Max Dingle Artist
The Phaedra myth
There are various versions of this myth and while, as a teenager, I had read Mary Renault’s novels The King must die and The Bull from the Sea, and more recently, as previously mentioned, the plays Hippolytus by Euripides and Phédre by Racine , the Richard Strauss opera Ariadne in Naxos and the Greek myths by Robert Graves, the following is my version, which may not accord with any other version in particular.
Theseus, the son of the god, Poseidon and a mortal woman, Aethra, was also the adopted son and heir to the King of Athens. As a young man, while on a visit to the kingdom of the Amazons, Theseus kidnapped their Queen, Hippolyta, and claimed her as his bride, subsequently a son, Hippolytus, was born. However the marriage did not last.
Athens was obliged to send seven youths and seven maidens to the King of Minos to be sacrificed to the Minotaur, who lived at the centre of a labyrinth. Theseus volunteered to rid his father’s kingdom of this annual obligation and travelling as one of the sacrifices voyaged to Minos, his ship sailed under a black sail which would be exchanged for a white sail on a successful return to Athens after tracking and killing the Minotaur in the labyrinth. The King of Minos’s daughter, Ariadne, took him to the entry and assisted him in finding his way through the labyrinth to slay the Minotaur. He returned to Athens taking Ariadne and her sister Phaedra with him. However the gods informed him that Ariadne was already the bride of the god Dionysus and at the port of Naxos, while Ariadne was sleeping, Theseus abandoned her. Ariadne, deserted and alone, very unhappy with the prospect of a return to her
marriage to Dionysus, hung herself.
On returning to Athens, Theseus forgot to change over the black sail to white and his father, the King, on seeing the black sail, assumed Theseus had been killed and in despair threw himself from the battlements. Thus Theseus became King of Athens and Phaedra his second wife.
Phaedra fell in love with and developed a sexual obsession for Theseus’s son Hippolytus. Many were her words in trying to seduce him, but to no avail. Finally, after Hippolytus announced his love of a young woman, Arine, Phaedra, in a fury, tore her garments and said
she would accuse Hippolytus of rape if he did not abandon his young love for hers. Again Hippolytus refused and the fateful letter was sent to Theseus.
Theseus’ reaction was to call on his father, the God, Poseidon, to avenge this outrage and destroy Hippolytus and deem that none shall sing of Hippolytus from that day.
A raging storm approached, torrential rain fell and huge waves rolled ashore washing up a monster from the deep. Hippolytus sallied forth to battle the monster but his horses were so terrified they crashed the
chariot and dragged him, entangled in the reins, into the sea; their path traced by the rocks bright with his blood.
When the news reached the palace, Phaedra horrified and in deep remorse for her action, swallowed a poisonous draft and in her final moments confessed to Theseus.
A cult grew up around Hippolytus in the temple of Aphrodite and young women seeking true love made offerings of locks of their hair.