Pdf fan Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Analysis

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.
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon

As the tragedy unfolds, the audience knows everything, sharing the perspective of the gods, and we watch as characters slowly discover truths about each other. This manipulation of truth and falsehood is another commonplace in the ancient Greek theater, and it turns the drama into a kind of detective tale. In the play’s opening lines, Aphrodite tells the audience that Phaidra is sick with desire, but the nurse struggles over a long scene to discover the same truth. Phaidra’s letter, engraved in a wax tablet that Theseus finds in her dead hands, says that Hippolytus raped her. This falsehood dominates the rest of the tragedy only because those who know the truth have sworn oaths to keep silent, which, in ancient Greek culture, is very seriously binding. The nurse swears Hippolytus to secrecy before confessing Phaidra’s love, and Phaidra herself puts the chorus under oath with some of her last words. The consequence is that, ironically, the only character unable to speak (the dead Phaidra) persuades Theseus, while those characters who still can speak must remain silent. “She gives her dead body as proof,” says Theseus (1444). It takes Artemis and the dying Hippolytus, at the end of the play, to prove the truth to Theseus, and his discovery of what really happened makes for a dramatic climax.

This interplay of truth and falsehood connects the characters of this play to a major concern for characters of Greek tragedy in general: one’s reputation. As members of the nobility, the three primary characters of the play each cares deeply about what general society thinks of him or her. This powerful emotion pairs with the feeling of shame at one’s actions, which is the judgment about oneself, rather than the judgment of an entire society. Phaidra hides her love, and then frames Hippolytus, in order to save her own reputation. Similarly, Theseus explains that he has to fiercely punish Hippolytus in order to uphold his reputation as a strong leader, while Hippolytus fears that his own reputation will be tarnished by Phaidra’s accusation. By the end of the play, once the truth comes out, Phaidra’s own reputation falls, and Artemis works to restore Hippolytus’ story – but this repair comes too late to save his life.

Get the entire Hippolytus LitChart as a printable PDF.

Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation appears in each section of Hippolytus. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
How often theme appears:
Section length:

Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Quotes in Hippolytus

Below you will find the important quotes in Hippolytus related to the theme of Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation.
Lines 1-425 Quotes

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).


Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Hippolytus quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.