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In 495 B.C. there was a child born about a mile outside of Athens. This child was to be named Sophocles. He was a boy whose father was a wealthy merchant. He now had the opportunity to enjoy all of life’s greatest expectations in the Greek empire. Being that he was from a wealthy family, he had the chance to study all of the arts. By the time Sophocles reached his late teens, he was already known for his charm and elegance and was honored by being chosen to lead a challenging group of young men at a celebration of the victory of Salamis. When Sophocles reached the late twenties, he was ready to compete in the City Dionysia, which is a celebration held every year at the theater of Dionysus in which new plays are presented all of the time. This was to show how successful Sophocles was in his acting career. During his first competition, Sophocles had the honor of competing against the great Aeschylus himself and defeated him taking first place. There would be many more plays to follow this accomplishment and Sophocles would walk home with nothing less than a second place.

Sophocles, noted as being a talented actor, performed in many of his own plays. In one of his plays called, “The Woman Washing Clothes,” he performed a juggling act that was talked about all over town for many years because the audience was so fascinated. But before you knew it Sophocles was to take another route and end his acting career to venture elsewhere. For many years Sophocles served as a dictated priest in the service of two heroes named Alcon and Asclepius, who was the god of medicine. Not only did he do this but he also served on the Board of Generals which was a committee that administered civil and military affairs in Athens. For some time after that, Sophocles was the director of the Treasury. This was where Sophocles controlled the funds of the association of states which were to be known as the Delian Confederacy. Being one of the great innovators of the theatre, Sophocles was the first playwright to add a third actor to his plot. In doing this, he annulled the trilogic form. For example, Aeschylus used three tragedies to explain a single story. Sophocles preferred to make each tragedy a complete entry in itself. As a result of this, Sophocles had to crowd all of his action into the shorter form clearly offering greater dramatic possibilities. He has also been credited with the invention of scene painting and painted prisms.

Of all Sophocles’s plays, only seven have really survived in their entirety. The seven plays are as follow: “Ajax” (451 to 444 B.C.), “Antigone” (after 441 B.C.), “Maidens of Trochis” (after 441 B.C.), “Oedipus the King” (430 to 415 B.C.), “Electra” (430 to 415 B.C.), “Philoctetes” (409 B.C.), and “Oedipus at Colonus” (produced posthumously in 401 B.C.). Also preserved is a large fragment of the “Investigators.” Of these seven plays, there are three that are generally considered to be the greatest plays and they are, “Antigone, Oedipus the King, and Oedipus at Colonus.” These three were to be portrayed as masterpieces. Antigone, an outstanding lyrical drama, develops a main Sophoclean theme, dealing with the pain and suffering caused when an individual, persistently despises the dictates of godly will or temporal authority, or refusing to yield to destiny and circumstance, instead obeys some inner compulsion that leads to agonizing disclosure and, ultimately to a mysterious clearance of that person’s behavior and life. Oedipus the King is appropriately famed for its flawless construction, its dramatic power, and its effective dramatic irony. This tragedy of fate explores the depths of modern psycho-analysis as Oedipus unintentionally kills his father and marries his mother in an attempt to avoid the very prediction he ultimately fulfills. It is a commanding work of plot and suspense and Oedipus the King is often publicized as a perfectly structured play. Although Oedipus can not escape his fate, he finally finds peace in the sequal, Oedipus at Colonus. Shortly after the production of the play Oedipus at Colonus, Sophocles passed away. He joined the other two great Greek playwrights Aeschylus and Euripides who had gone to their graves before him. This is to be the conclusion of the first great age of tragedy.

Many modern scholars have considered Sophocles to be the greatest of the Greek tragedians. He made important contributions to dramatic technique by increasing the number of actors from two to three, which decreased the influence of the chorus and made possible greater confusion of the plot and the more effective portrayal of character, and by making each play a separate psychological and dramatic unity. Sophocles also effected a modification in the spirit and significance of a tragedy. Although problems of religion and morality still provided the themes, the nature of humans and their problems and struggles became the fundamental interest of Greek tragedy.


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