Hippolytus (play)

Hippolytus (play)

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Hippolytus is an Ancient Greek
Theatre of Ancient Greece
The theatre of Ancient Greece, or ancient Greek drama, is a theatrical culture that flourished in ancient Greece between c. 550 and c. 220 BC. The city-state of Athens, which became a significant cultural, political and military power during this period, was its centre, where it was...

 tragedy
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

 by Euripides
Euripides
Euripides was one of the three great tragedians of classical Athens, the other two being Aeschylus and Sophocles. Some ancient scholars attributed ninety-five plays to him but according to the Suda it was ninety-two at most...

, based on the myth of Hippolytus
Hippolytus (mythology)
thumb|260px|The Death of Hippolytus, by [[Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema]] .In Greek mythology, Hippolytus was a son of Theseus and either Antiope or Hippolyte...

, son of Theseus
Theseus
For other uses, see Theseus Theseus was the mythical founder-king of Athens, son of Aethra, and fathered by Aegeus and Poseidon, both of whom Aethra had slept with in one night. Theseus was a founder-hero, like Perseus, Cadmus, or Heracles, all of whom battled and overcame foes that were...

. The play was first produced for the City Dionysia of Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 in 428 BC
428 BC
Year 428 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Cossus and Cincinnatus or Cincinnatus and Atratinus...

 and won first prize as part of a trilogy.

Euripides first treated the myth in Hippolytos Kalyptomenos (Hippolytus Veiled), now lost. Scholars are virtually unanimous in believing that the contents to the missing Kalyptomenos portrayed a shamelessly lustful Phaedra who directly propositions Hippolytus, to the displeasure of the audience.

This failure prompted Euripides to revisit the myth in Hippolytos Stephanophoros ("Hippolytus who wears a crown"), this time with a modest Phaedra who fights her sexual appetites. The surviving play offers a much more even-handed and psychologically complex treatment of the characters than is commonly found in traditional retelling of myths.

The gods play a very important role in Hippolytus, framing the action. Aphrodite
Aphrodite
Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation.Her Roman equivalent is the goddess .Historically, her cult in Greece was imported from, or influenced by, the cult of Astarte in Phoenicia....

 appears at the beginning and Artemis
Artemis
Artemis was one of the most widely venerated of the Ancient Greek deities. Her Roman equivalent is Diana. Some scholars believe that the name and indeed the goddess herself was originally pre-Greek. Homer refers to her as Artemis Agrotera, Potnia Theron: "Artemis of the wildland, Mistress of Animals"...

 at the end, and they were possibly represented onstage throughout the action in the form of statues. These two goddess
Goddess
A goddess is a female deity. In some cultures goddesses are associated with Earth, motherhood, love, and the household. In other cultures, goddesses also rule over war, death, and destruction as well as healing....

es can be taken as representing the conflicting emotions of passion and chastity.

Synopsis


The play is set in Troezen
Troezen
Troezen is a small town and a former municipality in the northeastern Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Troizinia, of which it is a municipal unit....

, a coastal town in the northeastern Peloponnese
Peloponnese
The Peloponnese, Peloponnesos or Peloponnesus , is a large peninsula , located in a region of southern Greece, forming the part of the country south of the Gulf of Corinth...

. Theseus
Theseus
For other uses, see Theseus Theseus was the mythical founder-king of Athens, son of Aethra, and fathered by Aegeus and Poseidon, both of whom Aethra had slept with in one night. Theseus was a founder-hero, like Perseus, Cadmus, or Heracles, all of whom battled and overcame foes that were...

, the king of Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

, is serving a year's voluntary exile after having murdered a local king and his sons. His illegitimate son Hippolytus, whose mother is the Amazon
Amazons
The Amazons are a nation of all-female warriors in Greek mythology and Classical antiquity. Herodotus placed them in a region bordering Scythia in Sarmatia...

 Hippolyta
Hippolyta
In Greek mythology, Hippolyta or Hippolyte is the Amazonian queen who possessed a magical girdle she was given by her father Ares, the god of war. The girdle was a waist belt that signified her authority as queen of the Amazons....

, has been trained here since childhood by the king of Troezen, Pittheus
Pittheus
In Greek mythology, Pittheus was a son of Pelops, father of Aethra, and grandfather of Theseus. He was the King of Troezen, which he had named after his brother Troezen...

