Sophocles
Overview
Sophocles is one of three ancient Greek
Classical Greece
Classical Greece was a 200 year period in Greek culture lasting from the 5th through 4th centuries BC. This classical period had a powerful influence on the Roman Empire and greatly influenced the foundation of Western civilizations. Much of modern Western politics, artistic thought, such as...

 tragedians
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

 whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus
Aeschylus
Aeschylus was the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived, the others being Sophocles and Euripides, and is often described as the father of tragedy. His name derives from the Greek word aiskhos , meaning "shame"...

, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides
Euripides
Euripides was one of the three great tragedians of classical Athens, the other two being Aeschylus and Sophocles. Some ancient scholars attributed ninety-five plays to him but according to the Suda it was ninety-two at most...

. According to the Suda
Suda
The Suda or Souda is a massive 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world, formerly attributed to an author called Suidas. It is an encyclopedic lexicon, written in Greek, with 30,000 entries, many drawing from ancient sources that have since been lost, and often...

, a 10th century encyclopedia
Encyclopedia
An encyclopedia is a type of reference work, a compendium holding a summary of information from either all branches of knowledge or a particular branch of knowledge....

, Sophocles wrote 123 plays during the course of his life, but only seven have survived in a complete form: Ajax, Antigone, Trachinian Women, Oedipus the King, Electra, Philoctetes and Oedipus at Colonus.
Quotations

Truly, to tell lies is not honorable; But when the truth entails tremendous ruin, To speak dishonorably is pardonable.

Creusa, fragment 323

Sons are the anchors of a mother's life.

Phaedra, fragment 612

No man loves life like him that's growing old.

Acrisius, fragment 64

When ice appears out of doors, and boys seize it up while it is solid, at first they experience new pleasures. But in the end their pride will not agree to let it go, but their acquisition is not good for them if it stays in their hands. In the same way an identical desire drives lovers to act and not to act.

The loves of Achilles, only surviving fragment, often quoted as "Love is like ice in the hands of children".

Nobly to live, or else nobly to die, Befits proud birth.

Line 480

Of all human ills, greatest is fortune's wayward tyranny.

Line 486

For kindness begets kindness evermore, But he from whose mind fades the memory Of benefits, noble is he no more.

Line 522

Men of ill judgement oft ignore the good That lies within their hands, till they have lost it.

Line 964

Fear? What has a man to do with fear? Chance rules our lives, and the future is all unknown. Best live as we may, from day to day.

Jocasta

I am the child of Fortune, the giver of good, and I shall not be shamed. She is my mother; my sisters are the Seasons; my rising and my falling match with theirs. Born thus, I ask to be no other man than that I am.

Oedipus

Encyclopedia
Sophocles is one of three ancient Greek
Classical Greece
Classical Greece was a 200 year period in Greek culture lasting from the 5th through 4th centuries BC. This classical period had a powerful influence on the Roman Empire and greatly influenced the foundation of Western civilizations. Much of modern Western politics, artistic thought, such as...

 tragedians
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

 whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus
Aeschylus
Aeschylus was the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived, the others being Sophocles and Euripides, and is often described as the father of tragedy. His name derives from the Greek word aiskhos , meaning "shame"...

, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides
Euripides
Euripides was one of the three great tragedians of classical Athens, the other two being Aeschylus and Sophocles. Some ancient scholars attributed ninety-five plays to him but according to the Suda it was ninety-two at most...

. According to the Suda
Suda
The Suda or Souda is a massive 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world, formerly attributed to an author called Suidas. It is an encyclopedic lexicon, written in Greek, with 30,000 entries, many drawing from ancient sources that have since been lost, and often...

, a 10th century encyclopedia
Encyclopedia
An encyclopedia is a type of reference work, a compendium holding a summary of information from either all branches of knowledge or a particular branch of knowledge....

, Sophocles wrote 123 plays during the course of his life, but only seven have survived in a complete form: Ajax, Antigone, Trachinian Women, 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
Polis
Polis , plural poleis , literally means city in Greek. It could also mean citizenship and body of citizens. In modern historiography "polis" is normally used to indicate the ancient Greek city-states, like Classical Athens and its contemporaries, so polis is often translated as "city-state."The...

 of Athens
Classical Athens
The city of Athens during the classical period of Ancient Greece was a notable polis of Attica, Greece, leading the Delian League in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. Athenian democracy was established in 508 BC under Cleisthenes following the tyranny of Hippias...

 that took place during the religious festivals of the Lenaea and the Dionysia. He competed in around 30 competitions, won perhaps 24, and was never judged lower than second place. Aeschylus won 14 competitions, and was sometimes defeated by Sophocles, while Euripides won only 4 competitions.

