Euripides

Euripides

Overview
Euripides (ca. 480 – 406 BC) was one of the three great tragedians
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

 of classical Athens
Classical Athens
The city of Athens during the classical period of Ancient Greece was a notable polis of Attica, Greece, leading the Delian League in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. Athenian democracy was established in 508 BC under Cleisthenes following the tyranny of Hippias...

, the other two being Aeschylus
Aeschylus
Aeschylus was the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived, the others being Sophocles and Euripides, and is often described as the father of tragedy. His name derives from the Greek word aiskhos , meaning "shame"...

 and Sophocles
Sophocles
Sophocles is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides...

. Some ancient scholars attributed ninety-five plays to him but according to the Suda
Suda
The Suda or Souda is a massive 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world, formerly attributed to an author called Suidas. It is an encyclopedic lexicon, written in Greek, with 30,000 entries, many drawing from ancient sources that have since been lost, and often...

it was ninety-two at most. Of these, eighteen or nineteen have survived complete (there has been debate about his authorship of Rhesus
Rhesus (play)
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...

, largely on stylistic grounds) and there are also fragments, some substantial, of most of the other plays.
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Quotations

The company of just and righteous men is better than wealth and a rich estate.

Ægeus, Frag. 7

Time will explain it all. He is a talker, and needs no questioning before he speaks.

Æolus Frag. 38.

Waste not fresh tears over old griefs.

Alexander Frag. 44

Sweet is the remembrance of troubles when you are in safety.

Andromeda

Cleverness is not wisdom. And not to think mortal thoughts is to see few days.

Bacchæ l. 395

Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.

Bacchæ l. 480

Slow but sure moves the might of the gods.

Bacchæ l. 882

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.

Bacchæ l. 1150

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.

Bellerophon, Fragment 298; quoted in Plutarch's Morals : Ethical Essays (1888) edited and translated by Arthur Richard Shilleto, p. 293

I sacrifice to no god save myself — And to my belly, greatest of deities.

The Cyclops (c.424-23 B.C.)
Encyclopedia
Euripides (ca. 480 – 406 BC) was one of the three great tragedians
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

 of classical Athens
Classical Athens
The city of Athens during the classical period of Ancient Greece was a notable polis of Attica, Greece, leading the Delian League in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. Athenian democracy was established in 508 BC under Cleisthenes following the tyranny of Hippias...

, the other two being Aeschylus
Aeschylus
Aeschylus was the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived, the others being Sophocles and Euripides, and is often described as the father of tragedy. His name derives from the Greek word aiskhos , meaning "shame"...

 and Sophocles
Sophocles
Sophocles is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides...

. Some ancient scholars attributed ninety-five plays to him but according to the Suda
Suda
The Suda or Souda is a massive 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world, formerly attributed to an author called Suidas. It is an encyclopedic lexicon, written in Greek, with 30,000 entries, many drawing from ancient sources that have since been lost, and often...

it was ninety-two at most. Of these, eighteen or nineteen have survived complete (there has been debate about his authorship of Rhesus
Rhesus (play)
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...

, 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
Aeschylus
Aeschylus was the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived, the others being Sophocles and Euripides, and is often described as the father of tragedy. His name derives from the Greek word aiskhos , meaning "shame"...

 and Sophocles
Sophocles
Sophocles is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides...

 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
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

, Demosthenes
Demosthenes
Demosthenes was a prominent Greek statesman and orator of ancient Athens. His orations constitute a significant expression of contemporary Athenian intellectual prowess and provide an insight into the politics and culture of ancient Greece during the 4th century BC. Demosthenes learned rhetoric by...

 and Menander
Menander
Menander , Greek dramatist, the best-known representative of Athenian New Comedy, was the son of well-to-do parents; his father Diopeithes is identified by some with the Athenian general and governor of the Thracian Chersonese known from the speech of Demosthenes De Chersoneso...

.

