Sophocles, 496-406 B.C.
The career of Sophocles spanned more than sixty years. He was the friend of Pericles and was also elected general of the Athenian democracy. It is believed that he wrote more than 123 plays and won first place 24 times -- unfortunately, only a handful of his plays are in our hands. The greatest of those preserved is Oedipus Rex, performed sometime after 430 B.C. The plot of Oedipus is as follows: Oedipus, the son of King Laius and Queen Jocasta of Thebes, was born under a prophecy that said he would kill his father and marry his mother. Exposed on a rocky hillside, Oedipus was saved by a shepherd and grew up in Corinth, ignorant of his parentage. Near Delphi, he unwittingly killed his father and then came to Thebes and married Jocasta.
When the play opens, a plague has devastated Thebes and Oedipus, as defender of all his subjects, promises to rescue them. A messenger from Delphi reveals that Apollo has bidden Thebes to punish the murder of Laius. Oedipus curses the culprit. The audience knew the truth. Slowly, Oedpius himself draws closer to the truth. Another messenger from Corinth reveals all. Jocasta slays herself and when Oedipus realizes he has fulfilled the prophecy, he blinds himself.
The classic view of mankind is best displayed in Attic tragedies such as those of Sophocles. Man was flawed for the simple reason that man was also free. Behind all human behavior lay the immortal gods who punished those men of hubris (excessive pride). In tragedy, the moral lesson was to cultivate sophrosyne, an awareness of one's true position.
Wonders are many, and none is more wonderful than man.
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copyright © 2000 Steven Kreis