Euripides Hippolytus (428BC) Background:
The play is set in Troezen, across the gulf from Athens. King Theseus of Athens has come here in exile for the killing of his rivals (the Pallantids). He brings with him his wife Phaedra, daughter of king Minos, and their young children.
He has an older son, Hippolytus, from an encounter with the Amazon princess Antiope. Hippolytus would be regarded as a bastard, son of a slave bride taken in war, and as such he could not ordinarily inherit his father's kingdom in Attica. Therefore he has been brought up by his great-grandfather Pittheus in Troezen, with the expectation that he would receive that kingdom.
So it is that Hippolytus is reunited with Theseus in his exile. It is not a happy reunion. The play opens with a prologue by the goddess Aphrodite herself, and it concludes with intervention by her opposite, Artemis.
1) Be able to identify characters and setting:
Theseus ..... Phaedra ..... Hippolytus..... Pittheus .....Troezen
2) Trace the plot of the play: Tragedies typically begin with a problem, that original problem becomes more difficult and doubtful, and then, by some crucial discovery or decision, the outcome turns around' and becomes suddenly more certain and more horrifying. This sequence we describe roughly as 'complication and reversal.'
To unravel the sequence in this play, answer the following.
a) Why is Aphrodite so determined to destroy Hippolytus? (see prologue)
b) What does the goddess actually do to bring this about? What does the Nurse contribute?
c) What motives lead to Phaedra's tragic act?
3) What flaws or errors contribute to the action? (That is, when and why do people go wrong?)
a) Why does Phaedra leave the note incriminating Hippolytus?
b) Why is Theseus so quick to condemn his son?
c) Is Hippolytus to blame for his own fate? Note key passages which focus on such themes (e.g. the 'trial of Hippolytus' 916 ff.)
4) What are the characters' views of man's relationship to god? (What do they say and do to indicate their attitudes?). Again, identify key passages.