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Who's Who Ancient Greece: The Arts

Euripides (480-407 BC) Poet & Playwright

Tragic poetry and drama

eurpidesBorn on the island of Salamis, Euripides died while serving at the court of Archelaus, a Macedonian king and patron of the arts.

Though his family background is not known, what is known is that he was educated in both science and philosophy, and that he had one of the most comprehensive private libraries in all of Athens.

As a youth he also excelled in athletics. He was of a philosophical orientation, but preferred poetry to prose.

His drama manifests his distrust of religion and especially the human-centered essence of religion. He saw tragedy as arising from the conflict between individuals of very differing character and temperament.

He wrote his first tragedy at the age of 18, winning his first prize in poetic contests at the age of 38, though he won only five times in drama contests. He wrote 92 dramas and 3 tetralogies, with 17 tragedies, a satiric drama, and many extracts surviving.

Aeschylus' innovations included introducing the prologue and the deus ex machina, increasing the musical and lyric elements in the plays, moving the chorus into the background of the action, and presenting characters that were less idealized and more realistic.

In 'The Trojan Women', he presents the full horrors of war, showing the abduction of the women of Troy, the murder of Polyxene, daughter of the queen Hecuba, and the burning of the city.

More war horrors are seen in the play 'Hecuba' , which also deals with the defeat of Troy by the Achaean Greeks, with the queen of the defeated city taken prisoner by the victors and who watches her daughter sacrificed at the grave of Achilles, and then her son's body washed up on the shore by the sea after his murder by Polymestrous, a false ally of Troy. She revenges herself by blinding Polymestrous and killing his children.

The play 'Elektra' deals with the slaying by her own children, Orestes and Elektra, of Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus, in revenge for the murder of their father Agamemnon by them.

Euripidhes condemnation of war is obvious in this wrenching and violent dramas. One of his most acclaimed plays is 'Iphigenia at Avlis', which deals with the planned sacrifice of Agamemnon's youngest daughter, deemed necessary for the Achaean ships set sail for Troy, a fate from which she escapes by the mechanism of deus ex machina, in the form of an invisible Artemis, who intervenes just at the dreadful moment, snatches the weeping maiden from the jaws of death and leaves a deer in her place.