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Hippolytus


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A: Euripides Pf: 428 bc, Athens Tr: 1782 G: Greek trag. in verse S: Before the palace of Theseus at Troezen, in the mythical past C: 4m, 4f, 2 choruses (m and f)In the Prologue, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, denounces Hippolytus for his chaste behaviour and his renunciation of her in favour of Artemis, goddess of chastity and hunting. Aphrodite will punish him for his neglect of eros by arranging for his stepmother Phaedra to fall in love with him. The goddess will then reveal the truth to Phaedra's husband, King Theseus, so that he will curse his son Hippolytus. Hippolytus enters with his chorus of huntsmen, as ever refusing to honour the ‘gods worshipped by night’. Phaedra, weakened by her hidden passion for her stepson, finally reveals the truth to her Nurse and the chorus of women. The well-meaning Nurse tells Hippolytus of Phaedra's love. He refuses to believe her and curses all women. Phaedra, having lost all hope, withdraws to die, leaving behind a suicide note, accusing Hippolytus of having raped her. Despite his son's denials, Theseus in his desperate grief banishes Hippolytus, calling on Poseidon to punish him. A sea monster rushes up the beach to destroy Hippolytus, and his mangled body is brought on stage, just in time for Theseus, who has been told the truth by Artemis, to be reconciled with his dying son.

A: Euripides Pf: 428 bc, Athens Tr: 1782 G: Greek trag. in verse S: Before the palace of Theseus at Troezen, in the mythical past C: 4m, 4f, 2 choruses (m and f)

The ancient Greeks believed in theomachy, that their gods could be at war with one another. Here we see how Aphrodite is jealous of the devotion paid to Artemis by Hippolytus, and determines to make him suffer for it. However, this does not mean that the mortals are mere puppets: Hippolytus is undeniably priggish and dangerously neglectful of the sexual side of his nature; it is not Aphrodite but the well-intentioned nurse who initiates the tragedy by revealing Phaedra's love; it may be part of Aphrodite's plan, but it is Theseus whose anger causes his son to die. Mortals carry out what the gods have laid down for them. Sophocles' earlier innovation of the third actor is especially effective here, as the silent Phaedra is witness to Hippolytus' angry denunciation of the Nurse and indeed all women. The theme was to form the basis of Seneca's Phaedra, of the finest of Racine's tragedies, Phaedra, and of Rameau's opera Hipployte et Aricie (1733), and was revisited by Sarah Kane in 1996.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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