My special thanks, whose even-balanced soul,
From first youth tested up to extreme old age,
Business could not make dull, nor passion wild;
Who saw life steadily, and saw it whole;
The mellow glory of the Attic stage,
Singer of sweet Colonus, and its child."
Sophocles was born about 495 B. C., in the village of Colonus, near Athens. Little is known of his early life, but he was chosen for his beauty to lead the chorus of boys in celebration of the victory at Salamis in 480 B. C. He took some part in public life, serving as a general with Pericles in the Samian war. Throughout his lifetime he was devoted to Athens, and died there at an advanced age in 406 B. C.
He won applause early in life by his acting, when the poet was also an actor, like Shakespeare, but we are told that on account of a weak voice he gave up taking part in plays and contented himself with writing them. His first literary competition was in 468 B. C., when he won the victory over Aeschylus, thirty years his senior. All through his career he was a favorite with the Athenians, winning eighteen victories at the Dionysiac festivals, and never falling below second place. His two important innovations in dramatic art were the introduction of a third actor and the use of painted scenery.
The difference in spirit between Aeschylus and Sophocles is shown in Browning's lines:—
"Aeschylus enjoined us fear the gods,
And Sophocles advised respect the kings."