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This article is about the classical Greek tragedian. Euripides_sentence_0

For the asteroid, see 2930 Euripides. Euripides_sentence_1


BornEuripides_header_cell_0_1_0 c. 480 BC


DiedEuripides_header_cell_0_2_0 c. 406 BC (aged approximately 74)


OccupationEuripides_header_cell_0_3_0 PlaywrightEuripides_cell_0_3_1
Notable workEuripides_header_cell_0_4_0 Euripides_cell_0_4_1
Spouse(s)Euripides_header_cell_0_5_0 Melite


Parent(s)Euripides_header_cell_0_6_0 Mnesarchus


Euripides (/jʊəˈrɪpɪdiːz/; Greek: Εὐριπίδης Eurīpídēs, pronounced [eu̯.riː.pí.dɛːs; c. 480 – c. 406 BC) was a tragedian of classical Athens. Euripides_sentence_2

Along with Aeschylus and Sophocles, he is one of the three ancient Greek tragedians for whom any plays have survived in full. Euripides_sentence_3

Some ancient scholars attributed ninety-five plays to him, but the Suda says it was ninety-two at most. Euripides_sentence_4

Of these, eighteen or nineteen have survived more or less complete (Rhesus is suspect). Euripides_sentence_5

There are many fragments (some substantial) of most of his other plays. Euripides_sentence_6

More of his plays have survived intact than those of Aeschylus and Sophocles together, partly because his popularity grew as theirs declined—he became, in the Hellenistic Age, a cornerstone of ancient literary education, along with Homer, Demosthenes, and Menander. Euripides_sentence_7

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. Euripides_sentence_8

This new approach led him to pioneer developments that later writers adapted to comedy, some of which are characteristic of romance. Euripides_sentence_9

He also became "the most tragic of poets", focusing on the inner lives and motives of his characters in a way previously unknown. Euripides_sentence_10

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". Euripides_sentence_11

But he was also the literary ancestor of comic dramatists as diverse as Menander and George Bernard Shaw. Euripides_sentence_12

Unique among writers of ancient Athens, Euripides demonstrated sympathy towards the underrepresented members of society. Euripides_sentence_13

His male contemporaries were frequently shocked by the heresies he put into the mouths of characters, such as these words of his heroine Medea: Euripides_sentence_14

His contemporaries associated him with Socrates as a leader of a decadent intellectualism. Euripides_sentence_15

Both were frequently lampooned by comic poets such as Aristophanes. Euripides_sentence_16

Socrates was eventually put on trial and executed as a corrupting influence. Euripides_sentence_17

Euripides chose a voluntary exile in old age, dying in Macedonia. Euripides_sentence_18

But recent scholarship casts doubt on ancient biographies of Euripides. Euripides_sentence_19

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. Euripides_sentence_20

Life Euripides_section_0

Traditional accounts of the author's life are found in many commentaries, and include details such as these: He was born on Salamis Island around 480 BC, with parents Cleito (mother) and Mnesarchus (father), a retailer who lived in a village near Athens. Euripides_sentence_21

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. Euripides_sentence_22

But the boy was destined for a career on the stage (where he was to win only five victories, one of these posthumously). Euripides_sentence_23

He served for a short time as both dancer and torch-bearer at the rites of Apollo Zosterius. Euripides_sentence_24

His education was not confined to athletics, studying also painting and philosophy under the masters Prodicus and Anaxagoras. Euripides_sentence_25

He had two disastrous marriages, and both his wives—Melite and Choerine (the latter bearing him three sons)—were unfaithful. Euripides_sentence_26

He became a recluse, making a home for himself in a cave on Salamis (the Cave of Euripides, where a cult of the playwright developed after his death). Euripides_sentence_27

"There he built an impressive library and pursued daily communion with the sea and sky". Euripides_sentence_28

Eventually, he retired to the "rustic court" of King Archelaus in Macedonia, where he died, in 406 BC. Euripides_sentence_29

