Hippolytus Summary and Analysis of Scene I


Hippolytus enters with a chorus of huntsmen. They sing praises to Artemis and show reverence to the goddess’s altar. He has woven a garland with flowers from the goddess’s meadow, which he lays on the altar, and then prays to the goddess.

A servant approaches Hippolytus, hoping to offer advice. The servant cautions him against overt disdain for Aphrodite, warning that such disdain will incur the goddess’s wrath while affability will win her favor. Hippolytus refuses to listen, indicating that he prefers to worship Aphrodite from afar since he remains chaste. Hippolytus then goes into the house to eat.

After Hippolytus exits, the servant stands alone on the stage before a statue of Aphrodite, praying to the goddess. The servant distances himself from Hippolytus, reinforcing his devotion to the goddess. He then asks her to forgive Hippolytus for his obstinacy.

The chorus of palace women enters. In its usual role, the chorus provides commentary on the action of the play. In what often occurs as a conversation between the strophe and antistrophe, the chorus discusses Phaedra’s affliction.

The first strophe introduces the chorus’ concern about Phaedra, and the first antistrophe describes Phaedra’s physical state. Bedridden with a fever, she has refused to eat for the past three days.

The second strophe and antistrophe both speculate on the cause of Phaedra’s illness. The strophe suggests various divine causes: “Pan’s frenzy” and “Hecate’s madness,” for example. The antistrophe guesses that Theseus has been having an affair with another woman.

The epode completes the lyric movement of the chorus and concludes the first scene. The chorus meditates on the unhappiness of the female role in both the home and greater Greek society. They focus in particular on the helplessness and madness associated with childbirth. The women invoke Artemis, who is not only the goddess of the hunt and chastity but also the goddess of childbirth. The scene concludes with the chorus observing the arrival of Phaedra and her nurse.


In the first scene, Euripides clarifies the complexities of sexual practices in fifth-century Greece. While Hippolytus declares his intention to remain chaste, the servant’s reaction suggests that a vow of chastity was atypical during this period. Indeed, Athenian audiences would have perceived Hippolytus’ ostentatious purity as perverse, particularly due to his position as a prince in line for the throne of Troezen. Sexuality was an essential feature of Greek society, and Hippolytus’ rejection of Aphrodite and erotic love indicates a failure to perform his social duties.

The discussion between Hippolytus and the servant further emphasizes the similarities between gods and humans. The servant demonstrates that the rules that govern human interactions likewise define the relationships between gods. He states that for both gods and men, haughty behavior will incite arrogance and affability will curry favor. Euripides thus reinforces the fallibility of the gods. He shows that the gods are subject to the same emotional responses as humans and therefore act much as their mortal counterparts do. The only major difference between gods and mortals is the power that the gods wield.

Not only are the gods similar to humans, Euripides creates a world in which humans expect the gods to interfere in their affairs. Beyond the obvious examples of Aphrodite and Artemis, who are intimately involved in the action of the play, the chorus refers to other deities who could have caused Phaedra’s mania, including Pan and Hecate. Pan is a nature god, usually depicted as a faun, who rules over wilderness, and Hecate, whom antiquity portrayed as a virgin, is associated with crossroads, liminal spaces, and magic. All of the divine figures mentioned by the chorus are somehow “other,” which is appropriate based on Phaedra’s wild behavior. Beyond the scope of the play, the chorus’ speculation indicates the greater perception in Greek society that the gods involved themselves in the everyday lives of humans.

The chorus also speaks to the frustrations that women faced in Greek society. In fifth-century Greece, women had to remain in the home, managing the household and raising the children. By contrast, the husband assumed the public role of the family. Because the woman’s role was restricted to the home, the chorus’ reflection on the “torturing misery of helplessness” seems to represent a Euripidean commentary on the psychological burden women experienced. This psychological study of women reinforces our understanding of Euripides, whose complex female characters demonstrate his fascination with the place of women in society.