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Euripides. A celebrated Athenian tragic poet, son of Mnesarchus and Clito.
He was born B.C. 480, in Salamis, on the very day of the Grecian victory near
that island. His mother, Clito, had been sent over to Salamis, with the other
Athenian women, when Attica was given up to the invading army of Xerxes; and the
name of the poet, which is formed like a patronymic from the Euripus, the scene
of the first successful resistance to the Persian navy, shows that the minds of
his parents were full of the stirring events of that momentous crisis. Aristophanes
repeatedly imputes meanness of extraction, by the mother's side, to Euripides.
He asserts that she was an herb-seller; and, according to Aulus Gellius, Theophrastus
confirms the comedian's insinuations. Whatever one or both of his parents might
originally have been, the costly education which the young Euripides received
implies a certain degree of wealth and consequence as then at least possessed
by his family. The pupil of Anaxagoras, Protagoras, and Prodicus (an instructor
famous for the extravagant terms which he demanded for his lessons), could not
have been the son of persons at that time very mean or poor. It is most probable,
therefore, that his father was a man of Euripides. (Naples Museum.) property,
and made a mesalliance. In early life we are told that his father made Euripides
direct his attention chiefly to gymnastic exercises, and that, in his seventeenth
year, he was crowned in the Eleusinian and Thesean contests. Even at this early
age he is said to have attempted dramatic composition. He seems also to have cultivated
a natural taste for painting, and some of his pictures were long afterwards preserved
at Megara. At length, quitting the gymnasium, he applied himself to philosophy
and literature. Under the celebrated rhetorician Prodicus, one of the instructors
of Pericles, he acquired that oratorical skill for which his dramas are so remarkably
distinguished. Quintilian, in comparing Sophocles with Euripides, strongly recommends
the latter to the young pleader as an excellent model. Cicero, too, was a great
admirer of Euripides. From Anaxagoras, Euripides imbibed those philosophical notions
which are occasionally brought forward in his works, and for which reference may
be made to the monograph of Parmentier, Euripide et Anaxagore (Paris, 1893). Here,
too, Pericles was his fellow-disciple. With Socrates, who had studied under the
same master, Euripides was on terms of the closest intimacy, and from him he derived
those maxims so frequently interwoven into his dramas that Socrates was suspected
of largely assisting the tragedian in their composition.
Euripides began his public career as a dramatic writer in B.C. 455, the twenty-fifth year of his age. On this occasion he was the third with a play called the Pleiades. In B.C. 441, he won the prize. In B.C. 431, he was third with the Medea, the Philoctetes, the Dictys, and the Theristae, a satyric drama. His competitors were Euphorion and Sophocles. He was first with the Hippolytus, B.C. 428, the year of his master's (Anaxagoras's) death; second, B.C. 415, with the Alexander (or Paris), the Palamedes, the Troades, and the Sisyphus, a satyric drama. It was in this contest that Xenocles was first. Two years after this the Athenians sustained the total loss of their armament before Syracuse. In his narration of this disaster, Plutarch gives an anecdote (Nicias) which, if true, bears a splendid testimony to the high reputation which Euripides then enjoyed. Those among the captives, he tells us, who could repeat any portion of that poet's works were treated with kindness, and even set at liberty. The same author also informs us that Euripides honoured the soldiers who had fallen in that siege with a funeral poem, two lines of which he has preserved. The Andromeda was exhibited B.C. 412; the Orestes, B.C. 408.
Soon after this time the poet retired into Magnesia, and from thence into Macedonia, to the court of Archelaus. As in the case of Aeschylus, the motives for this self-exile are obscure and uncertain. We know, indeed, that Athens was by no means the most favourable residence for distinguished literary merit. Report, too, pronounced Euripides unhappy in his own family. His first wife, Melito, he divorced for adultery; and in his second, Choerile, he was not more fortunate. To the poet's unhappiness in his matrimonial connections Aristophanes refers in his Ranae. Envy and enmity among his fellow-citizens, infidelity and domestic vexations at home, would prove powerful inducements to the poet to accept the invitations of Archelaus. Perhaps, too, a prosecution in which he became involved, on a charge of impiety, grounded upon a line in the Hippolytus, might have had some share in producing this determination to quit Athens; nor ought we to omit that, in all likelihood, his political sentiments may have exposed him to continual danger. In Macedonia he is said to have written a play in honour of Archelaus, and to have inscribed it with his patron's name, who was so much pleased with the manners and ability of his guest as to appoint him one of his ministers. He composed in this same country also some other dramatic pieces, in one of which (the Bacchae) he seems to have been inspired by the wild scenery of the land to which he had come. No further particulars are recorded of Euripides, except a few apocryphal anecdotes and apophthegms. His death is said to have been, like that of Aeschylus, of an extraordinary kind. Either from chance or malice the aged dramatist was exposed, according to the common account, to the attack of some ferocious hounds, and was by them so dreadfully mangled as to expire soon afterwards, in his seventy-fifth year. This story, however, is clearly a fabrication, for Aristophanes, in the Ranae, would certainly have alluded to the manner of his death had there been anything remarkable in it. He died B.C. 406. The Athenians entreated Archelaus to send the body to the poet's native city for interment. The request was refused, and, with every demonstration of grief and respect, Euripides was buried at Pella. A cenotaph, however, was erected to his memory at Athens.
We have some cutting sayings of Sophocles concerning Euripides, although the former was so void of all the jealousy of an artist that he mourned over the death of his rival; and, in a piece which he shortly after brought upon the stage, did not allow his actors the ornament of a garland. The jeering attacks of Aristophanes are well known, but have not always been properly estimated and understood. Aristotle, too, brings forward many important causes for blame; and when he calls Euripides "the most tragic of poets", he by no means ascribes to him the greatest perfection in the tragic art generally; but he alludes, by this phrase, to the effect which is produced by his dramatic catastrophes. In Euripides we no longer find the essence of ancient tragedy pure and unmixed; its characteristic features are already partly effaced. These consisted principally in the idea of destiny which reigns in them, in ideal representation, and the importance of the chorus. The idea of destiny had, indeed, come down to him from his predecessors as his inheritance, and a belief in it is inculcated by him, according to the custom of the tragedians; but still, in Euripides, destiny is seldom considered as the invisible spirit of all poetry, the fundamental thought of the tragic world. On the other hand, he derived it from the regions of infinity, and, in his writings, inevitable necessity often degenerates into the caprice of chance. Hence he can no longer direct it to its proper aim--namely, that of elevating, by its contrast, the moral free-will of man. Very few of his dramas depend on a constant combat against the dictates of destiny, or an equally heroic subjection to them. His men, in general, suffer, because they must, and not because they are willing. The contrasted subordination of idea, loftiness of character and passion, which in Sophocles, as well as in the graphic art of the Greeks, we find observed in this order, are in him exactly reversed. In his plays passion is the most powerful; his secondary care is for character; and if these endeavours leave him sufficient room, he seeks now and then to bring in greatness and dignity, but more frequently amiability. Euripides has, according to the doctrine of Aristotle , frequently represented his personages as bad without any necessity--for example, Menelaus in the Orestes. More especially, it is by no means his object to represent the race of heroes as pre-eminent above the present race by their mighty stature, but he rather takes pains to fill up the chasm between his contemporaries and the olden time, and reveal the gods and heroes of the other side in their undress. This is what Sophocles meant when he said that he himself represented men as they should be, Euripides as they were. It seems to be a design of Euripides always to remind his spectators, "See, these beings were men; they had just such weaknesses, and acted from exactly the same motives as yourselves, and as the meanest among you does." In other words, Euripides is the first of the realists among the Greeks.
In his dramas the chorus is generally an unessential ornament, its songs are often altogether episodical, without reference to the action. The ancient comic writers enjoyed the privilege of sometimes making the chorus address the audience in their own name, this being called a Parabasis. Although it by no means belongs to tragedy, yet Euripides, according to the testimony of Iulius Pollux, often employed it, and so far forgot himself in it that in the Danaides he made the chorus, consisting of women, use grammatical forms which belonged to the masculine gender alone. In the music of the accompaniments he adopted all the innovations of which Timotheus was the author, and selected those measures which are most suitable to the sensuous nature of his poetry. He acted in a similar way as regarded prosody; the construction of his verses is rather florid, and approaches irregularity. He strives after effect in a degree which can not be conceded even to a dramatic poet. Thus, for example, he seldom lets any opportunity escape of having his personages seized with sudden and groundless terror; his old men always complain of the infirmities of old age, and are particularly given to mount, with tottering knees, the ascent from the orchestra to the stage, which frequently represented the declivity of a mountain, while they lament their wretchedness. His object throughout is emotion, for the sake of which he not only offends against ancient decorum, but sacrifices the symmetry of his plays. He likes to reduce his heroes to a state of beggary; makes them suffer hunger and want; and brings them on the stage with all the external signs of indigence, covered with rags, as Aristophanes so humourously throws in his teeth in the Acharnians (410-448).
Euripides, as already stated, had studied philosophy, and prided himself upon his familiarity with philosophical doctrine. Hence, as contrasted with his two dramatic predecessors, Aeschylus and Sophocles, his rationalistic method of treatment seemed to his audiences startling and almost impious. His allegorical interpretations must often have had a flavour of sacrilege about them, and the whole spirit and temper of his plays were an embodiment of the "higher criticism" of the day. The Athenians were prone to identify the sentiments of his characters with those of the author himself. It is related of him that he made Bellerophon come on the stage with a panegyric on riches, in which he preferred them before every domestic joy; and said, at last, "If Aphrodite (who had the epithet of ‘golden’) shone like gold, she would indeed deserve the love of men". The audience, enraged at this, raised a great tumult, and were proceeding to stone the orator as well as the poet. Euripides, on this, rushed forward and exclaimed, "Wait patiently till the end; he will fare accordingly." Thus, also, he is said to have excused himself against the accusation that his Ixion spoke too abominably and blasphemously, by replying that, in return, he had not concluded the piece without making him revolve on the wheel. He has also great command of that sophistry of the passions which gives things only one appearance. The following verse is notorious for its expression of what casuists call mental reservation: "My tongue took an oath, but my mind is unsworn."
In the connection in which this verse is spoken, it may indeed be justified, as far as regards the reason for which Aristophanes ridicules it in so many ways; but still the formula is pernicious on account of the turn which may be given it. Another sentiment of Euripides, "It is worth while committing injustice for the sake of empire; in other things it is proper to be just," was continually in the mouth of Caesar, in order to make a wrong application of it. Seductive enticements to the enjoyment of sensual love were another article of accusation against Euripides among the ancients. Thus, for example, Hecuba, in order to incite Agamemnon to punish Polymnestor, reminds him of the joys Cassandra had afforded him; who, having been taken in war, was his slave, according to the law of the heroic ages: she is willing to purchase revenge for a murdered son by consenting to and ratifying the degradation of a daughter who is still alive. This poet was the first to take for the principal subject of a drama the wild passion of a Medea or the unnatural love of a Phaedra, as, otherwise, it may be easily understood, from the manners of the ancients, why love, which among them was far less ennobled by delicate feelings, played merely a subordinate part in their earlier tragedies. Notwithstanding the importance imparted to female characters, he brings out a multitude of sayings concerning the weaknesses of the female sex and the superiority of men, as well as a great deal drawn from his own experience in domestic relations. A cutting saying, as well as an epigram, of Sophocles have been handed down to us by Athenaeus, in which he explains the pretended hatred of Euripides for women by supposing that he had the opportunity of learning their frailty through his own unhallowed desires.
That independent freedom in the method of treating the story, which was one of the privileges of the tragic art, frequently, in Euripides, became caprice. It is well known that the fables of Hyginus, which differ so much from the relations of other writers, are partly extracted from his plays. As he often overturned what had hitherto been well known and generally received, he was obliged to use prologues, in which he announces the situation of affairs according to his acceptation, and makes known the course of events. These prologues make the beginnings of the plays of Euripides monotonous, and produce the appearance of deficiency of art.
