Hippolytus Summary (Classics 320)
Hippolytus Summary (Classics 320) Classics 320
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Date Created: 11/06/15
Hippolytus Summary Prologue Set in Troezen, a city in the northeastern Peloponnese o Theseus is in Troezen serving a year of voluntary exile for murdering the Pallantids With him is his wife Phaedra o When Theseus married Phaedra, he sent Hippolytus, his son by his former mistress Antiope (alternately Hippolyte), to be raised by his greatgrandfather Pittheus, who ruled Troezen Theseus hoped that when Pittheus died, Hippolytus would inherit the kingdom of Troezen while Phaedra’s children would rule in Athens Aphrodite, the goddess of love, opens the play o She enumerates her powers, and explains that she expects all of humanity to worship her and that she punishes those who refuse to honor her She then relates the context of the play Hippolytus has sworn an oath of chastity, rejecting both the beds of love and marriage o He therefore refuses to honor Aphrodite, counting her vilest of the Gods in Heaven o He reveres Artemis, the goddess of chastity and the hunt Because Hippolytus has blasphemed against her, Aphrodite has formulated a plan to exact revenge Prior to the play, Aphrodite caused Phaedra to fall in love with Hippolytus during a visit to Athens o Now that Phaedra is living in Troezen, in close proximity to Hippolytus, she wishes to see him o Her desire for Hippolytus has made her ill, but out of shame, she refuses to explain to cause of her affliction to the servants Aphrodite explains that during the course of the play, Hippolytus and Theseus will learn of Phaedra’s illicit love o In anger Theseus will curse Hippolytus, causing Hippolytus’ death Although Phaedra has not sinned, she must die so that Aphrodite can preserve her honor by punishing her enemies Aphrodite concludes the prologue by setting the scene and notes that Hippolytus approaches, singing praises for Artemis after finishing a hunting trip o She observes that he does not know that he is to die by the following morning Scene I Hippolytus enters with a chorus of huntsmen, who sing praises to Artemis and show reverence at her altar o He has woven a garland with flowers from the goddess’s meadow, which he lays on the altar, and then prays upon A servant approaches Hippolytus, hoping to offer advice o The servant cautions him against overt disdain for Aphrodite, warning that it will incur the goddess’s wrath Hippolytus refuses to listen, indicating that he prefers to worship Aphrodite from afar since he remains chaste o Hippolytus then goes into the house to eat After Hippolytus exits, the servant stands alone on the stage before a statue of Aphrodite, praying to the goddess o The servant distances himself from Hippolytus, reinforcing his devotion to the goddess He then asks her to forgive Hippolytus The chorus of palace women enters and discusses Phaedra’s affliction o The first strophe introduces the chorus’ concern about Phaedra, and the first antistrophe describes Phaedra’s physical state Bedridden with a fever, she has refused to eat for the past three days o The second strophe and antistrophe both speculate on the cause of Phaedra’s illness The strophe suggests various divine causes: “Pan’s frenzy” and “Hecate’s madness,” for example The antistrophe guesses that Theseus has been having an affair with another woman o The epode completes the lyric movement of the chorus and concludes the scene The chorus meditates on the unhappiness of the female role in both the home and greater Greek society The women invoke Artemis, who is not only the goddess of the hunt and chastity but also the goddess of childbirth The scene concludes with the arrival of Phaedra and her nurse Scene II The nurse enters supporting Phaedra, and reflects on what to do to help her Phaedra begins to rave at the servants, removing her hat and letting her hair loose o In this fit of wildness, she invokes Artemis and declares her desire to go up to the mountains to hunt The nurse tries to calm Phaedra, explaining that all mortals must suffer as a part of the human condition o Phaedra stops ranting, regretting her manic words She expresses her misery, and in guilt and shame, she asks the nurse to cover her face again o The nurse does as she asks The chorus leader asks the nurse to explain the cause of Phaedra’s ailment o The nurse indicates that Phaedra refuses to reveal anything about her illness The chorus leader speculates that Phaedra is either going mad or hoping to die o She then wonders why Theseus allows Phaedra to conceal her troubles, and the nurse responds that Theseus is not at home The chorus leader convinces the nurse that in Theseus’ absence, the nurse must find the cause of Phaedra’s sickness The nurse again attempts to coax Phaedra into revealing the source