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The Theban Plays of Sophocles
Oedipus Rex....Oedipus at Colonus....Antigone
A Study Guide
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Introduction
Sequence and Classification
Dates Completed
Mythology Background
Summary: Oedipus Rex
Summary: Oedipus at Colonus
Summary: Antigone
Tragedy: Characteristics 
Tragedy vs Comedy
Role of the Chorus
Pride as Character Flaw
Themes of the Plays
Pronunciation of Names
Free Text: Oedipus Rex
Free Text: Oedipus at Colonus
Free Text: Antigone
Greek Drama Terms
Greek Theater (Structure)
Gods of Mount Olympus
Biography of Sophocles
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Introduction to the Theban Plays 
.By Michael J. Cummings 2003 
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.......The Theban Plays retell a mythological tale already familiar to the Greeks. Why, then, would Athenians attend the performance of a play with a plot well known to them? The answer, of course, is that they wanted to see how the events unfolded and how they affected the principal characters. If you saw the movie Titanic or Pearl Harbor, you were probably aware ahead of time that the Titanic sank and that Pearl Harbor was left in smoking ruins. Nevertheless, you saw these movies anyway because you wanted to see the persons involved and the events leading up to the tragedies. Athenians approached Sophocles' plays in the same way: It was the way Sophocles told the story--using his extraordinary writing and interpretive talents--that interested them.  
.......Editors Note: Please read all that follows. One section flows into the other as one continuous story. If you read the sections separately, your understanding of the Theban Plays will be incomplete. 

Sequence and Classification 

The three Theban plays tell the continuing story of Oedipus and his daughter Antigone in the following order: (1) Oedipus Rex (also called Oedipus the King and Oedipus Tyrannus), (2) Oedipus at Colonus, and (3) Antigone. Because each play can stand alone as a separate dramatic unit and because Sophocles wrote the plays years apart and out of sequence, they technically do not make up a trilogy, although some writers refer to them as such. Most writers refer to them instead as "The Theban Plays." However, even this name is a misnomer, since the second play takes place at Colonus. 

Dates Completed  

The probable dates for the completion of the plays were 441 B.C. for Antigone, 430 B.C. for Oedipus the King; and 401 B.C. for Oedipus at Colonus. However, as stated under "Sequence and Classification," the story Sophocles tells begins with Oedipus the King, continues with Oedipus at Colonus, and ends with Antigone. 

Mythology Background 
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........To understand Oedipus the King, as well as the continuation of the Oedipus story in the other two Theban plays, readers and playgoers should familiarize themselves with the following mythological background, well known to the Greeks who attended productions of the plays on the stages of ancient Greece. 

........An oracle warns King Laius of Thebes that his wife, Jocasta, will bear a son who will one day kill him. After Jocasta gives birth to a boy, Laius acts to defeat the prophecy. First, he drives a spike through the child's feet, then takes him to Mount Cithaeron and orders a shepherd to kill him. But the shepherd, taking pity on the baby, spares him after binding his feet and tying him to a tree. A peasant finds the baby and gives him to a childless couple--Polybus (also Polybius), King of Corinth, and his wife, Periboea (also Merope). They name the boy Oedipus (meaning swelled foot) and raise him to manhood.  
........One day, when Oedipus visits the oracle at Delphi, the chief city of a region in central Greece known as Phocis, the oracle tells Oedipus that a time will come when he slays his father and marries his mother. Horrified, Oedipus later strikes out from Corinth. He does not want to live anywhere near his beloved parents, Polybus and Periboea, lest a trick of fate cause him to be the instrument of their demise. What he does not know, of course, is that Polybus and Periboea are not his real parents. 
........In Phocis on the road to Thebes, at an intersection of three roads, Oedipus encounters his real father Laius, whom he does not recognize, and five attendants. Laius, who is riding in a mule-drawn wagon, is on his way to Delphi to hear a prophecy from the oracle. Laius, of course, does not recognize Oedipus either. Oedipus and Laius quarrel over a triviality--who has the right of way. The quarrel leads to violence, and Oedipus kills Laius and four of his attendants. One attendant escapes. 
........Outside Thebes, Oedipus encounters the Sphinx, a winged lion with the head of a woman. The grotesque creature has killed many Thebans because they could not answer her riddle: What travels on four feet in the morning, two at midday, and three in evening? Consequently, the city lives in great terror. No one can enter or leave the city.  
........When Oedipus approaches the Sphinx, the beast poses the riddle. Oedipus, quick of mind, spits back the right answer: man. Here is the explanation: As an infant in the morning of life, a human being crawls on all fours; as an adult in the midday of life, he walks upright on two legs; as an old man in the evening of life, he walks on three legs, including a cane.  
........Surprised and outraged, the Sphinx kills herself. Jubilant Thebans then offer this newcomer the throne of Thebes. Oedipus accepts it and marries its widowed queen, Jocasta. Jocasta is, of course, the mother of Oedipus, although no one in Thebes is aware of this fact. Thus, the oracle's prophecy to Laius and Oedipus is fulfilled. 

