Theater of Ancient Greece

  • Gods were characters determining fate of mankind, reflecting religious beliefs
  • Stopped business and daily activities for week long festivals
    • Citizens were expected to attend and participate
    • Learned valuable lessons from the play
  • Accommodated at least 15,000 people
  • Week long festivals (with play competitions)
    • City Dionysia (largest and people came from other city-states)
    • Lenaea (more local audience)
    • Rural Dionysia (competition outside of the city)

Acting Traditions

  • The Chorus
    • 15-50 men
    • Unpaid, trained and costumed
    • Link to audience, tells the audience how to respond creating mood
  • Transition from Chorus to Actor
    • “Chanted” lines as one chorus
    • Thespis (name coming from the word meaning actor) speaks words of a god
  • Actor
    • Highly regarded in society (powerful)
    • Gestures for emotions:
      • Lowering head (grief)
      • Beating breast (mourning)
      • Stretching out arms (prayer)
  • Costuming
    • Actors played more than one role so to switch between roles, they changed outfits but most importantly, masks
    • Beautiful masks = tragic; bizarre = comedic
    • Gods or kings needed to be larger than life so they wore large robes

Aspects of Oedipus

  • The Sphinx
    • What creature walks on four legs at dawn, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening?
      • Answer: man
    • Monster sent by Hera, the queen of the gods.
    • The sphinx was part lion, part eagle, and part woman.
    • Derived from the Greek word “sphingo,” to strangle, or “sphingein,” to bind tightly, based on its habit of strangling its victims.
    • Demon of death, not the wise Egyptian Sphinx
  • Gods and Goddesses
    • Zeus
      • God of the sky and ruler of Olympian gods
      • God of justice and mercy, protector of the week
      • Weapon was the thunderbolt
    • Dionysus
      • God of fertility and wine
      • Sun of Zeus and Semele, only god to have a mortal parent
      • Rebirth after death
    • Artemis
      • Goddess of chastity, virginity, the hunt, the moon, and the natural environment
      • Daughter of Zeus and Leto, twin brother was Apollo
      • With the wild, hunter, protector of the young
    • Hermes
      • Most clever, messenger for the gods
      • Son of Zeus and Maia
      • Carries a magic wand, god of thieves and god commerce
      • Guides the dead to the underworld
    • Apollo
      • God of music, healing, light, truth, light, and sun who plays the golden lyre
      • Sun of Zeus and Leto, twin sister is Artemis
      • God of prophecy, famous for his oracle at Delphi
      • Daily task is to ride his sun chariot across the sun
    • Pan
      • God of flocks and shepherds
      • Son of Zeus and Callisto
      • Has goat horns and feat, excellent musician and plays the pipes
    • Athena
      • Virgin goddess of reason, intelligent activity, arts and literature, goddess of war
      • Daughter of Zeus (was his favorite child and got to use his thunderbolt)
      • Invented the bridle, the trumpet, the flute, the pot, the rake, the plow, the ship, and the chariot

Oedipus Aspects

  • Mt. Cithaeron was where many events happened in greek mythology, sacred to Dionysus
    • the road from Athens to Thebes crossed it
    • In Oedipus, it was the mountain Oedipus was given to the herdsman to get ride of him
  • Arcturus is the brightest star in the constellation Bootes
  • City of Delphi
    • Most important religious sanctuary dedicated to Apollo
    • Where the Delphic Oracole was
    • Major military power in Greece
    • The city where Oedipus grew up
    • He left it to keep a prophecy from coming true
    • He ended up in Thebes

Story Intro

Myth of Oedipus

  • The idea was very old when Sophocles wrote this.
  • Oedipus is the mythical King of Thebes.
  • He is fated to marry his mother and kill his father
  • To try to change this, he runes away
  • But then he comes to a crossroads where there is

Comes across the sphinx

  • Monster sent by Hera, the queen of the gods.
  • The sphinx was part lion, part eagle, and part woman
  • Asks a riddle devouring anyone who answers wrong
    • What, in the morning
  • Oedipus correctly answered, the human, so the sphinx threw herself from a cliff and died
  • Sophocles
    • Born in 496 BC who wrote 123 plays, on 7 of which survive
    • Won the playwright contest
    • Focused on the discovery of truth
    • The hero of the play is thus this own destroyer
    • The man he killed at the crossroads was his father and the queen he married was his mother
      • He was separated from his true mother and father because his father was told by the oracle that his son would kill him, he took him away to a shepherd to change the destiny

Why we should care about the story

  • “His destiny moves us only because it might have been ours”
  • The truth hurts sometimes
  • Most performed Greek Tragedy
  • Allusions to Greek mythology

Sigmund Freud

  • Came up with the oedipal complex.
  • Theory that every young boy is envious of his father and attracted to his mother.

Life of Sophocles

  • Wealthy family who lived in Colonus (now athens)
  • Never left the area
  • Family
    • Father Sophillus
    • Wife Nicostrata
    • Son liophon
    • Thoris is his secret mistress.
    • Has a baby Ariston.
      • And has three more babies that may be his.


  • Aeschylus as master of Athenian Drama.
  • Sophocles beats him in a play writing contest.
  • Sophocles writes 120 plays and wins 18 contests.
  • Funded literary club in athens.

Historical Context

  • When Sophocles was a boy Spartants were fighting the final battle in the Persain war.
  • Oracles were reading the arrows for prophesy before attacking.
  • 5th century in Athens, intellectual Revolution.
  • Valve of the pro

As we read

  • Does Sophocles seem to promote the value of prophecy or undermine it??phecy put into question/controversial.

Oedipus Cycle

  • The plays were written in the following order: Antigone, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus
  • Chronological order: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone