In This Article Euripides

  • Introduction
  • Biography
  • Dating
  • Bibliography and Reference Works
  • Collected Essays
  • Texts
  • Edited Texts with Translations
  • English Translations
  • Scholia
  • Manuscripts and Textual Tradition
  • Language
  • Later Critical Reputation
  • Reception
  • Dramatic and Cinematic Production
  • Pictorial Representations
  • Contemporary Performance and Adaptations

Classics Euripides
by
Sophie Mills
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0133

Introduction

Euripides is one of the great Athenian tragedians whose dramatic output has survived, if only partially, into the modern era. His contemporary, the comic writer Aristophanes, mocks him for technically flawed and intellectually subversive plays, and it may be significant that, as compared with Aeschylus’s thirteen and Sophocles’ eighteen, he won only five first prizes at the Dionysiac competitions: for an unknown play in 441 BCE, for Hippolytus (428 BCE), and posthumously for the trilogy that included The Bacchae and Iphigenia in Aulis. However, since he competed regularly at the Dionysia, one can hardly call him unpopular with the Athenians, who, like many people in the early 21st century, must sometimes have enjoyed provocative art. See pages 52–94 in Euripides and the Tragic Tradition (Michelini 1987), cited under Dramatic Structure and Technique and Electra/Elektra: Scholarship. His reputation for problematic and flawed plays, which has had a huge influence on modern Euripidean criticism, dogged him even as early as Aristophanes and Aristotle and lasted until well into the 20th century for two main reasons. First, August Wilhelm von Schlegel and Friedrich von Schlegel considered Sophocles’ plays the perfect tragedies in their thematic clarity and “unity”: see Behler 1986 (cited under Later Critical Reputation) in the journal Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies. The diversity of mood and shifts in tone that characterize Euripidean tragedy, especially those plays without conventionally “tragic” endings, put him at a disadvantage within these standards. Second, whereas only a highly select seven plays each by Aeschylus and Sophocles survive, eighteen tragedies and one satyr play ascribed to Euripides have come down to us out of a total of ninety-two. Some, such as Hippolytus, Medea, and The Bacchae, have always been admired, partly because they conform more closely to a supposedly Sophoclean “unity,” but with almost three times as many plays as the other two tragedians, his extant work inevitably seems more uneven in technique and theme, and plays such as the Children of Heracles and Suppliants have received general disapprobation. Some later tragedies, such as Iphigenia in Tauris, Ion, and Helen, baffled earlier critics: how are they tragedies when their plots are fantastical and their endings happy? Criticism since the early 1970s has, however, come to appreciate Euripides on his own terms, reevaluating their centrifugal quality as integral to successful Euripidean rather than failed Sophoclean drama and redefining what tragedy can be to encompass Euripides’ contribution. Moreover, his abiding fascination with controversial questions—social equality, the morality of war, nature versus nurture—and apparent interest in psychology have made him a favorite with modern audiences.

Biography

Kannicht 2004 provides the fullest collection of sources on Euripides’ life. Most people agree that he was born between 485 and 480 BCE; his first tragedies, including the now-fragmentary Peliades, came in last in the 455 BCE competitions, and he ended his life at the court of the king of Macedonia between 408/7 and 405/4 BCE. Scullion 2003 casts doubt on this last claim, and Lefkowitz 2012 is generally very skeptical of the ancient biographical tradition. Storey and Allan 2005 offers a readable account of his life that is less austere than Lefkowitz 2012. Stevens 1956 discusses his reputation among his contemporaries.

  • Kannicht, R., ed. 2004. Tragicorum Graecorum fragmenta. Vol. 5.1. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

    E-mail Citation »

    Comprehensive collection of ancient sources on Euripides’ life on pp. 45–145. Text is in Latin.

  • Lefkowitz, Mary R. 2012. The lives of the Greek poets. 2d ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    Extensively updated version of the author’s influential investigation of ancient biographical tradition, originally published in 1981. Argues that very little ancient biography is factually based. Euripides is discussed on pp. 88–104.

  • Scullion, S. 2003. Euripides and Macedon; or, The silence of the Frogs. Classical Quarterly, n.s., 53.2: 389–400.

    DOI: 10.1093/cq/53.2.389E-mail Citation »

    Argues against the tradition that Euripides died at the court of King Archelaus. Available online by subscription.

  • Stevens, P. T. 1956. Euripides and the Athenians. Journal of Hellenic Studies 76:87–94.

    DOI: 10.2307/629555E-mail Citation »

    Convincingly refutes the traditional idea that the Athenians genuinely hated Euripides. Available online by subscription.

  • Storey, I. C., and A. Allan, eds. 2005. A guide to ancient Greek drama. Blackwell Guides to Classical Literature. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470776209E-mail Citation »

    A handbook for the general reader. Discusses Euripides’ life on pp. 131–134.

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