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Sophocles

Sophocles Sophocles[1†]

Sophocles (c. 497/496 – winter 406/405 BC) was an ancient Greek tragedian[1†]. He is known as one of the three ancient Greek tragedians from whom at least one play has survived in full[1†]. His first plays were written later than, or contemporary with, those of Aeschylus; and earlier than, or contemporary with, those of Euripides[1†]. Sophocles wrote over 120 plays, but only seven have survived in a complete form: Ajax, Antigone, Women of Trachis, Oedipus Rex, Electra, Philoctetes, and Oedipus at Colonus[1†].

Early Years and Education

Sophocles was born around 496 BC in Colonus, a village just outside Athens[2†][4†][5†]. His father, Sophillus, was a wealthy manufacturer of armor[2†][5†]. Born into a well-to-do family, Sophocles was set apart as someone likely to play an important role in Athenian society[2†][4†].

Sophocles received a well-rounded education, studying poetry, music, dancing, and gymnastics — subjects regarded as the basis of a well-rounded education for a citizen[2†][4†]. His early schooling prepared him to serve as a leader in all aspects of public life, including the military, foreign policy, and the arts[2†][4†]. He studied music under Lamprus, the most noted musician of the time, and drama under Aeschylus[2†][6†].

At the age of 16, due to his beauty of physique, athletic prowess, and skill in music, Sophocles was chosen to lead the paean (choral chant to a god) celebrating the decisive Greek sea victory over the Persians at the Battle of Salamis[2†]. This achievement foreshadowed the leadership role Sophocles would have in society, both as an active member of the government and as an influence on Greek arts[2†][4†].

Career Development and Achievements

Sophocles’ career was both prolific and distinguished. Over his lifetime, he wrote over 120 plays[7†][8†], of which only seven have survived in a complete form: Ajax, Antigone, Women of Trachis, Oedipus Rex, Electra, Philoctetes, and Oedipus at Colonus[7†][2†][1†]. His first plays were written later than, or contemporary with, those of Aeschylus; and earlier than, or contemporary with, those of Euripides[7†][1†].

In addition to his work as a playwright, Sophocles also held several important positions in Athenian society. He served as a city treasurer and as a naval officer[7†]. In 442 BC, he was one of the treasurers responsible for receiving and managing tribute money from Athens’s subject-allies in the Delian League[7†][2†]. In 440 BC, he was elected one of the 10 stratēgoi (high executive officials who commanded the armed forces) as a junior colleague of Pericles[7†][2†]. Sophocles later served as stratēgos perhaps twice again[7†][2†].

In 413 BC, then aged about 83, Sophocles was a proboulos, one of 10 advisory commissioners who were granted special powers and were entrusted with organizing Athens’s financial and domestic recovery after its terrible defeat at Syracuse in Sicily[7†][2†]. He is also credited with introducing the cult of the healing god Asclepius into Athens[7†][9†].

Sophocles won his first victory as a tragedian in 468 BC (according to the ancient tradition, with his first production) and continued to produce plays throughout his life[7†][8†]. His last recorded act was to lead a chorus in public mourning for his deceased rival, Euripides, before the festival of 406 BC[7†][2†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Sophocles’ body of work is vast, but only seven of his plays have survived in their entirety[2†][1†]. These works are considered masterpieces of ancient Greek literature and continue to be studied and performed today[2†][1†].

Here are the main works of Sophocles:

Each of these plays was first performed in Athens at the festival of Dionysia, where they often won first prize[2†][1†]. Sophocles’ innovative use of dramatic structure, his complex characters, and his exploration of profound philosophical and psychological themes have ensured his enduring popularity and influence[2†][1†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Sophocles’ dramatic career was noted for several important theatrical innovations, and his plays have experienced a remarkably constant popularity beginning in his own lifetime and continuing into the present[10†]. Perhaps no other playwright has had as great an influence on both ancient and modern concepts of the dramatic art[10†].

