Hippolytus: Greek Tragedy Study

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  • Topic: Tragedy, Aphrodite, Hippolytus
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Hippolytus: Greek Tragedy Study
Summary and Myth
The Greek tragedy of Hippolytus, by Euripides, focuses on the title character’s story, as well as many others around him. The story takes place in the Greek coastal town of Troezen. Hippolytus is the bastard son of Theseus, the king of Athens. At the beginning of the play, Aphrodite, the Goddess of love, explains that Hippolytus has sworn chastity and refuses to revere her. Instead, he chooses to honor Artemis, the Goddess of the hunt. Artemis is also a Goddess of chastity, which essentially opposed Aphrodite completely. This causes Aphrodite to initiate a plan of vengeance on Hippolytus. Two years previous to this play, Hippolytus went to Athens, and Aphrodite inspired Phaedra, Hippolytus' stepmother, to fall in love with him knowing that it would anger Theseus. Along with several followers, Hippolytus shows reverence towards Artemis while passing her statue, who is a chaste Goddess. A servant warns Hippolytus against his disdain for Aphrodite, but to the servant’s dismay, he refuses to listen.

After the opening scene, a chorus of women enter, and describe the queen, Phaedra, as being very ill. She refuses to eat, drink, or sleep for unknown reasons, as the nurse pleads with her to get the truth. After long discussion and pleading with Phaedra, she gives in to the nurse’s demands and reveals that she is in love with Hippolytus. The chorus and nurse are shocked, and Phaedra also tells why she is starving herself; so she can die with her honor still intact. The nurse “cures” her, then goes to find Hippolytus. He enters, and the nurse makes him swear an oath that he will never tell what he is about to ascertain. After he swears, the nurse reveals of Phaedra’s intentions, and that she is in love with him. Hippolytus gives a hate filled misogynistic rant on the “poisonous” nature of women, then leaves. Phaedra then believes she is ruined, because the secret is out. She makes the chorus of women swear secrecy to what they have heard, then goes to another room and hangs herself.

After this, Theseus returns to the town and finds Phaedra’s dead body. He tries to find out what had happened by asking those who knew. The chorus though, was sworn to secrecy, so they could not tell. Theseus then finds a letter on Phaedra’s body that blames her death entirely on Hippolytus. He takes the meaning of this letter wrong, and thinks that Hippolytus has raped her. Theseus becomes enraged and curses his son to either death, or exile. In order to carry out the curse that he wishes to place upon his bastard son Hippolytus, Theseus calls upon his father, Poseidon. Poseidon is the god of the sea, and had once promised his son three wishes of his choice. Hippolytus enters to see his step-mother’s dead body, and his father infuriated. In confusion, Hippolytus tries to figure out the situation. Theseus throws accusations his way, but because of the oath that he had swore to the nurse, Hippolytus cannot reveal what had actually happened. Taking his wife’s letter over Hippolytus’s words, Theseus banishes him. After Hippolytus is exiled, the chorus sings a lament for him, and his unfortunate situation.

In the next scene, a Henchman arrives telling Theseus of a gruesome scene. When Hippolytus entered his chariot to leave the kingdom, a sea-bulled rushed from the sea and frightened his horses. This caused the chariot to flip, and Hippolytus to be dragged behind among the coastal rocks. Theseus tells them to bring him Hippolytus, and when he arrives being carried, he seems to be dying. The henchman protests Hippolytus’s innocence, but Theseus still refuses to believe. He seems to be very pleased with Hippolytus’s suffering until the moment that the Goddess Artemis appears in the form of a cloud to tell Theseus the truth about the situation. Artemis reveals that it was actually Phaedra who lied, and is angry at Theseus, momentarily, until she realizes that the blame actually falls upon Aphrodite for...
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