Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Hippolytus (hih-POL-ih-tuhs), the son of Theseus by Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. Because he pays exclusive worship to the virgin goddess Artemis, Aphrodite, the goddess of sexual love, determines to punish him by making Phaedra, the wife of Theseus, fall in love with her stepson. Phaedra is dying of her guilty passion; when her nurse reveals her state to Hippolytus, after swearing him to secrecy, he is horrified. Phaedra kills herself out of shame, but because Hippolytus has shown no pity for her plight she leaves a tablet saying that she has killed herself because Hippolytus had raped her. Theseus, calling down on his son one of the infallible curses granted him by Poseidon, asks that Hippolytus be killed that day; in addition, he pronounces a sentence of exile against him. In the subsequent interview with his father, Hippolytus reveals the same inability to show affection, understanding, and tact that he had exhibited earlier in the interview with the nurse. He cannot reveal the truth, and his defense becomes an unpleasant exhibition of ostentatious purity and a long catalog of all his virtues: his piety, his seriousness, his modesty, and his chastity. His aloofness and self-satisfaction can be related to his illegitimacy, which is emphasized repeatedly; abandoned by his father and ashamed of his mother, he has cultivated his aloofness, revolted against the passion of love, and cut himself off from life itself. Hippolytus is mortally wounded as he prepares to leave the country. A tidal wave delivers a miraculous bull to frighten the horses that draw his chariot, and he is dragged behind...

(The entire section is 676 words.)