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Phaedras Role In The Hippolytus Play English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1621 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Pheadra is pleading with her own conscience here while speaking with the Goddess of Love the voluptuous Aphrodite who she knows is her destroyer. It appears that Pheadra is struggling with what course of action she should take. Pheadra is asking for good advice and is at a loss of what to do. She also wants to punish her destroyer and Hippolytus who has spurned her advances. She wants him to feel as she does desolate and sick. Possibly she refers to the unrequited love as sick because she knows that it is wrong and cannot help herself.

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It is significant in the way that it shows that she is struggling with her own conscience and that as she speaks to the statue of Aphrodite she understands that she has been afflicted with this lust and knows that it will destroy her. As the wife of Theseus Phaedra has an important responsibility and status within society and must maintain this. It is evident that her integrity and her reputation are extremely important to her and she chooses death too avoid discovery of her secret, yet she leaves a letter claiming to have been raped by Hippolytus. This is her parting gift to Hippolytus but in doing this she is deceiving Theseus too.

This portrayal of Phaedra displays that she is in turmoil and demonstrate the example of the wicked step mother that some would like to believe she does try and resist Hippolytus and the lust she has for him, although she does promise to repay by death the person who scorned her. Phaedra is almost blaming Aphrodite as if she know that it is her doing and that she is helpless to fight against the wishes of the goddess.

It was common for wives to be much younger than their husbands and to be the second wife and therefore have step children, this could be why Phaedras role was significant in the ancient times and would be more exciting to audiences because this would mirror the possibilities with real life and sensationalise the role and tradegy.

The significance was also that the characters in the myth were being manipulated for the entertainment or used as pawns for the pleasure of the gods. The torment that Phaedra is experiencing torment form her own psyche and perhaps ultimately we are waiting for her to condemn herself with some action.

Question 2

Within the assignment I am going to discuss the statement that the Hippolytus myth suggests there are no limits as to how much ancient writers and artists could alter myth. The Hippolytus myth has been written about by at least three different writers. In addition to this there are reviews from other writers concerning the ancient plays that have been lost, this enables us to have a brief insight into the changing factors in some of the Hippolytus myths.

The Hippolytus myth can and is perceived in many different contexts. There is the scorned women who will take revenge on whom ever she chooses and the fact that females all seem to play a weak character that are persuaded to become involved in illicit affairs. Perhaps Euripides was displaying his own versatility of how he could manipulate the audience into thinking how he would like them to by leading them to particular conclusions by prortaying characters in many differing ways.

The reason for Euripides changing the myth could be to appeal to the audiences of where it was being performed. For example the myth is interpreted differently for some due to the way they view Hippolytus, this could be a generally a good strong one for others they may perceive him as a weak character. Could the sexuality of Hippolytus be brought into consideration by Euripides and did he want to highlight this? Or did he want to demonstrate the purity and chastity of Hippolytus and show how licentious women could cause such disaster. He could also have wanted to highlight how women were unchaste and they should have their comeuppance. This is illustrated in the quote below.

An extract from an ancient biography of Euripides: They say that when he had married Mnesilochus’ daughterChoerile and had observed her licentiousness, he wrote his firstHippolytus, in which he loudly proclaims the shamelessness of women and thereafter divorced her.(Genos Euripidou, quoted in Kovacs, 1994, p. 7)

A reason for writers to alter myths could be because of how well the myths are known in each region to explain this further in block one it states that

“The first question is what Hippolytus meant to the Athenians in the fifth century before they sat down to watch Euripides’ play.”

If this myth was not known well then it would allow Euripides to alter and change the myth to suit him or to change and re- write it to show his own talents as a writer. Hippolytus is thought to be local myth known in the Troezen region.

To further this point in the discussion there is evidence to suggest that Hippolytus was not the only Greek Tragedy to use this myth. There is indication that Sophocles had written about this tragedy but named it Phaedra although she features in Hippolytus maybe Sophocles had written this tragedy from a different aspect or perspective. The intention could be to highlight tensions or to copy what was happening in the real world to allow control of the citizens.

Another reason why I agree with the statement that allows the writers and artists to alter myth is due to another quote used in Block one.

” A short paragraph by a second-century BC scholar, introducing Hippolytus II, says: This is the second Hippolytus … It is evident that it was written second. For what was unseemly and worthy of condemnation has been corrected in this drama.(Hypothesis of Aristophanes of Byzantium, quoted in Halloran, 1995, p. 63)”

This provides evidencee to suggest that writers and artist would re write plays and tragedies based on myth for artistic and scholarly reasons. The quote above has highlighted that the changes that have been made are to the parts of the original that were not adequate or even sensational enough for their entertainment purposes.

At festivals it was popular for dramatic productions to be performed these would then compete against each other, this would most definitely be a reason for writer like Euripides to alter and sensationalise their versions of myth as he did with the Hippolytus myth when altering parts that did not perform or read as well as they may have done before re-drafting.

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Myth could be altered to reflect the happening in real life too. The Athenians left to go to Troezen because of the invasion of the Persians but it also ignores the fact that Trozens had a strained relationship with Spartans and that this could have been another reason for use and manipulation of myth to highlight the political tensions and encourage a change or influence people.

Taking into account that the Hippolytus myth has been written by at least two ancient writers I will highlight the similarities and differences that occur between them.

Firstly Ovids letter the piece is the myth and it is told to us through that medium there are some limits to how much information we can glean from this basic form a ancient writing the letter from Phaedra is also at the very heart of the play, but this is where the similarities change. The letter in the myth by Euripides is written to Theseus whilst Ovids letter is written to Hippolytus directly.

The difference of the writers is evident with the omission of the nurse who in Euripides’s work plays an important character concerning the way in which she encourages Phaedra to pursue her feelings. In contrast the Phaedra in Ovids writing does not require the cajoling to pursue Hippolytus she is portrayed as the wanton adulteress who would happily seduce another man and not worry about the consequences.

Some reasons for the differences could be that the writers were wanting to focus on the human aspect of the myth in which case they would omit the gods. Or in contrast they may have wanted to highlight the power and importance of the gods and to highlight how important it was to obey and live life in a manner that would please the gods for the fear of reprisals such as those that appeared in the tragedies.

Death is treated in a different way where Hippolytus is reincarnated or brought back form the dead to live a life of chastity where virgin maids cut locks from their hair before they are married to honour him. Hero cult is witnessed through the temples built in dedication to Hippolytus who then is believed to have become a demi-god or god.

When reading different types of evidence for the Hippolytus myth it is apparent that the myth is based on one myth in particular but that the choice of how it is told is from the writers aspect or how they want you to think and

In conclusion it is apparent to me that ancient writers did have the ability to manipulate and alter myth to suit differing perspectives , moral and political stands points as well as the geographical element of where the myth was being performed. It is notable that their own views and beliefs can also be woven into the myth to satisfy their own egotistical personality traits and opinions. In the terms of the myth of Hippolytus it is apparent that this myth has been performed from differing perspectives and elements of the myth have been changed to suit the writers tastes or for other performance reasons whether they be political, geographical or purely scholarly reasons. Due to the fact that not all myths were previously known then the writers were not limited to how much of a myth they could change.


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