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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Hippolytus, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Family Relationships Theme Icon

A Greek audience would have been intimately familiar with the legends of Theseus, the mythical founder-king of Athens. In Greek mythology, a family history of violence and bloody guilt portended further crimes down the road. Theseus’ own step-mother, for example, was Medea, whose murder of her own children forms the plot of another famous Euripides play, Medea. When Phaidra grapples with her desire, she realizes that she is just another episode in a long family history of criminal love – “I’m thinking of a compulsion that’s been misery for the women of my clan” (525). Likewise, Hippolytus, when he lies dying before Theseus, blames “some murder, some polluting atrocity, done by our ancestors” for his unjust suffering (2086).

The play also highlights the familial relationships between the characters themselves. Theseus, even though he is married to Phaidra, fathered Hippolytus with another woman, a common practice among ancient Greek mythical heroes. When Phaidra finds herself stirred by desire for Hippolytus, the seemingly stable relationships between a husband, wife, and bastard son threaten to come loose: the nurse hopes to help Phaidra actually consummate her love for Hippolytus, and, even worse, Theseus imagines that Hippolytus has raped his own step-mother, so that he finds his own son to be his most serious enemy, on whom he wishes a cruel death from the gods. This irreparable damage emerges because family members entangle in criminal ways, not consistent with divine law or Greek norms. When Artemis finally promises that newly married Greek women will pray to Hippolytus, she aims to recycle the myth for the sake of smooth, and normal, familial relationships.

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Family Relationships ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Family Relationships appears in each section of Hippolytus. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Family Relationships Quotes in Hippolytus

Below you will find the important quotes in Hippolytus related to the theme of Family Relationships.
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.


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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.