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This Day In Writing History
On September 23rd, 480 BCE, the legendary ancient Greek poet and playwright Euripides was born. He was born on the Greek island of Salamis. Evidence suggests that he was born into a wealthy family. It has been recorded that Euripides served as a cup-bearer (a royal court officer whose duty was to serve drinks at the royal table) for Apollo's dancers, but he soon came to question his religion after being influenced by the great thinkers of the day, including Sophocles, Protagoras, and Anaxagoras.
Euripides was married twice; his wives were Choerile and Melito, though it's not clear which was his first wife. He had three sons. Supposedly, he also had a daughter who was killed by a rabid dog, though this may have been a joke attributed to the comic playwright Aristophanes, who often poked fun at Euripides.
Not much else is known about Euripides' private and public life. In addition to his literary talents, he was an accomplished painter and athlete. He once traveled to Syracuse, Sicily, and was involved in various public and political activities. At the invitation of King Archelaus 1 of Macedon, Euripides left Athens and moved to Macedonia, where he took up permanent residence.
It has been said that Euripides wrote his plays in a cave on the Island of Salamis; the ten-chambered cave, now known as the Cave of Euripides, was the subject of an archaeological dig in the 1990s. While the complete manuscripts of many of his plays (including his very best ones) survived, many more plays were lost, with only fragments or a handful of lines left to prove their existence.
In 455 BCE, Euripides competed for the first time in the City Dionysia, the famous Athenian dramatic festival. He entered his second play, Medea, which was written in 431 BCE. The play was Euripides' take on the Medea myth. After completing his quest for the Golden Fleece, Jason leaves his wife Medea so he can marry Glauce, the daughter of King Creon. Driven to great anger and despair by this betrayal, Medea poisons Glauce and Creon, then takes an even crueler revenge on Jason by murdering her own sons - Jason's children.
Euripides' Medea is a sympathetic character who suffers from the disadvantage of being a woman in a stifling patriarchal society that regards her as property to be acquired and discarded at will. This and her identity as a barbarian woman would raise the ire of ancient Greek audiences. Euripides' proto-feminist treatment of women, his sympathetic depiction of intelligent slaves, and his meditations on the irrationality of religion would establish him as a progressive thinker and a modernist playwright way ahead of his time. His fellow playwright Sophocles said that while he portrayed men as they ought to be, Euripides portrayed them as they were.
Medea placed third in the City Dionysia, reportedly because Euripides refused to brown nose the judges. Another of his classic plays, The Trojan Women (415 BCE), would win second prize. The play, produced during the Peloponnesian War, is considered a biting commentary on the capture of the Island of Melos by the Athenians earlier that year, and the Athenians' subsequent slaughter and enslavement of their fellow Greeks.
Euripides' last and greatest play, The Bacchae, completed before his death in 406 BCE, would finally win him first prize at the City Dionysia competition when it was performed a year later. The prize would be awarded posthumously. The Bacchae is a gruesome tragedy based on the myth of King Pentheus of Thebes and his mother Agave, who were punished by the god Dionysus (King Pentheus' cousin) for refusing to worship him.
Euripides would also write Cyclops, the only complete satyr play (the ancient Greek equivalent of bawdy burlesque comedy) to survive. He died of illness at the age of 74, most likely the result of his exposure to the harsh Macedon winter. His works would influence the New Comedy, Roman drama, and the French classicists. His influence as a dramatist continues to this day.
Quote Of The Day
"Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing." - Euripides
Today's video features a clip of a rare 1959 performance of Euripides' Medea, with Dame Judith Anderson in the title role. Enjoy!