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Sophocles | Biography

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Sophocles was likely born in Attica or Colonus around 496 BCE. His father, Sophilus, was a wealthy armor maker who ensured that his son received the best possible education. Not only well-educated, but handsome, athletic, and musically talented, Sophocles held various public offices in Athens. He acted as treasurer, overseeing the tributes paid to the city-state from its Delian League subject-allies. Later he became a military commander, or stratēgos, working closely with the influential Athenian leader Pericles. Sophocles also led a number of public choral celebrations and tributes. He continued to serve in public offices well into his eighties. Sophocles died in 406 BCE at roughly 90 years of age.

As a playwright Sophocles was the most successful of the competitors in the annual Greek drama festival called Great Dionysia, which he entered about 30 times, placing first at least 18 times and otherwise placing second. Unfortunately, although Sophocles wrote more than 120 plays, we have complete versions of only seven. Electra was probably among his later works.

Sophocles was a great innovator in drama. For example he added a third actor to the cast, which increased the number of characters who could appear in any given scene, enabling him to craft more sophisticated interactions and heighten dramatic conflict. He also introduced the use of painted scenes and props to elaborate on a play's setting. He also was the first to use props as symbols.

Sophocles also delved into the psyches of his characters to explore their emotions and their flaws. He deepened this focus on the humanity of his characters when he broke with the tradition of using three plays to tell a story. Instead he packed all the action and emotion into one, increasing the intensity of his characters' emotions. Sophocles may have also shifted the role of the chorus. Some attribute the increasing size of the chorus to Sophocles, but later plays like Electra make relatively little use of the chorus and align the choral odes more closely with the action of the play than is the case in more traditional tragedies.

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