Euripides, the last of the illustrious trio of the tragic poets of Athens, born, according to the almost unanimous consent of the ancient authorities, in the island of Salamis, in the 1st year of the 75th Olympiad, 480 B. C, and, as was generally believed, on the very day of the battle of Salamis (Sept. 23). The Parian marble alone carries back the date of his birth to 485, or the fourth year of the 73d Olympiad. He died in 406. The name Euripides is said to have been bestowed upon him in commemoration of the battle of Artemisium, fought not long before, near the channel of the Euri-pus. He was the son of an Athenian citizen named Mnesarchus, and his wife Clito, of the deme of Phlya and the tribe Cecropis, or according to others of the deme of Phyle and the tribe OEneis. His parents had left Athens on the approach of Xerxes and his Persian host. The condition of the family was respectable and perhaps affluent, though Aristophanes, in his comic attacks upon the poet, describes his mother as a seller of herbs. Early trained in athletic exercises, Euripides is said to have gained while still a boy the victory in the Eleusinian and Thesean contests; and at the age of 17 he offered himself at the Olympic games, but was not received.
For a time he devoted himself to the art of painting, and some of his performances are said to have been exhibited at Megara. He studied rhetoric under Prodicus, the author of the apologue of the "Choice of Hercules," who visited Athens as ambassador of his native city; physics under Anaxagoras, whose opinions gave a coloring to his poetry; and perhaps philosophy under Protagoras. He became an intimate friend of Socrates, who was 11 years his junior. At length, after trying his hand in other pursuits, his natural turn for tragedy manifested itself. His first piece was written at the age of 18, but there is no evidence that it was brought upon the stage. "Peliades," the first of his plays represented in his own name, was brought out in 455. This is not preserved. Fourteen years later, in 441, he gained for the first time the first tragic prize. Ten years after this, in 431, he gained the first prize with the tetralogy, including "Medea," "Philoctetes," "Dictys," and "Theristae." In 428 he brought out the "Hippolytus;" in 412 "Andromeda;" and in 408 " Orestes." He appears to have carried off the prize but seldom, if we consider the number of his plays - 15 times according to Thomas Magister, or five times as others state; while he is said by some to have written 92, and by others 75 pieces, including the satyric dramas or afterpieces with which the tragic trilogy was usually followed.
Soon after the representation of "Orestes," Euripides appears to have accepted the invitation of Archelaus, king of Macedon, to take up his residence at that court. He had already held possession of the Athenian stage for more than 50 years, and had written an extraordinary number of masterpieces, when he went to try the uncertain experiment of residence at a foreign court; but there were some powerful reasons which urged him to this step. The rivalries in his art, and still more the attacks to which he exposed himself by the freedom of his philosophical and religious opinions, probably embittered his life at Athens. According to tradition, Euripides was not happy in his domestic relations, but the details on this subject seem to rest on no credible authority. He lived but a short time after he went to Macedon. According to tradition, he was torn in pieces by the hounds of the king. During his short residence there he acquired a great ascendancy over Archelaus, who loaded him with gifts and honors. When the news of his death reached Athens, it threw the whole city into mourning. Sophocles, then 90 years old, was so deeply moved that he changed his garments, and required his actors to lay aside their crowns and appear in mourning on the stage.
The Athenians requested that his remains might be sent home for burial; but the request was not granted. They, however, erected a cenotaph to the poet, on the road from the Piraeus to Athens, and his statue was afterward set up, with those of AEschylus and Sophocles, in the Dionysiac theatre, by Lycur-gus the orator, a contemporary of Demosthenes. The inscription on the cenotaph is supposed to have been written by Thucydides the historian. - Of the numerous works of Euripides only 19 entire pieces have come down to our times. Many fragments of other plays exist, and are published in the editions of his works. Of the extant pieces, the genuineness of one, "Rhesus," has been called in question. Seventeen are tragedies, and two, "Cyclops" and "Al-cestis," were intended as afterpieces, like the satyric dramas (of which " Cyclops " is indeed the only remaining specimen) in tetralogies. The earliest of all is "Alcestis," which was brought out in 438; the date of " Orestes " is the latest ascertained, 408; but several of his pieces were brought out after his death by his son Euripides. The best editions are those of Beck (Leipsic, 1778-'88), of Matthias (Leipsic, 1813-'37), that of Glasgow (1821), Kirchhoff (Berlin, 1855), Nauck (Leipsic, 1857), Donner (Leipsic, 1859), and Fritze (Berlin, 1866-'8). Paley's edition (3 vols., London, 1857-60) is the most beautiful.
The whole works of Euripides have been translated into English verse by Potter (2 vols. 4to, London, 1781-'2; 2 vols. 8vo, Oxford, 1814), and into prose by Buckley in Bonn's "Classical Library." - On the moral, intellectual, and poetical merits of Euripides, there was in ancient times, as there is in modern, a great diversity of opinion. Among his contemporaries, Socrates thought so highly of him that he made it a point to attend the theatre whenever a play of his was to be performed, and the philosopher delighted in his conversation. Aristophanes, on the other hand, pursued him with the keenest ridicule, denouncing him as the corrupter of tragedy and the teacher of immoral doctrines, and contrasting him unfavorably in these respects with AEschylus and Sophocles. In modern times A.W. von Schlegel and the critics of his school have adopted the representations of Aristophanes as the basis of a disparaging judgment.
Aristotle, while censuring his faulty management in some respects, yet pronounces him the most tragic of poets. Milton's opinion nearly coincided with that of Aristotle. Euripides is censured as a woman-hater, and it is supposed that his distrust of the female sex grew out of his own domestic experience. He, like Socrates, is charged with a want of belief in the gods of his country. In a literary point of view, the principal charges against him are that he lowered the tone of tragedy and weakened its style; that he degraded heroic characters by representing them in beggary and rags, and by these coarse means attempting to work out pathetic effects; that he too often introduced his plays with long and tedious narrative or genealogical prologues; that his choruses frequently have little to do with the subject of the piece; and finally, that he delighted in the representation of criminal and unnatural passions. These statements, though having a germ of fact, are quite too absolutely made. In his style Euripides is not lofty like AEschy-lus, nor elaborately elegant like Sophocles. In his plots he is not so simple as AEschylus, nor so carefully balanced as Sophocles. But in the study of human passions, in the analysis of the characters of men and women, in tracing actions to their hidden motives through all the labyrinthine windings of pretence or self-deception, he is undoubtedly their superior.
In his plays there is more of philosophy, in spite of the occasional sophistry that deforms them; there are more pithy maxims, sententious expressions of metaphysical and ethical truth, and discussions that really evolve important conclusions bearing upon the conduct of private or public life. If we judge by the busts and statues of Euripides that have come down to us in the collections of ancient art, he was a man of capacious brain, of grave countenance, and studious habits.