Euripides

Definition

Theater

  • (484 - 406 BC) Greek dramatist. The last majortragic playwright of the classical world, he has also been called"the first modern". Euripides was not highly successfulin his lifetime, winning the first of only five victories at the Dionysiaat the age of 43. While Aristotle called him "the most tragicof the tragic poets"; Aristophanes accused him of teaching Athenians"to think, see, understand, suspect, question everything".By the end of the 19th century, however, Euripides was the most acclaimedGreek playwright. Elizabeth Barrett Browning summed up the reasonsfor his popularity:
    Our Euripides, the human,
    With his droppings of warm tears,
    And his touches of things common
    Till they rose to touch the spheres.

    When the Royal Shakespeare Company presented a ten-play cycleThe Greeks in 1980, seven of the works were by Euripides.

    He wrote 92 plays of which 17 tragedies survive, along withthe only extant satyr-play, Cyclops. His tragediesinclude Medea, his masterpiece The Bacchae, theanti-war The Trojan Women, and Electra (413 BC)and its sequel Orestes (408 BC). Other works includetragicomedies, such as Iphigenia in Tauris (414 BC),the comedy Helen (412 BC), and the pageant play PhoenicianWomen (411 BC).

    Euripides's innovations included the deus ex machinaand the formal prologue. He used simple everyday language,bringing a new realism to the stage. Although contemporaries accusedhim of killing tragedy, he humanized drama by adding elements of sentiment,romance, and even comedy. He was the first to argue against the socialinferiority of women, and the first to show women in love. He wasalso the first to explore such subjects as madness and repression,thereby foreshadowing the psychological dramas of Seneca and the NewComedy of Menander.

    Euripides is believed to have been trained as an athlete byhis father after an oracle predicted that he would win contests. (Helater made fun of both athletes and oracles.) A recluse, he shunnedAthenian civil and social affairs, and in later life would sit allday in a cave on Salamis overlooking the sea as he contemplated andwrote "something great and high". In 408 BC Euripideswas exiled for his unorthodox views to Macedonia, where he died lessthan two years later. According to tradition, when the Spartans arrivedto burn Athens, they desisted after a reminder that this was Euripides'scity.

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