The most famous tragedies of Sophocles feature Oedipus
Oedipus
Oedipus was a mythical Greek king of Thebes. He fulfilled a prophecy that said he would kill his father and marry his mother, and thus brought disaster on his city and family...

 and Antigone
Antigone (Sophocles)
Antigone is a tragedy by Sophocles written in or before 442 BC. Chronologically, it is the third of the three Theban plays but was written first...

: they are generally known as the Theban plays, although each play was actually a part of a different tetralogy
Tetralogy
A tetralogy is a compound work that is made up of four distinct works, just as a trilogy is made up of three works....

, 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
Greek chorus
A Greek chorus is a homogenous, non-individualised group of performers in the plays of classical Greece, who comment with a collective voice on the dramatic action....

 in the presentation of the plot. He also developed his characters
Character (arts)
A character is the representation of a person in a narrative work of art . Derived from the ancient Greek word kharaktêr , the earliest use in English, in this sense, dates from the Restoration, although it became widely used after its appearance in Tom Jones in 1749. From this, the sense of...

 to a greater extent than earlier playwrights such as Aeschylus.

Life

Sophocles, the son of Sophilus, was a wealthy member of the rural deme
Deme
In Ancient Greece, a deme or demos was a subdivision of Attica, the region of Greece surrounding Athens. Demes as simple subdivisions of land in the countryside seem to have existed in the 6th century BC and earlier, but did not acquire particular significance until the reforms of Cleisthenes in...

(small community) of Colonus Hippius in Attica
Attica
Attica is a historical region of Greece, containing Athens, the current capital of Greece. The historical region is centered on the Attic peninsula, which projects into the Aegean Sea...

, which was to become a setting for one of his plays, and he was probably born there. He was born a few years before the Battle of Marathon
Battle of Marathon
The Battle of Marathon took place in 490 BC, during the first Persian invasion of Greece. It was fought between the citizens of Athens, aided by Plataea, and a Persian force commanded by Datis and Artaphernes. It was the culmination of the first attempt by Persia, under King Darius I, to subjugate...

 in 490 BC: the exact year is unclear, although 497/6 is the most likely. Sophocles' first artistic triumph was in 468 BC, when he took first prize in the Dionysia
Dionysia
The Dionysia[p] was a large festival in ancient Athens in honor of the god Dionysus, the central events of which were the theatrical performances of dramatic tragedies and, from 487 BC, comedies. It was the second-most important festival after the Panathenaia...

 theatre competition over the reigning master of Athenian drama, Aeschylus
Aeschylus
Aeschylus was the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived, the others being Sophocles and Euripides, and is often described as the father of tragedy. His name derives from the Greek word aiskhos , meaning "shame"...

. According to Plutarch
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

 the victory came under unusual circumstances. Instead of following the usual custom of choosing judges by lot, the archon asked Cimon and the other strategoi present to decide the victor of the contest. Plutarch further contends that following this loss Aeschylus soon left for Sicily. Although Plutarch says that this was Sophocles' first production, it is now thought that his first production was probably in 470 BC. Triptolemus was probably one of the plays that Sophocles presented at this festival.

At the age of 16, Sophocles was chosen to lead the paean (a choral chant to a god), celebrating the Greek victory over the Persians at the Battle of Salamis. He was elected as one of ten strategoi, high executive officials that commanded the armed forces, as a junior colleague of Pericles. Sophocles was born into a wealthy family (his father was an armour manufacturer) and was highly educated. Early in his career, the politician Cimon might have been one of his patrons, although if he was there was no ill will borne by Pericles
Pericles
Pericles was a prominent and influential statesman, orator, and general of Athens during the city's Golden Age—specifically, the time between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars...

, Cimon's rival, when Cimon was ostracized in 461 BC In 443/2 he served as one of the Hellenotamiai
Hellenotamiai
Hellenotamiai was an ancient Greek term indicating a group of public treasurers. The Hellenotamiae were ten magistrates appointed by the Athenians to receive the contributions of the allied states, and were the chief financial officers of the Delian League.They were first appointed in 477 BC,...

, or treasurers of Athena, helping to manage the finances of the city during the political ascendancy of Pericles. According to the Vita Sophoclis he served as a general in the Athenian campaign against Samos
Samoš
Samoš is a village in Serbia. It is situated in the Kovačica municipality, in the South Banat District, Vojvodina province. The village has a Serb ethnic majority and its population numbering 1,247 people .-See also:...

, which had revolted in 441 BC; he was supposed to have been elected to his post as the result of his production of Antigone.

