Chapter 1: Euripides Biography Part 1: Bob Prescott
Euripides lived in a very mysterious time. We know so little about the era in which he lived because of the loss of many ancient manuscripts at the burning of the Library of Alexandria. Given this massive loss of knowledge of the pre-modern world, it is hard to cobble together a full biography of Euripides. There is, however quite a lot of information known about him. This is known due to the fact that Euripides is a character in some of Aristophanes’ and the other comic poet’s comedies. The largest comprehensive collection of information on the playwright, however, is from a biography called “The Life of Euripides” by Satyrus of Callatis (Lefkowitz 87). The play that we have chosen to study and perform, Cyclops, is a very strange case. It can be identified as almost non-Euripidean. Unfortunately, looking at this script under a microscope would make it very difficult to truly grasp Euripides, so we must look at his whole body of work. On a whole, Euripides was a very counter-cultural figure who represented less a viewpoint similar to those of the other Greek playwrights, but one of a more modernized perspective.
Biographers generally agree that Euripides was born to the couple Mnesarchus (sometimes stated to be Mnesarchides) and Cleito on September 23, 480 BCE in Salamis, Greece. Mnesarchus is suspected to have been a shopkeeper and Cleito is suspected to have been a vegetable seller (Lefkowitz 88). The only reason Euripides’ mother’s profession is assumed is that “the writers of Old Comedy made fun of him in their plays by calling him the son of a woman who sold vegetables” (Satyrus 153). Apparently, Aristophanes found the joke funny and included it in four of his plays (Lefkowitz 88). Because of our knowledge of facts like this, it is hard to judge how accurate these they are.
Scholars say that soon after the birth of his son, Mnesarchus sought out an oracle and was told that Euripides “would win at contests in which crowns were awarded” (Lefkowitz 88). Upon hearing this, his father began training Euripides in athletics and painting. Some of Euripides’ paintings were said to be displayed in Megara (Lefkowitz 90). Reportedly, Euripides was “said to have been an excellent athlete” (“Euripides”). His father had incorrectly interpreted the oracle’s prophecy, as we now know.
It is unknown how Euripides learned to write poetry and prose, but it is known through the Vita written about his life that he did have significant role models. He was mentored by Anaxagoras, Protagoras, and Prodicus and was also a close friend to Socrates (Lefkowitz 89). In Aristophanes’ later works, the poet provides the character of Euripides with most likely exaggerated religious views. In The Frogs, Euripides’ character is said to pray to different gods than everyone else, and in Thesmophoriazusae, a woman accuses Euripides of “persuading people that the gods do not exist.” (Lefkowitz 93) While Aristophanes and the comic poets did not say anything on the mentors’ influence on Euripides, it is seen though Hellenistic literature that Euripides and Anaxagoras were similar in one aspect: their impiety. For example, whenever Euripides refers to a heavenly body such as the sun in his writing, he refers to it as Anaxagoras would have (in this case, mydros, or lump of molten metal). This is not how the rest of the gods-fearing society would have referred to it (Lefkowitz 89-90). Euripides’ other mentors are also said to have been impious. Protagoras is said to have perished in a shipwreck (a proverbial fate of the impious) and Prodicus drank hemlock and died in Athens on charges of “corrupting the youth.” (Lefkowitz 94) As noted before, Cyclops is a non-Euripidean work. Its story is based on the classic story from the Odyssey. It is uncertain why he would break from the normal Euripidean style. One explanation could be that such was the nature of a satyr play. Since Cyclops is the only full satyr...
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