The play Hippolytus by the Greek playwright Euripides is one whichexplores classical Greek religion. Throughout the play, the influenceof the gods on the actions of the characters is evident, especially whenAphrodite affects the actions of Phaedra. Also central to the plot isthe god-god interactions between Artemis and Aphrodite. In this essay,I hope to provide answers to how the actions of Hippolytus and Phaedrarelate to the gods, whether or not the characters concern themselveswith the reaction of the gods to their behavior, what the charactersexpect from the gods, how the gods treat the humans, and whether or notthe gods gain anything from making the humans suffer.
Before we can discuss the play, however, a few terms need to bedefined. Most important would be the nature of the gods. They havedivine powers, but what exactly makes the Greek gods unique should beexplored. The Greek gods, since they are anthropomorphic, have many ofthe same characteristics as humans. One characteristic of the godswhich is apparent is jealousy.
Aphrodite seems to be jealous of Artemisbecause Hippolytus worships Artemis as the greatest of all gods, whilehe tends to shy away from worshipping Aphrodite (10-16). This isimportant because it sets in motion the actions of the play whenAphrodite decides to get revenge on Hippolytus. The divine relationshipbetween the gods is a bit different, however. Over the course of theplay, Artemis does not interfere in the actions of Aphrodite, whichshows that the gods, while divine, do have restrictions; in this case,it shows the gods cannot interfere with each other. (1328-1330) Thegods are sometimes evil and revengeful, though, as can seen by whatArtemis has to say about Aphrodite: “Ill wait till she loves a mortalnext time, and with this hand – with these unerring arrows Ill punishhim.” (1420-1422)The relationship of mankind and the gods also needs to be discussed. This relationship seems to be a sort of give-and-take relationship, inpart. The Greeks believed that if they gave to the gods, through prayerand sacrifices, that the gods would help them out. This is especiallytrue of Hippolytus and his almost excessive worship of Artemis. Also,Theseus praying to his father Poseidon is another example of this, onlyTheseus actually gets what he prays for. (887-890) Just becausemankind worshipped the gods, however did not mean that the gods had anysort of obligation to help out the humans. Artemis did nothing toprotect Hippolytus from being killed. But not all relations between thegods and mankind were positive from the humans standpoint. SinceAphrodite is angry with Hippolytus for not worshipping her, she decidesto punish him by making Phaedra love him, then making it seem that herapes her, when she actually hangs herself, whether that is through herown actions or is the doing of Aphrodite.
The thoughts and actions of Hippolytus and Phaedra certainly areirrational at times. After all, a stepmother falling in love with herstepson is unlikely, but probably even less acceptable. This isdirectly related to the gods. What Aphrodite does to Phaedra certainlycauses her to do some strange things. For instance, first Phaedra seemsto go crazy, and then she decides to hide her new-found love forHippolytus from the nurse. Later, though, she decides to tell thenurse, and when she finds that the nurse has told Hippolytus, decidesthat the only logical course of action is to kill herself. This actionis certainly related to the gods because Aphrodite makes it look as ifPhaedras suicide is really the fault of Hippolytus. Some ofHippolytus actions are related to the gods as well. When Theseusdiscovers that Phaedra is dead and decides to exile Hippolytus,Hippolytus does object to his banishment, but eventually he stopsarguing with his father. At this point, he prays to the gods that he bekilled in exile if he is guilty of the death of Phaedra. It is alsopossible he may be expecting Artemis to help him out, though she doesnothing until he is on the verge of death. The characters do worry about how the gods react to them at times. Hippolytus does not seem to concern himself much with how Aphroditereacts to his behavior. At the beginning of the play, the old manquestions Hippolytus decision not to worship Aphrodite, but Hippolytusreally does not worry that he may be making Aphrodite angry. He doescare how Artemis reacts, however, because he is hoping to keep her happyso that she may help him out if he should need it. Theseus certainlyconcerns himself with how the gods react, since he needs Poseidon tosend a bull to go kill his son. At the end of the play he does carewhat Artemis has to say about him killing his son. He believes that heshould be the one to die, though Artemis is able to convince him that hewas fooled by the gods. Phaedra, on the other hand, really is in noposition to care much about how the gods react to what she does. Thisis because she is under the control of Aphrodite. Aphrodite makes herlove Hippolytus, it certainly is not of her own free will.