However, as mentioned in the introduction, such biographical details should be regarded with scepticism, deriving almost entirely from three unreliable sources: Euripides_sentence_30


  • folklore, employed by the ancients to lend colour to the lives of celebrated authors;Euripides_item_0_0
  • parody, employed by the comic poets to ridicule the tragic poets;Euripides_item_0_1
  • 'autobiographical' clues gleaned from his extant plays (a mere fraction of his total output).Euripides_item_0_2

This biography is divided into corresponding sections. Euripides_sentence_31

A fabled life Euripides_section_1

Euripides was the youngest in a group of three great tragedians, who were almost contemporaries: his first play was staged thirteen years after Sophocles' debut, and three years after Aeschylus's Oresteia. Euripides_sentence_32

The identity of the trio 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. Euripides_sentence_33

The apocryphal account, that he composed his works in a cave on Salamis island, was a late tradition, probably symbolizing the isolation of an intellectual ahead of his time. Euripides_sentence_34

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. Euripides_sentence_35

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 lightning—signs 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). Euripides_sentence_36

In an account by Plutarch, the catastrophic failure of the Sicilian expedition led Athenians to trade renditions of Euripides' lyrics to their enemies in return for food and drink (Life of Nicias 29). Euripides_sentence_37

Plutarch also provides 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' play Electra: "they felt that it would be a barbarous act to annihilate a city which produced such men" (Life of Lysander). Euripides_sentence_38

A comic life Euripides_section_2

Tragic poets were often mocked by comic poets during the dramatic festivals Dionysia and Lenaia, and Euripides was travestied more than most. Euripides_sentence_39

Aristophanes scripted him as a character in at least three plays: The Acharnians, Thesmophoriazusae and The Frogs. Euripides_sentence_40

But Aristophanes also borrowed, rather than merely satirized, some of the tragedian's methods; he was himself ridiculed by a colleague, Cratinus, as: Euripides_sentence_41

According to another comic poet, Teleclides, the plays of Euripides were co-authored by the philosopher Socrates: Euripides_sentence_42

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: Euripides_sentence_43

In The Frogs, written when Euripides and Aeschylus were dead, Aristophanes has the god Dionysus venturing down to Hades in search of a good poet to bring back to Athens. Euripides_sentence_44

After a debate between the two deceased bards, the god brings Aeschylus back to life, as more useful to Athens, for his wisdom, rejecting Euripides as merely clever. Euripides_sentence_45

Such comic 'evidence' suggests that Athenians admired Euripides even while they mistrusted his intellectualism, at least during the long war with Sparta. Euripides_sentence_46

Aeschylus had written his own epitaph commemorating 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' public life except as a dramatist—he could well have been "a brooding and bookish recluse". Euripides_sentence_47

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_sentence_48

Euripides' 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. Euripides_sentence_49

A tragedian's life Euripides_section_3

Euripides first competed in the City Dionysia, the famous Athenian dramatic festival, in 455 BC, one year after the death of Aeschylus; and did not win first prize until 441 BC. Euripides_sentence_50

His final competition in Athens was in 408 BC. Euripides_sentence_51

The Bacchae and Iphigenia in Aulis were performed in 405 BC, and first prize was awarded posthumously. Euripides_sentence_52

He won first prize only five times. Euripides_sentence_53

His plays, and those of Aeschylus and Sophocles, indicate a difference in outlook between the three—a generation gap probably due to the Sophistic enlightenment in the middle decades of the 5th 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. Euripides_sentence_54

When Euripides' plays are sequenced in time, they also reveal that his outlook might have changed, providing a "spiritual biography", along these lines: Euripides_sentence_55


However, about 80% of his plays have been lost, and even the extant plays do not present a fully consistent picture of his 'spiritual' development (for example, Iphigenia in Aulis is dated with the 'despairing' Bacchae, yet it contains elements that became typical of New Comedy). Euripides_sentence_56

