Online Texts for Craig White's Literature Courses

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a modern performance version

by Jon Corelis

© 2008 by Jon Corelis

Greek Krater or wine bowl depicting Hippolytus


Setting of Hippolytus: Troezen

Box at right identifies location of Troezen, a port town on the Pelopennes peninsula of Southwest Greeceóthe same land-mass containing the legendary cities of Sparta, Tripoli, and Corinth.

According to Greek mythology, Troezen was founded by Pittheus, identified in 1.1 below as the grandfather of Hippolytus.

Pittheus's daughter Aethra became mother to Hippolytus's father Theseus after sleeping with Aegeus (founding king of Athens) and Poseidon (god-king of the sea) on the same night.

The story of Hippolytus takes place in or near Troezen, where in ancient times a cult formed around his legend. Troezen girls traditionally dedicated a lock of their hair to Hippolytus before marriage.

Theseus is best known as a King of early Athens, but his court has been exiled to Troezen for a year.


EURIPIDESí HIPPOLYTOS: a modern performance version

by Jon Corelis © 2008 by Jon Corelis

DRAMATIS PERSON∆ (cast of characters):

APHRODITE, goddess of love

HIPPOLYTOS, son of Theseus by Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons (Theseus & Hippolyta appear in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream)

OLD MAN, a household slave and attendant of Hippolytos

other male attendants of Hippolytos

CHORUS of married women of Trozen

NURSE, childhood nurse and now attendant of Phaedra

PHAEDRA, wife of Theseus, step-mother to Hippolytos (daughter of King Minos of Crete; family history of sexual transgression)

other female attendants of Phaedra

THESEUS, king of Athens and Troezen (Theseus is absent at the play's start and is rumored to be either dead or having one of his many far-off affairs.)

male attendants of Theseus

ARTEMIS, goddess of virginity, the hunt, and childbirth

Setting for all scenes is the palace of Theseus at Trozen, with its gates stage center.

Flanking the palace gates are cult statues of Artemis and Aphrodite.


The setting for all scenes is the palace of Theseus at Trozen, with its gates stage center.

Artemis, model of cult statue at Ephesus, where Artemis's temple was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

Aphrodite, Roman copy of Greek statue

Flanking the palace gates are cult statues of Artemis and Aphrodite.

[Scene 1]

[Enter Aphrodite.] [goddess of love]

[1.1]  APHRODITE: I am in everyone. Iím Aphrodite.

The gods rule everything: I rule the gods,

and on all the continents the ocean hugs,

of all the people walking around in the sun,

if they enshrine me, I enrich their lives,

but anyone who rules me out slips up.

People just naturally like to be admired;

why should the gods be any different?

What you see today will show you what I mean.

Theseus, King of Athens, who is the son,

men say, of the god Poseidon, had an affair    ["men say": flippancy toward Gods common to Euripides]

with the Queen of the Amazons; after she died,

their out-of-wedlock son, Hippolytos,

was brought up by his great-grandfather Pittheus,

a dreadfully respectable gentleman, here

in Trozen, a town that Theseus also rules.


[1.2]  Well, this Hippolytos is always saying

that Iím the ickiest goddess in the world.

He disapproves of sex, to say the least,

and wonít touch marriage with a ten foot pole.

His reverence all is spent on Artemis,

the virgin silver-arrowed huntress goddess,

whose sacredness alone he counts as sacred,

and romping through the green wood with this virgin,

he strips the land of game with his swift hounds,

for all the world on equal terms with heaven.


[1.3]  So let them have their fun Ė like I should care.

But if he thinks Iíll stand for his contempt,    [i.e., Hippolytos disrrespects Artemis as Pentheus in Bacchae disrespectes Dionysus]

today brings him a bitter education.

My plot, long planned, is pretty much prepared.

It started when Hippolytos went to Athens

to join its famous holy mystery cult.

By this time, Theseus had a trophy wife,

a princess of the royal line of Crete,      [Crete: largest Greek island, home of Phaedra, house of Minos, & the Minotaur]

young, beautiful, and oversexed, named Phaedra.

Well, Phaedra took one look at her own stepson

and bam! I mean, weíre talking ton of bricks.

My doing, of course. Then, after he left Athens,

she built a love-shrine on the Acropolis,    [dedicated to Aphrodite?]

looking over the sea to Trozen here,

secretly dedicated to her far-off passion

ó but after today the world will know the story

and call that temple after him and me.


[1.4]  Well, Theseus got in trouble ó killed some relations,

as kings so often do, and had to sail,

with Phaedra, here to Trozen and accept

a yearís exile from Athens as a penance.

Now, you can imagine what this does to Phaedra,

frantic with love for someone she canít hint at,

seeing him daily, pretending not to care,

his presence as unbearable as his absence,

she only wants to die to hide her shame.

But my plot ends her story differently:

Iím going to let her husband know the truth,

and that young man, his son, my enemy,

will be consumed by Theseusís own curse,

one of the three Poseidon, god of ocean,

whom Theseus, though mortal, claims as father,

once granted Theseus to invoke at will.


[1.5]  Phaedra will keep her honor but lose her life.

A regrettable necessity, but I count

her bad luck less important than the need

to show the world what happens when Iím scorned.   [cf. Dionysus's vengeance against Pentheus & Agave in Bacchae]

But look: here comes Hippolytos right now,

fresh from the hunt, with his usual entourage

of serving-men, warbling a solemn song

to the icy pure remote immaculate maiden.    [maiden = Aphrodite]

Iím out of here. But what he doesnít know

is that deathís gates yawn for him this bright day.


[Exit Aphrodite.]



[Scene 2]  

Enter Hippolytos, holding a wreath, with several companions, one of whom is an Old Man.]

[2.1]  HIPPOLYTOS: [sings . . . moderately and rather restrainedly, but jubilantly]

Follow, follow, join in singing

Artemis our queen above,

Zeusí loveliest daughter, bringing

offering to her of our love.

[Hippolytos & companiions sing a hymn of praise to Artemis, goddess of chastity]

[2.2]  ALL: [sing] Flower of purity and wonder,

Zeus-begotten, heavenís pride,

loveliest light of heaven, under

whose protection we abide,

hear us, dwelling bright in pureness

in your fatherís golden hall;

guide us with your arrowsí sureness,

loveliest goddess of them all.


Artemis / Diana as Huntress
(Roman copy of Greek statue)

[2.3]  HIPPOLYTOS: This plaited garland I have made to bring

to you, proud lady, from a virgin meadow,

where never shepherd dares to graze his flock,

nor iron scythe to mow, since it is virgin,

a meadow for the honey bee in spring,

and Pureness freshens it with gleaming dew;

its beauties may be culled by those alone

whose chastity remains an absolute,

a quality theyíve never had to learn,

since what it is, they are: the false and mean

can never gain admittance to its light.

Receive this to encircle your gold hair,

a token, lady, from your worshipper,

the only man alive to whom you grant

the realness of your presence and your words:

I hear your voice, though may not see your face.

May my life run its course as I began.


[2.4]  OLD MAN: Young sir Ė not master, that wordís for the gods Ė

would you take my advice for your own good?                            [tragedy as learning]


[2.5]  HIPPOLYTOS: Of course I would, if I had any sense.


[2.6]  OLD MAN: Well, then: you know the way that people are?


[2.7]  HIPPOLYTOS: How are they? What exactly is your question?


[2.8]  OLD MAN: When someone gets too proud, nobody likes it.            [pride or hubris as tragic flaw]


[2.9]  HIPPOLYTOS: Agreed: the proud are never popular.


[2.10]  OLD MAN: But people like it when youíre not stand-offish?


[2.11]  HIPPOLYTOS: True: friendliness gains friends at little cost.


[2.12]  OLD MAN: How is it then you donít greet this proud goddess?


[2.13]  HIPPOLYTOS: Which goddess? But let your language watch its step.


[2.14]  OLD MAN: Our Aphrodite here beside the gates.          [i.e. goddess of love; Old Man refers to statue of Aphrodite]


[2.15]  HIPPOLYTOS: At distance I salute her, keeping pure.


[2.16]  OLD MAN: Yet she is proud and much esteemed by mortals.


[2.17]  HIPPOLYTOS: Everyone has their favorite gods and people.


[2.18]  OLD MAN: Well, good luck then, and may good sense go with it.


[2.19]  HIPPOLYTOS: I donít like gods whose rituals are at night.


[2.20]  OLD MAN: Dear boy, all gods must have their due respect.     [cf. Dionysus in Bacchae]


[2.21]  HIPPOLYTOS: Come, followers and friends, letís go inside

and turn our minds to supper: the dining room

is where the hunt pays off. Rub down the horses:

when Iíve had food, Iíll yoke them to the chariot          [yoke = harness]

and give them all the exercise they need.

[to Old Man]

And to your love-goddess, a long goodbye.

[Exeunt all but Old Man into the palace.]

[2.22]  OLD MAN: But I myself, speaking within my station,

not copying this childish misbehavior,

will make my own prayer here before your image,

Aphrodite, Queen: if some young hot-head

runs off at the mouth, show some indulgence

and act like you donít hear. Iíd hate to believe

the gods are just as bad as human beings.       [Euripides brings gods & myths to level of humanity?]

[Exit into the palace.]



