Euripides was one of the three great tragedians of classical Athens, along with Aeschylus and Sophocles; he was the youngest of the three and was born c. 480 BC. His mother's name was Cleito, and his father's either Mnesarchus or Mnesarchides. There is a tradition that states Cleito earned an income by selling herbs in the marketplace; Aristophanes found this to be a source of amusement and used it in many comedies. However, there is significant evidence which leads most to believe that Euripides' family was quite comfortable financially, and wouldn't have needed such a source of income.
According to ancient sources, he wrote over 90 plays, 19 of which are extant, although it is widely believed by scholars that the play Rhesus was actually written by someone else. Fragments of most of the other plays survive, some of them substantial. The number of Euripides' plays that have survived is more than that of Aeschylus and Sophocles together, partly due to the chance preservation of a manuscript that was likely part of a complete collection of his works.
The record of Euripides' public life, other than his involvement in dramatic competitions, is almost non-existent. There is reason to believe that he travelled to Syracuse, Sicily, on a diplomatic mission, but if he engaged in any other public or political actives during his lifetime, such information has not survived. From his plays it is apparent that he was very skeptical of Greek religion, and tradition holds that he associated with various Sophists and also with Socrates. He had a wife named Melito, and together they had three sons.
Euripides first competed in the famous Athenian dramatic festival in 455 BC, one year after the death of Aeschylus. He came in third. It was not until 441 BC that he won first place, and over the course of his life Euripides claimed a mere four victories. When compared with Aeschylus, who won thirteen times, and Sophocles, with eighteen victories, Euripides was the least honored, though not necessarily the least popular, of the three. His final competition in Athens was in 408, and soon after he left Athens at the invitation of Archelaus, and stayed with him in Macedonia. Although there is a tradition that he left Athens embittered because of his defeats, there is no real evidence for this position. He died in Macedonia in 406, and after his death his fame overshadowed both Aeschylus and Sophocles. One unreliable tradition holds that he was torn apart by hunting dogs. His works were later idolized by the French classicists. Euripides' greatest works are considered to be The Bacchae and Medea.
Plays of Euripides:
- Alcestis (438 BC)
- Bacchae (~405 BC [posthumous], first prize [with Iphigeneia at Aulis])
- Helen (probably 412 BC)
- Hippolytus (428 BC, first prize)
- Iphigeneia at Aulis (~405 BC [posthumous], first prize [with the Bacchae])
- Iphigeneia in Tauris
- Medea (431 BC, third prize)
- Orestes (probably 408 BC)
- Trojan Women (415 BC, second prize)