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). Euripides_sentence_57

Believed to have been composed in the wilds of Macedonia, Bacchae also dramatizes a primitive side to Greek religion, and some modern scholars have interpreted this particular play biographically, therefore, as: Euripides_sentence_58


  • a kind of death-bed conversion or renunciation of atheism;Euripides_item_2_8
  • the poet's attempt to ward off the charge of impiety that was later to overtake his friend Socrates;Euripides_item_2_9
  • evidence of a new belief that religion cannot be analysed rationally.Euripides_item_2_10

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 (spoken by Medea): Euripides_sentence_59

Work Euripides_section_4

Athenian tragedy in performance during Euripides' lifetime was a public contest between playwrights. Euripides_sentence_60

The state funded it, and awarded prizes. Euripides_sentence_61

The language was metrical, spoken and sung. Euripides_sentence_62

The performance area included a circular floor or orchestra where the chorus could dance, a space for actors (three speaking actors in Euripides' 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). Euripides_sentence_63

With the introduction of the third actor (attributed to Aeschylus by Themistius; to Sophocles by Aristotle), acting also began to be regarded as a skill worth prizes, requiring a long apprenticeship in the chorus. Euripides_sentence_64

Euripides and other playwrights accordingly composed more and more arias for accomplished actors to sing, and this tendency became more marked in his later plays: tragedy was a "living and ever-changing genre" (cf. Euripides_sentence_65

previous section, and Chronology; a list of his plays is below). Euripides_sentence_66

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). Euripides_sentence_67

But fifth-century tragedy was a social gathering, for "carrying out quite publicly the maintenance and development of mental infrastructure"; and offered spectators a "platform for an utterly unique form of institutionalized discussion". Euripides_sentence_68

A dramatist's role was not only to entertain, but also educate fellow citizens—he was expected to have a message. Euripides_sentence_69

Traditional myth provided the subject matter, but the dramatist was meant to be innovative, which led to novel characterizations of heroic figures, and use of the mythical past as a tool for discussing present issues. Euripides_sentence_70

The difference between Euripides and his older colleagues was one of degree: his characters talked about the present more controversially and pointedly than those of Aeschylus and Sophocles, sometimes even challenging the democratic order. Euripides_sentence_71

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. Euripides_sentence_72

Speakers in the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles sometimes distinguish between slaves who are servile by nature, and those by circumstance; but Euripides' speakers go further, positing an individual's mental, rather than social or physical, state, as true index of worth. Euripides_sentence_73

Thus, in Hippolytus, a love-sick queen rationalizes her position, and, reflecting on adultery, arrives at this comment on intrinsic merit: Euripides_sentence_74

Euripides' characters resembled contemporary Athenians rather than heroic figures of myth. Euripides_sentence_75

As mouthpieces for contemporary issues, they "all seem to have had at least an elementary course in public speaking". Euripides_sentence_76

The dialogue often contrasts so strongly with the mythical and heroic setting that it can seem like Euripides aimed at parody. Euripides_sentence_77

For example, in The Trojan Women, the heroine's rationalized prayer elicits comment from Menelaus: Euripides_sentence_78

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 lifelike personalities. Euripides_sentence_79

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". Euripides_sentence_80

Thus, in the example above, Hecuba presents herself as a sophisticated intellectual, describing a rationalized cosmos; but the speech is ill-suited to her audience, Menelaus (a type of the unsophisticated listener); and is found to not suit the cosmos either (her grandson is murdered by the Greeks). Euripides_sentence_81

In Hippolytus, speeches appear verbose and ungainly, as if to underscore the limitations of language. Euripides_sentence_82

Like Euripides, both Aeschylus and Sophocles created comic effects, contrasting the heroic with the mundane; but they employed minor supporting characters for that purpose. Euripides_sentence_83

Euripides was more insistent, using major characters as well. Euripides_sentence_84

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". Euripides_sentence_85

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). Euripides_sentence_86

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." Euripides_sentence_87

Some think unpredictable behaviour 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." Euripides_sentence_88

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 Menelaus, as if speaking for the old gods; and, most famously, in Bacchae, where the god Dionysus savages his own converts. Euripides_sentence_89

When the gods do appear (in eight of the extant plays), they appear "lifeless and mechanical". Euripides_sentence_90

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. Euripides_sentence_91

Similarly, his plays often begin in a banal manner that undermines theatrical illusion. Euripides_sentence_92

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 simply tells the audience all it needs to know to understand what follows. Euripides_sentence_93

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. Euripides_sentence_94

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'. Euripides_sentence_95

Other tragedians also used recognition scenes, but they were heroic in emphasis, as in Aeschylus's The Libation Bearers, which Euripides parodied in Electra (Euripides was unique among the tragedians in incorporating theatrical criticism in his plays). Euripides_sentence_96

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. Euripides_sentence_97

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 refuge—such complexity and ambiguity are typical both of his "patriotic" and "anti-war" plays. Euripides_sentence_98

Tragic poets in the fifth century competed against one another at the City Dionysia, each with a tetralogy of three tragedies and a satyr-play. Euripides_sentence_99

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. Euripides_sentence_100

But, 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. Euripides_sentence_101

His genre-bending inventiveness is shown above all in Alcestis, a blend of tragic and satyric elements. Euripides_sentence_102

This fourth play in his tetralogy for 438 BC (i.e., it occupied the position conventionally reserved for satyr-plays) is a "tragedy", featuring Heracles as a satyric hero, in conventional satyr-play scenes: an arrival; banquet; victory over an ogre (in this case, Death); a happy ending; feast; and a departure for new adventures. Euripides_sentence_103

Most of the big innovations in tragedy were made by Aeschylus and Sophocles, but "Euripides made innovations on a smaller scale that have impressed some critics as cumulatively leading to a radical change of direction". Euripides_sentence_104

Euripides is also known for his use of irony. Euripides_sentence_105

Many Greek tragedians make use of dramatic irony to bring out the emotion and realism of their characters or plays, but Euripides uses irony to foreshadow events and occasionally amuse his audience. Euripides_sentence_106

For example, in his play Heracles, Heracles comments that all men love their children and wish to see them grow. Euripides_sentence_107

The irony here is that Heracles will be driven into a madness by Hera, and will kill his children. Euripides_sentence_108

Similarly, in Helen, Theoclymenus remarks how happy he is that his sister has the gift of prophecy, and will warn him of any plots or tricks against him (the audience already knows that she has betrayed him). Euripides_sentence_109

In this instance, Euripides uses irony not only for foreshadowing, but for comic effect also—something few tragedians did. Euripides_sentence_110

Likewise, in the Bacchae, Pentheus’ first threat to the god Dionysus is that if he catches him in his city, he will ‘chop off his head’; and, in the final acts of the play, Pentheus is beheaded. Euripides_sentence_111

In Greek Euripides_section_5

The spoken language of the plays is not fundamentally different in style from that of Aeschylus or Sophocles—it employs poetic meters, a rarefied vocabulary, fullness of expression, complex syntax, and ornamental figures, all aimed at representing an elevated style. Euripides_sentence_112

But 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_sentence_113

Euripides was also a great lyric poet. Euripides_sentence_114

In Medea, for example, he composed for his city, Athens, "the noblest of her songs of praise". Euripides_sentence_115

His lyrical skills are not just confined to individual poems: "A play of Euripides is a musical song echoes motifs from the preceding song, while introducing new ones." Euripides_sentence_116

For some critics, the lyrics often seem dislocated from the action; but the extent and significance of this is "a matter of scholarly debate". Euripides_sentence_117

See Chronology for details about his style. Euripides_sentence_118

Reception Euripides_section_6

Euripides has aroused, and continues to arouse, strong opinions for and against his work: Euripides_sentence_119

Aeschylus gained thirteen victories as a dramatist; Sophocles at least twenty; Euripides only four in his lifetime; and this has often been taken as indication of the latter's unpopularity. Euripides_sentence_120

But a first place might not have been the main criterion for success (the system of selecting judges appears to have been flawed), and merely being chosen to compete was a mark of distinction. Euripides_sentence_121

Moreover, to have been singled out by Aristophanes for so much comic attention is proof of popular interest in his work. Euripides_sentence_122

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. Euripides_sentence_123

According to Plutarch, Euripides had been very well received in Sicily, to the extent that after the failure of the Sicilian Expedition, many Athenian captives were released, simply for being able to teach their captors whatever fragments they could remember of his work. Euripides_sentence_124

Less than a hundred years later, Aristotle developed an almost "biological' theory of the development of tragedy in Athens: the art form grew under the influence of Aeschylus, matured in the hands of Sophocles, then began its precipitous decline with Euripides. Euripides_sentence_125

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." Euripides_sentence_126

In the seventeenth century, Racine expressed admiration for Sophocles, but was more influenced by Euripides (Iphigenia in Aulis and Hippolytus were the models for his plays Iphigénie and Phèdre). Euripides_sentence_127

Euripides' reputation was to take a beating in the early 19th 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. Euripides_sentence_128

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". Euripides_sentence_129

This view influenced Friedrich Nietzsche, who seems, however, not to have known the Euripidean plays well. Euripides_sentence_130

But 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). Euripides_sentence_131

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'. Euripides_sentence_132

The only requirement is a serious treatment." Euripides_sentence_133

In the English-speaking world, the pacifist Gilbert Murray played an important role in popularizing Euripides, influenced perhaps by his anti-war plays. Euripides_sentence_134

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. Euripides_sentence_135

As stated above, however, opinions continue to diverge, so that modern readers might actually "seem to feel a special affinity with Sophocles"; one recent critic might dismiss the debates in Euripides' plays as "self-indulgent digression for the sake of rhetorical display"; and one spring to the defence: "His plays are remarkable for their range of tones and the gleeful inventiveness, which morose critics call cynical artificiality, of their construction." Euripides_sentence_136

Texts Euripides_section_7

Transmission Euripides_section_8

The textual transmission of the plays, from the 5th century BC, when they were first written, until the era of the printing press, was a largely haphazard process. Euripides_sentence_137

Much of Euripides' work was lost and corrupted; but the period also included triumphs by scholars and copyists, thanks to whom much was recovered and preserved. Euripides_sentence_138

Summaries of the transmission are often found in modern editions of the plays, three of which are used as sources for this summary. Euripides_sentence_139

The plays of Euripides, like those of Aeschylus and Sophocles, circulated in written form. Euripides_sentence_140

But literary conventions that we take for granted today had not been invented—there was no spacing between words; no consistency in punctuation, nor elisions; no marks for breathings and accents (guides to pronunciation, and word recognition); no convention to denote change of speaker; no stage directions; and verse was written straight across the page, like prose. Euripides_sentence_141

Possibly, those who bought texts supplied their own interpretative markings. Euripides_sentence_142

Papyri discoveries have indicated, for example, that a change in speakers was loosely denoted with a variety of signs, such as equivalents of the modern dash, colon, and full-stop. Euripides_sentence_143

The absence of modern literary conventions (which aid comprehension), was an early and persistent source of errors, affecting transmission. Euripides_sentence_144

Errors were also introduced when Athens replaced its old Attic alphabet with the Ionian alphabet, a change sanctioned by law in 403–402 BC, adding a new complication to the task of copying. Euripides_sentence_145

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." Euripides_sentence_146

The law was soon disregarded, and actors continued to make changes until about 200 BC, after which the habit ceased. Euripides_sentence_147

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. Euripides_sentence_148

This became the "standard edition" for the future, and it featured some of the literary conventions that modern readers expect: there was still no spacing between words; little or no punctuation; and no stage directions; but abbreviated names denoted changes of speaker; lyrics were broken into "cola" and "strophai", or lines and stanzas; and a system of accentuation was introduced. Euripides_sentence_149

