480 - 406 BC
Euripides was one of the three great tragedians of classical Athens, along with Aeschylus and Sophocles.
He is believed to have written over 90 plays, 18 of which are extant (it is now widely believed that a nineteenth, Rhesus, was written by someone else). Fragments of most of the other plays survive, some of them substantial.
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.
Euripides is known primarily for having reshaped the formal structure of traditional Attic tragedy by showing strong women characters and smart slaves, and by satirizing many heroes of Greek mythology.
His mother's name was Cleito, and his father's either Mnesarchus or Mnesarchides. Evidence suggests that Euripides' family was comfortable financially. He had a wife named Melito, and together they had three sons. It is rumored that he also had a daughter, but she was killed after a rabid dog attacked her. Some call this rumor a joke that Aristophanes, a comic writer who often poked fun at Euripides, wrote about him. However, many historians fail to see the humor in this and believe it is indeed true.
The record of Euripides' public life, other than his involvement in dramatic competitions, is almost non-existent. There is no reason or historical evidence to believe that he travelled to Syracuse, Sicily or engaged himself in any other public or political activities during his lifetime, or left Athens at the invitation of king Archelaus II and stayed with him in Macedonia after 408 BC.
Euripides first competed in the famous Athenian dramatic festival (the Dionysia) in 455 BC, one year after the death of Aeschylus. He came in third. It was not until 441 BC that he won first place, and over the course of his lifetime, Euripides claimed a mere four victories.
He was a frequent target of Aristophanes' humor. He appears as a character in The Acharnians, Thesmophoriazousae, and most memorably in The Frogs, where Dionysus travels to Hades to bring Euripides back from the dead. After a competition of poetry, Dionysus opts to bring Aeschylus instead.
Euripides' final competition in Athens was in 408 BC. Although there is a story that he left Athens embittered because of his defeats, there is no real evidence to support it. He died in 406 BC, probably in Athens or nearby, and not in Macedon, as some biographers repeatedly state. The Bacchae was performed after his death in 405 BC.
When compared with Aeschylus, who won thirteen times, and Sophocles, with eighteen victories, Euripides was the least honored, though not necessarily the least popular, of the three - at least in his lifetime.
Later, in the 4th century BC, the dramas of Euripides became more popular than those of Aeschylus and Sophocles. 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 are considered to be Alcestis, Medea, Electra and The Bacchae.
Classicists at Oxford University are, as of June 2005, employing 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.
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