[Scene 3]

[Enter CHORUS: respectable married women of Trozen. . . . ]  [cf. Bacchae, where chorus is band of women devotees of Dionysus from Asia]

[3.1a]  CHORUS: There is a towering rock which gushes forth a spring,

where women take their urns to fill them from its virgin waters,

and there a friend of mine had come like me to bring    

her brightly woven gowns for cleansing, where our cityís daughters

were gathered round the garments laid

fresh washed spread out in rows along the sun-warmed rocks for drying:

it was by her I first was made

aware our queen was suffering from some dread disease and dying. [our queen = Phaedra]


[3.1b]  With veils of fine-spun fabric shading her blonde head,

she keeps within the house too weak to rise from bed;    [she = Phaedra]

for three days now they say she refuses to eat

or tell what makes her so afraid of life

that death is rendered sweet.


[3.1c]  Do demons of the wilderness or gloomy night

possess you, or proud Cybele the orgiastic power?         [Cybele = fertility goddess from Asia]

Or does the Mountain Mother freeze your mind with fright?

Or have you sinned not offering the cakes of holy flour     [cakes = offerings]

to Artemis the huntress queen,

whose anger, lady, withers you away, who also ranges

across our sandy half-marine

salt marshes where her shrine stands by the sea that never changes?


[3.1d]  Or has your husband Theseus, the illustrious king   [recall Theseus from Oedipus at Colonus]

of Athens found some newer hidden love to bring              [Theseus notorious for womanizing]

within his house a shameful joy dishonoring you?

Or has some Cretan ship been seen           [Crete: largest Greek island, home of Phaedra, house of Minos, & the Minotaur]

with news too dreadful to be true?


[3.1e]  Yet there are illnesses inherent in our kind:

it is a womanís nature to bring forth new life in sorrow,

and through a helpless disarray of flesh and mind

let form within us flesh and mind which will create tomorrow.

That pang once shot through my womb too,

and I cried out on Artemis, whose care is parturition. [parturition = childbirth] 


[3.1f]  If, princess, this is so with you,

entreat her silver pure bright strength to guide you to fruition.         [her = Artemis's]

But here her aged servant, once her childhood nurse,

has brought our queen, whose desperation now seems worse,

outside the palace gates to breathe fresh healing air.

Oh what unspoken source of rue               [rue = regret, sorrow] 

has spoiled her radiance into care?

wall painting from Pompeii of
Phaedra & her Nurse

[Phaedra, accompanied by the Nurse and female attendants, is brought out of the palace on her sickbed.]

[3.2]  NURSE: Nothing but trouble and pain!  [Nurse's grumpiness indicates comic potential; cf. Old Men in Lysistrata]

I canít do anything right.

Hereís the fresh bright sunlight that you wanted,

and now that youíve been brought,

sick-bed and all, outside,

youíre already starting to get that gloomy look.

I suppose youíll be demanding

to go right back inside,

though ďTake me outĒ was all youíve said all day.

You canít be satisfied

with how things are, but always

go stumbling after something you donít have.   [tragic flaw?]

Itís better to be sick

than have to tend the sick:

the sick just lie there; tendingís work and worry.

Well, worry and work are life,

thereís nothing we can do.

We werenít put in this world to be at peace.    [Nurse as lower-type character w/ comic potential]


[3.3]  PHAEDRA: Help me sit up. Cradle my head: my own body fails me.

Hold me up by my arms, beautiful, useless arms. My hair

feels like a massive weight in this netting. Undo it to fall down my back.


[3.4]  NURSE: Hush, dear, donít thrash around,

it will only make it worse.

You have to bear your troubles royally. [In contrast to lower-class nurse, noble Phaedra not expected to complain]

Weíve got to learn to accept

whatever the gods may send.

Show me life, and Iíll show you things that hurt.


[3.5]  PHAEDRA: Oh to bend my lips to the grassy meadowís cool pure stream,

to drink and lay my body to rest beneath black poplars there!


[3.6]  NURSE: Child, what rant is this?

Good heavens, donít let fly

delirious words in public to shock the people.


[3.7]  PHAEDRA: Take me away to the mountain, oh by the gods! in the pines, where the hounds of prey pant hot breath out as they close on the dappled deer!

When, when will I cry to the hounds and brandish the tipped spear,

and fling the Thessalian lance past my golden windstream of hair?    [delirium sounds like Hippolytus, Artemis, and "the hunt"]


[3.8]  NURSE: Darling, youíre not yourself.

Whatís hunting to do with you?

And why this thirsting after a woodland spring?

Look, hereís a watered slope

along the cityís towers

which ought to furnish all the drink you need.


[3.9]  PHAEDRA: Artemis Queen of the salt lagoon and the race-courseís rattling gallop,

may I too dwell in thy precinct, taming the whinnying high bred steeds!  [psychologically-revealing speech exposing Phaedra's repressed lust for Hippolytos; cf. Pentheus in Bacchae]


[3.10]  NURSE: Now what craziness?

A moment ago you were off

to the mountain, hunting down wild animals,

and now a sudden passion

to break in prancing fillies

and ride them over the sandy shoreís high ground.     [as Hippolytos does]

Weíd need an expert seer

to prophesy what god

has veered your mind disastrously off course.


[3.11]  PHAEDRA: Oh Iím unhappyówhat have I doneóhow have I lost my senses?

I must have been out of my mindósome god sent those cruel illusions.

Nanny, cover me up againóIím ashamed of what Iíve saidó

cover me up so I can cry, hide my guilty face.

Things are suddenly clearer now, all too unbearably clear.

Unbearable clearness wounds, whirling confusion torturesóno:

better to die; let awareness itself fade into that long night.


[3.12a]  NURSE: Iíll cover you. I wish

my shroud were covering me.

Iíve learned this much from having lived so long:

we human beings should mold

our loves out gently, not

allowing them to sink deep in our souls.

Affections should be easy

to rouse and to dissolve.               [potentially comic, with love as easy and dispensible, esp. in contrast to heroic suffering]


[3.12b]  To feel anotherís anguish as your own,

as I feel this poor girlís,

will make your own life torment.

They say expecting too much of yourself      [cf. tragic flaw?]

will far more likely bring

a sick, unhappy fall

than make you happy. Thatís why I advise             [lower-class common sense]

restraint in everything,

not going to extremes,

as everyone with any sense agrees.


[3.13]  CHORUS: Madam, faithful servant of our queen,

that Phaedraís dangerously ill is clear,

but we have no insight into the cause.

Can you enlighten us? If so, please do.


[3.14]  NURSE: I wish I could. She wonít tell even me.


[3.15]  CHORUS: She wonít give any hint what started this?


[3.16]  NURSE: Not even that. She wonít let slip a word.


[3.17]  CHORUS: She seems so weak, as though sheíll melt away.


[3.18]  NURSE: No wonder, since itís three days since sheís eaten.    [contrast food as comic (i.e., physical)]


[3.19]  CHORUS: Through madness, or deliberate suicide?


[3.20]  NURSE: Whichever it is, sheíll starve herself to death.


[3.21]  CHORUS: I canít believe her husband isnít worried.


[3.22]  NURSE: He doesnít know. She keeps her sickness secret.


[3.23]  CHORUS: But canít he tell by looking at her face?


[3.24]  NURSE: Heís had no chance. Heís absent from the city,

traveling to consult some oracle.


[3.25]  CHORUS: But canít you somehow force her, make her say

how sheís become so ill in body and mind?


[3.26a]  NURSE: Iíve tried until Iím frantic. Nothing works.

Yet even now I wonít give up. Youíll see

what kind of loyalty this servant has

towards the family Iíve served so long.

Come, darling, letís not argue any more.

Letís both forget all that. Be calmer now,

and not so gloomy. Take another view.

I see I took the wrong approach before,

so now Iíll find a better way to put it.


[3.26b]  If somethingís wrong too delicate to mention,

well, weíre all women here, and we can help.

But if itís something you donít mind being known,

then tell us, and weíll go to find you doctors.

Well, why donít you answer? My dear child,

you ought to answer, either to explain

just where Iím going wrong, or if Iím right

in giving this advice, to say youíll take it.

Speak to me. Look at me. Oh, whatís the use.


[3.26c]  Women, all our trying has been futile.

Weíve got nowhere at all. Just as before

my words just rolled right off, now she wonít answer.

But let me tell you one thing: after that,

go on and be more wayward than the ocean.

If you die, then you will betray your children.

Youíll make them orphans in their fatherís house,

and sure as that Amazon queen could ride a horse,    [Amazon queen = Hippolyta, Hippolytos's mother]

theyíll be passed over for that smarmy bastard

she bore to be their master, and I mean



[3.27]  PHAEDRA: No!


[3.28]  NURSE: Aha, so that hit home.


[3.29]  PHAEDRA: Youíre torturing me, nanny, by the gods

I beg you not to name that man again.            [that man = Hippolytos]


[3.30]  NURSE: You see? You understand quite well, but still

donít want to save your life and spare your children.


[3.31]  PHAEDRA: I love them. But Iím whirled beyond all hope.


[3.32]  NURSE: You talk like youíve committed some blood crime.


[3.33]  PHAEDRA: My hands are clean: the stain is in my heart.


[3.34] NURSE: An enemy has put some curse on you?


[3.35]  PHAEDRA: A friend brings doom that neither of us wishes.      [tragic irony]


[3.36]  NURSE: Then Theseus somehow has abused your faith?


