Euripides  

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Euripides (ca. 480 BC–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-five 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.

Contents

Reception

Euripides has aroused and continues to arouse strongly contrasting opinions of his work, for and against:

"He was a problem to his contemporaries and he is one still; over the course of centuries since his plays were first produced he has been hailed or indicted under a bewildering variety of labels. He has been described as 'the poet of the Greek enlightenment' and also as 'Euripides the irrationalist';<ref group="nb">'The poet of the Greek enlightenment' is taken from W. Nestle, Euripides, Stuttgart (1901); 'Euripides the irrationalist' is from E. Dodds, C.R 43 (1929), pages 97-104</ref> as a religious sceptic if not an atheist, but on the other hand, as a believer in divine providence and the ultimate justice of divine dispensation. He has been seen as a profound explorer of human psychology and also a rhetorical poet who subordinated consistency of character to verbal effect; as a misogynist and a feminist; as a realist who brought tragic action down to the level of everyday life and as a romantic poet who chose unusual myths and exotic settings. He wrote plays which have been widely understood as patriotic pieces supporting Athens' war against Sparta and others which many have taken as the work of the anti-war dramatist par excellence, even as attacks on Athenian imperialism. He has been recognized as the precursor of New Comedy and also what Aristotle called him: 'the most tragic of poets' (Poetics 1453a30). And not one of these descriptions is entirely false. --Bernard Knox in The Cambridge History of Classical Literature I: Greek Literature, P.Easterling and B.Knox (ed.s), Cambridge University Press (1985), pages 317-18

Aeschylus gained thirteen victories as a dramatist, Sophocles at least twenty, Euripides only four in his lifetime, and this has often been taken as an indication of the latter's unpopularity with his contemporaries, and yet a first place might not have been the main criterion for success in those times (the system of selecting judges appears to have been flawed) and merely being chosen to compete was in itself a mark of distinction. Moreover to have been singled out by Aristophanes for so much comic attention is proof of popular interest in his work. Sophocles was appreciative enough of the younger poet to be influenced by him, as is evident in his later plays Philoctetes and Oedipus at Colonus. Less than a hundred years later, Aristotle developed an almost "biological' theory of the development of tragedy in Athens: according to this view, the art form grew under the influence of Aeschylus, matured in the hands of Sophocles then began its precipitous decline with Euripides. However, "his plays continued to be applauded even after those of Aeschylus and Sophocles had come to seem remote and irrelevant", they became school classics in the Hellenistic period (as mentioned in the introduction) and, due to Seneca's adaptation of his work for Roman audiences, "it was Euripides, not Aeschylus or Sophocles, whose tragic muse presided over the rebirth of tragedy in Renaissance Europe."

In the seventeenth century, Racine expressed admiration for Sophocles but was more influenced by Euripides (e.g. Iphigenia at Aulis and Hippolytus were the models for his plays Iphigénie and Phèdre). Euripides's reputation was to take a beating early in the nineteenth century when Friedrich Schlegel and his brother August Wilhelm Schlegel championed Aristotle's 'biological' model of theatre history, identifying Euripides with the moral, political and artistic degeneration of Athens. August Wilhelm's Vienna lectures on dramatic art and literature went through four editions between 1809 and 1846 and, in them, he opined that Euripides "not only destroyed the external order of tragedy but missed its entire meaning," a view that came to influence Friedrich Nietzsche, who however seems not to have known the Euripidean plays at all well. However literary figures such as the poet Robert Browning and his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning could study and admire the Schlegels while still appreciating Euripides as "our Euripides the human" (Wine of Cyprus stanza 12). Classicists such as Arthur Verrall and Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff reacted against the views of the Schlegels and Nietzsche, constructing arguments sympathetic to Euripides, which involved Wilamowitz in this restatement of Greek tragedy as a genre: "A [Greek] tragedy does not have to end 'tragically' or be 'tragic'. The only requirement is a serious treatment." In the English-speaking world, the pacifist Gilbert Murray played an important role in popularizing Euripides, influenced perhaps by his anti-war plays. Today, as in the time of Euripides, traditional assumptions are constantly under challenge and audiences therefore have a natural affinity with the Euripidean outlook which seems nearer to ours for example than the Elizabethan. As stated above, however, opinions continue to diverge, so that one recent critic might dismiss the debates in Euripides's plays as "self-indulgent digression for the sake of rhetorical display" and another springs to the poet's defence in terms such as: "His plays are remarkable for their range of tones and the gleeful inventiveness, which morose critics call cynical artificiality, of their construction."

