Fiction > Harvard Classics > Sophocles > Oedipus the King
Sophocles (c.496 B.C.–406 B.C.).  Oedipus the King.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Introductory Note
SOPHOCLES, the most perfectly balanced among the three great masters of Greek tragedy, was born in Colonus, near Athens, about 495 B. C. His father was a man of wealth, and the poet received the best education of the time, being especially distinguished in music. He began his career as a PARAtist at the age of twenty-seven, when he gained a victory over Æschylus; and from that time till his death in 405 B. C. he retained the foremost place as a writer of tragedy. Like a true Greek, he played his part in public affairs, both in peace and in war, and served his country as a diplomat and as a general. He was profoundly admired by his contemporaries for character as well as genius, and after his death was honored as a hero with annual sacrifices. His son, Iophon, and his grandson, Sophocles, both gained distinction as tragic poets.  1
  Besides lyrics, elegies, and epigrams, Sophocles is said to have composed upward of one hundred and twenty plays, one hundred of which are known by name, but only seven have come down to us entire. These are the “Trachiniæ,” dealing with the death of Heracles; “Ajax,” “Philoctetes,” “Electra,” “Œdipus Rex,” “Œdipus at Colonus,” and Antigone.”  2
  The development of tragedy by Æschylus was continued by Sophocles, who introduced a third actor and, later, a fourth; reduced still further the importance of the chorus, and elaborated the costumes of the players. He did not, like Æschylus, write trilogies which carried one story through three plays, but made each work complete in itself. The art of clear and full characterization was carried to a pitch of perfection by him, the figures in the plays of Æschylus being in comparison rather drawings in outline, while those of Euripides are frequently direct transcripts from real life, without the idealization given by Sophocles. With his restraint, his balance, his clearness of vision, his aptness in the fitting of means to ends, and the beauty of his style, he stands as the most perfect example in literature of the characteristic excellences of the Greek artist. In the two PARAs here given will be found illustrations of these qualities at their highest.  3


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