of classical Athens
, the other two being Aeschylus
. Some ancient scholars attributed ninety-five plays to him but according to the Suda
it was ninety-two at most. Of these, eighteen or nineteen have survived complete (there has been debate about his authorship of Rhesus
, largely on stylistic grounds) and there are also fragments, some substantial, of most of the other plays.
The company of just and righteous men is better than wealth and a rich estate.
Time will explain it all. He is a talker, and needs no questioning before he speaks.
Waste not fresh tears over old griefs.
Sweet is the remembrance of troubles when you are in safety.
Cleverness is not wisdom. And not to think mortal thoughts is to see few days.
Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.
Slow but sure moves the might of the gods.
Humility, a sense of reverence before the sons of heaven — of all the prizes that a mortal man might win, these, I say, are wisest; these are best.
Events will take their course, it is no good of being angry at them; he is happiest who wisely turns them to the best account.
I sacrifice to no god save myself — And to my belly, greatest of deities.
of classical Athens
, the other two being Aeschylus
. Some ancient scholars attributed ninety-five plays to him but according to the Suda
it was ninety-two at most. Of these, eighteen or nineteen have survived complete (there has been debate about his authorship of Rhesus
, largely on stylistic grounds) and there are also fragments, some substantial, of most of the other plays. More of his plays have survived intact than those of Aeschylus
together, partly due to mere chance and partly because his popularity grew as theirs declinedhe became, in the Hellenistic Age, a cornerstone of ancient literary education, along with Homer
Euripides is identified with theatrical innovations that have profoundly influenced drama down to modern times, especially in the representation of traditional, mythical heroes as ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. This new approach led him to pioneer developments that later writers adapted to comedy, some of which are characteristic of romance
. Yet he also became "the most tragic of poets",The epithet "the most tragic of poets" was coined by Aristotle, probably in reference to a perceived preference for unhappy endings, yet it has wider relevance: "For in his representation of human suffering Euripides pushes to the limits of what an audience can stand; some of his scenes are almost unbearable."B. Knox,'Euripides' in The Cambridge History of Classical Literature I: Greek Literature, P.Easterling and B.Knox (ed.s), Cambridge University Press (1985), page 339 focusing on the inner lives and motives of his characters in a way previously unknown. He was "the creator of...that cage which is the theatre of Shakespeare's Othello
, Racine's Phèdre
, of Ibsen and Strindberg
," in which "...imprisoned men and women destroy each other by the intensity of their loves and hates", and yet he was also the literary ancestor of comic dramatists as diverse as Menander and George Bernard Shaw
He was unique too among the writers of ancient Athens for the sympathy he demonstrated towards all victims of society, including women. His conservative male audiences were frequently shocked by the 'heresies' he put into the mouths of characters, such as these words of his heroine Medea
- Sooner would I stand
- Three times to face their battles, shield in hand,
- Than bear one child!
His contemporaries associated him with Socrates
as a leader of a decadent intellectualism, both of them being frequently lampooned by comic poets such as Aristophanes
. Whereas Socrates was eventually put on trial and executed as a corrupting influence, Euripides chose a voluntary exile in old age, dying in Macedoniathat at least is the traditional account. Recent scholarship casts doubt on ancient biographies generally and that includes 'biographical' facts about Euripides. For example, it is possible that he never visited Macedonia at all or, if he did, he might have been drawn there by King Archelaus with incentives that were also offered to other artists.
LifeTraditional accounts of the author's life are found in many commentaries and include details such as these: He was born on Salamis Island
around 484 BC, the son of Mnesarchus, a retailer who lived in a village near Athens. On receiving an oracle that his son was fated to win "crowns of victory", Mnesarchus insisted that the boy should train for a career in athletics. In fact the boy was destined for a career on the stage, where however he was to win only five victories, one of which was after his death. His mother's name was Cleito. He served for a short time as both dancer and torch-bearer at the rites of Apollo
Zosterius. His education was not confined to athletics: he also studied painting and philosophy under the masters Prodicus
. He had two disastrous marriages and both his wivesMelite and Choerine (the latter bearing him three sons)were unfaithful. He became a recluse, making a home for himself in a cave on Salamis (The Cave of Euripides
), "where he built an impressive library and pursued daily communion with the sea and sky", eventually retiring to the "rustic court" of King Archelaus in Macedonia, there dying in 406 BC. However, as mentioned in the introduction, biographical details such as these should be regarded with scepticism. They are derived almost entirely from three unreliable sources:
- folklore, employed by the ancients to lend colour to the lives of celebrated authors;
- parody, employed by contemporary comic poets to ridicule tragic poets;
- 'autobiographical' clues gleaned from his extant plays (a mere fraction of his total output).
This biography is divided into three sections corresponding to the three kinds of sources.
