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So'phocles

Σοφοκλῆς).

1. The celebrated tragic poet.

The ancient authorities for the life of Sophocles are very scanty. Duris of Samos wrote a work Περὶ Εὐριπίδου καὶ Σοφοκλέους (Ath. iv. p. 184d.); Ister, Aristoxenus, Neanthes, Satyrus, and others are quoted as authorities for his life; and it cannot be doubted that, amidst the vast mass of Alexandrian literature, there were many treatises respecting him, besides those on the general subject of tragedy; but of these stores of information, the only remnants we possess are the respectable anonymous compilation, Βίος Σοφοκλέους, which is prefixed to the chief editions of the poet's works, and is also contained in Westermann's Vitarum Scriptores Graeci Minores, the very brief article of Suidas, and the incidental notices scattered through the works of Plutarch, Athenaeus, and other ancient writers. Of the numerous modern writers who have treated of the life, character, and works of Sophocles, the chief are : -- Lessing, whose Leben des Sophokles is a masterpiece of aesthetic disquisition, left unfortunately incomplete; Schlegel, in his Lectures on Dramatic Art and Criticism, which are now familiar to English readers; F. Schultz, de Vita Sophoclis, Berol. 1836, 8vo.; Schöll, Sophokles, sein Leben und Wirken, Frankfort, 1842, 8vo., with the elaborate series of reviews by C. F. Hermann, in the Berliner Jahrbücher, 1843 : to these must be added the standard works on Greek tragedy by Böckh (Poet. Trag. Graec. Princ.), Welcker (die Griechischen Tragödien), and Kayser (Hist. Crit. Tragicorum Graec.), and also the standard histories of Greek Literature in general, and of Greek Poetry in particular, by Müller, Ulrici, Bode, and Bernhardy.


1. The Life of Sophocles.

Sophocles was a native of the Attic village of Colonus, which lay a little more than a mile to the north-west of Athens, and the scenery and religious associations of which have been described by the poet, in his last and greatest work, in a manner which shows how powerful an influence his birth-place exercised on the whole current of his genius. The date of his birth, according to his anonymous biographer, was in Ol. 71. 2, B. C. 495; but the Parian Marble places it one year higher, B. C. 496. Most modern writers prefer the former date, on the ground of its more exact agreement with the other passages in which the poet's age is referred to (see Clinton, F. H. s. a. ; Müller, Hist. Lit. p. 337, Eng. trans.). But those passages, when closely examined, will be found hardly sufficient to determine so nice a point as the difference of a few months. With this remark by way of caution, we place the birth of Sophocles at B. C. 495, five years before the battle of Marathon, so that he was about thirty years younger than Aeschylus, and fifteen years older than Euripides. (The anonymous biographer also mentions these differences, but his numbers are obviously corrupt.)

His father's name was Sophilus, or Sophillus, respecting whose condition in life it is clear from the anonymous biography that the grammarians knew nothing for certain. According to Aristoxenus, he was a carpenter or smith; according to Ister, a swordmaker; while the biographer refuses to admit either of these statements, except in the sense that Sophilus had slaves who practised one or other of those handicrafts, because, he argues, it is improbable that the son of a common artificer should have been associated in military command with the first men of the state, such as Pericles and Thucydides, and also because, if he had been lowborn, the comic poets would not have failed to attack him on that ground. There is some force in the latter argument.

At all events it is clear that Sophocles received an education not inferior to that of the sons of the most distinguished citizens of Athens. To both of the two leading branches of Greek education, music and gymnastics, he was carefully trained, in company with the boys of his own age, and in both he gained the prize of a garland. He was taught music by the celebrated Lamprus (Vit. Anon.). Of the skill which he had attained in music and dancing in his sixteenth year, and of the perfection of his bodily form, we have conclusive evidence in the fact that, when the Athenians were assembled in solemn festival around the trophy which they had set up in Salamis to celebrate their victory over the fleet of Xerxes, Sophocles was chosen to lead, naked and with lyre in hand, the chorus which danced about the trophy, and sang the songs of triumph, B. C. 480. (Ath. i. p. 20f. ; Vit. Anon.

The statement of the anonymous biographer, that Sophocles learnt tragedy from Aeschylus, has been objected to on grounds which are perfectly conclusive, if it be understood as meaning any direct and formal instruction; but, from the connection in which the words stand, they appear to express nothing more than the simple and obvious fact, that Sophocles, having received the art in the form to which it had been advanced by Aeschylus, made in it other improvements of his own.

His first appearance as a dramatist took place in the year B. C. 468, under peculiarly interesting circumstances ; not only from the fact that Sophocles, at the age of twenty-seven, came forward as the rival of the veteran Aeschylus, whose supremacy had been maintained during an entire generation, but also from the character of the judges. It was, in short, a contest between the new and the old styles of tragic poetry, in which the competitors were the greatest dramatists, with ONE exception, who ever lived, and the umpires were the first men, in position and education, of a state in which almost every citizen had a nice perception of the beauties of poetry and art. The solemnities of the Great Dionysia were rendered more imposing by the occasion of the return of Cimon from his expedition to Scyros, bringing with him the bones of Theseus. Public expectation was so excited respecting the approaching dramatic contest, and party feeling ran so high, that Apsephion, the Archon Eponymus, whose duty it was to appoint the judges, had not yet ventured to proceed to the final act of drawing the lots for their election, when Cimon, with his nine colleagues in the command, having entered the theatre, and made the customary libations to Dionysus, the Archon detained them at the altar, and administered to them the oath appointed for the judges in the dramatic contests. Their decision was in favour of Sophocles, who received the first prize; the second only being awarded to Aeschylus, who was so mortified at his defeat that he left Athens and retired to Sicily. (Plut. Cim. 8; Marm. Par. 57.) The drama which Sophocles exhibited on this occasion is supposed, from a chronological computation in Pliny (Plin. Nat. 18.7. s. 12), to have been the Triptolemus, respecting the nature of which there has been much disputation : Welcker, who has discussed the question very fully, supposes that the main subject of the drama was the institution of the Eleusinian mysteries, and the establishment of the worship of Demeter at Athens by Triptolemus.

