What do we learn about the character and motivation of Hippolytus in the play? Do we feel sympathy towards him?
The Hippolytus starts with a soliloquy by Aphrodite and from this we learn about Hippolytus' rejection of the goddess, something that will result in the death of both himself and his stepmother. Aphrodite tells the audience that 'he scorns the bed of love, rejecting wedlock, and pays tribute to Phoebus' sister, to Artemis, daughter of Zeus - she is his queen of heaven...I do not grudge these pastimes; why should I? But for his crimes against me I'll have my revenge on Hippolytus.' From this we speech we learn some things about his character and motivation. Firstly is his unequal devotion to Artemis. Aphrodite tells us that she is his 'queen of heaven', highlighting Hippolytus' servile character. This devotion will also act as a motivation for Hippolytus as Artemis is the goddess hunting but also virginity. For this reason he 'scorns the bed of love, rejecting wedlock'. Secondly we learn about Hippolytus' stubbornness as he refuses to worship a goddess whom he knows is proud. This is emphasized by a servant saying 'then why don't you pay your respects to a proud goddess', and 'Gods must have their worship, boy'. Hippolytus knows that he will offend Aphrodite if he does not worship her and yet he refuses to. Another servant says 'If someone in the heat of youth says foolish things about, pretend not to hear him. Gods should be wiser than men'. This reveals the immaturity of Hippolytus' character, as if he was older he would be wise enough to recognize that in scorning Aphrodite he is endangering himself.
The speech by Aphrodite evokes sympathy for Hippolytus as we know that he is going to be punished and ultimately die simply because he made a goddess jealous, rather than by committing any serious crime. We also feel sympathy for Hippolytus when Aphrodite us that 'he does not know that Hades' gates lie open and that this day's light he sees shall be...
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