Life (Encyclopedia of the Ancient World)
The disproportion between what little can be ascertained about Euripides’ (yoo-RIHP-uh-deez) life and the richness and completeness of his texts is immense. Plutarch gives his date of birth, dramatically but probably incorrectly, as the day of the Battle of Salamis in 480 b.c.e. Born to the farmer Mnesarchus (or Mnesarchides) and his wife Clito, he rose from rather humble beginnings to gain an education in Athens, perhaps in the schools of Anaxagoras and Protagoras. His sympathy with Sophistic philosophy lends credibility to a friendship with Socrates, which is suggested by ancient biographers. He was married to Melito, with whom he had three sons. The youngest, also named Euripides, followed his father into the theater. Although he may once have been sent on an embassy to Syracuse, he generally disdained public life and held no political or religious office, as other playwrights did. He is said to have been studious and withdrawn by nature and probably spent much time in his large private library.
Euripides turned to playwriting young and was awarded his first chorus at the dramatic competitions of the Athenian City Dionysia in 455 b.c.e. He did not win, and indeed his later career was marked by a paucity of victories. He achieved his first victory in 441 b.c.e. Although he entered the agōn, or contest,...
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Influence (Encyclopedia of the Ancient World)
Together with the Archaic Aeschylus and the Classical Sophocles, Euripides provided the canon of Greek tragedy and so no less than the foundation of Western theater. Following his death, Euripides’ reputation soon began to eclipse that of the older playwrights. He is perceived today to be the most “modern” of the Greek tragedians; his plays revel in moral ambiguity and complexity of motivations and have been a direct stimulus both to Neoclassical writers such as French dramatist Jean Racine and to the twentieth century avant-garde.
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Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Like Aeschylus and Sophocles, Euripides wrote elegies and lyric poems, none of which has survived intact. The poet is said to have been commissioned by his fellow Athenians to write a funeral epitaph for the dead at Syracuse in 413 b.c.e., but the lines handed down in Plutarch’s Life of Nicias (in Bioi paralleloi, c. 105-115 c.e.; Parallel Lives, 1579) are not usually accepted as Euripidean. Several lines exist of an epinician, or victory, ode said to have been dedicated by Euripides to the Athenian politician Alcibiades after an Olympic victory, but even in antiquity, this ode was attributed to others as well.
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
The ancient Bios Euripidou (third century b.c.e.; life of Euripides) by Satyrus assigns to the playwright innovations in the following areas: prologues, scientific dissertations on nature, oratorical pieces, and recognitions. This vague statement requires considerable qualification. Although the extant plays show little of the interest in natural science suggested by the anonymous author of the Life of Euripides and confirmed by several fragments from lost plays, Euripides’ dramatic application of set speeches and rhetorical devices is a common feature of his plays, as in the legal debate between Hecuba and Helen in The Trojan Women. These scientific and rhetorical features reveal Euripides’ place in the intellectual mainstream of late fifth century b.c.e. Athens, a position that it is difficult for a modern reader to appreciate fully because so much of the existing nondramatic evidence is fragmentary. Euripides very well may have been the first tragedian to highlight these contemporary trends in his drama.
Euripides certainly did not invent anagnorisis, or recognition, which existed in Greek literature as early as Homer’s Odyssey (c. 800 b.c.e.; English translation, 1616) and in drama as early as Aeschylus’s Chophoroi (458 b.c.e.; Libation Bearers, 1777), but Euripides uses...
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Significance (Great Lives from History: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)
Anticipating such later playwrights as Henrik Ibsen and George Bernard Shaw, Bertolt Brecht and Jean-Paul Sartre, Euripides was an innovative, agile thinker who used the stage as a forum for his ideas about the world. The second half of the fifth century b.c.e. saw immense cultural convulsions involving the destruction of the Hellenic world’s religious and political stability. Euripides recognized a world devoid of rational order and, hence, of Sophoclean notions of human responsibility and divine wisdom. He often highlighted the discrepancy between received traditions and experienced reality of human nature. Thus, his Admetus is shown as a shabby egotist, his Odysseus as a sly demagogue, his Agamemnon as an incompetent general, his Jason as an opportunistic adventurer. In contrast to the pious, conventional plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles, Euripidean drama is skeptical, rational, and diagnostic, stressing an often-difficult encounter between culture and the individual. It was this dramatic confrontation between mythic traditions and the elemental demands of the human psyche that chiefly interested Euripides.
His characters often find themselves captive to myths that strain their personalities: Euripides’ Orestes murders his mother in an Argos that provides for judicial fairness; his Odysseus, Medea, Hermione, and Electra are all divorced from a culture in which their conduct was appropriate and are set instead in an alien time that distorts and...
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Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Investigate Euripides’ originality in depicting Greek mythical tradition.
In what ways does Aristotle’s theory of tragedy apply less aptly to Euripides’ plays than to those of Aeschylus and Sophocles?
Do enthusiasts of classical drama today better understand Euripides’ tragic outlook than that of Aeschylus and Sophocles?
Is Medea more a victim of external circumstances or of her own emotional responses to them?
Did Euripides court disaster in his time by his uncompromising realism?
Which modern playwrights are most Euripidean?
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Bibliography (Encyclopedia of the Ancient World)
Allan, William. The “Andromache” and Euripidean Tragedy. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2000. In-depth treatment of one of Euripides’ more overlooked plays.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Euripides. New York: Chelsea House, 2003. A collection of essays presenting the scope of criticism of Euripides’ work.
Croally, N. T. Euripidean Polemic: The Trojan Women and the Function of Tragedy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Croally argues that the function of Greek tragedy was didactic and that The Trojan Women educated by discussing Athenian ideology. He also looks at Euripides’ relation with the Sophists.
Dunn, Francis M. Tragedy’s End: Closure and Innovation in Euripidean Drama. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. In this study of closure in Euripides’ works, Dunn argues that the playwright’s innovative endings opened up the form of tragedy although his artificial endings disallowed an authoritative reading of his plays.
Euripides. Euripides: Plays One. Translated by David Thompson and Michael J. Walton. London: Methuen, 2000.
Gounaridou, Kiki. Euripides and “Alcestis”: Speculations, Simulations, and Stories of Love in the Athenian Culture. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1998. Gounaridou examines the ambiguity and indeterminancy in Alcestis, analyzing about eighty scholarly attempts to interpret...
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