Sophocles

sophocles

Tragic Poet (495 BC – 406 BC)

One of the greatest tragic poets to have ever lived, Sophocles, together with Aeschylus and Euripides form the holy triad of tragic poetry and theater arts. The writer of world-renowned plays such as Oedepus, Antigone and Philoctetes, Sophocles exerted enormous influence in the world of theater in the distant past when the aim of theater was not for entertainment as is today’s but for education and spiritual cleansing.

Sophocles was born in Athens to a wealthy, aristocratic family. He received an excellent education for his times, learning music from acclaimed teachers and tragic poetry from Aeschylus’ plays. As a playwright, Sophocles made his debut in front of the Greek audience in 468 BC at the age of 28 with his first play Triptolemos. His play won him his first prize, winning over Aeschylus, who had dominated the hearts of Athenian men as the greatest of all tragic poets. This signaled the rise of a new genius in tragic poetry and marked the start of Sophocles’ long and successful career.

Sophocles was an emblematic figure in the Athenian society and an exemplary citizen. In 443 – 442, following the massive acclaim of his play Antigone, Sophocles was made an honorary general and together with Pericles took part in the battle against the Samiotes. The same year he served as president of the Greek treasury. Widely popular throughout the whole Greece, he was a close friend of both of his rivals Aechylus, whom he considered his mentor and Euripides, whom he admired. Additionally, Sophocles was a good friend of Herodotus whom he also admired greatly, a feeling that was mutual between the two.

There is a general disagreement among historians concerning the total number of Sophocles’ works. It is generally accepted, however, the total number to be around 123. Sophocles won 1st place a total of 20 times and never ranked lower than second place in any competition that he participated in. His plays, which still luster with the same greatness as they did thousands of years ago, draw inspiration from the rich stories of the ancient Greek tradition, the world of the ancient Greek mythology, which relfects the states of man’s soul. It was this soul that Sophocles’ tragedies aimed to provoke and disturb and ultimately cleanse during the climax of the play, leading to its catharsis.

Not only is Sophocles a tragic poet. He is a philosopher, a hierophant, an initiate of the Mystery Schools, as was Aeschylus before him, a profound connoisseur of the Dionysean and Apollonian Mysteries, an anatomist of the human soul. The center of Sophocles’ plays is Man. In contrast, however to his predecessor, Sophocles’ characters act within the natural world and within the normal human boundaries. They are, nevertheless, braver than the average man, engulfed by the sense of justice and ethical duty, possessing ideals and principles for which they are willing at any given moment to sacrifice themselves to defend them, an iron will to overcome situations that exceed the human dimensions. In Sophocles’ plays, the characters’ actions are born from within themselves and are not a cause of an external or divine force. Hence, Sophocles’ tragedies are born from the struggle of man to overcome their nature and their fate. Through the drama, Sophocles’ ultimate goal is the apotheosis of man, which he considers the most amazing being of the universe (πολλὰ τὰ δεινά, κοὐδὲν ἀνθρώπου δεινότερον πέλει).

The innovations which Sophocles introduced in theater were numerous. He increased the total number of actors on the stage from 2 to 3, and the dancers of the chorus from 12 to 15. The chorus thus served as a protagonist and as a commentator. He furthermore introduced the Phyrgic melody in his plays. Even though an actor himself, Sophocles did not act in his own plays, as did his predecessors. He is the first to introduce the psychological aspect in the drama, with his characters seeking to shed light to their innermost, darkest places of their soul. The characters gain for the first time in theater a three-dimensional and psychological aspect and their actions imbue admiration to the spectator. It was Sophocles’ breakthrough to portray characters not as they normally are, but how they should be. That is, the idealization of the human soul.

In general, Sophocles’ works befall in the following categories: Theogony and the birth of the Gods, on the geneology of Deucalion, on the Argonauts’ expedition, on the geneology of Heracles, Inachus, Cadmus and Europe, on the geneology of the Pelasgians, Cecrops, the children of Tandalos and lastly on the Iliad and the Odyssey. Of the 123 plays, all but 7 survive only in fragments. These 7 plays are the following:

  • Antigone – About a young woman who disobeys the law to perform a righteous act.
  • Ajax – A play centered on the Trojan hero Ajax, with the themes revolving around polemic virtue and dignity.
  • Oedipus Tyrranus – A timeless classic on the tragic life of King Oedipus and his fate.
  • Trachiniae – About Deianira and the accidental murder of her husband Hercules.
  • Electra – A story of two siblings taking revenge on their father’s death.
  • Philoctetes – On the persuation of Trojan hero Philoctetes by Odysseus to join the Trojan War and fulfill the prophecy of the fall of Troy.
  • Oedipus at Colonus – The final part of the Oedipus trilogy masterpiece.