.

At the opening of the play Aphrodite
Aphrodite
Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation.Her Roman equivalent is the goddess .Historically, her cult in Greece was imported from, or influenced by, the cult of Astarte in Phoenicia....

, Goddess of love, explains that Hippolytus has sworn chastity
Chastity
Chastity refers to the sexual behavior of a man or woman acceptable to the moral standards and guidelines of a culture, civilization, or religion....

 and refuses to revere her. Instead, he honors the Goddess of the hunt, Artemis
Artemis
Artemis was one of the most widely venerated of the Ancient Greek deities. Her Roman equivalent is Diana. Some scholars believe that the name and indeed the goddess herself was originally pre-Greek. Homer refers to her as Artemis Agrotera, Potnia Theron: "Artemis of the wildland, Mistress of Animals"...

. This has led her to initiate a plan of vengeance on Hippolytus. When Hippolytus went to Athens two years previously Aphrodite inspired Phaedra
Phaedra (mythology)
In Greek mythology, Phaedra is the daughter of Minos and Pasiphaë, wife of Theseus and the mother of Demophon of Athens and Acamas. Phaedra's name derives from the Greek word φαιδρός , which meant "bright"....

, Hippolytus' stepmother, to fall in love with him.

Hippolytus appears with his followers and shows reverence to a statue of Artemis, a chaste goddess. A servant warns him about his overt disdain for Aphrodite, but Hippolytus refuses to listen to him.

The chorus
Greek chorus
A Greek chorus is a homogenous, non-individualised group of performers in the plays of classical Greece, who comment with a collective voice on the dramatic action....

, consisting of young married women of Troezen, enters and describes how Phaedra is not eating or sleeping. Phaedra, sickly, appears with her Nurse. After an agonizing discussion, Phaedra finally gives in to her nurse's demands and confesses why she is ill: she loves Hippolytus. The Nurse and the Chorus are shocked. Phaedra explains that she must starve herself and die with her honor intact. However, the Nurse quickly retracts her initial response and tells Phaedra that she has a magical charm to cure her. However, in an aside she reveals different plans.

The nurse tells Hippolytus of Phaedra's desire, after making him swear an oath that he will not tell anyone else. He reacts with a furious, misogynistic
Misogyny
Misogyny is the hatred or dislike of women or girls. Philogyny, meaning fondness, love or admiration towards women, is the antonym of misogyny. The term misandry is the term for men that is parallel to misogyny...

 tirade on the 'poisonous' nature of women. Because the secret is out, Phaedra believes she is ruined. After making the Chorus swear secrecy, she goes inside and hangs herself.

Theseus returns and discovers his wife's dead body. Because the Chorus is sworn to secrecy, they cannot tell Theseus why she killed herself. Theseus discovers a letter on Phaedra's body, which clearly places the blame for her death on Hippolytus. Theseus takes this to mean he raped Phaedra and, enraged, he curses his son to death or at least exile. To execute the curse, Theseus calls upon his father, the god Poseidon
Poseidon
Poseidon was the god of the sea, and, as "Earth-Shaker," of the earthquakes in Greek mythology. The name of the sea-god Nethuns in Etruscan was adopted in Latin for Neptune in Roman mythology: both were sea gods analogous to Poseidon...

, who has promised to grant his son three wishes. Hippolytus enters and protests his innocence but cannot tell the truth because of the binding oath that he swore. Taking his wife's letter as proof, Theseus exiles his son.

The Chorus sings a lament for Hippolytus.

A messenger enters and describes a gruesome scene to Theseus; as Hippolytus got in his chariot to leave the kingdom, a bull roared out of the sea, frightening his horses, which dashed his chariot among the rocks, dragging Hippolytus behind. Hippolytus seems to be dying. The messenger protests Hippolytus' innocence, but Theseus refuses to believe him.

Theseus is pleased with Hippolytus' suffering until Artemis appears and tells him the truth. She explains that his son was innocent and that it was Phaedra who lied. Although the goddess admonishes Theseus' decision, she ultimately recognizes that the blame falls on Aphrodite. Hippolytus is carried in half alive, and Artemis promises to take revenge on Aphrodite by punishing the next person that Aphrodite loves. Finally, Hippolytus forgives his father, and then he dies.