After this creation of a standard edition, the text was fairly safe from errors, besides slight and gradual corruption introduced with tedious copying. Euripides_sentence_150

Many of these trivial errors occurred in the Byzantine period, following a change in script (from uncial to minuscule), and many were "homophonic" errors—equivalent, in English, to substituting "right" for "write"; except that there were more opportunities for Byzantine scribes to make these errors, because η, ι, οι and ει, were pronounced similarly in the Byzantine period. Euripides_sentence_151

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. Euripides_sentence_152

Similar editions had appeared for Aeschylus and Sophocles—the only plays of theirs that survive today. Euripides_sentence_153

Euripides, however, was more fortunate than the other tragedians, with a second edition of his work surviving, compiled in alphabetical order as if from a set of his collect works; but without scholia attached. Euripides_sentence_154

This "Alphabetical" edition was combined with the "Select" edition by some unknown Byzantine scholar, bringing together all the nineteen plays that survive today. Euripides_sentence_155

The "Select" plays are found in many medieval manuscripts, but only two manuscripts preserve the "Alphabetical" plays—often denoted L and P, after the Laurentian Library at Florence, and the Bibliotheca Palatina in the Vatican, where they are stored. Euripides_sentence_156

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. Euripides_sentence_157

P contains all the extant plays of Euripides, L is missing The Trojan Women and latter part of The Bacchae. Euripides_sentence_158

In addition to L, P, and many other medieval manuscripts, there are fragments of plays on papyrus. Euripides_sentence_159

These papyrus fragments are often recovered only with modern technology. Euripides_sentence_160

In June 2005, for example, classicists at the University of Oxford worked on a joint project with Brigham Young University, using multi-spectral imaging technology to retrieve previously illegible writing (see References). Euripides_sentence_161

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. Euripides_sentence_162

It is from such materials that modern scholars try to piece together copies of the original plays. Euripides_sentence_163

Sometimes the picture is almost lost. Euripides_sentence_164

Thus, for example, two extant plays, The Phoenician Women and Iphigenia in 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. Euripides_sentence_165

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 qualities—most 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. Euripides_sentence_166

See Extant plays below for listing of "Select" and "Alphabetical" plays. Euripides_sentence_167

Chronology Euripides_section_9

Original production dates for some of Euripides' 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. Euripides_sentence_168

Both the playwright and his work were travestied by comic poets such as Aristophanes, the known dates of whose own plays can serve as a terminus ad quem for those of Euripides (though the gap can be considerable: twenty-seven years separate Telephus, known to have been produced in 438 BC, from its parody in Thesmophoriazusae in 411 BC.). Euripides_sentence_169

References in Euripides' 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). Euripides_sentence_170

Other indications of dating are obtained by stylometry. Euripides_sentence_171

Greek tragedy comprised lyric and dialogue, the latter mostly in iambic trimeter (three pairs of iambic feet per line). Euripides_sentence_172

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 indicate an approximate date of composition (see Extant plays below for one scholar's list of resolutions per hundred trimeters). Euripides_sentence_173

Associated with this increase in resolutions was an increasing vocabulary, 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. Euripides_sentence_174

The trochaic tetrameter catalectic—four pairs of trochees per line, with the final syllable omitted—was identified by Aristotle as the original meter of tragic dialogue (Poetics 1449a21). Euripides_sentence_175

Euripides employs it here and there in his later plays, but seems not to have used it in his early plays at all, with The Trojan Women being the earliest appearance of it in an extant play—it is symptomatic of an archaizing tendency in his later works. Euripides_sentence_176

The later plays also feature extensive use of stichomythia (i.e. a series of one-liners). Euripides_sentence_177

The longest such scene comprises one hundred and five lines in Ion (lines 264–369). Euripides_sentence_178

In contrast, Aeschylus never exceeded twenty lines of stichomythia; Sophocles' longest such scene was fifty lines, and that is interrupted several times by αντιλαβή (Electra, lines 1176–1226). Euripides_sentence_179

