Euripides tragedy begins with Aphrodite’s renouncement of
the chaste and arrogant hunter Hippolytus, an ideal youth
who refuses to succumb to love and vows to remain chaste
and give himself up to the Goddess Artemis, the divinity of
chastity, the moon, and hunting. Aphrodite decides to
punish the young man for his neglect and calls upon Eros to
create an all consuming love for Hippolytus in his
stepmother Phaedra. Aphrodite then will reveal the truth to
Hippolytus’ father, Theseus, so that he will call a curse
Entering with his chorus of young hunters, Hippolytus
continues his arrogant refusal to pay the goddess tribute.
Phaedra, sickening with her love for Hippolytus, confesses
to her chorus of maids and her nurse. The nurse, in an
attempt to offer relief to her charge, confesses Phaedra’s
love to Hippolytus. Shocked and upset, the arrogant young
man cruelly denounces Phaedra. In despair, Phaedra leaves a
suicide note saying that Hippolytus raped her, and kills
herself. Theseus, upon reading the letter, refuses to hear
his son’s denials and calls upon Poseidon, the God of the
Sea, to destroy his son. A sea monster kills Hippolytus and
his dead body is returned to Theseus. At this moment,
Artemis reveals to Theseus the actual events and Theseus is
left in despair of his son and wife’s death.
The Greeks were deeply concerned with imbalance in nature.
Hippolytus, by giving himself over whole heartedly to
Artemis has denied the rights of Venus. By succumbing too
much to chastity, sexual passion is denied and Hippolytus
has put the universe out of balance. The petty fights
between the Gods and Goddesses were common among classical
Greek culture and the jealousy of Aphrodite against Artemis
is a common theme of Greek mythology.