Sophocles was an important influence on the development of drama, most importantly by adding a third actor and thereby reducing the importance of the Chorus in the presentation of the plot[10†][11†]. He developed his characters to a greater extent than earlier playwrights such as Aeschylus[10†][11†]. This focus on the actors and the spoken dialogues and debates for which his plays are noted, allowed Sophocles to concentrate dramatic attention on the actors[10†].

His mastery of dialogue is especially evident in his prologues, which almost always begin not with static, expository monologues, but with dramatic, plot-advancing dialogues[10†]. In general, Sophocles accomplishes this development of the actor’s role in tragedy without neglecting the choral portions of the play[10†].

It is frequently noted that nearly every tragedy by Sophocles hinges upon the fulfillment of an oracle or a prophecy[10†][12†]. Yet this does not necessarily mean that Sophocles believed that humanity was a pawn in the hands of the gods. It is always true that, in Sophoclean tragedy, the destiny of the characters follows logically from their own choices[10†][12†].

Sophocles’ interest in the chorus is suggested not only by the tradition that he wrote a prose treatise on the chorus and increased its size, but also by the extant plays themselves[10†]. His innovative use of dramatic structure, his complex characters, and his exploration of profound philosophical and psychological themes have ensured his enduring popularity and influence[10†][2†][10†].

Personal Life

Sophocles’ personal life is not extensively documented, but some details are known. He was first married to Nicostrata, with whom he had a son named Iophon[13†][14†]. Later in life, he had a relationship with a woman named Theoris from Sicyon, and they had a son named Ariston[13†][14†].

Sophocles was known to be active in his community and held several public offices. He served as one of the treasurers responsible for receiving and managing tribute money from Athens’s subject-allies in the Delian League in 442[13†][2†]. He was elected one of the 10 stratēgoi (high executive officials who commanded the armed forces) as a junior colleague of Pericles[13†][2†]. Sophocles later served as stratēgos perhaps twice again[13†][2†]. In 413, then aged about 83, Sophocles was a proboulos, one of 10 advisory commissioners who were granted special powers and were entrusted with organizing Athens’s financial and domestic recovery after its terrible defeat at Syracuse in Sicily[13†][2†].

Sophocles’ religious activities included service as a priest, and he turned over his house for the worship of Asclepius (the Greek god of medicine) until a proper temple could be built[13†]. For this, he was honored with the title Dexion as a hero after his death[13†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Sophocles’ influence on theatre is undeniable[15†]. His works, including the best known of his 123 dramas, Oedipus the King, and other notable works such as Antigone, Ajax, Philoctetes, Trachinian Women, and Electra, are still studied and performed today[15†][2†][1†]. His plays continue to resonate with audiences centuries after they were first written[15†].

Sophocles’ dramatic works have had a profound impact on the history of theatre and literature[15†][16†]. His works have been used to explore a variety of themes[15†][16†]. For many years, a long tradition of criticism held Sophocles above both Aeschylus and Euripides, hailing his work as the apex of Greek tragedy[15†][9†]. This conclusion, it might be said, has undergone considerable revision, and any such value judgment would today be shot down by classical scholars[15†][9†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Sophocles [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Sophocles: Greek dramatist [website] - link
  3. Famous Authors - Sophocles [website] - link
  4. CliffsNotes - The Oedipus Trilogy - Sophocles Biography [website] - link
  5. Owl Eyes - Sophocles Biography [website] - link
  6. Britannica Kids - Sophocles [website] - link
  7. SparkNotes - Sophocles Biography, Works, and Quotes [website] - link
  8. Oxford Bibliographies - Sophocles - Classics [website] - link
  9. GradeSaver - Sophocles Biography [website] - link
  10. eNotes - Sophocles Analysis [website] - link
  11. ancient-literature.com - Classical Literature - Sophocles - Ancient Greece [website] - link
  12. eNotes - Sophocles World Literature Analysis [website] - link
  13. Encyclopedia of World Biography - Sophocles Biography [website] - link
  14. sophocles.net - Sophocles Life [website] - link
  15. StudyMoose - Sophocles Free Essays Examples & Find Books by Sophocles [website] - link
  16. MetaMuu - Examining the Lasting Impact of Sophocles’ Contributions to Ancient Greek Theatre [website] - link
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