The style of Euripides is, on the whole, not sufficiently compressed, and it has neither the dignity and energy of Aeschylus nor the chaste grace of Sophocles. In his expressions he frequently aims at the extraordinary and strange, and, on the other hand, loses himself in commonplace. For these reasons, as well as on account of his almost ludicrous delineation of many characteristic peculiarities (such as the clumsy deportment of Pentheus in a female garb, when befooled by Bacchus, or the greediness of Heracles, and his boisterous demands on the hospitality of Admetus), Euripides was a forerunner of the New Comedy. Menander, in fact, expressed admiration for him, and declared himself to be his scholar; and there is a fragment of Philemon, full of extravagant admiration of him. "If the dead," he says, or makes one of his personages say, "really possessed sensation, as some suppose, I would hang myself in order to see Euripides."
Of the 120 dramas which Euripides is said to have composed, we have remaining in their complete form only eighteen tragedies and one satyric piece. The following are the titles and subjects: (1) Hekabe, Hecuba. The sacrifice of Polyxena, whom the Greeks immolate to the shade of Achilles, and the vengeance which Hecuba, doubly unfortunate in having been reduced to captivity and deprived of her children, takes upon Polymnestor, the murderer of her son Polydorus, form the subject of this tragedy. The scene is laid in the Grecian camp in the Thracian Chersonesus. The shade of Polydorus, whose body remains without the rites of sepulture, has the prologue assigned it. Ennius and L. Attius, and in modern times Erasmus, have translated this play into Latin verse. (2) Orestes, Orestes. The scene of this play is laid at Argos, the seventh day after the murder of Clytaemnestra. It is on this day that the people, in full assembly, are to sit in judgment upon Orestes and Electra. The only hope of the accused is in Menelaus, who has just arrived; but this chief, who secretly aims at the succession, stirs up the people in private to pronounce sentence of condemnation against the parricides. The sentence is accordingly pronounced, but the execution of it is left to the culprits themselves. They meditate taking vengeance by slaying Helen; but this princess is saved by the intervention of Apollo, who brings about a double marriage by uniting Orestes with Hermione, the daughter of Helen, and Electra with Pylades. Some commentators think that they recognize the portrait of Socrates in that of the simple and virtuous citizen who, in the assembly of the people, undertakes the defence of Orestes. This play is ascribed by some to Euripides the Younger, nephew of the former. (3) Phoinissai, Phoenissae. The subject of this piece is the death of Eteocles and Polynices. The chorus is composed of young Ph?nician women, sent, according to the custom established by Agenor, to the city of Thebes, in order to be consecrated to the service of the temple at Delphi. The prologue is assigned to Iocasta. The subject of the Phoenissae is that also of the Thebais of Seneca. Statius has likewise imitated it in his epic poem. (4) Medeia, Medea. The vengeance taken by Medea on the ungrateful Iason, to whom she has sacrificed all, and who, on his arrival at Corinth, abandons her for a royal bride, forms the subject of this tragedy. What constitutes the principal charm of the play is the simplicity and clearness of the action, and the force and natural cast of the characters. The exposition of the plot is made in a monologue by the nurse: the chorus is composed of Corinthian women. It is asserted that Euripides gave to the world two editions of this tragedy, and that, in the first, the children of Medea were put to death by the Corinthians, while in the second, which has come down to us, it is their mother herself who slays them. According to this hypothesis, the 1378th verse and those immediately following, in which Medea says that she will impose on Corinth, contemptuously styled by her the land of Sisyphus, an expiatory festival for this crime, have been retained by mistake in the revision in which they should have disappeared. Medea has no expiation to demand of the Corinthians, if they are not guilty of the murder of her sons. Aelian informs us that the Corinthians prevailed upon Euripides to alter the tradition in question. According to others, they purchased this compliance for the sum of five talents. (5) Hippolutos stephanophoros, Hippolytus Coronifer, "Hippolytus Crowned."The subject of this tragedy is the same with that which Racine has taken for the basis of his Phedre, a subject eminently tragical. It presents to our view a weak woman, the victim of the resentment of Aphrodite, who has inspired her with a criminal passion. An object of horror to him whom she loves, and not daring to reveal her own shame, she dies, after having compelled Theseus, by her misrepresentations, to become the destroyer of his own son. The title of this tragedy is probably derived from the crown which Hippolytus offers to Artemis. Euripides at first gave it the name of Hippolutos kaluptomenos. He afterwards retouched it, and, changing the catastrophe and the title, reproduced it in the year that Pericles died. It gained the prize over the pieces of Iophon and Ion, which had competed with it in the contest. It is sometimes cited under the title of the Phaedra, and the celebrated chef-d'oeuvre of Racine is an imitation of it, as is also the tragedy of Seneca. (6) Alkestis, Alcestis. The subject of this tragedy is moral and affecting. It is a wife who dies for the sake of prolonging her husband's existence. Its object is to show that conjugal affection and an observance of the rites of hospitality are not suffered to go without their reward. Heracles, whom Admetus had kindly received while unfortunate, having learned that Alcestis, the wife of the monarch, had consummated her mournful sacrifice, seeks her in the shades, and restores her to her husband. The play, by reason of its happy ending, is hardly to be considered a tragedy, but more of a tragi-comedy. The story of Alcestis has inspired a number of fine poems in English literature, notably Balaustion's Adventure, by Robert Browning. Others who have treated the same theme are William Morris, W. S. Landor, Palgrave, Mrs. Hemans, and W. M. W. Call. (7) Andromache, Andromache. The death of the son of Achilles, whom Orestes slays, after having carried off from him Hermione, forms the subject of the piece. The scene is laid in Thetidium, a city of Thessaly, near Pharsalus. Some have asserted that the aim of Euripides in writing this tragedy was to render odious the law of the Athenians which permitted bigamy. (8) Hiketides, Supplices, "The Suppliants"The scene of this tragedy is laid in front of the temple of Demeter at Eleusis, whither the Argive women, whose husbands have perished before Thebes, have followed their king Adrastus, in the hope of persuading Theseus to take up arms in their behalf, and obtain the rites of sepulture for their dead, whose bodies were withheld by the Thebans. Theseus yields to their request and promises his assistance. In exhibiting this play in the fourteenth year of the Peloponnesian War, Euripides wished, it is said, to detach the Argives from the Spartan cause. His attempt, however, failed, and the treaty was signed by which Mantinea was sacrificed to the ambition of Lacedaemon. (9) Iphigeneia he en Aulidi, Iphigenia in Aulide, "Iphigenia at Aulis." The subject of this tragedy is the intended sacrifice of Iphigenia, and her rescue by Artemis, who substitutes another victim. It is the only one of the plays of Euripides that has no prologue, for it is well known that the Rhesus, which also lacks it, had one formerly. (10) Iphigeneia he en Taurois, Iphigenia in Tauris, "Iphigenia among the Tauri." The daughter of Agamemnon, rescued by Artemis from the knife of the sacrificer, and transported to Tauris, there serves the goddess as a priestess in her temple. Orestes has been cast on the inhospitable shores of this country, along with his friend Pylades, and by the laws of the Tauri they must be sacrificed to Artemis. Recognized by his sister at the fatal moment, Orestes conducts her back to their common country. A monologue by Iphigenia occupies the place of a prologue and exposition. The scene where Iphigenia and her brother became known to each other is of a deep and touching interest, and has been imitated by Guimond de la Touche and Goethe. (11) Troades, Troades, “The Trojan women.” The action of this piece is prior to that of the Hecuba. The scene is laid in the Grecian camp, under the walls of Troy, which has fallen into the hands of the foe. A body of female captives have been distributed by lot among the victors. Agamemnon has reserved Cassandra for himself; Polyxena has been immolated to the manes of Achilles; Andromache has fallen to Neoptolemus, Hecuba to Odysseus. The object of the poet is to show us in Hecuba a mother bowed down by misfortune. The Greeks destroy Astyanax, and his mangled body is brought in to the mother of Hector, his own parent being by this time carried away in the train of Neoptolemus. Ilium is then given as a prey to the flames. This succession of horrors passes in mournful review before the eyes of the spectator; yet there is no unity of action to constitute a subject for the piece, and consequently the play has no denouement. Poseidon appears in the prologue. Seneca and M. de Chateaubrun have imitated this tragedy. (12) Bakchai, Bacchae, "The female Bacchanalians," sometimes quoted as the Pentheus, for Euripides seldom names his plays after the chorus. The arrival of Bacchus at Thebes and the death of Pentheus, who is torn in pieces by his mother and sister form the subject of this drama, in which Bacchus opens the scene and makes himself known to the spectators. The Bacchae is regarded by Jebb as "in its own kind, by far the most splendid work of Euripides that we possess." It is a succession of rich paintings, of tragic situaations, of brilliant verses, unique among existing Greek plays in picturesque splendour. The spectacle which this tragedy presented must have been at once imposing and well calculated to keep alive curiosity. Some have held that the play is a recantation by the poet of his former irreligious sentiments; but on this see Tyrrell in the introduction to his edition of the Bacchae (1892). It is related that the Bacchae was performed before Orodes and his court, when the actor sustaining the part of Agave gave a hideous reality to the action by holding up the bloody head of the Roman general Crassus, just slain in battle by the Parthian warriors of the king. (13) Herakleidai, Heraclidae. The descendants of Heracles, persecuted by Eurystheus, flee for refuge to Athens, and implore the protection of that city. The Athenians lend aid, and Eurystheus becomes the victim of the vengeance he was about bringing upon them. Iolaus, an old companion of Heracles, explains the subject to the spectators. The poet manages to impart an air of great interest to the piece. (14) Helene, Helena. The scene is laid in Egypt, where Menelaus, after the destruction of Troy, finds Helen, who had been detained there by Proteus, king of that country, when Paris wished to convey her to Ilium. The action passes at the isle of Pharos, where Theoclymenus, the son and successor of Proteus, keeps Helen in custody with the view of espousing her. She employs a stratagem in order to escape from his power. The denouement of this piece resembles that of the Iphigenia in Tauris. (15) Ion, Ion. Ion, son of Apollo and Creusa, daughter of Erechtheus, king of Athens, has been brought up among the priests at Delphi. The design of Apollo is to make him pass for the son of Xuthus, who has married Creusa. The interest of the play consists in the double danger which Creusa and Ion run, the former of being slain by Ion and the latter of perishing by the poison prepared for him by a mother who is ignorant of his being her son. The play, however, is somewhat complicated, and has need of a long exposition, which is assigned to Hermes. The scene is laid at the entrance of Apollo's temple in Delphi, a place expressly chosen in order to give to the spectacle an air of pomp and solemnity. A religious tone, full of gravity and softness, pervades the whole piece. There is much resemblance between this tragedy and the Athalie of Racine. (16) Herakles mainomenos, Hercules furens. After having killed, in his frenzy, his wife and children, Heracles proceeds to submit himself to certain expiatory ceremonies, and to seek repose at Athens. Amphitryon appears in the prologue: the scene is laid at Thebes. (17) Elektra, Electra. The subject of this play has been treated also by Aeschylus and Sophocles, but by each in his peculiar way. Euripides transfers the scene from the palace of Aegisthus to the country near Argos: the exposition of the play is made by a cultivator, to whom Electra has been compelled to give her hand, but who has taken no advantage of this, but has respected in her the daughter of a royal line. (18) Rhesos, Rhesus. A subject derived from the tenth book of the Iliad. Some able critics have tried to prove that this piece was never written by Euripides.--Phaethon, Phaethon. Of this play we have about eighty verses remaining. Clymene, the mother of Phaethon, is the wife of Merops, king of the Ethiopians, and Phaethon passes for the son of this prince. The young man, having conceived some doubts respecting his origin, addresses himself to the Sun. The catastrophe, which cost him his life, is well known. In the tragedy of Euripides, the body of her son is brought to Clymene, at the very moment when Merops is occupied with the task of procuring for him a bride.--Danae, Danae. Of this play we have the commencement alone, unless the sixtyfive verses, which commonly pass for a part of the prologue, are to be considered as the production of some imitator.
A production deserving especial mention is the satyric drama entitled Cyclops (Kuklops). The story is drawn from the Odyssey. The subject is Odysseus depriving Polyphemus of his eye, after having intoxicated him with wine. In order to connect with the story a chorus of satyrs, the poet supposes that Silenus, and his sons, the satyrs, in seeking over every sea for Bacchus, whom pirates have carried away, have been shipwrecked on the coast of Sicily, where they have fallen into the hands of Polyphemus. The Cyclops has made slaves of them, and has compelled them to tend his sheep. Odysseus, having been cast on the same coast, and having been, in like manner, made captive by Polyphemus, finds in these satyrs a willing band of accomplices. They league with him against their master, but their excessive cowardice renders them very useless auxiliaries. They profit, however, by his victory, and embark with him.
Of the numerous incomplete remains of Euripides that have reached us, some notice must be taken. In 1890, papyri discovered by Mr. Petrie at Tel Gurob in Egypt were found to contain fragments of a lost play of Euripides--the Antiope. These fragments are reproduced and edited by Mahaffy in The Flinders Petrie Papyri (Dublin, 1891).
The ancient writers cite also a poem of Euripides, Epikedeion, "Funeral Hymn,"on the death of Nicias and Demosthenes, as well as of the other Athenians who perished in the disastrous expedition against Syracuse. We possess also two epigrams of Euripides, each consisting of four verses, one of which has been preserved in the Anthology and the other in Athenaeus. There have, besides, come down to us five letters, ascribed to Euripides, and written with admirable purity and simplicity of style. There are also many fragments from the lost plays of Euripides scattered among the writings of antiquity. Of these fragments Nauck collected 1117, some, however, being of doubtful authenticity. The best known of the lost plays are the Andromeda, Bellerophon, Cresphontes, Erechtheus, Oedipus, and Telephus.
The popularity of Euripides was very great in antiquity, as in modern times, as is shown by the number of ancient scholars who wrote commentaries on his works--among them being Dicaearchus, Callimachus, Aristophanes of Byzantium, Callistratus, and especially Didymus. An inscription at Tegea shows that his plays were represented as late as the second century B.C., winning victories at Athens, Delphi, and Dodona (Bulletin de Correspondance Hellenique, January-April, 1893). At Rome, Euripides was translated and adapted by Ennius and by Pacuvius. In the fourth century A.D. a curious cento, the Christos Paschon (Christus Patiens), of 2610 verses, was made from the plays of Euripides. Later, Dante, who mentions neither Aeschylus nor Sophocles, praises Euripides; and from the sixteenth century to the present time he has been a popular favourite, giving inspiration to many imitators in French, English, and German.
This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
Euripides. The distinguished tragic writer, of the Athenian demus
of Phlya in the Cecropid tribe, or, as others state it, of Phyle in the tribe
Oeneis, was the son of Mnesarchus and Cleito, and was born in B. C. 485, according
to the date of the Arundel marble, for the adoption of which Hartung contends.
This testimony, however, is outweighed by the other statements on the subject,
from which it appears that his parents were among those who, on the invasion of
Xerxes, had fled from Athens to Salamis (IIerod. vii. 41), and that the poet was
born in that island in B. C. 480. Nor need we with Miller set it down at once
as a mere legend that his birth took place on the very day of the battle of Salamis
(Sept. 23), though we may look with suspicion on the way in which it was contrived
to bring the three great tragic poets of Athens into connexion with the most glorious
day in her annals. Thus it has been said that, while Euripides then first saw
the light, Aeschylus in the maturity of manhood fought in the battle, and Sophocles,
a beautiful boy of 15, took part in the chorus at the festival which celebrated
the victory. If again we follow the exact date of Eratosthenes, who represents
Euripides as 75 at his death in B. C. 406, his birth must be assigned to B. C.
481, as Miller places it. It has also been said that he received his name in commemoration
of the battle of Artemisium, which took place near the Euripus not long before
he was born, and in the same year; but Euripides was not a new name, and belonged,
as we have seen, to an earlier tragic writer (See, too, Thuc. ii. 70, 79). With
respect to the station in life of his parents, we may safely reject the account
given in Stobaeus, that his father was a Boeotian, banished from his country for
bankruptcy. His mother, it is well known, is represented by Aristophanes as a
herb-seller, and not a very honest one either (Ach. 454, Thesam. 387, 456, 910,
Eq. 19, Ran. 839; Plin. xxii. 22 ; Said. s. vv. Skandix, diaskandikiseis; Hesych.
s. v. Skandix); and we find the same statement made by Gellius (xv. 20) from Theopompus;
but to neither of these testimonies can much weight be accorded (for Theopompus,
see Plut. Lys. 30 ; Ael. V. H. iii. 18; Clem. Alex. Strom. i. 1 ; Joseph. c. Apion.
i. 24; C. Nep. Alc. 11), and they are contradicted by less exceptionable authorities.
That the family of Euripides was of a rank far from mean is asserted by Suidas
(s. v.) and Moschopulus (Vit. Ear.) to have been proved by Philochorus in a work
no longer extant, and seems, indeed, to be borne out by what Athenaeus (x. p.
424, e.) reports from Theophrastus, that the poet, when a boy, was cup-bearer
to a chorus of noble Athenians at the Thargelian festival,--an office for which
nobility of blood was requisite. We know also that he was taught rhetoric by Prodicus,
who was certainly not moderate in his terms for instruction, and who was in the
habit, as Philostratus tells us, of seeking his pupils among youths of high rank
(Plat. Apol.; Stallb. ad loc. ; Arist. Rhet. iii. 14.9; Philostr. Vit. Sop/h.
Prodicus). It is said that the future distinction of Euripides was predicted by
an oracle, promising that he should be crowned with " sacred garlands," in consequence
of which his father had him trained to gymnastic exercises; and we learn that,
while yet a boy, he won the prize at the Eleusinian and Thesean contests, and
offered himself, when 17 years old, as a candidate at the Olympic games, but was
not admitted because of some doubt about his age (Oenom. ap. Euseb. Praep. Evan.
v. 33; Gell. xv. 20). Some trace of his early gymnastic pursuits is remarked by
Mr. Keble in the detailed description of the combat between Eteocles and Polynices
in the Phoenissae. Soon, however, abandoning these, he studied the art of painting
(Thom. Mag. Vit. Eur. ; Suid. s. v.), not, as we learn, without success; and it
has been observed that the veiled figure of Agamemnon in the Iphigeneia of Timanthes
was probably suggested by a line in Euripides' description of the same scene (Iph.
in Aul. 1550). To philosophy and literature he devoted himself with much interest
and energy, studying physics under Anaxagoras, and rhetoric, as we have already
seen, under Prodicus (Diod. i. 7, 38; Strab. xiv.; Heracl. Pont. Alleg. Homer.
22). We learn also from Athenaeus that he was a great book-collector, and it is
recorded of him that he committed to memory certain treatises of Heracleitus,
which he found hidden in the temple of Artemis, and which he was the first to
introduce to the notice of Socrates (Athen. i.; Tatian, Or. c. Grace; Hartung,
Eur. Rest.). His intimacy with the latter is beyond a doubt, though we must reject
the statement of Gellius (l. c.), that he received instruction from him in moral
science, since Socrates was not born till B. C. 468, twelve years after the birth
of Euripides. Traces of the teaching of Anaxagoras have been remarked in many
passages both of the extant plays and of the fragments, and were impressed especially
on the lost tragedy of Melanippa the Wise (Orest. 545, 971; Pors. ad loc. ; Plat.
Apol.; Troad. 879, Hel. 1014; Fragm. Melanip.; Cic. Tusc. Disp. i. 26). The philosopher
is also supposed to be alluded to in the Alcestis (v. 925; comp. Cic. Tusc. Disp.
iii. 14). " We do not know," says Mluller, " what induced a person with such tendencies
to devote himself to tragic poetry." He is referring apparently to the opposition
between the philosophical convictions of Euripides and the mythical legends which
formed the subjects of tragedy; otherwise it does not clearly appear why poetry
should be thought incompatible with philosophical pursuits. If, however, we may
trust the account in Gellius (l. c.), it would seem,--and this is not unimportant
for our estimation of his poetical character,--that the mind of Euripides was
led at a very early period to that which afterwards became the business of his
life, since he wrote a tragedy at the age of eighteen. That it was, therefore,
exhibited, and that it was probably no other than the Rhesus are points unwarrantably
concluded by Ilartung, who ascribes also to the same date the composition of the
Veiled Hippolytus. The representation of the Peliades, the first play of Euripides
which was acted, at least in his own name, took place in B. C. 455. This statement
rests on the authority of his anonymous life, edited by Elmsley from a MS. in
the Ambrosian library, and compared with that by Thomas Magister; and it is confirmed
by the life in the MSS. of Paris, Vienna, and Copenhagen. In B. C. 441, Euripides
gained for the first time the first prize, and he continued to exhibit plays until
B. C. 408, the date of the Orestes.
Soon after this he left Athens for the court of Archelaus, king of Macedonia, his reasons for which step can only be matter of conjecture. Traditionary scandal has ascribed it to his disgust at the intrigue of his wife with Cephisophon, and the ridicule which was showered upon him in consequence by the comic poets. But the whole story in question has been sufficiently refuted by Hartung, though objections may be taken to one or two of his assumptions and arguments. The anonymous author of the life of Euripides reports that he married Choerilla, daughter of Mnesilochus, and that, in consequence of her infidelity, he wrote the Hippolytus to satirize the sex, and divorced her. He then married again, and his second wife, named Melitto, proved no better than the first. Now the Hippolytus was acted in B. C. 428, the Thesmophoriazusae of Aristophanes in 414, and at the latter period Euripides was still married to Choerilla, Mnesilochus being spoken of as his kedestes with no hint of the connexion having ceased. But what can be more unlikely than that Euripides should have allowed fourteen years to elapse between his discovery of his wife's infidelity and his divorce of her? or that Aristophanes should have made no mention of so piquant an event in the Thesmophoriazusae? It may be said, however, that the name Choerilla is a mistake of the grammarians for Melitto; that it was the latter whose infidelity gave rise to the Hippolytus ; and that the intrigue of the former with Cephisophon, subsequent to 414, occasioned Euripides to leave Athens. But this is inconsistent with Choerilla's age, according to Hartung, who argues thus :-- Euripides had three sons by this lady, the youngest of whom must have been born not later han 434, for he exhibited plays of his father (?) in 404, and must at that time, therefore (?), have been thirty years old; consequently Choerilla must have become the wife of Euripides not later than 440. At the time, then, of her alleged adultery she must have been upwards of fifty, and must have been married thirty years. But it may be urged that Choerilla may have died soon after the representation of the T/hesmophoriazusae (and no wonder, says Hartung, if her death was hastened by so atrocious an attack on her husband and her father !), and Euripides may then have married a young wife, Melitto, who played him false. To this it is answered, that it is clear from the Frogs that his friendship with Cephisophon, the supposed gallant, continued unbroken till his death. After all, however, the silence of Aristophanes is the best refutation of the calumny.
With respect to the real reason for the poet's removal into Macedonia, it is clear that an invitation from Archelaus, at whose court the highest honours awaited him, would have much temptation for one situated as Euripides was at Athens. The attacks of Aristophanes and others had probably not been without their effect; there was a strong, violent, and unscrupulous party against him, whose intrigues and influence were apparent in the results of the dramatic contests; if we may believe the testimony of Varro (ap. Gell. xvii. 4), he wrote 75 tragedies and gained the prize only five times; according to Thomas Magister, 15 of his plays out of 92 were successful. After his death, indeed, his high poetical merits seem to have been fully and generally recognized; but so have been those of Wordsworth among ourselves even in his lifetime ; and yet to the poems of both, the phonanta sunetoisi of Pindar is perhaps especially applicable. Euripides, again, must have been aware that his philosophical tenets were regarded, whether justly or not, with considerable suspicion, and he had already been assailed with a charge of impiety in a court of justice, on the ground of the well-known line in the Hippolytus (607), supposed to be expressive of mental reservation (Arist. Rhet. iii. 15.8). He did not live long to enjoy the honours and pleasures of the Macedonian court, as his death took place in B. C. 406. Most testimonies agree in stating that he was torn in pieces by the king's dogs, which, according to some, were set upon him through envy by Arrhidaeus and Crateuas, two rival poets. But even with the account of his end scandal has been busy, reporting that he met it at the hands of women while he was going one night to keep a criminal assignation,--and this at the age of 75! The story seems to be a mixture of the two calumnies with respect to the profligacy of his character and his hatred of the female sex. The Athenians sent to ask for his remains, but Archelaus refused to give them up, and buried them in Macedonia with great honour.
