Euripides’ Hippolytus - Hippolytus as a Male Amazon?

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007

13 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction

2. The Hippolytus Myth - Apollodorus and Euripides

3. Hippolytus, the Son of the Amazon - Features Resembling Amazons
3.1 Lemnian Women and the Women of the Sauromatae
3.2 Hippolytus’ Refusal of Marriage and Citizenhood and Its Consequences: Disruption of the Oikos and Punishment through Aphrodite

4. The Meaning of The Myth - Men Must Marry

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Euripides’ Hippolytus is the play has been generally acknowledged to be one of Euripides’ finest [works], both for his skilled reworking of a traditional myth, and for the richness and complexity of its thought and language” (Mills, Euripides 7).

The play offers space for various interpretations and especially the character Hippolytus is argued to appear as rather strange, and less clear than e.g. the character Phaedra (cf. Mills, Euripides 95). This paper aims to examine Euripides’ play and find out in how far Hippolytus may function as a male Amazon in the play, and how he therewith provides a negative role model for Athenian men.1 At first, Apollodorus’ and Euripides’ account of the Hippolytus/Theseus myth will be discussed and then the character Hippolytus will be compared to Amazons such as the Lemnian women and the women of the Sauromatae. After that it will be shown how Hippolytus’ inappropriate behavior does not only seal his own fate, but also affects the other characters’ lives and leads to the disruption of their oikos. Finally, it will be revealed in how far the Hippolytus in Euripides play might have been a character that teaches Athenian men to stick to their society’s rules.

2. The Hippolytus Myth - Apollodorus and Euripides

The stories around Theseus, Phaedra and Euripides are old Athenian myths that the Greeks have known for centuries. Euripides formed a play out of the myth that “was presented in 428 BC at the Great Dionysia, a dramatic festival in which literature, artistic spectacle, religion, politics and education all played a part” (Mills Euripides 19). Almost three hundred years later, Apollodorus of Athens gives a kind of summary-like account, briefly reporting the general content of the myth, such as Theseus’ deeds, Antiope’s /Hippolyta’s attempt to prevent his second marriage with Phaedra and the conflict between Phaedra and Hippolytus.

Euripides, however, has created a colorful play out of the myth that is supposed to entertain and teach. According to Mills, Euripides’ plays are shaped by fifth-century ‘cutting-edge’ speculations on the value of war and other traditional Greek pursuits, on the nature of the gods, and on the distinctions between slave and free, male and female, Greek and barbarian that shaped Greek thought (Euripides 8).

The plot does not deal much with the Amazon Antiope/Hippolyta, Hippolytus’ mother. It rather focuses on the household of Phaedra and Theseus in Trozen, a city east of Athens at the Ionian Sea. The action centers around Phaedra and Hippolytus and kind of illuminates the circumstances of the action that Apollodorus talks about.

Concerning Euripides’ goal to entertain and teach, it has to be noted that he lived in a time in which [t]he imperial and economic power of Athens turned the city into a place of unparallel culture and intellectual activity [...] and as a result [Euripides’] tragedies are often highly intellectual in tone and full of questions on intellectual and moral issues of the day which he raises without offering any clear answers (Mills Euripides 8).

Consequently, the play could have raised discussions among its contemporary viewers under which these intellectual and moral issues might have been discussed.

3. Hippolytus, the Son of the Amazon - Features Resembling Amazons

3.1 Lemnian Women and the Women of the Sauromatae

Hippolytus has several character traits and ways of behavior that make it plausible to associate him with Amazons, even though he is a man. In the opening speech of Aphrodite in Euripides’ play, Hippolytus’ is introduced as “Prince of Theseus’ seed,/ [...] child of that dead Amazon,/” (Euripides ll. 1-21, 13)2, and is therewith directly linked to his mother (and father). Noticeably, his mother is disparagingly called “that dead Amazon” and contrasted with “saintly Pittheus3 [who raised Hippolytus] in his own/ Strait ways” (ibid.). So, the fact alone that his mother was an Amazon seems to make it necessary to counterbalance this bad influence in Hippolytus’ education by a virtuous man. As Blundell mentions, the function of Amazons was to provide a negative role model for women and also for the men who should treat their wives in the Athenian way, as otherwise problem may resolve when women are given more independence (cf. Blundell, 46). So, a good role model is needed to raise and educate Hippolytus.