of her mania o Instead of simply asking her about her ailments, she tries a different tactic to manipulate Phaedra into speaking The nurse claims that if Phaedra dies, she will betray her children, who will lose the Athenian throne to Hippolytus After the nurse mentions Hippolytus, Phaedra explains that her heart is the problem o The nurse continues to wear down Phaedra’s resolve Phaedra alludes to her own illicit desire by referring to other forbidden romances, one of which affected her own family: o Her mother’s love for a bull (which resulted in the birth of the Minotaur) o Semele’s affair with Zeus (resulting in Semele’s death) Phaedra then reveals her love for Hippolytus, and the nurse and chorus are appalled o Phaedra indicates that she initially planned to endure her passion in silence, and when that plan failed, she resolved to starve herself to death in order to preserve her honor The nurse explains that, in anger, Aphrodite has smitten Phaedra and that she must not submit to her love o The nurse suggests that Phaedra turn to magic love charms or enchantments to mitigate her desire Phaedra demurs, but the nurse tells Phaedra that she has a love charm that will end her troubles o Phaedra expresses her concerns about the potion but agrees to take the nurse’s advice but first secures the nurse’s promise not to reveal the truth to Hippolytus Scene III Phaedra stands near the central door of the palace o She is clearly listening to a conversation occurring offstage Reacting to what she overhears, Phaedra exclaims in anger and disgust that she faces ruin o The chorus excitedly speculates on what could be causing Phaedra’s outburst Phaedra explains that the nurse has betrayed her and revealed the truth to Hippolytus o She also indicates that though the revelation was supposed to cure Phaedra’s illness, it has now caused her death She alludes to a plan to commit suicide and exits the stage o Phaedra listens to the conversation between the nurse and Hippolytus from behind the palace door Hippolytus and the nurse enter o Before having told Hippolytus about Phaedra’s passion, the nurse made him swear an oath not to reveal the truth to anyone else, but the news of Phaedra’s desire outrages him Though he menaces the nurse, she implores him not to break his oath Hippolytus begins a misogynistic tirade about the nature of women o In an apostrophe addressed to Zeus, Hippolytus wonders why Zeus made women the progenitors of men He observes the financial strain a woman places on the household: initially to her father who must raise her and give her a dowry in order to marry her off, and later to her husband who must heap gifts on her He goes on to claim that simple wives are best for men and that he hates clever women o Lust, he says, only affects clever women whose minds delight in the mischief that desire causes By contrast, stupid women cannot find enjoyment in lechery Hippolytus directs his anger at the nurse, claiming that Phaedra has plotted against him while the nurse spreads this mischief to undermine the sanctity of Theseus’ marriage. Hippolytus then asserts that it is only because of his piety that he will refrain from speaking of Phaedra’s desire; had an oath not bound him, he would share the truth He warns that he will watch Phaedra and the nurse closely and concludes his rant by cursing all women o Hippolytus then exits Phaedra returns to the stage, bemoaning her unhappy fate The chorus observes that the nurse’s schemes have failed and that Phaedra is ruined The nurse then enters, and Phaedra berates her for her betrayal o She then voices her worries about her honor o She assumes that Hippolytus will tell Theseus and Pittheus about her desire and that news of her dishonor will spread throughout the country The nurse interjects, attempting to salvage her standing with her mistress o She claims that she simply wanted the best for Phaedra and that she sought a remedy for Phaedra’s illness o Had the disclosure to Hippolytus cured Phaedra, the nurse would have received thanks rather than accusations for being a traitor The nurse then tries to convince Phaedra that she can still escape from her plight o Tired of the nurse’s advice, Phaedra dismisses her, and the nurse exits Phaedra asks that the chorus remain silent about what has transpired, and the chorus leader swears never to shame or dishonor Phaedra Phaedra then announces her plan to die o In death, she expects to destroy Hippolytus for his cruel rejection and bring delight to Aphrodite o Phaedra exits The chorus relates the story of Phaedra’s life, from her childhood in Crete to her journey to Athens and wedding with Theseus to Aphrodite’s curse o The women then begin to narrate Phaedra’s death Phaedra hangs herself in the room she shares with Theseus, choosing honor over life Offstage the nurse calls