47 pages 1 hour read



Fiction | Play | Adult | BCE

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Authorial Context: Euripides

Alcestis is the earliest surviving play composed by Euripides, an Athenian tragedian who lived between 480 and 406 BCE. Euripides was the youngest of the three great Athenian tragedians, the others being Aeschylus (ca. 525-456 BCE) and Sophocles (ca. 496-406 BCE). With little surviving documentation, there is almost no reliable information about Euripides’s life. Euripides was born on the island of Salamis, spent most of his career in Athens, and eventually moved to the court of King Archelaus in Macedon, where he died. Ancient biographies of Euripides, most of them written long after the playwright’s death, embellished these facts with an array of extraordinary or improbable claims that are usually dismissed as fables by modern scholars—for example, that Euripides lived by himself in a cave or that he died after being torn apart by hunting dogs.

Over a career that spanned about 50 years, Euripides composed 90 plays, 18 of which survive in full (Rhesus, another surviving tragedy traditionally attributed to Euripides, is thought to have been composed by somebody else). There are more surviving plays by Euripides than by Aeschylus and Sophocles put together though both Aeschylus and Sophocles won far more dramatic contests than Euripides did: Aeschylus won 13 and Sophocles won 18 while Euripides won only 5 (one of them posthumously).