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The Bacchae | Study Guide


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Euripides | Biography


Early Life and Influences

Few details about Euripides's life are documented. He was born around 484 BCE. He was likely from a fairly wealthy family and was initially educated to become an athlete. Among Euripides'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. Euripides'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. Although the inscription had been added at a later date, the discovery gave weight to historical evidence that Euripides wrote in the cave.

Euripides's Plays

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 (c. 406 BCE).

The Bacchae

The Bacchae is one of Euripides's three most famous tragedies, the other two being Medea and Electra. It is considered by many to be his masterpiece. Like his other works, The Bacchae not only draws on Greek mythology but also explores the tensions and conflicts between the human and the divine, sanity and insanity, reason and irrationality, social order and religious frenzy, male and female, the familiar and the unfamiliar, and the self and the other. Among other important topics for reflection, Euripides asks his audience to consider the nature of justice, religious belief, and suffering.

Euripides's Death

Euripides married a woman named Melito and had three sons, one of whom produced The Bacchae after his father's death. Euripides eventually left Athens for the court of Archelaus, the king of Macedon. He died there around 406 BCE.

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