Sunday, January 1, 2012

Euripides' Hippolytus

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Euripides (484-406 B.C.) won first prize at the Dionysian festival in Athens in 428 B.C. for his trilogy which included the tragedy of Hippolytus.

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Hippolytus is unjustly accused of raping his stepmother and is subsequently condemned to death by his father Theseus, the king of Athens.


The Death of Hippolytus, 1860, Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912)

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The play opens as Aprhodite, goddess of love, complains that Hippolytus (illegitimate son of Theseus by the Amazon Hippolyta) by swearing his chastity and by honoring Artemis, goddess of the hunt, rather than Aphrodite. To gain her revenge against Hippolytus, Aphrodite sets a plan in motion.

Phaedra, wife of Hippolytus, appears on stage with her nurse. Phaedra is in failing health, refusing to eat, and reluctantly confesses to the nurse that she is heartsick over falling in love with her stepson Hippolytus.

The nurse shares this news with the unsuspecting Hippolytus, who responds with outrage. Believing she is ruined by her secret coming to light, Phaedra hangs herself.

When Theseus returns and finds her body, he also finds a suicide note blaming her death on Hippolytus. Theseus calls on the god Poseidon to impose a curse upon Hippolytus. Subsequently, a messenger brings news of Hippolytus being seriously injured when a bull roared out of the sea and frightened his horses. Theseus continues to assert that Hippolytus is receiving only what id due him for his transgressions. Then, Artemis appears to explain that Hippolytus was innocent, that Phaedra lied, and that Aphrodite created the misunderstanding.

A dying Hippolytus is brought onstage to face his father, and even forgives him, just before breathing his last.

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Euripides, Hippolytus, translated by David Grene

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