A fabled lifeEuripides was the youngest in a set of three great tragedians who were almost contemporaries: his first play was staged thirteen years after Sophocles's debut and only three years after Aeschylus's masterpiece Oresteia. The identity of the threesome is neatly underscored by a patriotic account of their roles during Greece's great victory over Persia at the Battle of Salamis
Aeschylus fought there, Sophocles was just old enough to celebrate the victory in a boys' chorus and Euripides was born on the very day of the battle. The apocryphal account that he composed his works in a cave on Salamis island was a late tradition and it probably symbolizes the isolation of an intellectual who was rather ahead of his time. Much of his life and his whole career coincided with the struggle between Athens and Sparta for hegemony in Greece but he didn't live to see the final defeat of his city. It is said that he died in Macedonia after being attacked by the Molossian hounds of King Archelaus and that his cenotaph near Piraeus
was struck by lightningsigns of his unique powers, whether for good or ill (according to one modern scholar, his death might have been caused instead by the harsh Macedonian winter). In an account by Plutarch
, the catastrophic failure of the Sicilian expedition
led Athenians to trade renditions of Euripides's lyrics to their enemies in return for food and drink (Life of Nicias 29). Plutarch is the source also for the story that the victorious Spartan generals, having planned the demolition of Athens and the enslavement of its people, grew merciful after being entertained at a banquet by lyrics from Euripides's play Electra: "they felt that it would be a barbarous act to annihilate a city which produced such men" (Life of Lysander)
A comic lifeTragic poets were often mocked by comic poets during the dramatic festivals Dionysia
and Euripides was travestied more than most. Aristophanes scripted him as a character in at least three plays: The Acharnians
and The Frogs
. Yet Aristophanes borrowed rather than just satirized some of the tragedian's methods since he was once ridiculed by a colleague, Cratinus
, as "a hair-splitting master of niceties, a Euripidaristophanist". According to another comic poet, Teleclides, the plays of Euripides were co-authored by the philosopher Socrates. According to Aristophanes, the alleged co-author was a celebrated actor, Cephisophon, who also shared the tragedian's house and his wife, while Socrates taught an entire school of quibblers like Euripides:
- They sit at the feet of Socrates
- Till they can't distinguish the wood from the trees,
- And tragedy goes to POT;
- They don't care whether their plays are art
- But only whether the words are smart;
- They waste our time with quibbles and quarrels,
- Destroying our patience as well as our morals,
- And making us all talk ROT.
In The Frogs, composed after Euripides and Aeschylus were both dead, Aristophanes imagines the god Dionysus
venturing down to Hades
in search of a good poet to bring back to Athens. After a debate between the two deceased bards, the god brings Aeschylus back to life as more useful to Athens on account of his wisdom, rejecting Euripides as merely clever. Such comic 'evidence' suggests that Athenians admired Euripides even while they mistrusted his intellectualism, at least during the long war with Sparta. Aeschylus had written his own epitaph commemmorating his life as a warrior fighting for Athens against Persia, without any mention of his success as a playwright, and Sophocles was celebrated by his contemporaries for his social gifts and contributions to public life as a state official, but there are no records of Euripides's public life except as a dramatisthe could well have been "a brooding and bookish recluse". He is presented as such in The Acharnians, where Aristophanes shows him to be living morosely in a precarious house, surrounded by the tattered costumes of his disreputable characters (and yet Agathon
, another tragic poet, is discovered in a later play, Thesmophoriazusae
, to be living in circumstances almost as bizarre). Euripides's mother was a humble vendor of vegetables, according to the comic tradition, yet his plays indicate that he had a liberal education and hence a privileged background.
A tragedian's lifeEuripides first competed in the City Dionysia
, the famous Athenian dramatic festival, in 455 BC, one year after the death of Aeschylus
, and it was not until 441 BC that he won a first prize. His final competition in Athens was in 408 BC. The Bacchae
and Iphigenia in Aulis were performed after his death in 405 BC and first prize was awarded posthumously. Altogether his plays won first prize only five times.
His plays and those of Aeschylus and Sophocles indicate a difference in outlook between the three mena generation gap probably due to the Sophistical enlightenment
in the middle decades of the fifth century: Aeschylus still looked back to the archaic period, Sophocles was in transition between periods, and Euripides was fully imbued with the new spirit of the classical age
. When Euripides's plays are sequenced in time, they also reveal that his outlook might have changed, providing a "spiritual biography" along these lines:
- an early period of high tragedy (Medea, Hippolytus)
- a patriotic period at the outset of the Peloponnesian War (Children of Hercules, Suppliants)
- a middle period of disillusionment at the senselessness of war (Hecuba, Women of Troy)
- an escapist period with a focus on romantic intrigue (Ion, Iphegenia in Tauris, Helen)
- a final period of tragic despair (Orestes, Phoenician Women, Bacchae)
However, about 80% of his plays have been lost and even the extant plays don't present a fully consistent picture of his 'spiritual' development (for example, Iphigenia at Aulis is dated with the 'despairing' Bacchae, yet it contains elements that became typical of New Comedy). In the Bacchae, he restores the chorus and messenger speech to their traditional role in the tragic plot, and the play appears to be the culmination of a regressive or archaizing tendency in his later works (for which see Chronology below). Believed to have been composed in the wilds of Macedonia, Bacchae also happens to dramatize a primitive side to Greek religion and some modern scholars have therefore interpreted this particular play biographically as:
- a kind of death bed conversion or renunciation of atheism;
- the poet's attempt to ward off the charge of impiety that was later to overtake his friend, Socrates;
- evidence of a new belief that religion cannot be analysed rationally.
One of his earliest extant plays, Medea, includes a speech that he seems to have written in defence of himself as an intellectual ahead of his time, though he has put it in the mouth of the play's heroine:
WorkAthenian tragedy in performance during Euripides's lifetime was a public contest between playwrights. The state funded it and awarded prizes to the winners. The language was spoken and sung verse, the performance area included a circular floor or orchestra
where the chorus could dance, a space for actors (three speaking actors in Euripides's time), a backdrop or skene and some special effects: an ekkyklema
(used to bring the skene's 'indoors' outdoors) and a mechane
(used to lift actors in the air, as in deus ex machina
). With the introduction of the third actor (an innovation attributed to Sophocles), acting also began to be regarded as a skill to be rewarded with prizes, requiring a long apprenticeship in the chorus. Euripides and other playwrights accordingly composed more and more arias for accomplished actors to sing and this tendency becomes more marked in his later plays: tragedy was a "living and ever-changing genre" (other changes in his work are touched on in the previous section and in Chronology; a list of his plays is given in Extant plays below).
