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Euripides | Biography

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Few details about Euripides's life are documented. He was born around 485 BCE. He was likely from a fairly wealthy family and was initially educated to become an athlete. Among Euripedes's tutors was the foremost sophist Protagoras, whose ideas influenced his own. Protagoras was a known agnostic concerning the gods, a viewpoint that was not uncommon among the educated elite of Greek society; he famously wrote, "Man is the measure of all things." In general sophists valued and practiced skepticism and the use of clever rhetorical argument to sway others' opinions and acquire political power. Even in their own time, sophists were viewed with distaste and considered amoral tricksters. Euripedes's fellow pupil and lifelong friend Socrates was also tarred with the sophist brush by many of his contemporaries. This association with sophism was used against both Euripides and Socrates by their detractors.

Euripides might have grown up on the island of Salamis, where his parents owned some property, and he probably wrote many of his plays there. The 1997 archaeological excavation of a cave on the island found a clay pot inscribed with the playwright's name, dating from the era in which he lived. Though the inscription had been added at a later date, the discovery gave weight to historical evidence that Euripides wrote in the cave. He was married and had three sons. He died in 406 in Macedonia, where he had spent several years as a member of King Archelaus's court.

Euripides left a large body of work—about 92 plays and many fragments. His complete tragedies include Alcestis (438 BCE), Medea (431), Hippolytus (428), Electra (c. 418), The Trojan Women (415), and The Bacchae (410).

Medea is one of Euripides's most famous tragedies. It not only draws on Greek mythology but also explores the darker side of its protagonist—a strong-willed and memorable female character. This focus on the emotions and humanity of his characters sets Euripides apart from the other great dramatists of Ancient Greece. Because of its dominant female lead, some consider Medea one of the earliest pieces of feminist literature. Others disagree, saying that Euripides actually held up Medea as an example of how women should not behave.

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