The Hippolytus starts with a soliloquy by Aphrodite and from this we learn about Hippolytus’ rejection of the goddess, something that will result in the death of both himself and his stepmother. Aphrodite tells the audience that ‘he scorns the bed of love, rejecting wedlock, and pays tribute to Phoebus’ sister, to Artemis, daughter of Zeus – she is his queen of heaven… I do not grudge these pastimes; why should I? But for his crimes against me I’ll have my revenge on Hippolytus. ‘ From this we speech we learn some things about his character and motivation.
Firstly is his unequal devotion to Artemis. Aphrodite tells us that she is his ‘queen of heaven’, highlighting Hippolytus’ servile character. This devotion will also act as a motivation for Hippolytus as Artemis is the goddess hunting but also virginity. For this reason he ‘scorns the bed of love, rejecting wedlock’. Secondly we learn about Hippolytus’ stubbornness as he refuses to worship a goddess whom he knows is proud. This is emphasized by a servant saying ‘then why don’t you pay your respects to a proud goddess’, and ‘Gods must have their worship, boy’.
Hippolytus knows that he will offend Aphrodite if he does not worship her and yet he refuses to. Another servant says ‘If someone in the heat of youth says foolish things about, pretend not to hear him. Gods should be wiser than men’. This reveals the immaturity of Hippolytus’ character, as if he was older he would be wise enough to recognize that in scorning Aphrodite he is endangering himself. The speech by Aphrodite evokes sympathy for Hippolytus as we know that he is going to be punished and ultimately die simply because he made a goddess jealous, rather than by committing any serious crime.
We also feel sympathy for Hippolytus when Aphrodite us that ‘he does not know that Hades’ gates lie open and that this day’s light he sees shall be his last’. Hippolytus is the victim of Aphrodite and we sympathise with him as we know that he does not truly deserve this victimization out of jealously alone. Hippolytus’ servile character is made more apparent when he addresses Artemis, saying ‘ Mistress, for you i bring this garland I have woven. I fashioned it form flowers in a virgin meadow where no shepherd dares to let his flock graze and the ploughshare has not yet come.
It is a pure meadow and the bees pass over it in spring’. Hippolytus is almost being sycophantic in the way he talks to Artemis, obsessing over the purity of the flowers and the meadow that they came from. This obsession with purity is clearly one of his greatest motivations for worshipping Artemis and rejecting Aphrodite, whom he considers to be impure. When the nurse tells Hippolytus about his stepmother, he then goes on to fiercely reject both his stepmother and the nurse, saying ‘I curse you all! Never will I have my fill of hating women’.
He then speaks about the worthlessness of women, saying ‘O Zeus, why did you allow women to live in the light of the sun and plague mankind with their counterfeit looks. ‘ The fact that he excludes women from ‘mankind’ highlights his revulsion of them. He also says ‘Cleverness in a woman I detest; I never want her darkening my door, the woman with more intelligence than a woman should have’. These statements reveal several things about Hippolytus’ character and motivation. Firstly it highlights the fact that he has a very misogynistic nature and this is one of his strongest motivations for mistrusting women the way he does.
Secondly it reveals the view he has on women in society, that they should only be allowed to have a certain amount of intelligence, viewing women as a lower sub species. In this aspect we do not feel sympathy towards Hippolytus as he is so discriminating against women with no reason prior to the love of his stepmother. Hippolytus shows his loyalty and faith to his oath when he says ‘Let me tell you, woman, only my reverence for the gods keeps you from harm; had you not taken me off guard and made me swear an oath in their name, I would never have stopped from telling my father this. This highlights Hippolytus’ sense of honesty and loyalty to his oath. This creates sympathy for Hippolytus as it reminds the audience that he will die as a result of his honesty and loyalty to his oath. We also feel sympathy for Hippolytus through by the treatment of his father.
Hippolytus tries to show his loyalty to his father by saying ‘I heard your shout, father, and here I am, no time lost’, only to be rebuked by Theseus who says ‘Look at this man – my own son, he has shamed my bed and no is plainly convicted by this dead woman of the foulest crime! Come, let your father see you face to face – your presence contaminates me already! Theseus then continues on to say ‘Get out of this land at once and go into exile! Never again set foot in god – built Athens or cross the borders of a land where my spears hold sway! ‘ This obviously creates sympathy as we know that the way Theseus is treating him is completely unfair as he is innocent of the crime he is accusing him off. Our sympathy is increased as he just displayed such loyalty to his father only to be rejected by his father and sent into exile by him. In his speech to his father Hippolytus says ‘I am not clever at making speeches in front of a crowd…
However, faced with the situation I have no alternative but to speak out’. This calls attention to Hippolytus’ shyness and reluctance to speak and creates sympathy for him as he feels trapped and is being force to make a speech to a crowd which he is not comfortable with. Hippolytus also displays morality when he says ‘She acted like a chaste wife when chastity was not within her reach, while I, thought i possessed it, did not use it well’. This shows Hippolytus to be a moral character as he is defending the woman who has destroyed his life and turned his father against him.
He refuses to speak badly of her and this emphasizes his virtue after all she has done to him. Hippolytus also refuses to speak out against Phaedra and tell his father the truth when he says ‘No, I will not. I would fail utterly to convince those I should and violate for nothing the oath i swore. ‘ This again highlights his honesty and loyalty to his oath, but also evokes sympathy as he recognises the hopelessness of his situation and there is no way that he can get his father to believe him over Phaedra, and so there is not point in breaking his oath.
In the messenger’s speech we are also told that ‘ he came to join us one the shore with the same tearful refrain, and stepping behind him came a vast crowd of friends and people of like age to him’. This creates sympathy for Hippolytus as we see his sadness and also the huge support of his friends who are all crying and don’t want him to go into exile. The messenger also tells us about the crash itself, saying ‘Whenever [the horses] rushed, crazed, towards the rocks, he was with them, a silent presence, following close to the handrail of the chariot, until he finally brought it down, dashing its wheels against a rock, and sent it spinning’.
This creates sympathy for Hippolytus as he is ‘a silent presence’ in the face of danger, and seems resigned to the fact hat he is going to die as it is him who ‘dashes its wheels against a rock, sending it spinning’, bringing about his own death. At the end of the play Theseus has a change of heart, saying ‘Since I feel hate for the man who has suffered this, I took pleasure in this report; but now, out of respect for the gods, yes, and for him , since he is mine, this tale of woe neither pleases or distresses me. Theseus is realising that he has perhaps treated his some wrongly and this will evoke sympathy for hippolytus as the audience knows that it is too late as he has already had the accident and cannot be saved.
Artemis backs up this idea when she says ‘Theseus, you wretch, why do you take pleasure in this, when you have impiously killed your own son, trusting the lying words of your wife though all was not clear? Artemis evokes sympathy for Hippolytus as she too is reproaching Theseus for the way that he treated his son and saying that he is responsible for his son’s death and it is too late to go back and repair things. Lastly when Artemis says ‘am forbidden to let my eyes shed tears’ over Hippolytus we also feel symathy for him. The fact that Artemis gives him so little comfort as he dies highlights the fact that he dedicated his whole life and died for this goddess and she doesnt even seem to care. Therefore it could be argued that he wasted his life and therefore we feel a strong sense of sympathy for him.