The regret of Sophocles for his death is said to have been so great, that at the representation of his next play he made his actors appear uncrowned (Ael. V. H. xiii. 4 ; Diod. xiii. 103; Gell. xv. 20; Paus. i. 20; Thom. Mag. Vit. Eur.; Suid. s. v. Euripides; Steph. Byz. s. v. Bormiskos) The statue of Euripides in the theatre at Athens is mentioned by Pausanias (i. 21). The admiration felt for him by foreigners, even in his lifetime, may be illustrated not only by the patronage of Archelaus, but also by what Plutarch records (Nic. 29), that many of the Athenian prisoners in Sicily regained their liberty by reciting his verses to their masters, and that the Caunians on one occasion having at first refused to admit into their harbour an Athenian ship pursued by pirates, allowed it to put in when they found that some of the crew could repeat fragments of his poems.
We have already intimated that the accounts which we find in Athenaeus and others of the profligacy of Euripides are mere idle scandal, and scarcely worthy of serious refutation (Athen. xiii., 603; comp. Suid. l. c.; Arist. Ran. 1045; Schol. ad loc). On the authority of Alexander Aetolus (ap. Gell. xv. 20; comp. Ael. V. H. viii. 13) we learn that he was, like his master Anaxagoras, of a serious temper and averse to mirth (struphnos kai misogelos); and though such a character is indeed by no means incompatible with vicious habits, yet it is also one on which men are very apt to avenge themselves by reports and insinuations of the kind we are alluding to. Certainly the calumny in question seems to be contradicted in a great measure by the spirit of the Hippolytus, in which the hero is clearly a great favourite with the author, and from which it has been inferred that his own tendency was even to asceticism. It may be added, that a speculative character, like that of Euripides, is one over which such lower temptations have usually less power, and which is liable rather to those of a spiritual and intellectual kind. Nor does there appear to be any better foundation for that other charge which has been brought against him, of hatred to the female sex. The alleged infidelity of his wife, which is commonly adduced to account for it, has been discussed above; and we may perhaps safely pass over the other statement, found in Gelliuis (xv. 20), where it is attribulted to his having had two wives at once,--a double dose of Matrimony! The charge no doubt originated in the austerity of his temper and demeanour above mentioned (Suid. s. v.); but certainly he who drew such characters as Antigone, Iphigeneia, and, above all, Alcestis, was not blind to the gentleness, the strong affection, the self-abandoning devotedness of women. And if his plays contain specimens of the sex far different from these, we must not forget, what has indeed almost passed into a proverb, that women are both better and worse than men, and that one especial characteristic of Euripides was to represent human nature as it is. (Arist. Poet. 46)
With respect to the world and the Deity, he seems to have adopted the doctrines of his master, not unmixed apparently with pantheistic views. To class him with atheists, and to speak in the same breath, as Sir T. Browne does, of " the impieties of Lucian, Euripides, and Julian," is undoubtedly unjust. At the same time, it must be confessed that we look in vain in his plays for the high faith of Aeschylus, which ever recognizes the hand of Providence guiding the troubled course of events and over-ruling them for good; nor can we fail to admit that the pupil of Anaxagoras could not sympathise with the popular religious system around him, nor throw himself cordially into it. Aeschylus indeed rose above while he adopted it, and formally retaining its legends, imparted to them a higher and deeper moral significance. Such, however, was not the case with Euripides; and there is much truth in what Muller says, that " with respect to the mythical traditions which the tragic muse had selected as her subjects, he stood on an entirely different footing from Aeschylus and from Sophocles. He could not bring his philosophical convictions with regard to the nature of God and His relation to mankind into harmony with the contents of these legends, nor could he pass over in silence their incongruities. Hence it is that he is driven to the strange necessity of carrying on a sort of polemical discussion with the very materials and subjects of which he had to treat" (Herc. Fur. 1316, 1317, Androm. 1138, Orest. 406, Ion, 445: Clem. Alex. Protrept. 7). And if we may regard the Bacchae, written towards the close of his life, as a sort of recantation of these views, and as an avowal that religious mysteries are not to be subjected to the bold scrutiny of reason, it is but a sad picture of a mind which, wearied with scepticism, and having no objective system of truth to satisfy it, acquiesces in what is established as a deadening relief from fruitless speculation. But it was not merely with respect to the nature and attributes of the gods that Euripides placed himself in opposition to the ancient legends, which we find him altering in the most arbitrary manner, both as to events and characters. Thus, in the Orestes. Menelaus comes before us as a selfish coward, and Helen as a worthless wanton; in the Helena, the notion of Stesichorus is adopted, that the heroine was never carried to Troy at all, and that it was a mere eidolon of her for which the Greeks and Trojans fought (comp, Herod. ii. 112--120); Andromache, the widow of Hector and slave of Neoptolemus, seems almost to forget the past in her quarrel with Hermione and the perils of her present situation; and Electra, married by the policy of Aegisthus to a peasant, scolds her husband for inviting guests to dine without regard to the ill-prepared state of the larder. In short, with Euripides tragedy is brought down into the sphere of every-day life, ta oikeia pragmara, hois chrometh', hois xunesmen (Arist. Ran. 957); men are represented, according to the remark of Aristotle so often quoted (Poet. 46), not as they ought to be, but as they are; under the names of the ancient heroes, the characters of his own time are set before us; it is not Medea, or Iphigeneia, or Alcestis that is speaking, says Mr. Keble, but abstractedly a mother, a daughter, or a wife. All this, indeed, gave fuller scope, perhaps, for the exhibition of passion and for those scenes of tenderness and pathos in which Euripides especially excelled; and it will serve also to account in great measure for the preference given to his plays by the practical Socrates, who is said to have never entered the theatre unless when they were acted, as well as for the admiration felt for him by the poets of the new comedy, of whom Menander professedly adopted him for his model, while Philemon declared that, if he could but believe in the consciousness of the soul after death, he would certainly hang himself to enjoy the sight of Euripides (Aelian, V. H. ii. 13; Quint. Inst. Or. x. 1). Yet, even as a matter of art, such a process can hardly be justified: it seems to partake too much of the fault condemned in Boileau's line: Peindre Caton galant et Brutus dameret; and it is a graver question whether the moral tendency of tragedy was not impaired by it,--whether, in the absence especially of a fixed external standard of morality, it was not most dangerous to tamper with what might supply the place of it, however ineffectually, through the medium of the imagination,--whether indeed it can ever be safe to lower to the common level of humanity characters hallowed by song and invested by tradition with an ideal grandeur, in cases where they do not tend by the power of inveterate association to colour or countenance evil. And there is another obvious point, which should not be omitted while we are speaking of the moral effect of the writings of Euripides, viz. the enervating tendency of his exhibitions of passion and suffering, beautiful as they are, and well as they merit for him from Aristotle the praise of being " the most tragic of poets" (Poet. 26). The philosopher, however, qualifies this commendation by the remark, that, while he provides thus admirably for the exciteument of pity by his catastrophes, " he does not arrange the rest well " (ei kai ta alla me en oikonomei); and we may mention in conclusion the chief objections which, artistically speaking, have been brought with justice against his tragedies. We need but allude to his constant employment of the " Deus ex machine," the disconnexion of his choral odes from the subject of the play (Arist. Poet. 32; Hor. Ep. ad Pis. 191), and the extremely awkward and formal character of his prologues. On these points some good remarks will be found in Muller and in Keble. Another serious defect is the frequent introduction of frigid gnomai and of philosophical disquisitions, making Medea talk like a sophist, and Hecuba like a freethinker, and aiming rather at subtilty than simplicity. The poet, moreover, is too often lost in the rhetorician, and long declamations meet us, equally tiresome with those of Alfieri. They are then but dubious compliments which are paid him in reference to these points by Cicero and by Quintilian, the latter of whom says that he is worthy to be compared with the most eloquent pleaders of the forum (Cic. ad Fam. xvi. 8; Quint. Inst. Or. x. 1); while Cicero so admired him, that he is said to have had in his hand his tragedy of Medea at the time of his murder (Ptol. Hephaest. v. 5)
Euripides has been called the poet of the sophists,--a charge by no means true in its full extent, as it appears that, though he may not have escaped altogether the seduction of the sophistical spirit, yet on the whole, the philosophy of Socrates, the great opponent of the sophists, exercised most influence on his mind.
On the same principles on which he brought his subjects and characters to the level of common life, he adopted also in his style the every-day mode of speaking, and Aristotle (Rhet. iii. 2.5) commends him as having been the first to produce an effect by the skilful employment of words from the ordinary language of men (comp. Long. de Subl. 31), peculiarly fitted, it may be observed, for the expression of the gentler and more tender feelings.
According to some accounts, Euripides wrote, in all, 75 plays; according to others, 92. Of these, 18 are extant, if we omit the Rhesus, the genuineness of which has been defended by Vater and Hartung, while Valckenaer, Hermann, and Muller have, on good grounds, pronounced it spurious. To what author, however, or to what period it should be assigned, is a disputed point. A list is subjoined of the extant plays of Euripides, with their dates, ascertained or probable:
Alcestis. B. C. 438. This play was brought out as the last of a tetralogy, and stood therefore in the place of a satyric drama, to which indeed it bears, in some parts, great similarity, particularly in the representation of Hercules in his cups. This circumstance obviates, of course, the objection against the scene alluded to, as a " lamentable interruption to our feelings of commiseration for the calamities of Admetus,"--an objection which, as it seems to us, would even on other grounds be unenable. While, however, we recognize this satyric character in the Alcestis, we must confess that we cannot, as Muller does, see anything farcical in the concluding scene.
Medea. B. C. 431. The four plays represented in this year by Euripides, who gained the third prize, were Medea, Philoctetis, Dictys, and Messores or Theristai, a satyric drama.
Hippolytus Coronifer. B. C. 428. In this year Euripides gained the first prize. For the reason of the title Coronifer (stephanephoros). There was an older play, called the Veiled Hippolytus, no longer extant, on which the present tragedy was intended as an improvement, and in which the criminal love of Phaedra appears to have been represented in a more offensive manner, and as avowed by herself boldly and without restraint. For the conjectuad reasons of the title Kaluptomenos, applied to this former drama, see Wagner, Fragm. Eurip. p. 220, &c.; Valcken. Praef. in Hippol. pp. 19, 20; comp. Hartung. Eurip. Rest. pp. 41, &c., 401, &c.
Hecuba. This play must have been exhibited before B. C. 423, as Aristophanes parodies a passage of it in the Clouds (1148), which he brought out in that year. Miller says that the passage in the Hecuba, stenei de kai tis k. t. l., " seems to refer to the misfortunes of the Spartans at Pylos in B. C. 425." This is certainly possible ; and, if it is the case, we may fix the refresentation the play in B. C. 424.
Heracleidae. Miller refers it, by conjecture, to, B. C. 421. Supplices. This also he refers, by conjecture, to about the same period.
Ion, of uncertain date.
Hercules Furens, of uncertain date.
Andromache, referred by Muller, on conjecture, to the 90th Olympiad. (B. C. 420--417)
Troades. B. C. 415.
Electra, assigned by Miiller, on conjecture and from internal evidence, to the period of the Sicilian expedition. (B. C. 415--413.)
Helena. B. C. 412, in the same year with the lost play of the Andromeda. (Schol. ad Arist. Thesm. 1012)
Iphigeneia at Tauri. Date uncertain.
Orestes. B. C. 408.
Phoenissae. The exact date is not known; but the play was one of the last exhibited at Athens by its author.
Bacchae. This play was apparently written for representation in Macedonia, and therefore at a very late period of the life of Euripides.
Iphigeneia at Aulis. This play, together with the Bacchae and the Alcemaeon, was brought out at Athens, after the poet's death, by the younger Euripides.
Cyclops, of uncertain date. It is interesting as the only extant specimen of the Greek satyric drama, and its intrinsic merits seem to us to call for a less disparaging criticism than that which Muller passes on it.
Besides the plays, there are extant five letters, purporting to have been written by Euripides. Three of them are addressed to king Archelaiis, and the other two to Sophocles and Cephisophon respectively. Bentley, in a letter to Barnes, mentions what he considers the internal proofs of their spuriousness, some of which, however, are drawn from some of the false or doubtful statements with respect to the life of Euripides. But we have no hesitation in setting them down as spurious, and as the composition of some later aretalogos, though Barnes, in his preface to them, published subsequently to Bentley's letter, declares that he who denies their genuineness must be either very impudent or deficient in judgment.
