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Title: Blog by Novelist William S. Frankl, MD

Euripides

And now from ridiculous to sublime –––– acknowlegment of the birthday of a most important literary master.

Euripides

September 23 is the day Greece celebrates the birthday of the Athenian tragic poet, Euripides  (480 BC), best known for his plays Medea, The Bacchae, and Iphigenia at Aulis .

The story goes that he was born on the same day as the battle of Salamis in 480 BC, but this detail was probably invented after his death to align him with the Athenian identity. Along with Aeschylus and Sophocles, Euripides is one of the few Greek playwrights who had a lot of his work survive through the ages.
He paid special attention to the downtrodden in society, particularly women and slaves, at a time when other playwrights focused on more powerful, triumphant characters.

Euripides was one of the first writers to portray mythical heroes like regular people; even when they were arguing with gods, their struggles were human struggles and they had the same emotional conflicts as everyone else. His dialogue was less structured and closer to regular speech. This decision to make dialogue less like poetry was the first in a long line of innovations that made theater more realistic.

His work can be hard to pin down, and critics make a lot of contradicting claims about him. The literary critic Bernard Knox wrote: “He has been described as ‘the poet of the Greek enlightenment’ and also as ‘Euripides the irrationalist.’ He has been seen as a profound explorer of human psychology and also a rhetorical poet who subordinated consistency of character to verbal effect; as a misogynist and a feminist; as a realist who brought tragic action down to the level of everyday life, and as a romantic poet who chose unusual myths and exotic settings. He has been recognized as the precursor of New Comedy and also what Aristotle called him: ‘the most tragic of poets.’ […] And not one of these descriptions is entirely false.”

Euripides was exiled from Greece toward the end of his life because of his association with Socrates, who was executed for refusing to recognize the Greek gods. He defined his art form this way: “Tragedy isn’t getting something or failing to get it, it’s losing something you already have.”

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