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Sophocles Biography

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Oedipus the King Author/Context

Sophocles was born in the year 496 B.C. at Kolonos, a northern suburb of Athens. At the age of sixteen, he was chosen to lead the dance at the celebrations for the Athenian victory over the Persian navy. At twenty-eight, he won the prize of the tragedy competition, with his first entry. He then established a public career at Athens, where he was well distinguished. He was elected to serve a term as State Treasurer, and later served a term as the Special State Commissioner. He obtained one of these positions in a time of major crisis, which suggests that he was well known, and well liked in the Greek democracy. He was also nominated to compete at the annual Festival of Dionysos on approximately thirty occasions, and won the first prize eighteen times. He died at the age of ninety, in the year 406 B.C.

All these achievements go to show that "the conservative view of Sophocles as loftily detached, concerned with 'timeless' or 'universal' themes is mistaken; all seven surviving dramas engage with issues central to contemporary Athenian political, social and religious life" (Ewans). These achievements suggest Sophocles was not writing at a distance from controversy, but rather that he was close to it.

It is thought that Oedipus the King was written between 430 B.C. and 420 B.C. The plague that is spoken about in the book is similar to the plague that hit Athens at this time. The book has no villains, and all the characters are good men and women who are trying their best to help the city, Thebes, escape from the plague. Each of them acts naturally and truthfully, but because of their lack of integration of knowledge, their stories, and the book, become a tragedy. Although the traps can be foreseen, the reader can do nothing to change them, just as Oedipus can do nothing to change his fate. As one critic says, "Few dramas ever written expose so pitilessly the isolation, and the limitations, of human existence" (Ewans).


Ewans, Michael, Graham Ley, and Gregory McCart. Oedipus The King. The Everyman Library: 1999.

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