[3.37]  PHAEDRA: May no one ever see me injuring him!


[3.38]  NURSE: Well, what then is this dread that rouses death?


[3.39]  PHAEDRA: Oh leave me in my sin. Itís not toward you.


[3.40]  NURSE: Iíll save you if I can, despite yourself.


[3.41]  PHAEDRA: What? Will you force me, holding to my arm?


[3.42]  NURSE: Iíll beg here on my knees until I know.


[3.43]  PHAEDRA: You must not knowóyouíd bitterly regret it.


[3.44]  NURSE: What could I find more bitter than your death?


[3.45]  PHAEDRA: Your own. And yet, my course is honorable [i.e., Phaedra is a noble character, worthy of tragedy]


[3.46]  NURSE: Then why hide good I beg you to reveal?


[3.47]  PHAEDRA: To put disgrace in service of whatís right.


[3.48]  NURSE: Wonít telling it then make you honored more?


[3.49]  PHAEDRA: By all the gods, let go of my right hand!


[3.50]  NURSE: [assuming the position of formal supplication, one arm around Phaedraís knees, the other reaching up her hand to Phaedraís chin]

I wonít, until you grant my supplication.   [Nurse here resembles character mentioned by Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy (ch. 11, p. 55) as the Graeculus, the hero of New Attic Comedy, a cheerful, irrepressible, cunning Greek slave; compare trickster archetype; see also 3.74a below]


[3.51]  PHAEDRA: I will. Honor must heed a suppliantís voice.


[3.52]  NURSE: Iíve had my say. The rest is up to you.


[3.53]  PHAEDRA: My mother, that sexual monster, sheósheósheó


[3.54]  NURSE: We all know how the Minotaur was born.*

*Instructor's note: Backstory on the Minotaur and Phaedra's family.

The minotaur ("the bull of Minos"; head of a bull on body of a man) lived at the center of the Labyrinth in Crete, where Minos ruled.

The minotaur was born from a mating between Minos's wife Pasiphae and the legendary Cretan Bull. When the young Minotaur developed an appetite for human flesh, Minos constructed the Labyrinth near his palace at Knossos to hold the Minotaur.

As tribute to Minos and expiation for past sins, at seven- or nine-year intervals the legendary King Aegeus of Athens sent several Athenian youths and maidens to be sacrificed to the Minotaur. At the time of the third sacrifice Aegeus's son Theseus went to Gnossos to slay the Minotaur.

Minos's daughters Ariadne and Phaedra fell in love with Theseus. The elder sister Ariadne gave Theseus a ball of thread to help him navigate the Labyrinth. Using Aegeus's sword, Theseus slew the Minotaur, then sailed homeward with Ariadne and Phaedra. He left Ariadne on the island of Naxos and married Phaedra. King Aegeus of Athens, mistakenly thinking Theseus died at the labyrinth, committed suicide, leaving Theseus to claim the kingship on his arrival.

Theseus slaying the Minotaur

classical Greek torso & head of Minotaur

[3.55]  PHAEDRA: Ariadne my sister abandoned herself to love.

[3.56]  NURSE: Whatís wrong, dear? Why bring up these family scandals?   [tragedy as family curse]

[3.57]  PHAEDRA: And I, unlucky third, am ruined in turn.

[3.58]  NURSE: I am astonished. Where will all this end?

[3.59]  PHAEDRA: My fall is deeply rooted, not new grown.

[3.60]  NURSE: I still donít have the knowledge that I need.

[3.61]  PHAEDRA: If only you could speak what I must say.

[3.62]  NURSE: Iím not a seer to divine these secrets.

[3.63]  PHAEDRA: What do they mean, when people say, ďin love?Ē

[3.64]  NURSE: The sweetest and most stinging honeyed pain.

[3.65]  PHAEDRA: Then I have found the sting without the sweet.

[3.66]  NURSE: You mean that youíre in love, dear child? Who is it?

[3.67]  PHAEDRA: Heísóheísóyou know, the son of the Amazon . . . . [the Amazon = Hippolyta]

[3.68]  NURSE: You mean Hippolytos?

[3.69]  PHAEDRA: You, not I, have said it.

[3.70]  NURSE: No, no, child. What are you saying? This is disaster.

Women, I am crumbling, I canít bear

to live. The very light of day is stained.

Iíll throw myself from some high cliff, Iíll barter

life for death. Farewell. I am no more.

The noble now are forced to love the low.

Oh Aphrodite, youíre no god at all.

Youíre something worse and greater than a god,

engulfing all this royal house, and me!


[3.71]  CHORUS: [sings . . . ]               [CHORUS = married women of Trozen]

Did you hear, oh did you hear her

crying out her shamed desire?

Now we know why death is dearer

than life lived in such a fire.

Oh unhappy for your sorrow!

Human life is made of pain.

Who can tell before tomorrow

if today brings loss or gain?

All your familyís life is draining,

all too clear the end is seen

whither Aphroditeís waning,

oh unhappy Cretan queen.


[3.72a]  PHAEDRA: Women of Trozen, inhabitants of this land

that fronts along the Peloponnesian shore:

Iíve often lain awake through nightís slow hours

thinking of life and how it can be ruined.


[3.72b]  And it seems to me itís not through ignorance

we fail in our behavior. We all know

whatís right. No, thereís another explanation:

we see and understand what we should do,

but cannot brace ourselves to do it, either

through lack of moral energy, or being

distracted by some pleasure. Life has many:

long talks with friends is one, a harmless vice,

and honor Ė is that a pleasure? Iíd say yes.


[3.72c]  But there are two types of honor, one benign,

and another which makes us act disastrously.

If we could put them in their proper context,

we wouldnít use one word for both these kinds.


[3.72d]  Since this is my thought-out philosophy,

there is no way that I could be beguiled

to change my moral principles from these.

But now Iíll talk about my own condition.


[3.72e]  When I was first assaulted by this passion,

I gave some thought how best to manage it.

At first I tried to drown my pain in silence,

since language is an unreliable ally,

a good tool for correcting othersí faults,

but a dangerous way of dealing with our own.


[3.72f]  Then after that I tried to bear up under

my folly by exercising self-control.

But finally, when all these methods failed

to conquer Aphrodite, then I saw

my obvious only option was to die,

since just as Iíd not want my virtues hidden,

so may I never be shown up as shameful.

My sick desire would lead me into scandal,

and I must never forget that Iím a woman:

we always walk a tight-rope over blame.


[3.72g]  The curse of all the gods upon that wife

who first abused her marriage with a lover!

It must have been in royal palaces

this blot upon our gender first arose,

since, when the leaders think disgrace is glory,

it makes the rest consider evil good.  [Euripides's script here sounds like Socrates, as Nietzsche observed]

I cannot stand these publicly pure women

who turn to shameless whores when no oneís looking.

How can they, O Queen Lady Aphrodite,

look at their husbands in the face, without

being terrified of the dark they use as pimp,

or the very walls, will give voice to accuse them?


[3.72h]  Just this, friends, is whatís driving me toward death:

the very thought I could betray my husband

or my own children. No: let them live free

in glorious Athens, holding their heads up high,

untouched by any scandal from their mother,

since brave men hide their faces like a slave

when they have to be ashamed of their parentsí crimes.

They say that only one thing counts in life:

to have a consciousness of your own worth.

But soon or later, Time, as if he held

a mirror up for some young girlís inspection,

reveals the bad. Iíll never be among them.


[3.73]  CHORUS: We feel your arguments are sensible

and ought to win approval from your hearers.


[3.74a]  NURSE: My lady, when I just now learned your trouble

my immediate reaction was to panic,

but now I see that I was being silly.

In life somehow our second thoughts seem wiser.

Thereís nothing strange or inexplicable

in what you feel: itís Aphroditeís anger.

So youíre in love. So what? So many are.                [lower-class common sense?]

And because youíve lost your heart youíll lose your life? [Here the Nurse resembles the dramatic character mentioned by Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy (ch. 11, p. 55) as the Graeculus, the hero of New Attic Comedy, a cheerful, irrepressible, cunning Greek slave; see also 3.50 above]


[3.74b]  A pretty situation it would be

if falling in love were punishable by death.

The goddess overwhelms when sheís resisted.

She proves a mild companion to the willing,

but the high-minded people who rule her out,

she treats them with a harshness beyond belief.


[3.74c]  Aphrodite is in the skyís fresh breezes,

the oceanís surge, and everything is her child.

Bestowing love, she germinates desire,

the origin of all of us who live.


[3.74d]  Why, everyone who knows the ancient poets

from having had a proper education

will tell you how Zeus once conceived a passion

for Semele, or how the bright Dawn Goddess                   [Zeus + Semele > Dionysus]

abducted Kephalos, a mortal youth,                 [dawn goddess Eos kidnapped & loved Cephalus]

for love, and yet they live together now

in heaven, not in exile from the gods.

They knew, I think, they couldnít fight what happened.


[3.74e]  But you will? Then you should have been born exempt

from all the laws of nature and the gods

if you donít like the laws and gods we have.

How many husbands, whose marriages go sour,

decide to just ignore their wivesí affairs?

How many sons are winked and nudged towards

sowing their wild oats Ė by their own fathers?


[3.74f]  You wonít go wrong in life if you remember

this one great rule: keep scandal under wraps.