The comic poet, Aristophanes, is the earliest known critic to characterize Euripides as a spokesman for destructive, new ideas, associated with declining standards in both society and tragedy (see Reception for more). However, fifth century tragedy was a social gathering for "carrying out quite publicly the maintenance and development of mental infrastructure" and it offered spectators a "platform for an utterly unique form of institutionalized discussion". A dramatist's role was not just to entertain but also to educate his fellow citizenshe was expected to have a message. Traditional myth provided the subject matter but the dramatist was meant to be innovative so as to sustain interest, which led to novel characterization of heroic figures and to use of the mythical past to talk about present issues. The difference between Euripides and his older colleagues was one of degree: his characters talked about the present more controversially and more pointedly than did those of Aeschylus and Sophocles, sometimes even challenging the democratic order. Thus, for example, Odysseus
is represented in Hecuba
(lines 131-32) as "agile-minded, sweet-talking, demos-pleasing" i.e. a type of the war-time demagogues that were active in Athens during the Peloponnesian War. Speakers in the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles sometimes distinguished between slaves who are servile by nature and those who are slaves by mere circumstance but Euripides's speakers go further, positing an individual's mental rather than social or physical condition as the true index of worth. Thus in Hippolytus
, a love-sick queen rationalizes her position and arrives at this comment on intrinsic merit while reflecting on adultery:
- "It was from noble families that this evil first started, and when shameful things seem to be approved by the fashionable, then the common people will surely think them correct...This only, they say, stands the stress of life: a good and just spirit in a man."
Euripides's characters resembled contemporary Athenians rather than heroic figures of myth.
As mouthpieces for contemporary issues, they "all seem to have had at least an elementary course in public speaking". The dialogue often contrasts so strongly with the mythical and heroic setting, it looks as if Euripides aimed at parody, as for example in The Trojan Women, where the heroine's rationalized prayer provokes comment from Menelaus:
- HecubaHecubaHecuba was a queen in Greek mythology, the wife of King Priam of Troy during the Trojan War, with whom she had 19 children. These children included several major characters of Homer's Iliad such as the warriors Hector and Paris, and the prophetess Cassandra...
:...O Zeus, whether you are the Law of Necessity in nature, or the Law of Reason in man, hear my prayers. You are everywhere, pursuing your noiseless path, ordering the affairs of mortals according to justice.
- MenelausMenelausMenelaus may refer to;*Menelaus, one of the two most known Atrides, a king of Sparta and son of Atreus and Aerope*Menelaus on the Moon, named after Menelaus of Alexandria.*Menelaus , brother of Ptolemy I Soter...
: What's this? You are starting a new fashion in prayer.
Athenian citizens were familiar with rhetoric in the assembly and law courts, and some scholars believe that Euripides was more interested in his characters as speakers with cases to argue than as characters with life-like personalities. They are self-conscious about speaking formally and their rhetoric is shown to be flawed, as if Euripides was exploring the problematical nature of language and communication: "For speech points in three different directions at once, to the speaker, to the person addressed, to the features in the world it describes, and each of these directions can be felt as skewed." Thus in the example above, Hecuba presents herself as a sophisticated intellectual describing a rationalized cosmos yet the speech is ill-matched to her audience, Menelaus (a type of the unsophisticated listener), and soon it is found not to suit the cosmos either (her infant grandson is brutally murdered by the victorious Greeks). In Hippolytus
, speeches appear verbose and ungainly as if to underscore the limitations of language.
Like Euripides, both Aeschylus and Sophocles created comic effects contrasting the heroic with the mundane but they employed minor supporting characters for that purpose whereas the younger poet was more insistent, using major characters too. His comic touches can be thought to intensify the overall tragic effect, and his realism, which often threatens to make his heroes look ridiculous, marks a world of debased heroism: "The loss of intellectual and moral substance becomes a central tragic statement." Psychological reversals are common and sometimes happen so suddenly that inconsistency in characterization is an issue for many critics, such as Aristotle, who cited Iphigenia in Aulis as an example (Poetics 1454a32). For others, psychological inconsistency is not a stumbling block to good drama: "Euripides is in pursuit of a larger insight: he aims to set forth the two modes, emotional and rational, with which human beings confront their own mortality." Some however consider unpredictable behaviour to be realistic in tragedy: "everywhere in Euripides a preoccupation with individual psychology and its irrational aspects is evident....In his hands tragedy for the first time probed the inner recesses of the human soul and let passions spin the plot." The tension between reason and passion is symbolized by his character's relationship with the gods, as in Hecuba's prayer, answered not by Zeus, nor by the Law of Reason, but by brutal Menelaus as if speaking on behalf of the old gods, and most famously in Bacchae, where the god Dionysus savages his own converts. And yet when the gods appear deus ex machina
, as they do in eight of the extant plays, they appear "lifeless and mechanical". Sometimes condemned by critics as an unimaginative way to end a story, the spectacle of a 'god' making a judgement or announcement from a theatrical crane might actually have been intended to provoke scepticism about the religious and heroic dimension of his plays. Similarly his plays often begin in a banal manner that undermines theatrical illusion. Unlike Sophocles, who established the setting and background of his plays in the introductory dialogue, Euripides used a monologue in which a divinity or human character directly and simply tells the audience all it needs to know in order to understand the subsequent action.
Aeschylus and Sophocles were innovative, but Euripides had arrived at a position in the "ever-changing genre" where he could move easily between tragic, comic, romantic and political effects, a versatility that appears in individual plays and also over the course of his career. Potential for comedy lay in his use of 'contemporary' characters, in his sophisticated tone, his relatively informal Greek (see In Greek below), and in his ingenious use of plots centred on motifs that later became standard in Menander's New Comedy, such as the 'recognition scene'. Other tragedians also used recognition scenes but they were heroic in emphasis, as in Aeschylus's The Libation Bearers, which Euripides parodied with his mundane treatment of it in Electra
(Euripides was unique among the tragedians in incorporating theatrical criticism in his plays). Traditional myth, with its exotic settings, heroic adventures and epic battles, offered potential for romantic melodrama as well as for political comments on a war theme, so that his plays are an extraordinary mix of elements. The Trojan Women for example is a powerfully disturbing play on the theme of war's horrors, apparently critical of Athenian imperialism (it was composed in the aftermath of the Melian massacre and during the preparations for the Sicilian Expedition
) yet it features the comic exchange between Menelaus and Hecuba quoted above and the chorus considers Athens, the "blessed land of Theus", to be a desirable refugesuch complexity and ambiguity are typical both of his 'patriotic' and 'anti-war' plays.