The editio princeps of Euripides contains the Medea, Hippolyts, Alcestis, and Andronache, in capital letters. It is without date or printer's name, but is supposed, with much probability, to have been edited by J. Lascaris, and printed by De Alopa, at Florence, towards the end of the 15th century. In 1503 an edition was published by Aldus at Venice: it contains 18 plays, including the Rhesus and omitting the Electra. Another, published at Heidelberg in 1597, contained the Latin version of Aemil. Portus and a fragment of the Danae, for the first time, from some ancient MSS. in the Palatine library. Another was published by P. Stephens, Geneva, 1602. In that of Barnes, Cambridge, 1694, whatever be the defects of Barnes as an editor, much was done towards the correction and illustration of the text. It contains also many fragments, and the spurious letters. Other editions are that of Musgrave, Oxford, 1778, of Beck, Leipzig, 1778--88, of Matthiae, Leipzig, 1813--29, in 9 vols. with the Scholia and fragpments, and avariorum edition, published at Glasgow in 1821 in 9 vols. 8vo. The fragments have been recently edited in a separate form and very satisfactorily by Wagner, Wratislaw, 1844. Of separate plays there have been many editions, e. g. by Porson, Elmsley, Valckenaer, Monk, Pflugk, and Hermann. There are also numerous translations of different plays in several languages, and the whole works have been translated into English verse by Potter, Oxford, 1814, and into German by Bothe, Berlin, 1800. The Jocasta, by Gascoigne and Kinwelmarsh, represented at Gray's Inn in 1566, is a very free translation from the Phoenissae, much being added, omitted, and transposed.
This text is from: A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, 1873 (ed. William Smith). Cited June 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
Euripides and his Tragedies. "The sure sign of the general decline
of an art", says Macaulay, "is the frequent occurence, not of deformity,
but of misplaced beauty. In general tragedy is corrupted by eloquence." This
symptom is especially conspicuous in Euripides, who is constantly sacrificing
propriety for rhetorical display; so that we are sometimes in doubt whether we
are reading the lines of a poet or the speeches of an orator. Yet it is this very
quality which has in all ages made him a much greater favorite than Aeschylus
or Sophocles; it is this which made tragi-comedy so easy and natural under his
treatment; which recommended him to Menander as the model for his new comedy,
and to Quintilian as the model for oratory. In the middle ages he was far better
known than his two great contemporaries; for this was an era when scholastic subtleties
were mistaken for eloquence, minute distinctions for science, and verbal quibbles
for proficiency in dramatic art. Pitiable also is his habit of punning, as in
the Bacchae, where his Greek may be rendered, "Take heed lest Pentheus makes
your mansion a pent-house of grief." Even Shakespeare, the most incorrigible
of punsters, has nothing worse than this. Yet Aeschylus is fully as bad, speaking
for instance of Helen in his Agamemnon as "a hell to men, a hell to ships
and a hell to cities."
The Art of Euripides
The works of Euripides have been more variously judged than those of the other two great masters. His art, it has been said, is tamer than theirs, and his genius rhetorical rather than poetical, while the morality that he teaches belongs to the school of Sophists. On the other hand his admirers claim that he is the most tragic of the Greek tragedians, the most pathetic of the Attic poets, the most humane in his social philosophy and the most skillful in psychological insight. Doubtless he owed to Socrates the philosophy interwoven in his tragedies, causing him to be named the "stage philosopher," one haunted by the demon of Socrates. Though he did not live in the most stirring period of the nation's life, he was, both in spirit and in choice of themes, intensely patriotic, and to him is due the spread of dramatic literature more than to any other of the ancient bards. Tragedy followed in his footsteps in Greece and Rome; comedy owed him much, even in the style of Aristophanes, who ridiculed him, and in Menander, who borrowed his sentiments. When the modern drama grafted the classical element on its crude growth, the plays of Euripides were, directly or indirectly, the most powerful influence in the establishment of a living connection between them.
When Attica was given over to the invading army of Xerxes the women and children were transferred to the island of Salamis, and here, according to Plutarch and Suidas, Euripides was born on the day of the great victory. In the table known as the Parian marble his birth is given as a few years earlier, and some have placed it on the day of the battle of the Euripus, from which was formed his patronymic. His father, Mnesarchus, was a man of means and respectability; but his mother was probably of lowly origin--a seller of herbs, if we can believe Aristophanes, who treats the matter as one of public notoriety.
The Career of Euripides
It is related that his father was promised by the oracle a son who, honored by all men, should win great reputation and bind his brows with consecrated wreaths. Hence he was trained for an athlete and won some prizes at the public games; he was also known as a painter; but it was as a dramatist that he was destined to achieve enduring fame. He was well educated, attending the lectures of Anaxagoras, Prodicus and Protagoras, to whom he probably owed many of his sophistical and rhetorical mannerisms. He was on terms of intimacy with Pericles and Socrates, both of whom were his fellow-pupils. While taking a lively interest in the questions of the day, he lived a retired and somewhat misanthropic life, happy in the possession of a valuable library, and passing most of his time in dramatic composition. As Philochorus relates, most of his tragedies were composed in a dark cave in the isle of Salamis, which was an object of curiosity many years after his death. Euripides was a voluminous writer, the number of his plays being variously stated at from seventy-five to ninety-two, including several satyric dramas. Of these nineteen have survived, with numerous fragments of others, though many of his best works have been lost and more have suffered from interpolations. He began his public career as a dramatist when twenty-four years of age, but was nearly twice as old when he gained his first decisive victory, winning the first prize only four times during his life and once after his death. Yet he was highly esteemed, not only in Athens but throughout the Hellenic world, and as Plutarch tells us, some of the Athenian captives, after the disaster of Syracuse, obtained their liberty by reciting passages from his dramas.
The last years of Euripides were passed in Magnesia and in Macedonia, where he was the guest of Archelaus, though the motive for his self-exile cannot be clearly ascertained. We know that Athens was not always the most favorable spot for eminent literary merit. The virulence of rivalry reigned unchecked in that fierce democracy, and the caprice of the petulant multitude would not afford the most satisfactory patronage to a high-minded and talented man. Report, too, insinuates that Euripides was unhappy in his own family. His first wife, Melito, he divorced for adultery; and in his second, Chaerila, he was not more fortunate. Envy and enmity among his fellow-citizens, infidelity and domestic vexations at home, would prove no small inducements for the poet to accept the invitation of Archelaus. In Macedonia he is said to have written a play in honor of that monarch, and to have inscribed it with his patron's name, who was so pleased with the manners and abilities of his guest as to appoint him one of his ministers. No further particulars are recorded of Euripides, except a few apocryphal letters, anecdotes and apophthegms. His death, which took place B.C. 406, if the popular account be true, was, like that of Aeschylus, in its nature extraordinary. Either from chance or malice, the aged dramatist was exposed to the attack of ferocious hounds, and by them so dreadfully mangled as to expire soon afterward, in his seventy-fifth year.
The Athenians entreated Archelaus to send the body to the poet's native city for interment. The request was refused; and, with every demonstration of grief and respect, Euripides was buried at Pella. A cenotaph, however, was erected to his memory at Athens.
Euripides, in the estimation of the ancients, certainly held a rank much inferior to that of his two great rivals. The caustic wit of Aristophanes, whilst it fastens but slightly on the failings of the giant Aeschylus and keeps respectfully aloof from the calm dignity of Sophocles, assails with merciless malice every weak point in the genius, character and circumstances of Euripides. The comedian banters or reproaches him for lowering the dignity of tragedy, by exhibiting heroes as whining, tattered beggars; by introducing the vulgar affairs of ordinary life; by the sonorous platitudes of his choral odes; the voluptuous character of his music; the feebleness of his verses, and the loquacity of all his personages, however low their rank. He laughs at the monotonous construction of his clumsy prologues; he imputes to his dramas an immoral tendency, and to the poet himself contempt for the gods and a fondness for new-fangled doctrines. He jeers at his affectation of rhetoric and philosophy. In short he seems to regard Euripides with sovereign contempt, bordering upon disgust.
The attachment of Socrates and the admiration of Archelaus may perhaps serve as a counterpoise to the insinuations of Aristophanes against the personal character of Euripides. As to his poetic powers, there is a striking diversity of opinion between him and the later comedians, for Menander and Philemon held him in high esteem. Yet Aristotle, whilst allowing to Euripides a preeminence in the excitement of sorrowful emotion, censures the general arrangement of his pieces, the wanton degradation of his personages and the unconnected nature of his choruses. Longinus, like Aristotle, ascribes to Euripides a great power in working upon the feelings by depiction of love and madness, but he certainly did not entertain the highest opinion of the genius. He even classes him among those writers who, far from possessing originality of talent, strive to conceal the real meanness of their conceptions, and assume the appearance of sublimity by studied composition and labored language.
For the tragedians of later times Euripides was the absolute model and pattern, and equally so for the poets of the new comedy. Diphilus called him the "Golden Euripides," and Philemon went so far as to say, with some extravagance, "If the dead, as some assert, have really consciousness, then would I hang myself to see Euripides." He had warm admirers in Alexander the Great and the Stoic Chrysippus, who quoted him regularly in several of his works. Among the Romans, too, he was held in high esteem, serving as a model for tragedy, as did Menander and Phrynichus for comedy.
In his survey of the shades of departed poets, Dante makes no mention of Aeschylus or Sophocles, but classes Euripides and Agathon with the greatest of the Greeks. Those who are familiar with the literature of the middle ages can easily understand why the works of Euripides became so popular among the nations of Europe. The pupil and friend of the most eminent of the sophists who succeeded the rhapsodes of the Homeric age, he was himself a sophist, supplanting with his precepts the rhapsodical element in the Hellenic drama. He also gave to his audience some of the physical doctrines of his master, Anaxagoras, going out of his way to show that the sun is nothing but a great ignited stone, that the overflow of the Nile is caused by the melting of the snow in Aetheopia, and that the aether or sky is an embodiment of the diety.
Euripides was the first one to introduce women on the stage, not as heroines but as they are in actual life. Yet he is often far from complimentary to the other sex, the result, probably, of his two unhappy marriages. Thus, for instance, after a burst of indignation before the nurse, who approaches him with overtures of love on behalf of Pheadra, he makes Hippolytus express his opinion of womankind:
O Zeus, why hast thou brought into the world
To plague us such a tricksy thing as woman?
If thou didst wish to propagate mankind,
Couldst thou not find some better way than this?
We to the temples might have brought our price
In gold or weight of iron or of brass,
And purchased offspring, each to the amount
Of that which he has paid; and so have dwelt
In quiet homes unvexed of womankind.
Now, to import a plague into our homes,
First of our substance we make sacrifice,
And here at once we see what woman is.
The father that begot her gladly pays
A dowry that he might be rid of her,
While he may bring this slip of evil home.
Fond man adorns with costly ornament
A worthless idol, and his living wastes
To trick her out in costly finery.
Ha has no choice. Are his connections good,
To keep them he must keep a hated wife;
Are his connections bad, he can but weigh
Against that evil a good bedfellow.
His is the easiest lot who has to wife
A cipher, a good-natured simpleton;
Quick wits are hateful. Ne'er may wife of mine
Be wiser than consorts with womanhood.
In your quick-witted dames the power of love
More wickedness engenders; while the dull
Are by their dullness saved from going wrong.
This is sufficiently bitter, but nor more so than the words which Euripides is accustomed to use when speaking of women.
In the time of Euripides the Attic drama reached the zenith of its glory, when the works of the great classic triad--Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides--followed each other in rapid succession.
Alfred Bates, ed.
This text is cited July 2003 from the TheatreHistory URL below.
