Along with Cratinus and Aristophanes, Eupolis was one of the canonical Three of Old Comedy (see T 16–20). T 2 suggests that he began his career in 429. He was thus one of the “next generation” of comic poets who would dominate the 420s and 410s and create the political and topical sort of comedy that we now regard as typical of the genre. T 1 records his death “in a shipwreck in the Hellespont,” the context being that of military service. Since no play or reference in his surviving works demands a date of 410 or later, it is commonly assumed that he died in the sea battle of Cynossema, fought in the later part of 411 (Thucydides 8.104–6). In a career, then, of eighteen or nineteen years, he performed fourteen (T 2) or seventeen (T 1) times and won seven victories (T 1). The plays whose authenticity is in no doubt add up to fourteen, fifteen if we include the performance of the second Autolycus. Seven victories, three at the Lenaea (T 11) and thus four at the Dionysia (T 10), in fourteen starts is an enviable record. Eupolis seems to have been especially productive in the 420s, when at least eight of his comedies were produced. If the Suda (T 1) is correct that he began to produce at age seventeen, then we have life dates of 445–411.
As far as we can gather, his comedy resembled that of his rival Aristophanes, but with one or two significant exceptions. His comedy was based on a great and fantastic
idea, often with a principal character engaged putting that idea into practice. In Demes the idea was to bring back four leaders from the dead and thus improve things at Athens. In Officers it was “Dionysus joins the navy.” In Dyers a new deity arrives at Athens, to be greeted by the appropriate chorus, cross-dressing dancing effeminates. Also like Aristophanes and Cratinus, he wrote political comedy, especially in Demes (where four political leaders are brought back from the dead), Cities (with a chorus of cities from the archē), probably Golden Race (where Athens of the 420s is anything but golden), and certainly Maricas, a demagogue comedy about Hyperbolus.
Eupolis was especially fond of bringing real people on stage as characters in his dramas and making the comedy turn on the comic possibilities they presented. In addition to the four leaders in Demes, only one of whom (Pericles) would have been known personally to the spectators, we may cite Callias and Protagoras in Spongers, Autolycus the boy victor and very possibly Callias again in Autolycus, Hyperbolus “disguised” as Maricas in that comedy, Phormion In Officers, and most notorious of all, Alcibiades in Dyers. It is very likely also that Socrates appeared as a character in Eupolis, but we cannot pin down a play for certain.
But he does not seem to have followed Aristophanes