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Research Paper on Sophocles

Sophocles is one of three major poets in ancient Greece. He is saidto have written over 120 plays during his time as a poet and beforehis death. However, there are only 7 plays that are widely known tohave survived the test of time (Adams 45). Other plays have neverbeen retrieved in their complete form. It is paramount to state thatSophocles was a tragedian and his plays were all tragic playwrights.The background and historical setting of this great poet had asignificant influence on his career as a poet. Research has indicatedthat Sophocles got inspiration to write his plays from the thenpolitical, historical, artistic and musical settings. It is alsoapparent that Sophocles had a huge impact on history, art, music,psychology and philosophy. His plays did not only influence hisgeneration, but have continued to influence even the currentgeneration. This papers seeks to study how Sophocles influenced art,music, psychology, philosophy, as well as how he got inspiration fromhis background and historical setting (Brocket 114).

Influence of his background and historical setting

Sophocles was raised by a rich father by the name Sophillus.His father got his wealth from the numerous slaves that he owned whowere employed in many manufacturing firms. In this regard, Sophocleswas able to attend some of the best schools and was educated withgreat care by his father. Research has indicated that the ancientGreek education system had significant emphasis on gymnastics, music,poetry and dance. Sophocles was extremely interested in artsconsidering that his instructor was a successful and celebratedmusician of the time by the name Lamprus. It is clear that this had ahuge influence on Sophocles’s future career as a poet. Sophocleshad a natural interest in art and his dancing and music skills aresaid to have been extremely eloquent and conspicuous that he wasselected severely to lead the other boys in singing victory songs(Ruth and Robert 189). This was setting Sophocles as a future leaderin the society and as a successful and prominent person in the artsindustry.

Their home, which was a short distance from Athens, seems to haveinfluenced the works of Sophocles. It is apparent in his play,Oedipus Coloneus, that he had affection and significant regardfor the home. He describes the home (White Colonus) as having charm.He describes the home as extremely charming where songbirds sing andflowery plants bloom. This affection for their ancient home in thenorthern western part of the city seems to have had a significantinfluence on his plays (Winnington 176). This is due to thedescription that he gives it in his last play, Oedipus Colonus.

It is baffling why Sophocles chose to write his plays on the themeof tragedy. However, the historical setting and times when Sophocleslived had a great influence on the choice of the topics that he wouldchose to write on. It is evident that Sophocles lived at a time whenGreece was at war. He lived when there was the Persian war and thePeloponnesian War. It is argued that this strife had a significantinfluence on the choice of the topic that Sophocles wrote on. Hischoice to write his famous plays on the theme of tragedy was as aresult of what he witnessed in the wars.

Sophocles lived at a time (500 to 400 B.C.) when the Greek culturein terms of both politics and culture were changing and giving theAthenian culture a meaning. It was only prudent for Sophocles toparticipate in this historical and vital transition of the Athenianculture. This made him to look back and study some of the ancientepic poets and poetry of Greece. These epic poems were written by afamous poet called Homer and they included The Odyssey and The Iliad(Bloom 95). It is argued that these poetry works profoundlyinfluenced Sophocles to venture into poetry. In one of hisbiographies, Sophocles was described as the pupil of Homer. This hadthe meaning that Sophocles learnt and derived great power andinspiration from the works of this great Greek poet. It is also clearthat the historical setting of his bringing up was also a huge factortowards the development of his poetry career.

Aeschylus was one of the greatest Greek poets who came beforeSophocles and had a huge influence on his works. According toSophocles, he underwent three developmental stages in his writingcareer. The initial stage was where he copied and imitated the worksof Aeschylus. His second stage of writing was where he wrote histragic poems from his own thinking without quoting anyone. One of thepoems was Ajax. In this regard, it is clear that Aeschylus had asignificant role to play in the development of Sophocles’s writingskills (Adams 152). Sophocles looked up to Aeschylus for inspirationand guidance. It is evident that Sophocles admired the works ofAeschylus and wanted to overdo him one day. The works of Sophoclesare majorly tragic and this is a skill that he learnt from Aeschylus.Majority of the poets who were influenced by Aeschylus majored theirworks in tragic events.