From this epoch there can be no doubt that Sophocles held the supremacy of the Athenian stage (except in so far as it was shared by Aeschylus during the short period between his return to Athens and his final retirement to Sicily), until a formidable rival arose in the person of Euripides, who gained the first prize for the first time in the year B. C. 441. We possess, however, no particulars of the poet's life during this period of twentyeight years.

The year B. C. 440 (Ol. 84, 4) is a most important era in the poet's life. In the spring of that year, most probably, he brought out the earliest and one of the best of his extant dramas, the Antigone, a play which gave the Athenians such satisfaction, especially on account of the political wisdom it displayed, that they appointed him one of the ten strategi, of whom Pericles was the chief, in the war against the aristocratical faction of Samos, which lasted from the summer of B. C. 440 to the spring of B. C. 439. The anonymous biographer states that this expedition took place seven years before the Peloponnesian War, and that Sophocles was 55 years old at the time. A full account of this war will be found in Thirlwall's History of Greece, vol. iii. pp. 48, foll. From an anecdote preserved by Athenaeus from the Travels of the poet Ion, it appears that Sophocles was engaged in bringing up the reinforcements from Chios, and that, amidst the occupations of his military command, he preserved his wonted tranquillity of mind, and found leisure to gratify his voluptuous tastes and to delight his comrades with his calm and pleasant conversation at their banquets. From the same narrative it would seem that Sophocles neither obtained nor sought for any military reputation : he is represented as good-humouredly repeating the judgment of Pericles concerning him, that he understood the making of poetry, but not the commanding of an army. (Ath. xiii. pp. 603, 604; Anon. Vit. Soph. ; Aristoph. Byz. Arg. in Antig. ; Plut. Per. 8 ; Strab. xiv. p.446; Schol. ad Aristoph. Pac. 696 ; Suid. s. v. Μέλητος; Cic. Off. 1.40; Plin. Nat. 37.2; V. Max. 4.3.) On another occasion, if we may believe Plutarch Nic. 15), Sophocles was not ashamed to confess that he had no claim to military distinction ; for when he was serving with Nicias, upon being asked by that general his opinion first, in a council of war, as being the eldest of the strategi, he replied " I indeed am the eldest in years. but you in counsel." 1 (Ἐλὼ, φάναι, παλαιότατός εἰμι, σὺ δέ πρεσβύτατος).

Mr. Donaldson, in his recent edition of the Antigone (Introduction, § 2), has put forward the view, that, at this period of his life, Sophocles was a personal and political friend of Pericles; that the political sentiments expressed in the Antigone were intended as a recommendation of the policy of that statesman, just as Aeschylus, in the Eumeules, had put forth all his powers in support of the opposite system of the old conservative party of Aristeides; that Pericles himself is circumstantially, though indirectly, referred to in various passages of the play (especially vv. 352, foll.); and that the poet's political connection with Pericles was one chief cause of his being associated with him in the Samian War.

A still more interesting subject connected with this period of the poet's life, is his supposed intimacy with Herodotus, which is also touched upon by Mr. Donaldson (l.c.), who has discussed the matter at greater length in the Transactions of the Philological Society, vol. i. No. 15. We learn from Plutarch (An Seni sit Gerend. Respub. 3, p. 784b.) that Sophocles composed a poem for Herodotus, commencing with the following inscription : --

Ὠιδὴν Ἡροδότῳ τεῦξεν Σοφοκλῆς ἐτέων ὢν
πεντ̓ ἐπὶ πεντήκοντα:

where the poet's age, 55 years, carries us to about the period of the Samian War. Upon this foundation Mr. Donaldson constructs the theory that Herodotus was still residing at Samos at the period when Sophocles was engaged in the war, and that a familiar intercourse subsisted between the great poet and historian, for the maintenance of which at other times the frequent visits of Herodotus to Athens would give ample opportunity. The chronological part of the question, though important in its bearing upon the history of Herodotus, is of little consequence with regard to Sophocles : the main fact, that such an intercourse existed between the poet and the historian, is sufficiently established by the passage of Plutarch; and the influence of that intimacy may still be traced in those striking parallelisms in their works, which have generally been referred to an imitation of Herodotus by Sophocles, but which Mr. Donaldson has brought forward strong arguments to account for in the opposite way. (Compare especially Hdt. 3.119, with Antig. 924.

The epoch, which has now been briefly dwelt upon, may be regarded as dividing the public life of Sophocles into two almost equal portions, each extending over the period of about one generation, but the latter rather the longer of the two; namely B. C. 468-439, and B. C. 439-405. The second of these periods, extending from the 56th year of his age to his death, was that of his greatest poetical activity, and to it belong all his extant dramas. Respecting his personal history, however, during this period of forty-four years, we have scarcely any details. The excitement of the Peloponnesian War seems to have had no other influence upon him than to stimulate his literary efforts by the new impulse which it gave to the intellectual activity of the age; until that disastrous period after the Sicilian expedition, when the reaction of unsuccessful war led to anarchy at home. Then we find him, like others of the chief literary men of Athens, joining in the desperate attempt to stay the ruin of their country by means of an aristocratic revolution; although, according to the accounts which have come down to us of the part which Sophocles took in this movement, he only assented. to it as a measure of public safety, and not from any love of oligarchy. When the Athenians, on the news of the utter destruction of their Sicilian army (B. C. 413), appointed ten of the elders of the city, as a sort of committee of public salvation, under the title of πρόβουλοι (Thuc. 8.1), Sophocles was among the ten thus chosen. 2 As he was then in his eighty-third year, it is not likely that he took any active part in their proceedings, or that he was chosen for any other reason than to obtain the authority of his name. All that we are told of his conduct in this office is that he contented to the establishment of the oligarchical Council of Four Hundred, B. C. 411, though he acknowledged the measure to be an evil one, because, he said, there was no better course (Aristot. Rh. 3.18, Pol. 6.5). The change of government thus effected released him, no doubt, from all further concern with public affairs.

