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Conflict And Balance In The Hippolytus Notes

Classics Notes > Greek Literature of the 5th Century BC Notes

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Is the Hippolytus more a play about conflict or about balance?
The drama in the Hippolytus is created by the hostility of the main characters to each other; however their impressions of one another are based on deep misunderstandings. For this reason it seems that the gods are only truly in conflict with the mortal characters because only they understand the aspects of the humans which they are actually in conflict with. On the other hand the hostility of Phaedra, Hippolytus and Theseus is based on misconceptions and since all of them are so isolated they cannot have any real understanding of each other. There is conflict with regard to the human characters, however, but this is to found only within Phaedra and Hippolytus themselves. Aphrodite is the main and perhaps only, source of inter-personal conflict in the play since she is the one who sets in motion the events which lead to the destruction of Hippolytus, Theseus and Phaedra by making the latter fall in love with her step son. She does this because she feels that Hippolytus has been disrespectful to her by shunning love altogether and worshipping only the virgin goddess Artemis. She says in her opening monologue, "I shall reveal the matter to Theseus and it will come to light and the young man who wars against me shall be killed by his father with curses the sea lord Poseidon granted him as a gift." It is very important that she sees this enmity between herself and Hippolytus actually as a war, it shows that to her mind the two are very much in conflict with one another and that she is going to use Theseus and Phaedra as her unwilling weapons against Hippolytus. This is another reason why inter-personal conflict between the mortal characters is a hard idea to support because the extent of their free will beyond what the goddess here ordains comes into question; on top of the fact they do not really know who they are being hostile to, how much do they really want to be so and how much is just the influence of the goddess. Hippolytus also plays his part in Aphrodite's 'war' because Euripides gives him a scene in which he shows his singular care for Artemis; he says he spends his days alone speaking to her and enjoying the privilege of her attention and when asked about Aphrodite by his servant he says, "I like no god whose worship is at night...Each has his likes, in gods and men alike." All the characters seem to perceive this 'war' in some way, albeit without a true knowledge or understanding of it, they sense that Aphrodite is at work in a hostile way against them. The nurse recognizes that one of the gods is shaking the wits of Phaedra awry and then later says, "Cypris is not after all a deity but something even mightier. She has destroyed Phaedra, me, and the royal house." This sentiment is echoed by Theseus in almost the very last words of the play, "Unhappy me, how well I shall remember, Cypris, the woes you have brought to pass." Aphrodite is the true deviser and driver of inter-personal conflict in the play; however even here it is hard to be at ease with the term conflict because at what point do the mortals really attack her back, all the destruction goes one way. The conflict within Phaedra herself is perhaps one of the only instances of real conflict in the play because her character does seem torn between two different courses. The conflict is between the two sorts of aidos, "Life's pleasures are many, long talks and leisure, a pleasant

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