Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

John C. Gibert

Second Advisor

Peter A. Hunt

Third Advisor

Laurialan B. Reitzammer

Fourth Advisor

Peter E. Knox

Fifth Advisor

Philip G. Holt


There have been very few large-scale studies of Sophocles' poetic interactions with the other playwrights of the fifth century B.C. This project seeks to fill that gap by putting Sophocles in contact with both tragic and comic poets and offering new readings of his work from that angle. By examining Sophocles as an exploiter of other poets' dramatic ideas and strategies, I hope to demonstrate his versatility and creativity; by viewing him as a source of inspiration for other dramatists, I aim to show his relevance and significance within his own time. The ancient Life of Sophocles claims that he was nicknamed melitta ("honeybee") for his ability to glean the best elements from the work of other poets and integrate them effectively into his own plays. Taking this idea as my starting point, I explore the "immediate dramatic context" of each of Sophocles' late tragedies (Electra, Philoctetes, and Oedipus at Colonus) to show how they draw extensively on specific plays of Aeschylus and Euripides. I also aim to complicate common views of dramatic intertextuality, which, in light of the competitions at the festivals, is often understood in terms of simple imitation or rejection; in particular, the relationship between Sophocles and Euripides has frequently been reduced to one of polemics and polarity. My interest is rather in a type of engagement that was basically collaborative and constructive, and I argue that Sophocles and Euripides, as a result of working closely with each other's material over the course of several decades, were actually much more similar in terms of style and interest than is usually recognized. Finally, drawing on recent work on comic intertextuality, I argue that all fifth-century playwrights were essentially honeybees in their own right, eager to experiment with recent innovations and developments in the theater. Sophocles thus becomes the basis for a more general model of dramatic inspiration and composition in the late fifth century: in contrast to the view that tragedy was becoming exhausted or even dying out, the poets continued to find new ways to exploit, expand, and build on each other's material.