Phaedra was the daughter of Minos and Pasiphaë of Crete, and thus sister to Acacallis, Ariadne, Androgeus, Deucalion, Xenodice, Glaucus and Catreus and half-sister to the Minotaur. She was the wife of Theseus and the mother of Demophon of Athens and Acamas.
Married to Theseus, who had kidnapped her after abandoning her sister Ariadne (Ariadne had fallen in love with Theseus and therefore helped him survive the Minotaur by providing him a sword), Phaedra fell in love with Hippolytus, Theseus's son by another woman (born to either Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, or Antiope, her sister). Hippolytus rejected her.
In revenge, Phaedra wrote Theseus a letter that claimed Hippolytus had raped her. Theseus got angry and cursed Hippolytus with one of the three curses he had received from Poseidon. As a result, Hippolytus's horses were frightened by a sea monster and dragged their rider to his death.
In another version, after Phaedra told Theseus that Hippolytus had raped her, Theseus killed his son, and Phaedra then committed suicide out of guilt, for she had not intended Hippolytus to die. Artemis later told Theseus the truth.
In a third version, Phaedra told Theseus and did not kill herself; Dionysus then sent a wild bull which terrified Hippolytus's horses.
Euripides twice placed this story on the Athenian stage, of which one version survives.
In one version, Phaedra's nurse told Hippolytus of her love, and he swore he would not reveal her as a source of information.
Phaedra has been the subject of many notable works in art, literature, music and film.
- Phaedra with attendant, probably her nurse, a fresco from Pompeii circa 60–20 BC
- Second century Roman Sarcophagus of Beatrice of Lorraine in the Camposanto in Pisa. This was the model for Nicola Pisano's work on the Pisa Baptistery in the mid-thirteenth century.
- Alexandre Cabanel's Phaedra (1880)
Phaedra's story appears in many acclaimed works of literature, including:
- Euripides, Hippolytus, Greek play
- Ovid, Heroides IV
- Seneca the Younger, Phaedra, Latin play
- Jean Racine, Phèdre (1677), French play
- Algernon Charles Swinburne, Phaedra (1866), English lyrical drama
- Herman Bang, Fædra (1883), Danish novel.
- Gabriele D'Annunzio, Fedra (1909), Italian play
- Miguel de Unamuno, Fedra (1911), Spanish play
- Eugene O'Neill, Desire Under the Elms (1924), American play
- Marina Tsvetaeva, Fedra (1928), Russian play
- Robinson Jeffers, Cawdor (1928), English long poem
- Marguerite Yourcenar, "Phaedra", short story from Fires (1957)
- Mary Renault, The Bull from the Sea (1962), English novel
- Frank D. Gilroy, That Summer, That Fall (1967), retelling of Phaedra and Hippolytus
- Tony Harrison, Phaedra Britannica (1975), English verse play
- Salvador Espriu, Fedra (1978), Catalan play
- Per Olov Enquist, Till Fedra (1980), Swedish play
- Didier-Georges Gabily, Gibiers du temps (1994-1995), French contemporary play
- Sarah Kane, Phaedra's Love (1996), Gate Theatre London
- Charles L. Mee, True Love (2001), modernized adaptation of Euripides's Hippolytus and Racine's Phèdre
- Frank McGuinness, Phaedra (Donmar Warehouse, 2006)
Phaedra is also the subject of a number of musical works, including:
- Hippolyte et Aricie, opera (tragédie en musique) by Jean-Philippe Rameau, 1733
- Fedra, opera by Giovanni Paisiello, 1788
- Fedra, opera by Simon Mayr, 1820
- Fedra, opera by Ildebrando Pizzetti, 1915, based on D'Annunzio's 1909 play
- Character in L'abandon d'Ariane by Darius Milhaud, 1928
- "Some Velvet Morning", Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, 1967
- Phaedra (monodrama for mezzo-soprano and orchestra) by George Rochberg, 1973–1974
- Phaedra, album by Tangerine Dream, 1974
- Phaedra, song cycle by Mikis Theodorakis
- Phaedra, cantata by Benjamin Britten, 1976
- Lament for Phaedra, composition for soprano and cello by John Tavener, 1995
- "Phaedra's Meadow", song on the Blue Rodeo album Are You Ready, 2005
- Phaedra, opera by Hans Werner Henze, 2007
- Phaedra, song from Obsidian, the 2013 third studio album of electronic artist Baths.
- I Remember Phaedra, song from Creatures of the Deep by Rob Haigh, 2017
- Phaedra, song from From Home by The Rubinoos, 2019
- Fedra (1909), silent short film directed by Oreste Gherardini with Italia Vitaliani as Fedra, and Carlo Duse and Ciro Galvani
- Fedra (1956), filmed in Spain, based on Seneca's Latin play. Directed by Manuel Mur Oti with Emma Penella , Enrique Diosdado , and Vicente Parra in the main roles.
- Minotaur, the Wild Beast of Crete, 1960 Italian sword-and-sandal fantasy film, with Rosanna Schiaffino as Phaedra and her sister Ariadne
- Phaedra (1962), based on Euripides's play, directed by Jules Dassin with Melina Mercouri and Anthony Perkins
- Phädra (1967), based on Racine's play, directed by Oswald Döpke with Joana Maria Gorvin as Phaedra and Rolf Henniger as Hippolyt; Lina Carstens as Phaedra's nurse
- Phèdre (film, 1968), based on Racine's play, directed by Pierre Jourdan with Marie Bell and Claude Giraud, music by François Couperin
- Luciana Paluzzi, portrayed Phaedra in War Goddess (1973)
- Freida Pinto portrayed Phaedra in Immortals (2011), loosely based on the Greek myths of Theseus and the Minotaur and the Titanomachy.
- "Queen of Hearts" (2019) Denmark
- Media related to Phaedra at Wikimedia Commons