Euripides (ca. 480-406 BC) was the third of the great Attic tragic poets. According to tradition, he was born in Salamís on September 23, about 480 BC, the day of the great naval battle between the Greeks and the Persians. His plays began to be performed in the Attic drama festivals in 454 BC, but it was not until 442 BC that he won first prize. Despite his prolific talent, Euripides won this distinction again only four times. In 408, apparently tired and bitter at the luke-warm response to his work in Athens, the 70-year-old Euripides left Athens for Macedon, where he wrote the Bacchae (not performed until after his death about two years later). In many ways, the Bacchae can be considered his masterpiece.
In contrast to Aeschylus and Sophocles, Euripides represented the new
moral, social, and political movements that were taking place in Athens
toward the end of the 5th century BC. It was a period of enormous intellectual
discovery, in which wisdom ranked as the highest earthly accomplishment.
Anaxagoras had recently demonstrated that air was an element, and that
the sun was not a divinity but physical matter. New truths were being
established in all the branches of knowledge, and Euripides, reacting
to them, brought a new kind of consciousness to the writing of tragedy.
His interest lay in the thought and experience of a recognisably human
individual rather than in the experiences of legendary figures from
the epics of Homer. He often drew criticism for his prortrayal of commoners,
or of mythic heroes who acted like commoners, in his plays (remember
that in "traditional" tragedy, heroes--Agamemnon, Oedipus--remained
monumental, larger than life).
Among other Euripidean innovations that were criticized during his lifetime were the addition of the prologue (e.g., Dionysus's address to the audience at the opening of the Bacchae); the deus ex machina, or unexpected introduction of a god (usually literally "from the machine"--the mechanisms that were used for special effects, such as flying, in the Attic theatre) to bring about a resolution to the plot; and the alteration of legends to suit the requirements of the drama.
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