Characterization


In many ways, this play is surprising in its even-handed approach to the two main characters, neither being presented in a wholly favorable light. Euripides has often been accused of misogyny in his presentations of characters such as Medea and Electra. However, Hippolytus seems unsympathetically puritan and misogynistic, though he is partially redeemed by his refusal to break his oath to the nurse and his forgiveness of his father ('I absolve you of this bloodshed'). Similarly, Phaedra is initially presented as sympathetic, honorably struggling against overwhelming odds to do the right thing, though our regard for her is reduced by her indictment of Hippolytus.

The tragedy occurs because of Hippolytus's hubris
Hubris
Hubris , also hybris, means extreme haughtiness, pride or arrogance. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power....

 (his rejection of Aphrodite) and not for his lack of sympathy for Phaedra or his hyperbolic misogyny, which reeks of sophistry. The true malevolent force of the play is uncontrollable desire personified by the vindictive Aphrodite in the introduction of the play.

Another monstrous force at work is the disaffected goddess of chastity, Artemis. She does not try to protect her favorite, as the gods are sometimes represented as doing (e.g., the relationship between Odysseus and Athena), stating that the gods do not interfere with one another's deeds ('This is the settled custom of the gods: no one may fly in the face of another's wish: we remain aloof and neutral.'). She instead promises to avenge Hippolytus' death by punishing the next mortal Aphrodite loves.

Texts

  • Barrett, W. S.
    Spencer Barrett
    Spencer Barrett FBA, was an English classical scholar, Fellow and Sub-Warden of Keble College, Oxford, and Reader in Greek Literature in the University of Oxford...

     (ed.), Euripides, Hippolytos, edited with Introduction and Commentary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964; Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1964)

Translations


  • A. Mary F. Robinson
    Agnes Mary Frances Duclaux
    Agnes Mary Frances Robinson, known after her first marriage as Agnes-Marie-François Darmesteter, and after her second as Agnes Mary Frances Duclaux born in Leamington Hastings on February 27, 1857 - dead in Aurillac on February 9, 1944, was an English writer and scholar on many subjects connected...

    , 1881, verse
  • Edward P. Coleridge, 1891, prose: full text
  • Gilbert Murray
    Gilbert Murray
    George Gilbert Aimé Murray, OM was an Australian born British classical scholar and public intellectual, with connections in many spheres. He was an outstanding scholar of the language and culture of Ancient Greece, perhaps the leading authority in the first half of the twentieth century...

    , 1911, verse: full text
  • Arthur Way
    Arthur Way
    Arthur Sanders Way , was a classical scholar, translator and headmaster of Wesley College, Melbourne, Australia....

    , 1912, verse
  • Augustus T. Murray, 1931, prose
  • David Grene
    David Grene
    David Grene was a professor of classics at the University of Chicago from 1937 until his death. He was a co-founder of the Committee on Social Thought and is best known for his translations of ancient Greek literature.-Life:...

    , 1942, verse
  • Philip Vellacott, 1953, verse
  • Robert Bagg
    Robert Bagg
    Robert Bagg is an American poet and translator. He has published several volumes of poetry and has authored critical studies of Sappho and Catallus....

    , 1973. ISBN 978-0-19-507290-7
  • David Kovacs, 1994, prose: full text
  • David Lan
    David Lan
    David Lan is an English playwright, filmmaker and theatre director.Born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1952, he emigrated to London in 1972. Since 2000 he has been artistic director of the Young Vic theatre in London's South Bank.-Career:...

    , 1998
  • James Morwood
    James Morwood
    James Morwood is an emeritus Grocyn Lecturer in Classics and Fellow of Wadham College at Oxford University. He has translated four volumes of Euripides' plays for Oxford World's Classics...

    , 1998
  • Anne Carson
    Anne Carson
    Anne Carson is a Canadian poet, essayist, translator and professor of Classics. Carson lived in Montreal for several years and taught at McGill University, the University of Michigan, and at Princeton University from 1980-1987....

    , 2006. Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides. New York Review Books Classics. ISBN 1-59017-180-2.
  • Jon Corelis, 2006: Performance version in verse.
  • George Theodoridis, 2010, prose, full text: http://bacchicstage.wordpress.com/

Additional references