The first playwright of democracy, Euripides wrote with enduring insight and biting satire about social and political problems of Athenian life. In contrast to his contemporaries, he brought an exciting--and, to the Greeks, a stunning--realism to the "pure and noble form" of tragedy. For the first time in history, heroes and heroines on the stage were not idealized: as Sophocles himself said, Euripides shows people not as they ought to be, but as they actually are.
Little is known of the life of Euripides. He was born about 485 B.C. on the island of Salamis and may have begun a career as a painter before writing in the drama competitions in 455 B.C. During his lifetime his plays were often produced, but he won the Athenian drama prize only four times. He died in 406 B.C.
Euripides was a prolific writer, the author of some eighty-eight or more plays, of which nineteen have survived under his name. He was criticized by the conservatives of his time for introducing shabby heroes and immoral women into his plays, a practice that they considered degrading to the noble form of tragedy. However, audiences to whom his predecessors were cold and remote found Euripides direct and appealing.
Euripides became immensely popular after he died and his influence altered drama forever. Considered by George Bernard Shaw to be the greatest of the Greek dramatists, Euripides is now regarded by many as the originator of the dramatic sensibility that developed into what we call "modern" European drama.