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Euripides

Euripides was a writer of ancient tragic drama. This is a quintessentially Greek genre, in which a hero is pitted against fate and ends up losing on the balance. There is some critical debate about the exact stature of Euripides relative to the other great tragedians of ancient Greece. The philosopher Nietzsche, for example, famously argued that Euripides represents the degeneration of the great tragic tradition into mere moralism. 

A look at Greek tragedies

Euripides was a prolific tragedian of classical Athens and the author of one of three plays to survive from that time. It is estimated that he authored between ninety-three and ninety-five plays, though only eighteen or nineteen survive in completion while the rest exist in fragments and pieces. His popularity helped to ensure the preservation of as many of his works that survived. Euripides, along with other Greek tragedy authors, Homer, Demosthenes, and Menander, became a cornerstone of early literary education. His is credited with theatrical innovations that have played a great part in the style of modern comedy and romantic comedy. 

Euripides' popular Greek plays

Though scholars believe that Euripides ultimately wrote ninety-five plays, others strongly believe that he only wrote ninety-two plays. Several of his most popular plays include: Alcesits, Andromeda, Antigone, Archelaus, Bellerophon, Cresphontes, Cyclops, Electra, Hecuba, Helen, Herakles’ Children, Hippolytus, Ion, Iphigenia in Aulis, Iphigenia in Tauris, Medea, Merope, Oedipus, Orestes, Peliades, Philoctses, The Phoenician Women, Rhesus, The Suppliants, Theristai, and The Trojan Women. Read an essay about Sophocles and "The King Oedipus."

Mixing myth with classic storytelling

The writing style of Euripides was extremely innovative of the times and has had a heavy influence on modern drama and theater; in particular, the representation of mythical heroes as regular, everyday people who happen to find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. His approach has been continuously used and adapted until it became the style that is followed by modern comedy. He presented his characters’ emotions and motives in a way that had never before been done. This style inspired the works of Shakespeare, Racine, Ibsen, Menander, and Shaw. Unique for the times, Euripides was surprisingly sensitive to the plights of society’s victims. His work was often criticized for its sympathy to women and those of the lowest classes. His groundbreaking style made him a leader of modern intellectualism. He was, in every aspect, a modernizer. 

Understanding Euripides' unknown history

Very few facts about Euripides’s person life are known for sure. It is known that he was born in Athens, Greece sometime around 485 B.C. and it can be assumed that his family was most likely prosperous. His mother’s name was Cleito and his father’s name was either Mnesarchus or Mnesarchide. Euripides married a woman named Melito and fathered three sons with her. 

During this time, many major playwrights entered the annual Athenian dramatic festival, which was held in honor Dionysus, god of grape harvest, wine, and fertility. Euripides first entered the contest in the year 455 but did not win the first of his four victories until 441. He associated with all the important and influential philosophers of the century, including Anaxagoras, Protagoras, and Socrates. 

During his lifetime, he was often ignored by critics and judges because he did not tailor his work to cater to the fleeting fancies of Athenian society. He thought their superstitions to be silly and was disgusted at what he saw as their extreme moral hypocrisy. Euripides was a pacifist and free thinker, in addition to being an avid humanitarian, a quality that was extremely rare in a period ruled by violence and intolerance. Thus, he spent much of his time alone with his books on the island of Salamis.

Unlike his colleague Socrates, who was publicly put to death, Euripides left Athens to live in Macedonia with their king, Archelaus. He died there in 406 B.C when it is said that he was attacked by Molossian hounds, though scholar believe that it is more likely that he fell victim to the harsh winters of Macedonia. 

Euripides is not only the author of classic theatrical plays, but he is most certainly one of the fathers of modern literature. His work has affected genres from drama to comedy to romance and continues to influence the shape of contemporary writing, allowing it to influence some of the most commonly used art forms today. Without the impact left by his work, culture and art as we know it would cease to exist.

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