Tragic poets in the fifth century competed against each other at the City Dionysia with a tetralogy each i.e. three tragedies and a satyr-play. The few extant fragments of satyr-plays attributed to Aeschylus and Sophocles indicate that these were a loosely structured, simple and jovial form of entertainment. However, in Cyclops (the only complete satyr-play that survives) Euripides structured the entertainment more like a tragedy and introduced a note of critical irony typical of his other work. His genre-bending inventiveness is shown above all in Alcestis, a blend of tragic and satyric elements. This fourth play in his tetralogy for 438 BC (i.e. it occupied the position conventionally reserved for satyr-plays) is a 'tragedy' that features Heracles
as a satyric hero in conventional satyr-play scenes, involving an arrival, a banquest, a victory over an ogre (in this case Death), a happy ending, a feast and a departure to new adventures. Most of the big innovations in tragedy were made by Aeschylus and Sophocles and yet "Euripides made innovations on a smaller scale that have impressed some critics as cumulatively leading to a radical change of direction."
In GreekThe spoken language of the plays is not fundamentally different in style from that of Aeschylus or Sophoclesit employs poetic meters, a rarified vocabulary, fullness of expression, complex syntax and ornamental figures, all aimed at representing an elevated style. However, its rhythms are somewhat freer and more natural than that of his predecessors, and the vocabulary has been expanded to allow for intellectual and psychological subtleties. Euripides was also a great lyric poet. In Medea, for example, he composed for his city, Athens, "the noblest of her songs of praise". His lyric skills however are not just confined to individual poems: "A play of Euripides is a musical whole...one song echoes motifs from the preceding song, while introducing new ones." For some critics, the lyrics often seem dislocated from the action but the extent and significance of this is "a matter of scholarly debate." See Chronology for details about his style in the original Greek.
ReceptionEuripides has aroused and continues to arouse strongly contrasting opinions of his work, for and against:
Aeschylus gained thirteen victories as a dramatist, Sophocles at least twenty, Euripides only four in his lifetime, and this has often been taken as an indication of the latter's unpopularity with his contemporaries, and yet a first place might not have been the main criterion for success in those times (the system of selecting judges appears to have been flawed) and merely being chosen to compete was in itself a mark of distinction. Moreover to have been singled out by Aristophanes for so much comic attention is proof of popular interest in his work. Sophocles was appreciative enough of the younger poet to be influenced by him, as is evident in his later plays Philoctetes and Oedipus at Colonus
. Less than a hundred years later, Aristotle developed an almost "biological' theory of the development of tragedy in Athens: according to this view, the art form grew under the influence of Aeschylus, matured in the hands of Sophocles then began its precipitous decline with Euripides. However, "his plays continued to be applauded even after those of Aeschylus and Sophocles had come to seem remote and irrelevant", they became school classics in the Hellenistic period (as mentioned in the introduction) and, due to Seneca's
adaptation of his work for Roman audiences, "it was Euripides, not Aeschylus or Sophocles, whose tragic muse presided over the rebirth of tragedy in Renaissance Europe."
In the seventeenth century, Racine
expressed admiration for Sophocles but was more influenced by Euripides (e.g. Iphigenia at Aulis and Hippolytus were the models for his plays Iphigénie and Phèdre). Euripides's reputation was to take a beating early in the nineteenth century when Friedrich Schlegel and his brother August Wilhelm Schlegel championed Aristotle's 'biological' model of theatre history, identifying Euripides with the moral, political and artistic degeneration of Athens. August Wilhelm's Vienna lectures on dramatic art and literature went through four editions between 1809 and 1846 and, in them, he opined that Euripides "not only destroyed the external order of tragedy but missed its entire meaning," a view that came to influence Friedrich Nietzsche
, who however seems not to have known the Euripidean plays at all well. However literary figures such as the poet Robert Browning
and his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning
could study and admire the Schlegels while still appreciating Euripides as "our Euripides the human" (Wine of Cyprus stanza 12). Classicists such as Arthur Verrall and Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff
reacted against the views of the Schlegels and Nietzsche, constructing arguments sympathetic to Euripides, which involved Wilamowitz in this restatement of Greek tragedy as a genre: "A [Greek] tragedy does not have to end 'tragically' or be 'tragic'. The only requirement is a serious treatment." In the English-speaking world, the pacifist Gilbert Murray
played an important role in popularizing Euripides, influenced perhaps by his anti-war plays. Today, as in the time of Euripides, traditional assumptions are constantly under challenge and audiences therefore have a natural affinity with the Euripidean outlook which seems nearer to ours for example than the Elizabethan. As stated above, however, opinions continue to diverge, so that one recent critic might dismiss the debates in Euripides's plays as "self-indulgent digression for the sake of rhetorical display" and another springs to the poet's defence in terms such as: "His plays are remarkable for their range of tones and the gleeful inventiveness, which morose critics call cynical artificiality, of their construction."
