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A synopsis of the play by Euripides

This article was originally published in Minute History of the Drama. Alice B. Fort & Herbert S. Kates. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935. p. 19.

THE goddess Aphrodite, is much incensed because Hippolytus, bastard son of King Theseus of Trozên and the Amazon, Hippolyte, worships only pure Artemis. She resolves, therefore, to bring about his death through the very sex that he has scorned, and scorning, has thus offered insult to the mighty Aphrodite.

For some months past, Phaedra, beloved wife of Theseus, has hidden in her inmost heart a secret passion for the manly Hippolytus. Through unsatiated desire and secret shame she has wasted away until her old nurse despairs of her life. Finally, after much coaxing, the old nurse learns her secret. On pretense of making a love-philter that will cure Phaedra of her unholy love, the nurse confesses her mistress' secret to Hippolytus. The latter in anger scorns and upbraids Phaedra. Only his oath of secrecy given to the nurse, he admits, keeps him from confessing his step-mother's shame to the King as soon as His Majesty returns.

Phaedra, in her half-crazed state, scarcely heeds him. She sees honor gone and her life ruined through her old servant's mistaken kindness, for she really believes that Hippolytus means to tell the King. In despair she hangs herself. Before the dread deed, however, she has written on her tablet, sealed with a royal seal, the charge that Hippolytus has dishonored her. On the King's arrival the first thing he notes is the tablet fastened to his dead wife's wrist. Grief-stricken, he opens it believing that it will contain some final directions for the care of their children, only to be shocked by the terrible accusation against Hippolytus.

The Prince's protestations of innocence are unavailing against the King's unreasoning anger, and his oath prevents his speaking the whole truth. Theseus condemns his son to life-long exile and in addition prays to his ancestor, Poseidon, powerful god of the sea, to destroy the ravisher of his dear wife.

Hippolytus, knowing the futility of further arguments, mounts his chariot to drive along the seashore until he shall reach his father's boundaries. As he drives, a terrible monster, riding a huge wave, so affrights his spirited horses that he is dashed against the rocks and is carried back, dying, to his father's presence. While he is still conscious Artemis appears in a cloud and explains to Theseus how cruelly Aphrodite had plotted against Hippolytus. Thus both the youth and Phaedra are revealed as the innocent victims of a goddess' jealousy and their honor is vindicated.


Euripides' Plays

Related Sites

Euripides Index
Euripides and His Tragedies
Euripides Bio
Euripides: Monologues
Euripides: Poems
Greek Theatre Index

Other Playwrights



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