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Hippolytus Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Euripides's Hippolytus. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Euripides

Reliable biographical information on Euripides is sparse, and any facts are difficult to disentangle with the legends that pile up. As a child on the island of Salamis he likely participated in athletics and studied art and philosophy under the renowned figures Anaxagoras and Proclus. He is said to have had two failed marriages with women that were unfaithful to him. After he went to Athens, several of his tragedies – of which a few survive, though many more are fragmentary or completely lost – won the first prize at an annual dramatic competition. He is also said to have isolated himself in a cave on the shore of Salamis and to have written his tragedies there, even as he became famous. He died after moving to the humbler court of Macedonia.
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Historical Context of Hippolytus

The Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, which would cause the end of the 5th-century Athenian Golden Age, began in 431, three years before Euripides staged the play. But the war would need to rage for almost thirty years before it took its toll on Athens, and the cultural dominance of Athens still persisted in 428.

Other Books Related to Hippolytus

Ancient tragedians took their subjects from the common body of Greek mythology, and often recycled the same material that other tragedians used. Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides were the three major Greek tragedians, and Sophocles at least wrote his own Phaedra, perhaps after Euripides wrote his Hippolytus, which was some version of the same myth. Unfortunately, Sophocles’ Phaedra exists only in some fragments, so the comparison is hard to make. Later, the Roman philosopher and tragic poet Seneca composed his own Phaedra. Since Phaidra’s ancestor was Medea, the play can also be seen as connected to Euripides’ famous Medea.
Key Facts about Hippolytus
  • Full Title: Hippolytus
  • When Written: Unknown, before 428 BC
  • Where Written: Athens or Salamis
  • When Published: First performed 428 BC
  • Literary Period: Greek Tragedy
  • Genre: Tragic Drama
  • Setting: Outside the palace of the Greek city of Troizen
  • Climax: A huge bull, sent by Poseidon because of Theseus’ curse, dramatically kills Hippolytus after Hippolytus has been framed for raping his step-mother, Phaidra, Theseus’ wife.
  • Antagonist: The goddess Aphrodite

Extra Credit for Hippolytus

Winner. When Euripides staged the play, he won the highly sought first prize. Though he is said to have produced some 90 plays, he only won the competition 5 times.

A second try. Historians argue that Hippolytus staged another version of the play some years earlier, which the audience hated, before he wrote the version we possess. Though the first play is lost, some scholars suggest that it portrayed Phaidra scandalously pursuing her desire without the nurse.