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Euripides was born in Salamis in 480 BC and died in 406 BC. He belonged to a prominent and respectable family. He was the third among the three great Greek dramatists. The other two were Aeschylus and Sophocles. Roman drama was influenced by him. In more recent times his influence is seen in English and German drama too. He also showed an interest in philosophy and science. Though he did not belong to any particular school of philosophy, he was influenced by philosophers like Protogoras, Anaxagoras and Socrates. He was criticized and misunderstood by some of his contemporaries. He was criticized for altering legends to suit his requirements. Though he got ideas from Greek mythology, he treated his characters in a realistic manner. He was particularly attracted by the native myths and legends, especially the adventures of Athenian heroes. Among his various devices, he used the sudden introduction of a god to facilitate an anti-climax. His moods and attitudes fluctuated within the same play. He was able to portray bitterness, realistic feelings, human weaknesses, selfishness and corruption. Yet his works also reflected human dignity, sincerity, heroism and tender sentiments. His heroes and heroines were often victimized because of divine cruelty.
Euripides had contradictory tendencies. He was a rationalist as well as a romanticist. He criticized traditional gods, but he also celebrated religious phenomena. He wrote patriotic plays, anti- war plays extremely bitter tragedies and also plays with joyous endings. He maintained the conventions of tragedy but was also experimental in writing them.
Euripides began his career in 455 BC when he participated in tragic competitions. He won the first prize for the first time in 442 BC. Only 78 of his plays survived in the Collected works. The plays that are now available can be divided into two groups. One is a group of ten plays, which are called the select plays. These have been mainly selected for school use. One or two volumes of Collected Works containing nine plays have been copied into a single manuscript.
Some of Euripidesí excellent plays are Heracles, the Ion and Iphigenia among the Taurians. His other good plays are Alcestis (438) for which he won the second prize, Medea (431) for which he won the third prize, Children of Heracles (430), Hippolytus (428) for which he won the first prize, Andromache (425), Hecuba (424), Suppliant Women (423), Electra (420), Heracles (416), Trojan Women, Iphigenia among the Taurians (414), Ion (413), Phoenician Women (410), Orestes (408).
Other plays by Euripides are Bacchae and Iphigenia in Aulis and Cyclops. The exact dates of these plays are not known. The Bacchae ranks among his greatest plays. Besides plays he wrote a victory Ode. He also wrote an epitaph in honor of the Athenians who died in Sicily.
Medea, Hippolytus, Hecuba, Electra and Heracles are plays of passion and revenge. The children of Heracles, Andromache and The Suppliant Women are patriotic plays. Iphigenia in Tauris, Helen and Ion are romantic melodramas in which long-lost loved ones at last find each other.
Euripides depicted some of the most intricate emotions of human beings through his plays. In Medea he depicted vengeful infanticide. In Electra it was matricide with intense vengeance. He could also depict self-sacrifice, love and tenderness through Iphigenia in Tauris. He attacks the cruelty in Athens through the Trojan Women.