The main theme that is projected from Sophocles’ work is the highest ethical ideal of Hellenism: the harmony between the duty and freedom.

Sophocles is the primary representative of atticism, with his plays being the embodiment of everything the Athenian classicism of the 5th century BC epitomized, namely the philosophy, the religion, the ethics, the education, the Athenian land and nature and above all, all the high virtues of mankind, which Greece raised and placed in the center of man’s soul. Sophocles continued from where Aeschylus left the development of tragic poetry and brought it to the limits of perfection. He was called by many as the Homer of tragic poetry. With his works, tragic poetry and theatre arts as a whole reach their apogee. As Friedrich Nietzsche writes in his book The Birth of TragedyThe art of Aeschylus and Sophocles originate from the artistic ideal of the perfect harmony of the Dionysean and Apollonian spirits”.

With Sophocles, tragic poetry transcends the boundaries of art, becoming a means of spiritual exaltation and Greek Meditation. His immortal masterpieces are children of the Greek spirit, the Greek Miracle, which, as N.D. Korkofinis puts beautifully in the Encyclopaedia of the Sun “[The Greek art, the Greek philosophy, the immortal ancient Greek spirit] gift the entire human race its freedom from the horrors and agony of its earthly life. And this service is the highest service of the Greek world to all Humanity”.

Bibliography:

  1. “Sophocles”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. N.D. Korkofinis, Passas, I. Athens: 1946. Print.
  2. Cartwright, Mark. Sophocles. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 29 Sep 2013. Web. 09 May 2019.
  3. Δρακόπουλος, Ναστούλης, Ρώμας. Σοφοκλέους Τραγωδίαι – Ἀντιγόνη Φιλοκτήτης. Οργανισμός Εκδόσεως Διδακτικών Βιβλίων – Αθήνα. Υπουργείο Εθνικής Παιδείας και Θρησκευμάτων. Παιδαγωγικό Ινστιτούτο.
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Sophocles

Hippasus

ipasos

Philosopher, Mathematician (c.500 BC)

Hippasus of Mentapontus was a Pythagorean philosopher, one of Pythagoras’ first students initiated into Pythagoreanism and founder of the Mathematical Department of Pythagoras’ School.

He was active during the first 30 years of the 6th century BC and is considered as one of the oldest Pythagorean philosophers, as well as Pythagoras’ first assistant. While himself Pythagorean, Hippasus’ teachings differed slightly from those of Pythagoreans. For instance, he believed that the beginning of the world is matter (fire) rather than immaterial (numbers). He wrote a book Secret Logos, which he published under the name of Pythagoras, containing his philosophy. Only fragments of his book survive today.

As a mathematician, Hippasus is the discoverer of irrational numbers, infinite decimals with no indefinitely repeating digits. Furthermore, he discovered that the ratio of a side of a pentagon to the diagonal of a pentagon is equal to an irrational number and that the length of an isosceles’ triangle shorter side is an irrational number if the length of the two equal sides is a whole one.

Not surprisingly, Hippasus was also an inventor. He is credited as having constructed containers with varying amounts of water each, including metal plates of varying thickness with which he made acoustic experiments on the harmony of sound. In Pythagoras’ school, Hippasus was not only the founder the department of mathematics, but also the founder of the “cycle of acoustic scientists”, a body tasked with conducting experiments on sound and music using the aforementioned inventions. The body studied the relationship between music and mathematics.

According to some ancient writers, Hippasus was accused of publicizing secret Pythagorean knowledge to outsiders or uninitiated people, which was strictly forbidden by Pythagorean oath and was subsequently persecuted. Nevertheless, he is held on high regards by modern day historians of science.

