See studies by G. Murray (1918, 2d ed. repr. 1965), T. B. L. Webster (1967), and A. P. Burnett (1972).
(born circa 484 BC, Athens—died 406 BC, Macedonia) Greek playwright. With Aeschylus and Sophocles, he is recognized as one of Athens's three great tragic dramatists. An associate of the philosopher Anaxagoras, he expressed his questions about Greek religion in his plays. Beginning in 455, he was repeatedly chosen to compete in the dramatic festival of Dionysus; he won his first victory in 441. He competed 22 times, writing four plays for each occasion. Of his 92 plays, about 19 survive, including Medea (431), Hippolytus (428), Electra (418), The Trojan Women (415), Ion (413), Iphigenia at Aulis (406), and The Bacchae (406). Many of his plays include prologues and rely on a deus ex machina. Unlike Aeschylus and Sophocles, Euripides made his characters' tragic fates stem almost entirely from their own flawed natures and uncontrolled passions. In his plays chance, disorder, and human irrationality and immorality frequently result in apparently meaningless suffering that is looked on with indifference by the gods.
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Euripides (Ancient Greek: Εὐριπίδης) (ca. 480 BC–406 BC) was the last of the three great tragedians of classical Athens (the other two being Aeschylus and Sophocles). Ancient scholars thought that Euripides had written ninety-five plays, although four of those were probably written by Critias. Eighteen of Euripides' plays have survived complete. It is now widely believed that what was thought to be a nineteenth, Rhesus, was probably not by Euripides. Fragments, some substantial, of most of the other plays also survive. More of his plays have survived than those of Aeschylus and Sophocles together, partly because of the chance preservation of a manuscript that was probably part of a complete collection of his works in alphabetical order.
Euripides is known primarily for having reshaped the formal structure of traditional Attic tragedy by showing strong women characters and intelligent slaves, and by satirizing many heroes of Greek mythology. His plays seem modern by comparison with those of his contemporaries, focusing on the inner lives and motives of his characters in a way previously unknown to Greek audiences.
One of the more famous quotes attributed to him by recent writers, "Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad", does not occur in his works and probably pre-dates him.
His father's name was either Mnesarchus or Mnesarchides and his mother's name Cleito. Evidence suggests that the family was wealthy and influential. It is recorded that he served as a cup-bearer for Apollo's dancers, but he grew to question the religion he grew up with, exposed as he was to thinkers such as Protagoras, Socrates, and Anaxagoras.
He was married twice, to Choerile and Melito, though sources disagree as to which woman he married first. He had three sons, and it is rumored that he also had a daughter who was killed after a rabid dog attacked her (some say this was merely a joke made by Aristophanes, who often poked fun at Euripides).
The record of Euripides' public life, other than his involvement in dramatic competitions, is almost non-existent. The only reliable story of note is one by Aristotle about Euripides being involved in a dispute over a liturgy - a story which offers strong proof to Euripides being a wealthy man. It has been said that he travelled to Syracuse, Sicily; that he engaged in various public or political activities during his lifetime; that he wrote his tragedies in a sanctuary, The Cave of Euripides on Salamis Island; and that he left Athens at the invitation of king Archelaus I of Macedon and stayed with him in Macedonia after 408 BC. According to Pausanias, Euripides was buried in Macedonia.
He was a frequent target of Aristophanes' humour. He appears as a character in The Acharnians, Thesmophoriazusae, and most memorably in The Frogs, where Dionysus travels to Hades to bring Euripides back from the dead. After a competition of poetry, the god opts to bring Aeschylus instead.
Euripides' final competition in Athens was in 408 BC; there is a story that he left Athens embittered over his defeats. He accepted an invitation by the king of Macedon in 408 or 407 BC, and once there he wrote Archelaus in honour of his host. He is believed to have died there in winter 407/6 BC; ancient biographers have told many stories about his death, but the simple truth was that it was probably his first exposure to the harsh Macedonia winter which killed him. (Rutherford 1996). The Bacchae was performed after his death in 405 BC and won first prize.
When compared with Aeschylus, who won thirteen times, and Sophocles, with eighteen victories, Euripides was the least honoured of the three—at least in his lifetime. Later in the 4th century BC, the dramas of Euripides became the most popular, largely because of the simplicity of the language of his plays. His works influenced New Comedy and Roman drama, and were later idolized by the French classicists; his influence on drama reaches modern times.
The manuscript, apparently part of a multiple volume, alphabetically-arranged collection of Euripides' works, whose preservation accounts for the comparatively large number of extant plays of Euripides, was rediscovered after lying in a monastic collection for approximately eight hundred years.
In June 2005, classicists at Oxford University worked on a joint project with Brigham Young University, using multi-spectral imaging technology to recover previously illegible writing (see References). Some of this work employed infrared technology—previously used for satellite imaging—to detect previously unknown material by Euripides in fragments of the Oxyrhynchus papyri, a collection of ancient manuscripts held by the university.
Euripides' realistic characterisations were sometimes at the expense of a realistic plot; he sometimes relied upon the deus ex machina to resolve his plays, as in Ion and Electra. In the opinion of Aristotle, writing his Poetics a century later, this is the worst way to end a play. Many classicists cite this as a reason why Euripides was less popular in his own time.