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Euripides

September 23 is the day on which Greece celebrates the birthday of tragic poet, Euripides, who is thought to have been born in Athens in 480 B.C.  His mother's name was Cleito, and his father was either Mnesarchus or Mnesarchides.  One story has it that Cleito earned an income by selling herbs in the marketplace, which comedic writer Aristophanes used as the source for humor in his plays.  But most historians believe that Euripides' family was well off financially, and his mother wouldn't have needed such a source of income.

Of the three Greek dramatists whose tragedies survived the ages, the greatest number belong to Euripides.  He wrote at least 92 plays that have been documented throughout the ages, only 18 of which have been preserved in their entirety.  

Not much is known about the life of Euripides except that when he was in his twenties, he started submitting his tragedies to various competitions.  His first play won a third-place award, and four of his plays won first place.  But he fell far short of the leader in that category.  Aeschylus' plays won first place 13 times, and Sophocles' holds the record with 18 first-place awards.

From his plays, we know that Euripides was very skeptical about Greek religion, and he is thought to have associated with various Sophists, as well as with Socrates.  He took a wife, named Melito, and together they had three sons.

Of the three tragedians, Euripides, Aeschylus, and Sophocles, Euripides--the youngest of the three--portrayed the gods as much more petty and shallow, and he made his characters more human, flawed, and fully rounded.  He was also one of the first writers to treat women as major dramatic characters.  He's best known for tragedies such as Medea (431 B.C.), about a woman who murders her own sons to get back at the husband who left her, and The Bacchae, in which the God Dionysus is robbed of his rightful recognition as the son Zeus.

Euripides' final competition in Athens was in 408 B.C.  Shortly thereafter, he left the city at the invitation of Archelaus II and stayed with him in Macedonia where he died in 406.  When word of his death reached Athens, Sophocles wore robes of mourning in the streets.  Following his death, Euripides' fame overshadowed that of both Aeschylus and Sophocles.  His works were later idolized by the French classicists.

In his time, Euripides was a recluse, often sitting in caves and writing.  In 1997, archaeologists discovered what they believed to be one of those caves.  Inside, they discovered a clay pot from the late fifth century B.C. inscribed with the first six letters of Euripides' name.  The pot was about 300 years older than the inscription, so they assumed it was written by one of Euripides' fans who had visited the place where he did his writing.

Since his death, Greek school children have copied 10 of Euripides' best plays over and over, which is why they have survived to this day.  The other eight that have come down to us were part of a collection of his entire works--most of which were at least partially lost over the years.

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