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Euripides (480?-406? bc)Euripides (480?-406? bc), Greek dramatist, ranking with Aeschylus and Sophocles as one of the three great tragic poets of ancient Greece. Euripides wrote nearly 90 plays, of which 18 survive today. His work had a great influence on Roman drama, later English and German drama, and especially 17th-century French dramatic poets Pierre Corneille and Jean Baptiste Racine.
The tragedies of Euripides present theThe tragedies of Euripides present the most subtle analysis of human psychology of the three Greek dramatists. Sophocles is quoted as saying that he portrayed people as they ought to be, whereas Euripides portrayed them as they are.
Life of Euripides
Little is known about Euripides` life.Little is known about Euripides` life. According to tradition, he was born on the island of Salams on September 23, in about 480 bc. If it was 480, he was born on the day of a great Greek naval victory over the Persians ( "see "Battle of Salams) during the Persian Wars. According to some authorities, Euripides` parents belonged to the nobility; according to others, they were of humble origin. In any case, their son received a thorough education. His plays began to be performed in 454 bc in drama festivals held in Athens, but it was not until 442 bc that he won first prize at a festival. Despite his prolific talent, Euripides won this distinction again only four times. Aside from his writings, his chief interests were philosophy and science.
Although Euripides did not identify himselfAlthough Euripides did not identify himself with any specific school of Greek philosophy, he was influenced by the Sophists and by such philosophers as Protagoras, Anaxagoras, and Socrates. Euripides was austere and considered himself misunderstood by his contemporariesa conclusion not without foundation for he was constantly the object of attack by Athenian writers of comedy. Aristophanes in particular made him a subject of a satire in his play "The Frogs" (405 bc). Euripides` plays were criticized in his time for their unconventionality, for their natural dialogue (his heroes and princes spoke the language of everyday life), and for their independence from traditional religious and moral values. His plays, however, if not overwhelmingly popular, were famous throughout Greece. Late in his life Euripides left Athens for Macedonia, where he died.
Euripides as Dramatist
In contrast to Aeschylus and SophoclesIn contrast to Aeschylus and Sophocles, Euripides represented the new moral, social, and political movements that were taking place in Athens toward the end of the 5th century bc. It was a period of enormous intellectual discovery, in which wisdom ranked as the highest earthly accomplishment. New truths were being established in all branches of knowledge, and Euripides, reacting to them, brought a new kind of consciousness to the writing of tragedy. His interest lay in the thought and experience of the ordinary individual rather than in the experiences of legendary figures from the epics of Homer.
Although Euripides drew on Greek legendsAlthough Euripides drew on Greek legends, he treated its characters in a realistic fashion: They were no longer idealized symbols remote from commonplace life, but contemporary Athenians. Euripides shared in the intellectual skepticism of the day, and his plays challenged long-accepted religious and moral dogmas. His attitudes shifted between extremes, sometimes within the boundaries of the same play. He was capable of bitter, realistic observation of human weaknesses and corruption, and yet just as often his work reflected respect for human heroism, dignity, and more tender sentiments.
Although the tragedies of Euripides differAlthough the tragedies of Euripides differ in some remarkable ways from those of Aeschylus and Sophocles, their plays have many common features. The basic structure is much the same: Scenes of spoken dialogue between two or three actors alternate with odes in lyric verse sung by a chorus. The members of the chorus are technically "dramatis personae" (characters) in the drama, but in effect they are often somewhere between the actors and the audience, especially when they act as witnesses and comment upon the action. Euripides often uses the choral odes to reinforce leading themes rather than to advance the plot of the plays.
Euripides` plays differ in structureEuripides` plays differ in structure from those of Aeschylus and Sophocles chiefly in their frequent use of prologues and epilogues. These are written in the same verse as the dialogue and are spoken most often by deities who do not appear in the play, though sometimes by human characters who do appear. In the prologue Euripides makes clear to the audience the events that precede the opening of the play and often outlines what will happen during the play. The epilogue tells the remainder of the story, often changing the fate of the characters.
Euripides` plays were criticized forEuripides` plays were criticized for their structure. His use of the prologue and epilogue came under attack as clumsy and undramatic. Aristophanes ridiculed Euripides for the mechanical and exaggerated use of the explanatory prologue, which was frequently burdened with long histories of the characters. Euripides` use of the chorus as independent of the chief action of the drama also was unconventional.
Later on Euripides was criticized for theLater on Euripides was criticized for the loose structure of his plays. Some of his works contain brilliant detached episodes that do not form coherent units through which the plots gradually develop. He also relied heavily on the "deus ex machina," the unexpected introduction of a god to solve the dilemmas of the characters and bring a play to its conclusion.
Euripides 1 | Euripides 2 | Euripides 3 |