A Classical Tragedy by Sophocles
THE ULTIMATE GREATNESS of a drama lies in its ability to speak clearly to the condition of successive ages. Among the tragedies surviving from the Greek dawn of the drama, none has more to say to us today than Antigone, written by Sophocles some 2400 years ago.
Fortune seems to have favored Sophocles. Born at Colonus near Athens in 496 B.C., the son of a well-to-do manufacturer of armor, he was given the best of physical and intellectual educations. A handsome youth of sixteen, he was chosen to lead the chorus, naked and playing the lyre, celebrating the Athenian victory over the Persian fleet off Salamis. While still in his twenties, he won his first triumph over Aeschylus as a dramatist. He was already a fine-looking man, a talented musician, a charming personality, a respected citizen, a rare genius in the theater. Though without military or political gifts, he was twice elected a commander and later a general commissioner. When he died in 406 B.C. at the age of ninety, Sophocles was honored as a poet and worshipped as a hero.
He wrote about one hundred twenty plays in all and won first prize some twenty times, never falling below second place. He made significant contributions to the art of the theater and drama: added the use of a third actor, introduced painted scenery, developed the separate-play form as distinct from the trilogy, increased the size of the chorus and decreased its importance. Seven of his tragedies survive, including an Electra and an Ajax, together with a long fragment of a satyr play. Of these, three, written at different periods of his life, deal with incidents in the legendary Thebes story: Œdipus the King (ca. 429 B.C.), considered by many the most powerful of the Greek tragedies, tells of Œdipus' fearful discovery of his identity and fate. Œdipus at Colonus, written perhaps during