out, asking someone help to cut the queen from her noose o The scene ends with various members of the chorus discussing the death of Phaedra and speculating about Theseus’ reaction Scene IV Theseus enters and demands to know what has happened o He has returned from Delphi, where he received promises of good fortune, but upon his arrival he heard the mourning cry of the servants He is particularly concerned when he sees that the house has prepared no welcome for him and that the doors of the house are closed o He guesses that Pittheus, who is old, has died The chorus leader indicates that the person who has died is young and that the death will deeply sadden him Theseus then asks if one of his children has died o The chorus leader replies that the children are fine but that their mother is dead Theseus asks how this can be possible, and the chorus leader informs him that Phaedra committed suicide by hanging herself o He asks if grief and loneliness drove her to die, or if there was some other cause o Bound by her oath of silence, the chorus leader cannot explain the truth to Theseus and instead says that she has come to mourn for his loss Theseus berates himself for celebrating his success at Delphi o Unaware of the tragedy that awaited him in Troezen, Theseus had woven for himself a crown of leaves as a bringer of good news Full of remorse for his happiness at Delphi, Theseus orders the servants to open the doors of the palace so that he may see his wife The chorus divides into two groups and speaks in an apostrophe to the deceased Phaedra o They observe that Phaedra’s suffering and death have inexorably altered the family forever Scene V Theseus enters and rails at fate for its cruel treatment of him and his family o He speaks in an apostrophe to Phaedra, wondering what could have driven his wife to her death He concludes that a god must be punishing him for sin of his ancestors Though the chorus leader tries to comfort him, Theseus remains distraught o Phaedra’s death has killed him, too, and he laments for his orphaned children Theseus then discovers a tablet on Phaedra’s body o He speculates that in the letter Phaedra might have asked him to care for their children or contain her concerns about another woman He assures Phaedra that no other woman could take her place o When he opens the letter, however, he discovers that Phaedra has accused Hippolytus of raping her and thereby leaving her no choice but suicide In a rage, he invokes Poseidon who once promised him three curses o He asks that one of these curses destroy Hippolytus, killing his son in revenge for Phaedra’s death The chorus leader urges Theseus to swallow his curses, but he refuses o Instead, he banishes Hippolytus as well, just in case Poseidon’s curse fails Thus, Hippolytus will either die or live in exile Upon hearing Theseus’ cries, Hippolytus enters, wanting to know the cause of his woes o When he sees Phaedra’s body, he demands to know what happened Theseus’ silence causes Hippolytus to become more vociferous Assuming that Hippolytus is feigning his concern, Theseus responds cryptically o Believing that Theseus is mad with grief, Hippolytus asks his father to clarify Theseus then accuses his son of treachery Hippolytus defends himself, claiming that someone must’ve bittered Theseus against him o Theseus explains Hippolytus’ sins against him He accuses his son of being hypocritical, feigning chastity and raping his stepmother, and observes that he must’ve rejoiced at Phaedra’s death because it concealed his treachery o Theseus concludes his speech by informing Hippolytus of his exile Hippolytus attempts to defend himself against these accusations, protesting his innocence o He declares that he remains a virgin, and when this fails to convince his father, he uses logic, observing that only a fool would seduce the king’s wife and take his father’s throne Hippolytus then swears to Zeus that he never betrayed his father o However, he does not reveal the truth to Theseus and honors the oath he swore to the nurse Because he believes Phaedra’s accusation, Theseus refuses to listen to arguments o He reiterates his decision to banish Hippolytus and expresses his wish that he could banish his son from the limits of the known world Hippolytus protests that he hasn’t had a trial; Theseus says that Phaedra’s letter is proof o Hippolytus invokes Artemis, asking her to remain his companion in exile He says farewell to Troezen and gathers his attendants before exiting The chorus concludes the scene by singing a lament for the banished Hippolytus o Upon finishing the song, the chorus observes Hippolytus’ servant hastily approaching the palace o He appears sorrowful Scene VI A messenger enters, bringing Theseus news of an accident that has fatally wounded Hippolytus o He explains that the prince’s own horses threw