Sophocles

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Sophocles

(sŏf`əklēz), c.496 B.C.–406 B.C., Greek tragic dramatist, younger contemporary of AeschylusAeschylus
, 525–456 B.C., Athenian tragic dramatist, b. Eleusis. The first of the three great Greek writers of tragedy, Aeschylus was the predecessor of Sophocles and Euripides.

Aeschylus fought at Marathon and at Salamis. In 476 B.C.
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 and older contemporary of EuripidesEuripides
, 480 or 485–406 B.C., Greek tragic dramatist, ranking with Aeschylus and Sophocles. Born in Attica, he lived in Athens most of his life, though he spent much time on Salamis. He died in Macedonia, at the court of King Archelaus.
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, b. Colonus, near Athens. A man of wealth, charm, and genius, Sophocles was given posts of responsibility in peace and in war by the Athenians. He was a general and a priest; after his death he was worshiped as a hero. At the age of 16 he led the chorus in a paean on the victory of Salamis. He won his first dramatic triumph in 468, over Aeschylus, and thenceforth wrote copiously (he composed about 123 dramas), winning first place about 20 times and never falling lower than second. A definitive innovator in the drama, he added a third actor—thereby tremendously increasing the dramatic possibilities of the medium—increased the size of the chorus, abandoned the trilogy of plays for the self-contained tragedy, and introduced scene painting. Seven complete tragedies (difficult to date), part of a satyr play, and over 1,000 fragments survive. Ajax is perhaps the earliest tragedy; three actors are used but the form is handled imperfectly. In his other plays, whether with two or three actors, the dialogue is polished and smooth. Antigone (c.441) contains extraordinarily fine characterization. The most famous of his tragedies (cited by Aristotle as a perfect example of tragedy) is Oedipus Rex or Oedipus Tyrannus (c.429), in which Greek dramatic irony reaches an apex. The plot is based on the OedipusOedipus
, in Greek legend, son of Laius, king of Thebes, and his wife, Jocasta. Laius had been warned by an oracle that he was fated to be killed by his own son; he therefore abandoned Oedipus on a mountainside.
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 legend. Electra (date uncertain), the Trachiniae (date uncertain; on the death of Hercules by the blood of Nessus), and Philoctetes (409) followed. Oedipus at Colonus was written shortly before Sophocles' death and was produced in 401. A sequel to Oedipus Rex, it tells of the last days and death of Oedipus; it is a quiet, simple play of great beauty and power. There is also extant about half of a satyr play (Ichneutae or The Trackers, written perhaps c.460) on Hermes' theft of Apollo's cattle. The characters in Sophocles are governed in their fate more by their own faults than by the actions of the gods as in the tragedies of Aeschylus. Sophocles is supposed to have said that Aeschylus composed correctly without knowing it; Euripides portrayed people as they were; and he painted people as they ought to be. The translation by Richmond Lattimore and David Grene, The Complete Greek Tragedies (1959) is one of the many English translations of Sophocles.

Bibliography

See studies by C. H. Whitman (1951), A. J. A. Waldock (1966), R. P. Winnington-Ingram (1980), C. Segal (1981), and S. Goldhill (2012).

Sophocles

 

Born circa 496 B.C.; died circa 406 B.C. Ancient Greek playwright.

Sophocles was born in Colonus, a suburb of Athens. He was elected to important government posts and was close to the circle of Pericles. According to classical sources, he wrote more than 120 dramas and won his first victory in contests of tragic poets in 468 B.C. The following tragedies have been preserved in their entirety: Ajax (before 442), Antigone (about 441), Oedipus Tyrannus (about 425), Philoctetes (409), Trachiniae (date unknown), Electra (date unknown), and Oedipus at Colonus (staged 401). Many fragments of his other works have survived.

Sophocles’ world view reflects the complexity and inner contradictions of Athenian democracy at its height. On the one hand, the democratic ideology that arose on the basis of the “joint private property of the active citizens of the state” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 3, p. 21) saw the absolute power of divine providence and the immutability of traditional beliefs as its bulwark; on the other hand, because the individual had more freedom of development in Athens than anywhere else at the time, the tendency to free the individual from the relationships of the polis gathered strength. The will of the gods could not provide a satisfactory explanation for the tribulations that are the fate of man, and Sophocles, concerned with maintaining the unity of the polis, did not try to justify the gods’ rule of the world by any ethical considerations. At the same time, he was attracted by the active man who is responsible for his decisions.

In Ajax, the hero realizes that his actions are incompatible with the moral code of the valorous leader and finds freedom from shame and dishonor in voluntary death. In Oedipus Tyrannus, the hero’s relentless inquiry into the secret of his birth and past makes him objectively responsible for his involuntary crimes, although it does not provide any grounds for interpreting the tragedy in categories of subjective guilt and the gods’ revenge. Antigone is a person of integrity and unflagging resolve in her heroic defense of the “unwritten” laws against the arbitrary actions of an individual clothed with the authority of the state.

Sophocles brought out only the essential features of his characters; his heroes are not excessively personalized and are moved largely by ideals. By introducing a third actor, Sophocles was able to increase the tension in the unfolding of the plot and enrich the portrayal of the persons involved in the action. Although he increased the chorus to 15 persons, the choral parts are much smaller and much less important in his tragedies than in the works of Aeschylus.

The themes and images of Sophocles were used by later classical writers (Accius, Seneca) and by modern European writers from the classicist period (J. Rotrou, P. Corneille) to the 20th century (J. Giraudoux, J. Anouilh, B. Brecht). In their research and pronouncements on the theory of tragedy, G. E. Lessing, J. W. von Goethe, A. W. von Schlegel, F. von Schlegel, F. Schiller, and V. G. Belinskii showed a profound interest in the work of Sophocles. Since the mid-19th century, the tragedies of Sophocles have been performed in theaters all over the world.

WORKS

Sophocle: Tragédies, vols. 1–3. Paris, 1955–60.
In Russian translation:
Dramy, vols. 1–3. Translated by F. Zelinskii. Moscow, 1914–15.
Tragedii. Translated by S. Shervinskii. Moscow, 1958.

REFERENCES

Radtsig, S. I. “K voprosu o mirovozzrenii Sofokla.” Vestnik drevnei istorii, 1957, no. 4.
Lesky, A. Die tragische Dichtung der Hellenen, 3rd ed. Göttingen, 1972. Pages 169–274.

V. N. IARKHO

Sophocles

?496--406 bc, Greek dramatist; author of seven extant tragedies: Ajax, Antigone, Oedipus Rex, Trachiniae, Electra, Philoctetes, and Oedipus at Colonus