Bibliography:

  1. Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Georgiades: Athens, 1996. Print.
  2. Σακελλαρίου, Γεώργιος. Πυθαγόρας Ο Διδάσκαλος τῶν Αἰώνων. Ἰδεοθέατρον. Ἀθῆναι: 1963. Print.
  3. “Hippasus”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens: 1946. Print.
  4. “Hippasus of Metapontum.” Science and Its Times: Understanding the Social Significance of Scientific Discovery. Encyclopedia.com. 23 Apr. 2019<https://www.encyclopedia.com&gt;.
Hippasus

Eurybiades

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Admiral (5th century BC)

Eurybiades was the Spartan general who commanded the Spartan naval forces in the Battle of Artemisium and the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC. Together with the wise Themistocles and the just Aristides they are hailed as the great leaders who orchestrated the victory of the Battle of Salamis during the second Persian invasion in Greece.

Not much is known about Eurybiades’ life. Prior to being chosen as an admiral of the Spartan fleet, he had acquired great naval battle skills as well as experience in the sea. His position imbued great respect and his orders were always followed without hesitation. The first major battle in which he is accounted to have played a decisive role was in the Battle of Artemisium against the Persian fleet, during the second Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC. The battle resulted into the Greek forces retreating to the island of Aegina after the arrival of the news that the Greeks, led by Leonidas and the 300 Spartans had fallen in the Battle of Thermopylae and the Persians were marching toward Athens.

In Aegina, the council of generals gathered and discussed their strategies. Themistocles proposed that the Greek fleet strike the Persian fleet at the straits of Salamis while the Peloponnesian navarchs objected the idea, insisting on retreating and facing the Persian fleet in Southern Italy. Eurybiades initially objected Themistocles’ plan but was persuaded afterwards, thanks to the later’s eloquence. Prudent as he was, Eurybiades could foresee the consequences of future events as well as understand the genius of Themistocles’ plan.

It was this simple decision that the Greeks united remained in Salamis and fought victoriously against Xerxes’ fleet, rescuing from Persian rule not only Greece but all of Europe. This simple decision, which changed the entire course of history, was the reason Eurybiades was glorified and was awarded an accolade for his bravery, while Themistocles an accolade for his wisdom.

After the Battle of Salamis, Eurybiades lived a peaceful life, choosing not to redeem his glory for a career in politics as did other Spartan generals. He kept a distance from public affairs not to spoil his reputation, at the prize of retaining his eternal glory in one of the greatest battles in history.

Bibliography:

  1. Βολωνάκης. Ἰωάννης. Τῆς Ἀρχαίας Ἑλλάδος οἱ Μεγάλοι Ἠγέται. Εκδόσεις Γεωργιάδης. Ἀθῆναι: 1997. Print.
Eurybiades

Antisthenes

Term of Antisthenes. Rome, Vatican Museums.

Philosopher (c.445 BC – c.365 BC)

Antisthenes was a philosopher and the founder of the Cynic School of philosophy. Credited as one of Socrates’ most loyal students and Diogenes’ teacher, Antisthenes was concerned not with Plato’s metaphysics, not with Aristotle’s logic or with Anaxagoras’ nous. Rather, he was interested in the practical aspects of philosophy and its ways of achieving true happiness through virtue.

He was born in Piraeus to a poor Athenian father and a Thracian slave mother. As a result, Antisthenes was considered an “illegitimate” citizen of Athens, something that stigmatized him throughout the entirety of his life, which he lived in complete poverty and disregard. As a child, Antisthenes admired Socrates and hence approached him to become his student. Socrates accepted him not just as a student, but as a friend. He remained very loyal to Socrates, the two exhibiting immense courage when they fought together in the Battle of Tanagra and the Battle of Amphipole. Antisthenes was present during Socrates’ final moments when he drank the hemlock, standing beside him during his death.

Following Socrates’ death, Antisthenes went to Cynosarges, a suburb located outside the walls of Athens where the Gymnasium of the “poor” was located, a place where all the illegitimate children of Athens exercised. There he founded his own philosophic school known as the Cynic School of philosophy, to indicate that just like the illegitimate children of Athens, he as well was an outcast of the Athenian society. His school’s fame would eventually cross the borders of Athens and become known to all of Greece.

Like Diogenes after him, Antisthenes’ philosophy could be described as a more extreme form of that of Socrates, he himself described as a “Socrates gone mad”. Antisthenes believed that virtue and wisdom can be achieved by living a strict ascetic life, devoid of any physical or emotional pleasures. He claimed that the theoretical knowledge on philosophy was useless and that virtue can be taught. A philosopher must free himself from external obligations and self-delusions and accustom himself to physical hardships, as this brings man closer to the Divine and therefore achieves true eudaimony.