In 420 he welcomed and set up an altar for the image of Asclepius
Asclepius
Asclepius is the God of Medicine and Healing in ancient Greek religion. Asclepius represents the healing aspect of the medical arts; his daughters are Hygieia , Iaso , Aceso , Aglæa/Ægle , and Panacea...

 at his house, when the deity was introduced to Athens. For this he was given the posthumous epithet Dexion (receiver) by the Athenians. He was also elected, in 413 BC, one of the commissioners who responded to the catastrophic destruction of the Athenian expeditionary force in Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

 during the Peloponnesian War
Peloponnesian War
The Peloponnesian War, 431 to 404 BC, was an ancient Greek war fought by Athens and its empire against the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta. Historians have traditionally divided the war into three phases...

.

Sophocles died at the age of ninety or ninety-one in the winter of 406/5 BC, having seen within his lifetime both the Greek triumph in the Persian Wars and the bloodletting of the Peloponnesian War. As with many famous men in classical antiquity, his death inspired a number of apocryphal stories. The most famous is the suggestion that he died from the strain of trying to recite a long sentence from his Antigone without pausing to take a breath. Another account suggests he choked while eating grapes at the Anthesteria
Anthesteria
Anthesteria, one of the four Athenian festivals in honour of Dionysus , was held annually for three days, the eleventh to thirteenth of the month of Anthesterion ; it was preceded by the Lenaia...

 festival in Athens. A third holds that he died of happiness after winning his final victory at the City Dionysia. A few months later, a comic poet, in a play titled The Muses, wrote this eulogy: "Blessed is Sophocles, who had a long life, was a man both happy and talented, and the writer of many good tragedies; and he ended his life well without suffering any misfortune." According to some accounts however his own sons tried to have him declared incompetent near the end of his life; he is said to have refuted their charge in court by reading from his as yet unproduced Oedipus at Colonus. One of his sons, Iophon, and a grandson, also called Sophocles, also became playwrights.

Works and legacy

Among Sophocles' earliest innovations was the addition of a third actor, which further reduced the role of the chorus
Greek chorus
A Greek chorus is a homogenous, non-individualised group of performers in the plays of classical Greece, who comment with a collective voice on the dramatic action....

 and created greater opportunity for character development and conflict between characters. Aeschylus
Aeschylus
Aeschylus was the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived, the others being Sophocles and Euripides, and is often described as the father of tragedy. His name derives from the Greek word aiskhos , meaning "shame"...

, who dominated Athenian
Classical Athens
The city of Athens during the classical period of Ancient Greece was a notable polis of Attica, Greece, leading the Delian League in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. Athenian democracy was established in 508 BC under Cleisthenes following the tyranny of Hippias...

 playwrighting 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
Dionysia
The Dionysia[p] was a large festival in ancient Athens in honor of the god Dionysus, the central events of which were the theatrical performances of dramatic tragedies and, from 487 BC, comedies. It was the second-most important festival after the Panathenaia...

 and 6 Lenaia
Lenaia
The Lenaia was an annual festival with a dramatic competition. It was one of the lesser festivals of Athens and Ionia in ancient Greece. The Lenaia took place in Athens in the month of Gamelion, roughly corresponding to January. The festival was in honour of Dionysos Lenaios...

 festivals. In addition to innovations in dramatic structure
Dramatic structure
Dramatic structure is the structure of a dramatic work such as a play or film. Many scholars have analyzed dramatic structure, beginning with Aristotle in his Poetics...

, 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
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

, or Euripides who spent time in Macedon
Macedon
Macedonia or Macedon was an ancient kingdom, centered in the northeastern part of the Greek peninsula, bordered by Epirus to the west, Paeonia to the north, the region of Thrace to the east and Thessaly to the south....

, Sophocles never accepted any of these invitations. Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 used Sophocles' Oedipus the King
Oedipus the King
Oedipus the King , also known by the Latin title Oedipus Rex, is an Athenian tragedy by Sophocles that was first performed c. 429 BCE. It was the second of Sophocles's three Theban plays to be produced, but it comes first in the internal chronology, followed by Oedipus at Colonus and then Antigone...

in his Poetics (c. 335 BC) as an example of the highest achievement in tragedy
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

, which suggests the high esteem in which his work was held by later Greeks.

Only two of the seven surviving plays can be dated securely: Philoctetes
Philoctetes (Sophocles)
Philoctetes is a play by Sophocles . The play was written during the Peloponnesian War. It was first performed at the Festival of Dionysus in 409 BC, where it won first prize. The story takes place during the Trojan War...

(409 BC) and Oedipus at Colonus
Oedipus at Colonus
Oedipus at Colonus is one of the three Theban plays of the Athenian tragedian Sophocles...

