The following biography was originally published in Minute History of the Drama. Alice B. Fort
& Herbert S. Kates. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935.
THERE is more unadulterated gossip about Euripides than about either Sophocles or Aeschylus: about his birth, which for the sake of connecting him with the battle of Salamis and thus with the careers of Aeschylus and Sophocles, gossip tries to place in 480 B.C.; about his parentage, probably due to scurrilous remarks in the comedies of Aristophanes referring to them as "hucksters" and "green grocers"; about his youth, when, according to unfounded report, he was trained for a professional wrestler; and, finally, about his marriage, wherein rumor represented him as finding both his first and second wives unfaithful. All this can be ascribed to the fact that ancient biography resorted to invention in order to connect the poet's writings with supposed personal experiences and thus assign a reason for them.
From all the confusion a few facts stand out. Euripides in temperament was just the opposite of Sophocles . . . of a studious and retiring disposition, fond of the companionship of intimate friends, but averse to general society. A favorite retreat was a grotto that looked out upon the sea. Here in complete retirement he liked to study and write. From numerous allusions of contemporary writers, we know, too, that his library was celebrated for its completeness.
Of the three great tragic poets of Greece, Euripides was by far the most modern. As the first of the "realists" he brought realism in clothes, conversation and character to the Greek stage. He was a pioneer in tragi-comedy, Alcestis being the first example in dramatic history of the form later perfected by Spanish and Elizabethan dramatists. The lost Andromeda was the only play of ancient times based on the romantic affection of a youth for a girl. Helena was a forerunner of the type later made famous by A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Of the nineteen extant Euripidean dramas some are good; some, second rate. Nine of his plays were selected for reading in the early schools. Although he exhibited quite regularly he was successful in the dramatic contests only five times, once posthumously. Ancients ranked Bacchae and Iphigenia in Tauris as his best works. Like Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, Euripides' Medea, ranked (with Hippolytus) as his masterpiece, was defeated in the contest. These two dramas are the greatest and most original of the poet's creations.
Shortly before his death Euripides accepted an invitation from Archelaus, ruler of Macedon. He was generously treated there and at his death buried with honors.