Antisthenes considered deeds and actions over words and theories in the attainment of virtue and did not require a great deal of words or learning. One must learn to abandon old habits and live a natural life, independent from the outside world. Indeed, Antisthenes put his ideas into practice in his everyday life. He was homeless, walked around barefoot with just an old tribon and carrying a stick. He had no family or property and lived a life of deliberate poverty and complete abstinence of any pleasure. He contemned glory, rejected comfort and hated riches, stating that people who scorn wealth, glory and pleasures of life are the noblest men of all in contrast to those who embrace them and are superior to poverty, ingloriousness, pain and death. Such men are wise and wise men are self-sufficient according to the philosopher.

Antisthenes remained a social and political outcast of Athens throughout his life. Even though wise and loving of his homeland, he was a strong anti-democrat, stating that laws are made for the many to follow, not for the few, who are guided b virtue instead. As founder of the Cynics, he became a public figure known as the leader of all the poor, the disregarded and afflicted members of society. Nevertheless, both he and Diogenes were very well respected individuals in all of Greece, if not admired by many for their beliefs and practices. He wrote over 60 books on his philosophy by which he exerted important influence throughout the ages. None of them survive today.

Bibliography:

  1. Βολωνάκης, Ἰωάννης Κ., Τῆς Ἀρχαίας Ἑλλάδος οἱ Μεγάλοι Ἠγέται. Ἐκδόσεις Γεωργιάδης. Ἀθῆναι: 1997.Print.
  2. Piering, Julie. Antisthenes (c.446 BC – c.366 B.C.E.). Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Iep.utm.edu. January 25, 2019. Web.
  3. Pleures, Konstantinos. Greek Philosophers. Hilektron Publications. Athens: 2014. Print.
Antisthenes

Theodore of Cyrene

Mathematician, Philosopher (c470 BC – c390 BC)

One of the greatest mathematicians of antiquity, Theodore was considered by his contemporaries as a geometrist of significant impact on mathematics. He was born in Cyrene of North Africa and was a contemporary of Hippocrates of Chios. Even though none of his works survive, it is known that Theodore was involved not just with geometry but also with irrational numbers.

Ancient writers account Theodore as a student of Protagoras and teacher of Plato in mathematics in Athens. It is postulated that when Plato went to Cyrene, he met Theodore, who taught him on irrational numbers. Most aspects of his life, including the exact date of birth and death, are unknown.

Credited by numerous ancient writers such as Xenophon, Jamblichus, Diogenes Laerius, Plato and Proclus as a master of his art, Theodore’s major contribution to mathematics was that he proved that the square roots of numbers 3,5,7,8,10… 17 are irrational numbers. How he was able to prove this is not known. It is hypothesized that he used geometry as a base for the proof. Furthermore, Theodore constructed the so-called Spiral of Theodorus, a spiral composed of right triangles placed edge to edge, which now bares his name.

As noted by Jamblichus, Theodore was a Pythagorean philosopher, initiated into the mysteries of Pythagoreanism. This comes to prove the high status he possessed at his time as a mathematician. In modern times, several mathematicians have successfully reproduced Theodore’s conclusions of the irrational numbers.

Bibliography:

  1. “Theodoros o Kyreneos”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Evangelos Stamatis, Passas, I. Athens: 1946. Print.
  2. Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Georgiades: Athens, 1996. Print.
Theodore of Cyrene

Mimnermus

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Lyric Poet (c.632 BC – ?)

Mimnermus was an elegiac poet from the city of Colophon, Asia Minor, who flourished during the 7th century BC. His influence among the Alexandrian erotic poets was significant; during the Roman era he became famous for two things: a skilled craftsman of elegy and a poet of love.

He was a contemporary of the Seven Sages of ancient Greece. Mimnermus is hailed by ancient writers as the best elegiac poet and the first one to make love his first and major theme in poetry. As a pioneer of elegiac poetry, his works are responsible for connecting the Hellenistic poetry with the Roman elegy.

In his poems, Mimnermus expresses his individual emotions, his erotic pathos and his melancholy as well as sorrow on the fact that youth is shorter and old age longer. Furthermore, he sings of bravery and acts of valor. His poetry is filled with vivid imagery of nature, magical and mythological elements, overwhelmed by charm and overall an encomium to love.

In addition, Mimnermus was an aulos-player, a wind instrument prevalent in ancient Greece. He is credited by Strabo and Plutarch as having established musical laws for aulos music. Indeed, Mimnermus possessed good knowledge on music as seen from the musical rhythm of his elegies. A large portion of his poems were published as a collection under the name Nanno, the name of a aulos-player he fell in love with.

