Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*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. 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 (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. 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.