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Theatre / Hippolytus

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Nurse: τί φῄς; ἐρᾷς, ὦ τέκνον; ἀνθρώπων τίνος; note 
Phaedra: ὅστις ποθ᾽ οὗτός ἐσθ᾽, ὁ τῆς Ἀμαζόνος... note 
Nurse: Ἱππόλυτον αὐδᾷς;note 
Phaedra: σοῦ τάδ᾽, οὐκ ἐμοῦ κλύεις.note 
Euripides, Hippolytus, Lines 350-353

Hippolytus is a tragedy by Euripides which won first prize at Athens' City Dionysia festival in 428 BC. The play retells the myth of the son of Theseus: Hippolytus, who has earned the enmity of the goddess Aphrodite for refusing to worship her.

Rather than target Hippolytus directly, however, Aphrodite turns to another person she apparently has no quarrel with: the goddess causes a woman, Phaedra, to fall desperately in love with him. Unfortunately for Phaedra, he's just not that into her. Hippolytus is really not interested in anyone, and would much rather just go off hunting with his friends and in the presence of his favored goddess, Artemis.

There's also the problem that Phaedra is his stepmother.

Sources tell us that Euripides wrote two versions of Hippolytus: the first version, where Phaedra brazenly tries to seduce Hippolytus, was not received well by the audience. Instead we only have the second, where Phaedra is deeply ashamed of her feelings and the play opens with her determinedly resisting and hiding them. But no matter how determined Phaedra is, she can hardly keep her love secret for long... this is a tragedy, after all.

The play is available online here... if you'd prefer an English translation, you could look here or here.

This play contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Acquitted Too Late: Artemis appears to Theseus to clear Hippolytus' name only after he's been mortally wounded by one of Theseus' Three Wishes.
  • Adaptational Heroism: The first version has Phaedra much more brazenly trying to seduce Hippolytus. The second version play up her tragedy.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: When Hippolytus hears of Phaedra's feelings, he doesn't react well.
  • Being Good Sucks: Hippolytus refuses to sleep with his stepmother, at least in part, out of an appeal to basic human decency and respect for his father (the other part being because he doesn't like women so much). When his stepmother then falsely accuses him of raping her, he's helpless to defend himself before his father because of an oath he swore. See also Keeping Secrets Sucks below.
  • Celibate Hero: Aversion to sexuality is the crux of Hippolytus' character. It could even be considered his fatal flaw. Likely owing in part to his own illegimate heritage, Hippolytus despises women and sex, pledging himself wholly to Artemis to the point of actively disdaining Aphrodite. Aphrodite does not mind Hippolytus preferring Artemis, but she punishes him for looking at her with scorn.
  • Clear My Name: Hippolytus tries to do this, but is unsuccessful.
  • Dark Secret: Phaedra is cursed to be madly in love with Hippolytus. Naturally, being a tragedy, it comes out.
  • Deus ex Machina: Artemis arrives via the crane and reveals the truth to Theseus: that Phaedra lied in her note, and Hippolytus was innocent. Averted in that she doesn't show up in time to fix anything; she only succeeds in making Theseus realize what a terrible mistake he'd made.
  • Downer Ending: Phaedra commits suicide out of shame, but before doing so writes a suicide note convincing Theseus to kill his own son over false accusations of rape. Then, after the dirty deed is done, Artemis appears but only to tell Theseus how badly he screwed up and inform the audience that she's about to take out her revenge on one of Aphrodite's worshipers.
  • Driven to Suicide: Phaedra. She finds her love for Hippolytus so unbearable and shameful, so she resorts to killing herself, lest she bring shame upon Crete.
  • Fatal Flaw: Hippolytus has plenty of other flaws, but the one which drives the tragedy is his refusal to worship Aphrodite. He believes that he can choose which gods he'll associate with in the same way that he can choose which people he associates with; Aphrodite begs to differ.
  • Freudian Excuse: Hippolytus is the son of King Theseus of Athens and Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons (read: he's a bastard). Understanding how big of a shame this was in Ancient Greece and his fear of sex begins to make sense.
  • Giant Wall of Watery Doom: Which also releases a giant bull of horse-panicking doom for Hippolytus.
  • Heroic Bastard: Hippolytus. He is the son of Theseus and the Amazon queen and is portrayed as a victim who didn't deserve what happened to him.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Hippolytus, as proved by his somewhat hysterical speech to Phaedra and the Nurse about the evils of women, including the gem that men should pay for babies at temples and thus eliminate the need for women after all. His favored patron deity Artemis is a goddess, however, so it's not all women he hates.
  • Jerkass: Hippolytus. For many readers, it's terribly difficult to muster up any sympathy for him during the first half of the play.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: However, Hippolytus is certainly right to insist that sleeping with his stepmother is wrong for so, so many reasons. He just goes a bit too far when extending his rejection of her to all womankind.
  • Keeping Secrets Sucks: Hippolytus actually keeps his oath, which causes some trouble for him.
  • Love Goddess: Aphrodite, who opens the play and sets the tragedy in motion because Hippolytus calls her the worst of gods.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Granted, Phaedra has been without food for three days, but she's definitely somewhat mad when she first appears. She soon calms down and starts behaving rationally, though.
  • Nay-Theist: Hippolytus towards Aphrodite. Aphrodite herself stated that though she does not mind Hippolytus preferring Artemis over her, she decides to punish him for actively disdaining her.
  • Offing the Offspring: Theseus, when he wishes for the death of Hippolytus.
  • Pals with Jesus: Hippolytus gets to hang with Artemis.
  • Prophetic Names: Hippolytus, whose name in Greek (Ἱππόλυτος) can suggest "destroyed by horses".
  • Spurned into Suicide: Phaedra committed suicide after she was spurned by Hippolytus.
  • Tempting Fate: Hippolytus is warned early on by a servant that refusing to worship Aphrodite will bring trouble for him...and he immediately insults the goddess.
  • Three Wishes: Poseidon promises these to Theseus.
  • Tragic Mistake: When Hippolytus swears his oath to Phaedra's nurse to tell no one what she told him.