Study Guide

Theseus: Later Adventures and Death Hippolytus

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Hippolytus is the son of Theseus and the Amazon queen, Hippolyta (though some say he's the son Hippolyta's sister Antiope). Pretty much everybody agrees he was a major stud. Like a major stud. Like all the girls went crazy for him. Unfortunately for the ladies, he was totally devoted to the virgin goddess Artemis and swore to never take a bride. Some sources even say that he was downright sexist and hated all women, making him a symbol of misogyny, or hatred of women.

When Hippolytus rejects the sexual advances of his stepmother Phaedra, she gets revenge by telling Theseus that Hippolytus raped her. Theseus then asks his father, Poseidon, to curse Hippolytus. The beautiful boy is dragged to his death by his own horses after a bull charges at him from the sea. There once was a cult that worshiped the dead hero Hippolytus, and young girls offered locks of their hair to him before they were married.

All the badness between Phaedra and Hippolytus has been irresistible to many playwrights for many many years. Famous tragedian Euripides puts his spin on the story in his tragedy, Hippolytus. The tale is also told by French playwright Racine in his Phedre and by modern British playwright Sarah Kane in her gruesome play, Phaedra's Love. The story is also the basis for Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms.

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