Euripides. The youngest of the three sons of the above, according to Suidas. After the death of his father he brought out three of his plays at the great Dionysia, viz. the Alcmaeon (no longer extant), the Iphigeneia at Aulis, and the Bacchae. (Schol. ad Arist. Ran. 67.) Suidas mentions also a nephew of the great poet, of the same name, to whom he ascribes the authorship of three plays, Medea, Orestes, and Polyxena, and who, he tells us, gained a prize with one of his uncle's tragedies after the death of the latter. It is probable that the son and the nephew have been confounded. Aristophanes too (Eccles. 825, 826, 829) mentions a certain Euripides who had shortly before proposed a property-tax of a fortieth. The proposal made him [p. 108] at first very popular, but the measure was thrown out, and he became forthwith the object of a general outcry, about B. C. 394. It is doubtful whether he is to be identified with the son or the nephew of the poet.
The e-texts of the works by Euripides can be found in Greece (ancient country) under the category Ancient Greek Writings.
Solon was the son of Execestides and his family was of Salamis in Attica
Solon. A celebrated Athenian legislator, born about B.C. 638.
His father Execestides was a descendant of Codrus, and his mother was a cousin
of the mother of Pisistratus. Execestides had seriously crippled his resources
by a too prodigal expenditure; and Solon consequently found it either necessary
or convenient in his youth to betake himself to the life of a foreign trader.
It is likely enough that while necessity compelled him to seek a livelihood in
some mode or other, his active and inquiring spirit led him to select that pursuit
which would furnish the amplest means for its gratification. Solon early distinguished
himself by his poetical abilities. His first effusions were in a somewhat light
and amatory strain, which afterwards gave way to the more dignified and earnest
purpose of inculcating profound reflections or sage advice. So widely indeed did
his reputation spread that he was ranked as one of the famous Seven Sages, and
his name appears in all the lists of the seven. The occasion which first brought
Solon prominently forward as an actor on the political stage was the contest between
Athens and Megara respecting the possession of Salamis. The ill success of the
attempts of the Athenians to make themselves masters of the island had led to
the enactment of a law forbidding the writing or saying anything to urge the Athenians
to renew the attempt. Soon after these events (about 595) Solon took a leading
part in promoting hostilities on behalf of Delphi against Cirrha, and was the
mover of the decree of the Amphictyons by which war was declared. It does not
appear, however, what active part he took in the war. According to a common story,
which, however, rests only on the authority of a late writer, Solon hastened the
surrender of the town by causing the waters of the Plistus to be poisoned. It
was about the time of the outbreak of this war that, in consequence of the distracted
condition of Attica, which was rent by civil commotions, Solon was called upon
by all parties to mediate between them, and alleviate the miseries that prevailed.
He was chosen archon in 594, and under that legal title was invested with unlimited
power for adopting such measures as the exigencies of the State demanded.
In fulfilment of the task intrusted to him, Solon addressed himself to the relief of the existing distress. This he effected with the greatest discretion and success by his celebrated "disburdening ordinance" (seisachtheia), a measure consisting of various distinct provisions, calculated to relieve the debtors with as little infringement as possible on the claims of the wealthy creditors. He also changed the standard of the monetary system from the Phidonian to the Euboic, which was the one generally in use in the great centres of commerce, Chalcis and Eretria, so that Athenian trade might be simplified in its exchanges. A limit was also set to the rate of interest and to the accumulation of land. The success of the Seisachtheia procured for Solon such confidence and popularity that he was further charged with the task of entirely remodelling the constitution. As a preliminary step, he repealed all the laws of Draco (q.v.), except those relating to bloodshed. The principal features of the Solonian Constitution may be briefly summarized for the benefit of the reader. The State as he left it was a timocracy (timokratia), that is to say, a form of oligarchy (oligarchia) in which the possession of a certain amount of property is requisite for admission to the ruling class. Solon established a sort of timocratic scale, so that those who did not belong to the nobility received the rights of citizens in a proportion determined partly by their property and their corresponding services to the State. For this purpose he divided the population into four classes, founded on the possession of land. (1) Pentacosiomedimni (Pentakosiomedimnoi), who had at least 500 medimni (750 bushels) of corn or metretae of wine or oil as yearly income. (2) Hippeis (Hippeis, Hippes), or knights, with at least 300 medimni. (3) Zeugitae (Zeugitai) (possessors of a yoke of oxen), with at least 150 medimni. (4) Thetes (Thetes) (workers for wages), with less than 150 medimni of yearly income. Solon's legislation only granted to the first three of these four classes a vote in the election of responsible officers, and only to the first class the power of election to the highest offices; as, for instance, that of archon. The fourth class was excluded from all official positions, but possessed the right of voting in the general public assemblies which chose officials and passed laws. They had also the right of taking part in the trials by jury which Solon had instituted. The first three classes were bound to serve as hoplites; the cavalry was raised out of the first two, while the fourth class was only employed as light-armed troops or on the fleet, and apparently for pay. The others served without pay. The first three classes alone were subject to direct taxation. The holders of office in the State were also unpaid. Solon established as the chief consultative body the Council of the Four Hundred (see Boule), in which only the first three classes took part, and as chief administrative body the Areopagus, which was to be filled up by those who had been archons. A Council of 401 members is said to have been part of Draco's constitution (about B.C. 621), the members being selected by lot from the whole body of citizens. Solon reduced the Council to 400, one hundred from each of the four tribes; and extended in some particulars the powers already possessed by the Areopagus. Besides this, he promulgated a code of laws embracing the whole of public and private life, the salutary effects of which lasted long after the end of his constitution. He also rectified the calendar, and regulated the system of weights and measures. He forbade the exportation of Attic products, except olive oil. Among his other regulations were those giving to child less persons the power of disposing of their property by will, punishing idleness, inflicting atimia on those citizens who in the time of any sedition remained neutral, and giving great rewards to the victors in the Olympian and Isthmian Games.
The laws of Solon were inscribed on wooden cylinders (axones) and triangular tablets (kurbeis), and set up in the Acropolis, and later in the Prytaneum. Solon himself spoke of them as being not the best laws conceivable, but the best that the Athenians could be induced to accept. His Constitution was, in fact, a compromise between democracy proper and oligarchy, and it gives to Solon a title to rank with the great constructive statesmen of all time.
The great lawgiver's later history must be regarded as more legendary than authentic. After completing his task of legislation he left Athens for ten years, after exacting from the people a promise that they would leave his laws unaltered for that space of time. After visiting Egypt, he is said to have gone to Cyprus, where he was received by the king of the little town of Aepea. Solon persuaded the king, Philocyprus, to remove from the old site and build a new town on the plain. The new settlement was called Soli, in honour of the illustrious visitor. He is further said to have visited Lydia; and his interview with Croesus was one of the most celebrated stories in antiquity. "Who is the happiest man you have ever seen?" asked the magnificent king, fishing for a compliment. "I can speak of no one as happy until I have seen how his life has ended," replied the philosopher, thus giving deep offence to the monarch. During the absence of Solon the old dissensions were renewed, and shortly after his arrival at Athens the supreme power was seized by Pisistratus. The tyrant, after his usurpation, is said to have paid considerable court to Solon, and on various occasions to have solicited his advice, which Solon did not withhold. Solon probably died about 558, two years after the overthrow of the Constitution, at the age of eighty. There was a story current in antiquity that, by his own directions, his ashes were collected and scattered round the island of Salamis. Of the poems of Solon several fragments remain. They do not indicate any great degree of imaginative power, but their style is vigorous and simple; and those that were called forth by special emergencies appear to have been marked by no small degree of energy.
This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Nov 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
Solon, the celebrated Athenian legislator.
For our knowledge of the personal history of this distinguished man we are dependent chiefly on the unsatisfactory compilations of Plutarch and Diogenes Laertius. The former manifestly had valuable and authentic sources of information, which makes it the more to be regretted that his account is not fuller and more distinct.
According to the almost unanimous testimonies of the ancient authorities Solon was the son of Execestides, a man of but moderate wealth and political influence, though he belonged to one of the highest families in Athens, being a descendant of Codrus. The mother of Solon was a cousin of the mother of Peisistratus. The date of the birth of Solon is not accurately known, but it was probably about B. C. 638. Execestides had seriously crippled his resources by a too prodigal expenditure, which some writers were well pleased to set down to the credit of his generosity. Solon consequently found it either necessary or convenient in his youth to betake himself to the life of a foreign trader. It is likely enough that while necessity compelled him to seek a livelihood in some mode or other, his active and inquiring spirit, which he retained throughout his life (gerasko d aiei polla didaskomenos, Solonis Fragm. 20), led him to select that pursuit which would furnish the amplest means for its gratification. The desire of amassing wealth at any rate does not seem to have been his leading motive. The extant fragments of his poetry contain various dignified sentiments on the subject of riches, though a sufficient appreciation of their advantages is also perceptible. Solon early distinguished himself by his poetical abilities. His early effusions were in a somewhat light and amatory strain, which afterwards gave way to the more dignified and earnest purpose of inculcating profound reflections or sage advice. So widely indeed did his reputation spread, that he was ranked as one of the famous seven sages, and his name appears in all the lists of the seven. It was doubtless the union of social and political wisdom which marked him in common with the other members of this assemblage and not his poetical abilities, or any philosophical researches, that procured him this honour.
The occasion which first brought Solon prominently forward as an actor on the political stage, was the contest between Athens and Megara respecting the possession of Salamis. The ill success of the attempts of the Athenians to make themselves masters of the island, had led to the enactment of a law forbidding the writing or saying anything to urge the Athenians to renew the contest. Solon, indignant at this dishonourable renunciation of their claims, and seeing that many of the younger and more impetuous citizens were only deterred by the law from proposing a fresh attempt for the recovery of the island, hit upon the device of feigning to be mad, and causing a report of his condition to be spread over the city, whereupon he rushed into the agora, mounted the herald's stone, and there recited a short elegiac poem of 100 lines, which he had composed, calling upon the Athenians to retrieve their disgrace and reconquer the lovely island. To judge by the three short fragments that remain, the poem seems to have been a spirited composition. At any rate either by itself, or, as the account runs, backed by the eloquent exhortation of Peisistratus (who however, must have been extremely young at the time), it produced the desired effect. The pusillanimous law was rescinded, war was declared, and Solon himself appointed to conduct it. The expedition which he made was a successful one, though the accounts of its details varied. Certain propitiatory rites seem to have been performed, by the direction of the Delphic oracle, to the guardian heroes of the island. A body of volunteers was landed on the island, and the capture of a Megarian ship enabled the Athenians to take the town of Salamis by stratagem, the ship, filled with Athenian troops, being admitted without suspicion. The Megarians were driven out of the island, but a tedious war ensued, which was finally settled by the arbitration of Sparta. Both parties appealed, in support of their claim, to the evidence of certain local customs and to the authority of Homer (Arist. Rhet. i. 16), and it was currently believed in antiquity that Solon had surreptitiously inserted the line (Il. ii. 558) which speaks of Ajax as ranging his ships with the Athenians. Some other legendary claims, and the authority of the Delphic oracle, which spoke of Salamis as an Ionian island, were also brought forward. The decision was in favour of the Athenians. Solon himself, probably, was one of those who received grants of land in Salamis, and this may account for his being termed a Salaminian (Diog. Laert. i. 45.) The authority of Herodotus (i. 59, comp. Plut. Sol. 8) seems decisive as to the fact that Solon was aided in the field as well as in the agora by his kinsman Peisistratus. The latter, however, must have lived to a great age, if he died in B. C. 527, and yet served in the field about B. C. 596, or even earlier.
Soon after these events (about B. C. 595) Solon took a leading part in promoting hostilities on behalf of Delphi against Cirrha, and was the mover of the decree of the Amphictyons by which war was declared. It does not appear however what active part he took in the war. We would willingly disbelieve the story (which has no better authority than Pausanias, x. 37.7. Polyaenus, Strateg. vi. 13, makes Eurylochus the author of the stratagem), that Solon hastened the surrender of the town by causing the waters of the Pleistus to be poisoned.
