In the world of Greek theater, Sophocles was king. It is thought that he won the first prize at the Athenian festival eighteen times. Far from being a tortured artist working at the fringes of society, Sophocles was among the most popular and well-respected men of his day. Like most good Athenians, Sophocles was involved with the political and military affairs of Athenian democracy. He did stints as a city treasurer and as a naval officer, and throughout his life he was a close friend of the foremost statesman of the day, Pericles. At the same time, Sophocles wrote prolifically. He is believed to have authored 123 plays, only seven of which have survived.
Sophocles lived a long life, but not long enough to witness the downfall of Athens. Toward the end of his life, Athens became entangled in a war with other city-states jealous of its prosperity and power, a war that would end the glorious century during which Sophocles lived. This political fall also marked an artistic fall, for the unique art of Greek theater began to fade and eventually died. Sophocles’s work, however, has proven to be some of the most enduring in the history of literature.