22.5.16

Sophocles


Sophocles, (born c. 496 bc, Colonus, near Athens [Greece]—died 406, Athens) with Aeschylus and Euripides, one of classical Athens’ three great tragic playwrights. The best known of his 123 dramas is Oedipus the King.

Sophocles (/ˈsɒfəkliːz/;  Greek: Σοφοκλῆς, Sophoklēs, Ancient Greek: [so.pʰo.klɛ̂ːs]; c. 497/6 – winter 406/5 BC)  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. Sophocles wrote 120 plays during the course of his life, but only seven have survived in a complete form: Ajax, Antigone, The Women of Trachis, Oedipus the King, Electra, Philoctetes and Oedipus at Colonus.  For almost 50 years, Sophocles was the most-fêted playwright in the dramatic competitions of the city-state of Athens that took place during the religious festivals of the Lenaea and the Dionysia. He competed in 30 competitions, won 18, and was never judged lower than second place. Aeschylus won 14 competitions, and was sometimes defeated by Sophocles, while Euripides won 5 competitions. 

The most famous tragedies of Sophocles feature Oedipus and also Antigone: they are generally known as the Theban plays, although each play was actually a part of a different tetralogy, the other members of which are now lost. Sophocles influenced the development of the drama, most importantly by adding a third actor, thereby reducing the importance of the chorus in the presentation of the plot. He also developed his characters to a greater extent than earlier playwrights such as Aeschylus.

Sophocles was the younger contemporary of Aeschylus and the older contemporary of Euripides. He was born at Colonus, a village outside the walls of Athens, where his father, Sophillus, was a wealthy manufacturer of armour. Sophocles himself received a good education. Because of his beauty of physique, his athletic prowess, and his skill in music, he was chosen in 480, when he was 16, to lead the paean (choral chant to a god) celebrating the decisive Greek sea victory over the Persians at the Battle of Salamis. The relatively meagre information about Sophocles’ civic life suggests that he was a popular favourite who participated actively in his community and exercised outstanding artistic talents. In 442 he served as one of the treasurers responsible for receiving and managing tribute money from Athens’ subject-allies in the Delian League. In 440 he was elected one of the 10 stratēgoi (high executive officials who commanded the armed forces) as a junior colleague of Pericles. Sophocles later served as stratēgos perhaps twice again. 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’ financial and domestic recovery after its terrible defeat at Syracuse in Sicily. Sophocles’ last recorded act was to lead a chorus in public mourning for his deceased rival, Euripides, before the festival of 406. He died that same year.

These few facts are about all that is known of Sophocles’ life. They imply steady and distinguished attachment to Athens, its government, religion, and social forms. Sophocles was wealthy from birth, highly educated, noted for his grace and charm, on easy terms with the leading families, a personal friend of prominent statesmen, and in many ways fortunate to have died before the final surrender of Athens to Sparta in 404. In one of his last plays, Oedipus at Colonus, he still affectionately praises both his own birthplace and the great city itself.

Sophocles won his first victory at the Dionysian dramatic festival in 468, however, defeating the great Aeschylus in the process. This began a career of unparalleled success and longevity. In total, Sophocles wrote 123 dramas for the festivals. Since each author who was chosen to enter the competition usually presented four plays, this means he must have competed about 30 times. Sophocles won perhaps as many as 24 victories, compared to 13 for Aeschylus and four for Euripides, and indeed he may have never received lower than second place in the competitions he entered.

Dramatic and literary achievements
Ancient authorities credit Sophocles with several major and minor dramatic innovations. Among the latter is his invention of some type of “scene paintings” or other pictorial prop to establish locale or atmosphere. He also may have increased the size of the chorus from 12 to 15 members. Sophocles’ major innovation was his introduction of a third actor into the dramatic performance. It had previously been permissible for two actors to “double” (i.e., assume other roles during a play), but the addition of a third actor onstage enabled the dramatist both to increase the number of his characters and widen the variety of their interactions. The scope of the dramatic conflict was thereby extended, plots could be more fluid, and situations could be more complex.

The typical Sophoclean drama presents a few characters, impressive in their determination and power and possessing a few strongly drawn qualities or faults that combine with a particular set of circumstances to lead them inevitably to a tragic fate. Sophocles develops his characters’ rush to tragedy with great economy, concentration, and dramatic effectiveness, creating a coherent, suspenseful situation whose sustained and inexorable onrush came to epitomize the tragic form to the classical world. Sophocles emphasizes that most people lack wisdom, and he presents truth in collision with ignorance, delusion, and folly. Many scenes dramatize flaws or failure in thinking (deceptive reports and rumours, false optimism, hasty judgment, madness). The chief character does something involving grave error; this affects others, each of whom reacts in his own way, thereby causing the chief agent to take another step toward ruin—his own and that of others as well. Equally important, those who are to suffer from the tragic error usually are present at the time or belong to the same generation. It was this more complex type of tragedy that demanded a third actor. Sophocles thus abandoned the spacious Aeschylean framework of the connected trilogy and instead comprised the entire action in a single play. From his time onward, “trilogy” usually meant no more than three separate tragedies written by the same author and presented at the same festival.


Sophocles’ language responds flexibly to the dramatic needs of the moment; it can be ponderously weighty or swift-moving, emotionally intense or easygoing, highly decorative or perfectly plain and simple. His mastery of form and diction was highly respected by his contemporaries. Sophocles has also been universally admired for the sympathy and vividness with which he delineates his characters; especially notable are his tragic women, such as Electra and Antigone. Few dramatists have been able to handle situation and plot with more power and certainty; the frequent references in the Poetics to Sophocles’ Oedipus the King show that Aristotle regarded this play as a masterpiece of construction, and few later critics have dissented. Sophocles is also unsurpassed in his moments of high dramatic tension and in his revealing use of tragic irony.

The criticism has been made that Sophocles was a superb artist and nothing more; he grappled neither with religious problems as Aeschylus had nor with intellectual ones as Euripides had done. He accepted the gods of Greek religion in a spirit of unreflecting orthodoxy, and he contented himself with presenting human characters and human conflicts. But it should be stressed that to Sophocles “the gods” appear to have represented the natural forces of the universe to which human beings are unwittingly or unwillingly subject. To Sophocles, human beings live for the most part in dark ignorance because they are cut off from these permanent, unchanging forces and structures of reality. Yet it is pain, suffering, and the endurance of tragic crisis that can bring people into valid contact with the universal order of things. In the process, a person can become more genuinely human, more genuinely himself.

Marble relief of a poet, maybe Sophocles. Hellenistic Period.

Among Sophocles' earliest innovations was the addition of a third actor, which further reduced the role of the chorus and created greater opportunity for character development and conflict between characters. Aeschylus, who dominated Athenian playwriting during Sophocles' early career, followed suit and adopted the third character into his own work towards the end of his life. Aristotle credits Sophocles with the introduction of skenographia, or scenery-painting. It was not until after the death of the old master Aeschylus in 456 BC that Sophocles became the pre-eminent playwright in Athens. 

Thereafter, Sophocles emerged victorious in dramatic competitions at 18 Dionysia and 6 Lenaia festivals. In addition to innovations in dramatic structure, Sophocles' work is also known for its deeper development of characters than earlier playwrights.  His reputation was such that foreign rulers invited him to attend their courts, although unlike Aeschylus who died in Sicily, or Euripides who spent time in Macedon, Sophocles never accepted any of these invitations.  Aristotle used Sophocles' Oedipus the King in his Poetics (c. 335 BC) as an example of the highest achievement in tragedy, which suggests the high esteem in which his work was held by later Greeks. 

Only two of the seven surviving playscan be dated securely: Philoctetes (409 BC) and Oedipus at Colonus (401 BC, staged after Sophocles' death by his grandson). Of the others, Electra shows stylistic similarities to these two plays, which suggests that it was probably written in the latter part of his career. Ajax, Antigone and The Trachiniae are generally thought to be among his early works, again based on stylistic elements, with Oedipus the King coming in Sophocles' middle period. Most of Sophocles' plays show an undercurrent of early fatalism and the beginnings of Socratic logic as a mainstay for the long tradition of Greek tragedy.

Although the list of over 120 titles of plays associated with Sophocles are known and presented below, little is known of the precise dating of most of them. Philoctetes is known to have been written in 409 BC, and Oedipus at Colonus is known to have only been performed in 401 BC, posthumously, at the initiation of Sophocles' grandson. The convention on writing plays for the Greek festivals was to submit them in tetralogies of three tragedies along with one satyr play. Along with the unknown dating of the vast majority of over 120 play titles, it is also largely unknown how the plays were grouped. It is, however, known that the three plays referred to in the modern era as the "Theban plays" were never performed together in Sophocles' own lifetime, and are therefore not a trilogy (which they are sometimes erroneously seen as).

Fragments of Ichneutae (Tracking Satyrs) were discovered in Egypt in 1907.These amount to about half of the play, making it the best preserved satyr play after Euripides'Cyclops, which survives in its entirety.Fragments of the Epigoni were discovered in April 2005 by classicists at Oxford University with the help of infrared technology previously used for satellite imaging. The tragedy tells the story of the second siege of Thebes. A number of other Sophoclean works have survived only in fragments, including:

Only seven of Sophocles’ tragedies survive in their entirety, along with 400 lines of a satyr play, numerous fragments of plays now lost, and 90 titles. All seven of the complete plays are works of Sophocles’ maturity, but only two of them, Philoctetes and Oedipus at Colonus, have fairly certain dates. Ajax is generally regarded as the earliest of the extant plays. Some evidence suggests that Antigone was first performed in 442 or 441 bc. Philoctetes was first performed in 409, when Sophocles was 90 years old, and Oedipus at Colonus was said to have been produced after Sophocles’ death by his grandson.

Aias Lokros (Ajax the Locrian)
Aias Mastigophoros (Ajax the Whip-Bearer)
Aigeus (Aegeus)
Aigisthos (Aegisthus)
Aikhmalôtides (The Captive Women)
Aithiopes (The Ethiopians), or Memnon
Akhaiôn Syllogos (The Gathering of the Achaeans)
Akhilleôs Erastai (Lovers of Achilles)
Akrisios
Aleadae (The Sons of Aleus)
Aletes
Alexandros (Alexander)
Alcmeôn
Amphiaraus
Amphitryôn
Amycos
Andromache
Andromeda
Antenoridai (Sons of Antenor)
Athamas (two versions produced)
Atreus, or Mykenaiai
Camicoi
Cassandra
Cedaliôn
Cerberus
Chryseis
Clytemnestra
Colchides
Côphoi (Mute Ones)
Creusa
Crisis (Judgement)
Daedalus
Danae
Dionysiacus
Dolopes
Epigoni (The Progeny)
Eriphyle
Eris
Eumelus
Euryalus
Eurypylus
Eurysaces
Helenes Apaitesis (Helen's Demand)
Helenes Gamos (Helen's Marriage)
Herakles Epi Tainaro (Hercules At Taenarum)
Hermione
Hipponous
Hybris
Hydrophoroi (Water-Bearers)
Inachos
Iobates
Iokles
Iôn
Iphigenia
Ixiôn
Lacaenae (Lacaenian Women)
Laocoôn
Larisaioi
Lemniai (Lemnian Women)
Manteis (The Prophets) or Polyidus
Meleagros
Minôs
Momus
Mousai (Muses)
Mysoi (Mysians)
Nauplios Katapleon (Nauplius' Arrival)
Nauplios Pyrkaeus (Nauplius' Fires)
Nausicaa, or Plyntriai
Niobe
Odysseus Acanthoplex (Odysseus Scourged with Thorns)
Odysseus Mainomenos (Odysseus Gone Mad)
Oeneus
Oenomaus
Palamedes
Pandora, or Sphyrokopoi (Hammer-Strikers)
Pelias
Peleus
Phaiakes
Phaedra
Philoctetes In Troy
Phineus (two versions)
Phoenix
Phrixus
Phryges (Phrygians)
Phthiôtides
Poimenes (The Shepherds)
Polyxene
Priam
Procris
Rhizotomoi (The Root-Cutters)
Salmoneus
Sinon
Sisyphus
Skyrioi (Scyrians)
Skythai (Scythians)
Syndeipnoi (The Diners, or, The Banqueters)
Tantalus
Telephus
Tereus
Teukros (Teucer)
Thamyras
Theseus
Thyestes
Troilus
Triptolemos
Tympanistai (Drummers)
Tyndareos
Tyro Keiromene (Tyro Shorn)
Tyro Anagnorizomene (Tyro Rediscovered).
Xoanephoroi (Image-Bearers)

