Euripides

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Euripides

Euripides (yŏŏrĬp´Ĭdēz), 480 or 485–406 BC, Greek tragic dramatist, ranking with Aeschylus and Sophocles. Born in Attica, he lived in Athens most of his life, though he spent much time on Salamis. He died in Macedonia, at the court of King Archelaus. He wrote perhaps 92 plays (the first produced in 455); during his lifetime he won only four first prizes (the first in 441) at the competition held at the annual spring festival of Dionysus in Athens. There are 19 of his plays extant (including one that is doubtful): Cyclops (date unknown), the only complete extant Greek satyr play; Alcestis (438); the Heraclidae (c.430?), a patriotic play inspired by the Peloponnesian War; Medea (431); Hippolytus (428); Andromache (426?); Hecuba (425?); the Suppliants and Hercules Furens (both c.420); Electra (417?); the Trojan Women (415), an indictment of war; Helena (412); Ion (c.412); Iphigenia in Tauris (date uncertain); the Phoenician Women (c.409), on the story of the Seven against Thebes; Orestes (408); Iphigenia in Aulis and the Bacchae, on the Pentheus story, both posthumously produced (405); and Rhesus, doubtfully attributed to Euripides. Provocative, concerned with problems and conflicts sometimes disturbing to his audiences, Euripides displays a rationalistic and iconoclastic attitude toward the gods and an interest in less heroic, even homely, characters. He brings the mythical stories down to the immediate contemporary and human level. His sense of dramatic situation and plot construction go beyond Aeschylus and Sophocles, and what his plays may lack in grandeur they make up in penetration. His choral passages (interludes in, rather than parts of, the action) have remarkable lyric power. Euripides uses the prologue to get into the situation as rapidly as possible, sacrificing a proper exposition of previous action, and he uses the deus ex machina [god from a machine] to cut through and resolve the play's problem. His popularity increased after his death, and his plays were revived more than those of Aeschylus or Sophocles. Among the many translations of Euripides is The Complete Greek Tragedies, ed. by Richmond Lattimore and David Grene (1956–59).

See studies by G. Murray (1918, 2d ed. repr. 1965), T. B. L. Webster (1967), and A. P. Burnett (1972).

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