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The first Argument
Place of the play in the series of the poet's works.
ends by saying that the play ‘has been reckoned as the thirty-second1.’ This statement was doubtless taken from authentic “διδασκαλίαι”—lists of performances, with their dates—which had come down from the 5th century B.C. to the Alexandrian age. The notice has a larger biographical interest than can often be claimed for such details. In 441 B.C. Sophocles was fifty-five: he died in 406/5 B.C., at ninety or ninety-one. More than 100 lost plays of his are known by name: the total number of his works might be roughly estimated at 110. It appears warrantable to assume that Sophocles had produced his works by tetralogies,—i.e., three tragedies and one satyric drama on each occasion. If the number 32 includes the satyric dramas, then the Antigone was the fourth play of the eighth tetralogy, and Sophocles would have competed on seven occasions before 441 B.C. He is recorded to have gained the first prize at his first appearance, in 468 B.C., when he was twenty-eight. The production of 28 plays in the next 27 years would certainly argue a fair measure of poetical activity. If, on the other hand, this 32 is exclusive of satyric dramas, then the Antigone was the second play of the eleventh trilogy, and the whole number of plays written by the poet from 468 to 441 B.C. (both years included) was 44.

On either view, then, we have this interesting result,—that the years of the poet's life from fifty-five to ninety were decidedly more productive than the years from twenty-eight to fifty-five. And if we suppose that the number 32 includes the satyric dramas—which seems the more natural view—then the ratio of increased fertility after the age of fifty-five becomes still more remarkable. We have excellent reason, moreover, for believing that this increase in amount of production was not attended by any deterioration of quality. The Philoctetes and the Coloneus are probably among the latest works of all. These facts entitle Sophocles to be reckoned among the most memorable instances of poetical genius prolonging its fullest vigour to extreme old age, and—what is perhaps rarer still—actually increasing its activity after middle life had been left behind.

1λέλεκται δὲ τὸ δρᾶμα τοῦτο τριακοστὸν δεύτερον”. Bergk (Hist. Gr. Lit. III. p. 414) proposes to read, “δεδίδακται δὲ τὸ δρᾶμα τοῦτο τριακοστόν: δεύτερος ἦν”. He assumes that Sophocles gained the second prize, because, according to the Parian Chronicle (60), the first prize was gained by Euripides in the archonship of Diphilus (442/1 B.C.). He adds that the word “εὐδοκιμήσαντα”, applied to Sophocles in the Argument, would suit the winner of the second prize,—as Aristophanes says of his own “Δαιταλεῖς”, which gained the second prize, “ἄριστ᾽ ἠκουσάτηνNub. 529). But two things are wanting to the probability of Bergk's conjecture, viz., (1) some independent reason for thinking that the Antigone was the 30th, rather than the 32nd, of its author's works; and (2) some better ground for assuming that it gained the second prize.

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
    • Aristophanes, Clouds, 529
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