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Hippolytus (428 B.C) is a tragic prince who likes hunting and chaste. He worships the goddess of “hunting and chastity, Artemis and ignores Aphrodite, the goddess of love” (Halleran 2001). Aphrodite is furious with this act of exclusion and plans to revenge. Aphrodite causes Phaedra (stepmother to Hippolytus) to “fall in love with Hippolytus” (Halleran 2001).
However, Hippolytus does not agree. As a result, Phaedra hangs herself and leaves a note behind accusing Hippolytus of rape. Theseus (Hippolytus’ father) reads the letter and curses Hippolytus. Consequently, Hippolytus dies. Artemis comes and tells the truth. However, the goddess promises to “revenge the death of Hippolytus on Aphrodite’s next favorite mortal before she disappears” (Halleran 2001). Revenge drives plots of this tragedy.
This is the goddess of love. The tragic play presents Aphrodite as feared and revengeful goddess of power. Aphrodite appearance in the prologue influences the whole play. Hippolytus refuses to worship Aphrodite, an act that infuriates the goddess. She plots a revenge on Hippolytus by making Phaedra fall in love with his step son.
This leads to a shameful death of “Phaedra and a curse upon Hippolytus leading to his death too” (Carson 2006). In this case, the goddess makes humans err by blinding them through irrational actions, “It is natural for men to err when gods blind them” (Halleran 2001, 29).
This is the goddess of chastity and hunt. Hippolytus is the favorite of this goddess as he prefers hunting and staying chaste and rejects worshipping the goddess of love. However, the vengeful goddess of love destroys Hippolytus.
As a result, Artemis promises a revenge of the death of Hippolytus through the next favorite of Aphrodite by asserting “I’ll wait till she loves a mortal next time, and with this hand, with these unerring arrows I’ll punish him” (Halleran 2001, 67). Artemis changes the play when she “appears in the epilogue in order to tell the truth to Theseus” (Halleran 2001, 66).
The Relationship between the deities
Euripides portrayed the relationship between deities as opposing and responsible for human tragedies. Aphrodite is revengeful and infuriated goddess who punishes mortal Hippolytus for refusing to worship her. The goddesses are similar because both have vengeful nature. However, they also show differences, as one is love and sexual oriented whereas the other prefers hunting and staying chaste (Barret 5).
These goddesses oppose each other and are in fierce competition in order to control human destiny. Aphrodite is furious when Hippolytus fails to worship. Hippolytus is the Artemis favorite mortal. She cannot stop Aphrodite from taking her revenge on Hippolytus. This depicts that goddesses do not interfere with works of each other.
However, Artemis promises to avenge the death of Hippolytus through “the next favorite mortal of Aphrodite” (Halleran 2001, 67). This shows a fierce competition between goddesses. The goddesses are tolerant but also hostile. These goddesses also experience human emotions like anger, jealously, and desire to avenge. Such emotions create little differences between “human who worship them, and goddesses” (Carson 2006). Such goddesses have almost same characteristics as humans.
The relationship between humans and the divine
We can see how goddesses influence actions of mortal characters who worship them and those who fail to worship them. Goddesses and human relationships seem to be that of give-and-take. Human give goddesses through prayers and sacrifices and expect goddesses to protect them in return. We can notice this relationship between Hippolytus and Artemis, and Theseus prayers for his father, Poseidon. However, goddesses had no obligation to return any favor to human as Artemis fails to protect Hippolytus.
Phaedra’s acts of falling in love with Hippolytus and subsequent suicide and the note are acts of the goddess, Aphrodite. Aphrodite influences the mental process of Phaedra as she looks crazy and makes her hid love she feels for her stepson. Upon the realization that truth about her love is out, Phaedra decides to kill herself due to shame. Aphrodite makes the death of Phaedra looks like Hippolytus’ mistake through the letter.
Hippolytus prayer for death after his banishment shows his relations to goddess. We can link this prayer as an act of asking help from Artemis. However, the goddess does nothing until Hippolytus faces death.
Some characters show concerns about relationships with goddesses. Hippolytus cares about his relationship with Artemis but does not care about Aphrodite. Theseus expresses concern why Hippolytus does not worship Aphrodite. However, Hippolytus does not care about “Aphrodite reactions to his behavior” (Carson 2006). This behavior angers Aphrodite.
Theseus expects god to send a bull that will kill Hippolytus. He also shows concerns for Artemis message. This message changes Theseus mind as he now believes he should die. However, Artemis must convince Theseus that Aphrodite blinded him (Carson 2006, 3).
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When Aphrodite takes control of Phaedra, Phaedra has “no control over her actions” (Carson 2006). Hippolytus also tells Artemis that his death should be in exile because of the accusation. Goddesses use humans for revenge despite the worship. However, goddesses fail to help humans when they are in great need. This may show that goddesses do not care about their subjects. Goddesses may react negatively due to some human behavior and subject them to suffering through revenge.
Human suffering brings joy and sorrow to goddesses. Aphrodite derives joy from suffering and deaths of Phaedra, Hippolytus, and Theseus. On the other hand, Artemis may feel sorrow for deaths and suffering of these characters; thus, she says “You and I are the chief sufferers Theseus” (Halleran 2001, 66). This may explain why she wants revenge.
Human can forgive each other as the case between Hippolytus, and Theseus. However, Aphrodite demonstrates that goddesses cannot forgive human for their behaviors. Man can realize his mistakes, and goddesses can make them react irrationally and foolishly; thus, Artemis says “It is natural for men to err when gods blind them” (Halleran 29). This is why Artemis does not blame Theseus.
Occasionally, gods may show concern for human suffering. However, humans may also misuse the power of gods to assert revenge. Theseus prays for the bull to kill Hippolytus, a prayer that Poseidon answers.
The relationships are about “care and revenge among characters and their gods” (Barret 1964). Goddess desire for revenge also influences human prayers for revenge. Goddesses use humans as means of demonstrating their power and fulfill their competing interests. If Artemis avenges the death of Hippolytus, then it will be a continuous revenge whereby humans bear the greatest loss and suffering.
Humans show that they can forgive as opposed to gods they worship. Gods have the power to control and deceive humans, but fail to protect them when subjected to suffering and death. We may note that these characters live under the mercy of gods who can avenge and do not forgive. Thus, characters have to strive and live according to whishes of their gods.
Barret, Spencer. Euripides, Hippolytos, edited with Introduction and Commentary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964.
Carson, Anne. Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides. New York: Review Books Classics, 2006.
Halleran, Michael. Euripides: Hippolytus. Michigan: Focus Publishing, 2001.