We should not try to make our whole lives perfect   [Nurse as "low" character, therefore "comic?"]

in every department. That would be

like decorating a closet: whatís the point?         [domestic analogy; cf. sit-com]

And anyway what headway can you make

against so huge a tempest of desire?

No: if a situation brings more good

than bad in life, then how can we complain?


[3.74g]  No, no, dear child: give up this stubbornness,

this arrogance, yes! since it is nothing more

than arrogance to struggle against the gods.

Endure your love: it is a god at work,

and find a better way to end this illness.

A magic charm, a powerful incantation:

thatís whatís needed now to cure your pain.

Such things are womenís lore; weíd wait forever

if we left it up to men to find them for us.


[3.75]  CHORUS: Phaedra, she offers you the easy way     [CHORUS = married women of Trozen]

out of your trouble, but you are in the right,

though you may find this praise of ours is harsher

and more unwelcome than what she has said.


[3.76]  PHAEDRA: This is what ruins cities in their prime

and wrecks their homes: seductive rhetoric.

You shouldnít sap my strength with weaseling words,

but bolster my resolve to save my honor.


[3.77]  NURSE: Quit speechifying. You donít need noble slogans,

you need your man, so letís get straight right now

exactly what weíre going to do to get him.

If this were not a matter of your life,

if you had any hope of self-control,

do you think I would have urged such desperate measures

so you could just enjoy some fun in bed?

But now your lifeís at stake, and who can say

that anything we do to save itís wrong?


[3.78]  PHAEDRA: Stop it! Stop these pitiless excuses.

Quit spewing out foul reasons for a crime.


[3.79]  NURSE: Foul? Yesóbut better for you than your nice ones:

better to choose reality and life

than die rejoicing in your phantom honor.


[3.80]  PHAEDRA: No further, by the gods! with this portrayal

of vicious sin as justified response.

My soul is made so vulnerable by passion

that if you paint my wickedness so fair

Iíll yield to what has weakened my resistance.


[3.81]  NURSE: All right. You never should have slipped at all,

but since you have, at least take my advice,

thatís all I ask you. Iíve just now remembered

that in the house I have a formula,

guaranteed to gain control of love

discreetly, while it leaves the mind unharmed.

This formula will cure you, if youíre brave.

But first I need to get some sort of token

from him, the man you love: a lock of hair,

or a few threads from his clothes, and these Iíll join

with what I have, to bind in happy union.


[3.82]  PHAEDRA: This formula . . . is it an ointment, or a drug?


[3.83]  NURSE: Itís something, dear. Just use it, donít ask questions.


[3.84]  PHAEDRA: Iím afraid your cleverness will be my ruin.


[3.85]  NURSE: Oh, everything scares you. What are you afraid of?


[3.86]  PHAEDRA: That youíll tell Ė you know, Theseusís son Ė about me.


[3.87]  NURSE: Hush, child, Iíll make everything all right.

If only you, Queen Lady Aphrodite,

will guide me. Whatever else I have to say

will be for certain people in the house.


[Exit Nurse into the palace, followed by Phaedraís attendants bearing empty sickbed.]


[Scene 4]

[4.1a] CHORUS: [sings . . . ]

Eros, Eros, sweetly despoiling   [>Eros = Gk god of erotic love; in some myths (as here), son of Aphrodite >]

all human hearts with your passionate fire,

never, never may you invade me

with so destructive a flood of desire.


[4.1b] Mightier, mightier than any gleaming

starlight endlessly piercing nightís radiance,

stronger than any torch that paints the dark with flame,

flies the fatal shaft of the Love God,                       [shaft = arrow]

child of all-seeing Zeus on Olympus

and Aphrodite it strikes with deadly aim.                  [it = arrow of infatuation]


Eros statue recovered from Pompeii

[4.1c] Vainly, vainly famous Olympia                      [Olympia = Olympus?]

and Delphiís holy oracular shrine

richly, richly garner their harvest

of sacrifice and libations of wine:

O my country, why do you never

make oblation in honor of Eros,            [oblation = offerings; Eros = Greek god of sexual love]

born of the Queen of Love to rule the minds of all?


[4.1d] Eros, guardian of Aphroditeís

sacred chambers is mightier than armies:

he is the conqueror whose power makes cities fall.

Aphrodite kindled in Helen

a passion stronger than duty or shame:

Priamís city, ancient and splendid,   [Priam's city  = Troy]

is nothing now but a song and a name.


[4.1e] Death and terror, fire and destruction

blossomed forth from her heartbreaking loveliness,

leaving Troyís citadel in ashes soaked with blood.

Dreadful, dreadful comes Aphrodite,

whirling all in her devastating hurricane,

quick as a honeybee that seeks a springtime bud.


[4.2] PHAEDRA: Silence, women: I think the worst has come.


[4.3] CHORUS: What is it, Phaedraótrouble in the house?       [domestic setting of sit-coms]


[4.4] PHAEDRA: Shh! Let me hear whatís happening inside.


[4.5] CHORUS: All right, but itís an ominous beginning.


[4.6] PHAEDRA: My sufferings are more than I can bear.


[4.7] CHORUS: What are you saying now? What kind of words are these?

What noises from inside have made you so afraid?


[4.8] PHAEDRA: This is the end. Come stand beside the door

and hear the outcry echoing through the hall.     [spectacle offstage]


[4.9] CHORUS: No: youíre already there; you tell us, what do you hear?

Tell us, what do you hear that means such dreadful news?


[4.10] PHAEDRA: Himóthe son of that horse-breaking Amazon queen, [Amazon queen: reference to Hippolyta]

Hippolytos, hurling curses at my servant.


[4.11] CHORUS: I hear his furious roar. I canít make out his words,

but the sound of his angry voice resounds behind the gates.  [spectacle offstage?]


[4.12] PHAEDRA: But I can hear him clearly: he calls her filthy

go-between who soils her masterís bed.              [go-between: pimp]


[4.13] CHORUS: Poor lady, you are betrayed. How can we help you now?

Everythingís come to light, and now you are betrayed,

betrayed by that one person who should have been your ally.   [that one person = Nurse]


[4.14] PHAEDRA: Sheís told him how I feel, and now itís over.

Her cure for my disease has made it fatal.


[4.15] CHORUS: Then now what can you do, with no way out?


[4.16] PHAEDRA: I see just one way out: to die. To die,

and let death finally heal me of my pain.


[Scene 5]

[Enter Nurse and Hippolytos from palace.]

[5.1] HIPPOLYTOS: O mother earth and sun-bright span of sky,

what never-to-be-uttered speech I've heard!

[5.2] NURSE: Be quiet, child, or someone else might learn.

[5.3] HIPPOLYTOS: There's no way I can pass such words in silence.

[5.4] NURSE: You must, I beg you: let me clasp your hand.

[5.5] HIPPOLYTOS: Don't touch me, don't you even touch my clothes.

[5.6] NURSE: I'm on my knees: don't bring me to destruction.

[5.7] HIPPOLYTOS: How could I, since you claim you've done no wrong?

[5.8] NURSE: This story, child, is not for all to hear.

[5.9] HIPPOLYTOS: What's good is even better if it's public.

[5.10] NURSE: Oh child, you'd never disregard your oath. [Evidently the nurse swore Hippolytos to confidentiality before informing him of Phaedra's desire, with consequences for Hippolytos's later dialogues with Theseus]

[5.11] HIPPOLYTOS: My mouth has sworn; my mind remains my own.

[5.12] NURSE: What will you doóbring ruin on your family?

[5.13] HIPPOLYTOS: Go [screw] yourself. No monster is my kin.

[5.14] NURSE: Forgive me, human beings can sometimes stumble.

[5.15a] HIPPOLYTOS: Oh Zeus, why did you make this poison candy,

women, and turn them loose upon the world?

Once you'd decided men should reproduce,

you never should have managed this with women,        [sit-com style joke or irony?]

but each of us should go up to your temple

and put down metal ingots, iron or bronze

or gold, and get our children as a purchase,

as good or bad ones as we can afford.

Then we could live in houses free of women.               [sit-com style expression of petty exasperation?]


[5.15b] Are women a disaster? Here's the proof:

the very man who makes and brings her up,

her father, sends her packing with a dowry,

eager to pay for riddance of the headache,

and the poor fool welcoming this parasite

into his home works night and day to bring her

baubles to bejewel and to gown

his bitch-queen idol, until his house is ruined.


[5.15c] A bubble-head is best: she's just an empty

kewpie-doll to decorate your marriage,

but a bitch with brains is bad. God save my hearth

from the pestilence of an over-intelligent woman!

She'll use that mind to follow Aphrodite

into a sexual hell. Your brainless girl

at least is too dim-witted to get in trouble.


[5.15d] Men's wives should have no servants wait on them,

but be attended by dumb snapping beasts

as powerless to speak a word to them

as they would be to understand their orders.


[5.15e] Instead, they plot their nasty schemes at home

and send their nasty servants out to work them,

you filthy crone, expecting me to use       [crone = old woman, here the Nurse]

my father's sacred bedroom as a brothel,

a thing I'd like to scour out of my ears

with running streams. How could I be so foul,

when I feel dirtied even hearing of it?


[5.15f] Be sure the solemn oath I swore will save you:

had you not trapped me into a holy pledge [Hippolytos cannot honorably share with others what the Nurse said to him indoors]

I never would have kept this from my father,

but as it is, while Theseus is away

I'll keep myself from home and bide in silence,

but as soon as he sets foot inside the house

I'll see how you two look him in the face.