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
Romance (genre)
As a literary genre of high culture, romance or chivalric romance is a style of heroic prose and verse narrative that was popular in the aristocratic circles of High Medieval and Early Modern Europe. They were fantastic stories about marvel-filled adventures, often of a knight errant portrayed as...

. 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
Othello
The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in approximately 1603, and based on the Italian short story "Un Capitano Moro" by Cinthio, a disciple of Boccaccio, first published in 1565...

, Racine's Phèdre
Phèdre
Phèdre is a dramatic tragedy in five acts written in alexandrine verse by Jean Racine, first performed in 1677.-Composition and premiere:...

, of Ibsen and Strindberg
Strindberg
Strindberg may refer to:People* August Strindberg , Swedish dramatist and painter* Nils Strindberg , Swedish photographer* Anita Strindberg , Swedish actor* Henrik Strindberg , Swedish composerOther...

," 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
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

.

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
Medea
Medea is a woman in Greek mythology. She was the daughter of King Aeëtes of Colchis, niece of Circe, granddaughter of the sun god Helios, and later wife to the hero Jason, with whom she had two children, Mermeros and Pheres. In Euripides's play Medea, Jason leaves Medea when Creon, king of...

:
Sooner would I stand
Three times to face their battles, shield in hand,
Than bear one child!

His contemporaries associated him with Socrates
Socrates
Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary ...

 as a leader of a decadent intellectualism, both of them being frequently lampooned by comic poets such as Aristophanes
Aristophanes
Aristophanes , son of Philippus, of the deme Cydathenaus, was a comic playwright of ancient Athens. Eleven of his forty plays survive virtually complete...

. 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.

Life


Traditional accounts of the author's life are found in many commentaries and include details such as these: He was born on Salamis Island
Salamis Island
Salamis , is the largest Greek island in the Saronic Gulf, about 1 nautical mile off-coast from Piraeus and about 16 km west of Athens. The chief city, Salamina , lies in the west-facing core of the crescent on Salamis Bay, which opens into the Saronic Gulf...

 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
Apollo
Apollo is one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities in Greek and Roman mythology...

 Zosterius. His education was not confined to athletics: he also studied painting and philosophy under the masters Prodicus
Prodicus
Prodicus of Ceos was a Greek philosopher, and part of the first generation of Sophists. He came to Athens as ambassador from Ceos, and became known as a speaker and a teacher. Plato treats him with greater respect than the other sophists, and in several of the Platonic dialogues Socrates appears...

 and Anaxagoras
Anaxagoras
Anaxagoras was a Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. Born in Clazomenae in Asia Minor, Anaxagoras was the first philosopher to bring philosophy from Ionia to Athens. He attempted to give a scientific account of eclipses, meteors, rainbows, and the sun, which he described as a fiery mass larger than...

. 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
The Cave of Euripides
The Cave of Euripides is a ten-chamber cave in Peristeria on Salamis Island, Greece, and the subject of archaeological investigation. Its name comes from its long reputation as the place where the playwright Euripides came for sanctuary to write his tragedies....

), "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 life


Euripides 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
Battle of Salamis
The Battle of Salamis was fought between an Alliance of Greek city-states and the Persian Empire in September 480 BCE, in the straits between the mainland and Salamis, an island in the Saronic Gulf near Athens...

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
Piraeus
Piraeus is a city in the region of Attica, Greece. Piraeus is located within the Athens Urban Area, 12 km southwest from its city center , and lies along the east coast of the Saronic Gulf....

 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
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

, the catastrophic failure of the Sicilian expedition
Sicilian Expedition
The Sicilian Expedition was an Athenian expedition to Sicily from 415 BC to 413 BC, during the Peloponnesian War. The expedition was hampered from the outset by uncertainty in its purpose and command structure—political maneuvering in Athens swelled a lightweight force of twenty ships into a...

