Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The Hippolytus was part of only five trilogies for which Euripides was awarded first prize. One of the reasons for the success of this play may be that the Hippolytus is far more traditional in structure than many other Euripidean tragedies. For example, both Theseus and Hippolytus himself follow the pattern of the tragic hero described by Aristotle in Poetics: They are neither perfectly good nor purely evil but, while generally virtuous, suffer because of a flaw in character or by committing some mistake. Moreover, the play’s emphasis upon the need for restraint in all human endeavor echoes the sentiment of the widely quoted Greek proverb, “Nothing too much.” Theseus and Hippolytus are thus guilty of hubris (usually defined as excessive pride, insolence, and self-righteousness), which would have been regarded, even by the most conservative of Euripides’ critics, as a fatal flaw of character.
Nevertheless, Euripides has made several important innovations in this work. First, his view of the gods is not at all the same as that found in traditional Greek religion. Aphrodite and Artemis, although they appear on stage in human form, are largely personifications of lust and chastity. It is the conflict between these competing forces that brings about the tragedy of Phaedra and Hippolytus; the inability of these characters to find a balance between the desires represented by Aphrodite and the goals represented by Artemis...
(The entire section is 456 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Aphrodite becomes angry because Hippolytus, the offspring of an illicit union between Theseus and Hippolyta, alone among the citizens of Troezen refuses to do her homage. Instead, the youth, who has been tutored by the holy Pittheus, honors Artemis, goddess of the chase and of spiritual love. Aphrodite, jealous of Artemis and incensed at his neglect of her altars, vows revenge: She will reveal to Theseus the love his wife, Phaedra, has for her stepson.
Some time before, Hippolytus went to the country of Pandion to be initiated into the holy mysteries. Phaedra, seeing the handsome youth, fell in love with him, and because her heart was filled with longing she dedicated a temple to the Cyprian goddess. Poseidon, ruler of the sea, once promised Theseus that three of his prayers to the sea god would be answered. Aphrodite plans to use that promise to accomplish her revenge.
Now it happens that Theseus had killed a kinsman, and as punishment for his crime he was exiled for a year in Troezen. Hippolytus, returning from the chase, pays his respects with song and garlands before the altar of Artemis. Reminded by a servant that an image of Aphrodite stands nearby, he answers impatiently that he acknowledges the power of the Cyprian goddess, but from afar. He is dedicated to chastity and has no desire to become her devotee. After Hippolytus leaves the shrine, the attendant asks Aphrodite to indulge the young man’s foolish pride.
(The entire section is 1097 words.)