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The Ancient Greek Play Hippolytus by Euripides

Categories Ancient Greece, Literature, Plays

Essay, Pages 6 (1374 words)

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Essay, Pages 6 (1374 words)

Hippolytus is an ancient Greek tragedy written by the playwright Euripides and was first produced for the City Dionysia around 428BC. What is somewhat unusual about this play is that it is in fact the second time Euripides has covered the myth of Hippolytus in one of his tragedies with the first play (known as the Hippolytus veiled) being an earlier work of his which is now lost.

Although the play is simply called the Hippolytus the play fallows the paths of both he and Phaedra, his step-mother, whose storyline takes up most of the first half of the play and whose fate has been entwined with that of Hippolytus.

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This ‘fate’ of theirs is revealed right at the beginning of the play by Aphrodite during her opening speech were it is revealed that Hippolytus, our tragic figure, must die due to his refusal to worship her and as a result of this, Phaedra must also die in order to fulfil Aphrodite’s’ plan for revenge on Hippolytus.

This then raises the question of whether or not Hippolytus and Phaedra had any control over there own destiny during the play which, at first glance, would suggest that both there fates were constructed by Aphrodite. However, as we’ll see the answer is not that simple, as Hippolytus has ultimately brought this fate upon himself due to his obsession with purity and his scorning of Aphrodite.

Phaedra has a lot less control over her own destiny with her original feelings for Hippolytus being cause by Aphrodite and the revealing of these feelings being constructed by the ‘Nurses’ character which ultimately leads to the situation were she believes the only solution is to kill herself and to vilify Hippolytus in the process in order to maintain her dignity.

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Aphrodite’s speech at the beginning of the play is of course the biggest argument to support the idea that Phaedra and Hippolytus were in fact not in control of there own destiny in the play.

In this speech Aphrodite tells the audience that she has fated Hippolytus to die due to his failure to worship her and that she has caused Phaedra (his step-mother) to fall in love with him which, according to the speech, will eventually be revealed to her husband Theseus and in turn will be Hippolytus’ downfall. It is also revealed that Phaedra must die in accordance with the plan which ultimately shows that no matter what either Phaedra or Hippolytus do during the course of the play they were always destined to endure Aphrodite’s plan and die.

However, the exact manner of both Phaedra’s and Hippolytus’ deaths are not specified in the goddess’ opening speech which is important when it comes to Hippolytus as surly the goddess has envisioned his death to be both painful and for him still to be disgraced. However as we see at the end of the play when due to the intervention from the goddess Artemis this is not the case with Hippolytus gaining back some of his respect when Phaedra’s plan is revealed which, although doesn’t show Hippolytus’ control, does show that Aphrodite doesn’t hold all the cards when it comes to destiny.

However, this argument holds much more water when is comes to the death of Phaedra which, although has been no doubt been both anticipated and exacerbated by the goddess, comes though Phaedra’s own feeling to protect her image and status which would be destroyed should Hippolytus reveal the secret feelings she has to Theseus. This plan that Phaedra comes up with to protect her self is important when considering whether or not Hippolytus had control over his own fate in the play.

Phaedra’s plan is to kill herself, something she seemed resigned on doing before hand, however this time she will leave a note to Theseus telling him that the reason she in fact killed herself was because Hippolytus, Theseus own son had raped her. This plan is a major blow to Hippolytus as it is almost impossible for him to argue against due to the nature of Theseus, who is hot headed and inclined to believe his wife without much evidence.

It is because of this plan that ultimately leads to his death, no matter what Hippolytus does or how pious or righteous he is the plan will succeed due to the nature of his father and it’s only when another god intervenes that he is shown the error of his ways. This also highlights the issue of how oaths are used in the play and how they effect the action.

Phaedra uses an oath to bind the choruses into not telling Theseus about her feeling for Hippolytus, which they assume at the time is so that Phaedra can maintain her dignity, though as they find out they have been used so that they cannot interfere with her plan to vilify Hippolytus by revelling to Theseus the truth. Hippolytus himself is also constricted by an oath he made to the nurse, again to not reveal Phaedra’s secret feelings towards him to Theseus.

This ultimately affects his defence when confronted by Theseus about Phaedra’s suicide note. However, this does not necessarily suggest that Hippolytus was not in control of his own destiny as it is after all his own choice whether or not to keep the oath and its only his pious attitude that prevented him from revealing the truth, though as Hippolytus suggests himself revealing the truth may still of been pointless as Theseus would probably not believe it. Phaedra’s fate is also controlled by another entity, the ‘Nurse’ character in the play.

When we first encounter Phaedra, she seems contrived to simply wasting away, not eating or going outside and keeping her feelings for Hippolytus a secret. The nurse however induces Phaedra into reviling these secret feeling to her, which she then passes on to Hippolytus despite being told not to. This leads to what is probably the pinnacle point in the whole play, were Hippolytus comes onto the stage in front of Phaedra and is shown to react very badly to this information giving a very misogynistic speech in the process.

It’s because of this scene that Phaedra believes, despite him taking an oath not to, that Hippolytus will reveal her secret desires to Theseus which will cause her the great disgrace she fears. This situation leads to her coming up with the plan that will lead to not only her own but Hippolytus’ death too. Of course the biggest argument to show that Hippolytus was in control of his destiny is that fact that he brought this fate upon himself.

Aphrodite is angry at Hippolytus not only to his lack of worship but his open bad mouthing of the goddess, at the beginning of the play he almost seems disgusted when it is suggested he should worship the Cyprian due to the fact the goddess stands for such things as desire and is associated with sex, ideals that go against his devout chastity and purity that he follows to an almost obsessive degree, which is his major character flaw.

The same argument cannot be applied to Phaedra as see has seemingly done nothing wrong before the play opens and, as described in Aphrodite’s speech at the beginning, see is simply a necessary casualty in order to bring about the destruction of Hippolytus which is the goddess’ actually target. In conclusion I believe that the characters had control to a degree over the own destinies but ultimately there fate were contrived by the goddess Aphrodite, fates which by the end of the play came true.

Hippolytus is much more in control then Phaedra, as it is he who is the goddess target due to his obsessive characteristics, characteristics which have been neither altered nor changed by the goddess. There is no evidence that Aphrodite has had neither any direct effect on Hippolytus nor any direct confrontation with the tragic figure and has instead used other people to bring about his demise. Phaedra however has much less control then Hippolytus and though it could be argued the plan was her own in order to preserve her own dignity, she is ultimately a puppet used by Aphrodite in order for the goddess to get her revenge.

Cite this essay

The Ancient Greek Play Hippolytus by Euripides. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/the-ancient-greek-play-hippolytus-by-euripides-essay

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