Sophocles (496 BC-406 BC)

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Perhaps the greatest of Athens's three best playwrights--Aeschylus and Euripedes being the other two--Sophocles is known to have written at least 123 dramas, of which only 7 survive. His best-known work is Oedipus Rex. Sophocles was born in 496 B.C. in Colonus, near Athens; he died in Athens in 406 B.C. Although the information that remains about his life is scanty at best, all accounts seem to agree that he was a gracious, dignified, and well-loved citizen who moved in good society and enjoyed life's pleasures. His father, Sophillus, was a well-to-do armor manufacturer who provided his son with an excellent education. Among Sophocles' instructors were Aeschylus and the greatest musician of the day, Lamprus. His fame began when his play took first place in a contest of performances in 468 B.C., winning even over Aeschylus.

Although Sophocles is lauded as a master of his literary realm, some have criticized his work for lacking major philosophical considerations. In fact, his works embrace the orthodoxy of the day by accepting the existence of a powerful divine force that is ultimately unknowable to man. This force, which runs the universe, has established a body of divine law that humans must follow if they are to avoid calamity. Through his characters, Sophocles explored serious questions about the nature of good and evil in the world and the role of free will. Given the existence of a divinely ordered universe, Sophocles saw fate as a powerful force. His characters may oppose fate, but they only wreak havoc on themselves and their community if they do. Oedipus, for instance, brings suffering to his kingdom when he tries to fight his fate by denying the signs and portents that are sent to him. On the other hand, virtue comes through accepting fate as it is divinely revealed. In other plays, such as Antigone, Sophocles portrays the conflict between those who attempt to uphold the laws of the gods (Antigone) and those who abuse the power of the state.


Works by the Author

Sophocles. The Plays and Fragments of Sophocles. 6 vols. Edited by Richard C. Jebb. Cambridge: Cambridge at the University Press, 1908.

Plays of the Greek Dramatists. New York: Caxton House, 1954.

Sophocles. Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone. Translated by F. Storr. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Sophocles. Ajax, Electra, Trachiniae, Philoctetes, The Women of Trachis. Translated by F. Storr. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Works about the Author

Letters, Francis Joseph Henry. The Life and Work of Sophocles. London, New York: Sheed and Ward, 1953.

Oates, Whitney J. and Eugene O'Neill, eds. The Complete Greek Drama. 2 vols. New York: Random House, 1938.

Segal, Charles. Tragedy and Civilization: An Interpretation of Sophocles. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.


The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.

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