(401 BC, staged after Sophocles' death by his grandson). Of the others, Electra
Electra
In Greek mythology, Electra was an Argive princess and daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra. She and her brother Orestes plotted revenge against their mother Clytemnestra and stepfather Aegisthus for the murder of their father Agamemnon...

shows stylistic similarities to these two plays, which suggests that it was probably written in the latter part of his career. Ajax
Ajax (Sophocles)
Sophocles's Ajax is a Greek tragedy written in the 5th century BC. The date of Ajax's first performance is unknown, but most scholars regard it as an early work, circa 450 - 430 B.C....

, Antigone
Antigone (Sophocles)
Antigone is a tragedy by Sophocles written in or before 442 BC. Chronologically, it is the third of the three Theban plays but was written first...

and The Trachiniae
The Trachiniae
Women of Trachis is an Athenian tragedy by Sophocles.-Synopsis:The story begins with Deianeira, the wife of Heracles, relating the story of her early life and her plight adjusting to married life. She is now distraught over her husband's neglect of her family. Often involved in some adventure, he...

are generally thought to be among his early works, again based on stylistic elements, with Oedipus the King
Oedipus the King
Oedipus the King , also known by the Latin title Oedipus Rex, is an Athenian tragedy by Sophocles that was first performed c. 429 BCE. It was the second of Sophocles's three Theban plays to be produced, but it comes first in the internal chronology, followed by Oedipus at Colonus and then Antigone...

coming in Sophocles' middle period. Most of Sophocles' plays show an undercurrent of early fatalism
Fatalism
Fatalism is a philosophical doctrine emphasizing the subjugation of all events or actions to fate.Fatalism generally refers to several of the following ideas:...

 and the beginnings of Socratic
Socrates
Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary ...

 logic as a mainstay for the long tradition of Greek tragedy.

The Theban plays

The Theban plays consist of three plays: Oedipus the King
Oedipus the King
Oedipus the King , also known by the Latin title Oedipus Rex, is an Athenian tragedy by Sophocles that was first performed c. 429 BCE. It was the second of Sophocles's three Theban plays to be produced, but it comes first in the internal chronology, followed by Oedipus at Colonus and then Antigone...

(also called Oedipus Tyrannus or Oedipus Rex), Oedipus at Colonus
Oedipus at Colonus
Oedipus at Colonus is one of the three Theban plays of the Athenian tragedian Sophocles...

and Antigone
Antigone (Sophocles)
Antigone is a tragedy by Sophocles written in or before 442 BC. Chronologically, it is the third of the three Theban plays but was written first...

. All three plays concern the fate of Thebes
Ancient Thebes (Boeotia)
See Thebes, Greece for the modern city built on the ancient ruins.Ancient Thebes was a Boeotian city-state , situated to the north of the Cithaeron range, which divides Boeotia from Attica, and on the southern edge of the Boeotian plain...

 during and after the reign of King Oedipus
Oedipus
Oedipus was a mythical Greek king of Thebes. He fulfilled a prophecy that said he would kill his father and marry his mother, and thus brought disaster on his city and family...

. They have often been published under a single cover. Sophocles, however, wrote the three plays for separate festival competitions
Dionysia
The Dionysia[p] was a large festival in ancient Athens in honor of the god Dionysus, the central events of which were the theatrical performances of dramatic tragedies and, from 487 BC, comedies. It was the second-most important festival after the Panathenaia...

, many years apart. Not only are the Theban plays not a true trilogy
Trilogy
A trilogy is a set of three works of art that are connected, and that can be seen either as a single work or as three individual works. They are commonly found in literature, film, or video games...

 (three plays presented as a continuous narrative) but they are not even an intentional series and contain some inconsistencies among them. He also wrote other plays having to do with Thebes, such as the Epigoni, of which only fragments have survived.

Subjects

Each of the plays relates to the tale of the mythological Oedipus
Oedipus
Oedipus was a mythical Greek king of Thebes. He fulfilled a prophecy that said he would kill his father and marry his mother, and thus brought disaster on his city and family...

, who killed his father and married his mother without knowledge that they were his parents. His family is fated to be doomed for three generations.

In Oedipus the King
Oedipus the King
Oedipus the King , also known by the Latin title Oedipus Rex, is an Athenian tragedy by Sophocles that was first performed c. 429 BCE. It was the second of Sophocles's three Theban plays to be produced, but it comes first in the internal chronology, followed by Oedipus at Colonus and then Antigone...

, Oedipus is the protagonist
Protagonist
A protagonist is the main character of a literary, theatrical, cinematic, or musical narrative, around whom the events of the narrative's plot revolve and with whom the audience is intended to most identify...

