Sophocles was born in 496? BC and died in 406? BC, although no one is certain if these are the exact dates. Sophocles was one of the three great tragic dramatists of ancient Athens, the other two being Aeschylus and Euripides.
Sophocles was born around 496 BC in Colonus Hippius (now part of Athens). He was the son of Sophillus, reportedly a wealthy armor-maker. Sophocles was given the best traditional aristocratic education. As a young man, he was chosen to lead the chorus of youths who celebrated the naval victory at Salamis in 480 BC. In 468 BC, at [about] the age of 28, he defeated Aeschylus, whose preeminence as a tragic poet had long been undisputed, in a dramatic competition. The date of the first contest with Euripides is uncertain; in 441 BC Euripides defeated Sophocles in one of the annual Athenian dramatic competitions. However, from 468 BC Sophocles won first prize about 20 times and won many second prizes. His life, which ended in 406 BC at [about] the age of 90, coincided (happened at the same time) with the period of Athenian greatness. He counted as his friends the historian Herodotus, and the statesman Pericles. He was not politically active or militarily inclined, but the Athenians elected him twice to high military office.
Sophocles wrote more than 100 plays, of which 7 complete tragedies and fragments of 80 or 90 others have survived. The seven surviving plays are Antigone, Oedipus Tyrannus or Oedipus Rex (Oedipus the King), Electra, Ajax, Trachiniae (Maidens of Trachis), Philoctetes, and Oedipus at Colonus (produced posthumously (after his death) in 401 BC). Also preserved is a large fragment of the Ichneutae (Investigators), a satiric drama discovered on papyrus in Egypt around the beginning of the 20th century. Of the surviving tragedies, the earliest is thought to be Ajax, which was written in 451-444 BC. Next probably are Antigone and Trachiniae, written after 441 BC. Oedipus, Tyrannus, and Electra date from 430 to 415 BC. Philoctetes is known to date from 409 BC.
All seven extant (surviving) tragedies are considered outstanding for their powerful, intricate plots and dramatic style. At least three, Antigone, Oedipus Tyrannus, and Oedipus at Colonus are generally regarded as masterpieces. Antigone, an outstanding lyrical drama, develops a main Sophoclean theme. It deals with the pain and suffering caused when an individual, obstinately defying the dictates of divine will or temporal authority, or refusing to yield to destiny and circumstance, instead obeys some inner compulsion that leads to agonizing revelation and eventually to a mysterious vindication (to justify or confirm) of that person's behavior and life. Antigone , Oedipus' daughter, bestows the rites of burial upon her battle-slain brother Polyneices in defiance of the edict of Creon, who was the ruler of Thebes. In so doing she thereby brings about her own death, the death of her lover Haemon, who is Creon's son, and that of Eurydice, Creon's wife.
Ajax, Electra, Philoctetes, and Trachiniae in different forms repeat the themes of Antigone. Oedipus Tyrannus, which is justly famous for its flawless construction, dramatic power, and its effective dramatic irony, was considered by Aristotle in his well-known treatise the Poetics as the most typical and in many respects the most perfect of the Greek tragedies. The plot revolves around the gradual revelation to the mythological hero Oedipus of the dreadful truth that he has become ruler of Thebes by unwittingly killing his father and then marrying his mother, the queen Jocasta. Oedipus at Colonus is a powerful play depicting the reconciliation of the blind and aged Oedipus with destiny and his sublime (elevate in dignity and honor) and mysterious death at Colonus, after years of wandering as an exile, sustained by the loving care of his daughter Antigone.
Sophocles is considered by many modern scholars to be
the greatest of the Greek tragedians and the perfect balance between
the symbolism of Aeschylus and the realism of Euripides. The contributions
made by Sophocles to dramatic technique were numerous, but two
of his innovations were especially important. He increased the
number of actors from two to three, thus lessening the influence
of the chorus and making possible greater complication of the
plot and the more effective portrayal of character by contrast
and juxtaposition (to place two or more objects side by
side). He also changed the Aeschylean fashion of composing plays
in groups of three, each of them part of a central myth or theme,
and instead made each play an independent psychological and dramatic
unity. Sophocles also created a change in the spirit and significance
of a tragedy. From then on, although problems of religion and
morality still provided the themes, the nature of man, his problems,
and his struggles became the chief interest of Greek tragedy.