One thing at least is clear as to his political principles, that he was an ardent lover of his country. The patriotic sentiments, which we still admire in his poems, were illustrated by his own conduct ; for, unlike Simonides and Pindar, Aeschylus, Euripides, and Plato, and others of the greatest poets and philosophers of Greece, Sophocles would never condescend to accept the patronage of monarchs, or to leave his country in compliance with their repeated invitations. (Vit. Anon.) His affections were fixed upon the land which had produced the heroes of Marathon and Salamis, whose triumphs were associated with his earliest recollections; and his eminently religious spirit loved to dwell upon the sacred city of Athena, and the hallowed groves of his native Colonus. In his later days he filled the office of priest to a native hero, Halon, and the gods were said to have rewarded his devotion by granting him supernatural revelations. (γέγονε δὲ καὶ θεοφιλὴς Σοφοκλῆς ὡς οὐκ ἄλλος, &c. Vit. Anon.

The family dissensions, which troubled his last years, are connected with a well-known and beautiful story, which bears strong marks of authenticity, and which, if true, not only proves that he preserved his mental powers and his wonted calmness to the last, but also leaves us with the satisfactory conviction that his domestic peace was restored before he died. His family consisted of two sons, lophon, the offspring of Nicostrate, who was a free Athenian woman, and Ariston, his son by Theoris of Sicyon 3; and Ariston had a son named Sophocles, for whom his grandfather showed the greatest affection. Iophon, who was by the laws of Athens his father's rightful heir, jealous of his love for the young Sophocles, and apprehending that Sophocles purposed to bestow upon his grandson a large proportion of his property, is said to have summoned his father before the (φράτορες, who seem to have had a sort of jurisdiction in family affairs, on the charge that his mind was affected by old age. As his only reply, Sophocles exclaimed, "If I am Sophocles, I am not beside myself; and if I am beside myself, I am not Sophocles ;" and then he read from his Oedipus at Colonus, which was lately written, but not yet brought out, the magnificent parodos, beginning --

Εὐίππου, ξένε, τᾶσδε χώρας
,

whereupon the judges at once dismissed the case, and rebuked Iophon for his undutiful conduct. (Plut. An Seni sit Gerend. Respub. 3. p. 775. b. ; Vit. Anon.) That Sophocles forgave his son might almost be assumed from his known character; and the ancient grammarians supposed that the reconciliation was referred to in the lines of the Oedipus at Colonus, where Antigone pleads with her father to forgive Polyneices, as other fathers had been induced to forgive their bad children (vv. 1192, foll.).

Whether Sophocles died in, or after the completion of, his ninetieth year, cannot be said with absolute certainty. It is clear, from the allusions to him in the Frogs of Aristophanes and the Musae of Phrynichus, that he was dead before the representation of those dramas at the Lenaea, in February, B. C. 405, and hence several writers, ancient as well as modern, have placed his death in the beginning of that year. (Diod. 13.103 ; Marm. Par. No. 65; Arg. III. ad Oed. Col. ; Clinton, F. H., s. a.) But, if we make allowance for the time required for the composition and preparation of those dramas, of which the Frogs, at least, not only refers to his death, but presupposes that event in the very conception of the comedy, we can hardly place it later than the spring of B. C. 406, and this date is confirmed by the statement of the anonymous biographer, that his death happened at the feast of the Choes, which must have been in 406, and not in 405, for the Choes took place a month later than the Lenaea. Lucian (Macrob. 24) certainly exaggerates, when he says that Sophocles lived to the age of 95.

All the various accounts of his death and funeral are of a fictitious and poetical complexion; as are so many of the stories which have come down to us respecting the deaths of the other Greek poets : nay, we often find the very same marvel attending the decease of different individuals, as in the cases of Sophocles and Philemon [PHILEMON, p. 263b]. According to Ister and Neanthes, he was choked by a grape (Vit. Anon.); Satyrus related that in a public recitation of the Antigone he sustained his voice so long without a pause that, through the weakness of extreme age, he lost his breath and his life together (ibid.); while others ascribed his death to excessive joy at obtaining a victory (ibid.). These legends are of course the offspring of a poetical feeling which loved to connect the last moments of the great tragedian with his patron god. In the same spirit it is related that Dionysus twice appeared in vision to Lysander, and commanded him to allow the interment of the poet's remains in the family tomb on the road to Deceleia (Vit. Anon. ; comp. Paus. 1.21). According to Ister, the Athenians honoured his memory with a yearly sacrifice (Vit. Anon.).

No doubt the ancient writers were quite right in thinking that, in the absence of details respecting the matter of fact, the death of Sophocles was a fair subject for a poetical description; but, instead of resorting to trifling and contradictory legends, they might have found descriptions of his decease. at once poetical and true, in the verses of contemporary poets, who laid aside the bitter satire of the Old Comedy to do honour to his memory. Thus Phrynichus, in his Μοῦσαι, which was acted with the Frogs of Aristophanes, in which also the memory of Sophocles is treated with profound respect, referred to the poet's death in these beautiful lines : --

Μάκαρ Σοφοκλέης, ὅς πολὺν χρόνον βιούς
ἀπέθανεν
, εὐδαίμων ἀνὴρ και δεξίος,
πολλὰς ποιήσας καὶ καλὰς τραγῳδίας:
καλῶς δ᾽ ἐτελεύτης᾿ οἰο̂ὲν ὑπομείνας κακόν
.