. Oedipus' infanticide is planned by his parents, Laius and Jocasta, to avert him fulfilling a prophecy; in truth, the servant entrusted with the infanticide passes the infant on through a series of intermediaries to a childless couple, who adopt him not knowing his history. Oedipus eventually learns of the Delphic Oracle's prophecy of him, that he would kill his father and marry his mother; Oedipus attempts to flee his fate without harming his parents (at this point, he does not know that he is adopted). Oedipus meets a man at a crossroads accompanied by servants; Oedipus and the man fought, and Oedipus killed the man. (This man was his father, Laius, not that anyone apart from the gods knew this at the time). He becomes the ruler of Thebes after solving the riddle of the sphinx and in the process, marries the widowed Queen, his mother Jocasta. Thus the stage is set for horror. When the truth comes out, following from another true but confusing prophecy from Delphi, Jocasta commits suicide, Oedipus blinds himself and leaves Thebes, and the children are left to sort out the consequences themselves (which provides the grounds for the later parts of the cycle of plays).

In Oedipus at Colonus
Oedipus at Colonus
Oedipus at Colonus is one of the three Theban plays of the Athenian tragedian Sophocles...

, the banished Oedipus and his daughters Antigone and Ismene arrive at the town of Colonus
Colonus
In classical Greece Hippeios Colonus was a deme about to the northwest of Athens, near Plato's Academy. There is also the Agoraios Kolonos , a hillock by the Athens Agora on which the temple of Hephaestus still stands.Hippeios Colonus held a temple of Poseidon and a sacred grove to the...

 where they encounter Theseus
Theseus
For other uses, see Theseus Theseus was the mythical founder-king of Athens, son of Aethra, and fathered by Aegeus and Poseidon, both of whom Aethra had slept with in one night. Theseus was a founder-hero, like Perseus, Cadmus, or Heracles, all of whom battled and overcame foes that were...

, King of Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

. Oedipus dies and strife begins between his sons Polyneices and Eteocles
Eteocles
In Greek mythology, Eteocles was a king of Thebes, the son of Oedipus and either Jocasta or Euryganeia. The name is from earlier *Etewoklewes , meaning "truly glorious". Tawaglawas is thought to be the Hittite rendition of the name. Oedipus killed his father Laius and married his mother without...

.

In Antigone
Antigone (Sophocles)
Antigone is a tragedy by Sophocles written in or before 442 BC. Chronologically, it is the third of the three Theban plays but was written first...

the protagonist is Oedipus' daughter, Antigone. She is faced with the choice of allowing her brother Polyneices' body to remain unburied, outside the city walls, exposed to the ravages of wild animals, or to bury him and face death. The king of the land, Creon, has forbidden the burial of Polyneices for he was a traitor to the city. Antigone decides to bury his body and face the consequences of her actions. Creon sentences her to death. Eventually, Creon is convinced to free Antigone from her punishment, but his decision comes too late and Antigone commits suicide. Her suicide triggers the suicide of two others close to King Creon: his son, Haemon, who was to wed Antigone, and his wife who commits suicide after losing her only surviving son.

Composition and inconsistencies

The plays were written across thirty-six years of Sophocles' career and were not composed in chronological order, but instead were written in the order Antigone
Antigone (Sophocles)
Antigone is a tragedy by Sophocles written in or before 442 BC. Chronologically, it is the third of the three Theban plays but was written first...

, Oedipus the King
Oedipus the King
Oedipus the King , also known by the Latin title Oedipus Rex, is an Athenian tragedy by Sophocles that was first performed c. 429 BCE. It was the second of Sophocles's three Theban plays to be produced, but it comes first in the internal chronology, followed by Oedipus at Colonus and then Antigone...

, and Oedipus at Colonus
Oedipus at Colonus
Oedipus at Colonus is one of the three Theban plays of the Athenian tragedian Sophocles...

. Nor were they composed as a trilogy - a group of plays to be performed together, but are the remaining parts of three different groups of plays. As a result, there are some inconsistencies: notably, Creon
Creon
Creon is a figure in Greek mythology best known as the ruler of Thebes in the legend of Oedipus. He had two children with his wife, Eurydice: Megareus and Haemon...

 is the undisputed king at the end of Oedipus the King and, in consultation with Apollo, single-handedly makes the decision to expel Oedipus from Thebes. Creon is also instructed to look after Oedipus' daughters Antigone
Antigone
In Greek mythology, Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, Oedipus' mother. The name may be taken to mean "unbending", coming from "anti-" and "-gon / -gony" , but has also been suggested to mean "opposed to motherhood", "in place of a mother", or "anti-generative", based from the root...

 and Ismene
Ismene
Ismene is the name of two women of Greek mythology. The more famous is a daughter and half-sister of Oedipus, daughter and granddaughter of Jocasta, and sister of Antigone, Eteocles, and Polynices. She appears in several plays of Sophocles: at the end of Oedipus the King, in Oedipus at Colonus and...