Texts

Extant plays

Estimated chronological order
Play Date BC Prize Lineage Resolutions Genre (and notes)
Alcestis 438 2nd S 6.2 tragedy with elements of a satyr play
Medea 431 3rd S 6.6 tragedy
Heracleidae c. 430 A 5.7 political/patriotic drama
Hippolytus 428 1st S 4.3 tragedy
Andromache c. 425 S 11.3 tragedy
Hecuba c. 424 S 12.7 tragedy
The Suppliants c. 423 A 13.6 political/patriotic drama
Electra c. 420 A 16.9 engages "untragically" with the traditional myth and with other dramatizations of it
Heracles c. 416 A 21.5 tragedy
The Trojan Women 415 2nd S 21.2 tragedy
Iphigenia in Tauris c. 414 A 23.4 romantic drama
Ion c. 414 A 25.8 romantic drama
Helen 412 A 27.5 romantic drama
Phoenician Women c. 410 S 25.8 tragedy (extensive interpolations)
Orestes 408 S 39.4 tragedy
Bacchae 405 1st S 37.6 tragedy (posthumously produced)
Iphigenia at Aulis 405 1st A 34.7 tragedy (posthumously produced with extensive interpolations)
Rhesus  ? S 8.1 tragedy (authorship disputed)
Cyclops  ? A satyr play (the only fully extant example of this genre)

Key:

Date indicates date of first production.
Prize indicates a place known to have been awarded in festival competition
Lineage: S denotes plays surviving from a 'Select' or 'School' edition, A plays surviving from an 'Alphabetical' edition -- see Transmission above for details.
Resolutions: Number of resolved feet per 100 trimeters, Ceadel's list -- see Chronology above for details.
Genre: Generic orientation (see 'Transmission' section) with additional notes in brackets.

Lost and fragmentary plays

The following plays have come down to us today only in fragmentary form, if at all. They are known through quotations in other works, sometimes as little as a single line, or through pieces of papyrus or partial copies in manuscript form; some are known thanks to the survival of part of a collection of hypotheses (or summaries) in papyrus, and others through being parodied in the works of Aristophanes. Some the fragments are extensive enough to allow tentative reconstructions to be proposed.

A two-volume selection from the fragments, with facing-page translation, introductions, and notes, was published by Collard, Cropp, Lee, and Gibert , as were two Loeb Classical Library volumes derived from them, and there are critical studies in T. B. L. Webster's older The Tragedies of Euripides based upon what were then believed to be the most likely reconstructions of the plays.

The following lost and fragmentary plays can be dated, and are arranged in rough chronological order:

  1. Peliades (455 BC)
  2. Telephus (438 BC with Alcestis)
  3. Alcmaeon in Psophis (438 BC with Alcestis)
  4. Cretan Women (438 with Alcestis)
  5. Cretans (c. 435 BC)
  6. Philoctetes (431 BC with Medea)
  7. Dictys (431 BC with Medea)
  8. Theristai (satyr play, 431 BC with Medea)
  9. Stheneboea (before 429 BC)
  10. Bellerophon (c. 430 BC)
  11. Cresphontes (ca. 425 BC)
  12. Erechtheus (422 BC)
  13. Phaethon (c. 420 BC)
  14. Wise Melanippe (c. 420 BC)
  15. Alexandros (415 BC with Trojan Women)
  16. Palamedes (415 BC with Trojan Women)
  17. Sisyphus (satyr play, 415 BC with Trojan Women)
  18. Captive Melanippe (c. 412 BC)
  19. Andromeda (412 BC with Helen)
  20. Antiope (c. 410 BC)
  21. Archelaus (c. 410 BC)
  22. Hypsipyle (c. 410 BC)
  23. Alcmaeon in Corinth (c. 405 BC) Won first prize as part of a trilogy with The Bacchae and Iphigenia in Aulis.

The following lost and fragmentary plays are of uncertain date, and are arranged in English alphabetical order.




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