Music played a vital part in the development of the career ofSophocles. It is evident that he used to dance and sing perfectlywhen he was only 16 years of age. His participation in the dance andsinging formed a strong foundation. After the defeat of the Persians,Sophocles was selected to lead a choir of boy who sung a paean aroundthe trophy. These leadership roles in music were setting him up forhis future famous responsibility as a poet (Brocket 215).

His influence on art

Sophocles works and participation in public matters had an influencein his time, as well as the current times. Sophocles has beencredited with the introduction of the third actor. This is a conceptthat was applauded even by some of the greatest ancient Greek poetssuch as Aeschylus who even went ahead to adopt it in his works. Theintroduction of the third actor reduced the role of the chorussignificantly. It has also been praised for effective characterdevelopment (Scodel 153). The inception of the third actor alsoenhanced conflicts between characters, which was a vital missingfactor in previous works. Sophocles was also credited with thedevelopment of Skenographia or scenery painting. Aristotle was quickto note the role of Sophocles for the introduction and development ofscenery painting. This aspect of set decorations has been in use tilltoday. This is a clear indication that he had and continues to have ahuge influence in art.

Sophocles has been credited with the redefinition of the drama andtheater by both ancient and current dramatists. His conception oftragedy form his works as a will of the gods rather than humanlimitations had a great influence on the ancient and currentdramatists.

Sophocles influence on psychology

Nobody would have thought that by writing the play, Oedipus theKing would elicit any psychological significance. However, theplay, which end with tragedy where Oedipus kills his father and latergoes to bed with his mother formed the basis of the Oedipus complexin psychology by Sigmund Freud (Winnington 70). The term Oedipuscomplex was used by Sigmund in his theory of psychosexual stages ofdevelopment. According to the theory and the concept of Oedipuscomplex, a boy is always jealous of his father and has the desire togo to bed with his mother (Kelly 128). Although this analogy has beenhighly controversial, Sigmund stood his ground on the same. Sigmundwas inspired and influenced by the play, Oedipus the King bySophocles. Sigmund was described as a great admirer of the Greekhistory and literature.

The tragic actions of Oedipus seems to have been unconscious. Thekilling of the father and the action of sleeping with his mother wereunconscious actions. These is the same form of action that Sigmunddescribed in his psychological theories (Austin 74). WhereasSophocles was not doing his works on behalf of psychology, it isevident that his plays had a significant in psychology till today.Sigmund’s psychological theories are taught till today in theentire world.

Sophocles contribution to philosophy

Besides being a playwright, Sophocles was also a strong believer inthe Greek religion. Most of the tragedies in his plays are as aresult of wills of the gods rather than human error or incompetence.As a result, his works have contributed largely to the field ofphilosophy. Sophocles believed in the gods and argued that the godswere directing people’s actions. The natural forces in the universewere influenced by the gods and the people had little or no influence(Sophocles and Jebb 66). Sophocles was an extremely religious personwho believed in the Greek beliefs and the Greek gods. Being aphilosopher himself, Sophocles was credited as one of the mainfounders and pioneers of the western philosophy. Sophocles beliefswere well exemplified by his students Plato and Xenophon (Struck 1).The western philosophy developed from the philosophers of the ancientGreece. In this regard, it is evident that Sophocles must have playeda role in the development of the development of the philosophy.

Sophocles influence on politics

Although there is little literature on his participation inpolitics, Sophocles work seem to have a political angle. Sophoclesbelieved in unity and cooperation while carrying out an activity. Inthis regard, some of his plays clearly indicate that he favored ademocratic system of government as opposed to dictatorship. His playsseem to have an underlying role in the politics of Athens (Goldhill79). All his plays have attempted to show that two minds are betterthan one and that they make reasonable decisions. This is tied to hiswish and desire to see a democratic government where more than oneperson participates in decision making.

