When Euripides appeared, the external and internal structure of tragedy had been completed. It would, however, never have attained the significance for the world's history, literature, and civilization had not this philosopher among the poets entirely altered it once again. He succeeded only after tremendous struggle and suffering. The marks of his difficulties may be seen on his face in a portrait made in his old age and the one belonging to the Lycurgean statue now lost. Euripides first studied painting and then philosophy, before he became a dramatist. He appeared in a dramatic contest for the first time in 455, when he was almost 30 years old, but it was not until 441, when he was over 40, that he carried off the first prize.

The extant tragedy, Hippolytus, won him his second victory in the year 428, and the fifth did not come until after his death, with the representation of the Bacchae. What his contemporaries denied him, posterity accorded in full measure. A relief of about the second century B.C. in I stambul depicts him as the representative of tragedy in a sanctuary of Dionysus, conversing with the personification of Skene, that is, the stage. Euripides and Skene hold between them the mask of Heracles, probably form Euripides the mask of an older man, probably King Lycus. Of the 92 dramas of his work, 17 tragedies and 1 satyr play are extant, more than of Aeschylus and Sophocles together.

Euripides changed the form of the drama by altering the beginning and the end. The prologue no longer gives the opening of the action, but deals with preceding events, often in a single speech by a god.