It was about the time of the outbreak of this war when Solon's attention was turned more forcibly than ever to the distracted state of his own country. He had already interfered to put a stop to the dissension between the Alcmaeonidae and the partisans of Cylon, and had persuaded the former to abide by the result of a judicial decision. It was very likely also at his recommendation, and certainly with his sanction, that, when the people were suffering from the effects of pestilential disorders and superstitions excitement, and the ordinary religious rites brought no relief, the celebrated Epimenides was sent for from Crete. But the sources of the civil dissensions by which the country was torn required a more thorough remedy. Geographical as well as political distinctions had separated the inhabitants of Attica into three parties, the Pedieis, or wealthy aristocratical inhabitants of the plain, the Diacrii, or poor inhabitants of the highlands of Attica, and the Parali, or mercantile inhabitants of the coast. These last, in point both of social condition and of political sentiment, held a position intermediate between the other two. It is difficult to say how far we are to trust Plutarch, when he says that the Pedieis and Diacrii differed in being respectively of oligarchical and democratical tendencies. The difficulties arising from these party disputes had in the time of Solon become greatly aggravated by the miserable condition of the poorer population of Attica - the Thetes. The great bulk of these had become sunk in poverty, and reduced to the necessity of borrowing money at exorbitant interest from the wealthy on the security of their estates, persons, or families; and by the rigorous enforcement of the law of debtor and creditor many had been reduced to the condition of slavery, or tilled the lands of the wealthy as dependent tenants. Of the rapacious conduct of the richer portion of the community we have evidence in the fragments of the poems of Solon himself. Matters had come to such a crisis that the lower class were in a state of mutiny, and it had become impossible to enforce the observance of the laws. Solon was well known as a man of wisdom, firmness, and integrity; and his reputation and influence had already been enhanced by the visit of Epimenides. He was now called upon by all parties to mediate between [p. 859] them, and alleviate the miseries that prevailed. He was chosen Archon (B. C. 594), and under that legal title was invested with unlimited power for adopting such measures as the exigencies of the state demanded. There were not wanting among the friends of Solon those who urged him to take advantage of the opportunity thus afforded him, and make himself tyrant of Athens. Plutarch has preserved some passages of the poems of Solon, referring to the feelings of surprise or contempt with which his refusal was met by those who had suggested the attempt. Indeed there can be no doubt that it would have been successful had it been made. That Solon should have had firmness enough to resist such a temptation, argues the possession on his part of a singular degree of virtue and self-restraint.
In fulfilment of the task entrusted to him, Solon addressed himself to the relief of the existing distress. This he effected with the greatest discretion and success by his celebrated disburdening ordinance (seisachtheia), a measure consisting of various distinct provisions, calculated to lighten the pressure of those pecuniary obligations by which the Thetes and small proprietors had been reduced to utter helplessness and misery, with as little infringement as possible on the claims of the wealthy creditors. The details of this measure are, however, involved in considerable uncertainty. Plutarch speaks of it as a total abolition of debts. This is in itself in the highest degree unlikely; and, as is acutely remarked by Mr. Grote, would have rendered a debasement of the coinage unnecessary and useless. On the other hand it was certainly more than a reduction of the rate of interest, accompanied by a depreciation of the currency (which was the view of Androtion ap. Plut. l. c.). The extant fragments of the poems of Solon imply that a much larger amount of relief was afforded than we can conceive likely to be produced by a measure of that kind, even if the reduction of interest was made retrospective, which is in fact only another way of saying that certain debts, or portions of debts, were wiped off. We gather from Solon himself , that he cancelled all contracts by which the land, person, or family of a debtor had been pledged as security, so that the mortgage-pillars were removed, slave-debtors released, and those who had been sold into foreign countries restored. But it does not seem necessary to suppose that in every such case the debt was cancelled, as well as the bond, though such may have been the case with regard to some of the most distressed class. At the same time Solon abolished the law which gave the creditor power to enslave an insolvent debtor, or allowed the debtor to pledge or sell his son, daughter, or unmarried sister, excepting only the case in which either of the latter was convicted of unchastity. Most writers seem to admit, without any question, the statement that Solon lowered the rate of interest. This, however, rests only on the authority (or conjecture) of Androtion, and as his account is based upon an erroneous view of the whole matter, it may fairly be questioned whether any portion of his statement is to be received, if the essential features of his view of the whole measure be rejected. On the whole we are disposed to deny that Solon did any thing to restrict the rate of interest. We know that Solon's measures introduced a lasting settlement of the law of debtor and creditor at Athens, and so far from there being any evidence that the rate of interest was ever limited, we find that the rate of interest was declared free by a law which was ascribed to Solon himself. To have introduced a restriction as a temporary measure of relief would have been merely a roundabout mode of wholly or partially cancelling debts, and would have required it to be retrospective, and not prospective. But for this last view of the case there is no authority whatever.
With respect to the depreciation of the coinage, we have the distinct statement that Solon made the mina to contain 100 drachmae instead of 73; that is to say, 73 of the old drachmae produced 100 of the new coinage, in which obligations were to be discharged; so that the debtor saved rather more than a fourth in every payment. Respecting the story about the abuse made by three of the friends of Solon of their knowledge of his designs see Callias. The probity of Solon himself was vindicated, as he was a considerable loser by his own measure, having as much as five talents out at interest, which he set the example of giving up.
Though some of those who lost most through the operation of the Seisachtheia were incensed at it, as was natural, its benefits were so great and general that all classes united ere long in a common festival of thanksgiving, which was also termed Seisachtheia. Wachsmuth asserts very confidently that one effect of the Seisachtheia was to transform the serfs, or villein tenants, into landed proprietors. Of this there is no proof. Another measure of relief introduced by Solon was the restoration of all who had been condemned to atimia to their full privileges as citizens, except those who had been condemned by the Ephetae, the Areiopagus, or the Phylo-basileis, for murder, homicide, or treason.
It seems that in the first instance nothing more was contemplated in the investment of Solon with dictatorial power than the relief of the existing distress. But the success of his Seisachtheia procured for him such confidence and popularity that he was further charged with the task of entirely remodelling the constitution. As a preliminary step to his further proceedings he repealed all the laws of Draco except those relating to bloodshed. With our imperfect knowledge of the earlier political constitution of the people of Attica it is impossible to estimate with any certainty the magnitude of the change which Solon effected. Till it can be settled whether the division into four tribes was restricted to the Eupatridae, or included the Geomori and Demiurgi, it is impossible to ascertain in what position the ruling class stood to the unenfranchised demus, and consequently how far the latter was affected by the legislation of Solon. The opinion of Niebuhr, which is supported by Mr. Maiden, was, that the division into phylae, phrariae, and genea, was restricted to the Eupatridae. All analogy confirms this view, which certainly is not opposed by more numerous or authentic testimonies on the part of ancient writers than are the universally acknowledged views of Niebuhr with respect to the Roman curie and tribes. If it be the correct one, the demus in Attica must have been destitute of any recognized political organization, and must have profited by the legislation of Solon in very much the same way as the plebs at Rome did by that of Servius Tullius.
The distinguishing feature of the constitution of Solon was the introduction of the timocratic principle. The title of citizens to the honours and offices of the state was regulated (at least in part) not by their nobility of birth, but by their wealth. All the citizens were distributed into four classes. (If the tribes included only the Eupatridae, it will be a mistake to speak of these classes as divisions of the citizens of the tribes; they must have been divisions in which the Eupatrid tribes and the demus were blended, just as the patricians and plebeians were in the classes and centuries of Servius Tullius.) The first class consisted of those who had an annual income of at least 500 medimni of dry or liquid produce (equivalent to 500 drachmae, a medimnus being reckoned at a drachma, Plut. Sol. 23), and were called Pentacosiomedimni. The second class consisted of those whose incomes ranged between 300 and 500 medimni or drachmae, and were called Hippeis (Hippeis or Hippes), from their being able to keep a horse, and bound to perform military service as cavalry. The third class consisted of those whose incomes varied between 200 and 300 medimni or drachmae, and were termed Zengitae (Zengitai). The fourth class included all whose property fell short of 200 medimni or drachmae. Plutarch (Sol. 18) says that this class bore the name of Thetes. Grote questions whether that statement is strictly accurate. There is no doubt, however, that the census of the fourth class was called the Thetic census (Thetikon telos). The first three classes were liable to direct taxation, in the form of a graduated income tax. The taxable capital of a member of the first class was estimated at twelve times his yearly income, whatever that was. The taxable capital of a member of the second class was estimated at ten times his yearly income; and that of one of the third class at five times his yearly income. Thus upon any occasion on which it became necessary to levy a direct tax, it was assessed at a certain per centage on the taxable capital of each. It is not correct, however, to say that the taxable property of one of the pentacosiomedimni was estimated at 6000 drachmae. It was at least that, but it might be more. In like manner, the taxable capital of one of the Hippeis might range from 3000 to 5000 drachmae, and so on. A direct tax, however, was an extraordinary, and not an annual payment. The fourth class were exempt from direct taxes, but of course they, as well as the rest, were liable to indirect taxes.
To Solon was ascribed the institution of the boule, or deliberative assembly of Four Hundred. Probably he did no more than modify the constitution of an earlier assembly of the same kind, Plutarch (Sol. 19) says that the four hundred members of the Boule were elected (epilexamenos perhaps implies an election by the popular assembly), one hundred from each of the four tribes. It is worth noting that this is the only direct statement that we have about the Boule of Solon's time. It must be settled whether the the Boule is an arche, and if it is, whether it is one of the archai spoken of by Plutarch, and Aristotle (Pol. ii. 9.2), before it can be affirmed that a member of any of the first three classes might belong to it, but not one of the fourth, or that it was elected by the popular assembly. Plutarch does not say that the members of the Boule were appointed only for a year, or that they must be above thirty years of age. In fact we know nothing about the Boule, but that its members were taken in equal proportions from the four genealogical tribes, and that the popular assembly could only entertain propositions submitted to it by the Boule. Here again we feel greatly the want of more certain knowledge regarding those genealogical tribes, with the internal organisation of which Solon does not seem to have interfered. We are strongly inclined to the opinion that even Mr. Grote represents the Boule of Solon's constitution as a far less aristocratical assembly than it really was, and that in point of fact it was an exclusively Eupatrid body, closely analogous to the Roman senate under the constitution of Servius Tullius. The most authentic and valuable statement that we have respecting the general nature of Solon's constitutional changes is that of Solon himself, from which it is clear that nothing can be more erroneous than to speak of Solon's institutions as being of a democratical character. To the demus he gave nothing more than a defensive power, sufficient to protect them from any tyrannous abuse on the part of the noble and wealthy classes, with whose prerogatives, in other respects, he did not interfere (Demoi men gar edoka toson kratos hoson eparkein, times out aphelon out eporexamenos: hoi d eichon dunamin kai chremasin esan agetoi, kai tois ephrasamen meden aeikes echein). According to the view commonly taken of the four tribes, there seems no reason why a large proportion of the Boule might not have been members of the demus, for it is not credible that the Attic demus was entirely included in the lowest class, and if (according to the common view) the Boule was elected by the ecclesia, where the fourth class would be the most numerous, it seems that the result must almost necessarily have been, that the Boule should be little more than the exponent of the feelings and will of the demus. In the most moderate view of the case the constitution and working of such an assembly must have been a large infraction of the previous power and prerogatives of the Eupatrids, and seems equally inconsistent with the passage of Solon quoted above, and with the statement of Plutarch that the Boule was designed as a check upon the demus. Both these statements, and all that we learn of the Innovations of Cleisthenes, become far more intelligible on the hypothesis that the four Ionian tribes were Eupatrid tribes, and the Boule of Solon an Eupatrid body, whose action, however, was so far controlled by the demus, that its measures required the ratification of the popular assembly to make them valid. Mr.Grote expresses an opinion that before the time of Solon there was but one aristocratical council, the same which was afterwards distinguished from the Council of Four Hundred as the Upper Council, or the Council of Areiopagus. But his remark that the distinctive title of the latter, "Senate of Areiopagus," would not be bestowed until the formation by Solon of the second senate or council, seems at variance with the quotation from one of the laws of Solon himself, by which Plutarch shows that the council of Areiopagus was not instituted by Solon. We incline more to the opinion of Dr. Thirlwall, that the Boule of Solon was only a modification of a previously existing institution.
There was no doubt a public assembly of some kind before the time of Solon, though probably possessed of but little more power than those which we find described in the Homeric poems. Solon undoubtedly greatly enlarged its functions. He gave it the right of electing the archons and other magistrates, and, what was even more important, made the archons and magistrates accountable directly to it when their year of office was expired. He also gave it what was equivalent to a veto upon any proposed measure of the Boule, though it could not itself originate any measure. Nor does it seem at all likely that, as constituted by Solon, it even had the power of modifying any measure submitted to it. Every member of all the four classes might vote in the popular assembly (see Dict. of Antiq. art. Ecclesia), and all votes seem to have had the same weight, which forms an important point of difference between the Ecclesia of Athens and the Comitia Centuriata of Servius Tullius.
