Page images
PDF
EPUB

PREFACE.

The chief aim of the publisher in the present volume, was to furnish an improved reprint of the Standard Oxford version, without depriving the original work of those features which have ensured its favourable reception in both Universities.

To carry out this view, the editor has carefuly revised the translation throughout, adhering closely to the text of Dindorf, which is now universally established, and is adopted by our public examiners. In a few cases, the corrupt state of the original has rendered

different course necessary, but every departure from the received text has been pointed out at the foot of the page.

The version has, where possible, been made more literal, especially as regards the choruses; and many words and particles, before indistinctly rendered, have, it is hoped, recovered their force and meaning.

Arguments before each play, and a brief introduction have been added, and the notes have been considerably augmented. These additions are distinguished by the initial of the present editor.

THEODORE ALOIS BUCKLEY.

CHRIST CHURCH, OXFORD.

INTRODUCTION'.

SOPHOCLES, son of Sophilus, was born at Colonus, a deme of Attica, B.C. 495. His father was of a good and wealthy family, and so careful of the education of his son, that at the age of sixteen he gained prizes for music, his instructor being the celebrated Lamprus. About the year B.C. 468. when the bones of Theseus were removed by Cimon from Scyrus to Athens, Æschylus and Sophocles were competitors in the tragic contests, which would seem to have been the first appearance of our poet in the character of a dramatist. Sophocles obtained the first prize, and Æschylus departed for Sicily. The beauty of his appearance, and his gracefulness of demeanour increased his popularity, but a weak state of voice, and delicacy of lungs prevented his progress as an actor. In 440 B.C. the “ Antigone” was produced, and to the sagacity of the political precepts therein delivered, he is said to have been indebted for his appointment as one of the colleagues of Pericles.

In old age Sophocles was considerably engaged in public duties, being priest to the hero Alon, and likewise a proboulos or commissioner, upon the fatal termination of the Sicilian expedition. He subsequently connected himself with the aristocratic views of Pisander, and was concerned in forming the council of four hundred, with which fell the old constitution of Athens. This conduct he was accustomed to defend upon the plea of expediency.

In consequence either of a family jealousy, or of his too great attention to dramatic affairs, he was at length, at an

1 The materials of this memoir are chiefly derived from Lessing, as epitomized in the “ Theatre of the Greeks." ch. v., p. 72.

advanced age, charged with dotage and incapacity of conducting his family affairs, by his son Iophon. It is said that he gained the favourable suffrage of his judges by reciting the newly finished tragedy of the “Edipus at Colonus,” but chronological difficulties render this story doubtful.

His death took place at the beginning of the year 405 B.C. either from over exertion in reading, or from suffocation by a grape during the Anthesterian festival. He was buried at Decelea, the family's burying-place, but not before the permission of Lysander was obtained, the place then being in possession of the Lacedemonians. The number of his genuine dramas probably amounted to 113.

The truckling and inconsistent character of Sophocles was vinced even in the politics of his plays, whilst in private life he was rather the agreeable companion than the practical moralist. Still, a dignified gentleness, and a contented simplicity pre-eminently distinguished him, while his whole life, as his writings, exhibited an unruffled composure, almost amounting to indifference.

Only seven plays and some comparatively unimportant fragments of this author have survived the ravages of time, but we have been fortunate in obtaining at least four of the best among the few which have been preserved, viz. the “Philoctetes,” “ Antigone,” and two “Edipi?.” The connection between the last three plays, though remarkable, was not the result of previous design, as the “Edipus at Colonus” was exhibited four years after the death of the author, by the younger Sophocles, and the “ Antigone," posterior to it in point of historical time and events, was produced 440 B.C. as above mentioned. Still they should be read in the order which the natural sequence of circumstances demands.

We cannot perhaps better employ the present opportunity, than by briefly sketching some of the chief characters of these

But Schlegel, p. 100, enumerates the “ Antigone," "Electra," and two “ Edipi” as those most approved by the ancients.

plays, in connection with such critical remarks as naturally arise'.

The “Edipus Rex" is the most complicated and artfully sustained of extant Greek plays. From the first few lines, where Edipus appears as the heaven-bidden prosecutor of the regicide of old, to the last stroke of fatal evidence, that dooms him to self-courted ruin and despair, we are continually kept in alternate doubt, fear, and hope. At one moment the denunciation of the seer is contradicted by the seeming inconsistency of predestination, and the very cause of that hope presently turns to be the damning proof of guilt and pollution. Nor is this dreadful process of fatalism less fearfully realized in the accidental expressions unwarily let drop by Edipus. Thus when he imprecates curses upon himself.

Yea, on myself, if conscious of the deed,
I grant the wretch asylum in my home

The same dread curse, in all its vengeance, fall!”
Tiresias afterwards charges him:

" Ha! Is it thus ? Nay, then, I tell thee, king!

Adhere to thine own edict; from this hour
No more hold converse or with these or me,

Thou art the sole polluter of our land.” The impetuous spirit of Edipus breaks forth, and he accuses the seer and Creon of caballing to drive him from the throne. Jocasta seeks to appease the quarrel, and thereby becomes instrumental to the sad discovery of the truth. The death of Polybus gives a momentary respite from anxiety, and Edipus almost equals his mother-wife in scepticism. But here again the wild determination of Edipus works out his doom. In a paroxysm

of
agony,

Jocasta would suppress • the tidings she knew too late, but Edipus compels the messenger to recount the whole tale, and then madly confesses how fearfully the ancient curse of the gods was brought to

1 In this task I shall partly avail myself of the remarks of Schlegel, Lect. vii. p. 100-110, and Bulwer's " Athens,” book v. ch. 4.

« PreviousContinue »