Hippolytus Summary

Euripides

Hippolytus

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Hippolytus Summary

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Hippolytus, a drama by the ancient Greek playwright Euripides, was first produced in 428 BCE for the City Dionysia festival in Athens, originally winning first place in the playwriting competition. It focuses on the ancient Greek myth of Hippolytus, the son of the heroic Theseus from the legend of the Minotaur. Theseus, however, has since fallen from grace. A previous play by Euripides, Hippolytus Kalyptomenos, dealt with the same myth, but it is now lost. This version is often referred to as Hippolytus Stephanophoros to differentiate it. Like many Greek myths, Hippolytus portrays the gods as no different from humanity in many ways, showing them as jealous and vengeful. The play explores the themes of love, purity, human decency, and the ways they can be corrupted by things such as envy and petty human concerns. The duality of humanity is emphasized by the presence of Aphrodite, who represents love, and Artemis, who represents chaste and clear-headed thinking. As one of the classic Greek tragedies, Hippolytus is still widely read in classical literature study and analyzed by experts in Ancient Greece, although it is rarely staged today.

Hippolytus is set in Troezen, a coastal town in the Peloponnese region of Greece, where Theseus, the king of Athens, is currently in exile. Theseus has exiled himself voluntarily as penance for killing a local king and his sons. His son, Hippolytus, is the product of Theseus’s rape of Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons. Hippolytus has been trained in combat since he was young by Pittheus, the king of Troezen.

As the play starts, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, explains to the audience that Hippolytus has vowed to remain chaste and will not worship her. Instead, he pays tribute to the goddess of the hunt, Artemis. This makes Aphrodite furious, and she plots her revenge on him. When Hippolytus visited Athens two years ago, Aphrodite began her plot of revenge and used her powers to cause Phaedra, Hippolytus’ stepmother, to fall in love with him. Hippolytus and his followers all worship a statue of Artemis, viewed as a chaste goddess who is not tempted by human pleasures. A servant warns him about angering Aphrodite, but Hippolytus laughs off his concerns. The Greek chorus, made of the young, married women of Troezen, enters the play and sings of how Theseus’wife, Phaedra, has not slept or eaten anything in three days. When she enters the scene with a nurse, she is clearly very sick. Although she at first refuses to admit why, she says it is because she is lovesick for Hippolytus. Both her nurse and the chorus are shocked by this revelation. Phaedra says that she intends to starve herself and die without breaking her marriage vows. The nurse tells her that this will not be necessary, because she has a magical charm that can cure her.

However, the nurse reveals different plans to the audience. After visiting Hippolytus and swearing him to secrecy, she reveals Phaedra’s obsession and suggests that he consider giving in to her wishes. Hippolytus reacts with rage, threatening to expose the nurse’s plans to Theseus as soon as he returns from exile. Hearing this, Phaedra realizes that she is in a horrible situation with no way out. She swears the chorus to secrecy, and then heads inside her bedroom and hangs herself. Theseus returns and discovers Phaedra’s dead body. Because she swore the chorus to secrecy, none of them are able to tell him why she killed herself. He discovers a letter on her body, which lies,saying she was raped by Hippolytus. In a rage, Theseus forces Hippolytus to choose between death and exile. Theseus calls upon his father, Poseidon, who has pledged three wishes to Theseus. Hippolytus protests his innocence, but is unable to tell the truth because he was sworn to secrecy by the nurse. The letter is all the proof Theseus needs, and Hippolytus is exiled as the chorus sings a lament. A messenger enters and describes a horrible scene to Theseus. As Hippolytus got in his chariot to leave the kingdom, a massive bull charged out of the sea, which frightened the horses. This caused the horses to run off the cliffs and dash the chariot across the rocks. Hippolytus was dragged behind and is horribly injured. Although the messenger protests Hippolytus’ innocence, Theseus refuses to believe him. He is glad that his son is dying. However, Artemis appears and reacts with rage at Theseus for killing his son. She exposes the truth, that Hippolytus was framed, and Phaedra lied. Theseus is crushed by this revelation, as Hippolytus is carried in beaten and broken. He is barely alive, and in the final scenes of the play, he forgives his father. The two say goodbye as Hippolytus dies and the curtain falls.

Euripides is considered one of the great tragedians of Classical Athens, along with Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euphorion. They are also among the only playwrights from this era whose works have survived to the current day. Although he is credited with writing more than ninety plays in his life, only nineteen have survived to be read today. He is considered a heavy influence on later Greek dramatists, including Homer. Many of his plays pioneer innovations of drama that remain in use to this day. In addition to Hippolytus, he is best known for the iconic tragedies Medea and Electra.