Plot Summaries 
 
Oedipus Rex 
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Characters

    Protagonist: Oedipus  
    Antagonist: Fate, the Truth 
Oedipus: King of Thebes  
Jocasta: Wife of Oedipus  
Creon: Jocasta's brother  
Teiresias: Blind prophet 
Ismene, Antigone: Daughters of Oedipus 
Messenger 
Chorus of Theban Elders 
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Setting

Ancient Thebes, a city northwest of Athens. 
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The Story 

.......When a plague ravages Thebes, Oedipus sends Creon, Jocasta's brother, to the oracle at Delphi to find out the cause of the plague. After Creon returns, he tells Oedipus the oracle's finding: The cause of the plague is murderer of Laius, the former king. The murder is in the city at that very moment, and not until he is identified and punished will the plague end. According to Creon, Laius died when attacked by while he was traveling to Delphi with five attendants to hear a prophecy from the oracle. Four of his attendants were also killed. One escaped. There was a witness to the killings, a shepherd. 
.......To learn more, Oedipus summons the blind Theban seer Teiresias, a very old man who can read omens and fathom the will of the Fates. He also has knowledge of past prophecies affecting Thebes and its citizens. When Oedipus asks him the identity of the killer, Teiresias provides only evasive replies, then refuses to give any information at all. Angry, Oedipus says: 
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..............Monster! thy silence would incense a flint. 
..............Will nothing loose thy tongue?  Can nothing melt thee, 
..............Or shake thy dogged taciturnity? 
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.......Teiresias continues to withhold his knowledge, well knowing that disclosing it will unleash the fury of the gods on Oedipus. However, when Oedipus accuses Teiresias of planning the murder, Teiresias decides to reveal the truth: that Oedipus himself is the murderer. Furthermore, in an oblique reference to Oedipus's marriage to his own mother, Teiresias says, "I say thou livest with thy nearest kin / In infamy, unwitting in thy shame." Oedipus reacts by accusing Creon of bribing Teiresias to undo him and Teiresias of willingly accepting the bribe solely for profit: 
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..............See, for this crown the State conferred on me. 
..............A gift, a thing I sought not, for this crown 
..............The trusty Creon, my familiar friend, 
..............Hath lain in wait to oust me and suborned 
..............This mountebank, this juggling charlatan, 
..............This tricksy beggar-priest, for gain alone 
..............Keen-eyed, but in his proper art stone-blind. 
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.......Creon pleads his innocence. But Oedipus, refusing to believe him, threatens him with a death sentence. Jocasta comes forth to calm Oedipus and end the altercation, urging him to accept Creon's denial of wrongdoing. The chorus supports her, saying, "Brand not a friend whom babbling tongues assail; / Let not suspicion 'gainst his oath prevail." Oedipus relents and dismisses Creon, but rancor remains in his heart.  
.......Jocasta then tells Oedipus that he should put his mind at ease, declaring that the words of seers are not to be trusted. To prove the truth of her observation, she reminds Oedipus that Laius was prophesied to die by the hand of his own son but instead died by the hand of unknown robbers in Phocis at the intersection of three roads, according to reports shortly after the death of Laius. But instead of calming Oedipus, the words further unnerve him: "What memories, what wild tumult of the soul / Came o'er me, lady, as I heard thee speak!" He begins to suspect that he could be the murderer after all, especially when Jocasta describes Laius as a tall man whose hair was streaked with silver. Oedipus seems to have a vague memory of such a man. Deeply concerned, Oedipus sends for the man who carried the report of Laius's death to Thebes. 
.......Meanwhile, an elderly messenger arrives from Corinth to report the death of King Polybus, whom Oedipus had thought was his biological father. He presents his report to Jocasta while Oedipus is elsewhere. The Corinthians, the messenger says, want Oedipus to be their king. Jocasta, thrilled with this good news, sends for Oedipus. However, after the messenger presents his report to Oedipus, he also discloses that Polybus was not the real father of Oedipus. Then he recites the tale of how Oedipus was abandoned as a baby and later taken by a shepherd to Polybus and his wife, who raised him. Oedipus sends for the shepherd. After he arrives, the shepherd reveals that the baby he took to Polybus came from the House of Laius. Both Oedipus and Jocasta then realize the truth of the matter. Jocasta hangs herself and Oedipus blinds himself, then urges Creon to exile him. 