Arg. III. ad Oed. Col. ; Meincke, Frag. Com. Graec. vol. ii. p. 592; Editio Minor, p. 233.) And if the last line is not specific enough for those who are curious to know the details of the death of such a man, we venture to say that the want may be supplied by those exquisite verses in which the poet himself relates the decease of Oedipus, when restored by a long expiation to that religious calm in which he himself had always lived -- a description so exactly satisfying our idea of what the death of Sophocles must and ought to have been, that we at once perceive, by a sort of instinct, that it was either written in the direct anticipation of his own departure, or perhaps even thrown into its present form by the younger Sophocles, to make it an exact picture of his grandfather's death -- where Oedipus, having been summoned by a divine voice from the solemn recesses of the grove of the Eumenides, in terms which might well be used to the poet of ninety years of age (Oed. Col. 1627, 1628) :--

οὗτος, οὗτος, Οἰδίπους, τί μέλλομεν
χωρεῖν; πάλαι δὴ τἀπὸ σοῦ βραδύνεται,--

having taken leave of his children and retired from the world, and having offered his last prayers to the gods of earth and heaven, departs in peace, by an unknown fate, without disease or pain (1658, foil.) : --

οὐ γάρ τις αὐτὸν οὔτε πυρφόρος θεοῦ
κεραυνὸς ἐξέπραξεν
, οὔτε ποντία
θύελλα κινηθεῖσα τῷ τότ̓ ἐν χρόνῳ
,
ἀλλ̓ τις ἐκ θεῶν πομπὸς, τὸ νερτέρων
εὔνουν διαστὰν γῆς ἀλάμπετον βάθρον
.
Ἁνὴρ γὰρ οὺ στενακτὸς οὐδὲ σὺν νόσοις
ἀλγεινὸς ἐξεπἐμπετ̓
, ἀλλ̓ εἴ τις βροτῶν
θαυμαστός
. Εἰ δὲ μὴ δοκῶ φρονῶν λέγειν
οὐκ ἂν παρείμην ὁ̂σι μὴ δοκῶ φρονεῖν
.

If any reader thinks that the application of these lines to the death of Sophocles himself is too fanciful, let him take the last words of the quotation as our answer; and let us be left still further to indulge the same fancy by imagining, not the applause, but the burst of suppressed feeling, with which an Athenian audience first listened to that description, applying it, as we feel sure they did, to the poet they had lost.

The inscription placed upon his tomb, according to some authorities, celebrated at once the perfection of his art and the graces of his person (Vit. Anon.) : --

κρύπτῳ τῷδε τάφῳ Σοφοκλῆν πρωτεῖα λαβόντα
τῇ τραγικῇ τέχνῃ
, σχῆμα τὸ σεμνότατον.

Among the epigrams upon him in the Greek Anthology, there is one ascribed to Simmias of Thebes, which is perhaps one of the most exquisite gems in the whole collection for the beauty and truthfulness of its imagery (Brunck, Anal. vol. i. p. 168; Jacobs, Anth. Graec. vol. i. p. 100; Anth. Pal. 7.22, vol. i. p. 312, ed. Jacobs) : --

ἠρέμ᾽ ὑπὲρ τύμβοιο Σοφοκλέος, ἠρέμα, κισσέ,
ἑρπύζοις, χλοεροὺς ἐκπροκέων πλοκάμους,
καὶ πεταλὸν πάντη θάλλοι ῥόδου, τε φιλορρὼξ
ἄμπελος, ὑγρὰ πέριξ κλήματα χευαμένη,
εἵνεκεν εὐμαθίης πινυτόφρονος, ἣν μελιχρὸς
ἤσκησεν Μουσῶν ἄμμιγα καὶ Χαρίτων.

Among the remains of ancient art, we possess several portraits of Sophocles, which, however, like the other works of the same class, are probably ideal representations, rather than actual likenesses. Philostratus (Imag. 13) describes several such portraits by different artists, and an account of those which now exist will be found in Müller's Archäologie der Kunst. § 420, n. 5. p. 731, ed. Welcker.

The following chronological summary exhibits the few leading events, of which the date can be fixed, in the life of Sophocles : --

Ol. B. C.  
71. 2. 495. Birth of Sophocles.
73. 4. 484. Aeschylus gains the first prize. Birth of Herodotus.
75. 1. 480. Battle of Salamis. Sophocles (aet. 15-16) leads the chorus round the trophy. Birth of Euripides.
77. 4. 468. First tragic victory of Sophocles. Defeat and retirement of Aeschylus. Birth of Socrates.
78. 1. 469. Death of Simonides.
80. 2. 458. The Ὀρεστεία of Aeschylus.
81. 1. 456. Death of Aeschylus.
81. 1. 455. Euripides begins to exhibit.
84. 3. 441. Euripides gains the first prize.
84. 4. 440. Sophocles gains the first prize with his Antigone, and is made strategus with Pericles in the Samian war.
85. 1. 439. Probable return of Sophocles to Athens. Death of Pindar?
91. 4. 413. Sophocles one of the Probuli.
92. 1. 411. Government of the Four Hundred.
92. 3. 409. The Philoctetes of Sophocles. First prize.
93. 2. 406. Death of Euripides. Death of Sophocles.
94. 3. 401. The Oedipus at Colonus brought out by the younger Sophocles.

The following genealogical table exhibits the family relations of Sophocles, omitting the three sons, of whom we only know the names (see above) : --

All these descendants of Sophocles seem to have been occupied, to some extent, with tragic poetry. Iophon was of some celebrity as a tragedian [IOPHON]. There is some doubt about Ariston; the probability is that he was a tragic poet, but that he generally preferred the reproduction of his father's works to the exhibition of his own dramas. [ARISTON, literary, No. 1.] (Comp. Kayser, Hist. Crit. Trag. Graec. pp. 74-76.) Respecting the younger Sophocles see below, No. 2.


2. The Personal Character of Sophocles.

In that elaborate piece of dramatic criticism, the purpose of which is undoubtedly serious, though the form is that of the broad mirth and bitter satire of the Old Comedy, we mean the Frogs, it is extremely interesting to notice both the respectful reserve with which Sophocles is treated, as if he were almost above criticism, and the particular force of the few passages in which Aristophanes more expressly refers to him. (Aristoph. Ran. 76-82, 786-794, 1515-1519). Εὔκολος μὲν ἐνθάδ̓, εὔκολος δ᾽ ἐκεῖ--"Even tempered alike in life and death, in the world above and in the world below" -- is the brief but expressive phrase in which his personal character is summed up.

