The Greek dramatist Euripides was born into a wealthy family around 480 B.C. in Salamis, Greece. His father was Mnesarchus.
Euripides was the last of the three great Greek writers of tragedy, the earlier two being Aeschylus and Sophocles. However, few reliable details of his life are known. He was married twice and had three sons, and may have been involved in political activities, although it is more likely that he was something of a recluse, attached to books and study. Some sources say he owned a library and he is also said to have spent much time in a cave by the sea in Salamis, where he wrote his tragedies. He was also known, some sources state, as a painter and athlete.
Eighteen of Euripides plays have survived, although he wrote over ninety plays. The earliest, written when he was in his forties, is Alcestis; the earliest tragedy is Medea, written in 431. His last surviving play is The Bacchae, written in 407 when he was in voluntary exile in Macedon. It was first produced in Athens after Euripides’ death, in 405, and it was awarded first prize. Other notable plays by Euripides include Hippolytus, Andromache, Ion, Trojan Women, Electra, Iphigenia among the Taurians, and Iphigenia at Aulis.
It is often said that Euripides was unpopular during his lifetime since he was awarded first prize in Athens’s dramatic competitions on only four or five occasions, the first being in 441 BC. Both Aeschylus and Sophocles won first prize on many more occasions. Even Medea, now regarded as Euripides’ finest play, lost the competition, placing only third.
In 408 BC, near the end of his life, when Athens was near to total defeat at the hands of Sparta in the Peloponnesian War (431-404), Euripides left Athens at the invitation of King Archelaus I of Macedon. He stayed with the king in Macedonia until his death two years later in 406, the same year as his fellow dramatist Sophocles died.
After his death, Euripides’ popularity increased until it surpassed that of his fellow dramatists Aeschylus and Sophocles. They were considered rather remote and austere figures, but Euripides presented his characters in a more realistic manner, and with rich sympathy for their complex emotions. He is often described as the founder of modern European drama.