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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.
Gods and Fate Theme Icon

Many ancient Greek tragedies, including those by the tragedians Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides (the author of Hippolytus), tell a similar tale: a character’s greatness, however impressive, violates a law of fate set by the gods, who in turn punish the transgression. Aeschylus’ play about Prometheus, who brings the invention of fire to the human race and is punished for it, provides a useful comparison. Hippolytus’ superhuman resistance to the force of desire, just like Prometheus’ transgression, causes the gods to take notice. Desire itself is the law or fate of human life, and the audience watches it destroy Phaidra from within before seeing Hippolytus killed for his arrogant rejection of it.

Aphrodite herself enforces this law. Appearing above the stage before the action begins, she tells the audience that Hippolytus will suffer because his chastity goes so far that it scorns her. The conclusion – the death of Hippolytus – is therefore never in doubt. In this view, the entire sequence of Phaidra growing sick with desire, committing suicide, and framing Hippolytus simply represent Aphrodite’s power and will. “All three of us,” says the dying Hippolytus of himself, Phaidra, and Theseus (Phaidra’s husband and Hippolytus’s father) “owe our ruin to that lone goddess” (2118). Why couldn’t Artemis, whom Hippolytus revered, rescue him? At the play’s end, Artemis tells us that there is an even higher law, maintained by Zeus, which prohibits one god from interfering with the plans of another. But she also promises the dying Hippolytus vengeance against Aphrodite, which makes the audience think of other myths and other conflicts between human characters and the gods that oversee them. In this way, the personal struggle with desire and chastity grows into a struggle between the gods, even as the gods control mortal’s fate.

Gods and Fate ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Hippolytus related to the theme of Gods and Fate.
Lines 1-425 Quotes

The power I possess is sex, passion, love,
Which you mortals, in honoring me,
Celebrate in your diverse ways.

Related Characters: Aphrodite (speaker)
Page Number: 1-3
Explanation and Analysis:

Aphrodite speaks these lines at the very beginning of the play, when she appears above the stage and reveals her dislike for Hippolytus.

Aphrodite has the power to make mortals fall in love with whomever she selects, an ability which she boasts of here and which she will inflict upon Phaidra as part of her plot to bring Hippolytus to ruin. Exercising control over perhaps the most intense human emotion--love--as well as the very mechanism of desire or longing, Aphrodite commands the psychological motor that is necessary to want to do or achieve anything in life at all. This speaks to the magnitude of Aphrodite's power: she holds the fundamental key to human motivation, and as such can effectively program a human's desire to the extent that their entire fate becomes centered around the object of their longing. By altering a mortal's mind, Aphrodite can nearly "pre-program" that mortal's fate, as she does here with Phaidra and Hippolytus.


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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.

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).

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.

Lines 426-816 Quotes

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.

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

Eros, Desire! Our eyes perplex and cloud over
When your essence dissolves within them,
Your assault waves of crushing delight
Pour into hearts marked by you for destruction.

Related Characters: Chorus (speaker)
Page Number: 817-820
Explanation and Analysis:

Having overheard the exchange between Phaidra and the nurse--and being therefore in-the-know about Phaidra's love for Hippolytus--the Chorus speaks these lines about the power of desire.

Here, we get another glimpse at how desire is viewed in this play as a force radically beyond mortal control. The intervention of desire into the mortal psyche is violent: it's an "assault" of "waves of crushing delight" which enter "hearts marked . . . for destruction." Desire is viewed as a paradox--it is at once ecstatic and delightful at the same time that it is devastating and destructive. Mortals thrive on the hope and ideas of ecstasy afforded by the mechanism of desire, but they are simultaneously crushed by the magnitude with which it exerts control over their lives.

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 1369-1727 Quotes

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.

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.

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.