sophocles biography and overview of oedipus rex (key details)


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•496 – 406 B. C.•a playwright who lived a long, comfortable, happy life•grew up in a wealthy family in ATHENS, GREECE

Sophocles•his dramatic work portrayed misery and tragedy•reflected his strong religious beliefs and beliefs in Gods/Fate of his culture•considered a master of artistic development of incident, using feelings, culminating interest up to final crisis, crushing blow of catastrophe


•By age 16, he was already known for his attractiveness, grace, and was chosen to lead a boys’ choir•In his first competition, he took first prize, defeating Aeschylus the great playwright•He won 18 first prizes, and never failed to take at least second


•An accomplished actor, he performed in many of his own plays•His weak voice forced him to give up acting•Additional roles included acting as ordained priest, serving on Board of Generals, and being director of the Treasury


One of the great innovators of Greek theater, he: •Was first to add a third actor•Abolished the trilogic form – made each tragedy a complete entity, unlike Aeschylus•Credited with inventing scene-painting•Reduced Chorus size to 12-15

Sophocles•Of his remaining 7 plays, Oedipus the King is considered his greatest work•Explores the depths of modern psycho-analysis as Oedipus unwittingly kills his father and marries his mother•A masterful work of plot & suspense, it also employs allusion and dramatic irony


•Oedipus the King is often heralded as a ‘perfectly structured’ play•Oedipus the King is part of three plays – Antigone (written first), Oedipus the King, and Oedipus of Colonus (405 B.C. written last)


•the age of Sophocles in Greece was a time when anything seemed possible through human effort and reason

Conditions – Ancient Greece

•toward the end of Sophocles’ life, Athens raged war against Sparta, their bitter rivals•there also was a bad plague in 430 B.C.

Conditions - Ancient Greece

• City/States – early Democracy emerging

• Culture – slavery/infanticide• Gods/Fate – religious beliefs• Civics/civic duty important

Sophocles• Called the poet of

Greek humanism• Unlike Aeschylus who

saw myth as an important vehicle for ideas, man’s relation-ship to Gods (tragedy of SITUATION)


• Sophocles’ plays dealt with men and showed how man reacts under stress (tragedy of CHARACTER)

• Plays depict characters caught up in unsolvable dilemmas that test their faith in divine and human justice

Sophocles - Focus• Brings up the question of JUSTICE• Why is there irrational evil in the

world?• Why does the very man who is

basically GOOD suffer intolerably?• ANSWER: balance, order, justice

(dike); the world is orderly and follows natural laws

Sophocles - Focus

• No matter how good or how well intentioned, if Man violates natural law he will be punished and he will suffer

• KEY = Human knowledge is limited, but there is nobility in human suffering

“Oedipus Rex” – Key Facts

• Written approx. 430 B.C.• Plot – linear• Setting – Thebes, over

course of 1 day• Point of View – dramatic• Protagonist – Oedipus, King

of Thebes


•MAIN: •The Limits of Free Will

•The Willingness to Ignore the Truth

Limits of Free Will • Overview

– Prophecy is CENTRAL to the story– Key characters debate the extent to which

prophecies should be trusted– Sophocles’ reinforces/justifies the power of the

Gods, prophets (how?)– Can be showing that:

• Error/disaster can happen to anyone

• Humans are relatively powerless before FATE/Gods

• A cautious humility is the BEST attitude toward life

Willingness to Ignore the Truth

• Oedipus embraces any detail in hopes it will exonerate him

• Seeking the truth is his only motivation (so he believes = illusion)

• Info in key speeches intended to reveal IRONY, but ---– Also emphasizes how desperately key

characters try to avoid the obvious truth

THEMES Cont’d.

•SUBTHEMES: •Quest for identity and truth

•Nature of innocence and guilt

•Nature of moral respon- sibility

Sophocles’ STYLE

• Subjects – only those who figured in ancient legends or epic poems

• IF an inferior character appears, it is only an instrument of IRONY

• Reflect his own strong religious temperament, as well as his reverence for Greeks gods (whom he felt inspired him)

• Contrasts the struggles of humanity with the irresistible march of Fate

Sophocles’ STYLE• Odes were distinguished by their

close connection with the play itself, correctness of their sentiments, and beauty of their lines

• Odes bring an additional viewpoint to the play (voice of audience)

• Odes offer broader, more socio-religious perspective than those offered by individual characters

Sophocles’ STYLE

• Language – sometimes harsh and involved, yet grand and majestic; AVOIDS massive phrasing of Aeschylus and commonplace diction of Euripedes

• Reflects use of: imagery, foreshadowing, allusion, dramatic irony


•References to light and darkness to predict the future

Ex. of Imagery

•The priest says at the beginning: “…All the house of Kadmos is laid waste; all emptied, and all darkened…”

Ex. of Imagery

•Oedipus promises Creon: “…Then once more I must bring what is dark to light…”


• Because the audience already knows the legend/story of Oedipus – - details such as dialogue, Choral responses, etc. provide key clues as to future events in the play…

Ex. of Foreshadowing•Teiresias tells Oedipus:“…But I say that you, with both your eyes, are blind. You cannot see the wretchedness of your life…”

Allusion• Zeus, Apollo, Black God of Death: Hades,

and the Sphinx • Apollo gives the prophecy to Oedipus and

Creon (everyone knows that Apollo has absolute knowledge in world of mythology)

• The Sphinx – mythological creature• Hades• Zeus only has a small part (and Apollo

speaks for him)

Dramatic Irony

• Heightens audience response to actions of the story

• Reinforces audience empathy for Oedipus (key to catharsis)– Exs. – Teiresias – blind prophet

who ‘sees’ the truth; Oedipus can see but is ‘blind’ to the truth