The Ancient Library
 

Scanned text contains errors.

SOPHOCLES.

(except in so far as it was shared by Aeschylus during the short period between his return to Athens and his final retirement to Sicily), until a formidable rival arose in the person of Euripides, who gained the first prize for the first time in the year b. c. 441. We possess, however, no parti­culars of the poet's life during this period of twenty-eight years.

The year b. c. 440 (01. 84, 4) is a most im­portant era in the poet's life. In the spring of that year, most probably, he brought out the earliest and one of the best of his extant dramas, the Antigone^ a play which gave the Athenians such satisfaction, especially on account of the political wisdom it displayed, that they appointed him one of the ten strategy of whom Pericles was the chief, in the war against the aristocratical faction of Samos, which lasted from the summer of b. c. 440 to the spring of b. c. 439. The anonymous bio­grapher states that this expedition took place seven years before the Peloponnesian War, and that Sophocles was 55 years old at the time. A full account of this war will be found in Thirl wall's History of Greece,, vol. iii. pp. 48, foil. From an anecdote preserved by Athenaeus from the Travels of the poet Ion, it appears that Sophocles was en­gaged in bringing up the reinforcements from Chios, and that, amidst the occupations of his military command, he preserved his wonted tranquillity of mind, and found1 leisure to gratify his voluptuous tastes and to delight his comrades with his calm and pleasant conversation at their banquets. From the same narrative it would seem that Sophocles neither obtained nor sought for any military repu­tation: he is represented as good-humouredly re­peating the judgment of Pericles concerning him, that he understood the making of poetry, but not the commanding of an army. (Ath. xiii. pp. 603, 604 ; Anon. Vit. Soph. ; Aristoph. Byz. Arg. in Antig. ; Plut. Per. 8 ; Strab. xiv. p. 446 ; Schol. ad Aristoph. Pac. 696 ; Suid. s. v. Metros ; Cic. Of. i. 40 ; Plin. H. N. xxxvii. 2 ; Val. Max. iv. 3.) On another occasion, if we may believe Plu­tarch (_Nic. 15), Sophocles was not ashamed to confess that he had no claim to military distinction ; for when he was serving with Nicias, upon being asked by that general his opinion first, in a council of war, as being the eldest of the strategi, he re­plied " I indeed am the eldest in years, but you in counsel." * '£7^, $a*/a<, iraXaioraros €ifj.t, av 5e

Mr. Donaldson, in his recent edition of the An­tigone (Introduction, § 2), has put forward the view, that, at this period of his life, Sophocles was a personal and political friend of Pericles ; that the political sentiments expressed in the Antigone were intended as a recommendation of the policy of that statesman, just as Aeschylus, in the Eume-nides, had put forth all his powers in support of the opposite system of the old conservative party of Aristeides ; that Pericles himself is circumstan­tially, though indirectly, referred to in various pas­sages of the play (especially vv. 352, foil.) ; and that the poet's political connection with Pericles

* The occasion with which Plutarch connects this anecdote is the Sicilian expedition ; but we have no other evidence that Sophocles was engaged in that war, nor is it at all probable ; still the anecdote may be true in substance, though its time is misplaced.

867

SOPHOCLES.

was one chief cause of his being associated with him in the Samian War.

A still more interesting 'subject connected with this period of the poet's life, is his supposed inti­macy with Herodotus, which is also touched upon by Mr. Donaldson (I. c.), who has discussed the matter at greater length in the Transactions of the Philological Society, vol. i. No. 15. We learn from Plutarch (An Seni sit Gerend. Respub. 3, p. 784, b.) that Sophocles composed a poem for Herodotus, commencing with the following inscription : —

'tiifirjv 'HpoSorqt) rev^ey 2o<f>OK\fjs krkwv u>v 7T6J/T' eirl

where the poet's age, 55 years, carries us to about the period of the Samian War. Upon this founda­tion Mr. Donaldson constructs the theory that Herodotus was still residing at Samos at the period when Sophocles was engaged in the war, and that a familiar intercourse subsisted between the great poet and historian, for the maintenance of which at other times the frequent visits of Herodotus to Athens would give ample opportunity. The chro­nological part of the question, though important in its bearing upon the history of Herodotus, is of little consequence with regard to Sophocles : the main fact, that such an intercourse existed between the poet and the historian, is sufficiently established by the passage of Plutarch ; and the influence of that intimacy may still be traced in those striking parallelisms in their works, which have generally been referred to an imitation of Herodotus by So­phocles, but which Mr. Donaldson has brought forward strong arguments to account for in the op­posite way. (Compare especially Herod, iii. 119, with Antig. 924.)

The epoch, which has now been briefly dwelt upon, may be regarded as dividing the public life of Sophocles into two almost equal portions, each extending over the period of about one generation, but the latter rather the longer of the two ; namely b.c. 468—439, and b. c. 439—405. The second of these periods, extending from the 56th year of his age to his death, was that of his greatest poetical activity, and to it belong all his extant dramas. Respecting his personal history, however, during this period of forty-four years, we have scarcely any details. The excitement of the Peloponnesian War seems to have had no other influence upon him than to stimulate his literary efforts by the new impulse which it gave to the intellectual activity of the age ; until that disastrous period after the Sicilian expedition, when the reaction of unsuccessful war led to anarchy at home. Then we find him, like others of the chief literary men of Athens, joining in the desperate attempt to stay the ruin of their country by means of an aristocratic revolution ; although, according to the accounts which have come down to us of the part which Sophocles took in this movement, he only assented to it as a measure of public safety, and not from any love of oligarchy. When the Athenians, on the news of the utter destruction of their Sicilian army (b.c. 413), appointed ten of the elders of the city, as a sort of committee of public salvation, under the title of irpoSovXoL (Time. viii. 1), So­phocles was among the ten thus chosen.* As he

* It has, however, been doubted whether this Sophocles was not another person (See below, No. 4).

3 k 2

Pages
About | First

865

866

867
letter/word  
volume
page #  
Search this site
Google


ancientlibrary.com
WWW
All non-public domain material, including introductions, markup, and OCR © 2005 Tim Spalding.
Ancient Library was developed and hosted by Tim Spalding of Isidore-of-Seville.com.