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Euripides

Euripides (480 BCE-406 BCE) wasn't always as famous as he is today. It is said Euripides was so disliked in Athens that he chose a life of exile or was exiled to Macedonia.1 So, how did this Ancient Greek Tragedian become such an influential playwright, writing over 19 plays that have survived into modernity and influenced Greek New Comedy? Euripides's innovative take on Ancient Greek Tragedy can be seen in plays such as Medea (431 BCE), Helen (412 BCE), and Hippolytus (428 BCE).

Euripides, Ancient Athens, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Euripides worked as an Athenian playwright in the 5th century.

Euripides Biography

Euripides was born circa 480 BCE on Salamis Island but lived the majority of his life in Athens. The 5th century in which Euripides lived is known as the Classical Age of Athens.

The life of Euripides is hard to reconstruct as the sources from which our knowledge of him comes are unreliable. However, it is possible to get a basic understanding of his life.

The Classical Age of Athens (480 BCE- 323 BCE) was a prosperous time for Athens, a major polis in Ancient Greece. Athens was a democracy that allowed many artists, philosophers, and scholars to flourish. In particular, this period of Athenian history saw the growth and development of Greek theater with playwrights like Euripides, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, and Sophocles. In particular, Greek Tragedy became a popular genre of theater.

Legend surrounds his birth. An oracle told Euripides's father, Mnesarchus, that Euripides would win a crown of victory and that his future lay on the stage. Mnesarchus decided his son would be an athlete, and soon Euripides began lessons in athletics. In addition to athletics, Euripides studied philosophy and art, such as painting.

In 455 BCE, Euripides was chosen to compete in a festival dedicated to Dramatic theater, and in 441 BCE, he won the competition in first place. Euripides wrote nearly 92 plays; however, only about 19 survived into the modern day. Euripides would win four competitions for his plays. In 408 BCE, Euripides left Athens. Ancient sources and modern scholarship suggest that Athenian society did not like Euripides for his teachings. Evidence suggests he either chose exile or was exiled,1 after which he settled in the Kingdom of Macedonia, where he died in 406 BCE. The cause of Euripides's death is not certain. Some believe the King's hounds killed him, and others believe he died due to the bitter cold of Macedonian winters.

Plays by Euripides

Only 19 of Euripides's plays have survived into the modern day. His most famous plays include Medea (431 BCE), Hippolytus (428 BCE), and Helen (412 BCE).

Euripides, Dionysias, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Euripides's plays were performed in the Dionysias festival.

Medea (431 BCE)

Medea is a play written by Euripides in 431 BCE and is based on the myth of Jason and Medea. It is a Tragedy that centers on Medea, who has been betrayed by her husband, Jason. Medea plots her revenge, ending in the death of her two sons and her fleeing to Athens. Medea won Euripides third place during the festival of the Dionysias.

The Dionysias was a celebration held in Ancient Greece for the god Dionysus. Competitions were held to see who had the best Tragedy and who had the best Comedy. A jury would rank the plays they saw to see who had the best one. The first Dionysias is thought to have been held sometime between 535 and 532 BCE.

Medea explores many themes, such as vengeance, love, and emotion. The Tragedy is considered rather simple compared to other contemporary tragedies, but its impact was still highly influential.

Hippolytus (428 BCE)

Hippolytus is another Tragedy that focuses on the myth of Hippolytus, the son of the legendary Theseus. It premiered during the Dionysias in 428 BCE and won Euripides third place. It surrounds the story of Hippolytus, who has sworn chastity and reveres the goddess Artemis. Aphrodite, who he refuses to worship, wants revenge, so she makes Hippolytus's stepmother, Phaedra, fall in love with him. What follows is a series of tragedies that end in misunderstanding and death.

