THE EXTANT tragedies of Sophocles, like those of Aeschylus, are seven in number. It is generally agreed that Ajax and Antigone were produced before he was fifty-five years old, that Oedipus Tyrannus and Trachiniae followed before he was seventy, and that the last three plays appeared in the ten years before he died at ninety in 406 B.C. Shakespeare and Menander died at fifty-two. We may be grateful that the Greek tragedians lived much longer to complete the great works that are extant. Sophocles won his first victory at the age of twenty-seven, and we can only guess what kind of work he produced in the next twenty years. The earliest extant dramas, the Ajax and the Antigone, are tragedies of personal devotion to an ideal, set in a frame of political morality. This is essentially an Aeschylean tactic, though Sophocles' technique is necessarily modified to accord with his practice of writing, no longer trilogies such as Aeschylus wrote, but dramas complete in themselves. In these two plays he introduces seers and oracles and explains disaster by the anger of the gods. He never uses curses as a motivation, as Aeschylus did, and employs the dream only when in the Electra he is adapting the Choephoroe of Aeschylus.
In the Trachiniae and Oedipus Tyrannus he disregards any moral except the moral that human life is uncertain. The gods are not brought in, and character and psychology are made to explain the action. In both plays a skillfully arranged disaster is produced by individual actions directed to quite other ends. There is thus a plot in the play that is not the plot of any one character, but the plot of the author against his characters. The tragedy is one of frustration by circumstance, and no other effect is allowed to inter-