July 30, 2012



Second of the 3 greatest ancient Greek writers of tragedy.
  • Full Name: Sophocles
  • Birth: 496 B.C. ?
  • Death: 406 B.C. ?
  • Cause of death: ?
  • Place of Death: Athens
  • Place of Birth: Colonus Hippius (now part of Athens)
  • Buried at: Family tomb near Deceleia
  • Father: Sophillus
  • Mother: ?
  • Siblings: ?
  • Marriage: ?
  • Spouse: Nicostrata (First Wife), Theoris (Second Wife)
  • Number of Children: 2 legitimate sons: Iophon (by first marriage), Ariston (by second marriage) and 3 illegitimate sons
  • Education: ?
  • Known for: bringing change in the spirit and significance of tragic plays by cleverly portraying the nature of man, his problems, and his struggles as the foremost interest while keeping the traditional religion and morality as the central source of theme
  • Criticised for: not dealing with religious problems as Aeschylus had nor with intellectual ones as Euripides had done
  • Influences: Euripides, Aeschylus
  • Influenced: Heiner Müller, William E. Connolly, Grigol Robakidze, Dominik Smole, Malcolm Lowry


“There are many wonderful things, but none is more wonderful than man.” Sophocles, Antigone

Major Themes:

  • Fate
  • The limits of free will
  • Divine laws
  • Pre-ordinance
  • Justice
  • Revenge
  • Pride
  • The threat of Hasty judgment
  • The threat of tyranny
  • False optimism
  • Ignorance
  • Madness
  • Human strife and struggle
  • Human sufferings

Notable Works:

Extant Plays
  • Oedipus Tyrannus (430 to 415 B.C.)
  • Oedipus at Colonus (produced posthumously in 401 B.C.)
  • Antigone (after 441 B.C.)
  • Electra (430 to 415 B.C.)
  • Trachiniae (after 441 B.C.)
  • Ajax (c. 451-444 B.C.)
  • Philoctetes (409 B.C.)
Fragmentary Plays
  • Aias Lokros (Ajax the Locrian)
  • Aias Mastigophoros (Ajax the Whip-Bearer)
  • Aigeus (Aegeus)
  • Aigisthos (Aegisthus)
  • Aikhmalôtides (The Captive Women)
  • Aithiopes (The Ethiopians), or Memnon
  • Akhaiôn Syllogos (The Gathering of the Achaeans)
  • Akhilleôs Erastai (Lovers of Achilles)
  • Akrisios
  • Aleadae (The Sons of Aleus)
  • Aletes
  • Alexandros (Alexander)
  • Alcmeôn
  • Amphiaraus
  • Amphitryôn
  • Amycos
  • Andromache
  • Andromeda
  • Antenoridai (Sons of Antenor)
  • Athamas (two versions produced)
  • Atreus, or Mykenaiai
  • Camicoi
  • Cassandra
  • Cedaliôn
  • Cerebros
  • Chryseis
  • Clytemnestra
  • Colchides
  • Côphoi (Mute Ones)
  • Creusa
  • Crisis (Judgement)
  • Daedalus
  • Danae
  • Dionysiacus
  • Dolopes
  • Epigoni
  • Eriphyle
  • Eris
  • Eumelus
  • Euryalus
  • Eurypylus
  • Eurysaces
  • Helenes Apaitesis (Helen's Demand)
  • Helenes Gamos (Helen's Marriage)
  • Herakles Epi Tainaro (Hercules At Taenarum)
  • Hermione
  • Hipponous
  • Hybris
  • Hydrophoroi (Water-Bearers)
  • Inachos
  • Iobates
  • Iokles
  • Iôn
  • Iphigenia
  • Ixiôn Lacaenae (Lacaenian Women)
  • Laocoôn
  • Larisaioi
  • Lemniai (Lemnian Women)
  • Manteis or Polyidus (The Prophets or Polyidus)
  • Meleagros
  • Minôs
  • Momus
  • Mousai (Muses)
  • Mysoi (Mysians)
  • Nauplios Katapleon (Nauplius' Arrival)
  • Nauplios Pyrkaeus (Nauplius' Fires)
  • Nausicaa, or Plyntriai
  • Niobe
  • Odysseus Acanthoplex (Odysseus Scourged with Thorns)
  • Odysseus Mainomenos (Odysseus Gone Mad)
  • Oeneus
  • Oenomaus
  • Palamedes
  • Pandora, or Sphyrokopoi (Hammer-Strikers)
  • Pelias
  • Peleus
  • Phaiakes
  • Phaedra
  • Philoctetes In Troy
  • Phineus (two versions)
  • Phoenix
  • Phrixus
  • Phryges (Phrygians)
  • Phthiôtides
  • Poimenes (The Shepherds)
  • Polyxene
  • Priam
  • Procris
  • Rhizotomoi (The Root-Cutters)
  • Salmoneus
  • Sinon
  • Sisyphus
  • Skyrioi (Scyrians)
  • Skythai (Scythians)
  • Syndeipnoi (The Diners, or, The Banqueters)
  • Tantalus
  • Telephus
  • Tereus
  • Teukros (Teucer)
  • Thamyras
  • Theseus
  • Thyestes
  • Troilus
  • Triptolemos
  • Tympanistai (Drummers)
  • Tyndareos
  • Tyro Keiromene (Tyro Shorn)
  • Tyro Anagnorizomene (Tyro Rediscovered).
  • Xoanephoroi (Image-Bearers)

