Hippolytus

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Phaidra Character Analysis

Phaidra is Theseus’ wife and Hippolytus’ stepmother. Medea, the heroine who is the subject of another Euripides play, is her ancestor. Before the play begins, a sexual desire for Hippolytus has taken hold of her, inspired by Aphrodite. Phaidra is suffers from her insatiable sexual desire, sick at its immorality, and desperate to preserve her reputation.

Phaidra Quotes in Hippolytus

The Hippolytus quotes below are all either spoken by Phaidra or refer to Phaidra. 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 must have said terrible things.
I’m so humiliated! I feel as though
I’m being violently shoved somewhere I must not go.
Where? My mind’s going, I feel unclean,
Twisted into this madness
By the brawn of a god who hates me.

Related Characters: Phaidra (speaker)
Page Number: 350-356
Explanation and Analysis:

After Phaidra's nurse pleads with her to speak about what's distressing her, Phaidra finally begins to describe the inner pain she feels--though she refuses to explain its cause. At first, however, she's in a nearly trancelike state, and rambles about her desire to be taken to a meadow.

Having been condemned by Aphrodite to fall into a sinful love with Hippolytus, Phaidra has been "violently shoved somewhere . . . By the brawn of a god" beyond her control. Phaidra knows that her feelings are morally wrong, but Aphrodite has the 'remote control' to her desire--and Phaidra cannot override Aphrodite's divine power. This explains the maddening sensation which Phaidra feels in her mind--she is entirely torn in two fundamentally opposed directions, a tearing that so radically separates her thoughts that the only solution she can think of is annihilating herself.

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Lines 426-816 Quotes

I must hide it. Shame may be purified,
And it may be made completely noble

Related Characters: Phaidra (speaker)
Page Number: 503-504
Explanation and Analysis:

After revealing her love for Hippolytus to her nurse, Phaidra addresses the chorus here. 

This scene brings attention to the importance of reputation in the play (and in Ancient Greece). Phaidra displays her belief that shame is good so long as it encourages one's moral improvement. However, we also learn that shame and its potential threat to one's reputation--if the cause for one's shame becomes public knowledge--is enough to justify suicide for Phaidra.

Phiadra's view on her own responsibility for her sinful desire--which contributes to her sense of potential impurity--begins to be revealed here. Phaidra is unwilling to heed the nurse's advice (occurring shortly after this scene) that she is not responsible for her attraction to Hippolytus, that she is entirely at the mercy of Aphrodite's control. Further, Phaidra is absolutely unable to conceive that she might be morally fallible and imperfect at the same time that it could be possible for her to still live a decent life. She demands absolute moral purity of herself, and if her sin were to be publicly exposed, her reputation and honor would be so trashed that life would not be worth living anymore. In this way, it seems that Phaidra's life is entirely dependent upon her sense of her own reputation.

I knew that my passion, indulged or not,
Would make me repulsive to others, especially since
I am a woman – our very sex is a disgrace.

Related Characters: Phaidra (speaker)
Page Number: 625-627
Explanation and Analysis:

Phaidra speaks these lines after the nurse has taken back her initial outrage and proposed that Phaidra engage in an affair with Hippolytus.

Here, Phaidra reveals how her being a woman impacts the perception of her sexuality. Feminine sexuality or desire, in the play and in Ancient Greek society, is often portrayed as something vile, lustful, and a source of evil (as seen in Hippolytus's later condemnation of all females). It seems that erotic passion is seen as something fundamentally inappropriate when expressed by a woman--for Phaidra's "very sex," or gender, "is a disgrace." Phaidra is acutely aware of the social world around her, and how she is perceived within it--and so knows beforehand how impossible it would be to maintain good social standing if she were to reveal her desire for Hippolytus.


Your passion is what the god
Has chosen you to become. Accept it.
And though you suffer, be gallant about it.

Related Characters: Nurse (speaker), Phaidra
Page Number: 735-737
Explanation and Analysis:

Taking back her initial, harsh condemnation of Phaidra's love for Hippolytus, the nurse offers Phaidra this consolation.

Once again, the nurse tries to assure Phaidra that her passion for Hippolytus is out of her control and that, because of this, she should not feel morally responsible. The nurse wants Phaidra to accept Aphrodite's choice to force her to love Hippolytus--for if Phaidra cannot accept this, then she will continue to feel agony and will likely commit suicide or wither away. The nurse thinks that Phaidra should not be so concerned with thoughts of social reputation and honor, but should rather accept her fallibility as a mortal with a lack of control over her passions.

Lines 817-1119 Quotes

You couldn’t keep your mouth shut.
Because of you, after I die
My name will stink of depravity.

Related Characters: Phaidra (speaker), Nurse
Page Number: 1045-1047
Explanation and Analysis:
Phaidra speaks these lines (to her nurse) after learning that the nurse told Hippolytus about Phaidra's desire for him. Now Phaidra's darkest secret is out--and in the hands of the very person it was intended to be kept from. Her reputation and honor are now in greater danger than ever--even committing suicide may no longer suffice to spare her social status from being tarnished. Phaidra's name will forever "stink of depravity" after her death, written into the social history of Troizen and Athens. To prevent this, she must now concoct a new plan--if not to save her own honor, at least to save that of her sons.
Lines 1120-1368 Quotes

That is her signet, set in an arc
Of hammered gold, inviting me
To open it, a gesture full of her charm –
I’ll unravel the windings and crack
The seal. Let me just take in
Her last words to me.