[5.15g] God damn you c--ts Ė yes you and Phaedra both!

I'll never get my fill of hating women,

not even if they say that I'm obsessed.

They're all the same: they're bitches, sluts and whores!       [cf. Pentheus in Bacchaie?]

So go and try to teach them to behave

before you tell me that I've got a problem. [exit]


[Scene 6]  

[6.1] PHAEDRA: [sings . . . ]  To be a woman is a curse.

Regret and pain are all we find.

My remedy has made me worse,

nor can my powerlessness unwind

this strangling skein of love and shame.      [skein = knot of thread or yarn]

My sickness now has been revealed.

What god or mortal may I name

as my defender, to be healed?

Both earth and heaven must hate my crime.

My suffering grows with every breath.

This agony floods all of time.

Redemption only comes in death.


[6.2] CHORUS: Thereís nothing to be done, my queen: the attempt

has failed. Your servant has not served you well.


[6.3] PHAEDRA: You filthy fool, you plague upon your own,     [You filthy fool = Nurse]

may Father Zeus my houseís ancestor         [Phaedra's father Minos was son of Zeus & Europa]

exterminate you root and branch with blinding

thunder flash for what youíve done to me!

I told youóI knew it, I knew what you would doó

never to reveal my horrid shame,

but no, that was too much: so I must die

dishonored. Now I need another plan.

I know that he, frenzied in his rage,               [he = Hippolytos]]

is sure to tell his father how youíve blundered        [his father = Theseus]

and make the whole land ring with my foul name.           [dishonor or shame]

God damn you and god damn all meddling fools

who do disastrous favors for their friends.


[6.4] NURSE: My lady, you may well reproach my failure:

your angerís sting has numbed your better judgment.

Yet I have my defense, if you will hear it.

I raised you and care for you. I tried to heal

your pain with an approach that didnít work.

Had it succeeded, youíd have called me brilliant:

weíre fools or wise depending on success.    [Nurse here resembles dramatic character mentioned by Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy (ch. 11, p. 55) as the Graeculus or "little Greek," the clever rascal-hero of New Attic Comedy, a cheerful, irrepressible, cunning Greek slave]


[6.5] PHAEDRA: Is this whatís right, whatís good enough for me,

to ruin me, then offer to discuss it?


[6.6] NURSE: Weíre wasting time in words. I went too far,

but there are ways, dear child, to still recover. [Again the Nurse resembles dramatic character mentioned by Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy (ch. 11, p. 55) as the Graeculus or "little Greek," the clever rascal-hero of New Attic Comedy, a cheerful, irrepressible, cunning Greek slave]


[6.7] PHAEDRA: Stop talking. Everything youíve tried to do

has brought me only ruin and disgrace.

You are dismissed. Go make plans for yourself,

and Iíll make my own plans as I see fit.          [in contrast to mythic plots of Sophocles & Euripides, Euripides's characters make their own plots]

But you, O noble daughters of this land,        [daughters . . . = Chorus of Trozen women]

I beg to favor me in one request:

keep under seal of silence what youíve heard.


[6.8] CHORUS: We swear by holy Artemis, child of Zeus,  [Artemis = Hippolytus's favorite, goddess of chastity & hunt]

never to bring your sufferings to light.


[6.9] PHAEDRA: Thank you. That is well. And as for me,

I do have an idea which I believe

will free me from this trouble in a way

that will both save my children from disgrace

and yield me some requital for my pain.

I will not stain the royal line of Crete   [Crete: largest Greek island, home of Phaedra, house of Minos, & the Minotaur]

or let my husband look on me in shame,

merely to save a single personís life.          [a single person's life: either Phaedra's or Hippolytos's]


[6.10] CHORUS: What dreadful measure is it you propose?


[6.11] PHAEDRA: To die. But mine will be a special death.


[6.12] CHORUS: Donít say such things.


[6.13] PHAEDRA: Donít you try to dissuade me.

My death will bring great joy to Aphrodite,

whose power terminates my life this day,

but it will be a bitter love that kills me.

I will not go alone to face my ending.

No: I will have a partner in my death,      [a partner: Hippolytos]

and he will find it educational                   [learning theme of tragedy; suffering > wisdom]

to see what can result from too much pride.           [too much pride = hubris or tragic flaw?]


[Exeunt Phaedra and Nurse into palace.]


[6.14a] CHORUS: [sings . . . ]

O that god would change me to a sea-bird,

soaring in the sunset,

joyously and free,

leaving all my sorrow

for my own tomorrow,

far beyond this lying worldís illusion.


[6.14b] I would fly away to that bright garden

past the oceanís ending,

where eternity

nourishes the flowers

through their perfect hours

never touched by human lifeís confusion.


[6.14c] To fly away, away, away, away, away on wings of wishing,    [death as romance narrative, or struggles & trials concluding in transcendence]

where the golden apples swell in ripeness,

and the fertile meadows

bloom abundantly,

bringing forth earthís treasures

for the deathless pleasures

granted to the gods in calm profusion.


[6.14d] White-winged Cretan ship that brought my princess       [princess = Phaedra]

from her happy childhood

to a queenís despair,

fatal was your leaving

Crete for a deceiving            [Crete: largest Greek island, home of Phaedra, house of Minos, & the Minotaur]

wedding-song that was a dirge of sadness.


[6.14e] Dark and evil was her hour of sailing,

luckless was her landfall,

doomed to pain and care,

crushed beneath the mighty

storm of Aphrodite,

wrecked by her unholy passionís madness.


[6.14f] And now to die, to die, to die, to die, to die is all her longing.

I see my queen retired within her chamber,

weeping under fortune

worse than she can bear,

fastening from its ceiling           [cf. suicide by hanging by Jocasta in Oedipus the King]

her last means of healing

ills that stain her life and end all gladness.


[Scene 7]

[7.1] NURSE: [from within the palace]

You women there outside, please come and help.

Our queen has tried to end her life by hanging.


[7.2] CHORUS: Itís over now. Our princess is no more.

Her own hands put the rope around her throat.


[7.3] NURSE: [from within the palace]

Please hurry. Oh why doesnít someone bring

a two-edged sword for us to cut her down?


[7.4] CHORUS: What can we do, friends? Is it best to go

inside to try to free her from the rope?

No: she has her serving women with her,

and help is dangerous when itís unwanted.

[cries of mourning from within the palace]  [repression of spectacle here and above]


[7.5] NURSE: [from within the palace]

Lay out her body; straighten out her legs,

poor lady. Now her ruin is her homeís.


[7.6] CHORUS: So now we know. The queen is dead, our sad

and haunted queen. Theyíre laying out her corpse.                      [spectacle offstage]




[Scene 8]

[Enter Theseus, with attendants.]


Theseus, husband of Phaedra.
Temple of Zeus at Olympia, c. 460 BC.


[8.1] THESEUS: Can any of you women tell me why            ["you women": chorus of married women of Trozen]

my palace rings with all this lamentation?

The oracle Iíve been to gave good news,

so this is not the welcome I expected.

Surely my grandfather Pittheus is well?

Heís very old by now, but Iíd still hate

to learn that he no longer was among us.


[8.2] CHORUS: Itís not the old, Lord Theseus my king,

that you must mourn, but one who died too young.


[8.3] THESEUS: Itís not my children, then, that we have lost?


[8.4] CHORUS: They live, but motherless, and you are widowed.


[8.5] THESEUS: What? Has Phaedra died? How did it happen?


[8.6] CHORUS: By hanging: her own hands arranged the rope.


[8.7] THESEUS: Heart-struck by grief, or what was the disaster?


[8.8] CHORUS: Thatís all we know: weíve only just now come,

your majesty, to mourn your familyís loss.


[8.9] THESEUS: Then how can I still wear this joyous garland

in token of an oracleís good news,

when what should have been prophesied was death?

You there inside: unlock the palace doors,

unbar the gates, open them to show

my grieving eyes the worst thing they can see.

[Palace doors open to reveal Phaedraís body, laid out, a wooden tablet hanging from her wrist.]

[spectacle revealed]

[8.10] CHORUS: [sings . . . ]  Unhappy princess who sailed from afar,

how could you harden your heart to this doom?

What made you leave this light where your loves are,

wrapping yourself in the after-lifeís gloom?

Losing yourself in a self-imposed strife,

now you have lost your life.


[Chorus now sings as before, two lines at a time, with Theseus speaking.] [compare opera]

[8.11] CHORUS: Sorrow is all that is left for your house,

which you once entered so joyous a bride . . .


[8.12] THESEUS: Oh family, children, wife, what ancient curse*   

has worked its way through time for our destruction?

[*Instructor's note: In Euripides's tragedies, curses really aren't so ancient, unless you count Phaedra's family's sexual misadventures as continuing with unnatural lust for Hippolytos]

[8.13] CHORUS: Sorrow is all for your desolate spouse,

and for your orphans, whose mother has died . . .


[8.14] THESEUS: This wave of loss has broken over our house

and drowned us in a flood-tide of despair.


[8.15] CHORUS: Sorrow no words can express or contain:

nothing is left but pain.


[8.16] CHORUS: [speaking]  Donít grieve overmuch, my king: your loss

is one that life has brought to many men.


[In the following again Chorus sings, Theseus speaks, as before.]

