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Hippolytus

by Ron Leadbetter
Hippolytus was the son of Theseus (the great Athenian hero) and Hippolyta, his mother, was queen of the Amazons. When Hippolyta died Theseus decided to marry Phaedra (daughter of king Minos of Crete and sister of Ariadne). Hippolytus had meanwhile grown into a fine young man, handsome, strong and a great athlete, and Phaedra fell in love with him.

Hippolytus rejected Phaedra's advances, which hurt her deeply, to the extent that she wrote a letter to Theseus telling him that Hippolytus had seduced her, and then hanged herself. Theseus believing all, especially with Phaedra taking her own life, took revenge by using a curse, one of three which had been given to him by the god of the sea, Poseidon. While Hippolytus was out driving his chariot, a huge sea-monster sent by Poseidon frightened the horses, dragging Hippolytus to his death (Ovid XV, 497). Artemis later told Theseus the tragic truth.

In another version Theseus went to Temiscyra, the capital city of the Amazons. The the queen sent the beautiful Antiope with gifts, but Theseus abducted Antiope and sailed home to Athens. Hippolytus was born from their union. When Theseus disowned Antiope and married Phaedra, she fell in love with Hippolytus, who rejected her. Phaedra told Theseus that his son kept making advances on her virtue and he should punish him. Also in this version it was Dionysus who punished Hippolytus by sending a wild bull, which terrified the horses, pulling Hippolytus from his chariot dragging him along battering him to death.

Hippolytus was a hero, his cult which was associated with the goddess of beauty and love, Aphrodite, shared a shrine at Athens, on the Acropolis. The place where he died (Troezen in Argolis) they held a ceremony dedicated to him, lamenting and offering locks of hair from young girls who were soon to be married.

Hippolytus was restored to life by Asclepius and lived since then in a holy forest near Aricia (Latium), where he was worshipped under the name of Virbius (Virgil VII, 765).


Article details:

  • Pronunciation:
    hi-pahl'-i-tuhs

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