That there is a difference of mood and emphasis between the two poets no one could deny. It cannot be explained on chronological grounds, yet in a way they do stand for two generations, because Euripides was so much more attracted that Sophocles to the modern, sophistic currents of thought. Like Protagoras, he knew that there were two sides to every question, and he enjoyed as much as Hippias the ‘contest of words’ in which his characters indulge. The debate between Theseus and the herald as to whether the dead warriors should be buried develops into a set piece on absolute monarchy versus democracy. Although it is clear where Euripides’s sympathies lie, the herald is no caricature of a bombastic tyrant’s minion, but an accomplished sophist and orator. My city, he says, has no use for mob-rule. No one can sway it this way or that by playing on its vanity, pleasing it for the moment but in the long run harming it. Since a whole demos cannot judge arguments correctly, how can it direct a city? Education takes time, and even if a labouring man is no fool, his work prevents him from giving proper attention to public affairs. (Why have these arguments a familiar ring? Is it Socrates in the Gorgias who complains that orators in a democracy lay theselves out to flatter the demos rather thna tell it what will be for its good, and Socrates again who said, like Hume, that ‘poverty and hard labour debase the minds of the common people’ and unfit them for politics, which was a matter for trained experts.) Failure (continues the herald) to comply with Creon’s demands means war. You may hope to win: hope has been the cause of many a conflict. Everyone thinks that its misfortunes will fall on others, not himself. […] If, when the vote is taken, each citizen could visualize his own death in battle, Greece would be safe from war-madness. We all know how much better peace is than war, yet we renounce it in our lust to enslave one another, as men and as cities. A wise man thinks of his children, his parents, and the safety of his country. A rash leader is a danger: true courage lies in forethought.
Guthrie, The Sophists