Professor Goldhill’s suggestion that the plays of Sophocles are “the most canonical of works from the most canonical of genres” is a formulation that praises the tragedian even as it distances him. It seems to be a comment not so much about the plays as their author’s place on the literary stock exchange. How much simpler it would have been to declare, tout court, that the seven plays that remain (of the 120 or so Sophocles wrote) are splendid, endlessly fascinating treasures that should be known to every civilized person. But aren’t they? Not exactly. I have a translation, due out next year, of The Other Four Plays of Sophocles, and I am pained to report that more often than not, when I tell friends about this book, I have to name the plays for them—Ajax, Philoctetes, Electra, and The Women of Trachis.

One would suppose that after having...