 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 life


Tragic poets were often mocked by comic poets during the dramatic festivals Dionysia
Dionysia
The Dionysia[p] was a large festival in ancient Athens in honor of the god Dionysus, the central events of which were the theatrical performances of dramatic tragedies and, from 487 BC, comedies. It was the second-most important festival after the Panathenaia...

 and Lenaia
Lenaia
The Lenaia was an annual festival with a dramatic competition. It was one of the lesser festivals of Athens and Ionia in ancient Greece. The Lenaia took place in Athens in the month of Gamelion, roughly corresponding to January. The festival was in honour of Dionysos Lenaios...

 and Euripides was travestied more than most. Aristophanes scripted him as a character in at least three plays: The Acharnians
The Acharnians
The Acharnians is the third play - and the earliest of the eleven surviving plays - by the great Athenian playwright Aristophanes. It was produced in 425 BCE on behalf of the young dramatist by an associate, Callistratus, and it won first place at the Lenaia festival...

, Thesmophoriazusae
Thesmophoriazusae
Thesmophoriazusae is one of eleven surviving plays by the master of Old Comedy, the Athenian playwright Aristophanes. It was first produced in 411 BC, probably at the City Dionysia...

 and The Frogs
The Frogs
The Frogs is a comedy written by the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes. It was performed at the Lenaia, one of the Festivals of Dionysus, in 405 BC, and received first place.-Plot:...

. Yet Aristophanes borrowed rather than just satirized some of the tragedian's methods since he was once ridiculed by a colleague, Cratinus
Cratinus
Cratinus , Athenian comic poet of the Old Comedy.-Life:Cratinus was victorious six times at the City Dionysia, first probably in the mid- to late 450s BCE , and three times at the Lenaia, first probably in the early 430s...

, 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
Dionysus
Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. His name in Linear B tablets shows he was worshipped from c. 1500—1100 BC by Mycenean Greeks: other traces of Dionysian-type cult have been found in ancient Minoan Crete...

 venturing down to Hades
Hades
Hades , Hadēs, originally , Haidēs or , Aidēs , meaning "the unseen") was the ancient Greek god of the underworld. The genitive , Haidou, was an elision to denote locality: "[the house/dominion] of Hades". Eventually, the nominative came to designate the abode of the dead.In Greek mythology, 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
Agathon
Agathon was an Athenian tragic poet whose works, up to the present moment, have been lost. He is best known for his appearance in Plato's Symposium, which describes the banquet given to celebrate his obtaining a prize for his first tragedy at the Lenaia in . He is also a prominent character in...

, another tragic poet, is discovered in a later play, Thesmophoriazusae
Thesmophoriazusae
Thesmophoriazusae is one of eleven surviving plays by the master of Old Comedy, the Athenian playwright Aristophanes. It was first produced in 411 BC, probably at the City Dionysia...

, 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 life


Euripides first competed in the City Dionysia
Dionysia
The Dionysia[p] was a large festival in ancient Athens in honor of the god Dionysus, the central events of which were the theatrical performances of dramatic tragedies and, from 487 BC, comedies. It was the second-most important festival after the Panathenaia...

, the famous Athenian dramatic festival, in 455 BC, one year after the death of Aeschylus
Aeschylus
Aeschylus was the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived, the others being Sophocles and Euripides, and is often described as the father of tragedy. His name derives from the Greek word aiskhos , meaning "shame"...

, and it was not until 441 BC that he won a first prize. His final competition in Athens was in 408 BC. The Bacchae
The Bacchae
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...

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
Sophism
Sophism in the modern definition is a specious argument used for deceiving someone. In ancient Greece, sophists were a category of teachers who specialized in using the tools of philosophy and rhetoric for the purpose of teaching aretê — excellence, or virtue — predominantly to young statesmen and...

 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
Classical Greece
Classical Greece was a 200 year period in Greek culture lasting from the 5th through 4th centuries BC. This classical period had a powerful influence on the Roman Empire and greatly influenced the foundation of Western civilizations. Much of modern Western politics, artistic thought, such as...

