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The question as to the date
Date of the play.
of the Antigone has a biographical no less than a literary interest. It is probable that the play was first produced at the Great Dionysia towards the end of March, 441 B.C. This precise date is, indeed, by no means certain; but all the evidence indicates that, at any rate, the years 442 and 441 B.C. give the probable limits. According to the author of the first Argument to the play, the success of the Antigone had led to Sophocles obtaining the office of general, which he held in an expedition against Samos. Athens sent two expeditions to Samos in 440 B.C. (1) The occasion of the first expedition was as follows. Samos and Miletus had been at war for the possession of Prienè, a place on the mainland not far from Miletus. The Milesians, having been worsted, denounced the Samians to the Athenians; who required that both parties should submit their case at Athens. This the Samians refused to do. The Athenians then sent forty ships to Samos,—put down the oligarchy there,—and established a democracy in its place1. (2) The second expedition had to deal with Samos in open rebellion. The Samian oligarchs had come back,—overthrown the new democracy,—and proclaimed a revolt from Athens, in which Byzantium joined. Pericles was one of the ten generals for the year. He sailed at once to Samos, with sixty ships. All his nine colleagues went with him. When they reached Samos, sixteen of the sixty ships were detached on special service,—partly to watch the Carian coast, partly to summon aid from the two great islands to the
The strategia of Sophocles.
north, Chios and Lesbos. Sophocles, who was one of the ten generals, was sent on the mission to these islands.

‘I met Sophocles, the poet, at Chios, when he was sailing as general to Lesbos.’ These are the words of Ion, the poet and prose-writer—who was only some twelve years younger than Sophocles—in a fragment preserved by Athenaeus2. The occasion of the meeting was a dinner given to Sophocles at Chios by Hermesilaus, a friend of his who acted as Athenian ‘proxenus’ there. Now, there is not the smallest real ground for questioning the genuineness of this fragment3. And its genuineness is confirmed by internal evidence. Sophocles said at the dinner-party,—alluding to a playful ruse by which he had amused the company,—that he was practising generalship, as Pericles had said that he was a better poet than general. The diplomatic mission to Chios and Lesbos was a service in which Pericles might very naturally utilize the abilities of his gifted, though unmilitary colleague. There is another trait which has not (to my knowledge) been noticed, but which seems worth remarking, as the coincidence is one which is not likely to have been contrived by a forger. It is casually mentioned that, at this dinner-party, an attendant was standing ‘near the fire,’ and the couch of Sophocles, the chief guest, was also near it. The warm season, then, had not begun. Now we know that Pericles sailed for Samos early in 440 B.C., before the regular season for navigation had yet opened4.

If the fragment of Ion is authentic, then it is certain that Sophocles held the strategia, and certain also that he held it in 440 B.C.: for Ion's mention of Lesbos cannot possibly be referred to the revolt of that island from Athens in 428 B.C. Apart from the fragment of Ion, however, there is good Attic authority for the tradition. Androtion, whose Atthis was written about 280 B.C., gave the names of the ten generals at Samos on this occasion. His list5 includes Pericles, and ‘Sophocles, the poet, of Colonus.’

Later writers refer to the poet's strategia as if it were a generally accepted fact6.

1 The Greek life of Sophocles says that he served as general ‘in the war against the Anaeans’ (“ἀναίους”). Anaea was a place on the mainland, near Prienè. Boeckh supposes that the first expedition was known as ‘the Anaean war,’ and that Sophocles took part in it as well as in the second expedition. To me, I confess, there seems to be far more probability in the simple supposition that “ἀναίους” is a corruption of “σαμίους”.

2 p. 603 E. Miller, Frag. Hist. II. 46.