Helen (412 BCE)

Helen premiered in 412 BCE as part of a trilogy in the Dionysias festival. Unfortunately for Euripides, his trilogy did not win any awards. Helen begins when Helen learns that her husband Menelaus never returned home to Greece after the Trojan War and is dead. Now widowed, Helen is in danger of having to marry Theoclymenus. Helen consults a prophetess in an attempt to learn what happened to Menelaus. One day, a stranger from Egypt arrives, and Helen recognizes him as Menelaus. However, Menelaus quickly realizes this isn't the real Helen. The real Helen is the one he hid in a cave in Troy, so who is this Helen before him? The Helen Menelaus was standing before was actually a phantom sent by Athena and Hera. And as is usual in Euripides's plays, tragedy after tragedy begins to unfold.

Writing Analysis of Euripides' Plays

Euripides was a Greek Tragedian who wrote many Greek Tragedies.

Greek Tragedy is a type of theatrical drama that originated in the 5th century BCE in Athens. Tragedies were based on tradition and myth. They often centered around a hero/heroine and the awful events surrounding their life that cause great suffering. All tragedies end with an unfortunate, often terrible ending. Euripides, Sophocles, and Aeschylus are some of the most well-known Greek tragedians.

Euripides was known for his experimentation within the Tragedy genre. Before Euripides, the emotional world of a character was not used to elaborate a plot, but Euripides did just that. He focused on the character's feelings to enhance the true nature of tragedy.

Euripides, Greek theatre masks, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Euripides wrote Ancient Greek Tragedies.

Another key feature of Euripides's writing is the use of a monologue in the prologue to tell the background of the story in detail. The prologue, in Greek drama, was usually a character that would explain the background information about the play; however, Euripides preferred the use of a monologue for that role.

In Euripides's play Medea, the play begins with an impassioned monologue by Medea, who tells in detail how her husband, Jason, has left her for a Corinthian princess. It reveals the anger and anguish Medea feels throughout the play and the reason for that anguish.

Another important aspect of the writing style of Euripides is to create characters who have a sense of realism. They are often insecure people with internal torment and impulses that they must fight. This contrasts the usual archetypal characterizations of tragic heroes and heroines in other plays. Typically, heroes and heroines in other plays are proud and strong and typically must deal with challenges sent to them by the gods. This is particularly true in characters such as Phaedra and Medea.

The Influence of Euripides

Euripides, although not as successful in the Dionysian festivals as tragedians like Aeschylus, was incredibly influential in the progression of Greek drama. In particular, Euripides's realism-infused tragedies influenced the formation of a new type of Greek Drama known as Greek New Comedy. Greek New Comedy is attributed to the Greek dramatist Menander, who often imitated the works of Euripides and greatly admired his work.2

Greek New Comedy originated in 320 BCE and remained popular until around the middle of the 200s BCE. Greek New Comedy was similar to comedy but focused more on viewing Athenian society through a satirical lens and looked more closely at the personal affairs of Athenian citizens.

The satirical nature of Euripides's tragedies made their way into Greek New Comedy. In addition, Euripides also influenced Roman theater and even some genres of Modern Theater.

Quotes by Euripides

Euripides's power as a playwright is found in his words. Here are a few quotes from the work of Euripides that will help you better understand his work as a playwright.

But on me hath fallen this unforeseen disaster, and sapped my life; ruined I am, and long to resign the boon of existence, kind friends, and die. For he who was all the world to me, as well thou knowest, hath turned out the worst of men, my own husband. Of all things that have life and sense we women are the most hapless creatures; first must we buy a husband at a great price, and o'er ourselves a tyrant set which is an evil worse than the first; and herein lies the most important issue, whether our choice be good or bad," (Medea, Scene 1).

In this quote from Medea, the source of tragedy is passionately expressed by Medea. She laments that the woman's destiny is to find a suitable husband and "buy" them with a suitable dowry. Next, the woman must live with the fact her husband may act as a source of evil or a source of good, but there is no way to know. Euripides was known for expressing the sufferings of women in a way not seen before in the Ancient Greek world.