TransmissionThe textual transmission of the plays from the fifth century BC, when they were first written, up until the era of the printing press, was largely a haphazard process in which much of Euripides's work was lost and corrupted, but it also included triumphs by scholars and copyists, thanks to whom much was also recovered and preserved. Summaries of the transmission are often found in modern editions of the plays, three of which are used as sources for this summaryThis summary of the transmission is adapted from a) Denys L. Page, Euripides: Medea, Oxford University Press (1976), Introduction page xxxvii-xliv; b) L.P.E.Parker, Euripides: Alcestis, Oxford University Press (2007), Introduction page lvii-lxv; c) E.R.Dodds, Euripides: Bacchae, Oxford University Press (1960), Introduction pages li-lvi
The plays of Euripides, like those of Aeschylus and Sophocles, were circulated in written form in the fifth century among literary members of the audience and performers at minor festivals, as aide-memoirs. However, literary conventions that we take for granted today had not yet been inventedthere was no spacing between words, no consistency in punctuation nor in vowel elisions, no marks for breathings and accent (guides to pronunciation and hence word recognition), no convention to denote change of speaker and no stage directions, and verse was written straight across the page like prose. Possibly those who bought texts supplied their own interpretative markings. Papyri discoveries have indicated, for example, that a change in speakers was loosely denoted with a variety of signs, such as the equivalent of the modern dash, colon and full-stop. The absence of modern literary conventions, which are an aid to comprehension, was an early and persistent source of errors affecting transmission of the text. Errors crept in also when Athens replaced its old Attic alphabet with the Ionian alphabet, a change sanctioned by law in 403-2 BC, adding a new complication to the task of copying. Many more errors came from the tendency of actors to interpolate words and sentences, producing so many corruptions and variations that a law was proposed by Lycurgus of Athens
in 330 BC "...that the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides should be written down and preserved in a public office; and that the town clerk should read the text over with the actors; and that all performances which did not comply with this regulation should be illegal." The law was soon disregarded and some actors continued to make their own changes up until about 200 BC, after which the habit dies out. It was about then that Aristophanes of Byzantium
compiled an edition of all the extant plays of Euripides, collated from pre-Alexandrian texts, furnished with introductions and accompanied by a commentary that was 'published' separately. This became the 'standard edition' for the future and it featured some of the literary conventions that modern readers expectthere was still no spacing between words, little or no punctuation and no stage directions, but abbreviated names now denoted changes of speaker, lyrics are broken into 'cola' and 'strophai' or lines and stanzas, and a system of accentuation was introduced.
After this creation of a standard edition, the text was fairly safe from errors, apart from the slight and gradual corruption produced by the tedium of frequent copying. Many of these trivial errors occurred in the Byzantine period, following a change in script from uncial
, and many were 'homophonic' errors, when scribes accidentally substituted homophones for words in the textequivalent in English to substituting 'right' for 'write', except that there were more opportunities for Byzantine scribes to make these errors because the Greek letters η, ι, οι and ει were pronounced similarly in the Byzantine period.
Around 200 AD, ten of the plays of Euripides began to be circulated in a select edition, possibly for use in schools, with some commentaries or scholia recorded in the margins. Similar editions had appeared for Aeschylus and Sophoclesthe only plays of theirs that survive today: "The rise of Goths and Tartars throughout the Roman world from the gutter to the throne, the destruction of libraries by choleric and fanatical popes and emperors, were unfavourable to the progress but not entirely fatal to the preservation of literary studies." Euripides however was more fortunate than the other tragedians in the survival of a second edition of his work, compiled in alphabetical order as if from a set of his collect works, but without scholia attached. This 'Alphabetical' edition was combined with the 'Select' edition by some unknown Byzantine scholar, bringing together all the nineteen plays that survive today. The 'Select' plays are found in many medieval manuscripts but only two manuscripts preserve the 'Alphabetical' playsoften denoted L and P, after the Laurentian Library
at Florence, and the Bibliotheca Palatina
in the Vatican, where they are stored. It is believed that P derived its Alphabet plays and some Select plays from copies of an ancestor of L, but the remainder is derived from elsewhere. P contains all the extant plays of Euripides, L is missing The Trojan Women and latter part of The Bacchae.
In addition to L, P and many other medieval manuscripts, there are also fragments of plays recorded on papyrus. The papyrus fragments are often recovered only through modern technology. In June 2005, for example, classicists at Oxford University worked on a joint project with Brigham Young University
, using multi-spectral imaging technology to retrieve previously illegible writing (see References). Some of this work employed infrared
technology—previously used for satellite
imaging—to detect previously unknown material by Euripides in fragments of the Oxyrhynchus papyri
, a collection of ancient manuscripts held by the university.
It is from such materials that modern scholars try to piece together copies of the original plays. Sometimes the picture is almost lost. Thus for example two extant plays, The Phoenicean Women and Iphigenia at Aulis, are significantly corrupted by interpolations (the latter possibly being completed post mortem by the poet's son) and the very authorship of Rhesus is a matter of dispute. In fact, the very existence of the Alphabet plays, or rather the absence of an equivalent edition for Sophocles and Aeschylus, could distort our notions of distinctive Euripidean qualitiesmost of his least 'tragic' plays are in the Alphabet edition and possibly the other two tragedians would appear just as genre-bending as this "restless experimenter" if we possessed more than their 'select' editions.
See Extant plays below for listing of 'Select' and 'Alphabetical' plays.
ChronologyThe original production dates of some of Euripides's plays are known from ancient records, such as lists of prize-winners at the Dionysia
, and approximations are obtained for the remainder by various means. Both the playwright and his work were travestied by comic poets such as Aristophanes
, the known dates of whose own plays thus serve as a terminus ad quem for those of Euripides, though sometimes the gap can be considerable (e.g. twenty-seven years separate Telephus, known to have been produced in 438 BC, from its parody in Thesmophoriazusae
in 411 BC!) References in Euripides's plays to contemporary events provide a terminus a quo, though sometimes the references might even precede a datable event (e.g. lines 1074-89 in Ion
describe a procession to Eleusis, which was probably written before the Spartans occupied it during the Peloponnesian War
). Other indications of dating are obtained by stylometry
and this section therefore is an appropriate place to consider some aspects of his style as a Greek poet.
