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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.