Hippolytus

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Hippolytus Character Analysis

Hippolytus is the son of Theseus by another woman, an Amazonian named Hippolyte. As a bastard child, he is unlikely to ascend to political power in Troizen. Instead, he prefers hunting and riding his horses. He has dedicated himself completely, and arrogantly, to virginity and the goddess Artemis. These characteristics affect his downfall: as a bastard child, he words hold less weight when he is accused, and his devotion to Artemis and chastity angers that goddess’ rival, Aphrodite, who is the goddess of love and desire.

Hippolytus Quotes in Hippolytus

The Hippolytus quotes below are all either spoken by Hippolytus or refer to Hippolytus. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Oxford University Press edition of Hippolytus published in 1992.
Lines 1-425 Quotes

I have brought you this green crown,
Goddess, fresh from the scene
Where I spliced its flowers together,
A meadow as virginal as you are…

Related Characters: Hippolytus (speaker), Artemis
Related Symbols: Crown of Flowers, Statues of Artemis and Aphrodite
Page Number: 112-115
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Hippolytus enters the stage for the first time and approaches the statue of Artemis. Out of admiration for the goddess, Hippolytus adorns her statue with a crown of flowers he's taken from a meadow he considers "virginal." This reveals how Hippolytus views Artemis as pure, whole, and representative of chastity, as opposed to Aphrodite, whose association with sexuality and erotic desire he refuses to revere. The crown of flowers also shows the importance of offering material favors to the gods--they are integral to the act of worshipping the gods and maintaining good standing with them, thus avoiding punishment for hubris (pride or arrogance). Hippolytus leaves Aphrodite's statue bare, and this upsets her--only sealing Hippolytus's fate.

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Because I prize my purity
I keep clear of [Aphrodite]…

Related Characters: Hippolytus (speaker), Aphrodite
Page Number: 164-165
Explanation and Analysis:

Hippolytus speaks these lines in response to his servant, who argues that Hippolytus should worship Aphrodite with as equal a sense of ardor as he shows Artemis.

Hippolytus strives to avoid the qualities associated with Aphrodite's divinity: erotic desire, lust, and bodily passion. As he later reveals, he has little interest in sex, and commits himself to keeping his internal mental life tranquil and undisturbed by the possibly tempestuous psychological effects of sexual desire. He strives to avoid precisely the situation into which Phaidra has fallen at the hands of Aphrodite: total psychological chaos caused by "sinful" desire, a desire that pushes her to suicide (though we learn that this desire is not her own invention, and thus she is more victim than not).

Lines 426-816 Quotes

Aphrodite,
Sea goddess, share this adventure with me,
Though I have my own tactics
And these, once set in motion,
Once I share them inside with a certain young friend,
Will carry our affair to its climax.

Related Characters: Nurse (speaker), Hippolytus, Aphrodite
Page Number: 811-816
Explanation and Analysis:
Having devised a plan to make Phaidra feel better, the nurse invokes Aphrodite to support her endeavors. The nurse has given up on the possibility of getting Phaidra to see things her way, and so decides to follow her strategy herself . Yet, she invokes for help the very goddess responsible for Phaidra's downfall--perhaps out of total disregard for Phaidra's understanding of the situation, or out of faith that Aphrodite has good intentions in causing Phaidra to fall in love with Hippolytus. Either way, the nurse's plan proves catastrophic; not buying into Phaidra's sense of total responsibility for her sinful desire, the nurse accepts the involuntary nature of Phiadra's longing and thinks that satisfying it is the best way to end her despair.
Lines 817-1119 Quotes

Mother Earth and Great Sun, whose light
Unfolds the freshness of the clear blue depths –
Could anything spoken be more repulsive?

Related Characters: Hippolytus (speaker)
Page Number: 914-916
Explanation and Analysis:

Hippolytus speaks these lines after the nurse has told him about Phaidra's love.

Hippolytus is absolutely repulsed by the news of Phaidra's desire for him--he seems not only repulsed by the fact that his father's wife desires him, but also by the sheer fact that Phaidra has such powerful longing in the first place. Here, Hippolytus's disgust at erotic desire--the domain of Aphrodite's power--once again surfaces. Phaidra has not even made any physical advances at Hippolytus, and he only hears of her desire second-hand from her nurse, yet he's nonetheless absolutely repelled by the sheer mentioning of Phaidra's love. Hippolytus seems to be baffled at why other people do not exert as much control over their inner emotions, nor try to keep a check on their inclinations towards lustful thinking, as he does.