Greek tragedy comprised lyric and dialogue, the latter mostly in iambic trimeter
(three pairs of iambic feet per line). Euripides sometimes 'resolved' the two syllables of the iamb (˘¯) into three syllables (˘˘˘) and this tendency increased so steadily over time that the number of resolved feet in a play can be understood to indicate the approximate date of composition (see Extant plays below for one scholar's list of resolutions per hundred trimeters). Associated with this increase in resolutions was an increasing vocabulary for tragic dialogue, often involving prefixes to refine meanings, allowing the language to assume a more natural rhythm while also becoming ever more capable of psychological and philosophical subtlety.
The trochaic tetrameter catalecticfour pairs of trochee
s per line, with the final syllable omittedwas identified by Aristotle as the original meter of tragic dialogue (Poetics 1449a21). Euripides however employs it here and there in his later plays. He seems not to have used it in his early plays at all, The Trojan Women being the earliest appearance of it in an extant play - it's symptomatic of a curious archaizing tendency evident in his later works.
The later plays also feature extensive use of stichomythia
(i.e. a series of one-liners). The longest such scene comprises one hundred and five lines in Ion (lines 264-369). In contrast, Aeschylus never exceeded twenty lines of stichomythia; Sophocles's longest such scene was fifty lines and it is interrupted several times by αντιλαβή (Electra
, lines 1176-1226).
Euripides's use of lyrics in the sung portion of his work shows the influence of Timotheus of Miletus
in the later plays the individual singer gained prominence and was given additional scope to demonstrate his virtuosity in lyrical duets between actors, as well as replacing some of the chorus's functions with monodies. At the same time, choral odes begin to take on something of the form of dithyrambs reminiscent of the poetry of Bacchylides
, featuring elaborate treatment of myths. Sometimes these later choral odes seem to have only a tenuous connection with the plot, linked to the action only in their mood. The Bacchae however shows a reversion to old forms, possibly as a deliberate archaic effect or maybe because there were no virtuoso choristers in Macedonia, where it is said to have been written.
|Play||Date BC||Prize||Lineage||Resolutions||Genre (and notes)|
Alcestis is an Athenian tragedy by the ancient Greek playwright Euripides. It was first produced at the City Dionysia festival in 438 BCE. Euripides presented it as the final part of a tetralogy of unconnected plays in the competition of tragedies, for which he won second prize; this arrangement...
|438||2nd||S||6.2|| tragedy with elements of a Satyr play
Satyr plays were an ancient Greek form of tragicomedy, similar in spirit to burlesque. They featured choruses of satyrs, were based on Greek mythology, and were rife with mock drunkenness, brazen sexuality , pranks, sight gags, and general merriment.Satyric drama was one of the three varieties of...
Medea is an ancient Greek tragedy written by Euripides, based upon the myth of Jason and Medea and first produced in 431 BC. The plot centers on the barbarian protagonist as she finds her position in the Greek world threatened, and the revenge she takes against her husband Jason who has betrayed...
Herakles' Children is an Athenian tragedy by Euripides that was first performed c. 430 BC. It follows the children of Herakles as they seek protection from Eurystheus...
|c. 430||A||5.7||political/patriotic drama|
Hippolytus is an Ancient Greek tragedy by Euripides, based on the myth of Hippolytus, son of Theseus. The play was first produced for the City Dionysia of Athens in 428 BC and won first prize as part of a trilogy....
Andromache is an Athenian tragedy by Euripides. It dramatises Andromache's life as a slave, years after the events of the Trojan War, and her conflict with her master's new wife, Hermione. The date of its first performance is unknown, although scholars place it sometime between 428 and 425 BC...
Hecuba is a tragedy by Euripides written c. 424 BC. It takes place after the Trojan War, but before the Greeks have departed Troy . The central figure is Hecuba, wife of King Priam, formerly Queen of the now-fallen city...
| The Suppliants
The Suppliants (Euripides)
The Suppliants , first performed in 423 BC, is an ancient Greek play by Euripides.-Background:...
|c. 423||A||13.6||political/patriotic drama|
Euripides' Electra was a play probably written in the mid 410s BC, likely after 413 BC. It is unclear whether it was first produced before or after Sophocles' version of the Electra story.-Background:...
|c. 420||A||16.9||engages "untragically" with the traditional myth and with other dramatizations of it|
Herakles is an Athenian tragedy by Euripides that was first performed c. 416 BCE. While Herakles is in the underworld obtaining Cerberus for one of his labours, his father Amphitryon, wife Megara, and children are sentenced to death in Thebes by Lycus...
| The Trojan Women
The Trojan Women
The Trojan Women is a tragedy by the Greek playwright Euripides. Produced during the Peloponnesian War, it is often considered a commentary on the capture of the Aegean island of Melos and the subsequent slaughter and subjugation of its populace by the Athenians earlier in 415 BC , the same year...
|Iphigenia in Tauris||c. 414||A||23.4||romantic drama|
Ion is an ancient Greek play by Euripides, thought to be written between 414 and 412 BC. It follows the orphan Ion in the discovery of his origins.-Background:...
|c. 414||A||25.8||romantic drama|
Helen is a drama by Euripides, probably first produced in 412 BC for the Dionysia. The play shares much in common with another of Euripides' works, Iphigenia in Tauris.-Background:...
| Phoenician Women
The Phoenician Women is a tragedy by Euripides, based on the same story as Aeschylus' play Seven Against Thebes. The title refers to the Greek chorus, which is composed of Phoenician women on their way to Delphi who are trapped in Thebes by the war...
|c. 410||S||25.8||tragedy (extensive interpolations)|
Orestes is an Ancient Greek play by Euripides that follows the events of Orestes after he had murdered his mother.-Background:...
