Hippolytus (mythology)

Hippolytus (mythology)

In Greek mythology, Hippolytus (Greek for "loose horse") was a son of Theseus and either Antiope or Hippolyte. He was identified with the Roman forest god Virbius.

The most common legend regarding Hippolytus states that he was killed after rejecting the advances of Phaedra, the second wife of Theseus and Hippolytus's stepmother. Spurned, Phaedra told Theseus that Hippolytus had raped her. Infuriated, Theseus believed her and, using one of the three wishes he had received from Poseidon, cursed Hippolytus. Hippolytus' horses were frightened by a sea monster and dragged their rider to his death. Alternatively, Dionysus sent a wild bull that terrified Hippolytus' horses, causing them to drag Hippolytus to his death.

The story of Phaedra and Hippolytus is told, in somewhat different versions, by Euripides' play "Hippolytus" and Seneca the Younger's play "Phaedra".

Phaedra's suicide

Additional depictions such as the surviving version of Euripides and the french dramatist Racine, stated that Phaedra's nurse told Hippolytus of Phaedra’s love. Hippolytus swore that he would not reveal the nurse as a source of information –even after Phaedra killed herself and falsely accused him of raping her in a suicide note, which Theseus read.

Alternatively, it is stated that Phaedra simply killed herself out of guilt for Hippolytus’ death and that the goddess Artemis subsequently told Theseus the truth.

Hippolytus as Virbius

According to some sources, Hippolytus had scorned Aphrodite in order to become a devotee of Artemis, devoting himself to a chaste life in pursuit of hunting. In retaliation, Aphrodite made Phaedra fall in love with him. Hippolytus’ rejection of Phaedra led to his death in a fall from a chariot.

As a result, a cult grew up around Hippolytus, associated with the cult of Aphrodite. His cult believed that Artemis asked Asclepius to resurrect the young man since he had vowed chastity to her.

He was brought to Latium, Italy, where he reigned under the name of Virbius or Virbio. After his resurrection, he married Aricia. According to another tradition, he lived in the sacred forests near Aricia in Latium. Girls who were about to be married offered locks of their hair to him as a sign of their virginity.

External links

* [http://www.verbumvanum.org/adel Hippolytus] for details on the figure of Hippolytus and a classicist's philological study of the evolution of Hippolytus as a chastity paradigm in Euripides, Seneca, Racine; extensive bibliography (in Dutch)

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