. 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:

Work


Athenian 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
Orchestra
An orchestra is a sizable instrumental ensemble that contains sections of string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. The term orchestra derives from the Greek ορχήστρα, the name for the area in front of an ancient Greek stage reserved for the Greek chorus...

 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
Ekkyklema
An ekkyklêma was a wheeled platform rolled out through a skênê in ancient Greek theatre. It was used to bring interior scenes out into the sight of the audience...

 (used to bring the skene's 'indoors' outdoors) and a mechane
Mechane
A mechane or machine was a crane used in Greek theatre, especially in the fifth and fourth centuries BC.Made of wooden beams and pulley systems, the device was used to lift an actor into the air, usually representing flight. This stage machine was particularly used to bring gods onto the stage...

 (used to lift actors in the air, as in deus ex machina
Deus ex machina
A deus ex machina is a plot device whereby a seemingly inextricable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object.-Linguistic considerations:...

). 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
Odysseus
Odysseus or Ulysses was a legendary Greek king of Ithaca and the hero of Homer's epic poem the Odyssey. Odysseus also plays a key role in Homer's Iliad and other works in the Epic Cycle....

 is represented in Hecuba
Hecuba (play)
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...

 (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
Hippolytus (play)
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....

, 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:
Hecuba
Hecuba
Hecuba 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.
Menelaus
Menelaus
Menelaus 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
Hippolytus (play)
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....

, 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
Deus ex machina
A deus ex machina is a plot device whereby a seemingly inextricable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object.-Linguistic considerations:...

, 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
Electra (Euripides)
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:...

 (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
Sicilian Expedition
The Sicilian Expedition was an Athenian expedition to Sicily from 415 BC to 413 BC, during the Peloponnesian War. The expedition was hampered from the outset by uncertainty in its purpose and command structure—political maneuvering in Athens swelled a lightweight force of twenty ships into a...

) 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
Heracles
Heracles ,born Alcaeus or Alcides , was a divine hero in Greek mythology, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, foster son of Amphitryon and great-grandson of Perseus...

 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 Greek


The 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.

Reception


Euripides 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
Oedipus at Colonus
Oedipus at Colonus is one of the three Theban plays of the Athenian tragedian Sophocles...

. 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
Seneca the Younger
Lucius Annaeus Seneca was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and in one work humorist, of the Silver Age of Latin literature. He was tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero...

 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
Jean Racine
Jean Racine , baptismal name Jean-Baptiste Racine , was a French dramatist, one of the "Big Three" of 17th-century France , and one of the most important literary figures in the Western tradition...

 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
Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a 19th-century German philosopher, poet, composer and classical philologist...

, who however seems not to have known the Euripidean plays at all well. However literary figures such as the poet Robert Browning
Robert Browning
Robert Browning was an English poet and playwright whose mastery of dramatic verse, especially dramatic monologues, made him one of the foremost Victorian poets.-Early years:...

 and his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most prominent poets of the Victorian era. Her poetry was widely popular in both England and the United States during her lifetime. A collection of her last poems was published by her husband, Robert Browning, shortly after her death.-Early life:Members...

 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
Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff
Enno Friedrich Wichard Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff was a German Classical Philologist. Wilamowitz, as he is known in scholarly circles, was a renowned authority on Ancient Greece and its literature.- Youth :...

 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
Gilbert Murray
George Gilbert Aimé Murray, OM was an Australian born British classical scholar and public intellectual, with connections in many spheres. He was an outstanding scholar of the language and culture of Ancient Greece, perhaps the leading authority in the first half of the twentieth century...

 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."

Transmission


The 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
Lycurgus of Athens
Lycurgus was a logographer in Ancient Greece. He was one of the ten Attic orators included in the "Alexandrian Canon" compiled by Aristophanes of Byzantium and Aristarchus of Samothrace in the third century BCE.Lycurgus was born at Athens about 396 BC, and was the son of Lycophron, who belonged...

 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
Aristophanes of Byzantium
Aristophanes of Byzantium was a Greek scholar, critic and grammarian, particularly renowned for his work in Homeric scholarship, but also for work on other classical authors such as Pindar and Hesiod. Born in Byzantium about 257 BC, he soon moved to Alexandria and studied under Zenodotus,...

 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
Uncial
Uncial is a majuscule script commonly used from the 3rd to 8th centuries AD by Latin and Greek scribes. Uncial letters are written in either Greek, Latin, or Gothic.-Development:...

 to minuscule
Minuscule Greek
The minuscule script was a writing style in the history of Greek writing which was used as a book hand in Byzantine manuscripts since the 9th and 10th centuries. It replaced the earlier style of uncial writing, from which it differed in using smaller, more rounded and more connected letter forms,...

, 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
Laurentian Library
The Laurentian Library is a historical library in Florence, Italy, containing a repository of more than 11,000 manuscripts and 4,500 early printed books...

 at Florence, and the Bibliotheca Palatina
Bibliotheca Palatina
The Bibliotheca Palatina of Heidelberg was the most important library of the German Renaissance, numbering approximately 5,000 printed books and 3,524 manuscripts....

 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
Brigham Young University
Brigham Young University is a private university located in Provo, Utah. It is owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints , and is the United States' largest religious university and third-largest private university.Approximately 98% of the university's 34,000 students...

, using multi-spectral imaging technology to retrieve previously illegible writing (see References). Some of this work employed infrared
Infrared
Infrared light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength longer than that of visible light, measured from the nominal edge of visible red light at 0.74 micrometres , and extending conventionally to 300 µm...

 technology—previously used for satellite
Satellite
In the context of spaceflight, a satellite is an object which has been placed into orbit by human endeavour. Such objects are sometimes called artificial satellites to distinguish them from natural satellites such as the Moon....

 imaging—to detect previously unknown material by Euripides in fragments of the Oxyrhynchus papyri
Oxyrhynchus
Oxyrhynchus is a city in Upper Egypt, located about 160 km south-southwest of Cairo, in the governorate of Al Minya. It is also an archaeological site, considered one of the most important ever discovered...

, 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.

Chronology


The original production dates of some of Euripides's plays are known from ancient records, such as lists of prize-winners at the Dionysia
Dionysia
The Dionysia[p] was a large festival in ancient Athens in honor of the god Dionysus, the central events of which were the theatrical performances of dramatic tragedies and, from 487 BC, comedies. It was the second-most important festival after the Panathenaia...

, and approximations are obtained for the remainder by various means. Both the playwright and his work were travestied by comic poets such as Aristophanes
Aristophanes
Aristophanes , son of Philippus, of the deme Cydathenaus, was a comic playwright of ancient Athens. Eleven of his forty plays survive virtually complete...

, 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
Thesmophoriazusae
Thesmophoriazusae is one of eleven surviving plays by the master of Old Comedy, the Athenian playwright Aristophanes. It was first produced in 411 BC, probably at the City Dionysia...

 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
Ion (play)
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:...

 describe a procession to Eleusis, which was probably written before the Spartans occupied it during the Peloponnesian War
Peloponnesian War
The Peloponnesian War, 431 to 404 BC, was an ancient Greek war fought by Athens and its empire against the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta. Historians have traditionally divided the war into three phases...

). Other indications of dating are obtained by stylometry
Stylometry
Stylometry is the application of the study of linguistic style, usually to written language, but it has successfully been applied to music and to fine-art paintings as well.Stylometry is often used to attribute authorship to anonymous or disputed documents...

 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
Iambic trimeter
iambic trimeter is a meter of poetry consisting of three iambic units per line.In ancient Greek poetry, iambic trimeter is a quantitative meter, in which a line consisted of three iambic metra and each metron consisted of two iambi...

 (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
Trochee
A trochee or choree, choreus, is a metrical foot used in formal poetry consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one...

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
Stichomythia
Stichomythia is a technique in verse drama in which single alternating lines, or half-lines, are given to alternating characters. It typically features repetition and antithesis. The term originated in the theatre of Ancient Greece, though many dramatists since have used the technique...

 (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
Electra (Sophocles)
Electra or Elektra is a Greek tragedy by Sophocles. Its date is not known, but various stylistic similarities with the Philoctetes and the Oedipus at Colonus lead scholars to suppose that it was written towards the end of Sophocles' career.Set in the city of Argos a few years after the Trojan...

, lines 1176-1226).

Euripides's use of lyrics in the sung portion of his work shows the influence of Timotheus of Miletus
Timotheus of Miletus
Timotheus of Miletus was a Greek musician and dithyrambic poet, an exponent of the "new music." He added one or more strings to the lyre, whereby he incurred the displeasure of the Spartans and Athenians...

 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
Bacchylides
Bacchylides was an Ancient Greek lyric poet. Later Greeks included him in the canonical list of nine lyric poets which included his uncle Simonides. The elegance and polished style of his lyrics have been a commonplace of Bacchylidean scholarship since at least Longinus...

, 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.

Extant plays

Estimated chronological order
Play Date BC Prize Lineage Resolutions Genre (and notes)
Alcestis
Alcestis (play)
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 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
Medea (play)
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...

431 3rd S 6.6 tragedy
Heracleidae
Heracleidae (play)
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
Hippolytus (play)
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....

428 1st S 4.3 tragedy
Andromache
Andromache (play)
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...

c. 425 S 11.3 tragedy
Hecuba
Hecuba (play)
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...

c. 424 S 12.7 tragedy
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
Electra
Electra (Euripides)
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
Heracles
Heracles (Euripides)
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...

c. 416 A 21.5 tragedy
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...

415 2nd S 21.2 tragedy
Iphigenia in Tauris c. 414 A 23.4 romantic drama
Ion
Ion (play)
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
Helen (play)
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:...

412 A 27.5 romantic drama
Phoenician Women
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
Orestes (play)
Orestes is an Ancient Greek play by Euripides that follows the events of Orestes after he had murdered his mother.-Background:...

408 S 39.4 tragedy
Bacchae
The Bacchae
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
Rhesus (play)
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)
Cyclops
Cyclops (play)
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)

Key:
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 plays


The 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:
  1. Telephus
    Telephus
    A Greek mythological figure, Telephus or Telephos Telephus was one of the Heraclidae, the sons of Heracles, who were venerated as founders of cities...

    (438 BC)
  2. Cretans (c. 435 BC)
  3. Philoctetes
    Philoctetes
    Philoctetes 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...

    (431 BC)
  4. Stheneboea
    Stheneboea
    In 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)
  5. Bellerophon
    Bellerophon (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)
  6. Cresphontes (ca. 425 BC)
  7. Erechtheus
    Erechtheus
    Erechtheus 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"...

    (422 BC)
  8. 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).
  9. Wise Melanippe (c. 420 BC)
  10. Alexandros (415 BC)
  11. Palamedes
    Palamedes
    Palamedes could refer to:*Palamedes , the son of Nauplius in Greek mythology*Palamedes , a Saracen Knight of the Round Table in the Arthurian legend...

    (415 BC)
  12. Sisyphus
    Sisyphus fragment
    The 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...

    (415 BC)
  13. Captive Melanippe (412 BC)
  14. Andromeda
    Andromeda (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)
  15. Antiope
    Antiope
    Antiope 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)
  16. Archelaus
    Archelaus (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)
  17. Hypsipyle
    Hypsipyle
    In 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.
  • Aegeus
    Aegeus
    In Greek mythology, Aegeus , also Aigeus, Aegeas or Aigeas , was an archaic figure in the founding myth of Athens. The "goat-man" who gave his name to the Aegean Sea was, next to Poseidon, the father of Theseus, the founder of Athenian institutions and one of the kings of Athens.-His reign:Upon the...