The Bacchae is an ancient Greek tragedy by the Athenian playwright Euripides, during his final years in Macedon, at the court of Archelaus I of Macedon. It premiered posthumously at the Theatre of Dionysus in 405 BC as part of a tetralogy that also included Iphigeneia at Aulis, and which...
|405||1st||S||37.6||tragedy (posthumously produced)|
|Iphigenia at Aulis||as above||as above||A||34.7||tragedy (posthumously produced and with extensive interpolations)|
Rhesus is an Athenian tragedy that belongs to the transmitted plays of Euripides. There has been debate about its authorship. It was understood to be by Euripides in the Hellenistic, Imperial, and Byzantine periods. In the 17th century, however, the play's authenticity was challenged, first by...
|?||S||8.1||tragedy (authorship disputed)|
The Cyclops is an Ancient Greek satyr play by Euripides, the only complete satyr play that has survived antiquity. It is a comical burlesque-like play on the same story depicted in book nine of Homer's Odyssey.-Background:...
|?||A||Satyr play (the only fully extant example of this genre)|
- Date indicates date of first production.
- Prize indicates a place known to have been awarded in festival competition
- Lineage: S denotes plays surviving from a 'Select' or 'School' edition, A plays surviving from an 'Alphabetical' editionsee Transmission above for details.
- Resolutions: Number of resolved feet per 100 trimeters, Ceadel's listsee Chronology above for details.
- Genre: Generic orientation(see 'Transmission' section) with additional notes in brackets.
Fragmentary playsThe following plays have come down to us today only in fragmentary form; some consist of only a handful of lines, but with some the fragments are extensive enough to allow tentative reconstruction.
The following fragmentary plays can be dated, and are arranged in rough chronological order:
- TelephusTelephusA Greek mythological figure, Telephus or Telephos Telephus was one of the Heraclidae, the sons of Heracles, who were venerated as founders of cities...
- Cretans (c. 435 BC)
- PhiloctetesPhiloctetesPhiloctetes or Philocthetes according to Greek mythology, the son of King Poeas of Meliboea in Thessaly. He was a Greek hero, famed as an archer, and was a participant in the Trojan War. He was the subject of at least two plays by Sophocles, one of which is named after him, and one each by both...
- StheneboeaStheneboeaIn Greek mythology Stheneboea or Stheneboia was the daughter of Iobates, king in Lycia, and consort of Proetus, joint-king in the Argolid with Acrisius, having his seat at Tiryns; she took a fancy to Bellerophon but was repulsed...
(before 429 BC)
- BellerophonBellerophon (play)Bellerophon is an ancient Greek tragedy written by Euripides, based upon the myth of Bellerophon. Most of the play was lost by the end of the Antiquity, and only 90 verses, grouped into 29 fragments, currently survive....
(c. 430 BC)
- Cresphontes (ca. 425 BC)
- ErechtheusErechtheusErechtheus in Greek mythology was the name of an archaic king of Athens, the re-founder of the polis and a double at Athens for Poseidon, as "Poseidon Erechtheus"...
- Phaethon (c. 420 BC) There are two complete English reconstructions of Phaethon. One was made by Alistair Elliot: Phaethon. A Reconstruction by Alistair Elliot. London: Oberon Books, 2008. The other was prepared by Vlanes (Vladislav Nekliaev) in 2011 (currently in manuscript).
- Wise Melanippe (c. 420 BC)
- Alexandros (415 BC)
- PalamedesPalamedesPalamedes could refer to:*Palamedes , the son of Nauplius in Greek mythology*Palamedes , a Saracen Knight of the Round Table in the Arthurian legend...
- SisyphusSisyphus fragmentThe Sisyphus fragment is a 42-line excerpt in iambic trimeter from an ancient Greek satyr play written either by Euripides or Critias. The words are spoken by Sisyphus, a character in the play. The play itself is no longer extant...
- Captive Melanippe (412 BC)
- AndromedaAndromeda (play)Andromeda is a lost tragedy written by Euripides, based on the myth of Andromeda and first produced in 412 BC.-Fragment:What is this steep shore, washed round about by the sea foam, that I see? And there is the statue of a girl, wrought out of the actual shape of the rock, the work of a skilled...
(412 BC with Euripides' Helen)
- AntiopeAntiopeAntiope can mean:* Greek mythology** Antiope , sister of Hippolyte kidnapped by Theseus, during Heracles' ninth labour** Antiope by Zeus, associated with the mythology of Thebes, Greece...
(c. 410 BC)
- ArchelausArchelaus (play)Archelaus is a drama written and performed in Macedonia by Euripides honouring Archelaus I of Macedon on a par with king Karanus. Felix Jacoby thinks it possible that Euripides called Karanus Archelaus which actually means leader of people, in order to please Archelaus...
(c. 410 BC)
- HypsipyleHypsipyleIn Greek mythology, Hypsipyle was the Queen of Lemnos, daughter of Thoas and Myrina.During her reign, Aphrodite cursed the women of the island for having neglected her shrines. All the women developed extreme body odor that made them repugnant to the men of the nation. The men took up with...
(c. 410 BC)
The following fragmentary plays are of uncertain date, and are arranged in English alphabetical order.
In Greek mythology, Danaë was a daughter of King Acrisius of Argos and Eurydice of Argos. She was the mother of Perseus by Zeus. She was sometimes credited with founding the city of Ardea in Latium....
Dictys was a name attributed to four men in Greek mythology.* Dictys was a fisherman and brother of King Polydectes of Seriphos, both being the sons of Magnes by a naiad. He discovered Danaë and Perseus inside a chest that had washed up on shore. He immediately fell in love with Danae and wanted to...