[8.17] CHORUS: Theseus our king lives deprived of your love;

dying you leave him a life worse than death . . .


[8.18] THESEUS: What forced her to this act? In all my house

is there not one of you to speak the truth?


[8.19] CHORUS: Though he still breathes in this bright world above,  [he = Theseus]

he takes in darkness with every breath . . .


[8.20] THESEUS: Most cherished of all women, you have flown

beyond our world and taken all joy with you.


[8.21] CHORUS: Oh weeping monarch, I wish I could say

you wonít grieve more today.            [i.e., Phaedra's death only begins the sorrows Theseus will experience on day of play's action]

[end Chorus singing]

[8.22] THESEUS: This wooden tablet fastened to her hand,

will it tell us whatís happened? Or does she mean             [hidden notes a stock element of melodrama]

to beg me to be kind to our poor children

and not entrust them to a cold stepmother?

Be comforted, my love: this hearth and home

will never know another wife than you.

And here the imprint of her signet ring

gleams with the last traces of loving light.

Unwrapping these bound strings that hold it sealed

will soon reveal what mystery it holds.


[8.23] CHORUS: Another punishment descends from heaven:

O wretched majesty! O ruined house!

I have no other words for you than these.


[8.24] THESEUS: No! No! disaster swells with new destruction.


[8.25] CHORUS: Whatís wrong, my king? Tell us, if we may know.


[8.26] THESEUS: This wooden tablet cries

things too dread for speech.

And is there no way out, is there no end

to loss and shock and pain?

What she has written wails the funeral dirge

for the royal house of Theseus, King of Athens.


[8.27] CHORUS: A dread beginning. I dread what is to follow.


[8.28] THESEUS: Itís bitterness itself to speak the words,

yet right demands that I must not suppress them.

Ho, citizens! Hippolytos has dared

defile the sacred marriage of your king,

dishonoring the holy light of Zeus.

O Ocean Lord Poseidon, God of Sea,

since I, as all men say, am your own son*,

though I am mortal man and you a god,

you vowed me once three curses. One of these           [vowed = granted]      

I hereby now invoke against my son:

destroy Hippolytos this very day,

if truly you have granted me this power.

[*Because Theseus's mother Aethra slept with both her husband Aegeus and the sea-god Poseidon on the night Theseus was conceived, Theseus had two fathersóone mortal, one immortal.]


[8.29] CHORUS: Your majesty, I beg you by the gods,

recall your curse, or else you may regret it.


[8.30] THESEUS: Impossible. And I decree his exile.

Thus one of these two fates will be his doom:

Poseidon, if he heeds the curse Iíve laid,

will send him headlong to the halls of Hades,

or, failing that, heíll live in misery,

a wandering stranger in some foreign land.




[Scene 9]

[9.1] CHORUS: And even as we speak, Hippolytos

your son approaches. But oh Lord Theseus,

relax your rage. Your house needs better counsel. [counsel = advice, learning theme; contrast to passion, inflexibility]


[Enter Hippolytos, with attendants.]

[9.2] HIPPOLYTOS: Father, I heard your cry, and so Iíve come

immediately, though I donít understand

whatís caused it yet. Iíd like to learn from you.

Whatís happened, father? I see your wife here dead.

Iím shocked beyond belief. I just now left her

moving through the sunlight of this world.

Was it accidental? How did she meet with death?

Father, I want to know. Please tell me why.

Youíre silent? Silence is useless in a crisis.

It isnít right to hide your suffering

from one who loves you more than any friend.


[9.3] THESEUS: I see no point to manís inventiveness,

which has devised so many sciences

and engineered the world for his own use,

yet still has been unable to create

the art of teaching fools to behave.


[9.4] HIPPOLYTOS: It would take a skilful analyst indeed

to lead someone from folly into wisdom.

But this is no time for speculation, father:

I fear your grief has veered your speech off course.


[9.5] THESEUS: If only men were stamped with some clear mark,

some imprint to infallibly distinguish

the good and true ones from our enemies,

or if each person had a double voice,

one honest, one which never told the truth,

so that the lying voice could be refuted

by the truthful one, to save us from deception.


[9.6] HIPPOLYTOS: But is it me someone has slandered to you,

so that Iím suspect, though Iíve done no wrong?

Father, your words amaze me. Who would believe

these wild insinuations that youíve made?


[9.7a] THESEUS: Where finally will such madness lead us all?

Where will audacity and folly end?

If evil grows with every generation,

the gods will need to make another world

to hold the crowds of criminals that are born.

Consider this one: flesh of my own blood,

who has befouled his fatherís marriage bed

and stands condemned by his dead victim here.


[9.7b] No, no, donít hide your face: look at your father,

since youíve already soiled me by your presence.

So this is what the goddessís virgin consort,

purityís soul and image, really is.

Did you think your haughty posturing could ever

persuade me to believe the gods are fools?


[9.7c] Oh, yes: go feed on sanctimoniousness,

mutter your mystic mantras, strut your stuff             [mantras = a religious formula or refrain]

in cloistered rituals of purity,                                      [cloistered = sheltered, confined]

since youíve shown what you are. Now I decree

that such men must be shunned: theyíll hunt you down

with pious mouthings while their lust lays snares.


[9.7d] And donít think your dead victim here canít speak:

this corpse itself accuses and condemns

more fatally than any sworn indictment.

Oh, but youíll claim she hated you, for the threat

an illegitimate heir posed to her children.


[9.7e] Does this make sense: because she hated you,

she satisfied her hatred with her life?

Or will you argue men are disciplined,

itís only womenís sexuality

that lacks enough control to keep from crime?

But I well know to what lengths men are driven

by Aphroditeís tempest when theyíre young.

A man whoís not contemptible can resist it.


[9.7f] In shortóbut whatís the point of making speeches,

when this poor murdered corpse speaks loud and clear?

Now leave this land at once as one cast out,

and never return to Athens, home of gods,

nor any other land my power rules,

since if I let your crime go unrequited,

this realm Iíve brought such peace and order to

will scorn me as a weakling king, unable

to shield the good by punishing the foul.


[9.8] CHORUS: How can we ever believe in happiness

if such a mighty house can be destroyed?


[9.9a] HIPPOLYTOS: Father, the vehemence of your accusation

is hard to withstand. And yet the case itself,

if youíd consider it, is not so clear.

I am no orator: I have no force

to sway a mob by speech, although within

a circle of decent friends my words have weight,

just as a man who canít impress the wise

is often clever enough to please a crowd.


[9.9b] But still, since this disaster has arisen,

speak I must, beginning with the attack

you sprang on me as being beyond defense.

Look on this light, this earth: youíll nowhere find

a soul more chaste than mine, though you deny it.


[9.9c] I know what it means to reverence the gods,

to associate with those who do no wrong,

but who would be ashamed to order crimes

or pay their loved ones back with foul betrayal.


[9.9d] I, father, am no deluder of my nearest:

Iím faithful to them present or away.

 And where you charge me most, Iím innocent:

Iím undefiled by sex down to this hour.


[9.9e] The only things I know about its practice

are what Iíve overheard or seen in paintings

by chance, since I would never seek them out.

You wonít believe Iím pure. Well, let it go.


[9.9f] But logically, how could I have been corrupted?

Was this oneís beauty so beyond resistance

it broke me where no other beauty could?

Or did I aim at mastering your palace

by mastering its mistress through seduction?


[9.9g] No, noóthe only mastery I care for

is first place prizes in our sacred games.

In public life I am content and more

to be the second person in the state,      [compare Creon's speech denying conspiracy in Oedipus the King]

which lets me flourish safely with a few

selected friends and gives me power enough,

a situation happier by far

than the dangerously envied power of a king.


[9.9h] One thing remains to say, and I have done:

if I had witnesses to what I am,

and she were still alive to be examined,

the facts would show just whoís the guilty one.


[9.9i] But now I swear by Zeus, Guardian of Oaths,

and by this earth, I never touched your wife,

nor ever wanted to or thought of it,

and may I perish scorned, despised, forgotten,

and neither earth nor sea receive my body,

if I am so lust-ridden as you charge.


[9.9j] I cannot say why this one took her life.

The reason for her death I cannot tell.

Perhaps she saved what honor that she could.

The honor that is mine wonít help me now.


[9.10] CHORUS: Youíve spoken a defense which is effective

and sworn a holy oath, which should persuade.


[9.11] THESEUS: A splendid speech. You ought to run for office.

Did you really believe these sophistries could avert

the vengeance of the parent youíve polluted?


[9.12] HIPPOLYTOS: Iím already astonished at your mildness,

father. If Iíd a son whoíd dared molest

a wife of mine as you charge Iíve touched yours,

Iíd punish him with death, not merely exile.


[9.13] THESEUS: Typical: a cowardís ploy to take

the quick way out. No, deathís too good for you.

The man who lives in misery blesses death.

Youíll live, and every minute of that life

will sting you as a homeless friendless outcast.


[9.14] HIPPOLYTOS: Youíll really cast me out, not letting time,

however brief, reveal the truth at last?


[9.15] THESEUS: Iíd cast you past the oceans if I could,

so hated your existence is to me.


[9.16] HIPPOLYTOS: Youíll punish me without a trial, despite

my oath, not hearing witnesses, nor asking

the oracles of the gods for confirmation?


[9.17] THESEUS: This tablet here is oracle enough,

so to your soothsayers, a long goodbye.


