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Thursday, February 5, 1998 Published at 10:31 GMT

image: [ BBC Despatches ]Helena Smith

A Greek team of archaeologists says it is convinced it has found the cave where Euripides, the ancient Greek poet, wrote his plays. The famous den was discovered on the island of Salamis, 12 miles west of Athens. Experts are hailing it as one of the most extraordinary archaeological finds this century. Helena Smith reports from Athens:

The cave was discovered in a rocky bluff on Salamis, the island where Euripides is believed to have been born more than 2,500 years ago. Overlooking Saronikos, it is reached by an ancient mountain pass and surrounded by sweet-smelling pines.

As the only place so far to be identified with a great figure from classical antiquity, the find has quickly topped the annals of extraordinary archaeological discoveries. A Greek archaeological team worked for more than four years excavating the cave before it went public with the news.

Professor Yannos Lolos, who headed the dig, said he became convinced that it was Euripides' fabled hideaway when the team unearthed the fifth century BC clay cup bearing the first six letters of the poet's name. He said the Greek archaeologists were helped greatly by written sources in locating the cave.

Both ancient Greek and Roman writers have described how Euripides would retire to the retreat for inspiration. Of Euripides' 92 plays, experts believe his stay in the cave inspired him to write at least one of them, Hippolytus Crowned.

The playwright, who also wrote Electra, Bacchae and the Medea, can still draw vast audiences. Many in Greece at least are now hoping the Greek government will soon turn the cave into a place of pilgrimage in honour of the dramatist.

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