Sophocles was the great Greek playwright of over 120 plays, seven of which are surviving today.
What was the great Greek playwright Sophocles’ childhood like? Did he always have fame, fortune, and talent? Or did he grow up in a slum much like many talents today? We can look at many aspects of his life and works, including his early childhood, his style and form of writing, and his surviving works today.
Sophocles was born to an opulent merchant, Sophilus, around 495 B.C.E. From childhood he had the world at his feet. He grew up in Colonus, Greece; located one mile from the great Athens. He enjoyed all the luxuries of the bright renaissance of art in Athens from the time he was born unill his death. Name an art form;e studied it.
When he was a mere sixteen, he was known as the beautiful boy with all the talent in the world, the most likely to succeed. He was the leader of the choir, the one who won numerous awards for his skills in music and wrestling. Twelve years later, when he was finished with his schooling, Sophocles headed off to compete in the City Dionysia. As soon as he entered the Theatre of Dionysus it was obvious that Aeschylus had competition. In the his first try Sophocles took first prize.
Style and Writing Form
Sophocles’ unique style was particularly interesting. As he grew up and developed as a playwright his style changed. He went through three phases.In the first phase he fashioned his writings after those of Aeschylus, which dealt mainly with the relationship between man and the gods. The second phase was described as artificial in style.
The third phase was the one all of the existing plays come from today. This used characters under moral pressure. Sophocles has been credited for several things in the development of theatre, including abandoning the trilogy form, adding an extra speaking role, enlarging the chorus with three extra members, and using painted scenery.
This kind of historical figure doesn’t go fade out of history. Today seven of his writings are still being published and read by millions every day. His most famous of the seven are the Theban Plays, also known as the the Oedipus CycleThese were each part of a trilogy, of which the other parts have been lost. The Oedipus Cycle includes Antigone, Oedipus the King (Oedipus Tyrannus), and Oedipus at Colonus. Other than the three Theban Plays, the four other full-length surviving plays are Ajax, The Trachiniae, Electra, and Philoctetes, the last of which won first prize at the city Dionysia.
Only two portraits exist of Sophocles from the past. These include a painting in Stoa, and a bronze statue said to have characteristics of the times of Alexander the Great.
Sophocles was truly a talented and unique playwright. He alone changed the theatre arts to a more complex developed art. He changed this form of art from the time he was that little golden child who was perfect and beautiful to the time he died in 406, at over 90 years old. Yet even after death his work lives on in the history of theatre as a main developer and playwright. Some people say his works reflected his own lifestyle; his style and drive made Sophocles successful to the end.
- Minute History of the Drama. Alice B. Fort & Herbert S. Kates. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935. p. 16.