In Antigone, Creon is forced to leave the city when it is arguedthat the city is cursed by gods. This was the will of the people andCreon had no choice but to leave. This is strong statement thatSophocles wanted to make that the people rest with the ultimatepower. This is an element of democracy. In Oedipus the King,Sophocles wants to show that one man is not important than the entirecity (Adams 82). Oedipus accepts to leave the city as the king afterrealizing he is the plague in the city. There are numerous examplesof such in his plays that indicate that Oedipus was for democracy andthat he respected the king’s law. Today, democracy is one of themost common system of government worldwide. Little is known about howmuch Sophocles contributed to the maturity of democracy, but it isapparently clear that he was a champion of democracy. The leaders whoare depicted in the plays do not cling onto to power. Oedipus wasready to leave the king’s seat for sake of the city. This is aperfect example of the current leaders especially from Africa whohold onto to power for decades. Sophocles invented the idea of thewelfare of the entire population rather than the welfare of oneperson.

Sophocles was also influenced by politics in his works. He helppolitical offices such as army commander, as well as a commissioner.He was a close friend to Pericles and this gave him the necessaryfame and publicity. When Sophocles defeated Aeschylus in acompetition in the city of Dionysia, the deciding jury was apolitician and a close friend of Sophocles (Austin 112). This is aclear indication that had close ties in politic, which had a hugeimpact to his work. The award he won at the party was politicallyinfluenced, but it gave him the spirit and belief that he was a greatplaywright.


Sophocles is no doubt one of the greatest poets in history. Hisworks continue to influence the art industry, politics, philosophyand psychology to date. It is evident from the research thatSophocles was inspired and influenced to write by his background andthe historical setting that he was raised in. The works of art fromother ancient great Greeks poets played a significant part in thedevelopment of his writing skills. It is also clear that politics,music and education were major factors that contributed andinfluenced his writings. Having been born of a wealthy father,Sophocles was able to go to some of the best schools in Greece. Thisis where his foundation in arts was nurtured. He got the opportunityto participate in music and dance, as well as leading other boys insinging.

His works have also played a significant role in the development ofthe art industry, politics, philosophy and psychology to date. Someof scholars such as Plato have been credited with the development ofthe western philosophy. The infamous Oedipus complex by Sigmund wasalso as a result of is works. The introduction of the third characterand the aspect of scene painting which are used to date were inventedby Sophocles. Therefore, it can be stated that as much as Sophocleswas influenced by his background and historical setting, his worksand inventions have had significant influence in the formation ofhistory.

Works cited

Adams, Sinclair M.&nbspSophocles the Playwright.&nbspToronto:University of Toronto Press, 1957.

Austin, Norman.&nbspSophocles` Philoctetes and the Great SoulRobbery. Madison, Wis: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2011.Print.

Bloom, Harold, ed.&nbspSophocles.&nbspNew York: ChelseaHouse, 1990.

Brocket, Oscar. History of the Theatre. Allyn and Bacon, Inc.Boston: U.S.A. 2010. Print

Goldhill, Simon.&nbspSophocles and the Language of Tragedy.Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.

Kelly, Adrian.&nbspSophocles: Oedipus at Colonus. London:Duckworth, 2009. Print.

of Classical and Elizabethan Tragedies. Department of Theatre Arts,University Of Uyo, Nigeria. Journal of Art and Humanities.2011. Vol. 1. Print.

Scodel, Ruth.&nbspSophocles.&nbspBoston: Twayne Publishers,1984.

Sophocles and Jebb.&nbspSophocles: The Plays and Fragments. :With Critical Notes, Commentary, andTranslation in English Prose. Cambridge: Cambridge UniversityPress, 2010. Print.

Ruth, Fainlight and Robert, Littman.&nbspThe Theban Plays:Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone.Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009. Print.

Struck, Peter. Sophocles. 2009.

Ubong, Nda and Margaret, Akpan. Sophocles and Shakespeare: AComparative Study

Winnington, Ingram. Sophocles: An interpretation. New York: Cambridgeuniversity press. 2009. Print.