearly 3 million public domain books. The Internet Archive...

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