Classics Sophocles’ Fragments
P. J. Finglass
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 September 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 September 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0275


Only seven plays by Sophocles have survived complete out of the more than 120 that he wrote. Of the rest, only fragments remain; and these fragments are therefore crucial if we are to get a full picture of his poetic and dramatic technique. These fragments can be classified into two groups: first, quotations of Sophocles’ plays in other authors whose works did survive antiquity, and second, parts of ancient manuscripts preserved for centuries in ancient rubbish heaps buried underground in Egypt. Thanks to new discoveries the latter category is continually expanding; in the 21st century, for example, two new papyri of Sophocles have been published, in 2007 and 2016. Systematic attempts to collect the fragments of Sophocles go back to the 17th century, and continue down to the present; but the appearance of new papyri means that no edition remains complete for long. Most Sophoclean fragments come from his tragedies, but some, including by far the longest fragment, are from the other type of drama that he produced, the satyr-play.

Editions, Commentaries, Translations

There are no complete editions of the fragments of Sophocles; the editions below contain all, or virtually all, of the fragments available at the times of their respective publications. Radt 1999 is the standard scholarly edition; Lloyd-Jones 2003 (which incorporates a translation) is suitable for students and a helpful first port-of-call for scholars. The most helpful commentaries are in Sommerstein, et al. 2006 and Sommerstein and Talboy 2012, which include a good range of plays; Pearson 1917 covers all the fragments then known, but is obviously out of date; Carden 1974 is extremely detailed on the papyrus fragments; Carrara 2014 provides a substantial commentary on a single play. O’Sullivan and Collard 2013 offer a commentary on the satyric fragments, Griffith 2013 a translation of the longest such fragment, from Ichneutae (The Trackers). Van Rossum-Steenbeek 1998 contains an edition with commentary of the ancient plot summaries of Sophocles’ plays, which provide crucial evidence in the case of lost dramas.

  • Carden, R. 1974. The papyrus fragments of Sophocles. Texte und Kommentare 7. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110845884

    Fundamental philological analysis of the fragments found on papyrus down to 1974. Includes a contribution by W. S. Barrett on Sophocles’ Niobe.

  • Carrara, L., ed. 2014. L’indovino Poliido; Eschilo, Le Cretesi. Sofocle, Manteis. Euripide, Poliido. Pleiadi 17. Rome: Edizioni di Storia e di Letteratura.

    Detailed commentary on Sophocles’ Manteis (The Prophets), accompanied by a commentary on plays by Aeschylus and Euripides that deal with the same myth.

  • Griffith, M., trans. 2013. Translation of Sophocles’ Ichneutae (The Trackers). In Sophocles II: Ajax, The Women of Trachis, Electra, Philoctetes, The Trackers. Edited by D. Grene and R. Lattimore. Third Edition, edited by M. Griffith and G. W. Most, 279–301. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    New translation of Sophocles’ Ichneutae appended to the revision by Griffith and Most of the classic Grene and Lattimore translations of the seven complete plays.

  • Lloyd-Jones, H., ed and trans. 2003. Sophocles: Fragments. Loeb Classical Library 483. Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard Univ. Press.

    Handier than Radt’s edition, this book, a corrected revision of the 1996 impression, contains all the fragments comprising at least one word. Also offers a translation and useful brief introductions and bibliographies for each play.

  • O’Sullivan, P., and C. Collard, eds. 2013. Euripides: Cyclops and major fragments of Greek Satyric Drama. Oxford: Aris and Phillips.

    Offers a recent text and commentary for the fragments of Sophoclean satyr drama.

  • Pearson, A. C., ed. 1917. The fragments of Sophocles. 3 vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Most recent large-scale commentary on the fragments; detailed and essential, but now considerably out of date.

  • Radt, S. L., ed. 1999. Tragicorum Graecorum fragmenta. Vol. 4, Sophocles. 2d ed. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

    The standard edition of all fragments discovered by 1999 (an earlier edition was published in 1977). Massive and authoritative; contains extensive apparatus criticus in Latin, and also the testimonia to Sophocles (i.e., ancient remarks about his life and work).

  • Sommerstein, A. H., D. Fitzpatrick, and T. Talboy, eds and trans. 2006. Sophocles: Selected fragmentary plays. Vol. 1, Hermione, Polyxene, The Diners, Tereus, Troilus, Phaedra. Oxford: Oxbow.

    Detailed modern commentary on several fragmentary plays with detailed introductions setting the plays in their literary and mythical contexts.

  • Sommerstein, A. H., and T. H. Talboy, eds and trans. 2012. Sophocles: Selected fragmentary plays. Vol. 2, The Epigoni, Oenomaus, Palamedes, The Arrival of Nauplius, Nauplius and the Beacon, The Shepherds, Triptolemus. Oxford: Oxbow.

    As well as commentaries on a new series of plays, this second volume contains useful addenda on the plays included in the first.

  • van Rossum-Steenbeek, M. 1998, ed. Greek readers’ digests? Studies on a selection of subliterary papyri. Mnemosyne Supplement 175. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    Contains ancient plot summaries on papyrus of some of Sophocles’ plays, including those now lost.

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