 at the end of Oedipus the King. By contrast, in the other plays there is some struggle with Oedipus' sons Eteocles
Eteocles
In Greek mythology, Eteocles was a king of Thebes, the son of Oedipus and either Jocasta or Euryganeia. The name is from earlier *Etewoklewes , meaning "truly glorious". Tawaglawas is thought to be the Hittite rendition of the name. Oedipus killed his father Laius and married his mother without...

 and Polynices
Polynices
In Greek mythology, Polynices or Polyneices was the son of Oedipus and Jocasta. His wife was Argea. His father, Oedipus, was discovered to have killed his father and married his mother, and was expelled from Thebes, leaving his sons Eteocles and Polynices to rule...

 in regard to the succession. In Oedipus at Colonus, Sophocles attempts to work these inconsistencies into a coherent whole: Ismene
Ismene
Ismene is the name of two women of Greek mythology. The more famous is a daughter and half-sister of Oedipus, daughter and granddaughter of Jocasta, and sister of Antigone, Eteocles, and Polynices. She appears in several plays of Sophocles: at the end of Oedipus the King, in Oedipus at Colonus and...

 explains that, in light of their tainted family lineage, her brothers were at first willing to cede the throne to Creon. Nevertheless, they eventually decided to take charge of the monarchy, with each brother disputing the other's right to succeed. In addition to being in a clearly more powerful position in Oedipus at Colonus, Eteocles and Polynices are also culpable: they condemn their father to exile, which is one of his bitterest charges against them.

Other plays

Other than the three Theban plays, there are four surviving plays by Sophocles: Ajax
Ajax (Sophocles)
Sophocles's Ajax is a Greek tragedy written in the 5th century BC. The date of Ajax's first performance is unknown, but most scholars regard it as an early work, circa 450 - 430 B.C....

, The Trachiniae
The Trachiniae
Women of Trachis is an Athenian tragedy by Sophocles.-Synopsis:The story begins with Deianeira, the wife of Heracles, relating the story of her early life and her plight adjusting to married life. She is now distraught over her husband's neglect of her family. Often involved in some adventure, he...

, Electra
Electra (Sophocles)
Electra or Elektra is a Greek tragedy by Sophocles. Its date is not known, but various stylistic similarities with the Philoctetes and the Oedipus at Colonus lead scholars to suppose that it was written towards the end of Sophocles' career.Set in the city of Argos a few years after the Trojan...

, and Philoctetes
Philoctetes (Sophocles)
Philoctetes is a play by Sophocles . The play was written during the Peloponnesian War. It was first performed at the Festival of Dionysus in 409 BC, where it won first prize. The story takes place during the Trojan War...

, the last of which won first prize.

Ajax focuses on the proud hero of the Trojan War, Telamonian Ajax
Ajax (mythology)
Ajax or Aias was a mythological Greek hero, the son of Telamon and Periboea and king of Salamis. He plays an important role in Homer's Iliad and in the Epic Cycle, a series of epic poems about the Trojan War. To distinguish him from Ajax, son of Oileus , he is called "Telamonian Ajax," "Greater...

, who is driven to treachery and eventually suicide. Ajax becomes gravely upset when Achilles
Achilles
In Greek mythology, Achilles was a Greek hero of the Trojan War, the central character and the greatest warrior of Homer's Iliad.Plato named Achilles the handsomest of the heroes assembled against Troy....

’ armor is presented to Odysseus
Odysseus
Odysseus or Ulysses was a legendary Greek king of Ithaca and the hero of Homer's epic poem the Odyssey. Odysseus also plays a key role in Homer's Iliad and other works in the Epic Cycle....

 instead of himself. Despite their enmity toward him, Odysseus persuades the kings Menelaus
Menelaus
Menelaus may refer to;*Menelaus, one of the two most known Atrides, a king of Sparta and son of Atreus and Aerope*Menelaus on the Moon, named after Menelaus of Alexandria.*Menelaus , brother of Ptolemy I Soter...

 and Agamemnon
Agamemnon
In Greek mythology, Agamemnon was the son of King Atreus and Queen Aerope of Mycenae, the brother of Menelaus, the husband of Clytemnestra, and the father of Electra and Orestes. Mythical legends make him the king of Mycenae or Argos, thought to be different names for the same area...

 to grant Ajax a proper burial.

The Trachiniae (named for the Trachinian women who make up the chorus) dramatizes Deianeira's accidentally killing Heracles
Heracles
Heracles ,born Alcaeus or Alcides , was a divine hero in Greek mythology, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, foster son of Amphitryon and great-grandson of Perseus...

 after he had completed his famous twelve labors. Tricked into thinking it is a love charm, Deianeira applies poison to an article of Heracles' clothing; this poisoned robe causes Heracles to die an excruciating death. Upon learning the truth, Deianeira commits suicide.

