Hippolytus Analysis

Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Troezen

*Troezen. Greek city, on the eastern coast of the Peloponnesian Peninsula, that is home of the Athenian king Theseus and his new wife Phaedra. The play’s action is set largely in and around their royal palace. In ancient times, aristocratic Greek women tended to be kept indoors, and in the play the interior of the palace is associated with Phaedra’s incestuous desire for her stepson Hippolytus, which she tries to conceal. After her secret is revealed, Phaedra hangs herself in her bedroom. The palace is a location of containment and repression whose walls cannot, however, ultimately shut out the forces of desire unleashed by Aphrodite, the goddess of love.

Nature

Nature. In the mythical landscape of the play, natural locations are the realm of Artemis, the goddess of hunting and virginity, to whom Hippolytus is abnormally devoted, and of Aphrodite, who uses Phaedra to destroy Hippolytus. Bodies of water, trees, and meadows are suffused with sexual symbolism. For example, the bull that causes Hippolytus’s death comes from the sea, which symbolizes, in turn, the elemental power of desire. In contrast to Phaedra, Hippolytus is thus associated with the outdoors, particularly with the forests, where he hunts, and the seashore, where he exercises his horses.

*Crete

*Crete (kreet). Greek island in the eastern Mediterranean that is the original home of Phaedra. In mythology, Crete is known for its people’s sexual aberrations and excesses. By alluding to Phaedra’s relatives, such as Ariadne, Pasiphae, and the Minotaur, and her Cretan origins, Euripides emphasizes her exotic origins and her otherness within Athenian society.

*Athens

*Athens. City that Theseus is visiting while most of the play unfolds; he returns to Troezen to find his wife dead. Like all tragedies written by Athenian poets, Hippolytus is really discussing issues of importance to citizens of the Athenian democracy. Troezen is, on many levels, a substitute for Athens.

Hippolytus Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Euripides. Hippolytus. Translated by Robert Bagg. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973. In his translator’s introduction, Bagg claims that Hippolytus’ possession by Artemis can be explained by the concept of sophrosyne, a strength of character so free of guilt and clear of mind that the individual is not even tempted to commit a wrong, weak, or greedy action.

Euripides. Hippolytus. Edited by W. S. Barret. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1964. Scholarly edition of the play, which includes a discussion of the legend and cult of Hippolytus, evidence for lost plays on the subject, the history of the text in antiquity and the middle ages, and a commentary on the play.

Euripides. Hippolytus. In Three Plays by Euripedes, translated by Philip Vellacott. 1953. Reprint. Baltimore, Md.: Penguin Books, 1974. In his introduction, Vellacott points out two major themes in Hippolytus, that of syngnome, or pardon, which differs from forgiveness in its emotional detachment and lack of religious implications, and that of the deep gulf of misunderstanding between men and women.

Kitto, H. D. F. “Euripidean Tragedy: The Hippolytus.” In Greek Tragedy: A Literary Study. 1939. Reprint. London: Methuen, 1978. Focuses on such issues as the contrast in character development in Phaedra and Hippolytus; the seeming lack of unity in the play; and the role of the goddesses, especially Aphrodite.

Lattimore, Richard. Introduction to Hippolytus, by Euripides, edited by David Grene and Richard Lattimore. 1955. Reprint. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975. Explains the interest Greek audiences had in women and their place in society. Discusses how the play hinges on the monstrousness of the relationship Phaedra desires and points out the weakness of the somewhat mechanical denouement.