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Columnists

A Hand of Applause for Playwright, Sophocles, Please

February 16, 2019
Phyllis “Kiki” Sembos

Let me tell you about another one of our most wonderful Greeks, Sophocles, 496 B.C-406 B.C., born in Colonos, Athens. This most imaginative, talented playwright wrote about 123 plays but only seven survive. That number exceeds any of today’s Broadway playwrights. He was an important influence on the development of drama. Three of his best known works are: Oedipus Rex, illustrating the ability to survive unbearable suffering; about a son who loved his mom so much he married her. Antigone, a play that emphasized the questions, “Why do the good people basically suffer?” and, “Why is there evil in the world?” Gee! I said that same thing the other day. But, it is mostly, about a woman who was put in prison because she wanted to bury her brother with honors. Women of Trachis is about divine justice and is very similar to the Book of Job in the Bible.

Athenians loved their theater – the more controversial, the more entertaining. Within his plays he inserted very potent, thought provoking, wise words. My favorite is, “There is one word that frees us all from the weight of pain and life’s tribulations. And that word is love.” Another favorite quote from one of his plays, is, ”You can kill a man but you cannot kill an idea.”

How true! Abraham Lincoln was assassinated but what he believed in survived. James Connolly, Irish revolutionist, fought to unify and establish human rights for Ireland from tyrannical British rule, was shot and dumped into a pit while in a wheelchair. Louis Tikas was brutally beaten, shot and killed fighting for the oppressed mine workers. Martin Luther King, minister, was shot and killed for being a civil and human rights activist. How authentic and powerful are Sophocles’ words to this day.

His plays contained powerful statements, providing us with a wonderful insight into political and social opinions that were appropriate then and just as appropriate today. More importantly, the sensible, rational Athenian citizen respected both his plays and his rhetoric without controversial argument or protests. How truly wonderful it must be to be able to write or speak for or against the social, religious or political order and not fear being publically ostracized, imprisoned or assassinated. I believe that had he lived here in America and written those plays and/or about the heroes mentioned above he’d have been ignored or ridiculed as controversial, especially when he had said, ‘Wisdom outweighs any wealth.”

He married twice and had two sons; Lophon and Agathon with his first wife, Nicostrata, and a third son, Ariston, with his second wife, Theoris. Sophocles was quite philosophical when he said, “We don’t appreciate what is lost until we lose it.” That piece of wisdom can be associated with many, many episodes to this day. In that time, Plato might have had reservations about Sophocles’ works, having been a faithful follower and transmitter of Socrates’ words and opinions, who was a firm believer in the power of the Gods and the eternity of the soul and the afterlife. But, Plato was wise and respectful enough to tolerate and allow controversial opinions to be written or said, provided they didn’t bring about demeaning controversy. Besides being a playwright of renown, our staunch democrat/philosopher was also a musician and had been a prize winning wrestler in his youth. And, aside from those feats, Sophocles was one of the ten generals who fought at Pericles’s side. Then, when he became interested in the health of the average citizen, he studied natural medicine, becoming part of the healing cult of Asclepius. For this he was honored with the title, Dexion. Who can deny that Sophocles was an exemplary genius in every way? But, we shouldn’t be surprised – he was Greek!

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