Euripides' use of lyrics in sung parts 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, as well as replacing some of the chorus's functions with monodies. Euripides_sentence_180

At the same time, choral odes began to take on something of the form of dithyrambs reminiscent of the poetry of Bacchylides, featuring elaborate treatment of myths. Euripides_sentence_181

Sometimes these later choral odes seem to have only a tenuous connection with the plot, linked to the action only in their mood. Euripides_sentence_182

The Bacchae, however, shows a reversion to old forms, possibly as a deliberate archaic effect, or because there were no virtuoso choristers in Macedonia (where it is said to have been written). Euripides_sentence_183

Extant plays Euripides_section_10


Estimated chronological orderEuripides_table_caption_1
PlayEuripides_header_cell_1_0_0 Date BCEuripides_header_cell_1_0_1 PrizeEuripides_header_cell_1_0_2 LineageEuripides_header_cell_1_0_3 ResolutionsEuripides_header_cell_1_0_4 Genre (and notes)Euripides_header_cell_1_0_5
AlcestisEuripides_cell_1_1_0 438Euripides_cell_1_1_1 2ndEuripides_cell_1_1_2 SEuripides_cell_1_1_3 6.2Euripides_cell_1_1_4 tragedy with elements of a satyr playEuripides_cell_1_1_5
MedeaEuripides_cell_1_2_0 431Euripides_cell_1_2_1 3rdEuripides_cell_1_2_2 SEuripides_cell_1_2_3 6.6Euripides_cell_1_2_4 tragedyEuripides_cell_1_2_5
HeracleidaeEuripides_cell_1_3_0 c. 430Euripides_cell_1_3_1 Euripides_cell_1_3_2 AEuripides_cell_1_3_3 5.7Euripides_cell_1_3_4 political/patriotic dramaEuripides_cell_1_3_5
HippolytusEuripides_cell_1_4_0 428Euripides_cell_1_4_1 1stEuripides_cell_1_4_2 SEuripides_cell_1_4_3 4.3Euripides_cell_1_4_4 tragedyEuripides_cell_1_4_5
AndromacheEuripides_cell_1_5_0 c. 425Euripides_cell_1_5_1 Euripides_cell_1_5_2 SEuripides_cell_1_5_3 11.3Euripides_cell_1_5_4 tragedy (not produced in Athens)Euripides_cell_1_5_5
HecubaEuripides_cell_1_6_0 c. 424Euripides_cell_1_6_1 Euripides_cell_1_6_2 SEuripides_cell_1_6_3 12.7Euripides_cell_1_6_4 tragedyEuripides_cell_1_6_5
The SuppliantsEuripides_cell_1_7_0 c. 423Euripides_cell_1_7_1 Euripides_cell_1_7_2 AEuripides_cell_1_7_3 13.6Euripides_cell_1_7_4 political/patriotic dramaEuripides_cell_1_7_5
ElectraEuripides_cell_1_8_0 c. 420Euripides_cell_1_8_1 Euripides_cell_1_8_2 AEuripides_cell_1_8_3 16.9Euripides_cell_1_8_4 engages "untragically" with the traditional myth and with other dramatizations of itEuripides_cell_1_8_5
HeraklesEuripides_cell_1_9_0 c. 416Euripides_cell_1_9_1 Euripides_cell_1_9_2 AEuripides_cell_1_9_3 21.5Euripides_cell_1_9_4 tragedyEuripides_cell_1_9_5
The Trojan WomenEuripides_cell_1_10_0 415Euripides_cell_1_10_1 2ndEuripides_cell_1_10_2 SEuripides_cell_1_10_3 21.2Euripides_cell_1_10_4 tragedyEuripides_cell_1_10_5
Iphigenia in TaurisEuripides_cell_1_11_0 c. 414Euripides_cell_1_11_1 Euripides_cell_1_11_2 AEuripides_cell_1_11_3 23.4Euripides_cell_1_11_4 romantic dramaEuripides_cell_1_11_5
IonEuripides_cell_1_12_0 c. 413Euripides_cell_1_12_1 Euripides_cell_1_12_2 AEuripides_cell_1_12_3 25.8Euripides_cell_1_12_4 romantic dramaEuripides_cell_1_12_5
HelenEuripides_cell_1_13_0 412Euripides_cell_1_13_1 Euripides_cell_1_13_2 AEuripides_cell_1_13_3 27.5Euripides_cell_1_13_4 romantic dramaEuripides_cell_1_13_5
Phoenician WomenEuripides_cell_1_14_0 c. 410Euripides_cell_1_14_1 2ndEuripides_cell_1_14_2 SEuripides_cell_1_14_3 25.8Euripides_cell_1_14_4 tragedy (extensive interpolations)Euripides_cell_1_14_5
OrestesEuripides_cell_1_15_0 408Euripides_cell_1_15_1 Euripides_cell_1_15_2 SEuripides_cell_1_15_3 39.4Euripides_cell_1_15_4 tragedyEuripides_cell_1_15_5
BacchaeEuripides_cell_1_16_0 405Euripides_cell_1_16_1 1stEuripides_cell_1_16_2 SEuripides_cell_1_16_3 37.6Euripides_cell_1_16_4 tragedy (posthumously produced)Euripides_cell_1_16_5
Iphigenia in AulisEuripides_cell_1_17_0 405Euripides_cell_1_17_1 1stEuripides_cell_1_17_2 AEuripides_cell_1_17_3 34.7Euripides_cell_1_17_4 tragedy (posthumously produced with extensive interpolations); also known as Iphigenia at AulisEuripides_cell_1_17_5
RhesusEuripides_cell_1_18_0 ?Euripides_cell_1_18_1 Euripides_cell_1_18_2 SEuripides_cell_1_18_3 8.1Euripides_cell_1_18_4 tragedy (authorship disputed)Euripides_cell_1_18_5
CyclopsEuripides_cell_1_19_0 ?Euripides_cell_1_19_1 Euripides_cell_1_19_2 AEuripides_cell_1_19_3 Euripides_cell_1_19_4 satyr play (the only fully extant example of this genre)Euripides_cell_1_19_5

