EURIPIDES (ca. 480–406 B.C.),

son of Mnesarchos, of the Deme of Phlya in Athens; and of Klito (a shopkeeper and greengrocer–according to a hostile and doubtful tradition). Euripides had an estate on the island of Salamis. He held a local priesthood of Zeus at Phlya, and once served as ambassador to Syracuse in Sicily. He had three sons.

Euripides first produced a play in 455 B. C. (winning Third Prize), and first won First Prize in 441. He won a total of only five victories, one victory being posthumous (Bacchai). His total output is said to have been 92 plays. He was the most popular of the Athenian tragedians. In 408 or 407 he left Athens and went to Macedonia at the invitation of King Archelaus, where he died in 406. He was buried at Arethusa in Macedonia. TheHippolytus was produced in 428 B.C., and won the First Prize.


—The goddess Aphrodite, appearing before the Royal Palace at Troezen, complains about Hippolytus' indifference to her worship, preferring that of Artemis. She will punish him using Phaedra as her instrument.
Hippolytus and his hunting companions enter, praise Artemis, and boast about Hippolytus' 'purity'.
—An Old Hunter warns Hippolytus about pride and shunning women.


Chorus of women of Troezen. They have heard that Queen Phaedra is ill, and wonder why. Some suggest insanity, or jealousy, or some trouble in Phaedra's family, or that she is going to have a baby.


Phaedra is restless in her 'illness'; she is possessed of vanity. She is consumed with shame at the fact that her thoughts wander to Hippolytus; she hopes for a swift death.
The Nurse loves Phaedra, but praises moderation. She asks about the 'illiness', but Phaedra is uncommunicative. The nurse warns that, with Phaedra dead, her children will be displaced by Hippolytus. With Phaedra's reaction to the name of Hippolytus, the Nurse realizes that Phaedra is in love–and with Hippolytus. With the secret out, Phaedra talks rationally about the problems of being 'righteous', about unfaithful wives, about honor and shame. The Nurse urges Phaedra to give in to her love and live. Phaedra weakens in her resolve to die.


The power of Eros is mighty. Heracles and Zeus were overcome by it and violated the sacred marriage bond.


—The Nurse has approached Hippolytus , who is shocked. Hippolytus threatens to tell Theseus. With Phaedra listening, he engages in a furious denunciation of womankind.
—After Hippolytus leaves, Phaedra vents her anger against the Nurse for talking to Hippolytus. The Nurse tries to defend herself on the grounds of love for Phaedra. Phaedra, her vanity and sense of shame injured, turns love into hate and decides to kill herself –while dragging Hippolytus down with her.


The Chorus wishes that running away would solve this mess in which the unhappy Phaedra is trapped.


—Phaedra has committed suicide. Theseus appears, bewails his misfortune, and discovers a suicide note. The note accused Hippolytus of rape. Theseus asks Poseidon to grant him one of three promised wishes: to kill Hippolytus on that same day.

— When Hippolytus enters, he appears unaware of the cause of Phaedra's death. Theseus calls him corrupt and double-dealing. Hippolytus defends his own character, but is only on the point of revealing what he knows (from Phaedra and the Nurse) when a sense of honor restrains him. His recollection of his own birth from the rape of Hippolyte by Theseus enrages Theseus, who banishes Hippolytus from his sight.


The Chorus: Unexpected suffering is part of life, and life is a chancy thing. Hippolytus is unfortunate and unhappy.


—A Friend of Hippolytus enters, and reports the news of Hippolytus' accident: tidal wave, sea monster, chariot crash.

—Theseus wants to see his dying son. Artemis suddenly appears and reveals the entire story to Theseus; she criticizes him for condemning the chaste Hippolytus. Hippolytus is carried in, and he and Artemis converse. She 'consoles' him with the thought that someday she will get revenge for him on Aphrodite by killing one of Aphrodite's favorites. But she must not stay and witness Hippolytus' actual death, lest it pollute her. Father and son embrace, as Hippolytus dies.


personal desire vs. the standards of society
Aphrodite vs. Artemis
uncontrolled emotion vs. excessive control

unrequited love
hastiness in judgment
distasteful character of the divinities (pride, vanity, jealousy, anger)

June 12, 2009 7:34 PM

John Paul Adams, CSUN

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