Phaedra and Hippolytus - Euripides
Welcome to Study Guides!


young man center with woman sitting to left, her slave, and hunting dog and horse to right
Phaedra falls in love with the hunter Hippolytus
(Pompeii, ca. 79 AD

Phaedra is a play written by the Greek playwright Euripides. It is concerned with dike, justice, but also with sophrosyne, or control: how do people control themselves? When should they control themselves? Is control always good? In this way, the play confronts Greek ideas about nomos and physis.

The play takes place in the later part of the life of Theseus of Athens, after he gets back from fighting the Minotaur and becomes king. If we were to try to place it in history, it would be about 1300 BC.

Since he got back from Crete, Theseus has had a son with Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons. The son is named Hippolytus, but Hippolyta has died. (Their names mean Horsey ones, people who have something to do with horses). Theseus has also gone back to Crete again and married Ariadne's little sister, Phaedra (no more is ever heard from Ariadne). Phaedra (FEE-drah) is a good deal younger than Theseus, and Hippolytus is now a young man, so they are not very different in age.

In the play, Hippolytus, Phaedra, and Theseus are all living together in Troizen, near Athens. Hippolytus is a very pure young man who spends most of his time hunting and sacrifices to Artemis, the virgin goddess. He is not at all interested in girls, and he is proud of being always in control of his emotions and his body.

Phaedra, on the other hand, is not at all in control of her emotions or her body. She falls in love with her step-son Hippolytus, and, even though she knows this is wrong, she does not succeed in controlling herself. She sends her slave to tell Hippolytus how she feels. (The Greeks thought of women as having less self-control than men).

Phaedra gives her slave a message for
Hippolytus (from Pompeii)

Hippolytus is outraged, and very upset, when he finds out how Phaedra feels about him. He runs away into the forest. The slave comes back to tell Phaedra that Hippolytus is shocked by her love.

The Chorus sings a song saying that while Phaedra ought to have more self-control, Hippolytus needs to have less: he needs to let himself go sometimes, learn to listen to his body and his emotions. People are made of both body and brain, and reason should not always control everything, but there is a place for love as well. (You could compare this to the story of Pentheus.)

Learn by doing: a Greek play-reading
More about Phaedra; the end of the story

Bibliography and further reading about Phaedra and Euripides:

The Bull from the Sea

Greek Theatre, by Stewart Ross (1999). Easy reading.

Greek and Roman Theater, by Don Nardo. For teenagers.

The Bull from the Sea, by Mary Renault. An excellent novelization of the story of Phaedra, for teenagers.

Euripides: Medea, Hippolytus, Electra, Helen, by Euripides. Translated by James Morwood. The text of the actual play, which is called Hippolytus in Greek.

Euripides (Oxford Readings in Classical Studies), by Judith Mossman (2003). A collection of essays by different people trying to explain what Euripides means. Good for college students, and maybe high school students too.

More about Euripides
Ancient Greece home

LIMITED TIME OFFER FOR TEACHERS: Using this article with your class? Show us your class page where you're using this article, and we'll send you a free subscription so all your students can use Study Guides with no distractions! (Not a teacher? Paid subscriptions are also available for just $16/year!)
Please help other teachers and students find us: link to this page from your class page.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Cite this page
  • Author: K.E. Carr
  • Title:
  • Site Name: Study Guides
  • Publisher:
  • Date Published:
Did you find what you needed? Ask your teacher to link to this page so other people can use it too! Send it in and win a "Great Page!" award!
Sign up for more free articles and special offers in' weekly newsletter:
We will never share your e-mail address unless you allow us to do so. View our privacy policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.
Comment on This Article

Does your class page honor diversity, celebrate feminism, and support people of color, LBGTQ people, and people with disabilities? Let us know, and we'll send you a Diversity Banner you can proudly display!
Looking for more? is loading comments...
(Comments will appear after moderation, if they are kind and helpful. Feel free to ask questions, and we'll try to answer them.)
Cite this page
  • Carr, K.E. . Study Guides, . Web. 24 April, 2017