Sophocles’ Ancient Readers: The Role of Scholarship on the Reception of Greek Tragedy

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There is a modern scholarly consensus that Sophocles’ popularity was so great in antiquity that criticism surrounding him was overwhelmingly positive but vague and without depth; he was, in their view, almost “beyond criticism” among ancient audiences. Such a view seems, prima facie, unlikely, but the evidence commonly consulted by scholars tends to uphold this argument. This dissertation argues that there was, in fact, a fervent debate over the quality of Sophocles’ poetry in the centuries after his death. While most evidence for this struggle is lost, thus leading to the modern consensus, the works of ancient scholarship contain remnants of it. By analyzing the vocabulary and rhetorical strategies of scholarly works like the scholia and ancient Life of Sophocles, this dissertation illuminates a contentious yet hitherto underexplored debate over the preeminence of Sophocles. It also articulates how different scholarly campus competed with one another over how to engage with their inheritance, the literature of Classical Greece, as it compares the efforts of the scholars who worked on Sophocles with those to other ancient authors. Reading these neglected streams of evidence alongside more traditional evidence (such as the testimony of Aristotle or other critics) exposes a latent heterogeneity within the reception of Sophocles and Greek literature more broadly.





Kinkade, Clinton Douglas (2021). Sophocles’ Ancient Readers: The Role of Scholarship on the Reception of Greek Tragedy. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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