Key: Euripides_sentence_184


  • Date indicates date of first production.Euripides_item_3_11
  • Prize indicates a place known to have been awarded in festival competition.Euripides_item_3_12
  • Lineage: S denotes plays surviving from a 'Select' or 'School' edition, A plays surviving from an 'Alphabetical' edition—see Transmission above for details.Euripides_item_3_13
  • Resolutions: Number of resolved feet per 100 trimeters, Ceadel's list—see Chronology above for details.Euripides_item_3_14
  • Genre: Generic orientation (see 'Transmission' section) with additional notes in brackets.Euripides_item_3_15

Lost and fragmentary plays Euripides_section_11

The following plays have come down to us in fragmentary form, if at all. Euripides_sentence_185

They are known through quotations in other works (sometimes as little as a single line); pieces of papyrus; partial copies in manuscript; part of a collection of hypotheses (or summaries); and through being parodied in the works of Aristophanes. Euripides_sentence_186

Some of the fragments, such as those of Hypsipyle, are extensive enough to allow tentative reconstructions to be proposed. Euripides_sentence_187

A two-volume selection from the fragments, with facing-page translation, introductions, and notes, was published by Collard, Cropp, Lee, and Gibert; as were two Loeb Classical Library volumes derived from them; and there are critical studies in T. B. L. Webster's older The Tragedies of Euripides, based on what were then believed to be the most likely reconstructions of the plays. Euripides_sentence_188

The following lost and fragmentary plays can be dated, and are arranged in roughly chronological order: Euripides_sentence_189

The following lost and fragmentary plays are of uncertain date, and are arranged in English alphabetical order. Euripides_sentence_190

Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: