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Hippolytus v. Aphrodite: An analysis of Euripides Hippolytus

Updated on December 2, 2012

Euripides Hippolytus and the effects of Hubris

Hippolytus v. Aphrodite

Euripides play Hippolytus discusses a dilemma that pervades throughout Greek mythology. In the play we observe how Hippolytus, through his strong hubris and immense devotion to Artemis, angers Aphrodite and therefore becomes a pawn in her scheme. This situation proves the domination of the gods over mortals and teaches the ancient Greeks that a strong hubris can compromise your free will. The power the gods possess over free will is absolute; if they are angered the gods will seek revenge, as in the case of Hippolytus, this power the gods have over mortals proves the difficulty in worshiping multiple gods.

Prevalent throughout the play Hippolytus is the theme of hubris. According to William Hansen “hubris is defined as insolent and or presumptuous behavior such as arises from an excessive sense of self-importance” (William Hansen, 2005, Page 205). In Hippolytus, Hippolytus angers the goddess Aphrodite through his devotion to only the goddess Artemis. In addition, Hippolytus takes on a vow of chastity and refuses to partake in any sexual acts. This act of self-righteousness is considered blasphemy by Aphrodite, who states “He will none of the bed of love nor marriage” (Euripides, Hippolytus, line 14). Hippolytus angers Aphrodite to such a great extent that she vows to seek revenge on him. Hippolytus unknowingly becomes a pawn the goddess’s game. Aphrodite aims at challenging Hippolytus hubris and devotion to his values and his worship of Artemis. Phaedra’s husband Theseus was also plagued by hubris, as he attempts to maintain his honor. Theseus chose to avenge his wife’s alleged rape and decided to use his father Poseidon’s gift of three curses for revenge, and thus according to Justina Gregory, King Theseus use of the curses was to “deflect blame from the god, in turn, for killing his grandson” ( Gregory, 2009, page 36). Thesus wanted revenge, but did not want the guilt and responsibility. Theseus in turn abuses the power of his father’s curse, as he exiles his son instead of striking him down. It was not until Hippolytus was later killed that Artemis, the goddess to whom he devoted his life to appears to question his father and murderer. “You have sinned indeed, but yet you may win pardon.”(Euripides, Hippolytus, line 1325) Artemis berated Hippolytus’s father for using such a powerful weapon against his own family, just to maintain his honor. The goddess was angered by Theseus, it was his honor that led him to kill his own son and abuse the power of the gods. It is the mortal’s hubris, which is viewed as blasphemy that angers the gods.

As the gods are angered by the mortal’s hubris, the mortals are punished, and in return they lose their free will. In the play the Iliad, Aphrodite’s tricks come in the form of blind lust. In the Iliad Aphrodite arouses such a lustful passion in Helen that it forces her to leave her home Sparta, and head for Troy with Paris, which in turn sparks a series of events that leads to the Trojan War (Homers, Iliad, Book 3). Aphrodite again uses her tricks on women in Euripides play Hippolytus, as Aphrodite tricks Helen in the Iliad (Homers, Iliad, Book 3), Aphrodite arouses in Phaedra a similar lust, for her step-son Hippolytus. In the case of both stories, mortals are bent against their free will and are powerless against the gods. Phaedra is quoted in saying, “o, I am miserable! What is this I've done?”(Euripides, Hippolytus, line 239) Phaedra’s thought shows how she has become a victim of Aphrodite’s revenge. She did not want to be in any relationship with her step-son, but as a mere mortal she was changed by the immortal goddess and became women who deceives her husband to take out revenge on Hippolytus in the form of exile and later his death. Aphrodite’s tricks prove that the mortals have no free will over who they can love and worship. As Phaedra never wanted to lust for her stepson, Hippolytus only wanted to worship Artemis. But this free will and act of devotion was seen as blasphemy, and so the goddess Aphrodite set out to disallow it and seek revenge, even though it would include those who did not partake in Hippolytus sinful acts. Both Phaedra and Theseus were tricked by Aphrodite into acting out her revenge on Hippolytus. Even as both were tricked, they still sought out to maintain their honor. Phaedra, who does not wish to become dishonored by the thought that she had a relationship with her stepson, decided that her only way to maintain her honor was to commit suicide. This emotional decision adds to the lack of free will mortals possess over them-selves. Phaedra was under the influence of Aphrodite, and her values and honor were corrupted, making her even more of a victim. While Phaedra is portrayed as the stereotypical Greek mythological women, who comes under the influence of Aphrodite, and in turn aims at deceiving a man, her situation is much more crucial. Phaedra’s free will was challenged as Aphrodite used her to seek revenge against Hippolytus, Phaedra had no part in Hippolytus blasphemy, yet she was punished and died as a result. Phaedra was a victim; she becomes an example of how the gods express their power over mortals by taking away mortals free will.

The very circumstances of Hippolytus’s situation prove to be unwinnable. Hippolytus is so devoted to the goddess Artemis that he ignores the other gods, who in turn see this as an act of blasphemy. In accordance with this insult the goddess Aphrodite, seeks to end Hippolytus’s chastity, by forcing his step-mother Phaedra to lust for Hippolytus. This too proves the mortals lack of free will in who they wish to worship. Euripides uses this story about the game the goddess plays with mortals, in order teach the ancient Greeks the difficulty of worshiping multiple gods. In the play Hippolytus, Hippolytus devotion to single god, Artemis, angers Aphrodite and in her wrath she sought revenge against Hippolytus. The god’s will and absolute power is evident in Poseidon’s gift of three curses to his son King Theseus, who uses them as tools of revenge. Since “Poseidon cannot be portrayed as willingly killing his own grandson” (Gregory, 2009, Page 45), the gods do not interact with Theseus while he kills his son. This lack of action from Poseidon shows the difficulty in worshiping the gods. Whether the gods wish to help or not, their powers are always too powerful for mortals.

Throughout Hippolytus we can see how the gods prevent the free will of mortals. The gods are so powerful that they look upon Hippolytus and his family as pawns in a game. As hard as Hippolytus tries, his will and courage proves futile to the wrath of Aphrodite. And in the end the true message the play presents is the difficulty in worshiping multiple gods. Even as Hippolytus’s hubris and devotion to Artemis proves so great that it enacts Aphrodite to seek revenge, Artemis does not help Hippolytus; she only appears in the epilogue of the play to express her dissatisfaction for the death of her follower Hippolytus. The actions of the gods prove Euripides idea about the difficulty in worshiping multiple gods. The plays proves that worshiping a single god, one that holds true to your deepest values, cannot prove your self-riotousness, but instead may be viewed as blasphemy by the gods and bring about your destruction.


· “A FATHER'S CURSE IN EURIPIDES' HIPPOLYTUS” (pages 35-48) in The Play of Texts

and Fragments: by Justina Gregory and edited by J.R.C. Causland and James R. Hume, 2009, Brill Leiden Boston.

· Euripides Hippolytus

· Homer’s Iliad: Book 3

· “Hubris” (pages 204-207) in Classical Mythology: A Guide to the Mythical World of the Greeks and Romans by William Hansen, 2005, Oxford University Press.


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