Tragedian (c480 BC – c406 BC)
Euripides was the youngest of the three great tragedians of antiquity. He was born most probably on the same day the Battle of Salamis took place in 480 BC. Described both as wise and as a philosopher, Euripides flourished during the Golden Age of Pericles and was a pioneer in tragic and dramatic poetry.
From a young age Euripides showed special interest to philosophy. He studied Protagoras and Anaxagoras and passed his time along with Socrates’ students. Socrates and Euripides both had great influence on one another. He had also been influenced by Heraclitus, Gorgias and Xenophanes. Many elements from their philosophy were introduced to tragic poetry by Euripides. Plato said that “he was honoured as a God for his wisdom”.
Euripides wrote 88 plays. Only 19 of them survive fully. The Bacchae is a religious-psychological dramatic play which deals with the fanaticism of a false belief and its dreadful manifestations. Alcestis won second place, it was a satyrical drama and the last of a tetralogy. Andromache is a political drama on the life of Andromache after she becomes enslaved to Neoptolemus. Medea, in which the poet shows women’s savagery and mania caused by failure of love, the passion of revenge and maternal love is widely recognized as one of Euripides’ best plays. Other important works of Euripides include The Suppliants, Hippolytus, Hecuba, Cyclops, Heracles, Electra, Helen, Orestes, Iphigeneia in Aulis, Iphigeneia in Tauris, Children of Heracles, Ion, Rhesus and The Trojan Women. Euripides’ lost works are more than 60 in number. Only their title or mere fragments survive.
Euripides’ innovations in theatre were the following: He introduced the “deus ex machina”. At the end of the play, after the heroes had gone through all their passions, Gods would enter the stage by a machine and would show the path to the heroes (protagonists), contemplating, interpreting, comforting and encouraging them to overcome their obstacles. His second innovation was making the monologue in the beginning of the play into a prologue, whereupon the viewer is introduced to the subject of the play. His third innovation was the rearrangement of the Chorus. Prior to Euripides, the Chorus’ intervention was aimed in bringing about a peaceful equilibrium between the antagonizing characters. In Euripides’ plays the Chorus brings a sense of peace and serenity to the viewer’s soul.
Euripides was among the chosen ones that the Muses showed themselves. Like Homer, Hesiod, Orpheus, Pindar, Sophocles, Aeschylus etc, the Muses stimulated Euripides’ soul, giving him the ability to narrate and glorify the heroic labours of men and Gods so that to act as a paedagogue to the viewers who witnessed his plays. The poet acted as a channel to deliver the Muses’ optic presentations to the spectators, who received the information through the symbolic actions of the heroes and the Gods. This would provide the best example and the most powerful method to bring the mortal man in contact with the Divine. Decoding and understanding this divine information led to lytrosis and eventually the conquest of immortality. This was the reason why Euripides and all his contemporary playwrights were described as sages. This was the reason why ancient theatre had therapeutic and didactic purposes.
- Altani. Arritoi Logoi Kentauroi, Amazones, Medousa. Georgiades: Athens, 2005. Print.
- “Euripides”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.