  • Aeolus
    Aeolus
    Aeolus was the ruler of the winds in Greek mythology. In fact this name was shared by three mythic characters. These three personages are often difficult to tell apart, and even the ancient mythographers appear to have been perplexed about which Aeolus was which...

  • Alcmene
    Alcmene
    In Greek mythology, Alcmene or Alcmena was the mother of Heracles.-Background:Alcmene was born to Electryon, the son of Perseus and Andromeda, and king of Tiryns and Mycenae or Medea in Argolis. Her mother was Anaxo, daughter of Alcaeus and Astydamia, daughter of Pelops and Hippodameia...

  • Alcmeon (two versions)
  • Alope
    Alope
    Alopê was in Greek mythology a mortal woman, the daughter of Cercyon, known for her great beauty. Poseidon, in the guise of a kingfisher, seduced Alope, his granddaughter through Cercyon, and from the union she gave birth to Hippothoon...

    , or Cercyon
    Cercyon
    Cercyon - Κερκύων was a figure in Greek mythology. He was the King of Eleusis, and a very strong man. According to the different versions, he was the son of:*Poseidon and one of the daughters of Amphictyon, or...

  • Antigone
    Antigone
    In Greek mythology, Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, Oedipus' mother. The name may be taken to mean "unbending", coming from "anti-" and "-gon / -gony" , but has also been suggested to mean "opposed to motherhood", "in place of a mother", or "anti-generative", based from the root...

  • Auge
    Auge
    In Greek mythology, Auge a daughter of Aleus and Neaera and priestess of Athena Alea at Tegea, bore the hero Telephus to Heracles. Her father had been told by an oracle that he would be overthrown by his grandson. She secreted the baby in the temple of Athena...

  • Autolycus
    Autolycus
    In Greek mythology, Autolycus was a son of Hermes and Chione. He was the husband of Neaera, or according to Homer, of Amphithea...

  • Busiris
    Busiris
    Busiris or Bousiris may mean several different things, including:-Places:*Busiris , a large ancient city of Egypt, capital of its nome*Busiris , an ancient city of Egypt, near the Egyptian Pyramids...

  • Cadmus
    Cadmus
    Cadmus or Kadmos , in Greek mythology was a Phoenician prince, the son of king Agenor and queen Telephassa of Tyre and the brother of Phoenix, Cilix and Europa. He was originally sent by his royal parents to seek out and escort his sister Europa back to Tyre after she was abducted from the shores...

  • Chrysippus
    Chrysippus
    Chrysippus of Soli was a Greek Stoic philosopher. He was a native of Soli, Cilicia, but moved to Athens as a young man, where he became a pupil of Cleanthes in the Stoic school. When Cleanthes died, around 230 BC, Chrysippus became the third head of the school...

  • Cretan Women
  • Danae
    Danaë
    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
    Dictys
    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...

  • Epeius
    Epeius
    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...

  • Eurystheus
    Eurystheus
    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...

  • Hippolytus
  • Ino
    Ino
    -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...

  • Ixion
    Ixion
    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
    Lamia
    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...

  • Licymnius
    Licymnius
    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...

  • Meleager
    Meleager
    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
    Mysians
    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
    Oedipus
    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...

  • Oeneus
    Oeneus
    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...

  • Oenomaus
    Oenomaus
    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...

  • Peirithous
  • Peleus
    Peleus
    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...

  • Peliades
    Peliades
    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....

  • Phoenix
  • Phrixus
    Phrixus
    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...

  • Pleisthenes
    Pleisthenes
    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....

  • Polyidus
  • Protesilaus
    Protesilaus
    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...

  • Reapers
  • Rhadamanthys
  • Sciron
    Sciron
    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...

  • Scyrians
  • Syleus
    Syleus
    Syleus is a genus of harvestmen in the family Sclerosomatidae.-Species:* Syleus mysoreus Roewer, 1955* Syleus niger...

  • Temenidae
  • Temenos
    Temenos
    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 ...

  • Tennes
  • Theseus
    Theseus
    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...

  • Thyestes
    Thyestes
    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...


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