[9.18] HIPPOLYTOS: O Gods, why shouldnít I unseal my lips,

since reverence for you is ruining me?

But no: it wouldnít sway the judge who matters,

and Iíd transgress my sacred oath for nothing.


[9.19] THESEUS: Your pious lies will be the death of me.

Your exile is effective as of now.


[9.20] HIPPOLYTOS: O wretched! Where now can I find a refuge?

What home will offer shelter from such a charge?


[9.21] THESEUS: Try finding one that welcomes criminals

who pay their hosts by outraging their wives.


[9.22] HIPPOLYTOS: Ah, this is pain that cannot be withstood,

if I seem such a criminal to you.


[9.23] THESEUS: It stings you? Best you should have felt that pain

before you dared to rape your fatherís wife.


[9.24] HIPPOLYTOS: O house, if only you could speak for me

and testify what kind of man I am.


[9.25] THESEUS: Itís clever of you to call mute witnesses.

The facts are eloquent without a voice.


[9.26] HIPPOLYTOS: This misery overwhelms. Iíd need to be

a second self to mourn myself enough.


[9.27] THESEUS: And even now youíre thinking of yourself

instead of the father that youíve sinned against.


[9.28] HIPPOLYTOS: O my poor mother, o my bitter birth!   [mother = Hippolyta, Amazon queen taken by Theseus]

No wretchedness is like a bastard childís.


[9.29] THESEUS: Iíll have them drag you off. Didnít you hear

me sentencing you to exile more than once?


[9.30] HIPPOLYTOS: The man who touches me will lose his life.

Do it yourself if thatís your hot desire.


[9.31] THESEUS: Donít make me: itís better for you if you obey.

Donít think I feel the slightest pity for you.


[Exit Theseus into the palace. The palace gates close after him]

[9.32] HIPPOLYTOS: Itís settled, then. And now my life is ruined

by knowing things I donít know how to say.

O Artemis, most loved of all the gods,

my comrade, hunt-companion, I must leave

famed Athens now. Farewell to that city,

so glorious in tradition. O Trozen town,

you splendid scene of all my childhood days,

farewell. One final look, and then goodbye.

O friends that I grew up with, follow me,

escort me into exile from my home,

a final favor for an innocence

unlike all others, whoever may deny it.


[Exeunt Hippolytos and attendants.]

[9.33a] CHORUS: [sings . . . ]

Without my faith in heaven I could not live,

without believing there are gods who care,

who from their far untroubled home still give

some meaning to this pain that everywhere

rules over this uncaring chaos, life;

through all its random wounds the gods must weave

some pattern we may see if we believe.

I will not beg the gods for wealth or fame,

but for a heart unstained by bitterness;

to live unthreatened by the praise or blame

which both lead mighty houses to distress,

to bring to each dayís dawning such a mind

as will enable me to live that day,

and let tomorrow bring what grief it may.


[9.33b] Yet how may I keep faith now I have seen

the noblest house of Hellas brought so low?

O mountain meadow cloaked in leafy green,

O Virgin Lady of the Silver Bow                      [Virgin Lady = Artemis]

and coastal course-way where you are enshrined,  [coastal course-way = island of Delos, birthplace of Artemis?]

your most devoted lover will no more

rejoice in beauties of your woods and shore.


[9.33c] No more his chariot wheels will trace the ground

along the endless oceanís fringe of sand;

no more, no more the songful lyre will sound

within his fatherís hall by his skilled hand,

and girls with secret dreams to be the wife

who teaches such a man what love can be,

are weeping for a dream theyíll never see.

O ruined prince, O vanished purity:

how can the gods allow such things to be?



[Scene 10]

[Enter Old Man.]

[10.1] CHORUS: But hereís the aged serving man who left

with Hippolytos. His face reflects disaster.


[10.2] OLD MAN: My ladies, whereís the king? Where can I find

King Theseus? Is he in his palace here?

Please tell me where. I must speak to the king.


[Enter Theseus from the palace.]

[10.3] CHORUS: The king is here, just coming from his palace.


[10.4] OLD MAN: Your majesty, the news I bring is bad:

bad for you, bad for the citizens

of Athens, bad for all of us in Trozen.


[10.5] THESEUS: What is it? Does still more catastrophe

renew the anguish of my neighboring towns?


[10.6] OLD MAN: Hippolytos is gone, or as good as gone:

he sees this light, but his life hangs by a thread.


[10.7] THESEUS: And how? He canít already have earned revenge

for soiling some other manís spouse, as he soiled his fatherís.


[10.8] OLD MAN: No strangerís hand, but his own chariot team

has killed him before he could leave, that, and the curse

you called down on him from your father Poseidon.


[10.9] THESEUS: O gods! O Lord Poseidon! Then you are

my father: youíve granted me my prayer.

How did he fall? What trap did Justice spring

for the beast who dared defile his fatherís bed?


[10.10a] OLD MAN: Weíd gone along the ocean-beaten shore

and stopped to give his mares a combing down,

not a dry eye among us, since weíd heard

our poor young lord had been expelled forever

from country, home, and friends, by your decree.


[10.10b] And then Hippolytos came himself, all tears,

and joined us there, and with him a mournful throng

of friends, retainers, people heíd grown up with,

but he finally braced himself, and in a steady

voice said, ďThis is pointless. I must obey

my fatherís command, and all our tears wonít change it.

Servants, harness the horses. I have no home.Ē


[10.10c] So all of us hurry then to yoke the team,

and faster than it takes to tell, his mares

were hitched up to the chariot where he stood

and he snatches up the reins and jumps right in

landing instinctively in a driverís stance;

and the last thing that he does before departing

is to look up at the brightness of the sky

and pray, ďMay Zeus the Lord of Justice blast

and wither my life if Iím an evil man,

and may he lead my father to the truth

after Iím dead, if not while I still live.Ē


[10.10d] Then he whips up the horses, all at once.

The chariot leapt, we servants followed along,

the horsesí harness clinking at our shoulders,

and we started down the road towards Epidaurus.    [Epidaurus = small city in ancient Greece]


[10.10e] We were striking out into the desert scrub

across the border, where the track turns in

to skirt the cliffs that fringe the Saronic sea,

when a huge rumbling roar, like Zeusís thunder,

but underground, resounds in our very bones.


[10.10f] The horsesí ears and heads strain toward the sky,

and an uncontrollable panic takes us all,

so horrible was that sound. And we look back

to the ocean-beaten coast, and what we see

goes past all telling: a wave reared up to heaven,

so tall it blots the coastline from our eyes

and covers the cliff-bound headland with its surge.

It swelled and swelled more hugely, then it crashed,

spewing up towering columns of ocean foam,

as it ran toward the chariot on the shore.


[10.10g] And then from out of this huge, this monstrous tide,

there came a huge, a monstrous bull; its bellowing

roar made all the land around us shake

and left us numb with terror standing there

to see a sight too terrible to look at.


[10.10h] Our masterís horses bolt, but instantly

he leans his whole body back on the reins

to curb them inóhe surely knew his horsesó

like a man strains at an oar aboard a ship.


[10.10i] But the horses champ down on their steel-forged bits

and carry him helplessly along: their driver,

harness, chariot might as well be air

for all they heeded them. And when he tries

to steer them desperately to softer ground,

that bull appears in front and heads them off,

making the chariot team veer off in panic,

but when they blindly rush towards the rocks,

it herds them silently along that course,           [it = bull]

until it trips them up and makes them stumble,

crashing the chariot wheels against the stones,

and then the chariot explodes in parts:

wheels, axles, linchpins tossed high in a whirl,

and our masterís broken arms and legs get tangled

in the reins that wrap him round too tight to move.


[10.10j] His skull gets smashed against the rocks, his flesh

is scoured along his body, and he screams,

ďI fed you in my stables with my own hands,

and youíve destroyed me. O my fatherís curse!

Canít any of you save a man worth saving?Ē


[10.10k] I wish we could have. We were all too slow.

When finally, god knows how, heíd worked himself

free of the tangled reins, he fell to earth,

the breath of life poised hesitant on his lips.

The horses and that horrid monstrous bull

had somehow vanished into the stony scrub.       [scrub = low woodlands]


[10.10L] My king, I know Iím just a household slave,

but Iíll say this, and I donít care who hears:

Iíll never believe your son did what you charged,

not even if every woman in the world

should go and hang herself, and if they first

chopped down whole forests for wood to make the tablets

for writing down their accusations in.

He was sincere, and innocent, and pure.

The Death of Hippolytus by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

[10.11] CHORUS: And now unhappiness has been perfected.

There can be no reversal of this doom.


[10.12] THESEUS: My hatred for this man prompts satisfaction,

and yet he is my son, a family tie

which reverence demands receive respect.

Between the two, thereís nothing I can feel.


[10.13] OLD MAN: What is your will, my lord? To bring him to you?

Or what do you bid us do with your poor son?

We wait your orders. If youíll take my advice,

youíll show some pity to him in his pain.


[10.14] THESEUS: Well, bring him here, this villain of denial,

and weíll see for ourselves how he explains

away this manifest punishment from the gods.


[10.15] CHORUS: [sings . . . solemnly and rather slowly]

Aphrodite, born of ocean,

empress over every mind,

power that gives all life its motion,

queen of gods and human kind,

soaring through the heavenís splendor

with your fluttering golden child,

endless source of all the tender

frenzy of the love-beguiled,

you are laughter, love, enjoyer,

you are light and hope and womb,

you are slayer and destroyer,

you are night and death and tomb.