Did you Know?

Despite being a commoner, his father Sophillus was a rich man; his wealth was derived from the ownership of slaves employed in various manufactures, especially armour

Sophocles was well educated in all of the arts prevailed in old Greek system, including poetry, dance, gymnastics, philosophy, music, mathematics, astronomy, law, athletics and military tactics

He was well versed in Homer and the Greek lyric poets

Sophocles was an active, engaging man throughout his whole life; he was known as the “Attic Bee” for his diligence

Besides Aeschylus and Euripides, Sophocles is that great Greek tragedian whose work has survived into modern times

Sophocles was the younger contemporary of Aeschylus and the older contemporary of Euripides

In 468 B.C. at the age of twenty-eight Sophocles defeated Aeschylus at the Dionysian dramatic festival; with this victory, Aeschylus left for Sicily and Sophocles’ dramatic career started and continued to secure a number of consecutive victories

During his career he never won less than second prize

In 441 B.C. Euripides defeated Sophocles at the Dionysian dramatic festival

 He was the most-awarded writer in the dramatic competitions of ancient Athens; his total victories are greater than the combined wins of Aeschylus and Euripides

Now a days his reputation firmly rests upon Oedipus Tyrannus, the tragic story of the mythical figure Oedipus, whose name was adopted by Freud to explain his concept of Oedipus Complex

At the age of 16, due to his youth, good looks, and performing ability, he was picked to a paean (choral chant) about the victory of the Battle of Salamis

In total, Sophocles wrote 123 plays, of which only 7 complete tragedies survive these days; besides, fragments exist for 80 to 90 other pieces

Oedipus at Colonus, the second of his best pieces was produced posthumously

Sophocles was the only playwright of his time who did not perform in all of his plays, owing to his weak voice

Sophocles married twice. His first marriage was with a woman named Nicostrata, by whom he became the father of Iophon. Somewhat late in life he formed a connection with a certain Theoris, a woman of Sicyon, by whom he had a son called Ariston

It is assumed that Sophocles had three other illegitimate sons, though nothing is known about them

His two sons: Iophon and Ariston were also writers of tragedy

Towards the end of his life, Iophon sued against Sophocles to prove him mentally incompetent in order to get the administration of his property. To prove his sanity, Sophocles recited a portion of the then unpublished Oedipus Coloneus. He was off the charges since the jury could ascertain that no incompetent person could write such beautiful words

Sophocles had a strong appetite for carnal pleasure and it remained the same until he was very old

Akin to many Greek men of that time, Sophocles had a liking for handsome youths

Towards the end of his life, Sophocles fell in love with the courtesan named Archippe, whom he made heiress of his property but ultimately she lost it to Sophocles' relatives

When Archippe’s former lover learnt about her relationship with the old Sophocles, he wittily described it through the following lines:

“like a night-owl among the tombstones,
 like a horned owl over corpses,
 so my girl now sits with Sophocles.”

A series of myths exist about the manner of his death. According to some, he was choked by eating grapes sent him by the actor Callippides at the time of the Anthesteria. Some others said that he died while reading Antigone aloud by trying to deliver a long sentence without taking a breath. Again, few others ascribed his death to excessive joy at the success of his Antigone in competition

After his demise, he was buried in the family tomb on the way to Deceleia, about a mile from Athens, and over his tomb the figure of a siren was erected

He was not politically active or militarily inclined, but the Athenians elected him twice to high military office

Besides being a tragedian, Sophocles was also an actor, a military commander, a field general, a priest, a politician, and a treasurer

He was very religious-minded and he transformed his home in worship place for the healing god Asclepius, while a temple was being built


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