Lines 1120-1368 Quotes

The truth is hideous. It sears and wrenches
And will not stay clenched in my throat.
To speak it out excruciates me,
But it must come. Ahhh!
Hear it, men of the city!
My wife was raped – by Hippolytus!

Related Characters: Theseus (speaker), Hippolytus, Phaidra
Page Number: 1337-1342
Explanation and Analysis:

Theseus speaks these lines after reading the message Phaidra left for him on her corpse.

Phaidra's explanation for her suicide is far from anything Theseus expected, and unlike Phaidra's early inhibitions towards disclosing her love for Hippolytuys, Theseus feels instantly compelled to announce the troubling news he's discovered. He cannot bear to let the "truth" he's uncovered behind Phaidra's death to stay and fester within him--as if it were an infection that would parasitically grow in his mind. He must expel the news from himself, however painful. The supposed truth he's encountered is too painful to be locked away in privation--even if its submission to the public will destroy the reputation of his son, and tear apart the entire family.

Lines 1369-1727 Quotes

I came bitterly from your womb,
O my cruelly wounded mother.
Let no one I love ever
Enter this world a bastard.

Related Characters: Hippolytus (speaker)
Page Number: 1691-1694
Explanation and Analysis:

After Theseus accuses him of raping Phaidra, Hippolytus curses himself as an illegitimate child doomed to misfortune and bad luck.

Born out of wedlock, from the union of Theseus and the Amazononian queen Hyppolyta, Hippolytus is technically a "bastard" child. Such a disposition, with the taboo it carried in ancient times, puts Hippolytus in a position of disgrace. Here, he seems to think that his poor fate stems from his being an illegitimate child, and he wishes that no one he ever loves be born in the same manner as he. That Hippolytus came "bitterly" from his mother's womb implies that he has been at odds with the world from the very beginning of his emergence within it, as a direct result of his fundamental nature.

Daughter of Leto, you who were
Closest to me, my friend, my hunting partner,
Now I will go in exile
From radiant Athens.
I say goodbye to my city…

Related Characters: Hippolytus (speaker), Artemis
Related Symbols: Statues of Artemis and Aphrodite
Page Number: 1710-1713
Explanation and Analysis:

Hippolytus speaks this lines, in reference to Artemis, after he is condemned to exile by Theseus.

A highly devoted follower of Artemis, Hippolytus must now leave the city and grounds with which she is associated. That Hippolytus calls a goddess his "friend" and the person "closest" to him--considering a goddess to be closer to him than another mortal--shows the degree of his piety and prideful sense of being purer and closer to the divine than most people. Leaving his home, however, Hippolytus now assumes the lowly status of an exile, and must be geographically parted from the source of the very reason for his exile: Artemis, whose reverence and worship by Hippolytus, to the point of neglecting Aphrodite, inspired his and Phaidra's ruin.

There is one practice
That I have never touched,
Though it’s exactly what you attack me for:
Physical love. Until now
I’ve never been to bed with a woman.
All I know of sex is what I hear,
Or find in pictures – these I’m not very keen
To see, since I keep my inner life
As calm and pure as I can.

Related Characters: Hippolytus (speaker), Theseus
Page Number: 1544-1552
Explanation and Analysis:

Replying to Theseus's accusation that he has raped Phaidra, Hippolytus claims that he has never engaged in sexual activity at all.

Here, Hippolytus's sense of purity and removal from the realm of base mortal desires--the erotic and bodily desires--is reinforced. Hippolytus invokes his chastity in order to demonstrate the absurdity of Theseus's belief that he raped Phaidra, but it almost comes across as boastful and full of pride. Theseus certainly interprets it this way, at least, and furthermore doesn't believe it--he calls Hippolytus a hypocrite, claiming he outwardly promotes high values which internally he does not hold. Even though the truth of Hippolytus's claims are later revealed to Theseus, no amount of argument on his behalf will do any good; Theseus has committed himself to believing in his wife's last words.

Lines 1728-2208 Quotes

What the gods did to you
Fills me with rage – O Graces, goddesses
Of beauty and kindness,
You have given – why did you do it? –
A hard life to an innocent man.
You cut him off from his home and country
To travel depressed and alone.

Related Characters: Chorus (speaker), Hippolytus
Page Number: 1774-1780
Explanation and Analysis:

After Theseus has condemned Hippolytus to exile, the Chorus wonders why the Gods have given Hippolytus such a difficult fate.

The Chorus believes Hippolytus, and considers him an innocent man (of course, they know the truth of Phaidra's actions)--they therefore wonder how the gods could let his fate unfurl into such a painful, undeserved punishment, after all of his piety, abstinence, efforts to purify his mind, and fundamental innocence (knowledge to which the gods are privy). Here, the Chorus's view on fate comes front and center: Hippolytus is fundamentally not responsible for his fate, for fate is directed by the gods. Though Hippolytus is somewhat responsible for his fate--his prideful negligence of Aphrodite being the impetus for his misfortune--his noble way of conducting himself seems to suggest that he merits no punishment, or at least not such a brutally harsh punishment. Whether we think that Hippolytus is or isn't responsible for his fate, the Chorus seems to think he isn't. They say that the gods have "given" a difficult life to an "innocent" man--they think of Hippolytus as the passive receptor of something (fate; a hard life) delivered to him, beyond his control, by the gods.

King, I am your slave, but don’t ask me
To believe that your son was guilty.
I couldn’t, not if the whole female sex
Hanged itself,
And all the timber on Mount Ida
Were sliced up to write suicide notes.
I know he was a good man.

Related Characters: Messenger (speaker), Theseus, Hippolytus
Page Number: 1902-1908
Explanation and Analysis:

Unable to believe that Hippolytus raped Phaidra, a servant of Theseus (the Messenger) questions his incrimination of his son.

The strength and quality of Hippolytus's reputation is revealed here. The messenger boldly addresses his King and questions his judgment--an action that radically outsteps his status as a civilian. He refuses to concede to the King's decree, taking Hippolytus's word for face-value, based on his knowledge of Hippolytus's character--that is, based on Hippolytus's reputation. On the contrary, Theseus haphazardly and without reservation distrusts his own son--perhaps due to his status as a bastard child (ironically, since Hippolytus's status as illegitimate is entirely Theseus's doing). He takes his wife's word for face value--even though that word comes in the form of a brief note left behind on her corpse, leaving open the question of whether or not she is even the true author.

And the maidens’ spontaneous songs
Will dwell on you with endless care.
And fame will find musical words
For Phaidra’s terrible love for you,
And that too will be known.

Related Characters: Artemis (speaker), Hippolytus, Phaidra
Page Number: 2159-2163
Explanation and Analysis:

Though Hippolytus is destined to die--Poseidon's curse on him being irreversible--Artemis here claims that a custom will be established whereby maidens shall sing songs to Hippolytus right before they marry. Intended as a means to improve the reputation of Hippolytus after he dies, this boon by Artemis sends Hippolytus off to his death knowing that his memory will not be tarnished.

Hippolytus' special relationship with Artemis "pays off" in the end; we can see how his devotion to the goddess, though lopsided in relation to his care for Aphrodite, has benefited him in at least one way, even if Aphrodite ultimately succeeds in getting him killed. Yet we are left with the question: was Hippolytus's servant, who suggested that he pay more attention to Aphrodite, ultimately right? Did Hippolytus's relationship with Artemis truly benefit him in the end, if all Artemis could do was to protect his reputation, being ultimately unable to prevent his death?

It seems that, based on Hippolytus's character, we might conclude that he wouldn't think in such a cost-benefit manner, but rather according to his principles and values. Hippolytus did not follow Aphrodite out of principle, and we might think that he would rather die than sacrifice his beliefs. 

Further, another facet of the play's portrayal of fate is revealed by Artemis's desire to protect Hippolytus's reputation after his death. In the world of Euripedes, reputation is something that transcends one's death--it's so important that it's even valuable after one is already dead, despite the fact that the reputed individual will not be around to enjoy their reputation's benefits.