[Scene 11]

[Enter Artemis.]

Roman copy of Greek statue of Artemis (or Diana),
goddess of chastity & the hunt

[11.1a] ARTEMIS: Hear me, Theseus, king

of royal ancestry. I,

Artemis, virgin daughter

of Zeus, have come to you.


[11.1b] How can you, wretched man, find satisfaction

in what has happened to your innocent child,

whom you have murdered sinfully, accepting

the unconfirmed and lying testimony

left by your wife? Itís brought you total ruin.

Why donít you hide yourself in earthís black depths

or fling yourself beyond the shining sky,

seeking to escape this deed of crime

which shuts you out forever from good men?


[11.1c] Now, Theseus, you will hear the truth of things,

and it will be a bane and not a blessing.

This is my purpose here: to make you know

your son was righteous, lest he die in shame,

and that your wife was acting from obsession,

or, in a strange way, from her sense of honor.


[11.1d] That goddess who is hateful past all others           [That goddess = Aphrodite]

to all of us who cherish chastity

had stung her with a passion for your son.

At first, she tried to conquer Aphrodite

with self-control, but her resolve was weakened

by her old Nurse, who, going to your son,

revealed all to him under oath of silence,

and he, of course, repelled by the suggestion,

refused to listen; then, accused by you,

his reverence for his oath veiled truth in silence,

but Phaedra, dreading she would be exposed,

wrote out false accusations, thus devising

your sonís destruction, since you believed her lies.


[11.2] THESEUS: Ah!


[11.3] ARTEMIS: This story stings you, Theseus? There is more,

and what remains will give you yet more grief.

Your father gave you three sure curses: one

of these you hurled in sinful rage against

you child, though they were meant for enemies,

and yet your sea-god father could not fail

to keep his word, and gave you what you asked.

But you have manifestly sinned against

both him and me: not waiting for confirmation

from oracles or oath-bound witnesses

or calm investigation, you instantly

unleashed your curse against your guiltless son.


[11.4] THESEUS: My lady, I am destroyed.


[11.5] ARTEMIS: You have done wrong,

but there are still extenuating factors,

since Aphrodite willed all this to happen,

to glut her rage. The laws of Zeus forbid

that any god should thwart anotherís will,

but we must stand aside. Had I not feared

the wrath of Zeus, Iíd never have endured

the shame of seeing this one mortal man

I loved beyond all others put to death.

As for your crime, your ignorance of the facts

provides some mitigation; then too your wife

forestalled investigation by her death,

which led you to accept a false conclusion.

Though this is your disaster, do not think

it is not also mine. Gods also grieve

when reverent mortals die, but on the evil

we send a plague consuming all their line.


[11.6] CHORUS: But now the ruined man            [ruined man = Hippolytus]

arrives, fair flesh and hair

all smeared with dirt and blood.

O sorrow for the house,

sorrow on sorrow, falling from the gods.


[Enter Hippolytos, supported by attendants.] [spectacle revealed]

[11.7a] HIPPOLYTOS: O I am wretched, murdered

by my fatherís curse. I die

a death of agony, it leaps

in spasms through my flesh and brain.


[11.7b] Stop and let me ease

my pain seared limbs. O cruel

steeds, my nurslings, now               [nurslings = children]

you have destroyed, ruined, killed me.


[11.7c] Ah, gently by the gods! you men,

gently handle my lacerated body.

Who stands there on my right?

Carefully, carefully lift me,

hold me up, the victim of my fatherís

unholy sinful curse. Do you see this, Zeus?


[11.7d] To reverence the gods was all my pride,

and purity the only prize I claimed,

and now Iím flung headlong to deathís dark halls,

destroyed, an utter ruin, with all the faith

I kept with gods and men a useless aid.


[11.7e] The pain, the pain: again it leaps and sears.

Let me go, let death the healer come,

kill me and kill me again, get some sharp blade

to cut me apart and cradle me in death.


[11.7f] O my fatherís curse, my fatherís curse!

Some ancient evil stains the generations

of all our house, blindly striking down

an innocent such as I: why do the gods

inflict such torment on the innocent?


[11.7g] Only death is freedom now, so kill me,

lull me in deathís sweet night-dark sure embrace.


[11.8] ARTEMIS: Unhappy man, and O unhappy fate.


[11.9] HIPPOLYTOS: Ah!

This air is suddenly suffused with light.

Through death and pain I feel the presence here

of Artemis, and agony recedes.                                    [transcendence of romance?]


[11.10] ARTEMIS: Yes, I am here, beloved, whom you love.


[11.11] HIPPOLYTOS: O lady, look what they have done to me.


[11.12] ARTEMIS: I see it. But the gods cannot shed tears.


[11.13] HIPPOLYTOS: Your huntsman and companion is no more.


[11.14] ARTEMIS: No more: you die the dearest man who lived.


[11.15] HIPPOLYTOS: No more, your charioteer and worshipper.


[11.16] ARTEMIS: No more, no more. All this is Aphrodite.


[11.17] HIPPOLYTOS: Ah, ah! And now I know who has destroyed me.


[11.18] ARTEMIS: Greedy for honor, enraged at chastity.


[11.19] HIPPOLYTOS: Then by herself sheís caused a triple ruin.  [she = Aphrodite]


[11.20] ARTEMIS: Destroying you, your father, and his spouse.


[11.21] HIPPOLYTOS: And now I grieve too for my fatherís ruin.


[11.22] ARTEMIS: He was deluded by a pitiless goddess.


[11.23] HIPPOLYTOS: Father, my poor father, I mourn your grief.


[11.24] THESEUS: Itís over for me, my son: thereís no more life.


[11.25] HIPPOLYTOS: I grieve for your mistake more than myself.


[11.26] THESEUS: My son, if only I could die for you.


[11.27] HIPPOLYTOS: Your father Poseidon gave a bitter gift.


[11.28] THESEUS: If only I could never have invoked it.


[11.29] HIPPOLYTOS: What use? You would have killed me in your rage.


[11.30] THESEUS: Well, men must fall when heaven makes them stumble.


[11.31] HIPPOLYTOS: If only mortal men could curse the gods.


[11.32] ARTEMIS: Leave that to me. Not even among the dead

beneath the earth will you walk unavenged

for all this suffering which Aphrodite

has sent on you in anger at your virtue.

There will come a day when one she loves,

a mortal man she cherishes in her heart,

will be cut down by these unerring shafts,       [shafts = Artemis's arrows]

and that will be my vengeance. But for you,

my ruined worshipper, I will decree

the honor of a divinity here in Trozen.

Through all the future, virgins when they wed

will dedicate their girlhood locks of hair

upon your altar, singing a honeyed dirge

for maiden purityís sweet perishing,

and Phaedraís love for you will not be lost

in the endless depths of timeís oblivious ocean.     [transcendence of romance?]

Now Theseus, lord of Trozen and of Athens,

take up your child and hold him in your arms.

In ignorance you killed him: mortal men

will make mistakes when deities cross their path.

Hippolytos, I bid you not to hate

your father. What has happened had to be.

And now farewell. It is not right that I,

immortal, should allow a dying breath

to stain my visionís brightness, and I see

the darkness of your ending fast draws near.


[Exit Artemis.]

[11.33] HIPPOLYTOS: And may you fare well too, beloved queen.

Serenely you must leave our long communion,

and I release my father from all blame,

obedient now and always to your will.

The shadows come: theyíre folding over my eyes.

Hold me, father; lift my body up.


[11.34] THESEUS: O my child, what will you do to me?


[11.35] HIPPOLYTOS: I die: I see deathís portal open wide.


[11.36] THESEUS: Abandoning me and my guilty hands?


[11.37] HIPPOLYTOS: No, no: I free you from all taint of crime.


[11.38] THESEUS: Whatócan you free me from bloodshedís pollution?


[11.39] HIPPOLYTOS: I swear by Artemis of the silver bow.


[11.40] THESEUS: O dearest, your father has a noble son.


[11.41] HIPPOLYTOS: Pray that your lawful sons may be the same.


[11.42] THESEUS: I mourn your virtue, reverence, and purity.


[11.43] HIPPOLYTOS: Father, goodbye: father, a long goodbye.


[11.44] THESEUS: Donít leave me, child: endure, endure to live.


[11.45] HIPPOLYTOS: Iím done with my enduring: it is death

Now hurry, hide my face behind my cloak.


[Hippolytos is carried into palace.]

Death of Hippolytus, marble, 1715

Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne the Elder (1679-1731)

[11.46] THESEUS: O Trozen, glorious Athens, you have lost

the finest man youíve seen. O Aphrodite,

your punishment will never leave my life.


[Exit Theseus into palace.]

[11.47] CHORUS: This sudden grief has come upon the city

unlooked for, and we mourn it, since the fall

of mighty houses causes special pain.


[Exit Chorus.]




2010 production of Hippolytus in United Kingdom


PhŤdre et Hippolyte by Baron Pierre-Narcisse Guťrin (1802)


1997 production of Hippolytus at U. of Utah


Helen Mirren & Dominic Cooper in Phaedra 2009

1962 film from Hippolytus / Phaedra story


website featuring classical art associated with Hippolytus & Phaedra