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MonkeyNotes-Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles
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The major part of Sophocles' life coincided with the Golden Age of ancient Greece, when it was an undisputed imperial power and a great center of culture and learning. Some of the great contemporary statesmen who ruled Athens in this period of immense prosperity, such as Cimon and Pericles, were friends of Sophocles. Though he was never tempted to seek honors and fortunes in high places, he was twice elected "strategos"/"general", once under Pericles and later with Nicias. As one of the ten generals, he led the Athenian expedition in the Samian war of 441- 438 B.C. He also presided over the Athenian treasury during these battle-stricken years. In 413 B.C., after a failed attempt by Athens to topple Sicily, he became one of the Proubloi (or "special commissioners") mainly due to his widespread fame and popularity after writing the play Antigone.


Reliable contemporary reports reveal that Sophocles was charming, handsome, and wealthy. He had a wide circle of friends, among them Pericles and Herodotus, the great historian to whom he wrote a poem. The Greeks regarded Sophocles as a kind of tragic Homer, hailed him as the favorite of the gods, and honored him with state sacrifices long after his death. (This was not only for his great plays, but for the fact that when the cult of Asclepius, god of healing, was introduced in Athens, Sophocles housed the sacred snake, symbolizing the god, until the temple was ready). In his comedy, Rogs (405 B.C.), Aristophanes has Dionysius go down to Hades to ask Euripides to remind the people of Athens what Greek drama was. When asked why he did not ask Sophocles, the character says that since Sophocles had been "contented among the living, he will be contented among the dead." Phyrnicus, the ancient biographer, agreed that Sophocles' life was happy and that he enjoyed all his faculties to the very end. Aristotle considered Sophocles to be the greatest tragedian. Matthew Arnold, the 19th century poet and critic, praised Sophocles as a man "who saw life steadily and saw it whole."

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