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Hippolytus Character Timeline in Hippolytus

The timeline below shows where the character Hippolytus appears in Hippolytus. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 1-425
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Gods and Fate Theme Icon
Aphrodite vents her anger about Hippolytus, the bastard son of Theseus. Her charge is that Hippolytus has gone so far his... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Gods and Fate Theme Icon
Cities and Place Theme Icon
Hippolytus enters with a group of huntsmen, carrying weapons and accompanied by dogs. He leads the... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Gods and Fate Theme Icon
A servant of the palace, an old man, approaches, and engages Hippolytus in a discussion by offering a piece of advice. After getting Hippolytus to agree that... (full context)
Lines 426-816
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Family Relationships Theme Icon
...her interrogation, the nurse mentions to Phaidra that if she dies, her husband’s bastard child, Hippolytus, will inherit everything, while her own beloved children will suffer deeply from her absence. The... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Gods and Fate Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Family Relationships Theme Icon
...slowly catches on. It is the nurse who finally guesses the name of Phaidra’s beloved, Hippolytus, and Phaidra does not deny it. The nurse responds with shock and disgust that Phaidra... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Family Relationships Theme Icon
...reason, she consigned herself to silence and death when she felt her growing desire for Hippolytus. That is the essential law of a woman’s life in aristocratic circles: to protect one’s... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Gods and Fate Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
...to push: without saying it explicitly, she implies that Phaidra should follow her desire, pursue Hippolytus, and save her own life. When Phaidra denies the nurse’s effort, the nurse changes her... (full context)
Lines 817-1119
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
...she hears inside. The Koryphaios gets her at last to describe what she’s hearing: it’s Hippolytus “in a huge fury”, shouting vicious slurs against some woman. The Koryphaios helps Phaidra realize... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Hippolytus enters still raging, and the nurse follows, urging him to be quiet. Worried that Hippolytus... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Phaidra, though standing or lying elsewhere onstage, has heard Hippolytus’ rant and admits defeat. Hippolytus’ comments about the hideousness of the female sex seem to... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Gods and Fate Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
...the nurse exits, Phaidra makes the chorus swear an oath, like the one that binds Hippolytus, not to reveal what they have seen unfold. The Koryphaios, speaking for the rest of... (full context)
Lines 1120-1368
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Gods and Fate Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
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Cities and Place Theme Icon
...Theseus goes to read it, and it turns out to be accurate: the tablet accuses Hippolytus of raping Phaidra, and Theseus declares that the tablet convinces him of its truth, as... (full context)
Lines 1369-1727
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Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Hippolytus enters, rushing to answer his father’s shouting without knowing that he is accused of rape.... (full context)
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In response, Hippolytus buries his head in his cloak, but Theseus tells him to look up. To Hippolytus’... (full context)
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As he finishes his defense, Hippolytus wishes that some witness had seen his behavior of the previous hours, or that Phaidra... (full context)
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After their two long speeches, Theseus and Hippolytus continue to debate in a more rapid-fire style. When Hippolytus says that Theseus should have... (full context)
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Growing impatient, Theseus shouts and commands Hippolytus to leave at once. When Hippolytus complains that nobody will accept him after rumors of... (full context)
Lines 1728-2208
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While Hippolytus’ fate befalls him offstage, the chorus sings another ode. They reflect on what the loss... (full context)
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A messenger enters, looking for Theseus, and reports that Hippolytus has died. When he learns that his own curse killed his son, Theseus seems pleasantly... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
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...suddenly. The goddess wastes no time telling the truth: Phaidra had a criminal desire for Hippolytus, who nobly and honorably rejected the nurse’s advances on Phaidra’s behalf, and Phaidra then resolved... (full context)
Gods and Fate Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
...kill his own son, a binding agreement with the gods and not a proof of Hippolytus’ guilt. When Theseus now wishes for death, Artemis offers some condolence, revealing that it was... (full context)
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Hippolytus’ friends drag him onto the stage, where he cries out in pain and wishes for... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Gods and Fate Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Family Relationships Theme Icon
Cities and Place Theme Icon
...a ceremony by which maiden women of Athens clip their hair and sing songs to Hippolytus just before marriage. In music, she says, his reputation will improve. Before exiting, she reminds... (full context)