Jump to Content Jump to Main Navigation

In This Article Sophocles

  • Introduction
  • Biography and Dating
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies and Surveys
  • Reference Works
  • Texts
  • Recent English Translations
  • Recent Adaptations
  • Fragments
  • Scholia
  • Transmission and Textual Criticism
  • Language
  • Hero Worshippers and Pietists
  • Dramatic Technique, Metatheater
  • Chorus
  • Narratology
  • Relation to Contemporary Thought
  • Women
  • Politics
  • Ajax
  • Electra
  • Oedipus the King
  • Women of Trachis
  • Philoctetes
  • Oedipus at Colonus
  • Fragments
  • Reception

Classics Sophocles
by
Ruth Scodel

Introduction

Sophocles won his first victory as a tragedian in 468 BCE (according to the ancient tradition, with his first production) and died in 405. He produced about 120 plays: 90 tragedies and 30 satyr plays. Seven complete tragedies of Sophocles survive. The principles on which these were selected are not known, but the three plays involving Oedipus and his family were probably chosen to form a pseudo-trilogy. He particularly favored plots drawn from the stories of the Trojan War.

Biography and Dating

We can be reasonably confident of some aspects of Sophocles' life, since his acquaintance Ion of Chios wrote a book that included anecdotes about him, and since he had a public career. Like other ancient biographies of poets, however, the Life of Sophocles (translated in Lefkowitz 1981) is more valuable as a reflection of how people imagined the author than of what they knew about him. The ancient biography stresses Sophocles' piety. It even says that he “received” the god Asclepius and was honored with a cult after his death. All the ancient evidence for Sophocles' life is collected in Radt 1999. Although the results of the tragic competitions were a matter of public record, we have dates for only two of the seven extant plays, Philoctetes in 409 and Oedipus at Colonus, produced after Sophocles' death in 401. Reinhardt 1979 (first published in 1933) influentially argued that Sophocles developed greater dramatic flexibity through his career. There is general consensus that Electra was produced in the decade before Philoctetes, while Women of Trachis, Ajax, Antigone are earlier. Antigone is often put in the 440s because the ancient biography attributes Sophocles' election as general to its success. The anecdote is unlikely, but the chronology could be right. Many attempts have been made to date individual plays on the basis of apparent allusions to recent events or borrowings from other plays of known date. For the dating of each tragedy, consult the recent commentaries.

  • Connolly, Andrew. 1998. Was Sophocles heroized as Dexion? Journal of Hellenic Studies 118: 1–21.

    DOI: 10.2307/632228E-mail Citation »

    Sophocles did not host the god and was not heroized in the 4th century.

  • Jouanna, Jacques. 2007. Sophocle. Paris: Fayard.

    E-mail Citation »

    More trusting in ancient testimonies than many scholars would be, but includes a thorough survey of the biographical material.

  • Lefkowitz, Mary R. 1981. Lives of the Greek poets. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    The book includes a translation of the ancient biography. Lefkowitz takes an extremely skeptical approach.

  • Radt, Stefan. 1999. Tragicorum graecorum fragmenta vol. 4. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht.

    E-mail Citation »

    A full edition of the fragments, which also contains the ancient evidence on the life of Sophocles.

  • Reinhardt, Karl. 1979. Sophocles. Translated by H. Harvey and D. Harvey. Oxford: Blackwell.

    E-mail Citation »

    Originally published 1933. Makes the argument that Sophocles developed greater dramatic flexibility throughout his career. The German existentialist style is too difficult for most undergraduates.

LAST MODIFIED: 12/14/2009

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195389661-0063

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions and individuals. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.

Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article

Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.

If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email onlinemarketing@oup.com to express your interest.

Article

Up

Down