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Oedipus at Colonus 
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Characters
    Protagonist: Oedipus  
    Antagonist: Creon 
Oedipus: Banished King of Thebes 
Antigone: Daughters of Oedipus 
Theseus: King of Athens 
Creon: King of Thebes  
Polynices: Older son of Oedipus 
Messenger: Attendant of Theseus 
Chorus of Citizens From Colonus 
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Setting

Colonus, a town outside Athens favored by the Furies, spirits who punish evildoers. 

The Story 

........After Oedipus leaves Thebes, Creon becomes the temporary ruler of the city while it is decided which of the sons of Oedipus, Polynices or Eteocles, will become the permanent ruler. However, in time, the brothers agree to rule in alternate years. Meanwhile, the blinded Oedipus wanders for years from one place to another with his daughter Antigone, suffering many trials that earn him redemption for his sins of long ago. Eventually, he arrives at Colonus, a town just outside Athens where he believes he is fated to die.  
........Colonus is favored by the Eumenides, a euphemistic term for the Furies--three spirits who punish evildoers beyond the pale of human justice. The townspeople of Colonus refuse to accept him and order him to leave. He is the accursed Oedipus, after all, and his presence can only bring the wrath of the gods upon Colonus. But the ruler of Athens (and its suburb, Colonus) accepts him and declares that Oedipus may count on Colonus as his final resting place. This ruler is Theseus, famed for countless heroic adventures against man and beast. No one in his realm dares countermand his edicts; what he says is law. Theseus is a just man, but he is also a practical one, hoping to capitalize on a prophecy that the land where Oedipus is buried will be a land that receives the blessings and protection of the gods.  
........By and by, Oedipus's other daughter, Ismeme, joins him at Colonus and reports that Polynices and Eteocles are at war over the throne of Thebes. It seems Eteocles refuses to yield the throne to Polynices even thought it is the latter's turn to rule. She also reports that Creon is approaching from Thebes on a special mission. After Creon arrives, he tries to persuade Oedipus to return to Thebes, believing that his death and burial there will protect the city from turmoil resulting from the war between Polynices and Eteocles. To further his plans, Creon has his henchmen abduct Antigone and Ismene. Then he tries to carry off Oedipus himself. However, redoubtable Theseus prevents further mischief by Creon and rescues Antigone and Ismene.  
........Polynices arrives to ask his father to help him defeat Eteocles. Enraged that one son would seek the death of the other son, Oedipus curses them both, calling down the wrath of the gods on each.  
........Shortly thereafter thunder rumbles in the heavens while Oedipus talks with Theseus, and Oedipus says his time to die is near. They then exchange ominous words: 
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................THESEUS 
................What sign assures thee that thine end is near? 
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................OEDIPUS 
................The gods themselves are heralds of my fate; 
................Of their appointed warnings nothing fails. 
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................THESEUS 
................How sayest thou they signify their will? 
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................OEDIPUS 
................This thunder, peal on peal, this lightning hurled 
................Flash upon flash, from the unconquered hand. 
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........After bidding goodby to his daughters while Theseus remains nearby, Oedipus dies. A courier reports to the citizens (the chorus) that the manner of Oedipus's crossing to the afterlife is known only to Theseus. The courier says: 
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................It was a messenger from heaven, or else 
................Some gentle, painless cleaving of earth's base; 
................For without wailing or disease or pain 
................He passed away--an end most marvelous. 

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Antigone
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Characters
    Protagonist: Creon  
    Antagonist: Antigone 
Although it has been argued that Antigone is the protagonist, she does not experience a requirement of classical Greek protagonists: a moment of truth in which the protagonist recognizes and acknowledges his or her mistakes, failures, or sins.

