They say that he was born in the seventy-first Olympiad in the second year when Philip was archon in Athens (495/4 B.C.). He was younger than Aeschylus by seven years [sic: really 29 years] and older than Euripides by twenty-four years [sic: really 11 years].
As a child he worked out in wrestling and music and was crowned for both, as Istrus says (334 F 35 FGrHist.). He was educated in music by Lamprus, and after the sea-battle at Salamis when the Athenians were gathered round the trophy, naked and rubbed-down with oil, he led with the lyre those who sang the victory-song.
He learned tragedy from Aeschylus. He introduced many innovations into the contests: first having abolished the poet's role as an actor because of his poor voice (for before this the poet himself acted), he introduced fifteen chorus-members instead of twelve and he invented the third actor.
They say that he took up the guitar and played it only in his Thamyris. This is why he is portrayed in the Painted Stoa with a guitar.
Satyrus says (3, 161f. FHG) that he invented the crooked stick [presumably a tragedian's staff of office like the herald's caduceus or the rhapsode's wand]. Istrus says (334 F 36 FGrHist) that he invented white half-boots which both actors and chorus-members wore, and that he wrote his plays in accordance with their natures. He led a sacred college of those who had been educated by the Muses.
To speak plainly, he had such personal charisma that everywhere he was loved by everyone.
He won twenty victories, as Carystus says (4, 359 FHG) and often won second place, never third.
The Athenians elected him general when he was sixty-five years old in the seventh year of the Peloponnesian war in the battle of Anaea [a town on the coast of Asia Minor near Samos].
He was so pro-Athenian that although many foreign kings summoned him, he did not wish to leave his country.
He held the priesthood of Halos who was established as a hero along with Asclepius and Chiron(?) by Iophon his son after his death.
Sophocles was unsurpassed in his love of god as Jerome says (fr. 32 Wehrli). [This is revealed in the story] about the golden crown. When it had disappeared from the acropolis, Heracles appeared to him in a dream and told him that he would find a building on the right as he entered the acropolis and that the crown was hidden there. He disclosed this to the people and was rewarded with a talent. So it was publicly announced. Taking his talent, he founded a shrine to Heracles the Informant.
It is said by many sources that a charge was brought against him by his son Iophon, for he had one son Iophon by Nicostrate and another, Ariston, by Theoris of Sicyon and he loved his grandson by Ariston, Sophocles by name, more.... So Iophon called him before the phratry and charged that his father was senile, but they fined Iophon instead. Satyrus says (3,162 FHG) that he said, "If I am Sophocles I am not senile and if I am senile I am not Sophocles," and then read from his Oedipus [at Colonus].
Istrus (334 F 37 FGrHist) and Neanthes (84 F 18 FGrHist.) say that he died in this way: Callippides the actor was coming back from working in Opus at the time of the Pitcher Festival [on the second day of the Anthesteria] and sent him a bunch of grapes. Sophocles took a grape into his mouth and while still eating it he choked because of his excessive age and died. Satyrus says however (3, 162 FHG) that he was reading Antigone and toward the end fell into a long speech that did not afford him a moment's rest so that he strained his voice and lost both voice and life at once. Others say that after a performance of the play, when he was announced as the winner, he died overcome by joy.
He was laid in his family tomb that stands by the road to Decelia at eleven stades from the city-walls. Some say that they erected a siren on his tomb, others a brazen nightingale. When the Spartans were laying siege to the district around Athens, Dionysus appeared in a dream to Lysander and ordered him to retreat so that a man could be placed in his tomb. When Lysander made light of this, Dionysus stood beside him a second time and gave him the same commandment. Lysander enquired of the exiles who it was who had died and, learning that it was Sophocles, he declared a truce and let them bury the man.
Lobon says that these words were inscribed upon his tomb:
Istrus says (334 F 38 FGrHist.) that the Athenians decreed by law in honour of his excellence to make annual sacrifice to him.
Aristophanes [of Byzantium] says that there are one hundred thirty of his plays and of these seventeen are spurious.
He competed against Aeschylus, Euripides, Chorilus, Aristeas, his son Iophon, and many others.
He always used words Homerically. He brings out stories in the footsteps of that poet. He introduced Odysseus into many of his plays. He made puns like Homer on the name of Odysseus, for example (fr. 965 TrGF):
He fashioned characters and plot-developments and speeches with skill, impressing them with a Homeric charm. Hence it was said that Sophocles was Homer's only pupil... Though many before and after him imitated something from Homer, only Sophocles brought its brilliance to full bloom.
So too he was called "the bee". He blended good timing, sweetness, strength and variety.
He knew how to fit matters opportunely so that in a little half-line or a single word he created a whole character. The greatest thing in poetry is to reveal character or experience.
Aristophanes says (fr. 580a PCG) that "a honeycomb sat [upon his lips]" and again that "Sophocles' mouth was anointed with honey."
Aristoxenus says (fr. 79 Wehrli) that he was the first poet from Athens to take up the Phrygian melody and the dithyrambic style in the same choral songs.