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Creator / Euripides

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Euripides (circa 480 circa 406 BC) was a playwright of Ancient Greece (5th century BC), one of three great tragedians whose works have survived to the present day (the earlier two are Aeschylus and Sophocles). A whopping eighteen of his plays have survived complete (many via a remarkably-preserved 800-year-old copy of The Complete Works of Euripides — Volume 2: Eta-Kappa, although the Theta plays remain lost), along with fragments of many others. One of these, Cyclops, is a Satyr Play about Polyphemus.

His works are noted for having subtler and more realistic characterization than his predecessors, having women as major characters with the complexity and subtlety far superior than his predecessors and fellow writersnote  and for playing with the established tropes of Greek tragedy. On the other hand, Friedrich Nietzsche condemns Euripides for being in thrall to Socrates' philosophy, saying that Euripides "killed" tragedy by infusing it with reason and philosophical ideas.

Any discussion of Euripides has to make note of the fact that he had a polarizing reputation during his day. Euripides was well aware of the constraints placed upon playwrights at the time, and many of his plays attempted to subvert at least one of the established theatrical conventions. Breaking conventions made him divisive among both public and the critics. In general, he had a better popular than a critical reputation. He was parodied in Aristophanes' The Frogs where he was compared unfavorably to Aeschylus. Nonetheless, today, some scholars regard him as the best, and certainly the most modern, of the three surviving Greek playwrights and several regard him as the Shakespeare of Athens.

Extant Works in Alphabetical Order

Other works by Euripides provide examples of:

  • All There in the Manual: We have enough of Greek mythology to give the background to some of these plays, as well as to know the storylines of many of the Missing Episodes.
  • Author Tract: Iphigenia at Aulis and Iphigenia In Tauris, against Human Sacrifice.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: A lot of his plays deal with the fact that the Gods are entirely alien to human suffering, human concern and human morality — Heracles and Iphigenia at Aulis especially.
  • Bowdlerize: It is impossible to clean Cyclops up, for obvious reasons, but some translations phrase things so that it doesn't sound like the satyrs are talking about gang-raping Helen.
  • Caretaker Reversal: How Heracles ends. Heracles is stated as being late home because he saved Theseus from the underworld as a side-quest. Theseus decides to travel to Thebes to overthrow the evil Lykos only to walk into Herakles being tied up after killing his wife and children in a fit of god enduced madness. Theseus then ends up saving Herakles out of mental underworld.
  • Character Filibuster: An atheistic one survives from Sisyphus. It's the title character giving it...
  • Deconstruction:
    • The Trojan Women plays up the tragedies which befall the people of Troy after their city fell rather than focusing on the heroics of the main characters. And this isn't the only example—The Other Wiki has noted that Euripides's plays tended to use and adjust old myths and lore to explore the quandaries of contemporary Athenian culture. Which, of course, used those old myths' baseline forms to define and justify its culture.
    • Some of his plays are either Unbuilt Trope to the structure of drama defined in Poetics or a Take That!. Aristotle argued that tragedy ought to have a purpose, a defined beginning-middle-end and must provide catharsis. Euripides' plays often deal with characters confront senseless and absurd fates, where many of them lament the suffering visited on them, little of which seems to have any meaning.
    Clytemnestra: I cannot think where/to start my bitter story,/for its beginning is grief,/its middle is grief/its end/is grief. (Iphigenia at Aulis, translated by W. S. Merwin and George Dimock).
    • Many of his works took the stock origins of "Woman being impregnated by a god and gave birth to a demigod bastard hero / monster" and explore how that would affect the women life and how the event lead to their tragedy. Creusa from Ion is the most prominent examples, but some of his lost works centers around these women: Danae, Pasiphae from Kretes, Alcmene and Wise Melanippe.
  • Deus ex Machina: Aristotle and Aristophanes chided him for making use of these obvious devices. Later generations of literary critics especially in the 20th Century, now regard Euripides' as a Stealth Parody or an Unbuilt Trope of a Gainax Ending, especially after the likes of Bertolt Brecht realized that these kinds of endings could be useful for Irony and pastiche.
    • As many later theater directors and audiences noted, the Deus ex Machina often doesn't really resolve the drama. In Iphigenia at Aulis, Iphigenia agreed to submit to Human Sacrifice, Agamemnon carried it out and Clytemnestra drowns in grief. The fact that the Goddess Artemis replaced Iphigenia with a deer at the last moment doesn't change the fact that Iphigenia will never really see her mother and father again, nor will it change the end of the marriage between her parents.
    • Likewise, in Medea, the fact is that Medea killed her children, Jason is too late to save it, and he and others have to live with Medea becoming a Karma Houdini and the grief of the tragedy.
    • Similarly, in Hippolytus, Artemis did not manage to stop Phaedra from killing herself and lied about being raped by Hippolytus, thus leading to Theseus ordering his son's death. In fact, it can be said that her presence just made everything worse by telling Theseus the Awful Truth.
    • Double Subverted in Ion. Most audience would expect that Apollo would arrive to save the day and stop Creusa, but he is revealed to be a Dirty Coward and force his half sister Athena to go instead, and only show up at the very end after the most dramatic arcs is over (Creusa tried and failed to kill her son Ion and Ion confronted Creusa about his parentage). Athena even Lampshade Hanging by remark that "the gifts of Heaven are somehow slow, but at the end they are not weak".
    • Subverted in Andromache, Thetis did not arrive to save Andromache's son from being captured or punish the Alpha Bitch Hermione, despite Andromache seeking sanctuary at Thetis's temple at the beginning of the play.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Phaëton is lost, but it's a given that this trope featured big time.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Orestes is put through hell and back, but he eventually finds peace and happiness.
  • Eye Scream: Inflicted in Hecuba and Cyclops.
  • Greek Chorus: Although Aristotle complained in Poetics that the choruses lost touch with the play.
  • Horsing Around: Phaethon is lost, but we know from other sources that the title character thought he could drive Apollo's chariot; the horses, however, had other ideas.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Discussed and/or conversed in a surviving fragment of Stheneboea.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: In Ion, Apollo exploits it; Ion is in fact Creusa's son after Apollo raped her, but the oracle tells Creusa's husband that he is his son. Genetically, since Xuthus is one of Apollo's many half-brothers, he's Ion's uncle.
  • Mood Whiplash: Heracles begins with the father, wife, and three sons of Heracles (a.k.a. Hercules) about to be executed by the tyrant, Lycus. At the last moment, Heracles returns and saves his family. Hooray! Then they go to make a sacrifice, only for Heracles to be driven mad and murder his wife and sons.
    • In general this is the greatness of Euripides, his ability to mix tones from tragedy to comedy and satire which many critics realize was something that he, alone among ancient dramatists, would share with Shakespeare. Alcestis is another great example.
  • Morton's Fork: How Agamemmnon feels about his lot in Iphigenia at Aulis. To get swift winds to sail to Troy, he must sacrifice Iphigenia even if he doesn't want to. If he decides to back away, having gathered his army who are composed of Glory Seeker and thirsty for pay or adventure, he cannot back away from sacrificing Iphigenia, otherwise he will face The Mutiny from soldiers who will, in turn, decide to sack Argos, attack him, murder his family, rape, enslave or kill Iphigenia, anyway. Achilles later in the play confirms Agammenon's fears when he tries to reason with other soldiers not to accept it, and they (including his Myrmidons) get agitated and insist that Iphigenia be sacrificed.
  • The New Rock & Roll: There was some kind of major musical change in Athens in the fifth century, and it's possible that Euripides, unlike most tragedians, made use of 'new music'. This is one of the things that earned him his divisive reputation.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: The bitter fate of Hecuba, and the cause of her woes, and that of Andromache.
  • Pater Familicide: The drama of Heracles deals with the situation that led to the protagonist killing his wife and children.
  • Patriotic Fervor: In Iphigenia at Aulis, the protagonist comes around to accepting her role as a victim of Human Sacrifice when she realizes that with it Greece would triumph over the Trojans and the Greeks would rule over the barbarians. Given the context of Euripides time and the centuries before (i.e. memories of Persian invasion, hegemony over the Delian league, war with Sparta) it's possibly either played straight (i.e. an attempt to make a victim into a Tragic Hero), or its satirical of patriotism by which the most absurd and insane actions can be rationalized and even glorified.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Hecuba's revenge in the play of the same name. When the war first broke out, she and Priam had entrusted Polymestor with their youngest son, as well as the dough to keep him going, but when Troy fell Polymestor killed the kid for the gold. Hecuba lures him to the tent with his two sons, then she kills them and pokes their father's eyes out.
    • Alcmene (Heracles's mother) finally gets revenge on King Eurystheus, who had tormented her entire family, in Heracleidae. She spends the entire scene talking about how he deserves to be killed, despite it being against the law of Athens, the city she was in at the time, to kill a defenseless prisoner.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Copreus in Heracleidae.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Trojan Women and more or less a concern in many of his plays. In Heracles, the hero's wife Megara was subject to many taunts about rape from the Theban army before Heracles arrived, and in Iphigenia at Aulis, the Chorus, Achilles and the slave often comment about Clytemnestra and Iphigenia among soldiers.
  • Sacred Hospitality/Even Evil Has Standards: In Hecuba, even war criminal Agamemnon was horrified to learn that Polymestor had murdered a guest.
  • Satyr Play: His Cyclops is the only complete one surviving today. note 
  • Spared by the Adaptation: According to contemporary sources, Antigone and Haemon in the now-Missing Episode Antigone. Fragments of Phaëton suggest the title character of that one was, too. Euripides' plays about Iphigenia reveal that she was not actually sacrificed to Artemis. Instead, Artemis took Iphigenia to Tauris, where she served Artemis as a priestess.
  • Take That!:
    • Electra has one toward The Libation Bearers, in which Electra recognizes Orestes' hair and footprints because they're identical to her own. Euripides' Electra, faced with such clues, points out that there's no reason to expect siblings to have the same shoe size.
    • Many of his contemporaries hold the same misogynistic views sprouted by his characters (such as that women are inherently evil, corrupted, lustful and stupid and is only useful for bearing children). All of these characters (such as Jason and Hippolytus) are all shown to be extremely unsympathetic and met brutal end by the very women they disrespected.
  • War Is Hell: A common interpretation of Trojan Women is as a criticism of Athenian atrocities during the Peloponnesian War.
  • Who's on First?: A Foregone Conclusion in Cyclops.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Part of the backstory in Iphigenia at Aulis is that Agamemnon has already killed one of Clytemnestra's children, her infant son from her first marriage.