Sophocles appears, indeed, to have had every element which, in the judgment of a Greek, would go to make up a perfect character : the greatest beauty and symmetry of form; the highest skill in those arts which were prized above all others, music and gymnastics, of which the latter developed that bodily perfection, which always adorns if it does not actually contribute to intellectual greatness, while the former was not only essential to his art as a dramatist, but was also justly esteemed by the Greeks as one of the chiefest instruments in moulding the character of a man; a constitutional calmness and contentment, which seems hardly ever to have been disturbed, and which was probably the secret of that perfect mastery over the passions of others, which his tragedies exhibit ; a cheerful and amiable demeanour, and a ready wit, which won for him the affectionate admiration of those with whom he associated; a spirit of tranquil and meditative piety, in harmony with his natural temperament, and fostered by the scenes in which he spent his childhood, and the subjects to which he devoted his life; a power of intellect, and a spontaneity of genius, of which his extant tragedies are the splendid, though mutilated monument : such are the leading features of a character, which the very harmony of its parts makes it difficult to pourtray with any vividness. The slight physical defect, weakness of voice, which is said to have disqualified him from appearing as an actor, could not have been of great consequence, considering the perfection to which the technical portion of the art had been brought by his own rules, improving upon those of Aeschylus, and the sufficiency of good actors, whom we could easily show to have flourished at Athens in his time. His moral defects, if we may believe the insinuations of the comic poets and the gossip of the scandal-mongering grammarians, are such as he would naturally be exposed to fall into through the perfection of his bodily senses and the easiness of his temper. Aristophanes, who treated him with such respect, as we have seen, after his death, during his life associated him with Simonides in the charge of love of gain (Pax, 695-699); and it is too probable that, when advanced in age, and with his taste for luxury confirmed, he might have yielded to that habit of making a gain of genius, which, since the time of Simonides, had been a besetting sin of literary men. The charge of his addiction to sensual pleasures, the vice of his age and country, seems well-founded, but in later life he appears to have overcome such propensities. (Plat. Repub. i. p. 329b. c.; Cic. Cat. Maj. 14, de Offic. 1.40; Athen. 12.510, xiii. p. 603.)


3. The Poetical Character of Sophocles.

By the universal consent of the best critics, both of ancient and of modern times, the tragedies of Sophocles are not only the perfection of the Greek drama; but they approach as nearly as is conceivable to the perfect ideal model of that species of poetry. Such a point of perfection, in any art, is always the result of a combination of causes, of which the internal impulse of the man's creative genius is but one. The external influences, which determine the direction of that genius, and give the opportunity for its manifestation, must be most carefully considered. Among these influences, none is more powerful than the political and intellectual character of the age. That point in the history of states, -- in which the minds of men, newly set free from traditional dogmatic systems, have not yet been given up to the vagaries of unbridled speculation, -- in which religious objects and ideas are still looked upon with reverence, but no longer worshipped at a distance, as too solemn and mysterious for a free and rational contemplation, -- in which a newly recovered freedom is valued in proportion to the order which forms its rule and sanction, and license has not yet overpowered law, -- in which man firmly, but modestly, puts forward his claim to be his own ruler and his own priest, to think and work for himself and for his country, controuled only by those laws which are needful to hold society together, and to subject individual energy to the public welfare, -- in which successful war has roused the spirit, quickened the energies, and increased the resources of a people, but prosperity and faction have not yet corrupted the heart, and dissolved the bonds of society, -- when the taste, the leisure, and the wealth, which demand and encourage the means of refined pleasure, have not yet been indulged to that degree of exhaustion which requires more exciting and unwholesome stimulants, -- such is the period which brings forth the most perfect productions in literature and art; such was the period which gave birth to Sophocles and Pheidias. The poetry of Aeschylus, -- revelling in the ancient traditions and in the most unyielding fatalism, exhibiting the gods and heroes of the mythic period in their own exalted and unapproachable sphere, investing itself with an imposing but sometimes unmeaning pomp, and finding utterance in language sublime, but not always comprehensible, -- was the true expression of the imperfectly regulated energy, the undefined aspirations, and the simple faith, of the men of Marathon and Salamis : while that of Euripides, -- in its seductive beauty, its uncontrouled passion, its sophistical declamation, its familiar scenes and allusions - reflected but too truly the character of the degenerate race, which had been unsettled by the great intestine conflict of the Peloponnesian War, corrupted by the exercise of license at home and of despotism over their allies, perverted by the teaching of the sophists, and enervated by the rapid depravation of their morals. The genius of Aeschylus is religious and superhuman; that of Sophocles, without ceasing to be religious, but presenting religion in quite another aspect, is ethical and, in the best sense, human; that of Euripides is irreligious, unethical, and human in the lowest sense, working upon the passions, and gratifying the weaknesses, of a corrupt generation of mankind.

To these external influences, which affected the spirit of the drama as it appears in Sophocles, must be added the changes in its form and mechanism, which enlarged its sphere and modified its character. Of these changes, the most important was the addition of the τριταγωνιστής, or third actor, by which three persons were allowed to appear on the stage at once, instead of only two. This change vastly enlarged the scope of the dramatic action, and indeed, as Müller justly observes, "it appeared to accomplish all that was necessary to the variety and mobility of action in tragedy, without sacrificing that simplicity and clearness which, in the good ages of antiquity, were always held to be the most essential qualities." (Hist. of Gr. Lit. pp. 304, 305.) By the addition of this third actor, the chief person of the drama was brought under two conflicting influences, by the force of which both sides of his character are at once displayed ; as in the scene where Antigone has to contend at the same time with the weakness of Ismene and the tyranny of Creon. Even those scenes in which only two actors appear are made more significant by their relation to the parts of the drama in which the action combines all three, and conversely ; thus, the scene of the Antigone just referred to derives its force in a great measure from the preceding separate conflicts between Antigone and Ismene, and Antigone and Creon; while the meaning of those two scenes is only brought out fully when they are viewed in their relation to the third. Aeschylus adopted the third actor in his later plays; and indeed it may be laid down, as a general rule, and one which must have contributed greatly to the rapid progress of the art, that every improvement, made by either of the great rival dramatists of the age, was of necessity adopted by the others. In the time of Sophocles and Euripides, the number of three actors was hardly ever exceeded. "It was an object to turn the talents of the few eminent actors to the greatest possible account, and to prevent that injury to the general effect which the interposition of inferior actors, even in subordinate parts, must ever produce; and, in fact, so often nowadays does produce." (Müller, Hist. Lit. p. 304.) In only one play of Sophocles, and that not acted during his life, does the interposition of a fourth actor appear necessary, namely, in the Oedipus at Colonus ; "unless we assume that the part of Theseus in this play was partly acted by the person who represented Antigone, and partly by the person who represented Ismene : it is, however, far more difficult for two actors to represent one part in the same tone and spirit, than for one actor to represent several parts with the appropriate modifications." (Müller, p. 305, note.) It would be travelling rather beyond the bounds of this article to describe the manner in which the persons of a Greek drama were distributed among the three actors, who, by changes of dresses and masks, sustained all the speaking characters of the play. This subject, though essential to a full comprehension of the works of Sophocles, belongs rather to the general history of the Greek drama : it is discussed very well by Müller, who gives a scheme of the distribution of the parts in the Oresteian trilogy of Aeschylus, sand in the Antigone and Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles (pp. 305-307). Mr. Donaldson also discusses at some length the distribution of the parts in the Antigone. (Introduction to the Antigone, § 4.)

Sophocles also introduced some very important modifications in the choral parts of the drama. According to Suidas (s. v.) he raised the number of the choreutae from twelve to fifteen; and, although there are some difficulties in the matter, the general fact is undoubted, that Sophocles fixed the number of choreutae at fifteen, the establishment of which, as a rule, would necessarily be accompanied with more definite arrangements than had previously been made respecting the evolutions of the Chorus. At the same time the choral odes, which in Aeschylus occupied a large space in the tragedy, and formed a sort of lyric exhibition of the subject interwoven with the dramatic representation, were very considerably curtailed, and their burden was less closely connected with the subject of the play ; while the number of the epeisodia, or acts, into which they divided the drama, was increased, and the continuity of the action was made closer by the rareness of the absence of all the actors from the stage, whereas in the earlier tragedies the stage was often left vacant, while the Chorus was singing long lyric odes. The mode in which the Chorus is connected with the general subject and progress of the drama is also different. In Aeschylus the Chorus is a deeply interested party, often taking a decided and even vehement share in the action, and generally involved in the catastrophe; but the Chorus of Sophocles has more of the character of a spectator, moderator, and judge, comparatively impartial, but sympathising generally with the chief character of the play, while it explains and harmonizes, as far as possible, the feelings of all the actors. It is less mixed up with the general action than in Aeschylus, but its connexion with each particular part is closer. The Chorus of Sophocles is cited by Aristotle as an example of his definition of the part to be taken by the Chorus :-- καὶ τὸν χορὸν δὲ ἕνα δεῖ ὑπολαβεῖν τῶν ὑποκριτῶυ καὶ μόριον εἶναι τοῦ ὅλου καὶ συναγωνίζεσθαι, μὴ ὥσπερ Εὐριπίδης ἀλλ̓ ὥσπερ Σοφοκλῆς (Poet. 18) ; where, however, the value of the passage, as a description of the choruses of Sophocles is somewhat diminished by the fact that he is comparing them, not with those of Aeschylus, but with those of Euripides, whose choral odes have generally very little to do with the business of the play.

By these changes Sophocles made the tragedy a drama in the proper sense of the word. The interest and progress of the piece centred almost entirely in the actions and speeches of the persons on the stage. A necessary consequence of this alteration, combined with the addition of the third actor, was a much more careful elaboration of the dialogue; and the care bestowed upon this part of the composition is one of the most striking features of the art of Sophocles, whether we regard the energy and point of the conversations which take place upon the stage, or the vivid pictures of actions occurring elsewhere, which are drawn in the speeches of the messengers.

It must not, however, be imagined for a moment that, in bestowing so much care upon the dialogue, and confining the choral parts within their proper limits, Sophocles was careless as to the mode in which he executed the latter. On the contrary, he appears as if determined to use his utmost efforts to compensate in the beauty of his odes for what he had taken away from their length. His early attainments in music, -- the period in which his lot was cast, when the great cycle of lyric poetry had been completed, and he could take Simonides and Pindar as the starting points of his efforts, -- the majestic choral poetry of his great predecessor and rival, Aeschylus, which he regarded rather as a standard to be surpassed than as a pattern to be imitated, - combined with his own genius and exquisite taste to give birth to those brief but perfect effusions of lyric poetry, the undisturbed enjoyment of which was reckoned by Aristophanes as among the choicest fruits of peace (Pax, 523).

Another alteration of the greatest consequence, which, though it was perhaps not originated by Sophocles, he was the first to convert into a general practice, was the abandonment of the trilogistic form, in so far at least as the continuity of subject was concerned. In obedience to the established custom at the Dionysiac festivals, Sophocles appears generally to have brought forward three tragedies and a satyric drama together; but the subjects of these four plays were entirely distinct, and each was complete in itself. 4

Among the merely mechanical improvements introduced by Sophocles, the most important is that of scene-painting, the invention of which is ascribed to him. (See AGATHARCHUS.)

All these external and formal arrangements had necessarily the most important influence on the whole spirit and character of the tragedies of Sophocles ; as, in the works of every-first rate artist, the form is a part of the substance. But it remains to notice the most essential features of the art of the great tragedian, namely, his choice of subjects, and the spirit in which he treated them.

The subjects and style of Aeschylus are essentially heroic; those of Sophocles are human. The former excite terror, pity, and admiration, as we view them at a distance; the latter bring those same feelings home to the heart, with the addition of sympathy and self-application. No individual human being can imagine himself in the position of Prometheus, or derive a personal warning from the crimes and fate of Clytemnestra; but every one can, in feeling, share the self-devotion of Antigone in giving up her life at the call of fraternal piety, and the calmness which comes over the spirit of Oedipus when he is reconciled to the gods. In Aeschylus, the sufferers are the victims of an inexorable destiny; but Sophocles brings more prominently into view those faults of their own, which form one element of the ἄτη of which they are the victims, and is more intent upon inculcating, as the lesson taught by their woes, that wise calmness and moderation, in desires and actions, in prosperity and adversity, which the Greek poets and philosophers celebrate under the name of σωφροσύνη. On the other hand, he never descends to that level to which Euripides brought down the art, the exhibition of human passion and suffering for the mere purpose of exciting emotion in the spectators, apart from a moral end. The great distinction between the two poets is defined by Aristotle, in that passage of the Poetic (6. §§ 12, foll.) which may be called the great text of aesthetic philosophy, and in which, though the names of Sophocles and Euripides are not mentioned, there can be no doubt that the statement that " the tragedies of most of the more recent poets are unethical" is meant to apply to Euripides, and that the contrast, which he proceeds to illustrate by a comparison of Polygnotus and Zeuxis in the art of painting, is intended to describe the difference between the two poets, for in another passage of the Poetic (26.11) he quotes with approbation the saying of Sophocles, that "he himself represented men as they ought to be, but Euripides exhibited them as they are ;" a remark, by the bye, which as coming from the mouth of Sophocles himself, exposes the absurdity of those opponents of aesthetic science, who sneer at it as if it ascribed to the great poets of antiquity moral and artistic purposes of which they themselves never dreamt. It is quite true that the earliest and some of the mightiest efforts of genius are to a great extent (though never, we believe, entirely) unconscious; and even such productions are governed by laws, written in the human mind and instinctively followed by the poet, laws which it is the task and glory of aesthetic science to trace out in the works of those writers who followed them unconsciously; but such productions, however magnificent they may be, are never so perfect, in every respect, as the works of the poet who, possessing equal genius, consciously and laboriously works out the great principles of his art. It is in this respect that Sophocles surpasses Aeschylus; his works are perhaps not greater, nay, in native sublimity and spontaneous genius they are perhaps inferior, but they are more perfect ; and that for the very reason now stated, and which Sophocles himself explained, when he said, "Aeschylus does what is right, but without knowing it." The faults in Aeschylus, which Sophocles perceived and endeavoured to avoid, are pointed out in a valuable passage preserved by Plutarch (de Prof. Virt. p. 79b.). The limits of this article will not permit us to enlarge any further on the ethical character of Sophocles, which is discussed and illustrated at great length in some of the works referred to above, and also in Schlegel's Lectures on Dramatic Art and Criticism, where the reader will find an elaborate comparison between the three great tragic poets (Lect. 5). We will only add, in conclusion, that if asked for the most perfect illustration of Aristotle's definition of the end of tragedy as δἰ ἐλέου καὶ φόβου περαίνουσα τὴν τῶν τοιούτων παθημάτων κάθαρσιν (Poet. 6. § 2), we would point to the Oedipus at Colonus of Sophocles, and we would recommend, as one of the most useful exercises in the study of aesthetic criticism, the comparison of that tragedy with the Eumenides of Aeschylus and the Lear of our own Shakspere.


4. The Works of Sophocles.

The number of plays ascribed to Sophocles was 130, of which, however, according to Aristophanes of Byzantium, seventeen were spurious. He contended not only with Aeschylus and Euripides, but also Choerilus Aristias, Agathon, and other poets, amongst whom was his own son Iophon; and he carried off the first prize twenty or twenty-four times frequently the second, and never the third. (Vit. Anon. ; Suid. s. v.) It is remarkable, as proving his growing activity and success, that, of his 113 dramas, eighty-one were brought out in the second of the two periods into which his career is divided by the exhibition of the Antigone, which was his thirty-second play (Aristoph. Byz. Argum. ad Antig.); and also that all his extant dramas, which of course in the judgment of the grammarians were his best, belong to the latter of these two periods. By comparing the number of his plays with the sixty-two years over which his career extended, and also the number belonging to each of the two periods, Müller obtains the result that he at first brought out a tetralogy every three or four years, but afterwards every two years at least; and also that in several of the tetralogies the satyric drama must have been lost, or never existed, laid that, among those 113 plays there could only have been, at the most, 23 satyric dramas to 90 tragedies (Hist. Lit. pp. 339, 340). The attempt has been made to divide the extant plays and titles of Sophocles into trilogies; but, as might have been expected from what has been said above respecting the nature of his trilogies, it has signally failed. A much more important arrangement has been very elaborately attempted by Welcker (Griech. Tragöd.), namely, the classification of the extant plays and fragments according to the poems of the Epic Cycle on which they were founded.

The following is most probably the chronological order in which the seven extant tragedies of Sophocles were brought out :

  • Antigone
  • Electra
  • Trachiniae
  • Oedipus Tyrannus
  • Ajax
  • Philoctetes
  • Oedipus at Colonus
It is unnecessary to attempt an analysis of these plays, partly because every scholar has read or will read them for himself, and partly because they are admirably analysed in works so generally read as Müller's History of the Literature of Ancient Greece, and Schlegel's Lectures. Neither will our space permit us to yield to the temptation of entering fully into the much disputed question of the object and meaning of the Antigone ; respecting which the reader may consult the editions of the Antigone by Böckh, Wex, Hermann, and Donaldson; articles by Mr. Dyer, in the Classical Museum, vol. ii. pp. 69. foll., vol. iii. pp. 176, foll.; and articles by G. Wolff, in the Zeitschrift für Alterthumswissenchaft for 1846, reviewing the recent works upon the Antigone. It must suffice here to remark that we believe both the extreme views to be equally remote from the truth ; that the play is not intended to support exclusively the rights of law in the person of Creon or those of liberty in the person of Antigone, but to exhibit the claims of both, to show them brought into collision when each is forced beyond the bounds of moderation; or, to speak more properly, the collision is not between law and liberty, but between the two laws of the family and the state, of religious duty and civil obedience. Neither party is entirely in the right or entirely in the wrong. The fault of Creon is in the issuing of a harsh and impious decree, that of Antigone in rashly and obstinately refusing to submit to it ; and therefore each falls a victim to a conflict of the two laws for and against which they strive; while both, as well as Haemon, are involved by their individual acts in the more general and antecedent ἄτη which rests upon the royal family of Thebes. At the same time, this does not appear to be all that is contained in the drama. The greater fault is on the side of Creon. Antigone would have been perfectly in the right to disobey his edict, if all means of obtaining its repeal had been exhausted, although even then strict law might perhaps have required her martyrdom as the price of her fraternal piety; and perhaps, on the other hand, the poet meant to teach that there are cases in which law must give way, to avert the fearful consequences arising from its strict enforcement. At all events, it is clear that the sympathy of the poet and of the spectators is with Antigone, though they are constrained to confess that she is not entirely guiltless, nor Creon altogether guilty. But still we think that this sympathy with Antigone is only secondary to the lesson taught by the faults and ruin of both, a lesson which the poet has himself distinctly pointed out in the final words of the chorus,--τὸ φρονεῖν, as opposed to the μεγάλοι λόγοι of self-will, an indulgence in which, even in the cause of piety towards the gods, brings down μεγάλας πληγάς as a retribution.

