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Antigone (The Oedipus Plays) | Study Guide


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Sophocles | Biography


Little is known about Sophocles, though he is considered one of the greatest Greek playwrights. He wrote more than 120 plays—though all but seven have been lost to time. His career spanned decades, from c. 468 BCE to his death in c. 406 BCE, when he would have been in his 90s.

Born sometime around 496 BCE at Colonus, near Athens, Greece, Sophocles won many prizes for his plays, beating out other legendary Greek playwrights such as Aeschylus, who was a mentor to him. Sophocles came from a wealthy family and was influential politically as well as culturally, serving as a general in a number of Greek battles in the role of a diplomat and probouloi, or adviser. The most famous and well known among his remaining works are the three Theban plays—Antigone, Oedipus Rex, and Oedipus at Colonus. Earlier plays had two actors who could play two different characters each if need be. However, by introducing a third actor Sophocles achieved the freedom to make his storylines more complex. He was also innovative in using backdrops in the form of painted sceneries for his plays, which added richness and detail to the performances.

Sophocles's plays provide great insight into ancient Greek life, particularly its religious, political, and cultural aspects. His wealthy background, high education, and revered standing in the Athens community as both a playwright and military adviser aided his nuanced understanding of ancient Greek life and the conflicts its citizens faced. Antigone demonstrates the struggle between politics and justness with regard to morality, which were prominent concerns of ancient Greeks.

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