3 Arguments against the genuineness have been brought, indeed, by Ritter Fr.(Vorgebliche Strategie d. Sophokles gegen Samos: Rhein. Mus., 1843, pp. 187 ff.). (1) Ion represents Sophocles as saying,—“Περικλῆς ποιεῖν με ἔφη, στρατηγεῖν δ᾽ οὐκ ἐπίστασθαι”. Sophocles (Ritter argues) would have said “φησί”, not “ἔφη”, if Pericles had been alive. The forger of the fragment intended it to refer to the revolt of Lesbos in 428 B.C.,—forgetting that Sophocles would then be 78. But we reply:—The tense, “ἔφη”, can obviously refer to the particular occasion on which the remark was made: ‘Pericles said so [when I was appointed, or when we were at Samos together].’ (2) Ion says of Sophocles, “οὐ ῥεκτήριος ἦν”. This (says Ritter) implies that Sophocles was dead; who, however, long survived Ion. [Ion was dead in 421 B.C., Aristoph. Pax 835.] But here, again, the tense merely refers to the time at which the writer received the impression. We could say of a living person, ‘he was an agreeable man’—meaning that we found him so when we met him.

4 See Curtius, Hist. Gr. II. 472 (Eng. tr.).

5 This fragment of Androtion has been preserved by the schol. on Aristeides, vol. 3, p. 485 (Dind.). Müller, Frag. Hist. IV. 645. The names of two of the ten generals are wanting in the printed texts, but have since been restored, from the MS., by Wilamowitz, De Rhesi Scholiis, P. 13 (Greifswald, 1877). I have observed a remarkable fact in regard to Androtion's list, which ought to be mentioned, because it might be urged against the authenticity of the list, though (in my opinion) such an inference from it would be unfair. Androtion gives (1) the names, (2) the demes of the Generals, but not their tribes. The regular order of precedence for the ten Cleisthenean tribes was this:— 1. Erectheis. 2. Aegeis. 3. Pandionis. 4. Leontis. 5. Acamantis. 6. Oeneis. 7. Cecropis. 8. Hippothontis. 9. Aeantis. 10. Antiochis. Now take the demes named by Androtion. His list will be found to follow this order of the ten tribes,— with one exception, and it is in the case of Sophocles. His deme, Colonus, belonged to the Antiochis, and therefore his name ought to have come last. But Androtion puts it second. The explanation is simple. When the ten tribes were increased to twelve, by the addition of the Antigonis and Demetrias (in or about 307 B.C.), some of the demes were transferred from one tribe to another. Among these was the deme of Colonus. It was transferred from the Antiochis, the tenth on the roll, to the Aegeis, the second on the roll. Hence Androtion's order is correct for his own time (c. 280 B.C.), but not correct for 440 B.C. It is quite unnecessary, however, to infer that he invented or doctored the list. It is enough to suppose that he re-adjusted the order, so as to make it consistent in the eyes of his contemporaries.

6 The Argument to this play, and the “Βίος Σοφοκλέους”, have already been cited. See also (1) Strabo 14. p. 638 “Ἀθηναῖοι δὲ...πέμψαντες στρατηγὸν Περικλέα καὶ σὺν αὐτῷ Σοφοκλέα τὸν ποιητὴν κακῶς διέθηκαν ἀπειθοῦντας τοὺς Σαμίους”. (2) Schol. on Aristoph. Pax 696λέγεται δὲ ὅτι ἐκ τῆς στρατηγίας τῆς ἐν Σάμῳ ἠγυρίσατο” (“ Σοφοκλῆς”). (3) Suidas s.v. “Μέλητος” [but referring to the Samian “Μέλισσος”: cp. Diog. L. 9. 24] “ὑπὲρ Σαμίων στρατηγήσας ἐναυμάχησε πρὸς Σοφοκλῆν τὸν τραγικόν, ὀλυμπιάδι πδ́” (Ol. 84 = 444-441 B.C.).—The theory that Sophocles the poet was confused with Sophocles son of Sostratides, strategus in 425 B.C. (Thuc. 3.115), is quite incompatible with the ancient evidence.

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (3):
    • Aristophanes, Peace, 696
    • Aristophanes, Peace, 835
    • Thucydides, Histories, 3.115
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