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Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity 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.
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon

Ancient Greek literature and philosophy often depicts sexual desire as a god (Eros), and as a force that takes control of a human soul powerless against it. The resistance to its force, ‘chastity’ or ‘temperance’ in modern terms, stood as a cultural ideal in Greek society. Hippolytus explores the tension between sexual desire and chastity, as represented by the statues of Artemis and Aphrodite, the goddesses of chastity on the one hand and sexual love on the other.

The play explores this tension not through a normal devotion to chastity or normal sexual desire, but rather through radical extremes of both. Hippolytus’s chastity is not humble or merely devotion to Artemis. Instead, he is proud and haughty in his chastity, arrogantly defying love or desire. Aphrodite, like many gods in Greek literature, take such haughtiness from a mortal as an affront, and punishes Hippolytus (and sets the plot in motion) by overwhelming Phaidra, his step-mother, with sexual desire for him. So Hippolytus’s chastity is arrogant, while Phaidra’s sexual desire for her step-son is incestuous and monstrous. Both Phaidra’s desire and Hippolytus’ cruelty transgress human laws and ideals and are violations of the social rules enforced by the gods. And the results of this clash are therefore extreme as well: Hippolytus viciously lashes out against his step-mother’s advances, to which Phaidra then tries to protect her own reputation by killing herself and claiming in a note that she committed suicide because Hippolytus raped her.

After the abnormal or criminal sexual experiences that drive the tragedy, the end of the play attempts to restore the normal interaction of these conflicting motivations. For the audience, both Phaidra and Hippolytus, and their dire fates, will be valuable lessons in moral conduct. When Artemis announces at the end of the play that from now on, girls, “in their thoughtful hours before marriage” (2154), will pray to Hippolytus, she imagines Hippolytus’ story inspiring regular Athenian citizens to both recognize the value of chastity even as they accept their own sexuality.

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Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Hippolytus related to the theme of Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity.
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:

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
Page Number: 112-115
Explanation and Analysis:

Because I prize my purity
I keep clear of [Aphrodite]…

Related Characters: Hippolytus (speaker), Aphrodite
Page Number: 164-165
Explanation and Analysis:

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:
Lines 426-816 Quotes

[Love] brings you sweetness and pain, almost
Beyond our human power to feel.

Related Characters: Nurse (speaker)
Page Number: 535-536
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

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:
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:

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:
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:
Lines 1369-1727 Quotes

There is one practice
That I have never touched,
Though it’s exactly what you attack me for:
Physical love. Until now
I’ve never been to bed with a woman.
All I know of sex is what I hear,
Or find in pictures – these I’m not very keen
To see, since I keep my inner life
As calm and pure as I can.

Related Characters: Hippolytus (speaker), Theseus
Page Number: 1544-1552
Explanation and Analysis:
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:

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: