by Victoria Joy
About Sophocles, meant to be persuasive in saying that he is an influence for literature
|A wise man once said, “Success is dependent on effort.” This man knew the true meaning behind his words, because in his life as a playwright, he tried many times to be successful. He tried one-hundred and twenty three times, succeeding more often than not. Sophocles, who was born in 497 B.C., is considered one of the greatest playwrights/poets of literature in all generations. His success came from an original and integrative structure of work: smooth-running plots, characters of noble descent, and lyrics that consisted of a graceful and free-flowing consistency (imagi-nation). This combination made for a recipe of great triumph and balance. Critics say that his style of writing reflected his life, which was an achievement in its own right. In the past and present, literature has taken a similar resemblance when it comes to stage plays and poetry. The question is this: who gained from his works? Playwrights, authors, and literature itself was greatly influenced by Sophocles and his countless works.
Sophocles’ background made an immense impact on the writer he became. He grew up in Greece, in a town about a mile away from the capital city of Athens. He was the son of a wealthy merchant, so he definitely had enormous amount of money, enough for his family to go to a well-off school. As a young man, he certainly enjoyed all the benefits of living in a thriving Greek culture, during the Golden Era of the country. Sophocles studied all of the arts (drama, visual, musical, etc.) at a local school. By the time he was the age of sixteen, the young man was already known in the community for his beauty, grace, and creativity. He was chosen to lead a choir of boys at a celebration of the victory Salamis, and many townspeople enjoyed his music. Sophocles’ studies were completed twelve years later, and he was ready to compete in the City Dionysia—a festival held every year at the Theatre of Dionysus in which new plays were presented. In his first competition, Sophocles took first prize, even defeating none other than Aeschylus himself. “Tradition says he “learnt tragedy from Aeschylus”: but as there is no trace of any personal relationship between the two poets, it is probable that the phrase refers merely to that general influence which Aeschylus would naturally exert over his successors,” one recent scholar says (theatredatabase). More than 120 plays, about 123, were to follow in his lifetime. Sophocles would go on to win eighteen first prizes, and he would never fail to take at least second.
With his uplifting environment and collections of works, Sophocles had the makings of a lasting legend and made profound innovations within his lifetime. He lived through one of the most eventful periods of history in Greece. And, as a surprising coincidence, his life corresponded closely with the rise, the adulthood, and the collapse of the Empire (theatredatabase). Athens had reached the climax of power (the age of Pericles) right when Sophocles had the greatest influence in his work. During this time, the established playwright wrote most of his most remarkable plays, including the Theban plays. Along with Aeschylus at the time, Athens looked to Sophocles for the most entertaining and sophisticated plays in their courts. The townspeople and noblemen admired his characters, especially one girl named Antigone. She, and her play Antigone, is one of the most well-known inventive characters of Sophocles’ lifetime of work. His invention of a whole trilogy of this concept blew away the theatre world. Sophocles, however, wrote the three plays for totally different festival competitions, many years apart. With that being said, the Theban plays not a true trilogy (three plays presented as a continuous narrative), but they are not even an intentional series and contain some inconsistencies among them. Nevertheless, the plays went on to influence the likes of Shakespeare, archetypes, and the entire theatrical community. Illustrating the rival claims of the state and the individual conscience, Antigone from the Theban plays is an excellent example for the modern social dramatist (imagi-nation).
Sophocles’ upbringing, childhood, and assortment of plays made him a marvel in the theatre for generations. Always return to his works when writing or critiquing a play of your own. His influence is wide known and evident. For example, some say that Shakespeare’s Hamlet echoes that of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King. Shakespeare certainly did look to Sophocles for wisdom and foundation. Which authors and playwrights went on to achieve greater things in the literature community because of the many foundations laid in that field? Sophocles did not know it at the time, but he was going to be one of history’s most influential writers. His wisdom, maturity, and sophistication made him one of the most admirable writers of all time. As Antigone said in his play, he believed “wisdom outweighs all wealth” (literary-quotations).