Euripides was one of the three great tragedians of classical Athens, along with Aeschylus and Sophocles; he is the youngest of the three. He was born c. 480 BC. His mother’s name was Cleito, and his father’s either Mnesarchus or Mnesarchides. There is a tradition that states Cleito earned an income by selling herbs in the marketplace; Aristophanes found this to be a source of amusement and used it in many comedies. However, there is significant evidence which leads most to believe that Euripides’ family was quite comfortable financially, and wouldn’t have needed such a source of income.
According to ancient sources, he wrote over 90 plays, 19 of which are extant, although it is widely believed by scholars that the play Rhesus, which is attributed to Euripides, was actually written by someone else. The number of Euripides’ plays that have survived is more than double that of Aeschylus and Sophocles, largely due to the chance preservation of a manuscript that was likely part of a complete collection of his works.
The record of Euripides’ public life, other than his involvement in dramatic competitions, is almost non-existent. It is known that he travelled to Syracuse, Sicily, on a diplomatic mission, but if he engaged in any other public or political actives during his lifetime, such information has not survived. It is known that he was very skeptical of Greek religion, and tradition holds that he associated with various Sophists. He had a wife named Melito, and together they had three sons.
Euripides first competed in the famous Athenian dramatic festival in 455 BC, one year after the death of Aeschylus. He came in third. It was not until 441 that he won first place, and over the course of his life Euripides claimed a mere four victories. When compared with Aeschylus, who won thirteen times, and Sophocles, with eighteen victories, one can see that Euripides was the least popular of the three among his contemporaries. His final competition in Athens was in 408, and soon after he left Athens at the invitation of Archelaus, and stayed with him in Macedonia. Although there is a tradition that he left embittered because of his defeats, there is no real evidence for this position. He died in Macedonia in 406, and after his death his fame overshadowed both Aeschylus and Sophocles.