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We have next to ask,—What ground is there for connecting
Had the play any bearing upon the poet's appointment?
this strategia of Sophocles with the production of his Antigone? The authority for such a connection is the first Argument to the play. This is ascribed to Aristophanes of Byzantium (c. 200 B.C.), but is more probably of later origin. It says;—‘They say (“φασί”) that Sophocles was appointed to the strategia which he held at Samos, because he had distinguished himself by the production of the Antigone.’ Here, as so often elsewhere, the phrase, ‘they say,’ is not an expression of doubt, but an indication that the story was found in several writers. We know the names of at least two writers in whose works such a tradition would have been likely to occur. One of them is Satyrus (c. 200 B.C.), whose collection of biographies was used by the author of the Life of Sophocles1; the other—also quoted in the Life—is Carystius of Pergamum, who lived about 110 B.C., and wrote a book, “Περὶ διδασκαλιῶν”—‘Chronicles of the Stage’—which Athenaeus cites. At the time when these works —and there were others of a similar kind—were compiled, old and authentic lists of Athenian plays, with their dates, appear to have been extant in such libraries as those of Alexandria and Pergamum. When, therefore, we meet with a tradition,—dating at least from the second century B.C.,—which affirms that the strategia of Sophocles was due to his Antigone, one inference, at least, is fairly secure. We may believe that the Antigone was known to have been produced earlier than the summer of 441 B.C. For, if Sophocles was strategus in the early spring of 440 B.C., he must have been elected in May, 441 B.C. The election of the ten strategi was held annually, at the same time as the other official elections (“ἀρχαιρεσίαι”), in the month of Thargelion, at the beginning of the ninth prytany of the civic year. Further, we may conclude that the Antigone had not been produced at any long interval before May, 441 B.C. Otherwise the tradition that the play had influenced the election—whether it really did so or not—would not have seemed probable.

Assuming, then, that the Antigone was brought out not long before Sophocles obtained the strategia, we have still to consider whether there is any likelihood in the story that his election was influenced by the success of the play. At first sight, a modern reader is apt to be reminded of the man of letters who, in the opinion of his admirer, would have been competent, at the shortest notice, to assume command of the Channel Fleet. It may appear grotesque that an important State should have rewarded poetical genius by a similar appointment. But here, as in other cases, we must endeavour to place ourselves at the old Athenian point of view. The word ‘general,’ by which we render ‘strategus,’ suggests functions purely military, requiring, for their proper discharge, an elaborate professional training. Such a conception of the Athenian strategia would not, however, be accurate. The ten strategi, chosen annually, formed a board of which the duties were primarily military, but also, in part, civil. And, for the majority of the ten, the military duties were usually restricted to the exercise of control and supervision at Athens. They resembled officials at the War Office, with some added functions from the province of the Home Office. The number of strategi sent out with an army or a fleet was, at this period, seldom more than three. It was only in grave emergencies that all the ten strategi went on active service together. In May, 441 B.C.,—the time, as it seems, when Sophocles was elected,—no one could have foreseen the great crisis at Samos. In an ordinary year Sophocles, as one of the strategi, would not necessarily have been required to leave Athens. Among his nine colleagues there were doubtless, besides Pericles, one or two more possessed of military aptitudes, who would have sufficed to perform any ordinary service in the field. Demosthenes—in whose day only one of the ten strategi was ordinarily commissioned for war—describes the other nine as occupied, among other things, with arranging the processions for the great religious festivals at Athens2. He deplores, indeed, that they should be so employed; but it is certain that it had long been one duty of these high officials to help in organising the great ceremonies. We are reminded how suitable such a sphere of duty would have been for Sophocles,—who is said to have led in his boyhood the Chorus that celebrated the victory of Salamis,—and we seem to win a new light on the meaning of his appointment to the strategia. In so far as a strategus had to do with public ceremonies and festivals, a man with the personal gifts of Sophocles could hardly have strengthened his claim better than by a brilliant success at the Dionysia. The mode of election was favourable to such a man. It was by show of hands in the Ecclesia. If the Antigone was produced at the Great Dionysia, late in March, 441 B.C., it is perfectly intelligible that the poet's splendid dramatic triumph should have contributed to his election in the following May. It is needless to suppose that his special fitness for the office was suggested to his fellow-citizens by the special maxims of administration which he ascribes to Creon,—a notion which would give an air of unreality,—verging, indeed, on comedy,—to a result which appears entirely natural when it is considered in a larger way3.

1 See Introduction to the Oed. Col., § 18, p. xli. J. S. III.3

2 Dem. or. 4 § 26.

3 One of Aelian's anecdotes (Var. Hist. 3. 8) is entitled, “ὅτι Φρύνιχος διά τι ποίημα στρατηγὸς ᾑρέθη”. Phrynichus, he says, ‘having composed suitable songs for the performers of the war-dance (“πυρριχισταῖς”) in a tragedy, so captivated and enraptured the (Athenian) spectators, that they immediately elected him to a military command.’ Nothing else is known concerning this alleged strategia. It is possible that Phrynichus, the tragic poet of c. 500 B.C., was confounded by some later anecdote-monger with the son of Stratonides, general in 412 B.C. (Thuc. 8.25), and that the story was suggested by the authentic strategia of Sophocles. At any rate, the vague and dubious testimony of Aelian certainly does not warrant us in using the case of Phrynichus as an illustration.

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (2):
    • Demosthenes, Philippic 1, 26
    • Thucydides, Histories, 8.25
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