For Theseus and Hippolyta, an Amazon,
had a son, Hippolytus, and this lad,
a student trained by pious Pittheus,
is the only person here in Troezen
who claims that I, of all divinities,
by nature am the most despicable.
He refuses to have women in his bed,
turns his back on any thought of marriage,
and worships Zeus’s daughter Artemis,
Apollo’s sister, believing her to be
the greatest god of all," (Hippolytus, Lines 13-20).

In this quote spoken by the Goddess Aphrodite in Euripides's play Hippolytus, the power of the gods over a mortal's life is demonstrated. It also reveals that even the gods have pride that can be wounded. Here Aphrodite is angry that Hippolytus refuses to worship her, the goddess of love and beauty, and chooses to worship Artemis, the goddess of the hunt and virgin maidens. Aphrodite is so angry that she causes Hippolytus's stepmom, Phaedra, to fall deeply in love with him. This leads to the tragic end of many characters in the play.

Go into the house [oikos] and question the daughter of the sea-nymph, Theonoe, who knows all things, about your husband, whether he is still alive, or has left the light of day; and when you know for certain, rejoice or be full of mourning, according to your fortune. Before you know anything correctly, what good would it do you to grieve? " (Helen, lines 319-324).

In this quote from Euripides's play, Helen, the chorus tells Helen she must consult Theonoe before jumping to any conclusions about the fate of her husband, Menelaus. This is a good example of the role of the chorus. In Ancient Greek Tragedies, the chorus acted as a commentary on the plot's action or sometimes provided the main character with advice on what to do next. It helped move the plot along without any awkward or lengthy transitions.

Euripides - Key Takeaways

  • Euripides is an Ancient Greek Tragedian who lived in the 5th century BCE in Athens.
  • Euripides wrote nearly 92 plays, but only 19 have survived into modernity, such as Medea, Hippolytus, and Helen.
  • Euripides was known for his innovative take on Ancient Greek Tragedy, including using a monologue and focusing on the emotional world of his characters.
  • Euripides influenced the progression of Greek New Comedy and Roman theater.
  • Euripides died in 406 BCE in the Kingdom of Macedonia after he was exiled from Athens.

References

  1. Stevens, P. T. “Euripides and the Athenians.” The Journal of Hellenic Studies, vol. 76, 1956.
  2. Andrewes, M. “Euripides and Menander.” The Classical Quarterly, vol. 18, no. 1, 1924.

Frequently Asked Questions about Euripides

The five most famous tragedies of Euripides include Medea, Helen, Hippolytus, Alcestis, and The Trojan Women

Euripides is best known for his Ancient Greek Tragedies such as Medea, Helen, and Hippolytus

Euripides is an Ancient Greek Tragedian who lived in the 5th century BCE in Athens. 

The cause of Euripides's death is not certain. Some believe he was killed by the King's hounds and others believe he died due to the bitter cold of Macedonian winters. 

Euripides wrote more than 92 plays, only 19 of which have survived into the modern day. 

Final Euripides Quiz

Question

Who was Euripides?

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Answer

An Ancient Greek Tragedian who lived in Athens in the 5th century BCE.

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Question

What century was the Classical Age of Athens?

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Answer

The 5th century and 4th century 

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Question

Approximately how many plays did Euripides write?

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Answer

92 plays

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How many of Euripides's plays survived into the Modern day?

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Answer

19 plays

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What are three of Euripides's famous plays?

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Answer

Medea, Hippolytus, and Helen

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Where were the plays of Euripides performed?

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Answer

The Dionysias

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Question

What goddess takes revenge on Hippolytus for refusing to worship her?

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Answer

Aphrodite

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Question

What genre of drama did Euripides write?

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Answer

Greek tragedies

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What are Greek Tragedies?

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Answer

Plays that are centered around a hero/heroine and the awful events that surround their life which cause great suffering. 

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What is different about Euripides's tragedies?

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Answer

He focused on the emotions of characters, used a monologue for the background of the play, and infused the plays with realism. 

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What genre of drama did Euripides influence?

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Answer

Greek New Comedy 

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