Page:Sophocles - Seven Plays, 1900.djvu/18
arranged the seven plays in an order corresponding to the most probable dates of their production, viz. Antigone, Aias, King Oedipus, Electra, Trachiniae, Philoctetes, and Oedipus at Colonos. A credible tradition refers the Antigone to 445 b.c. The Aias appears to be not much later—it may even be earlier—than the Antigone. The Philoctetes was produced in 408 b.c. when the poet was considerably over eighty. The Oedipus at Colonos has always been believed to be a composition of Sophocles’ old age. It is said to have been produced after his death, though it may have been composed some years earlier. The tragedy of King Oedipus, in which the poet’s art attained its maturity, is plausibly assigned to an early year of the Peloponnesian war (say 427 b.c.), the Trachiniae to about 420 b.c. The time of the Electra is doubtful; but Professor Jebb has shown that, on metrical grounds, it should be placed after, rather than before, King Oedipus. Even the English reader, taking the plays as they are grouped in this volume, may be aware of a gradual change of manner, not unlike what is perceptible in passing from Richard II to Macbeth, and from Macbeth to The Winter's Tale or Cymbeline. For although the supposed date of the Antigone was long subsequent to the poet’s first tragic victory, the forty years over which the seven plays are spread saw many changes of taste in art and literature.