Mimnermus’ reputation rose significantly during the early Roman era and his works enjoyed a high number of readers, namely Propertius and other Roman imitators who attempted to recreate his writings. Propertius admired Mimnermus’ approach to the depths of man’s emotions and musicality of his poems.

Bibliography:

  1. “Mimnermos”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. N.I. Luvaris, Passas, I. Athens: 1946. Print.
  2. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Mimnermus. Encyclopaedia Britannica. June 29, 2017. Britannica.com. December 25, 2018. Web.
  3. Καζάζης, Καραμήτρου. Ανθολόγιο Αρχαϊκής Λυρικής Ποίησης γεικού λυκείου (κατεύθυνσης). Οργανισμός Εκδόσεως Διδακτικών Βιβλίων. Ψηφιακό Σχολείο. Ebooks.edu.gr.Web.
Mimnermus

Pittacus

pittacus

Tyrant, General (c.640 BC – c.568 BC)

Pittacus of Mytilene was a general from the island of Lesvos and one of the Seven Sages of ancient Greece. Essentially an autodidact, he was revered for his military might, his political prudence and his wisdom. He governed Mytilene for 10 years, establishing himself as one of the most important historical figures of the island and of Greek history.

Pittacus first entered politics when co-operating with the two brothers of Alcaeus Cicys and Antimenidas, the representatives of the aristocracy, killed the Lesvian tyrant Melagchron and took over as the new ruler of Lesvos. A few years later he was elected general of his peoples in the war against Athens. In the battle for Sigeion, a harbour in Hellispontus controlled by the Athenians, Pittacus challenged their general Phrynon, an Olympian in pankrateion, into a duel, whom he killed. Sigeion returned to Lesvian rule and Pittacus was honoured with a portion of land, for which he agreed to receive only the size equal to the distance where his javelin would reach. This part of land became known as “Land of Pittacus”.

After a series of political upheavals, Pittacus was granted complete by the people power over Lesvos, serving as general for a second time from 595 BC to 579 BC. Thus, he ruled in a system of “appointive tyranny” (αἰρετὴ τυραννίς), differing from the barbaric tyranny in that it was not based on heritage but resembled monarchy as the dictator was elected by the people.

As tyrant of Lesvos, Pittacus reformed the laws, changing the old legislation concerning monarchy and gave amnesty to all the exiled political rivals of the government. After ruling prudently for over a decade, Pittacus resigned wilfully from his position as Tyrant and died a few years later. By the time of his resignation, he had achieved fame throughout the whole Greece thanks to his wisdom and was visited by those seeking to hear his advices.

None of Pittacus’ works have survived. Multiple, however, quotes have been saved by Diogenes Laertius and Stobaeus attributed to Pittacus. Of those, the following are some of the most well-known:

«Συγγνώμη μετανοίας κρείσσων». – Forgiveness is better than pertinence. Another variant of the quote was “Forgiveness is better than revenge”.

«Ἄνδρα ἀγαθὸν ἀλαθέως γενέσθαι χαλεπόν». – “It is difficult for man to be genuinely good”.

«’Ανάγκα δ’ οὐδὲ θεοὶ μάχονται». – “Not even Gods cannot resist necessity”.

«Ἀρχὴ ἄνδρα δεικνύει». – “Power proves the man”.

«Τὰς νίκας ἄνευ αἵματος ποιεῖσθαι». – “Achieve victories without blood”.

«Σωφροσύνην φιλεῖν.» – “Love sophrosyne”.

«Συνετῶν ανδρῶν εἶναι, πρὶν γενέσθαι τὰ δυσχερῆ προνοῆσαι ὅπως μὴ γένηται, ἀνδρείων δὲ γενόμενα εὖ θέσθαι». – “It is for wise men to forsee, before the difficult things come, so that they do not happen, it is for the brave to face them, should they happen”.

Bibliography:

  1. “Pittacus”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. N.I. Luvaris, Passas, I. Athens: 1946. Print.
  2. Ο Σοφότατος Πιττακός ο Μυτιληναίος. Ελλήνων Δίκτυο. Hellinon.net. Web. December 23, 2018.
  3. Πλεύρης, Κωνσταντῖνος. Ὁ Διωγμὸς τῶν Ἀρίστων. Ἤλεκτρον. Ἀθῆναι: 2013. Print.
Pittacus