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Euripides (Ancient Greek: ) (ca. 480 BCE–406 BCE) was the lastof the three great tragedians of classical Athensmarker (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 or nineteen of Euripides' plays have survived complete. There has been debate about his authorship of Rhesus, largely on stylistic grounds and ignoring classical evidence that the play was his. Fragments, some substantial, of most of the other plays also survive. More of his plays have survived than those of Aeschylus and Sophocles together, because of the unique nature of the Euripidean manuscript tradition.

Euripides is known primarily for having reshaped the formal structure of Athenian tragedy by portraying strong female 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.

Life

Little is known about Euripides, and most recorded sources are based on legend and hearsay. According to one legend, Euripides was born in Salamísmarker on 23 September 480 BCE, the day of the Persian War's greatest naval battle. Other sources estimate that he was born as early as 485 BCE.

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.

A statue of Euripides.


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' involvement in a dispute over a liturgy (an account that offers strong evidence that Euripides was a wealthy man). It has been said that he traveled to Syracusemarker, 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 Islandmarker; and that he left Athensmarker at the invitation of King Archelaus I of Macedon and stayed with him in Macedonia and allegedly died there in 408 B.C. after being accidentally attacked by the kings hunting dogs while walking in the woods. According to Pausanias, Euripides was buried in Macedonia.

Plays

Euripides first competed in the City Dionysia, the famous Athenian dramatic festival, in 455 BCE, one year after the death of Aeschylus. He came third, reportedly because he refused to cater to the fancies of the judges. It was not until 441 BCE that he won first prize and over the course of his lifetime Euripides claimed only four victories. He also won a 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 BCE; 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 BCE, and once there he wrote Archelaus in honour of his host. He is believed to have died there in winter 407/6 BCE; 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. The Bacchae was performed after his death in 405 BCE and won first prize.

In comparison with Aeschylus (who won thirteen times) and Sophocles (who had eighteen victories) Euripides was the least honoured of the three, at least in his lifetime. Later in the 4th century BCE, Euripides' plays became the most popular, largely because of the simplicity of their language. His works influenced New Comedy and Roman drama, and were later idolized by the French classicists; his influence on drama extends to modern times.

Euripides' greatest works include Alcestis, Medea, Trojan Women, and The Bacchae. Also considered notable is Cyclops, the only complete satyr play to have survived.

While the seven plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles that have survived were those considered their best, the manuscript containing Euripides' plays was part of a multiple volume, alphabetically-arranged collection of Euripides' works, rediscovered after lying in a monastic collection for approximately 800 years. The manuscript contains those plays whose (Greek) titles begin with the letters E to K. This accounts for the large number of extant plays of Euripides (among ancient dramatists, only Plautus has more surviving plays), the survival of a satyr play, and the absence of a trilogy. It is a testament to the quality of Euripides' plays that, though their survival was dependent on the letter their title began with and not (as with Aeschylus and Sophocles) their quality, they are ranked alongside and often above the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles.

In June 2005, classicists at Oxford Universitymarker worked on a joint project with Brigham Young Universitymarker, 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 papyrimarker, a collection of ancient manuscripts held by the university.

Commentary

Euripides focused on the realism of his characters; for example, Euripides’ Medea is a realistic woman with recognizable emotions and is not simply a villain. In Hippolytus, Euripides writes in a particularly modern style, demonstrating how neither language nor sight 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 an inadequate way to end a play. Many classicists cite this as a reason why Euripides was less popular in his own time.

Tragedies

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


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


Satyr play

  1. Cyclops (uncertain date)


References

  1. Walton (1997, viii, xix).
  2. See [1] and [2].
  3. Rutherford (1996).
  4. http://www.papyrology.ox.ac.uk/
  5. A Further Note on the Modernity of "Hippolytus" Robert Skloot. The Classical Journal, Vol. 64, No. 5. (Feb., 1969), pp. 226-227. Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0009-8353%28196902%2964%3A5%3C226%3AAFNOTM%3E2.0.CO%3B2-B
  6. Aristotle, Poetics (1460b33-34).
  7. see Euripides: Selected Fragmentary Plays (Aris and Phillips 1995) ed. C. Collard, M.J. Cropp and K.H. Lee.


Sources

  • Barrett, William Spencer, ed. 1964. Hippolytos. By Euripides. Oxford: Clarendon P. and Toronto: Oxford UP.
  • ---. 2007. Greek Lyric, Tragedy, and Textual Criticism: Collected Papers. Ed. M. L. West. Oxford and New York: Oxford UP. ISBN 0199203571.
  • Croally, N. T. 1994. Euripidean Polemic: The Trojan Women and the Function of Tragedy. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. ISBN 0521041120.
  • Ippolito, P. 1999. La vita di Euripide. Napoli: Dipartimento di Filologia Classica dell'Universit'a degli Studi di Napoli Federico II.
  • Kovacs, David. 1993 Euripidea. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 9004099263.
  • Lefkowitz, Mary R.. 1981. The Lives of the Greek Poets. New edition. London: Duckworth, 1998. ISBN 0715617214.
  • Rutherford, Richard. 1996. Introduction. Medea and Other Plays. By Euripides. Rev ed. London: Penguin, 2003. ISBN 0140449299.
  • Scullion, S. 2003. "Euripides and Macedon, or the silence of the Frogs." The Classical Quarterly 53.2: 389-400.
  • Sommerstein, Alan H. 2002. Greek Drama and Dramatists. London: Routledge. ISBN 0415260280.
  • Walton, J. Michael. 1997. Introduction. In Plays VI. By Euripides. Methuen Classical Greek Dramatists ser. London: Methuen. vii-xxii. ISBN 0413716503.
  • Webster, T. B. L. 1967. The Tragedies of Euripides. London: Methuen.
  • Multispectral imaging. Oxyrhynchos online. Retrieved on 28 Oct 2007.


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