Electra Corresponds roughly to the plot of Aeschylus' Libation Bearers. It details how Electra
Electra
In Greek mythology, Electra was an Argive princess and daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra. She and her brother Orestes plotted revenge against their mother Clytemnestra and stepfather Aegisthus for the murder of their father Agamemnon...

 and Orestes
Orestes
Orestes was the son of Agamemnon in Greek mythology; Orestes may also refer to:Drama*Orestes , by Euripides*Orestes, the character in Sophocles' tragedy Electra*Orestes, the character in Aeschylus' trilogy of tragedies, Oresteia...

' avenge their father Agamemnon
Agamemnon
In Greek mythology, Agamemnon was the son of King Atreus and Queen Aerope of Mycenae, the brother of Menelaus, the husband of Clytemnestra, and the father of Electra and Orestes. Mythical legends make him the king of Mycenae or Argos, thought to be different names for the same area...

's murder by Clytemnestra
Clytemnestra
Clytemnestra or Clytaemnestra , in ancient Greek legend, was the wife of Agamemnon, king of the Ancient Greek kingdom of Mycenae or Argos. In the Oresteia by Aeschylus, she was a femme fatale who murdered her husband, Agamemnon – said by Euripides to be her second husband – and the Trojan princess...

 and Aegisthus
Aegisthus
In Greek mythology, Aegisthus was the son of Thyestes and of Thyestes' daughter, Pelopia....

.

Philoctetes retells the story of Philoctetes
Philoctetes
Philoctetes or Philocthetes according to Greek mythology, the son of King Poeas of Meliboea in Thessaly. He was a Greek hero, famed as an archer, and was a participant in the Trojan War. He was the subject of at least two plays by Sophocles, one of which is named after him, and one each by both...

, an archer who had been abandoned on Lemnos
Lemnos
Lemnos is an island of Greece in the northern part of the Aegean Sea. Administratively the island forms a separate municipality within the Lemnos peripheral unit, which is part of the North Aegean Periphery. The principal town of the island and seat of the municipality is Myrina...

 by the rest of the Greek fleet while on the way to Troy
Troy
Troy was a city, both factual and legendary, located in northwest Anatolia in what is now Turkey, southeast of the Dardanelles and beside Mount Ida...

. After learning that they cannot win the Trojan War
Trojan War
In Greek mythology, the Trojan War was waged against the city of Troy by the Achaeans after Paris of Troy took Helen from her husband Menelaus, the king of Sparta. The war is among the most important events in Greek mythology and was narrated in many works of Greek literature, including the Iliad...

 without Philoctetes' bow, the Greeks send Odysseus
Odysseus
Odysseus or Ulysses was a legendary Greek king of Ithaca and the hero of Homer's epic poem the Odyssey. Odysseus also plays a key role in Homer's Iliad and other works in the Epic Cycle....

 and Neoptolemus
Neoptolemus
Neoptolemus was the son of the warrior Achilles and the princess Deidamia in Greek mythology. Achilles' mother foretold many years before Achilles' birth that there would be a great war. She saw that her only son was to die if he fought in the war...

 to retrieve him; due to the Greeks' earlier treachery, however, Philoctetes refuses to rejoin the army. It is only Heracles' deus ex machina
Deus ex machina
A deus ex machina is a plot device whereby a seemingly inextricable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object.-Linguistic considerations:...

 appearance that persuades Philoctetes to go to Troy.

Fragmentary plays

Fragments of Ichneutae
Ichneutae
The Ichneutae , also known as the Searchers, Trackers or Tracking Satyrs, is a fragmentary satyr play by the fifth-century Athenian dramatist Sophocles...

(Tracking Satyrs) were discovered in Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 in 1907. These amount to about half of the play, making it the best preserved satyr play
Satyr play
Satyr plays were an ancient Greek form of tragicomedy, similar in spirit to burlesque. They featured choruses of satyrs, were based on Greek mythology, and were rife with mock drunkenness, brazen sexuality , pranks, sight gags, and general merriment.Satyric drama was one of the three varieties of...

 after Euripides' Cyclops
Cyclops (play)
The Cyclops is an Ancient Greek satyr play by Euripides, the only complete satyr play that has survived antiquity. It is a comical burlesque-like play on the same story depicted in book nine of Homer's Odyssey.-Background:...