The titles and fragments of the lost plays of Sophocles will be found collected in the chief editions, and in Welcker's Griechischen Tragödien.

In addition to his tragedies, Sophocles is said to have written an elegy, paeans, and other poems, and a prose work on the Chorus, in opposition to Thespis and Choerilus. (Suid. s. v.


5. Ancient Commentators on Sophocles.

In the Scholia, the commentators are quoted by the general title of οἱ ὑπομνηματισται, or οἱ ὑπομνηματισάμενοι. Among those cited by name, or to whom commentaries on Sophocles are ascribed by other authorities, are Aristarchus, Praxiphanes, Didymus, Herodian, Horapollon, Androtion, and Aristophanes of Byzantium. The question of the value of the Scholia is discussed by Wunder, de Schol. in Soph. Auctoritate, Grimae, 1838, 4to., and Wolff, de Sophoclis Scholiorum Laur. Variis Lectionibus, Lips. 1843, 8vo.


6. Editions of the Plays of Sophocles.

The Editio Princeps is that of Aldus, 1502, 8vo., and there were numerous other editions printed in the 16th century, the best of which are those of H. Stephanus, Paris, 1568, 4to., and of G. Canterus Antwerp, 1579, 12mo., both founded on the text of Turnebus. None of the subsequent editions deserve any particular notice, until we come to those of Brunck, in 4 vols. 8vo., Argentor. 1786-1789, and in 2 vols. 4to., Argentor. 1786; both editions containing the Greek text with a Latin version, and the Scholia and Indices. The text of Brunck, which was founded on that of Aldus, has formed the foundation of all the subsequent editions, of which the following are the most important : that of Musgrave, with Scholia, Notes, and Indices, Oxon. 1800, 1801, 2 vols. 8vo., reprinted Oxon. 1809-1810, 3 vols. 8vo.; that of Erfurdt, with Scholia, Notes, and Indices, Lips. 1802-1825, 7 vols. 8vo.; (the valuable notes of Erfurdt to all the tragedies, except the Oedipus at Colonus, were reprinted in a separate volume, in London, 1824, 8vo.); that of Bothe, who re-edited Brunck's edition, but with many rash changes in the text, Lips, 1806, 2 vols. 8vo., last edition, 1827, 1828 ; that of Hermann, who completed a new edition, which Erfurdt commenced, but only lived to publish the first two volumes, Lips. 1809-1825, 7 vols. sin. 8vo.; Hermann's entirely new revision of Brunck's edition, with additional Notes, &c., Lips. 1823-1825, 7 vols. 8vo.; the edition of Schneider, with German Notes and a Lexicon, Weimar, 1823-1830, 10 vols. 8vo.; the London reprint of Brunck's edition, with the Notes of Burney and Schaefer, 1824, 3 vols. 8vo.; the edition of Elmsley, with the Notes of Brunck and Schaefer, Lexicon Sophocleum, &c. Oxon. 1826, 2 vols. 8vo.; reprinted, Lips. 1827, 8 vols. 8vo.; that of the text alone by Dindorf, in the Poetae Scenici Graeci, Lips. 1830, 8vo. 5, reprinted at Oxford, 1832, with the addition of a volume of Notes, 1836, 8vo.; that of Ahrens, containing the text, after Dindorf, with a revised Latin version, by L. Benloew, the Fragments after Welcker, and new Indices, in Didot's Bibliotheca Scriptorum Graecorum, Paris, 1842-1844, imp. 8vo.; and lastly, by far the most useful edition for the ordinary student is that by Wonder, in Jacobs and Rost's Bibliotheca Graeca, containing the text, with critical and explanatory notes and introductions, Gothae et Erfurdt, 1831-1846, 2 vols. 8vo. in 7 parts, and with a supplemental part of emendations to the Trachiniae, Grimae, 1841, 8vo.

For a list of the editions of separate plays, and of the editions not noticed above, the reader is referred to Hoffmann's Lexicon Bibliographicum Scriptorum Graecorum.

Among the numerous translations of Sophocles, very few have been at all successful. There are English versions by Franklin, Lond. 1758; Potter, Lond. 1788; and Dale, 1824. The best German translations are those of Solger, Berlin, 1808, 1824, 2 vols. 8vo., and Fritz, Berlin, 1843, 8vo. Among the translations of separate plays, those of the Antigone, by Böckh and Donaldson, interpaged in their respective editions, deserve notice; Böckh, Berlin, 1843, 8vo.; Donaldson, London, 1848, 8vo.

A nearly complete list of the works illustrating Sophocles will be found in Hoffmann's Lexicon. They are far too numerous to be mentioned here ; but it would be wrong to pass over the one, which is the most useful of them all for understanding the language of the author, namely Ellendt's Lexicon Sophocleum, Regimont. Pruss. (Königsberg) 1835, 2 vols. 8vo.

1 * The occasion with which Plutarch connects this anecdote is the Sicilian expedition; but we have no other evidence that Sophocles was engaged in that war, nor is it at all probable; still the anecdote may be true in substance, though its time is misplaced.

2 * It has, however, been doubted whether this Sophocles was not another person (See below, No. 4).

3 * Suidas mentions three other sons -- Leosthenes, Stephanus, and Menecleides -- of whom we know nothing.

4 * No blunder can be more gross than to speak of the Oedipus Tyrannus, the Oedipus at Colonus, and the Antigone as a trilogy. They have no dramatic continuity whatever; they were composed at three different and distinct periods, and the last was the first exhibited.

5 * An entirely new edition of this invaluable work has been for some time announced as forthcoming.

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