Creon King of Thebes, who creates conflict when he forbids the burial of Polynices 
Antigone Daughter of Oedipus, sister of Polynices, and niece of Creon. She defies Creon's orders and buries Polynices. 
Ismene Reticent sister of Antigone 
Haemon Son of Creon, betrothed to Antigone 
Eurydice Wife of Creon 
Teiresias Prophet  
Chorus of Theban Elders 
Messengers, Watchman 
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Setting 

Ancient Thebes, a city northwest of Athens. 
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The Story 

........In Thebes, Eteocles and Polynices have been fighting over the throne. Though they were to rule in alternate years, Eteocles had refused to yield kingship to his brother when it was the latter's turn to rule. After Polynices flees to Argos to seek help, the king of that city helps him muster an army. With numberless swords and shields gleaming in the bright sun, Polynices returns to Thebes and lays siege to the city. But the forces of Eteocles are also many and strong, and a standoff results. Then the brothers duel in hand-to-hand combat and kill each other. The armies resume battle to no avail, and the forces of Polynices withdraw. The war dead, including to the two brothers, lie on the battlefield unburied.  
........Meanwhile, Creon--the brother of the late queen of Thebes, Jocasta, and brother-in-law of the late king, Oedipus--assumes the throne. He regards his nephew Polynices, the attacker of Thebes, as a traitor. Consequently, in his first act as King of Thebes, he forbids the burial of Polynices under pain of death, a ruling that appears to violate an ancient moral law and sacred tradition: the right of all families to bury their dead. Antigone, the sister of Polynices, condemns the decision. After learning of it, she tells her sister, Ismene, that Creon has decreed an honorable burial for Eteocles, enabling him to enter the afterlife as an esteemed and worthy soul, but has ordered Polynices to lie unburied, a feast for the vultures, dooming his soul to wander aimlessly. Though only a slip of a girl aged 15 or 16, Antigone decides to defy the decree. Ismene, horrified, urges Antigone to keep her place in a male-dominated society that surely will not brook the defiance of a teenage girl.  

................Shall we not perish . . . 
................If in defiance of the law we cross 
................A monarch's will?--weak women, think of that, 
................Not framed by nature to contend with men. 
................Remember this too that the stronger rules; 
................We must obey his orders, these or worse. 

........But Antigone has made up her mind. When night falls, she goes to the battlefield and throws a ceremonial handful of dust on the corpse of her brother, satisfying ancient traditions and qualifying Polynices for a peaceful life in the afterworld. A guard then arrests her and takes her to Creon. Although she readily admits she disobeyed his decree, she says she did so out of respect for divine law, which takes precedence over man-made law. 

................Yea, for these laws were not ordained of Zeus, 
................And she who sits enthroned with gods below, 
................Justice, enacted not these human laws. 
................Nor did I deem that thou, a mortal man, 
................Could'st by a breath annul and override 
................The immutable unwritten laws of Heaven 

Antigone's stubborn refusal to cooperate with Creon prompts him to rail against her in a show of his manly authority: 

................But this proud girl, in insolence well-schooled, 
................First overstepped the established law, and then-- 
................A second and worse act of insolence-- 
................She boasts and glories in her wickedness. 
................Now if she thus can flout authority 
................Unpunished, I am woman, she the man. 

What he does not realize is that his intentionally ironic comment (last line of quotation) is in fact true, figuratively. Antigone does become the man in her boldness, proving herself more than a match for Creon. In retaliation, he sentences her to be buried alive in a tomb even though she is betrothed to his own son, Haemon.  
........The prophet Teiresias later persuades Creon to reverse his decision, warning that to do otherwise would invoke the wrath of the gods. Creon relents, buries Polynices, and goes to the tomb to release Antigone. But Creon's change of heart comes too late to forestall fate: Antigone has hanged herself rather than accept Creon's sentence passively. Haemon, overcome with grief and anger, lunges wildly at his father with a sword, but misses. Haemon then plunges the sword into his own body and dies. Creon's distraught wife, Eurydice, then turns a dagger on herself, cursing Creon, and she too dies. Creon stands alone to harvest the terrible suffering he had sown by exalting the law of the state, or man's law, over the law of the gods, or the moral law. 
 
Characteristics of Sophoclean Tragedy 

A tragedy of Sophocles has the following characteristics: 

  • It is based on events that already took place and with which the audience is familiar.
  • The protagonist is a person of noble birth and stature. 
  • The protagonist has a weakness and, because of it, becomes isolated and suffers a downfall. 
  • Because the protagonist's fall is not entirely his or her own fault, the audience may end up pitying him or her. 
  • The fallen protagonist gains self-knowledge. He has a deeper insight into himself and understands his weakness. 
  • The audience undergoes catharsis, a purging of emotions, after experiencing pity, fear, shock and other strong feelings. The people go away feeling better. 
  • The drama usually unfolds in one place in a short period of time, usually about a day. 
Difference Between Tragedy and Comedy

A Greek tragedy focuses on a great and noble character--such as Oedipus, a king--but a Greek comedy usually does not. Also, in a comedy, the author usually pokes fun at the characters. Finally, a comedy does not end tragically. An example of a classic Greek comedy is Lysistrata, by Aristophanes.  