him from his chariot in fulfillment of Theseus’ curse Pleased to hear that Poseidon honored his request, Theseus asks the messenger to describe Hippolytus’ death The messenger says that Hippolytus and his men were by the shore, readying their horses and preparing to leave o Though the prince had initially bemoaned his exile, he came to accept his fate and mounted his chariot Before departing, he prayed to Zeus, asking that if he were guilty, that he be destroyed o He then set off with his servants following him Upon crossing the border of Troezen, the earth began to rumble o The horses pricked their ears and all the men became nervous As they looked to the waves crashing on the shore, they saw an enormous wave appear o The wave grew so large that it blotted out the view of the coast Just before the wave broke upon the coast, it took the shape of a bull o The bull bellowed, shaking the earth and spooking the horses Attempting to calm the horses, Hippolytus pulled on the reins o Although Hippolytus was used to controlling his horses, the horses bolted o They charged towards the cliffs, and when the bull came galloping along the road, the chariot overturned The chariot broke apart, and Hippolytus became entangled in the reins o The horses dragged his body for a great distance. The servants tried to help him but could not catch up Somehow, Hippolytus managed to extricate himself but had mortal wounds Once he finishes his story, the messenger says he believed in the prince’s innocence, despite Phaedra’s death and accusations The chorus leader observes that Aphrodite’s curse has come to fruition and that one cannot escape fate Theseus is pleased that Hippolytus has received punishment for his sins but refuses to rejoice because Hippolytus is still his son o The messenger asks the king what they should do with the prince and begs him not to be harsh with his son as he lies dying Theseus commands that they bring Hippolytus to him so that he can see his son’s face The chorus concludes the scene with an apostrophe to Aphrodite o They say that she holds power over the hearts of men and Gods and that love has the power to bewitch all creatures of the earth Epilogue Artemis enters and demands to speak with Theseus o She berates him for violating the laws of nature by murdering his son o She indicates that he drew the wrong conclusions from the lies in Phaedra’s letter and points to the destruction he caused by believing her accusations She informs him that for his behavior, he should hide himself under the earth and that he has no place among good men Artemis explains that she has come to Troezen to prove Hippolytus’ innocence o She then reveals to Theseus the truth of what transpired She describes Phaedra’s illicit desire and claims that Aphrodite caused Phaedra’s passion for Hippolytus o Despite efforts to overcome this desire, Phaedra fell victim to the nurse’s schemes After the nurse revealed Phaedra’s passion to Hippolytus, the prince refused to break his oath, even as Theseus cursed him o Fearing dishonor, Phaedra lied and convinced Theseus of Hippolytus’ treachery Artemis then scolds Theseus for using one of Poseidon’s curses to avenge Phaedra’s death; he should have saved for an enemy o Poseidon granted Theseus’ request out of love for his progeny, but Theseus offended both Poseidon and Artemis by destroying Hippolytus without waiting to determine the truth Artemis goes on to say that despite his sins, Theseus may yet receive pardon because the blame ultimately rests with Aphrodite o Artemis explains that Aphrodite’s attempt to gratify her anger against Hippolytus is the settled way of the gods, and consequently Artemis could not interfere to save Hippolytus Artemis claims that Theseus’ ignorance absolves him of his role in Hippolytus’ death and that she and Theseus are the ones who have suffered the most from Aphrodite’s schemes Hippolytus enters, lamenting his fate Artemis comforts the dying prince and alleviates his suffering with her heavenly presence o She reveals that Aphrodite caused his misfortunes in hatred of his chastity Artemis promises the grieving father and dying prince that she will avenge their sorrows: when Aphrodite next falls in love with a mortal, Artemis will punish him just as the goddess of love destroyed Hippolytus Artemis then urges Theseus and Hippolytus to reconcile o She advises Theseus that he cannot blame himself for his mistake because Aphrodite blinded him, and she tells Hippolytus not to blame his father for he was fated to die in this manner o The goddess exits Hippolytus obeys Artemis’s commands and absolves his father of all culpability o The king thanks his son for remaining noble and honorable Theseus holds Hippolytus as he dies The chorus concludes the play with a final lament
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