There were two characters named Epeius in Greek mythology.#A Greek soldier during the Trojan War. He was the son of Panopeus and had the reputation for being a coward. In the Iliad he participated in the boxing match at the funeral games for Patrocles against Euryalus and won...
In Greek mythology, Eurystheus was king of Tiryns, one of three Mycenaean strongholds in the Argolid, although other authors including Homer and Euripides cast him as ruler of Argos: Sthenelus was his father and the "victorious horsewoman" Nicippe his mother, and he was a grandson of the hero...
-Arts and music:*"I'm Not Okay" , a 2004 song by American alternative rock band My Chemical Romance*I-No, a character in the Guilty Gear series of video games*Ino , a queen of Thebes in Greek mythology...
In Greek mythology, Ixion was king of the Lapiths, the most ancient tribe of Thessaly, and a son of Ares, or Leonteus, or Antion and Perimele, or the notorious evildoer Phlegyas, whose name connotes "fiery". Peirithoös was his son...
Lamia may refer to:* Lamia , a Greek mythological female creature* Lamia of Athens courtesan* Lamia , a magical beast in Dungeons & Dragons* Lamia , a city in Greece* Lamia , a genus of longhorn beetles...
In Greek mythology, Licymnius was a good friend of Heracles' and an illegitimate son of Electryon, King of Tiryns and Mycenae in the Argolid . His mother is given as Mideia, a Phrygian woman...
In Greek mythology, Meleager was a hero venerated in his temenos at Calydon in Aetolia. He was already famed as the host of the Calydonian boar hunt in the epic tradition that was reworked by Homer....
Mysians were the inhabitants of Mysia, a region in northwestern Asia Minor.-Origins according to ancient authors:Their first mention is by Homer, in his list of Trojans allies in the Iliad, and according to whom the Mysians fought in the Trojan War on the side of Troy, under the command of Chromis...
Oedipus was a mythical Greek king of Thebes. He fulfilled a prophecy that said he would kill his father and marry his mother, and thus brought disaster on his city and family...
In Greek mythology, Oeneus, or Oineus was a Calydonian king, son of Porthaon and Euryte, husband of Althaea and father of Deianeira, Meleager, Toxeus, Clymenus, Periphas, Agelaus, Thyreus , Gorge, Eurymede, Mothone, Perimede and Melanippe...
In Greek mythology, King Oenomaus of Pisa, the father of Hippodamia, was the son of Ares, either by the naiad Harpina or by Sterope, one of the Pleiades, whom some identify as his consort instead...
In Greek mythology, Pēleus was a hero whose myth was already known to the hearers of Homer in the late 8th century BCE. Peleus was the son of Aeacus, king of the island of Aegina, and Endeïs, the oread of Mount Pelion in Thessaly; he was the father of Achilles...
In Greek mythology, the Peliades were the daughters of Pelias.Euripides entitled his earliest known tragedy Peliades; he entered it into the Dionysia of 455 BC but did not win....
In Greek mythology, Phrixus or Frixos or Phryxus was the son of Athamas, king of Boiotia, and Nephele . His twin sister Helle and he were hated by their stepmother, Ino. Ino hatched a devious plot to get rid of the twins, roasting all of Boeotia's crop seeds so they would not grow. The local...
In Greek mythology, Pleisthenes is the name of several different people:- Son of Pelops :Pleisthenes is the name of a son of Pelops, son of Tantalus, and of Hippodamia, rulers of Pisa. Two of his brothers are Atreus, founder of House Atreides, and Thyestes....
In Greek mythology, Protesilaus , was a hero in the Iliad who was venerated at cult sites in Thessaly and Thrace. Protesilaus was the son of Iphicles, a "lord of many sheep"; as grandson of the eponymous Phylacos, he was the leader of the Phylaceans...
In Greek mythology, Sciron or Sceiron was a bandit killed by Theseus on the way from Troezen to Athens.An Isthmian outlaw, he was the son of either Pelops or Poseidon. He dwelled at the Sceironian Rocks, a cliff on the Saronic coast of the Isthmus of Corinth; He robbed travelers passing the...
Syleus is a genus of harvestmen in the family Sclerosomatidae.-Species:* Syleus mysoreus Roewer, 1955* Syleus niger...
Temenos is a piece of land cut off and assigned as an official domain, especially to kings and chiefs, or a piece of land marked off from common uses and dedicated to a god, a sanctuary, holy grove or holy precinct: The Pythian race-course is called a temenos, the sacred valley of the Nile is the ...
For other uses, see Theseus Theseus was the mythical founder-king of Athens, son of Aethra, and fathered by Aegeus and Poseidon, both of whom Aethra had slept with in one night. Theseus was a founder-hero, like Perseus, Cadmus, or Heracles, all of whom battled and overcame foes that were...
In Greek mythology, Thyestes was the son of Pelops and Hippodamia, King of Olympia, and father of Pelopia and Aegisthus. Thyestes and his twin brother, Atreus, were exiled by their father for having murdered their half-brother, Chrysippus, in their desire for the throne of Olympia...
- Encarta's entry for Euripides (Archived 2009-10-31)
- Bilingual Loeb editions downloadable at the Internet ArchiveInternet ArchiveThe Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library with the stated mission of "universal access to all knowledge". It offers permanent storage and access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, music, moving images, and nearly 3 million public domain books. The Internet Archive...
- Euripides-related materials at the Perseus Digital Library
- Useful summaries of Euripides' life, works, and other relevant topics of interest at TheatreHistory.com.
- Fordham.edu AC-Strasbourg.fr
- IMDBs List of movies based on Euripides plays
- Euripides Resources
- Staging of Euripides' fragmentary Hypsipyle
- Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Euripides, Trojan Women, 740-779; read by Stephen Daitz
- Multispectral imaging. Oxyrhynchos online. Retrieved on 28 October 2007.