Oedipus

Sophocles

Sophocles (sŏf´əklēz), c.496 BC–406 BC, Greek tragic dramatist, younger contemporary of Aeschylus and older contemporary of Euripides, b. Colonus, near Athens. A man of wealth, charm, and genius, Sophocles was given posts of responsibility in peace and in war by the Athenians. He was a general and a priest; after his death he was worshiped as a hero. At the age of 16 he led the chorus in a paean on the victory of Salamis. He won his first dramatic triumph in 468, over Aeschylus, and thenceforth wrote copiously (he composed about 123 dramas), winning first place about 20 times and never falling lower than second. A definitive innovator in the drama, he added a third actor—thereby tremendously increasing the dramatic possibilities of the medium—increased the size of the chorus, abandoned the trilogy of plays for the self-contained tragedy, and introduced scene painting. Seven complete tragedies (difficult to date), part of a satyr play, and over 1,000 fragments survive. Ajax is perhaps the earliest tragedy; three actors are used but the form is handled imperfectly. In his other plays, whether with two or three actors, the dialogue is polished and smooth. Antigone (c.441) contains extraordinarily fine characterization. The most famous of his tragedies (cited by Aristotle as a perfect example of tragedy) is Oedipus Rex or Oedipus Tyrannus (c.429), in which Greek dramatic irony reaches an apex. The plot is based on the Oedipus legend. Electra (date uncertain), the Trachiniae (date uncertain; on the death of Hercules by the blood of Nessus), and Philoctetes (409) followed. Oedipus at Colonus was written shortly before Sophocles' death and was produced in 401. A sequel to Oedipus Rex, it tells of the last days and death of Oedipus; it is a quiet, simple play of great beauty and power. There is also extant about half of a satyr play (Ichneutae or The Trackers, written perhaps c.460) on Hermes' theft of Apollo's cattle. The characters in Sophocles are governed in their fate more by their own faults than by the actions of the gods as in the tragedies of Aeschylus. Sophocles is supposed to have said that Aeschylus composed correctly without knowing it; Euripides portrayed people as they were; and he painted people as they ought to be. The translation by Richmond Lattimore and David Grene, The Complete Greek Tragedies (1959) is one of the many English translations of Sophocles.

See studies by C. H. Whitman (1951), A. J. A. Waldock (1966), R. P. Winnington-Ingram (1980), C. Segal (1981), and S. Goldhill (2012).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Kolonos, and Antigone
Robert Bagg; Sophocles.
University of Massachusetts Press, 2004
Readers and Mythic Signs: The Oedipus Myth in Twentieth-Century Fiction
Debra A. Moddelmog.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1993
Tragedy and the Tragic: Greek Theatre and Beyond
M. S. Silk.
Oxford University Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "Vision, Blindness, and Mask: The Radicalization of the Emotions in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex" and Chap. 2 "What Can You Rely on in Oedipus Rex? Response to Calame"
A Commentary on the Plays of Sophocles
James C. Hogan.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1991
Librarian’s tip: "Oedipus the King: The Theban Plays" begins on p. 19
Greek Tragic Theatre
Rush Rehm.
Routledge, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus"
The Tragic Protest
Zygmunt Adamczewski.
Martinus Nijhoff, 1963
Librarian’s tip: Chap. III "The Tragic Fear - Oedipus King: Sophocles: Oedipus the King"
The Myths of Greece & Rome
H. A. Guerber.
Biblo-Moser, 1990
Librarian’s tip: Chap. XXIII "Oedipus, King of Thebes"
On Aristotle and Greek Tragedy
John Jones.
Oxford University Press, 1962
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Action and Actors: Antigone and Oedipus the King"
The Secret Cause: A Discussion of Tragedy
Normand Berlin.
University of Massachusetts Press, 1981
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "The Invisible Piper: Einstein and Oedipus"
Archetypes of the Family in Literature
Sven Armens.
University of Washington Press, 1966
Librarian’s tip: Chap. III "Inceptions in Greek Tragedy II: Oedipus and Creon"
Politics of Security: Towards a Political Philosophy of Continental Thought
Michael Dillon.
Routledge, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Oedipus Asphaleos: The Tragedy of (In)Security"
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