The play Hippolytus by the Greek playwright Euripides is one which explores
classical Greek religion. Throughout the play, the influence of the gods on the actions of
the characters is evident, especially when Aphrodite affects the actions of Phaedra. Also
central to the plot is the god vs. god interactions between Artemis and Aphrodite. This
essay will show how the actions of Hippolytus and Phaedra relate to the gods, what the
characters expect from the gods, how the gods treat the humans, and whether or not the
gods gain anything from making the humans suffer.
The Greek gods, since they are anthropomorphic, have many of the same
characteristics as humans. One characteristic of the gods which is apparent is jealousy.
Aphrodite seems to be jealous of Artemis because Hippolytus worships Artemis as the
greatest of all gods, while he tends to shy away from worshipping Aphrodite. This is
important because it sets in motion the actions of the play when Aphrodite decides to get
revenge on Hippolytus. The divine relationship between the gods is a bit different,
however. Over the course of the play, Artemis does not interfere in the actions of
Aphrodite, which shows that the gods, while divine, do have restrictions; in this case, it
shows the gods cannot interfere with each other. The gods are sometimes evil and
revengeful, though, as can be seen by what Artemis has to say about Aphrodite: "I'll wait
till she loves a mortal next time, and with this hand - with these unerring arrows I'll punish
him. "
The relationship of mankind and the gods also needs to be discussed. This
relationship seems to be a sort of give-and-take relationship, in part. The Greeks believed
that if they gave to the gods, through prayer and sacrifices, that the gods would help them
out. This is especially true of Hippolytus and his almost excessive worship of Artemis.
Also, Theseus praying to his father Poseidon is another example of this, only Theseus
actually gets what he prays for. Just because mankind worshipped the gods, however did
not mean that the gods had any sort of obligation to help out the humans. Artemis did
nothing to protect Hippolytus from being killed. But not all relations between the gods
and mankind were positive from the humans' standpoint. Since Aphrodite is angry with
Hippolytus for not worshipping her, she decides to punish him by making Phaedra love
him, then making it seem that he rapes her, when she actually hangs herself, whether that
is through her own actions or is the doing of Aphrodite.
The thoughts and actions of Hippolytus and Phaedra certainly are irrational at
times. After all, a stepmother falling in love with her stepson is unlikely, but probably
even less acceptable. This is directly related to the gods. What Aphrodite does to
Phaedra certainly causes her to do some strange things. For instance, first Phaedra seems
to go crazy, and then she decides to hide her new-found love for Hippolytus from the
nurse. Later, though, she decides to tell the nurse, and when she finds that the nurse has
told Hippolytus, decides that the only logical course of action is to kill herself. This action
is certainly related to the gods because Aphrodite makes it look as if Phaedra's suicide is
really the fault of Hippolytus. Some of Hippolytus' actions are related to the gods as well.
When Theseus discovers that Phaedra is dead and decides to exile Hippolytus, Hippolytus
does object to his banishment, but eventually he stops arguing with his father. At this
point, he prays to the gods that he be killed in exile if he is guilty of the death of Phaedra.
It is also possible he may be expecting Artemis to help him out, though she does nothing
until he is on the verge of death.
The characters however, do worry about how the gods react to them at times.
Hippolytus does not seem to concern himself much with how Aphrodite reacts to his
behavior. At the beginning of the play, the old man questions Hippolytus' decision not to
worship Aphrodite, but Hippolytus really does not worry that he may be making
Aphrodite angry. He does care how Artemis reacts, however, because he is hoping to
keep her happy so that she may help him out if he should need it. Theseus certainly
concerns himself with how the gods react, since he needs Poseidon to send a bull to go
kill his son. At the end of the play he does