The Theban Plays

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A.A. Knopf, 1994 - Drama - 221 pages
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The legends surrounding Oedipus of Thebes and his ill-fated offspring provide the subject matter for Sophocles' three greatest plays, which together represent Greek drama at the pinnacle of its achievement.

 

Oedipus the King, the most famous of the three, has been characterized by critics from Aristotle to Coleridge as the perfect exemplar of the art of tragedy, in its unforgettable portrayal of a man's failed attempt to escape his fate. In Oedipus at Colonus, the blind king finds his final release from the sufferings the gods have brought upon him, and Antigone completes the downfall of the House of Cadmus through the actions of Oedipus's magnificent and uncompromising daughter defending her ideals to the death. All three of The Theban Plays, while separate, self-contained dramas, draw from the same rich well of myth and showcase Sophocles' enduring power. Translated by David Grene.

 (Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)
 

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About the author (1994)

The Greek dramatist Sophocles, born to a wealthy family at Colonus, near Athens, was admired as a boy for his personal beauty and musical skill. He served faithfully as a treasurer and general for Athens when it was expanding its empire and influence. In the dramatic contests, he defeated Aeschylus in 468 b.c. for first prize in tragedy, wrote a poem to Herodotus (see Vol. 3), and led his chorus and actors in mourning for Euripides just a few months before his own death. He wrote approximately 123 plays, of which 7 tragedies are extant, as well as a fragment of his satiric play, Ichneutae (Hunters). His plays were produced in the following order: Ajax (c.450 b.c.), Antigone (441 b.c.), Oedipus Tyrannus (c.430 b.c.), Trachiniae (c.430 b.c.), Electra (between 418 and 410 b.c.), Philoctetes (409 b.c.), and Oedipus at Colonus (posthumously in 401 b.c.). With Sophocles, Greek tragedy reached its most characteristic form. He added a third actor, made each play independent---that is, not dependent on others in a trilogy---increased the numbers of the chorus, introduced the use of scenery, shifted the focus from religious to more philosophical issues, and brought language and characters, though still majestic, nearer to everyday life. His finely delineated characters are responsible for the tragedy that befalls them, and they accept it heroically. Aristotle (see Vols. 3, 4, and 5) states that Sophocles said he portrayed people as they ought to be; Euripides, as they are. His utter command of tragic speech in the simple grandeur of his choral odes, dialogues, and monologues encourages the English reader to compare him to Shakespeare (see Vol. 1).

David Grene (1913-2002) taught classics for many years at the University of Chicago. He was a founding member of the Committee on Social Thought and coedited the University of Chicago Press's prestigious series "The Complete Greek Tragedies".

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