Oedipus the King - Antigone - Electra - Ajax Trachinian Women - Philoctetes - Oedipus at Colonus The greatest of the Greek tragedians, Sophocles wrote over 120 plays, surpassing his older contemporary Aeschylus and the younger Euripides in literary output as well as in the number of prizes awarded his works. Only the seven plays in this volume have survived intact. From the complex drama of Antigone, the heroine willing to sacrifice life and love for a principle, to the mythic doom embodied by Oedipus, the uncommonly good man brought down by the gods, Sophocles possessed a tragic vision that, in Matthew Arnold's phrase, "saw life steadily and saw it whole." This one-volume paperback edition of Sophocles' complete works is a revised and modernized version of the famous Jebb translation, which has been called "the most carefully wrought prose version of Sophocles in English."* *Moses Hadas From the Paperback edition.
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April 01, 1982
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Excerpt from The Complete Plays of Sophocles by Sophocles
The character of Ajax, as fixed in the Iliad and therefore familiar to the audience, was of an extraordinarily powerful man, next to Achilles the best of the Greek warriors at Troy, but also of a man extraordinarily headstrong and self-centered. After Achilles ' death, according to legend, the divine armor made for him by Hephaestus was to be given to the worthiest of his survivors, and Ajax naturally expected the prize. Instead the chieftains voted to award it to Odysseus. Ajax ' consequent hatred of Odysseus is mentioned in the Odyssey: when the two meet in Hades, Ajax refuses to speak to Odysseus but turns his back on him.
The opening of the play informs us that in chagrin at his disappointment Ajax was on the point of murdering the Greek generals; to save them Athena darkened Ajax ' senses so that he mistook the army ' s livestock for the generals and slaughtered them instead. When Ajax recovers and realizes, not that his intention was wrong, but that its miscarriage would make him ridiculous, he determines on suicide. He ignores the pleas of Tecmessa and the chorus, bids his child farewell, and departs.
Soon he returns, ostensibly reconciled to life; he says he will go and bury his unlucky sword by the seaside and then have peace forevermore. After Ajax has gone and the chorus has sung its premature joy, a messenger from Teucer brings Calchas ' warning that Ajax must be kept indoors that day. The chorus and Tecmessa leave to find him. The scene changes to seaside sedge (the only change of scene in the extant plays of Sophocles) and there Ajax makes a farewell speech, with a curse for the Atreidae, buries his sword point up, and falls upon it. The searchers enter and the body of Ajax is found, fittingly by Tecmessa. Teucer comes to bury the body but is forbidden to do so, first by Menelaus, whom he outfaces, and then by Agamemnon, who presents a reasonable argument for denying burial. Odysseus, despite Ajax ' animosity toward him, persuades Agamemnon to allow the burial.
Modern readers sometimes find the dispute about the burial anticlimactic and irrelevant; but the last third of the Ajax is not a Hamlet without Hamlet. It is not an episode in Ajax ' life which is the theme but the totality of his career. To assess his career justly the arguments for and against burial are relevant, and the final decision puts the seal on Ajax ' claim to heroization.