Fortunate Sophocles who after a long life died, a happy and a gifted man after writing many fine tragedies he made a good end, having endured no evil. Phrynichas



Sophocles (Σοφοκλής) (around 496 – 495 until c. 406) BC, born in the town of Colonus, a village not far from Athens. His father was a factory owner probably producing armour. Sophocles is the second of the three great Athenian tragic poets, and the one with whose plays we are most familiar: the names of Ajax, Antigone, and Oedipus are well-known. Of his 118 plays (some sources as the Suda say 123 plays), however, only seven remain, in which people are confronted with extremely difficult situations.

Sophocles raised the number of actors to three, and added scene-painting. Aristotle Poetics

To express his ideas, Sophocles had to change the way tragedies were played, by adding a third (and once even a fourth) actor, and enlarging the chorus. According to Aristotle Sophocles introduced the art of skenographia, painting on the skene, i.e. the use of large painted panels hung on the front to the stage building to indicate the setting for a particular play. He plays consider more the relation between humans rather than between humans and gods. In 468 BC he defeated Aeschylus the great tragic poet in a dramatic competition.


Theater: Creon (left), an actor in the center playing Antigone carrying the Urn with the ashes of Polynices (and a Mask) and on the right side a Guard

Sophocles was also active in Athenian politics. In 441/440, 428, and 423/422 he served as army commander, and after the defeat at Sicily, he was given special responsibilities to lead Athens out of this crisis (413). The playwright was a personal friend of Pericles and Herodotus of Halicarnassus. After his death, he received heroic honors. Sophocles served also for the military as a general. He was a friend of Pericles and Herodotus. Although his plays often consider the life as full of unexpected disasters he lived in the Golden Age of Athens winning around 24 contests since 468 BC, more than Aeschylus and Euripides. Aristotle in his work Poetics uses Sophocles' play, Oedipus Rex to analyze the drama.

In the early history of tragedy, poets probably acted in their own plays. There is a report that Sophocles played the title role in his Nausicaa (now lost) and made a big hit with his ballplaying (Nausicaa, the Phaeacian princess in the Odyssey was playing ball with her friends when she came upon the shipwrecked Odysseus). Actors INTRODUCTION TO GREEK TRAGEDY


Antigone with Irene Papas

Work of Sophocles

The Progeny, fragments recently (2005) "found"



Wonders are many on earth, and the greatest of these
Is man, who rides the ocean and takes his way
Through the deeps, through wind-swept valleys of perilous seas
That surge and sway.
He is master of ageless Earth, to his own will bending
The immortal mother of gods by the sweat of his brow,
As year succeeds to year, with toil unending
Of mule and plough.
He is lord of all things living; birds of the air,
Beasts of the field, all creatures of sea and land
He taketh, cunning to capture and ensnare
With sleight of hand;
Hunting the savage beast from the upland rocks,
Taming the mountain monarch in his lair,
Teaching the wild horse and the roaming ox
His yoke to bear.
The use of language, the wind-swift motion of brain
He learnt; found out the laws of living together
In cities, building him shelter against the rain
And wintry weather.
There is nothing beyond his power. His subtlety
Meeteth all chance, all danger conquereth.
For every ill he hath found its remedy,
Save only death.
Sophocles Antigone


Sophocles in The Apotheosis of Homer, Ingres


'The Young Sophocles Leading the Chorus of Victory after the Battle of Salamis', sculpture by John Talbott Donoghue c. 1889


One famous story of ancient Greece was that of the actor Polus performing in the Electra of Sophocles, at Athens in the 4th century BC. The plot requires Electra to carry an urn supposed to contain the ashes of Orestes. Polus brought the ashes of his dead son on stage so as to generate the requisite feelings for a cry of lamentation.


Fragments of the Epigonoi of Sophocles extracted from a Papyrus with new optical tecchniques

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