Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 542
Theseus (THEE-see-uhs), the protagonist and narrator. He becomes the king of Athens after the death of his father, Aegeus, then begins his attempt to unify Attica and create a strong central government in Athens. His love affair with Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, ends with her death, but he has already married Phaedra, princess of Crete. He later brings her and their son Akamas to Athens. The tragedy of the relationship among Hippolytus, Phaedra, and Theseus results in the deaths of Phaedra and Hippolytus. Theseus ends his days a lonely, embittered, increasingly powerless old man who chooses to throw himself off the cliffs of the island of Skyros.
Hippolyta (hih-PAH-luh-tuh), the queen of the Amazons and lover of Theseus. When she is brought back to Athens after being beaten in battle by Theseus, she becomes the mother of their son, Hippolytus. She is the great love in Theseus’ life, and her death in battle effectively ends Theseus’ joy in life. Her courage and honesty sharply contrast with Phaedra, and she remains symbolic of everything Theseus admires in a woman.
Phaedra (FEE-druh), the princess of Crete and wife of Theseus. The younger sister of Ariadne, Phaedra fell in love with Theseus when, as a young child, she watched him in the bull ring. Their marriage is a political alliance only, and her later obsession with Hippolytus causes Theseus to kill her after he discovers that she has lied that Hippolytus raped her. She represents a type of femininity that repels Theseus.
Hippolytus (hih-PAH-luh-tuhs), the son of Theseus and Hippolyta. Hippolytus is as physically beautiful as his mother and, like her, is completely uninterested in the power and politics of Athens. He is drawn to the worship of Artemis and wishes to be a healer. His radical difference in personality from his father causes problems in their relationship, for Theseus does not understand his son’s chastity or religious interests. Hyppolytus falls victim to Phaedra’s lies about him because he refuses to betray her confidence, and his father never recovers emotionally from his death.
Akamas, the son of Theseus and Phaedra. Akamas is as Cretan as Hippolytus is Greek, but the two half brothers enjoy a close relationship until Hippolytus’ death. It is Akamas who tells his father the truth about Phaedra’s love for Hippolytus. Akamas shows no leadership abilities and is not favored by Theseus.
Pirithoos (pi-RITH-oh-uhs), the king of the Lapiths and a friend of Theseus. The meeting between these two kings results in a lifelong close friendship. Both men enjoy traveling as pirates in search of plunder, and it is Pirithoos who encourages Theseus to delay marrying Phaedra in order to journey to Scythia, where he encounters and falls in love with Hippolyta.
Aithra, the mother of Theseus and a priestess of Mother Dia (Demeter). Aithra recognizes that her son often angers Mother Dia and insists that he be ritually cleansed after he returns from Crete.
Old Handy, a centaur doctor and teacher. Known as Chiron in Greek mythology, Old Handy lives in the wilds and runs a kind of school for young princes such as Pirithoos and Achilles. Theseus’ meeting with him occurs when Pirithoos visits his former teacher.
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