Sophocles, a Greek tragic poet, born in the Attic village of Colonus in 496 or 495 B. C, died probably in 406. He was about 30 years younger than Aeschylus, and 15 years older than Euripides. Having gained the prize of a garland both in music and gymnastics, he was selected for his beauty and musical skill in his 16th year to lead, naked, anointed, and with lyre in hand, the chorus which danced and sang around the trophy in the celebration of the victory of Salamis. In 468 he first came forward as a competitor in a dramatic contest, having Aeschylus for his rival. The representation was at the great Dionysia, presided over by the first archon; the judges were Cimon and his colleagues who had just returned from the conquest of Scyros, bringing with them the bones of Theseus; the play presented by Sophocles was probably the "Triptolemus," celebrating the Eleusinian hero as a patriot and civilizer; the public interest and expectation were strongly excited; and the first prize, which for a whole generation had belonged to Aesehylus, was now awarded to his youthful rival. From this time to 441 he is said to have written 31 plays. In 440 "Antigone," his earliest extant drama, gained the prize, and so delighted the Athenians that they elected him one of the ten strategi for the ensuing year.
Ue engaged as the colleague of Pericles in the Samian expedition, but neither achieved nor sought military reputation. He was familiar with Herodotus, and wrote a poem in his honor. Ruhnken supposes that it was not the poet, but an orator of the same name, who after the destruction of the Sicilian army in 413 favored the oligarchical movement and was appointed one of the ten πρό-βουλοι. Sophocles refused repeated invitations to leave Athens and reside at foreign courts. During the 34 years following the success of "Antigone" he produced 81 dramas. Contending, besides .Aesehylus, with Euripides, Choerilus, Aristias, Agathon, and his own son Iophon, ho gained the first prize 20 or 24 times, and the second in all other cases. At an advanced age he filled the office of priest to the native hero Halon. There is no certain authority for any of the accounts' of his death, that he was choked by a grape, that he sustained his voice so long in publicly reading the " Antigone " as to lose his breath and life together, or that he died of joy on obtaining a dramatic victory.
It has been said that he combined all the qualities which, in the judgment of a Greek, would make up a perfect character: beauty and symmetry of person, mastery alike in music and gymnastics, spontaneity of genius andfaultlessness of taste, constitutional repose, a habit of tranquil meditation, a ready wit, and an amiable demeanor.- Sophocles is placed by the universal consent of ancient and modern critics at the head of the Greek drama, His tragedies hold the just mean between the vague and solemn sublimity of Aesehylus and the familiar scenes and rhetorical pathos of Euripides, presenting the characters of men worthy of sympathy and admiration, while the former delighted in religious themes fit to inspire awe, and the latter abounds in unpoetical disquisition and immoral vehemence of passion. He illustrates the age of Pericles, intervening between that of the heroes of Marathon and Salamis and that of the sophists. Of all his dramas only seven have been preserved, to which Midler assigns the following chronological order: "Antigone," "Electra," "Trachinian Women," "King Oedipus," "Ajax," "Philoctetes," and "Oedipus at Colonus." They all belong to the latter period of his life and reveal his art in its full maturity, and several of them were esteemed by the ancients among his greatest works.
The "Oedipus at Colonus" was first brought out by his grandson after his death. There are also fragments and titles of his lost plays. The editio princeps of Sophocles is that of Aldus (1502).
The text of Turnebus's edition (1533) served as a basis for the subsequent editions of Henry Stephens (1568), Canterus (1579), and others, until the edition of Brunck (2 vols., Strasburg, 1786), which is the basis of all later editions. Among the best are those of Hermann (4th ed., Leipsic, 1851), Dindorf (new ed., Leipsic, 1867), Tourneur (Paris, 1873), Schneidewin (4th ed. by Nauck, Berlin, 1873), Campbell (Oxford, 1873-'4), Blaydes (London, 1873-'4), and White (Boston, 1874). The best translations are: in German, by Jordan (Berlin, 1862), Scholl (new ed., Leipsic, 1871), and Donner (7th ed., Leipsic, 1873); in French, by Fayart (Paris, 1849), Artaud (6th ed., 1862), and Per-sonneaux (2d ed., 1874); and in English, by Adams (London, 1729), Franklin (1758-'9), Potter (1788), Dale (1824), Buckley (Bohn's "Classical Library," 1849), Plumptre (1866-'71), Collins ("Ancient Classics for English Headers," London and Philadelphia, 1873), and Campbell (1874).