Euripides

Euripides

[yoo-rip-i-deez, yuh-]
Euripides, 480 or 485-406 B.C., Greek tragic dramatist, ranking with Aeschylus and Sophocles. Born in Attica, he lived in Athens most of his life, though he spent much time on Salamis. He died in Macedonia, at the court of King Archelaus. He wrote perhaps 92 plays (the first produced in 455); during his lifetime he won only four first prizes (the first in 441) at the competition held at the annual spring festival of Dionysus in Athens. There are 19 of his plays extant (including one that is doubtful): Cyclops (date unknown), the only complete extant Greek satyr play; Alcestis (438); the Heraclidae (c.430?), a patriotic play inspired by the Peloponnesian War; Medea (431); Hippolytus (428); Andromache (426?); Hecuba (425?); the Suppliants and Hercules Furens (both c.420); Electra (417?); the Trojan Women (415), an indictment of war; Helena (412); Ion (c.412); Iphigenia in Tauris (date uncertain); the Phoenician Women (c.409), on the story of the Seven against Thebes; Orestes (408); Iphigenia in Aulis and the Bacchae, on the Pentheus story, both posthumously produced (405); and Rhesus, doubtfully attributed to Euripides. Provocative, concerned with problems and conflicts sometimes disturbing to his audiences, Euripides displays a rationalistic and iconoclastic attitude toward the gods and an interest in less heroic, even homely, characters. He brings the mythical stories down to the immediate contemporary and human level. His sense of dramatic situation and plot construction go beyond Aeschylus and Sophocles, and what his plays may lack in grandeur they make up in penetration. His choral passages (interludes in, rather than parts of, the action) have remarkable lyric power. Euripides uses the prologue to get into the situation as rapidly as possible, sacrificing a proper exposition of previous action, and he uses the deus ex machina [god from a machine] to cut through and resolve the play's problem. His popularity increased after his death, and his plays were revived more than those of Aeschylus or Sophocles. Among the many translations of Euripides is The Complete Greek Tragedies, ed. by Richmond Lattimore and David Grene (1956-59).

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.

Life

According to legend, Euripides was born in Salamís on September 23 480 BC, the day of the Persian War's greatest naval battle. Other sources estimate that he was born as early as 485 BC.

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.

Plays

Euripides first competed in the Dionysia, the famous Athenian dramatic festival, in 455 BC, one year after the death of Aeschylus. He came in third, reportedly because he refused to cater to the fancies of the judges. It was not until 441 BC that he won first prize, and over the course of his lifetime, Euripides claimed a mere four victories. He also won one posthumous victory.

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.

Euripides' greatest works include Alcestis, Medea, Electra, and The Bacchae. Also considered notable is Cyclops, the only complete satyr play known to survive.

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.

Commentary

Euripides has been compared to Rousseau in being too modern for his time. Euripides focused on the realism of his characters; for example, Euripides’ Medea is a realistic woman with recognizable emotions, and has a developed personality with many different facets to her character - she is not simply a villain. In Hippolytus, Euripides writes in a particularly modern style, using the theater to demonstrate how neither language nor sight (the main elements of theater) aids in understanding in a civilization on its last leg. Euripides makes his point about vision both through the plot (Phaedra makes repeated references to her inability to see clearly and her wish to have her eyes covered), and through the sparseness of his staging, which lacked the dazzling elements that other plays often had. The same was true of his commentary on the use of language. The misuse of words played an important role in the storyline (Phaedra's letter, the nurse's betrayal of Phaedra's secret, Hippolytus' refusal to break his oath to save his own life, and his refusal to pay lip-service to Aphrodite), but in addition, the actual language of the play was often purposefully verbose and ungainly, again to show the ineffectual nature of language in comprehension in Euripides' age. According to Aristotle, Euripides's contemporary Sophocles said that he portrayed men as they ought to be, and Euripides portrayed them as they were.

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.

Bibliography

Tragedies

  1. Alcestis (438 BC, second prize)
  2. Medea (431 BC, third prize)
  3. Heracleidae (c. 430 BC)
  4. Hippolytus (428 BC, first prize)
  5. Andromache (c. 425 BC)
  6. Hecuba (c. 424 BC)
  7. The Suppliants (c. 423 BC)
  8. Electra (c. 420 BC)
  9. Heracles (c. 416 BC)
  10. The Trojan Women (415 BC, second prize)
  11. Iphigeneia in Tauris (c. 414 BC)
  12. Ion (c. 414 BC)
  13. Helen (412 BC)
  14. Phoenician Women (c. 410 BC)
  15. Orestes (408 BC)
  16. Bacchae and Iphigeneia at Aulis (405 BC, posthumous, first prize)

Fragmentary tragedies

The following plays have come down to us today only in fragmentary form; some consist of only a handful of lines, but with some the fragments are extensive enough to allow tentative reconstruction: see Euripides: Selected Fragmentary Plays (Aris and Phillips 1995) ed. C. Collard, M.J. Cropp and K.H. Lee.

  1. Telephus (438 BC)
  2. Cretans (c. 435 BC)
  3. Stheneboea (before 429 BC)
  4. Bellerophon (c. 430 BC)
  5. Cresphontes (ca. 425 BC)
  6. Erechtheus (422 BC)
  7. Phaethon (c. 420 BC)
  8. Wise Melanippe (c. 420 BC)
  9. Alexandros (415 BC)
  10. Palamedes (415 BC)
  11. Sisyphus (415 BC)
  12. Captive Melanippe (412 BC)
  13. Andromeda (412 BC with Euripides' Helen)
  14. Antiope (c. 410 BC)
  15. Archelaus (c. 410 BC)
  16. Hypsipyle (c. 410 BC)
  17. Philoctetes (c. 410 BC)

Satyr play

  1. Cyclops (uncertain date)

Spurious plays

  1. Rhesus (most modern scholars maintain that the play was probably not by Euripides, shows many indications of mid 4th century BC contamination)

References

Further reading

  • Barrett, W. S. (ed.), Euripides, Hippolytos, edited with Introduction and Commentary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964; Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1964)
  • Croally, N.T. Euripidean Polemic: The Trojan Women and the Function of Tragedy. Cambridge University Press, 1994.
  • Ippolito, P. La vita di Euripide. Napoli: Dipartimento di Filologia Classica dell'Universit'a degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, 1999.
  • Kovacs, D. Euripidea. Leiden: Brill, 1994.
  • Lefkowitz, M.R. The Lives of the Greek Poets. London: Duckworth, 1981.
  • Rutherford, Richard. Euripides: Medea and other plays. Penguin, 1996.
  • Scullion, S. Euripides and Macedon, or the silence of the Frogs. The Classical Quarterly, Oxford, v. 53, n. 2, p. 389-400, 2003.
  • Sommerstein, Alan H. Greek Drama and Dramatists, Routledge, 2002.
  • Webster, T. B. L. The Tragedies of Euripides, Methuen, 1967.
  • Multispectral imaging. Oxyrhynchos online. Retrieved on 28 Oct 2007.
  • Barrett, W. S., Greek Lyric, Tragedy, and Textual Criticism: Collected Papers, ed. M. L. West (Oxford & New York, 2007)

External links

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