The Greeks Vs. Their Gods In Hippolytus

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-god interactions between Artemis and Aphrodite. In this essay,
I hope to provide answers to how the actions of Hippolytus and Phaedra
relate to the gods, whether or not the characters concern themselves
with the reaction of the gods to their behavior, 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.
Before we can discuss the play, however, a few terms need to be
defined. Most important would be the nature of the gods. They have
divine powers, but what exactly makes the Greek gods unique should be
explored. 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 (10-16). 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. (1328-1330) The
gods are sometimes evil and revengeful, though, as can 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." (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, 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. (887-890) 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 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