Hippolytus of Athens

In Greek mythology, Hippolytus (Greek: Ἱππόλυτος, Hippolytos 'unleasher of horses'; /hɪˈpɒlɪtəs/)[1] is the son of Theseus and either Hippolyta or Antiope. His downfall at the hands of Aphrodite is most famously recounted by the playwright Euripides, although other, sometimes differing versions of the story have also survived.

The Death of Hippolytus, by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912)
Hippolytus and Phaedra, antique fresco from Pompeii


The meaning of Hippolytus' name is ironically ambiguous. Ἱππό translates to 'horse', and the element -λυτος (from λύω 'loosen, destroy') suggests the adjective λυτός, -ή, -όν 'which may be undone, destroyed'. His name thereby takes on the prophetic meaning 'destroyed by horses'.[1]

Premise of the mythEdit

Hippolytus is a hunter and sportsman who is disgusted by sex and marriage. In consequence, he scrupulously worships Artemis, the virgin huntress, and refuses to honor Aphrodite.[2] Offended by this neglect, Aphrodite causes Phaedra, Hippolytus’ stepmother, to fall in love with him;[3] Hippolytus rejects Phaedra’s advances, setting events in motion that lead to his death in a fall from his chariot.

Hippolytus in EuripidesEdit

The Death of Hippolytus, by Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne (1679–1731), Louvre

Euripides' tragedy Hippolytus describes the death of the eponymous hero after a confrontation with his stepmother Phaedra, the second wife of Theseus. Cursed by Aphrodite, Phaedra falls so ardently in love with Hippolytus that she becomes physically ill and decides to end her suffering through suicide. Her nurse tries to save her by revealing the secret to Hippolytus and encouraging him to reciprocate. Hippolytus responds only with horror and disgust, humiliating Phaedra. In despair, and not wanting to admit the true reason for ending her life, she hangs herself and leaves a note for Theseus accusing his son of raping her.[4] Theseus, furious, uses one of the three wishes given to him by Poseidon, his father, to curse Hippolytus, who has fled the palace to go hunting. Poseidon sends a sea-monster to terrorize Hippolytus's chariot horses, which become uncontrollable and hurl their master out of the vehicle. Entangled in the reins, Hippolytus is dragged to death.[5] Artemis reconciles father and son by telling Theseus that Phaedra was lying, and comforts the dying Hippolytus with a promise to make him the subject of religious practice so that his memory will live forever. She assigns a band of Trozenian maidens the task of preserving the story of Phaedra and Hippolytus in a ritual song.[6]

Versions of this story also appear in Seneca the Younger's play Phaedra, Ovid's Metamorphoses and Heroides, and Jean Racine's Phèdre.

Hippolytus as Virbius and his afterlifeEdit

Diana returning to Aricia Hippolytus resuscitated by Aesculapius

Pausanias relates a story about Hippolytus that differs from the version presented by Euripides.[6]

Hippolytus was resuscitated by Asclepius; once revived he refused to forgive Theseus and went to Italy and became the king of the Aricians and named a city after Artemis. He ruled as "Virbius" from inside the shrine of Diana. (The sanctuary forbade horses from entering, which is why it is believed he lived there.) The story of Hippolytus is different from Euripides because it brings him back from the dead to live his life in Italy while Euripides permanently connects him to his tomb.[6] Virbius was also identified with the sun god Sol/Helios (Phaedra's grandfather).[7][8]

As a result, a cult grew up around Hippolytus, associated with the cult of Diana. His cult believed that Artemis asked Asclepius to resurrect the young man since he had vowed chastity to her. Followers of Hippolytus' cult cut off a piece of their hair to dedicate their chastity to him before marriage.[9]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Virgil; Ahl, Frederick (October 2007). Aeneid - Virgil - Google Boeken. ISBN 9780191517785. Retrieved 2013-10-16.
  2. ^ Frazer, James. The Golden Bough (Chapter 1–2, particularly)
  3. ^ ancientadmin. "Hippolytus - Euripides - Ancient Greece - Classical Literature". Ancient Literature. Retrieved 2020-10-28.
  4. ^ ancientadmin. "Hippolytus - Euripides - Ancient Greece - Classical Literature". Ancient Literature. Retrieved 2020-10-21.
  5. ^ Rice, Bradley N. (2017-03-31). Tappenden, Frederick S.; Daniel-Hughes, Carly (eds.). Coming Back to Life: The Permeability of Past and Present, Mortality and Immortality, Death and Life in the Ancient Mediterranean (2 ed.). McGill University Library. pp. 345–374. doi:10.2307/j.ctvmx3k11.20. ISBN 978-1-77096-222-4. JSTOR j.ctvmx3k11.
  6. ^ a b c Coming back to life : the permeability of past and present, mortality and immortality, death and life in the ancient Mediterranean. Daniel-Hughes, Carly, 1974-, Tappenden, Frederick S,, Rice, Bradley N,, Coming Back to Life: Performance, Memory, and Cognition in the Ancient Mediterranean (Conference) (2014 : Montréal, Québec). Montréal, QC. 2017. ISBN 978-1-77096-222-4. OCLC 975051675.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  7. ^ Servius, Commentary on Virgil's Aeneid 7.776
  8. ^ Fontenrose, Joseph Eddy (1981). Orion: The Myth of the Hunter and the Huntress. University of California Press. p. 199. ISBN 0-520-09632-0.
  9. ^ Waldner, Katharina; Rice, Bradley N. (2017). "Hippolytus and Virbius". In Tappenden, Frederick S.; Daniel-Hughes, Carly (eds.). Hippolytus and Virbius:: Narratives of "Coming Back to Life" and Religious Discourses in Greco-Roman Literature. Coming Back to Life. The Permeability of Past and Present, Mortality and Immortality, Death and Life in the Ancient Mediterranean (2 ed.). McGill University Library. pp. 345–374. doi:10.2307/j.ctvmx3k11.20. JSTOR j.ctvmx3k11.20. Retrieved 2020-12-09.

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