Plutarch remarks that it was an error to attribute to Solon the establishment of the council of the Areiopagus (see Dict. of Antiq. art. Areiopagus). He does not seem even to have made any change in its constitution, though he enlarged its powers, and entrusted it with the general supervision of the institutions and laws of the state, and the religion and morals of the citizens.
Athenians in the age of unmitigated democracy were extremely fond of speaking of all their institutions either as originated by Solon, or as the natural expansion and application of his principles. Some even carried them back to Theseus. The orators of course were not slow to fill in with this popular prejudice, and various palpable anachronisms in their statements show how little reliance can be placed on any accounts of the institutions of Solon that come from such a source. For instance, the oath of the Heliastic dicasts, which is quoted by Demosthenes and ascribed to Solon, mentions the Cleisthenean senate of Five hundred. Several other curious examples of similar anachronisms are collected by Mr. Grote who has some excellent remarks on the practice of connecting the name of Solon with the whole political and judicial state of Athens, as it existed between the age of Pericles and that of Demosthenes; many of the institutions thus referred to the great legislator, being among the last refinements and elaborations of the democratical mind of Athens. We entirely coincide in his opinion that the whole arrangement of the Heliastic courts and the transference to them of the old judicial powers of the archons bespeaks a state of things utterly inconsistent with the known relations of the age of Solon. " It would be a marvel, such as nothing short of strong direct evidence would justify us in believing, that in an age when even partial democracy was yet untried, Solon should conceive the idea of such institutions: it would be a marvel still greater, that the half-emancipated Thetes and small proprietors for whom he legislated -- yet trembling under the rod of the Eupatrid archons, and utterly inexperienced in collective business -- should have been found suddenly competent to fulfil these ascendent functions, such as the citizens of conquering Athens in the days of Pericles -- full of the sentiment of force, and actively identifying themselves with the dignity of their community -- became gradually competent, and not more than competent, to exercise with effect." The term Heliaea he thinks was in the time of Solon no more than the name of the popular assembly, which is in fact the original meaning of the word. The number of 6000, which was that of the whole body of dicasts in after times, had reference to the Cleisthenean division into 10 tribes. It is to be observed, that Plutarch, who after all is our best authority, says nothing of any such dicastic organisation as that of the later Heliaea. Mr. Grote even questions the statement of Plutarch, that Solon allowed an appeal to the ecclesia from the sentence of an archon, considering that Plutarch has been misled by the recollection of the Roman provocatio.
The idea of the periodical revision of his laws by the Nomothetae being a part of Solon's plan is even in contradiction to. the statements of our authorities. The institution of the Nomothetae was one of the most ultra-democratical that can well be imagined. It was a jury appointed by lot out of a body of dicasts who were appointed by lot, with power to rescind any law with which any one could find sufficient fault to induce an assembly of the people to entertain the idea of subjecting it to revision. It is to be observed too that Demosthenes and Aeschines mention, in connection with this procedure, as one of the regulations appointed by Solon to be observed by the proposer of a new or amended law, that he should post up his proposed law before the Eponymi, that is, the statues of the ten heroes from whom the ten tribes of Cleisthenes derived their names.
Besides the arrangement of the general political relations of the people Solon was the author of a great variety of special laws, which do not seem to have been arranged in any systematic manner. Those relating to debtors and creditors have been already referred to. Several had for their object the encouragement of trade and manufactures. Foreign settlers were not to be naturalized as citizens unless they carried on some industrious pursuit. If a father did not teach his son some trade or profession, the son was not liable to maintain his father in his old age. The council of Areiopagus had a general power to punish idleness. Solon forbade the exportation of all produce of the Attic soil except olive oil. The impulse which he gave to the various branches of industry carried on in towns had eventually an important bearing upon the development of the democratic spirit in Athens. Solon was the first who gave to those who died childless the power of disposing of their property by will. He enacted several laws relating to marriage, especially with regard to heiresses. Other regulations were intended to place restraints upon the female sex with regard to their appearance in public, and especially to repress frantic and excessive manifestations of grief at funerals. An adulterer taken in the act might be killed on the spot, but the violation of a free woman was only punishable by a fine of one hundred drachmae, the seduction of a free woman by a fine of twenty drachmae. Other laws will be found in Plutarch respecting the speaking evil either of the dead or of the living, respecting the use of wells, the planting of trees in conterminous properties, the destruction of noxious animals, &c. The rewards which he appointed to be given to victors at the Olympic and Isthmian games are for that age unusually large (500 drachmae to the former and 100 to the latter). The law relating to theft, that the thief should restore twice the value of the thing stolen, seems to have been due to Solon. (see Dict. of Ant. art. klopes dike). He also either established or regulated the public dinners at the Prytaneium. One of the most curious of his regulations was that which denounced atimia against any citizen, who, on the outbreak of a sedition, remained neutral. On the design of this enactment to shorten as much as possible any suspension of legal authority, and its connection with the ostracism, the reader will find some ingenious and able remarks in Grote. The laws of Solon were inscribed on wooden rollers axones) and triangular tablets (kurbeis), in the boustrophedon fashion, and were set up at first in the Acropolis, afterwards in the Prytaneium.
The Athenians were also indebted to Solon for some rectification of the calendar. Diogenes Laertius (i. 59) says that "he made the Athenians regulate their days according to the moon," that is to say, he introduced some division of time agreeing more accurately with the course of the moon. Plutarch gives the following very confused account of the matter: "Since Solon observed the irregularity of the moon, and saw that its motion does not coincide completely either with the setting or with the rising of the sun, but that it often on the same day both overtakes and passes the sun, he erdained that this day should be called hene kai nea, considering that the portion of it which preceded the conjunction belonged to the month that was ending, the rest to that which was beginning. The succeeding day he called noumenia." According to the scholiast on Aristophanes Solon introduced the practice of reckoning the days from the twentieth onwards in the reverse order. Ideler gathers from the notices that we have on the subject, that Solon was the first who introduced among the Greeks months of 29 and 30 days alternately. He also thinks that this was accompanied by the introduction of the Trieteris or two-year cycle.
We have more than one statement to the effect that Solon exacted from the government and people of Athens a solemn oath, that they would observe his laws without alteration for a certain space -- 10 years according to Herodotus, -- 100 years according to other accounts. According to a story told by Plutarch, Solon was himself aware that he had been compelled to leave many imperfections in his system and code. He is said to have spoken of his laws as being not the best, but the best which the Athenians would have received. After he had completed his task. being, we are told, greatly annoyed and troubled by those who came to him with all kinds of complaints, suggestions or criticisms about his laws, in order that he might not himself have to propose any change, he absented himself from Athens for ten years, after he had obtained the oath above referred to. He first visited Egypt, and conversed with two learned Egyptian priests -- Psenophis of Heliopolis, and Sonchis of Sais. The stories which they told him about the submerged island of Atlantis, and the war carried on against it by Athens 9000 years before his time, induced him to make it the subject of an epic poem, which, however, he did not complete, and of which nothing now remains. From Egypt he proceeded to Cyprus, and was received with great distinction by Philocyprus, king of the little town of Aepeia. Solon persuaded the king to remove from the old site, which was on an inconvenient and precipitous elevation, and build a new town on the plain. He himself assisted in laying out the plan. The new settlement was called Soli, in honour of the illustrious visitor. A fragment of an elegiac poem addressed by Solon to Philocyprus is preserved by Plutarch. We learn from Herodotus that in this poem Solon bestowed the greatest praise upon Philocyprus. The statement of the blundering Diogenes Laertius that Solon founded Soli in Cilicia, and died in Cyprus, may be rejected without hesitation.
It is impossible not to regret that the stern laws of chronology compel us to set down as a fiction the beautiful story so beautifully told by Herodotus (i. 29--45, 86; comp. Plut. Sol. 27, 28) of the interview between Solon and Croesus, and the illustration furnished in the history of the latter of the truth of the maxim of the Athenian sage, that worldly prosperity is precarious, and that no man's life can be pronounced happy till he has reached its close without a reverse of fortune (see Croesus). For though it may be made out that it is just within the limits of possibility that Solon and Croesus may have met a few years before B. C. 560, that could not have been an interview consistent with any of the circumstances mentioned by Herodotus, and without which the story of the interview would be entirely devoid of any interest that could make it worth while attempting to establish its possibility. The whole pith and force of the story would vanish if any interview of an earlier date be substituted for that which the episode in Herodotus requires, namely one taking place when Croesus was king, at the height of his power, when he had a son old enough to be married and command armies, and immediately preceding the turn of his fortunes, not more than seven or eight years before the capture of Sardis. " In my judgment," observes Mr. Grote, "this is an illustrative tale, in which certain real characters --Solon and Croesus, -- and certain real facts -- the great power and succeeding ruin of the former by the victorious arm of Cyrus, together with certain facts altogether fictitious, such as the two sons of Croesus, the Phrygian Adrastus and his history, the hunting of the mischievous wild boar on Mount Olympus, the ultimate preservation of Croesus, &c. are put together so as to convey an impressive moral lesson."
During the absence of Solon the old oligarchical dissensions were renewed, the Pedieis being headed by Lycurgus, the Parali by Megacles, the Diacrii by Peisistratus. These dissensions were approaching a crisis when Solon returned to Athens, and had proceeded to such a length that he found himself unable, to repress them. For an account of the successful machinations of Peisistratus, and the unsuccessful endeavours of Solon to counteract them, the reader is referred to the article Peisistratus. The tyrant, after his usurpation, is said to have paid considerable court to Solon, and on various occasions to have solicited his advice, which Solon did not withhold. We do not know certainly how long Solon survived the overthrow of the constitution. According to Phanias of Lesbos (Plut. Sol. 32), he died in less than two years after. There seems nothing to hinder us from accepting the statement that he had reached the age of eighty. There was a story current in antiquity that, by his own directions, his ashes were collected and scattered round the island of Salamis. Plutarch discards this story as absurd. He himself remarks, however, that Aristotle, as well as other authors of credit, repeated it. Diogenes Laertius quotes some lines of Cratinus in which it is alluded to. The singularity of it is rather an argument in its favour.
Of the poems of Solon several fragments remain. They do not indicate any great degree of imaginative power, but the style of them seems to have been vigorous and simple. Those that were called forth by special emergencies appear to have been marked by no small degree of energy. Solon is said to have attempted a metrical version of his laws, and a couple of lines are quoted as the commencement of this composition; but nothing more of it remains. Here and there, even in the fragments that remain, sentiments are expressed of a somewhat more jovial kind than the rest. These are probably relics of youthful effusions. Some traced them, as well as Solon's some-what luxurious style of living, to the bad habits which he had contracted while following the profession of a trader. The fragments of Solon are usually incorporated in the collections of the Greek gnomic poets, as, for example, in those of Sylburg, Brunck, and Boissonade. They are also inserted in Bergk's Poetae Lyrici Graeci. There is also a separate edition by Bach (Lugd. Bat. 1825). The select correspondence of Solon with Periander, Peisistratus, Epimenides, and Croesus, with which Diogenes Laertius has favoured us, is of course spurious.
Respecting the connection of Solon with the arrangement of the Homeric poems, see the article Homerus.
The story told by Plutarch respecting Solon and Thespis cannot be true, since dramatic entertainments were not introduced into Athens till 20 years (B. C. 535) after Solon's death. It is related that Solon asked Thespis, after witnessing one of his pieces, if he was not ashamed of telling such untruths before so large an audience. Thespis replied, that as it was done for amusement only, there was no harm in saying and doing such things. Which answer incensed Solon so much that he struck the ground vehemently with his staff, and said that if such amusement as that were to be praised and honoured, men would soon begin to regard covenants as nothing more than a joke.
An inscription on a statue set up in honour of Solon spoke of him as born in Salamis (Diog. Laert. i. 62). This can hardly have been the case, as Salamis was not incorporated with Attica when he was born. The statue was set up a long time after Solon's death, and probably by the Salaminians themselves.
This text is from: A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, 1873 (ed. William Smith). Cited July 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
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