, which survives in its entirety. Fragments of the Epigoni were discovered in April 2005 by classicists at Oxford University with the help of infrared
Infrared
Infrared light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength longer than that of visible light, measured from the nominal edge of visible red light at 0.74 micrometres , and extending conventionally to 300 µm...

 technology previously used for satellite
Satellite
In the context of spaceflight, a satellite is an object which has been placed into orbit by human endeavour. Such objects are sometimes called artificial satellites to distinguish them from natural satellites such as the Moon....

 imaging. The tragedy tells the story of the second siege of Thebes. A number of other Sophoclean works have survived only in fragments, including:
  • 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
  • Amphiareos
  • Amphitryôn
  • Amycos
  • Andromache
  • Andromeda
  • Antenoridai (Sons of Antenor)
  • Athamas (two versions produced)
  • Atreus, or Mykenaiai
  • Camicoi
  • Cassandra
  • Cedaliôn
  • Cerebros
  • Chryseis
  • Clytemnestra
  • Colchides
  • Côphoi (Mute Ones)
  • Creusa
  • Crisis (Judgement)
  • Daedalus
  • Danae
  • Dionysiacus
  • Dolopes
  • Erigone
  • Eriphyle
  • Eris
  • Eumelus
  • Euryalus
  • Eurypylus
  • Eurysaces
  • Helenes Apaitesis (Helen's Demand)
  • Helenes Gamos (Helen's Marriage)
  • Herakles Epi Tainaro
  • Hermione
  • Hipponous
  • Hybris
  • Hydrophoroi (Water-Bearers)
  • Inachos
  • Iobates
  • Iokles
  • Iôn
  • Iphigenia
  • Ixiôn
  • Lacaenae (Lacaenian
    Sparta
    Sparta or Lacedaemon, was a prominent city-state in ancient Greece, situated on the banks of the River Eurotas in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese. It emerged as a political entity around the 10th century BC, when the invading Dorians subjugated the local, non-Dorian population. From c...

     Women)
  • Laocoôn
  • Larisaioi
  • Lemniai (Lemnian
    Lemnos
    Lemnos is an island of Greece in the northern part of the Aegean Sea. Administratively the island forms a separate municipality within the Lemnos peripheral unit, which is part of the North Aegean Periphery. The principal town of the island and seat of the municipality is Myrina...

     Women
    )
  • Manteis or Polyidus (The Prophets or Polyidus)
  • Meleagros
  • Minôs
  • Momus
  • Mousai (Muses)
  • Mysoi (Mysians)
  • Nauplios Katapleon (Nauplius' Arrival)
  • Nauplios Pyrkaeus (Nauplius' Fires)
  • Nausicaa, or Plyntriai
  • Niobe
  • Odysseus Akanthoplex (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
  • Triptolemus
  • Tympanistai (Drummers)
  • Tyndareos
  • Tyro Keiromene (Tyro Shorn)
  • Tyro Anagnorizomene (Tyro Rediscovered).
  • Xoanephoroi

  • Sophocles' view of his own work

    There is a passage of Plutarch
    Plutarch
    Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

    's tract De Profectibus in Virtute 7 in which Sophocles discusses his own growth as a writer. A likely source of this material for Plutarch was the Epidemiae of Ion of Chios, a book that recorded many conversations of Sophocles. This book is a likely candidate to have contained Sophocles' discourse on his own development because Ion was a friend of Sophocles, and the book is known to have been used by Plutarch. Though some interpretations of Plutarch's words suggest that Sophocles says that he imitated Aeschylus, the translation does not fit grammatically, nor does the interpretation that Sophocles said that he was making fun of Aeschylus' works. C. M. Bowra
    Maurice Bowra
    Sir Cecil Maurice Bowra was an English classical scholar and academic, known for his wit. He was Warden of Wadham College, Oxford, from 1938 to 1970, and served as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford from 1951 to 1954.-Birth and boyhood:...

     argues for the following translation of the line:
    "After practising to the full the bigness of Aeschylus, then the painful ingenuity of my own invention, now in the third stage I am changing to the kind of diction which is most expressive of character and best."

    Here Sophocles says that he has completed a stage of Aeschylus' work, meaning that he went through a phase of imitating Aeschylus' style but is finished with that. Sophocles' opinion of Aeschylus was mixed. He certainly respected him enough to imitate his work early on in his career, but he had reservations about Aeschylus' style, and thus did not keep his imitation up. Sophocles' first stage, in which he imitated Aeschylus, is marked by "Aeschylean pomp in the language". Sophocles' second stage was entirely his own. He introduced new ways of evoking feeling out of an audience, like in his Ajax when he is mocked by Athene, then the stage is emptied so that he may commit suicide alone. Sophocles mentions a third stage, distinct from the other two, in his discussion of his development. The third stage pays more heed to diction. His characters spoke in a way that was more natural to them and more expressive of their individual character feelings.

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