A Commentary on the Plays of Sophocles

A Commentary on the Plays of Sophocles

A Commentary on the Plays of Sophocles

A Commentary on the Plays of Sophocles

Synopsis

James C. Hogan introduces each play by highlighting specific and interpretive problems relevant to that play before turning to a line-by-line analysis. The line analysis is comprehensive, ranging from the meanings of words and phrases that pertain to a variety of Greek ideas and institutions to metaphor and imagery specific to each play as well as plots and borrowings from earlier poetry, styles, and characterizations.

Along with his examination of the seven extant plays of Sophocles in English translations, Hogan provides a general introduction to the theatre in Sophocles' time, discussing staging, the conventions of the Greek theatre, the text of the plays, and mythology and religion.

Excerpt

SOPHOCLES' first victory in the dramatic competitions at the festival of Dionysus came in 468 B.C. He would have been between twenty-five and thirty. For the next sixty years and more he wrote and directed over a hundred plays, seven of which survive. His last, the Oedipus at Colonus, was produced posthumously in 401 B.C., five years after his death. Until midcentury, like most playwrights, he also acted in his plays. Aristotle (Poetics, chap. 4) credits him with adding the third actor and with the introduction of painted scenery, innovations already assimilated by the time of the Oresteia (458 B.C.). If we may believe the tradition, Sophocles was actively involved in the political and religious life of fifth-century Athens, perhaps serving as a state treasurer, general, and, in the crisis following the Sicilian disaster, select committeeman. A priest, he was particularly associated with the reception into Athens of a cult for Asclepius. Although ancient biographical learning is seldom completely trustworthy, Sophocles' popularity and civic-mindedness seem more secure than most such traditions.

Sophocles' career began when Aeschylus was still writing and directing for the theater, and for the last fifty years of his life he competed with Euripides, who died in 406, less than a year before Sophocles himself. Born a little before the first Persian invasion, Sophocles lived to see the rise of the Athenian empire and only missed by a scant two years witnessing the final defeat of his city in the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.). He was the friend of Herodotus and Pericles, watched the building of the Parthenon, attended the plays of Aristophanes, and was a contemporary of the Sophists and Socrates. At least four of the extant plays (Oedipus the King, Electra, Philoctetes, Oedipus at Colonus) were produced after 430, and none seems much earlier than 450). Despite their production during the most active intellectual and artistic period of classical Athens, the plays do not reveal an obvious topical, historical engagement with the controversies of his day. Which is not to say that, for example, political issues are absent from Sophoclean theater, but rather that Sophocles preferred to frame dramatic conflict in contexts somewhat removed from the immediate issues of a war or election. The Antigone is a thoroughly . . .

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