However, this education obviously could not prevent Hippolytus from committing a serious wrongdoing. Aphrodite complains: Hippolytus “hath dared, alone of all Trozen/ To hold me least of spirits and most mean,/ And spurns my spell and seeks no woman’s kiss” (ibid.). This will turn out to be Hippolytus’ harmatia, his fatal flaw that leads to his and other characters’ destruction.

His behavior can be compared to that of the Lemnian women who “neglected the cult of Aphrodite” - marriage - and therefore were punished by Aphrodite as well (Apollodorus, Library and Epitome, 1.9.17). Interestingly, the punishments of Hippolytus and the Lemnian women are similar, but go into different directions. Whereas the Lemnian women are punished with “a foul smell” (ibid.), and their men take other women as a result, Hippolytus’ stepmother is made to fall madly in love with him and desires him passionately (which she tries to subdue). And further, whereas “the Lemnian women murdered their fathers and husbands” as a revenge (ibid.), Phaedra kills herself as a revenge and a means to preserve her honor - and thereby indirectly kills Hippolytus as well. Just as the Lemnian women’s account shows how typical roles of Athenian women (and men) are inverted4, the action of Hippolytus and Phaedra may function as such as well: usually, it is rather the man who a woman than the other way around; a Greek woman is rather more chaste and expected to be so than a man, and Greek man rather kills other people or a woman than a woman would kill herself or others.

Another incident that Aphrodite mentions in her speech is that Hippolytus has been daring just as the Lemnian women have been. As has been mentioned in the author’s short paper before, “daring” was not accepted for women because it endangered the hierarchical order that men have installed (cf. Tyrell 102-103). Hippolytus is a man and therefore he can be daring in certain fields, but he threatens the order of the cosmos because he is daring against the gods. The Athenian world view embraced the idea that children, women and slaves had to obey men, whereas men had to obey the state and the gods.5 Therefore, Hippolytus’ daring has to be punished, too.

Tyrell maintains that daring “is no more than the capacity to act one’s will in order to achieve goals, daring is what it means to be a person - that is, manly” (103). Hippolytus acts his will by neglecting Aphrodite. Instead, he intensely praises Artemis, the goddess of hunting and chastity (cf. Blundell 29-31) with whom he has a “more than mortal relationship”, and with whom “through the wild dark woods for ever [he] strays,/ He and the Maid together, with swift hounds/ To slay all angry beasts from out these bounds [.. ,]”(Euripides ll. 1-21, 13).


1 As far as Athenian ideals and the roles of Athenian men and women are concerned, which due to the briefness of the paper might not always be stated expressively, knowledge/information will be used that has been acquired in class, and also some of which I have worked on in my HIST 2111-essay “The Ideal and the Reality of Classical Athens - Athenian Conceptions of the Individual Athenian, the Household and the Government”.

2 As in Murray’s translation the line number references are not indicated in detail, the page and the lines printed on the page will be cited.

3 Pittheus: “Father of Aethra, who was Theseus’ mother. Formerly King of Trozen, now ending his days in a life of meditation” (Euripides. “Notes” 84).

4 The inversion of social roles in Amazon myths have already been discussed in my short paper.

5 For further evidence, see e.g. the extract of Aristotle’s The Politics in Wiesner, Merry E., Julius R. Ruff, Franklin M. Doeringer and William Bruce Wheeler. Discovering The Ancient Past: A Look At The Evidence. Boston/New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. 115-117.

Excerpt out of 13 pages


Euripides’ Hippolytus - Hippolytus as a Male Amazon?
Hawai'i Pacific University
Gender & Sexuality in the Classical World
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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13-seitige Hausarbeit in englischer Sprache.
Euripides’, Hippolytus, Male, Amazon
Quote paper
Christina Gieseler (Author), 2007, Euripides’ Hippolytus - Hippolytus as a Male Amazon?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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