Related Characters: Theseus (speaker), Phaidra
Page Number: 1307-1312
Explanation and Analysis:

Having discovered that his wife has killed herself, Theseus notices that there is a message concealed on her corpse.

Theseus has no idea about the truth to be disclosed in Phaidra's message--he seems to expect to find enclosed a personal goodbye, and perhaps a descriptive meditation on some personal woes that brought her finally to kill herself. What is revealed is quite the opposite, both in form and in content: Phaidra states plainly and simply that she killed herself due to a very recent event--her alleged rape by Hippolytus. Theseus thinks he has broken the seal of her message in order to crack open the truth behind her death, but he later discovers--tragically too late--the falsity of her declaration.

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 1728-2208 Quotes

I will reveal and you must face
The sexual passion of your wife,
Though what she did, seen in its own strange light,
Burns with her soul’s nobility.

Related Characters: Artemis (speaker), Theseus, Phaidra
Page Number: 1974-1977
Explanation and Analysis:

Having revealed Hippolytus's innocence, Artemis now insists that Theseus must face the truth of his wife's erotic desire for his son.

Artemis flips Theseus's beliefs upside down here, restoring to Hippolytus his innocence and incriminating the last person he expected to betray him--his wife. Unfortunately, this reversal of Theseus's sense of truth and uncovering of the reality behind Phaidra's death comes too late. Invoking Poseidon, Theseus has condemned Hippolytus to death, and the god's curse cannot be undone. This is the truly tragic element of the play, perhaps even more so than Aphrodite's bestowal of an involuntary, sinful love for Hippolytus upon Phiadra. For Hippolytus not only has committed no wrong, but, even when he is discovered innocent, nothing can be done to pardon him of the punishment he's been dealt--there can be no reversal of his curse.

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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Phaidra Character Timeline in Hippolytus

The timeline below shows where the character Phaidra 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
...desire, or Aphrodite herself. In order to take revenge, Aphrodite states that she has infected Phaidra, Theseus’ wife, with desire for Hippolytus. She announces that Phaidra will commit suicide from her... (full context)
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
...depart, the chorus of Troizenian women sings an ode that introduces the scene to come. Phaidra, they say, the queen of Troizen, has not eaten for three days, and longs for... (full context)
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Cities and Place Theme Icon
The nurse enters, supporting Phaidra, along with servants from the palace. After lamenting that she does not know the root... (full context)
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Cities and Place Theme Icon
Suddenly, Phaidra realizes what she’s said, and even though she hasn’t revealed the cause of her desire,... (full context)
Lines 426-816
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Family Relationships Theme Icon
The nurse attempts to find out what is afflicting Phaidra, but with no success. On the verge of giving up her interrogation, the nurse mentions... (full context)
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Family Relationships Theme Icon
The detective game continues, as the nurse makes guesses and Phaidra reluctantly leads her down the right track. It isn’t that Phaidra fears for her own... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Family Relationships Theme Icon
Phaidra begs the nurse to stop pursuing the truth, because she fears that the nurse will... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Gods and Fate Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Family Relationships Theme Icon
This is the common fate of the women in her family, says Phaidra, and the nurse slowly catches on. It is the nurse who finally guesses the name... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Family Relationships Theme Icon
Addressing the chorus, Phaidra delivers a long speech detailing the history of her desire and the nature of her... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Gods and Fate Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Phaidra resists such “seductive words” that threaten to destroy her honor. The nurse continues to push:... (full context)
Lines 817-1119
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Phaidra, leaning against the palace doors, groans about what she hears inside. The Koryphaios gets her... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
...further, she reminds him of the oath of silence that he swore before hearing of Phaidra’s desire. In response, Hippolytus launches into a huge rant outlining his hatred for women. He... (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... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Gods and Fate Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
When the nurse exits, Phaidra makes the chorus swear an oath, like the one that binds Hippolytus, not to reveal... (full context)
Lines 1120-1368
Cities and Place Theme Icon
While the audience waits for the outcome of Phaidra’s plan, the chorus sings another ode. They wish to be far away from the horrors... (full context)
Gods and Fate Theme Icon
...nurse calls out for help from within the palace. She wants a knife, to free Phaidra’s neck from the rope, but the members of the chorus waver back and forth before... (full context)
Gods and Fate Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Family Relationships Theme Icon
As soon as the chorus confirms Phaidra’s death, Theseus enters for the first time in the play. His crown of flowers indicates... (full context)
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Family Relationships Theme Icon
At Theseus’ command, the doors of the palace open, revealing Phaidra’s dead body and the rope still around her neck. First the chorus and then Theseus... (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
Then, Theseus notices a wax tablet that Phaidra’s body holds in its dead hand. The Koryphaios makes a dire prediction when Theseus goes... (full context)
Lines 1369-1727
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
...it. He imagines and refutes any argument that Hippolytus might use ahead of time. Would Phaidra commit suicide and frame Hippolytus just because she hated him as a bastard son and... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
...he sees that this sort of talk isn’t convincing Theseus, he makes further points: that Phaidra was not so attractive as to motivate such a crime, and that it would have... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Gods and Fate Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
...Hippolytus wishes that some witness had seen his behavior of the previous hours, or that Phaidra had not yet died. He swears to Zeus that he never touched Phaidra, nor even... (full context)
Lines 1728-2208
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Gods and Fate Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
...Artemis, high above the stage, appears 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... (full context)
Gods and Fate Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
...entire plot, and Theseus had no choice but to believe the accusation of the dead Phaidra. Because of a rule enforced by Zeus that no god can intervene with another, Artemis... (full context)