 SOCIETY FOR THE ORAL READING OF GREEK AND LATIN LITERATURE (SORGLL)

Ajax (c. 450–430 BCE)
Trachiniae (c. 450–425 BCE)
Antigone (441 BCE)
Oedipus Rex (429 BCE)
Electra (c. 410 BCE)
Philoctetes (409 BCE)
Oedipus at Colonus (406 BCE)
Oedipus at Colonus, trans. F. Storr (1913)


The Plays of Sophokles BOOK ONLINE HERE




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Sources / Bibliography / Photos

Beer, Josh (2004). Sophocles and the Tragedy of Athenian Democracy. Greenwood Publishing. ISBN 0-313-28946-8
Bowra, C. M. (1940). "Sophocles on His Own Development". American Journal of Philology (The Johns Hopkins University Press) 61 (4): 385–401. doi:10.2307/291377. JSTOR 291377. (subscription required (help)).
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Finkel, Raphael. "Adler number: sigma,815". Suda on Line: Byzantine Lexicography. Retrieved 2007-03-14.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Henry_Goodyear
Freeman, Charles. (1999). The Greek Achievement: The Foundation of the Western World. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 0-670-88515-0
http://www.ime.gr/
Hubbard, Thomas K. (2003). Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents.
Johnson, Marguerite & Terry Ryan (2005). Sexuality in Greek and Roman Society and Literature: A Sourcebook. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-17331-0, ISBN 978-0-415-17331-5
Lloyd-Jones, Hugh (ed.) (1994). Sophocles. Ajax. Electra. Oedipus Tyrannus. Harvard University Press.
Lucas, Donald William (1964). The Greek Tragic Poets. W.W. Norton & Co.
Minghella, Anthony (1987). First episode of BBC's Inspector Morse mentioned Sophocles as the "murderer."
Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vols. 5 & 6 translated by Paul Shorey. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1969.
http://www.britannica.com/
Schultz, Ferdinand (1835). De vita Sophoclis poetae commentatio. Phil. Diss., Berlin.
Scullion, Scott (2002). Tragic dates, Classical Quarterly, new sequence 52, pp. 81–101.
Seaford, Richard A. S. (2003). "Satyric drama". In Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth. The Oxford Classical Dictionary (revised 3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 1361. ISBN 0-19-860641-9.
https://en.wikipedia.org
Smith, Philip (1867). "Sophocles". In William Smith. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology 3. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company. pp. 865–873. Retrieved 2007-02-19.
Sommerstein, Alan Herbert (2002). Greek Drama and Dramatists. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-26027-2
Sommerstein, Alan Herbert (2007). "General Introduction" pp.xi-xxix in Sommerstein, A.H., Fitzpatrick, D. and Tallboy, T. Sophocles: Selected Fragmentary Plays: Volume 1. Aris and Phillips. ISBN 0-85668-766-9
https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utilisatrice:Jastrow
Sophocles. Sophocles I: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone. 2nd ed. Grene, David and Lattimore, Richard, eds. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1991.
Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. "Macropaedia Knowledge In Depth." The New Encyclopaedia Britannica Volume 20. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 2005. 344-346.




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