Sophocles Biography

Sophocles Biography



Sophocles was born at Colonus, just outside Athens, in 496 BC and lived ninety years. The not an active politician, he held several public offices, both military and civil. He was the leader of a literary circle and friend of Herodotus. He penned over a hundred plays for the Athenian theatre and is said to have won the first prize at the City Dionysia eighteen times. Only seven plays of this dramatist are extant. They are Antigone, Oedipus Tyrannus, Oedipus at Colonaus, Electra, Ajax, Trachiniae and Philoctetes. He is also credited with having written a styric play known as ichneutae which means in English The Hunters.

Considered one of the three greatest playwrights of classical Greek theatre, Sophocles was a friend of Pericles and Herodotus, and a respected citizen who held political and military offices in fifth-century B.C.E. Athens. He won fame by defeating the playwright Aeschylus for a prize in tragic drama at Athens in 468 B.C.E. Only seven of his complete plays have survived to reach the modern era, but he wrote more than 100 and won first prize in 24 contests.

Best known are his three Theban plays, Antigone, Oedipus Rex, and Oedipus at Colonus. Sophocles’ other complete surviving works are Electra, Philoctetes, and Trachinian Women. He is credited with changing Greek drama by adding a third actor, reducing the role of the chorus, and paying greater attention to character development. 

Sophocles died in 406-5 B.C. full of honour. His fellow citizens paid warm homage to his tomb. A bronze statue was erected to his memory. The epitaph on his tombstone, composed by Simmias of Thebes sums up the essential virtues of the great dramatist who has stood the test of time:

Creep gently, ivy, ever gently creep,

Where Sophocles sleep on in calm repose… We should remember the remark about this celebrated Greek dramatist by e Aristophanes in his The Frogs: “Blameless in life and blameless, too, in death”.



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