Role of the Chorus 

The chorus generally had the following roles in the plays of Sophocles:  

  • To explain the action
  • To interpret the action in relation to the law of the state and the law of the Olympian gods
  • To foreshadow the future
  • To serve as an actor in the play
  • To sing and/or dance
  • To present the author's views. 
In some ways, the chorus is like the narrator of a modern film or like the background music accompanying the action of the film. In addition, it is like text on the film screen that provides background information or identifies the time and place of the action.

Pride as a Character Flaw  

Pride was considered a grave sin because it placed too much emphasis on individual will, thereby downplaying the will of the state and endangering the community as a whole. Because pride makes people unwilling to accept wise counsel, they act rashly and make bad decisions. Great pride, such as that of Oedipus (Oedipus Rex) or Creon (Antigone), is referred to as hybris or hubris. 
 
Themes of the Plays 

Oedipus the King 

    Fate punishes the proud and the insolent with ironic outcomes terrible to behold. Oedipus as king of Thebes exhibits great pride (hubris) that blinds his ability to accept the truth. By contrast, the blind prophet Teiresias readily "sees" the truth.  
    The bigger they are, they harder they fall. Thanks to whims of fate and his own pride and arrogance, Oedipus, a great and mighty king, tumbles headlong into an abyss of humiliation, grief, and remorse in a single day. 
Oedipus at Colonus
    Through love, piety, and hardship, Oedipus achieves redemption. Oedipus, stripped of dignity, wanders in a wilderness of suffering for many years. Though blind, he begins to "see" again with the eye of his soul, recognizing his faults and realizing the importance of love and right living with the help of his daughters, Antigone and Ismene.  
Antigone
    Intractability and pride cause the downfall of even the noblest humans. Both Creon and Antigone doom themselves with their recalcitrance. Overriding divine law with the law of the state leads to ruin. Creon's refusal to permit Antigone to bury her brother Polynices was a violation of moral law even though Polynices had rebelled against Creon's rule as King of Thebes.  
    Injustice and tyranny can provoke justified civil disobedience. To uphold the moral law, Antigone breaks the civil law. Down through the ages and into modern times, citizens have used this theme to guide them in redressing their grievances. During the Vietnam War, American protesters took the role of Antigone as they demonstrated and sometimes rioted against the government's war policy. (4) Women can be as wise and as strong as men. The Thebes of Creon is a male-dominated society that reduces women to subservient roles. Thus, when a mere slip of a girl, the teenage Antigone, dares to speak out against his unjust policy, he regards her behavior as a challenge not only to his royal power but also to his masculine power. Throughout the play, he repeatedly denounces her as much for her gender as for her defiance of his decree forbidding the burial of Antigone's brother. However, to the very end, Antigone is unshaken in her resolve, demonstrating to Athenian audiences of Sophocles' time that women can be just as wise and as strong as men--in fact, in Antigone's case, even more so.  
Pronunciations of Names 

Oedipus (ED ih pihs or EE dih pihs) 
Antigone (an TIG uh ne)  
Isemene (iz ME ne) 
Teiresias (ti RE se uhs) 
Eurydice (yoo RID uh se, yor RID uh se) 
Polynices (pol ih NE seez) 
Creon (KRE on) 

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Greek and Latin Classics Available at Amazon.com 
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Drama, Poetry, Mythology, Philosophy, History, Correspondence (Letters) 
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Apuleis, Aristophanes, St. Augustine, Caesar, Cicero, Demosthenes, Dio Cassius, Euripides, Herodotus, Hippocrates, Homer, 
Josephus, Livy, Lucan, Martial, Menander, Ovid, Philo, Plato, Pliny, Plutarch, Seneca, Sophocles, Tacitus, Thucydides, Vergil, Xenophon
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Biography of Sophocles

