Wondering what makes Sophocles as famous as what he is known for? Top Facts and secrets of Sophocles you may not get from your teacher is right available here.
During the fifth century BCE, the Golden Age of Athens, new forms of art and literature were being developed with extraordinary speed and energy. Classical Greek author Sophocles, along with Aeschylus and Euripides, was a primary innovator of the new genre of tragedy, shaping stage conventions that have become central to dramatic art. Sophocles’ ability to blend irony and poetry with effective dramatic technique has earned him a reputation as the greatest playwright of world literature.
Sophocles Fast ProfileBORN: c. 496 BCE, near Athens, Greece
DIED: c. 406 BCE, Athens, Greece
GENRE: Poetry, drama
Antigone (442 BCE)
Oedipus Rex (c. 425 BCE)
Electra (c. 425–410 BCE)
Philoctetes (409 BCE)
Oedipus at Colonus (401 BCE)
26 Facts About Sophocles
- Sophocles’ date of birth is believed to be 497 BCE or 496 BCE . His father was a wealthy businessman named Sophillus.
- As such, Sophocles enjoyed a Greek education that included art and music. His musical ability presented him with a solo part that he sang in the victory paean after the battle of Salamis in 480 BCE). (This naval battle between Greek city-states and Persia took place in the strait between Piraeus and Salamis Island. The Greeks won handily, preventing Persia from conquering the Peloponnese.)
- When Sophocles completed his education, he competed in the dramatic festival the Greater Dionysia, held every spring for five days.
- At the festival of 468 BCE, Sophocles defeated Aeschylus, winning first prize. Sophocles went on to win first prize more than twenty times, never receiving anything below second prize, a unique feat among Greek dramatists.
- As a member of the Athenian elite at a time when Athens enjoyed extraordinary cultural and political supremacy, Sophocles held important political positions. He held the post of treasurer (Hellenotamias) in either 443 or 442 BCE, and served as general along with Pericles (a prominent Athenian general, statesman, and orator) in the war to suppress a revolution in Samos from 441 to 439 BCE. Sophocles was also made a member of the Athenian senate. In addition to his political appointments, Sophocles showed his devotion to traditional religion by serving as a priest of the healing deity Amynos.
- It is estimated that Sophocles wrote some 123 plays. Titles and fragments of ninety exist, but only seven tragedies survive in their entirety. Of these seven, there is a only one that is firmly dated, Philoctetes, in 409 BCE.
- Oedipus at Colonus of his works is known to have been Sophocles’ last creation because it was produced posthumously in 401 BCE. There are grounds for placing Antigone close to 441BCE. The date of Women of Trachis, a play whose authenticity has been doubted by a few in the past, is now generally put at sometime before Antigone.
- Sophocles died c. 406 BCE, in Athens, Greece, though the details surrounding his death are vague.
- Sophocles had influences on the Greek mythology as interpreted and shaped by poets such as Homer as well as Aeschylus—the author of such plays as The Persians (472 BCE)—who was twenty-eight years older than Sophocles but also Sophocles’ rival during his early years as a writer.
- Like Aeschylus, Sophocles was affected by the flowering of Athenian culture and the related intellectual life. In addition, the military conflicts with the Persians and with Sparta influenced the work of Sophocles.
- The extraordinary dramatic and poetic power of Sophocles’ tragedies stems, in part, from certain technical innovations that he introduced into the Athenian theater.
- Sophocles focuses on individual tragedies. By limiting his narrative scope, he achieved a more concentrated emotional intensity and action.
- Sophocles enhanced the usually bare Greek stage with skenographia, or scene painting, and more expressive masks, thereby bringing greater realism to each scene.
- Perhaps, Sophocles’ most important innovation was the introduction of the use of a third actor. Traditionally, two actors (all roles were played by male actors), along with the chorus, participated in the epeisodia, or episodes, of the play. The addition of the third actor enabled Sophocles to construct a more complex dialogue, thereby keeping the focus on the characters rather than on the chorus. He increased the chorus from twelve to fifteen members and, while limiting its participation in the action, composed some of his most beautiful poetry for it.
- Many commentators have praised the imaginative form, striking imagery, and emotional power of Sophocles’ choral songs, with particular attention to their poetical and philosophical content.
- Sophocles’ dramatic style is often described as a divine union of strength and control. In measured, simple, and piercingly direct language, Sophocles’ dramas move swiftly, logically, and inexorably toward their seemingly inevitable conclusions.
- The hallmark of Sophocles’ style is his gift for portraying exceptional characters under stress. His dramas are built around a strong-willed, highly principled character who encounters a seemingly insurmountable ethical or moral difficulty.
- Subject to the above stated, for Sophocles, the center of interest was the individual human being who will not compromise even when he or she clearly perceives the advantages that compromise would bring. Sophocles creates characters of heroic proportions, yet these heroic qualities often lead to disaster.
- The gods are respected and feared in the world of Sophocles’ plays. Oracles are consulted and heeded. This tension between human free will and divine predestination presents problems of interpretation. Artistically the interest revolves around a person’s own free decision, but the development of the plot leaves no doubt as to the outcome.
- Sophocles is regarded as the pinnacle of Greek dramatic art and one of the greatest dramatists in Western literature. The stage conventions that he helped initiate have become central to dramatic art, and he is acknowledged as one of the shapers of the genre.
- Sophocles’ plays and innovations have also profoundly influenced the development of European literature.
- Sophocles is considered one of the greatest dramatists in Western literature. His surviving tragedies attest to his consummate craftsmanship in plot construction, characterization, and versification.
- Of all Sophocles’ plays, Oedipus Rex—a tragedy denied first prize either because it was ahead of its time or because of the vagaries of the Athenian voting system at the dramatic festival—is at once his least typical play and the one that has left the deepest imprint.
- In Poetics (c. 335 BCE), Aristotle plainly regarded the play as the greatest masterpiece of the genre, claiming it was a model tragedy, containing Sophoclean elements such as reversal and discovery.
- Father of modern psychiatry, Sigmund Freud was tremendously moved by the play and popularized the notion of the Oedipus Complex. While critics still agree that the play is a gripping exploration of the role of the gods in a man’s life and a warning to man to avoid becoming too proud, some critics have focused their attention on the play’s themes, the playwright’s use of irony, the function of the chorus, and the Freudian interpretation, among other issues.
- Writing about Oedipus Rex in 1953, F. J. H. Letters wrote in The Life and Work of Sophocles, ‘‘The Oedipus tyrannus (King Oedipus) is the best-known and best-built of classical tragedies. Yet in its treatment of inherent improbabilities . . . it is also the best illustration of the difference between ancient and modern views as to the limits of dramatic license. Sophocles’ originality shows itself less in the making than in the shaping of the plot.’’