As far as what the characters expect from their gods, it varies byperson. Theseus, being the son of Poseidon, was supposedly given threecurses by his father, and he expects Poseidon to help him out and killHippolytus. (887-889) Hippolytus never really expects anything specificfrom Artemis during the play, but he does tell the gods that he shoulddie in exile if he is guilty of the rape of Phaedra. Even as he isdying , he does not expect Artemis to help him. Interestingly, he evenapologizes to his father and to Artemis for causing them to sufferbecause of his death. Phaedra wishes that her judgment had not beinterfered with by the Aphrodite, because she is the one who causedPhaedra to fall in love with Hippolytus.
The gods treat human beings more or less as pawns to do with as theyplease. It seems like it is all a game to them. In Hippolytus, it isgame of revenge between Aphrodite and Artemis. Aphrodite interferes inthe life of Hippolytus, someone loved by Artemis, then Artemis vows totake revenge on Aphrodite to avenge the death of Hippolytus. Despitethe fact that he worships her above all others, she still does not helphim out throughout the entire play. This indicates that Artemis may notcare for him as much as we are led to believe. She says she would takerevenge, but there is no guarantee it will happen. From this, we cansee that the gods often did not treat the humans very well. In a way,Poseidon treats Theseus well by granting his wish for the death ofHippolytus. This joy is short-lived, however, when he discovers that hehas been fooled by the tricks of Aphrodite. Why the gods would treatthe humans this way is a somewhat complicated question. An easy answerwould be that they have the power to do to the humans what the please. But there are other reasons as well. For instance, the theme of revengeplays a major role in the plot. The actions of Aphrodite againstHippolytus are motivated by revenge. The gods, at least in Hippolytus,are not malicious and wanting humans to suffer for no good reason. Therefore, the most important reason for gods treating humans the waythey do is that they are reacting to the actions of humans; this isespecially true of Aphrodites reaction to Hippolytuss failure toworship her.
The gods must derive something from the suffering of the humans;otherwise there is no point in making them suffer. In this case, thegods derive both sorrow and joy from the suffering of the characters. Aphrodite certainly is happy that Hippolytus suffered and died throughher own actions, and that she causes Theseus to suffer as well by takinghis son away. On the other hand, she probably does not care much thatshe also caused the death of Phaedra. Phaedra only serves as a pawn toget revenge on Hippolytus. Aphrodite only cares to punish Hippolytus,and she would have used Phaedra in whatever capacity necessary to getthat revenge. Artemis, however, is saddened by the loss of Hippolytus:”You and I are the chief sufferers Theseus.” (1337) Because of this,she vows to avenge Hippolytus death, and also tells him that he willnot be forgotten by future generations of Greeks, that his name willlive on in glory.
Interestingly, Hippolytus wis able to forgive his father eventhough his father caused his death. That should not be surprising,because he realizes that his father was fooled by the gods, and being anirrational human, could not really be expected to know he was beingtricked. Also, Artemis does not blame Theseus for the death of his son:”It is natural for men to err when they are blinded by gods.” (1433-1434) The most important thing that the ending shows is thatsometimes the gods do care what happens to the humans. It also showshow easily the power of the gods, particularly that of Poseidon, couldbe misused because Theseus gets what he prays for, the death of his son,but it is not really what he wanted.
Two major themes are present in Hippolytus: revenge and forgiveness. Almost the entire plot of the play is based on revenge. There is therevenge between gods and humans, and humans and humans. Initially, wehave Aphrodite wanting revenge on Hippolytus for worshipping Artemis andnot her, which of course sets in motion the actions of the play. Thenwe have the revenge of Theseus against Hippolytus, when he believes thathis son raped his wife and killed her. This does not end up as revenge,however, as Theseus eventually suffers as a result of his sons death. One final form of revenge comes at the end of the play, when Artemisvows to avenge the death of Hippolytus by interfering with a human lovedby Aphrodite. It is all a vicious cycle of revenge. This same storycould very easily happen again if Artemis does avenge his death. Also,forgiveness is an important theme. Even though his father isresponsible for his death, Hippolytus is nevertheless able to forgivehim. This comes from the realization that his father had been deceivedby the gods. In the end, this proves once again that the Greeks were atthe mercy of their gods and that they had to try to live their life thebest they could in spite of that fact.Words/ Pages : 1,820 / 24
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