Every ancient Greek play that survives from the era of Euripides was staged at an annual competition held in Athens. (Hippolytus won Euripides first prize.) Yet tragedies – unlike comedies, which were set in Athens – were customarily set in other Greek cities, because it did not bode well to depict terrible things happening to citizens of one’s own city. Therefore, even though Theseus is the mythical founder of Athens, Euripides set the play in Troizen, where Theseus was originally born. Still, when characters make reference to Athens, the audience would have understood that the events unfolding before them still affect their own city, where they regularly worshipped Hippolytus and other mythical characters. When Aphrodite announces at the beginning of the play that Phaidra first fell in love with Hippolytus when she saw him in Athens, for example, the Athenian audience feels even more invested in the tale.
Like all Greek tragedies, the play runs before a single background, in this case the palace doors of Troizen. Nevertheless, Euripides evokes new, unseen spaces in the imaginations of the audience and reader. When we first see Hippolytus, he has just returned from hunting in a beautiful pastoral scene, which he links with the chastity of his favorite goddess, Artemis. Addressing her, he calls the place “a meadow as virginal as you are” (115). Phaidra, even though she will commit suicide without leaving the palace again, longs for a similar natural place, which she associates with the man she desires. “Take me into the mountains,” she tells the nurse (316). But the drama of city and place reaches a climax when it comes to exile. Long ago, we learn from Aphrodite in the introduction, Theseus fled Athens with Phaidra when he “murdered a great man’s sons” (57). The theme repeats itself when Theseus banishes Hippolytus for the alleged crime of raping Phaidra, which means Hippolytus is offstage when Poseidon’s bull fatally wounds him. The messenger vividly tells Theseus the story of Poseidon’s bull, which effectively makes a distant, unseen event feel present in the minds of audience and reader.
Cities and Place ThemeTracker
Cities and Place Quotes in Hippolytus
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…
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.
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…
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.