Monthly Archives: September 2012

Euripides

Euripides

EuripidesTragic playwright
(480 B.C – 405 B.C)

There are more than twice as many surviving plays of Euripides than of either Aeschylus or Sophocles (eighteen as compared with six or seven apiece of the others). There is also a parodic portrayal of the playwright in Aristophanes’ Frogs and a fanciful biography of him written in the third century B.C.E. which relied on details from the playwright’s own works as well as various other spurious sources. Even so, it is difficult to discern the facts of the playwright’s life, and ultimately there is as little known about him as about most famous people from antiquity. Euripides was born to a wealthy family in the Athenian deme of Phyla, though there were stories that he came from modest origins as well, most likely because he often portrayed humble people in his plays.

The tale that he isolated himself in a cave at Salamis to write his plays probably more reflects his lack of interest in politics or public life than an actual physical isolation. He first competed at the City Dionysia in 455 B.C.E. He won fewer first prizes only four than did Aeschylus or Sophocles during his career, but the story that he fled Athens for Macedon in disgust at his lack of popularity is undoubtedly false. Nevertheless, he did die at the court of King Archelaus of Macedon in approximately 406 B.C.E.; the story has it that he was torn to pieces by the king’s guard dogs, which echoes his propensity in tragedies to include unusually violent deaths for his characters, such as the demise of King Pentheus in Bacchants, who is ripped apart by a raving band of maenads led by his own mother. Euripides had three sons, one of whom, also named Euripides, may have produced some of his tragedies after his death .

Works

Eighteen of Euripides’ plays survive. (A nineteenth, the Rhesus, is of doubtful authorship.) The plays securely attributed to Euripides include: Medea (last place in 431 B.C.E.); Electra (417 B.C.E.); Trojan Women (second prize in 415 B.C.E.); Bacchants and Iphigenia at Aulis (first-prize winners produced together posthumously in 405 B.C.E.); and a satyr play, Cyclops (date unknown). In addition, there are substantial fragments of eleven others, including Oedipus, Cretans, and Archelaus, written for his patron in Macdeon. Euripidean drama focuses on individual characters and their personal circumstances, the paradoxical nature of human life and its vicissitudes, and the internal struggle that the tragic hero undergoes. As a consequence, the structure of his plays sometimes follows a predetermined plot to its foreseeable, if regrettable, outcome; at other times, his plays swerve as unpredictably as his characters do. Euripides featured characters who commit the most extreme acts humans are capable of incest, rape, betrayal, murder and allowed them to stand up for themselves. He sometimes drew criticism for portraying women who defended roles that were contrary to Athenian values, like Agave in The Bacchants, who glories in her newfound bloodlust, and Medea in the play that bears her name.

Euripides often added startling innovations to familiar stories from myth. Some of his tragedies, like Ion, include elements more familiar to Middle and New Comedy: a son born out of wedlock is eventually recognized and reunited with his parents with the help of the gods. The amazing variety of Euripidean plots, from the very bleak Trojan Women, portraying women who must face a future as the sexual slaves of the men who killed their families, to the almost lighthearted Helen, which chronicles the awkward reunion of Helen and Menelaus after the Trojan War, ultimately de fies categorization. Euripides was criticized in his own time for portraying ordinary people as they were instead of noble denizens of a tragic past, but he often seems like the most “modern” playwright. His plays were among the most popular in later revivals.

Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann

Writer, Poet
(1875 – 1955)

Considered one of the foremost twentieth-century German novelists, Thomas Mann gained fame for ironic and philosophical works that reflected the doubts and fears of his era. Mann’s epic novels and short stories highlighted the struggles and psychology of intellectuals and artists, exploring philosophical issues as he investigated German national identity. Praised as the peer of writers like James Joyce, Mann won the 1929 Nobel Prize for Literature and achieved international acclaim during his lifetime.

Shared Interest in the Arts. 

Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann was born on June 6, 1875, in Lu¨beck, Germany. (Germany had only recently been unified by Otto von Bismarck in 1871.) Mann’s father, Thomas Johann Heinrich Mann, was a well-to-do merchant. His mother, Ju´ lia da Silva Bruhns, was born in Brazil and was the daughter of a German planter and a woman of Portuguese-Creole descent. Faced with Lu¨beck’s failing economy, Mann’s father wished that two of his sons, Thomas and Heinrich, would take over positions at the helm of the family business.

However, their father’s death in 1891, when Mann was sixteen years old, freed up the brothers to pursue their growing interest in the arts, though Mann would retain a suspicion of artists and nonbusiness pursuits for the rest of his life. Heinrich Mann went on to become an outstanding novelist and essayist, and even Mann’s younger brother, Viktor, made a name for himself with a 1948 family chronicle. Though Mann was bright, he hated school. He worked briefly in an insurance company, but, increasingly influenced by music and literature, he soon tried his hand at writing. He found inspiration in culture, philosophy, and opera. Mann was infatuated with the Romantic music of Richard Wagner as a teen, but became skeptical of Wagner’s power as he grew older. Thomas Mann also read the work of German philosophers like Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche, exploring the idea of free will and the individual’s relationship to society. These diverse influences would lead to a flexibility of style that would become Mann’s literary trademark.

After writing a short story when he should have been working, Mann found himself a published author. The story, which gained Mann a letter of appreciation from prominent poet Richard Dehmel, encouraged Mann so much that he quit his job and began auditing courses at the University of Munich. By the time his first book, Little Herr Friedemann, was published in 1895, Mann had gone to Italy with his brother Heinrich. Read the rest of this entry