Sophocles (early 5th century—406 BC; Greek: Σοφοκλης) was an ancient Greek playwright, dramatist, priest, and politician of Athens. He is known as the second, chronologically, of the three great Greek tragedians; Sophocles was several decades younger than Aeschylus and a decade or so older than Euripides, and was often in competition with both in dramatic contests.
The year of his birth is contested, with 488, 495, and 496 BC each having advocates. He is most noted for his prolific playwriting. He wrote 123 plays; in the dramatic competitions of the Festival of Dionysus (where each submission by one author consisted of four plays), he won more first prizes (around 20) than any other playwright, and there is no record of his ever having ranked below second place.
Many scholars, including Aristotle, considered Sophocles to be the greatest playwright in ancient Greek theatre. However, of the hundreds of works he produced in his lifetime, seven tragedies survive in their complete forms, along with around half of a satyr play. (Sixty to 90 others exist in fragments). The most famous of his surviving works are his famous three Theban plays, the tragedies surrounding Oedipus and Antigone.
Sophocles was born about a mile northwest of Athens, in the rural deme (small community) of Colonus Hippius in Attica. His birth took place five years before the Battle of Marathon, and fifteen before the Battle of Salamis. His father, Sophilos (sometimes "Sophillus"), was a wealthy merchant. Some historians speculate that Sophilos was a carpenter, smith, or swordmaker; the majority believe he ran some kind of armaments business or factory that employed people of many occupations.
As a boy, Sopocles was educated in the arts and at a palaestra. He won awards in wrestling and music, and was said to be graceful and handsome. At the age of 16, he was chosen to lead the chorus of naked boys (paean) at the Athenian celebration of the victory aganist the Persians at the Battle of Salamis in 480.
Twelve years later, Sophocles first entered the Festival of Dionysus with his play The Triptolemos. He took first prize, defeating even Aeschylus.
In 440, Sophocles was elected as one of the ten strategoi (military commanders) of Athens.
Surprisingly, Sopocles's most famous play, Oedipus the King, only won second place.
- The Theban plays:
- The Trachiniae
Free eBook of Oedipus Trilogy at Project Gutenberg
Free eBook of Philoktetes at Project Gutenberg