......Although Sophocles died more than twenty-four centuries ago, he continues to live today in his plays as one of history's greatest writers. His themes–justice, pride, obstinacy, flawed humanity, and the struggle between destiny and free will–are as timely today as they were in his own time. Aristotle lauded Sophocles as the supreme dramatist, maintaining that Oedipus the King was a model for all playwrights to imitate. 
......Sophocles was born a mile northwest of Athens in the deme (township) of Colonus between 497 and 495 B.C. Because his father, Sophillus, shared in the profits of a successful family weapons and armor manufactory, Sophocles was a child of advantage, enjoying the comforts of the privileged and receiving an education that undergirded his natural talents. He studied poetry, dance, philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, law, athletics, and military tactics. He also studied music and became accomplished at playing the cithara, a stringed instrument resembling the lyre of the harp family. 
......In spite of his aristocratic background and entitlements, Sophocles was a man of the people: kindly, generous, popular. Fellow Athenians esteemed him highly throughout his life. That he was quite handsome may have helped bolster his popularity.  
......Sophocles earned his entry into the Athenian literary world with a play entitled Triptolemus, which does not survive. He used it in 468 to defeat another outstanding dramatist, Aeschylus, in a writing competition. Competing plays were performed in a theater dedicated to Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry. Sophocles went on to win about two dozen more drama awards against Aeschylus and other extraordinary writers. It is said that he sometimes acted in plays. On one occasion, he reportedly presented a juggling act that dazzled the audience.  
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Sophocles' Innovations 
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......Until Sophocles' time, dramatists wrote tragedies three at a time. The second play continued the action of the first, and the third play continued the action of the second. The entire three-play series of tragedies was called a trilogy. Sophocles broke with tradition by writing single plays that stood alone as dramatic units. Ajax is an example of a stand-alone Sophocles play. The Oedipus series of plays (Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone) is not technically a trilogy (although sometimes referred to as one) because the plays were written years apart as single units.  
......Sophocles also emphasized people more than his predecessors, taking characters in well-known plots from mythology and dressing them up as real human beings with noble but complex personalities vulnerable to pride and flawed judgment. Audiences in ancient Athens did not go to a Sophocles play to be entertained by a plot with a surpise ending. They already knew the ending. They went to a Sophocles play to see how the characters reacted to the forces working for or against them--mostly against. Thus, Sophocles' plays required superb writing and characterization to hold the interest of the audience.  


Books at Amazon.com 
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Gods and Heroes of Ancient Greece: Illustrated Wall Chart


......In portraying his characters, Sophocles raised irony to high art, making the characters unwitting victims of fate or their own shortcomings. The irony was both verbal (with characters speaking words laden with meaning uknown to them) and dramatic (with characters ensnaring themselves in predicaments charged with danger that they do not recognize but that the audience well knows will lead to disaster). The audience knew, for example, what Oedipus did not know (until the end of Oedipus the King): that the man he killed and the woman he married were his father and mother. This type of dramatic irony occurs often in Sophocles' plays, allowing the audience to become engrossed with a character's response to a situation rather than the eventual outcome of the situation.  
......Another of Sophocles' innovations was an increase in the number of actors in plays from two to three, presenting more opportunities to contrast characters and create foils. He also introduced painted scenery, enhanced costuming, and fixed the number of persons in the chorus at 15. The chorus also diminished in importance; it was the actors who mattered.  
......"The key to his work was provided by Matthew Arnold in the phrase to the effect that Sophocles possessed an 'even-balanced soul,' " drama critic John Gassner wrote in Masters of the Drama (New York: Random House, 1954, Page 42). "He comprehended both the joy and grief of living, its beauty and ugliness, its moments of peace and its basic uncertainty so concisely expressed by his line 'Human life, even in its utmost splendor and struggle, hangs on the edge of an abyss.' " 
......Sophocles' handling of human tragedy was influenced, in part, by the tragedies of war. During his lifetime he had witnessed the devastating Persian and Peloponnesian wars and even participated in a war when he served as a general with Pericles to quell rebellion on Samos, an Aegean island.  
......Besides military duty, Sophocles served as a city treasurer, helping to control the money of the Delian Confederacy of states. He also served as member of a governing council and as a priest in the service of Asclepius, the god of medicine, to whom he was especially devoted. Well into old age, he remained productive in civic activities and writing. He wrote Oedipus at Colonus, for example, when he was over 90. It was that play which saved him from a charge of mental incompetency brought by his sons. According to ancient accounts by Cicero and Plutarch, when Sophocles appeared in court, he read from Oedipus at Colonus, which he was working on at that time. So impressed were the members of the jury that they acquitted him, apparently realizing that only a man fully in charge of his faculties could write such beautiful words. Sophocles died about 405. He and his wife, Nicostrate, had a son, Iophon, who was also a tragedian. Sophocles and his mistress, Theoris of Sicyon, had a child named Agathon. Agathon was the father of Sophocles the Younger, also a writer.
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