At a Glance

Euripides was the bad boy of Ancient Greek tragedy, a rebellious “upstart” who rejected many of the formal structural elements of drama during his time. Significantly reducing the emphasis of the chorus in his plays, Euripides instead shifted the focus to the characters themselves. This less-rigid approach gave him the freedom to explore character psychology more deeply, which eventually allowed to create three-dimensional, rounded figures, especially women such as the tragic heroine of his play Medea. Though ahead of their time in golden age Athens, his plays have since been embraced by modern audiences. And despite the notable work of his contemporaries Aeschylus and Sophocles, it is Euripides who gets the credit for giving Greek tragedy—and ultimately all drama—a human face.

Facts and Trivia

  • Euripides is the author of The Cyclops, the only satyr play to survive in its entirety. Short, ribald, and comic, satyr plays were part of a tetralogy—a set of four plays that also included three tragedies.
  • Euripides was frequently lampooned by the comic playwright Aristophanes. Euripides figured prominently in Aristophanes’ The Frogs, in which he and Aeschylus are brought back from the dead to debate which of them was the better dramatist. Naturally, Aeschylus won.
  • Euripides’ works still appeal to even the avant-garde. His Alcestis was reimagined as a kind of performance art piece by theatrical experimenter Robert Wilson in 1986.
  • Of all of the tragedians who competed in the City Dionysia, a dramatic festival hosted in ancient Athens, Euripides won the fewest prizes.
  • Although Euripides was underappreciated by his contemporaries, history has been on his side. Of the three major Greek tragedians (Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides), the rebellious bad boy has had the largest number of complete plays to survive.

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Biography

(Historic Lives: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)

0111201545-Euripides.jpg Euripides (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Greek playwright{$I[g]Greece;Euripides} Ranking with Aeschylus and Sophocles as a master of Attic tragedy, Euripides was the most “modern” of the great Greek tragedians, often criticizing traditional mythology and realistically working out the logical implications of ancient legends.

Early Life

Little is known of the life of Euripides (yew-RIHP-uh-deez) because few records were kept in his time. Philochorus, a careful annalist who lived in the early third century b.c.e., wrote a biography of Euripides, fragments of which have survived; it is long on anecdotes but short on dates. What is reasonably certain is that Euripides’ father, Mnesarchos, was an affluent merchant and that his mother, Cleito, was of aristocratic descent. When he was four years old, the great naval Battle of Salamis, in which the Greeks defeated the Persians, caused Euripides’ family to flee the small town of Phlya for Athens. When the boy was eight, the ruined walls of Athens were rebuilt, after the Greeks had decisively defeated Persia on land as well as sea. Freedom had triumphed...

(The entire section is 4,336 words.)