Euripedes was the last of the three great tragedians of classical Athens. A Greek playright, he wrote a number of plays that changed how audiences viewed Greek plays



A statue of Euripides
A statue of Euripides

Euripides (Greek: Ευριπίδης) (c. 480–406 BC) was the last of the three great tragedians of classical Athens (the other two being Aeschylus and Sophocles).

Ancient scholars thought that Euripides had written ninety-two plays, although four of those were probably written by Critias. Eighteen of Euripides' plays have survived complete. It is now widely believed that what was thought to be a nineteenth, Rhesus, was probably not by Euripides.[1] Fragments, some of them substantial, of most of the other plays also survive. More of his plays have survived than those of Aeschylus and Sophocles together, partly because of the chance preservation of a manuscript that was probably part of a complete collection of his works in alphabetical order.

Euripides is known primarily for having reshaped the formal structure of traditional Attic tragedy by showing strong women characters and smart slaves, and by satirizing many heroes of Greek mythology. His plays seem modern by comparison with those of his contemporaries, focusing on the inner lives and motives of his characters in a way previously unknown to Greek audiences.


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Euripides, Vatican Museum.
Euripides, Vatican Museum.

According to legend, Euripides was born in Salamís on September 23, 480 BC, the day of the Persian War's greatest naval battle. Other sources estimate that he was born as early as 485 BC.

His father's name was either Mnesarchus or Mnesarchides and his mother's name Cleito,[1] and evidence suggests that the family was wealthy and influential. It is recorded that he served as a cup-bearer for Apollo's dancers, but he grew to question the religion he grew up with, exposed as he was to thinkers such as Protagoras, Socrates, and Anaxagoras. Anaxagoras, for example, maintained that the sun was not a golden chariot steered across the sky by some elusive god, but rather a fiery mass of earth or stone.

He was married twice, to Choerile and Melito, though sources disagree as to which woman he married first. [1] [2] He had three sons, and it is rumored that he also had a daughter who was killed after a rabid dog attacked her. (Some say this was merely a joke made by Aristophanes, a comic writer who often poked fun at Euripides.)

The record of Euripides' public life, other than his involvement in dramatic competitions, is almost non-existent. The only reliable story of note is one by Aristotle about Euripides being involved in a dispute over a liturgy - a story which offers strong proof to Euripides being a wealthy man. It has been said that he travelled to Syracuse, Sicily; that he engaged in various public or political activities during his lifetime; and that he left Athens at the invitation of king Archelaus I of Macedon and stayed with him in Macedonia after 408 BC. According to Pausanias, Euripides was buried in Macedonia.


Euripides first competed in the Dionysia, the famous Athenian dramatic festival, in 455 BC, one year after the death of Aeschylus. He came in third, reportedly because he refused to cater to the fancies of the judges. It was not until 441 BC that he won first prize, and over the course of his lifetime, Euripides claimed a mere four victories. He also won one posthumous victory.

He was a frequent target of Aristophanes' humor. He appears as a character in The Acharnians, Thesmophoriazusae, and most memorably in The Frogs, where Dionysus travels to Hades to bring Euripides back from the dead. After a competition of poetry, the god opts to bring Aeschylus instead.

Euripides' final competition in Athens was in 408 BC; there is a story that he left Athens embittered over his defeats. He accepted an invitation by the king of Macedon in 408 or 407 BC, and once there he wrote Archelaus in honour of his host. He is believed to have died there in winter 407/6 BC; ancient biographers have told many stories about his death, but the simple truth was that it was probably his first exposure to the harsh Macedonia winter which killed him. (Rutherford 1996). The Bacchae was performed after his death in 405 BC and won first prize.

When compared with Aeschylus, who won thirteen times, and Sophocles, with eighteen victories, Euripides was the least honored of the three — at least in his lifetime. Later in the 4th century BC, the dramas of Euripides became the most popular. His works influenced New Comedy and Roman drama, and were later idolized by the French classicists; his influence on drama reaches modern times.

Euripides' greatest works include Alcestis, Medea, Electra, and The Bacchae. Also considered notable is Cyclops, one of the only complete satyr play currently in existence.

In June 2005, classicists at Oxford University employed infrared technology — previously used for satellite imaging — to detect previously unknown material by Euripides in fragments of the Oxyrhynchus papyri, [3] a collection of ancient manuscripts held by the university. [4]



  1. Alcestis (438 BC, second prize)
  2. Medea (431 BC, third prize)
  3. Heracleidae (c. 430 BC)
  4. Hippolytus (428 BC, first prize)
  5. Andromache (c. 425 BC)
  6. Hecuba (c. 424 BC)
  7. The Suppliants (c. 423 BC)
  8. Electra (c. 420 BC)
  9. Heracles (c. 416 BC)
  10. Trojan Women (415 BC, second prize)
  11. Iphigeneia in Tauris (c. 414 BC)
  12. Ion (c. 414 BC)
  13. Helen (412 BC)
  14. Phoenician Women (c. 410 BC)
  15. Orestes (408 BC)
  16. Bacchae and Iphigeneia at Aulis (405 BC, posthumous, first prize)

Fragmentary tragedies

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: see Euripides: Selected Fragmentary Plays (Aris and Phillips 1995) ed. C. Collard, M.J. Cropp and K.H. Lee.

  1. Telephus (438 BC)
  2. Cretans (c. 435 BC)
  3. Stheneboea (before 429 BC)
  4. Bellerophon (c. 430 BC)
  5. Cresphontes (ca. 425 BC)
  6. Erechtheus (422 BC)
  7. Phaethon (c. 420 BC)
  8. Wise Melanippe (c. 420 BC)
  9. Alexandros (415 BC)
  10. Palamedes (415 BC)
  11. Sisyphus (415 BC)
  12. Captive Melanippe (412 BC)
  13. Andromeda (c. 410 BC)
  14. Antiope (c. 410 BC)
  15. Archelaus (c. 410 BC)
  16. Hypsipyle (c. 410 BC)
  17. Oedipus (c. 410 BC)
  18. Philoctetes (c. 410 BC)

Satyr play

  1. Cyclops (408)

Spurious plays

  1. Rhesus (mid 4th century BC, probably not by Euripides, as maintained today by most scholars)


  1. ^ a b Halsall, Paul. Ancient History Sourcebook: 11th Brittanica: Euripides.
  • Croally, N.T. Euripidean Polemic: The Trojan Women and the Function of Tragedy. Cambridge University Press, 1994.
  • Ippolito, P. La vita di Euripide. N�poles: Dipartimento di Filologia Classica dell'Universit'a degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, 1999.
  • Kovacs, D. Euripidea. Leiden: Brill, 1994.
  • Lefkowitz, M.R. The Lives of the Greek Poets. London: Duckworth, 1981.
  • Rutherford, Richard. Euripides: Medea and other plays. Penguin, 1996.
  • Scullion, S. Euripides and Macedon, or the silence of the Frogs. The Classical Quarterly, Oxford, v. 53, n. 2, p. 389-400, 2003.
  • Sommerstein, Alan H. Greek Drama and Dramatists, Routledge, 2002.
  • Webster, T.B.L., The Tragedies of Euripides, Methuen, 1967.

Further reading

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  • Works by Euripides at Project Gutenberg
  • Encarta's entry for Euripides
  • Euripides-related materials at the Perseus Digital Library
  • Useful summaries of Euripides' life, works, and other relevant topics of interest at
  • IMDBs List of movies based on Euripides plays
  • Euripides Resources

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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