The Hippolytos of Euripides

THE poetic faculty is essentially the same in all times, and it is always twofold. The poet’s peculiar gift is the power of expression. It is twofold, because we all lead a dual existence ; an inner and an outer life. Every thoughtful being meditates much on the mysteries of his own nature, and also gives earnest consideration to the life of man among men; pondering what goals he may strive to attain, and by what means. Many reach definite convictions as to the soul within them, or as to the organized existence of society. Of these many, a few have the power of clear and imaginative utterance ; and they either voice the aspirations of the human soul, and thus become the world’s lyric poets, or they as it were draw out before us their conception of society, revealing the interdependence and influence of men on one another, and are dramatic poets, the poets of action.

If there be any truth in this fundamental distinction, the lyric poets of all ages and lands will stand in the closest sympathy and kinship with one another; nor shall we in succeeding ages feel that there is anything far away or foreign in their thoughts. So far as their voices are real utterances of human longing and passion, they will always appeal as directly from soul to soul as they did in their own lifetime, for the longings and passions of the heart of man must always be the same. And a moment’s reflection will show us how exactly true this is. Who needs or demands to know anything of the times or circumstances of Omar or Saadi, of Sappho or Anacreon, of Béranger or Burns ? Tell us but the words they say. They are uttered directly to us, — to all hearts that love and dread, hope and repine.

“Bards of passion and of mirth,
Ye have left your souls on earth! ”

With the dramatic poet, however, this is not entirely true. He shows us upon his broad canvas men and women costumed, and speaking, and acting. He draws men as he sees them about him, the men of his own century. Therefore his creations will often appear at first strange and outlandish to us. We can know them thoroughly only when we know the age which produced them ; although, of course, for that very study of the age the drama may be among our best aids. Then, too, the prizes for which men once contended may seem to us ignoble or worthless. It may not be easy to look at the outward world through Greek or even through German eyes. To be sure, if the characters of a drama are anything more than talking puppets, their humanity will be stronger than their nationality. The greater the poet, the more clearly we shall see what is human and universal in his men and women, through the veils of race and creed and circumstances ; but yet the dramatist has always a right to insist that we shall place ourselves among his audience, in his theatre, and judge his drama, so far as we may, with the setting and the background for which he wrought it.

Moreover, the dramatist (we use the word now in the narrower technical sense, no longer including the great dramatic writers, from Homer to George Eliot, whose works were cast in other forms) is peculiarly bound and limited by conventions and traditions. This is important to remember in the case of Euripides, because it must be frankly acknowledged that he was not only fettered by the conventions of the stage and the traditional religion of his race, but failed to harmonize his work fully with these limitations, against which he apparently chafed nearly all his life.

The Greek drama, as is well known, developed out of the choric songs performed at the festivals of Dionysos. At first these songs doubtless always celebrated the praises of the joyous winegod himself. The first innovation may have been when one of the chorus gave in recitative an account of some legendary adventure of the god ; such, perhaps, as the one told in the beautiful Homeric Hymn to Dionysos, and illustrated in the frieze of the monument of Lysicrates. Later, an interlocutor was introduced, who conversed with the leader of the chorus. This embryonic actor may have represented Bacchos himself. The idea of dramatic dialogue was now reached, and even the introduction of the second actor, by Aischylos, was only in the natural line of development. Beyond three actors the great tragedians never ventured. The choric element always remained the core and essence of the whole, and the prize was officially assigned to the wealthy citizen who furnished the chorus, not to the poet who wrote the libretto.

The subject matter of the extant dramas is drawn from a wide circle of myths, and many plays are without the slightest allusion to Bacchos. But the dramatic contest always continued to form part of the rites at his festival. The characters upon the stage were prevailingly gods and the children of gods. The introduction of recent subjects was rare and unpopular, as we may see from the story related of Phrynichos. Herodotos records that he represented upon the stage the fall of Miletos, which had occurred a few years before, and was thereupon heavily fined by the Athenians for “ reminding them of sorrows of their own.” The Persians of Aischylos is another exception which confirms the rule ; for the spirit in which it is written makes us realize, even better than through the account of Herodotos, how quickly the great struggle with Xerxes came to be regarded by contemporary Greeks as a holy war, decided in their favor only through the personal interposition of the gods. The Persians is a drama as far removed from the ordinary level of human life as the Prometheus itself.

The immense size of the open-air Athenian theatre must have compelled a rather monotonous declamatory utterance in dialogue, and this, with the uniform dress of the few actors, who performed the successive parts with a mere change of masks, certainly prevented anything like elaborate delineation of individual character. Indeed, the text of the extant plays of Aischylos and Sophocles shows that nothing of the sort was attempted. There was probably little scenery, as we understand the word. The action usually took place before a palace or temple, which was represented at the back of the stage ; and this setting was hardly changed in the course of the play, except that sometimes the doors were thrown open to disclose a scene or tableau within the edifice. To the two elder poets, at least, the tragic representation was a stately religious ceremonial. The choice of subject, the spirit in which the drama was regarded by actor and spectator, the prominence of the choric and musical features, may remind us rather of an oratorio than of a modern play. Sophocles shows himself a consummate artist, by so fitting his work to these limitations that he never seems hampered and fettered by them. Sophocles is reported to have said of Aischylos, that “ he did right without knowing why.”

With these traditions of his art Euripides had probably neither the courage nor even the opportunity to break openly or violently; and yet with many of them he must have been covertly at war. It is hardly credible that he, or any of the enlightened group of men about Pericles, had any belief remaining even in the existence of the divinities who make up the quarrelsome family of Zeus. Certainly he saw how the incongruous legends in regard to them had grown up in a ruder age than his own, and he abhorred the stories which attributed to gods crimes and vices too debased for the worst of men. The gods constantly appear in the plays of Euripides. The story of the Hippolytos turns upon the vengeance of Aphrodite on the chaste favorite of Artemis, because he disdained the delights of love. Both goddesses are seen upon the stage; but all our admiration is bestowed on the human characters of the play. Their courage and nobility of soul are in the sharpest contrast with the murderous jealousy of Aphrodite, the helplessness and revengeful spite of Artemis. At times, in the midst of such dramas, we seem to hear clearly the stern voice of the agnostic poet: “ Behold your gods, O men of Athens, drawn even as your legends bid me draw them ! Do you find it hard to believe in divinities capable of the vilest passions and the meanest actions ? Why believe in them, then ? The gods should be more wise than humankind! ”

Of course this attitude of half-avowed hostility and incredulity toward his own characters is a most unfortunate one for the artist, and often mars his work. Sometimes it appears to be quite clear that he accepted reluctantly the supernatural elements of a myth, for the sake of the opportunities which he saw to portray vividly, in the course of the action, the sufferings and emotions of men. This may be illustrated from the Alkestis, a play especially familiar to English readers through the transcription by the poet Browning in his Balaustion’s Adventure. In the prologue Apollo and Death meet before the palace, and after their altercation the god of life and light flees from his former home, while the destroyer glides within. We fancy this as occurring in the dim gray of the dawn. They are not seen, hardly thought of, throughout the remainder of the drama. The self-sacrifice of Alkestis and the stout manliness of Heracles absorb most of our interest. Heracles is no glorious demigod, but a toiling, weary man. Once at least something like a sigh of repining at his own hard fate on earth escapes him : —

“ The task you tell of well befits my lot,
That evermore is grim and arduous.”

As the scenes develop, we are thinking less and less of the supernatural elements of the tale. At the last, Heracles returns with the queen, whom he has rescued from the clutch of Death. We instinctively expect a long, spirited narrative of the struggle over her. It seems just such an opportunity as our poet delights to improve, — like the death of Creon and his daughter in the Medea, or the destruction of Hippolytos. But this was just the point in the legend where the poet’s dramatic instinct warned him not to attempt the unattainable. Such a tale could not be stripped of its allegorical mystery and made realistic. It must be touched upon as lightly as possible. Accordingly the question is brought up in the midst of the “ stichomythia,” or rapid interchange of single-line speeches, and we hear only this much about it: —

Admetos. How didst thou bring her from the shades to day ?
Heracles. By joining battle with the lord that held her !
Adm. Where was this strife between thyself and Death ?
Her. I seized him from an ambush by the tomb.

At this point an easy digression is effected, for Admetos, troubled that Alkestis stands motionless and does not greet him, asks, —

But wherefore does my wife thus silent stand ?

Yet in doing this the poet renounces any attempt to solve the difficulties of the plot as stated in the prologue. Was Death visible to Heracles, though invisible to the other characters except Alkestis in her frenzy ? Did Death and Heracles wrestle for the lady’s soul, or her body ? How are the Fates reconciled to the loss both of the original victim and of the chosen substitute ? The dramatist neither knows nor cares. We have wept over Alkestis’ bier. We have exulted with Admetos on her wondrous return. The poet’s object is attained ; the play is done.

Why, then, are Apollo and Death introduced at all ? At the beginning of the play we should have replied, “ Because they are essential parts of the myth ; ” but now we are tempted rather to say, “ In order that the ignominious flight of the one, and the overweening confidence of the other, may bring out in more striking relief the endurance of woman and the successful toil of man.”

The point we wish to make is this: Euripides disliked, often despised, the gods of his race, or the vulgar conception of them. He was restricted for his material to myths in which these gods play prominent parts. It was often an irksome question to him, “ How far must I sacrifice my own convictions to the superstitious orthodoxy of the people ? ” When this discontent breaks forth through the lips of his characters, it is an interesting aid in our study of the man Euripides, but it is a proof that he had not attained that perfect sympathy with his material toward which the artist strives. Perhaps he did not attain it before his last great work, the Bacchantes, which is like a splendid recantation and atonement to Dionysos for all his doubts and heresies. That he had a high artistic nature, a lofty ideal, most modern readers probably admit. Even the furious unfairness of Aristophanes proves that he recognized the mighty powers, and feared the success, of the poet of the new age.

It is related that Sophocles once said of his younger rival, “ I draw men as they ought to be, Euripides as they are.” Gentle and tolerant as these words may seem at first hearing, they claim, if authentic, a very much greater superiority than the final verdict of posterity is likely to grant; for they mean nearly this : “ I am an idealist, and he a realist; I an artist, and he a craftsman.” He who merely “ draws men as they are ” has no conception of the true aim of art, nor of the limitations of his own powers. To the admirer of mere realism, the maker of wax figures is a better workman than the sculptor, the newspaper reporter excels romancer and dramatist. He who, with his poor little palette, his block and chisel, or his ink-horn, starts out to emulate nature, is beaten hopelessly before the race begins. Imitation is not the aim of art. Mere imitation is destructive of all art. The dramatist, like every artist, must find his strength in his weakness. He is finite, and nature is infinite. Therefore he must finish : Nature never finishes. He can show us within the limits of his frame that unity of purpose, that clearness of outline, that complete attainment of the result toward which all tends, which in the actual world is lost to our eyes amid bewildering and neverending details. If he accomplishes, or aims at this, he is an idealist and an artist.

If this be his goal, the truer to nature, the more of a realist he is, the better. Schiller was right in condemning his own youthful tragedy, the Robbers. “ I attempted to draw men before I had known any.” And so, we do not thereby acknowledge any inferiority of Euripides to his predecessors when we say that he was more of a realist than they. His works do show an insight gained by close study of individuals. His plays are a gallery of portraits, as those of Sophocles are not. This we regard as in itself a distinct advance. Shakespeare made that same advance over his predecessors. Not merely the noblest, but the only worthy study of mankind is man. There is no higher subject within the reach of our perceptions. The highest ideal of divinity itself which man can ever shape will be but the combination of all that is best in human nature.

But of course the true artist seeks to see and show us the noble, the heroic, features of humanity. This is only saying that the artist is one of our teachers, and his object must be our elevation. Aspiration toward something higher than ourselves, toward the highest we can conceive, is the sum of all teaching. Perhaps Euripides sometimes forgot this axiom. He certainly never would have ventured or wished, as does a living school of realists, to deny or reverse it.

The Hippolytos, the Medea, and the Alkestis are believed to be among the earliest works of our poet which have been transmitted to us, and they are hardly equaled in skill of construction and beauty of detail by any of the later dramas until we come to the Bacchantes. The Hippolytos is the first Greek play we possess in which the passion of love is the chief subject; but to these words we must not attach any mediæval or modern chivalric associations. The passion with which Phaidra feels herself cursed is a distinctly sensual one, and in the talk of the unscrupulous old nurse we shall hear something of the bluntness, though not the vulgarity, of the nurse in Romeo and Juliet. Doubtless the devout, conservative Athenian saw in the play as a whole a signal warning against contempt or neglect of any divinity, and particularly of Aphrodite. We have already intimated that the poet has but thinly concealed a very different and less orthodox meaning, which at times becomes evident to any careful listener.

We are told that the tragedy as we now read it is largely remodeled ; and from the scanty knowledge we possess of the original play, it is tolerably clear that the principal changes affect the character of Phaidra. The bold avowal of her passion, which offended in the Veiled Hippolytos, is here replaced by the firm determination to choose death rather than dishonor.

The stage represents the front of a palace in Troizene, whither Theseus, King of Athens, has come in voluntary exile to efface the pollution suffered by shedding the blood of a rebellious kinsman. His wife, Phaidra, a Cretan princess, daughter of the notorious Pasiphaë and sister of Ariadne, has accompanied him. Among his many earlier amours Theseus had won the love of the Amazon Hippolyte, by whom he had a son, Hippolytos. This young prince has been virtuously bred in Troizene by his fosterfather, Pittheus.

Statues of the two goddesses, Aphrodite and Artemis, stand before the palace ; and throughout the play there is a dual arrangement of the characters and an elaborate correspondence of persons and groups, such as may be clearly traced in certain famous ancient paintings,— for example, the Fall of Ilios, by Polygnotos, in the Lesche at Delphi. The one goddess appears at the beginning, the other at the close, of the play. Hippolytos is the favorite of Artemis, Phaidra under the control of Aphrodite. Phaidra, with her old nurse and maids, issues from the palace ; Hippolytos, with his venerable serving-man and attendants, appears, returning from the hunt. The first half of the play culminates in the death of Phaidra, the second in that of Hippolytos. Theseus, the king, is the pivotal, the central, though not the most prominent, figure. There are even two choruses, or, more strictly, a double use is made of the regular tragic chorus ; for before they make their regular entry as Troizenian matrons, sympathizing with Phaidra, and celebrating the irresistible might of Aphrodite and Eros, they have already been heard, though perhaps not seen, as a train of huntsmen following Hippolytos, and chanting the praise of Artemis.

Aphrodite, probably not entering like an ordinary character, but appearing aloft, explains the whole plan of the drama in the prologue, in characteristic Euripidean style : —

Known among men and not unnamed am I,
The goddess Kypris, and in heaven as well.
Of all who dwell between the Atlantic bounds
And Euxine Sea, and look upon the sun,
Those I advance who reverence my power,
And those who proudly scorn me I bring to grief;
For this is natural even for the gods,
To take delight in honors from mankind.
And soon I ‘ll prove the truth of these my words.
The son of Theseus and the Amazon,
Hippolytos, by holy Pittheus bred,
Calls me the basest of divinities.
He shuns the joys of love, and will not wed.
Artemis, Phoibos’ sister, child of Zeus,
He honors, thinking her the chief of gods,
And ever in the greenwood with the maid
Destroys the beasts with his fleet-footed hounds,
Enjoying more than human comradeship.
And that I grudge him not: why should I, pray ?
Put will avenge his sins against myself
This clay upon Hippolytos : and much
Being done already, light is now my task.
For once, when he had gone from Pittheus’
To see and share the sacred mysteries
In Attica, his father’s high-born wife,
Phaidra, beheld him, and was smitten at heart
With furious passion, through my artifice.
And ere she came to this Troizenian shore,
Beside the rock of Pallas, whence this land
Is seen, for Kypris she had built a fane,
Loving in absence. From Hippolytos
She bade the temple henceforth take its name.
Now Theseus leaves the land Kecropian,
Fleeing the stain from the Pallantids’ blood.
And voyages with his wife unto this land,
Accepting year-long exile from his home.
But yet, though moaning and half mad, still mute
The wretched woman bears her passion’s goad;
Not one of all her household shares her woe.
But not in this wise shall her passion end.
To Theseus I will show and prove the truth.
The sire himself shall slay the youth, my foe,
Through fatal curses ; for the lord of waves,
Poseidon, promised Theseus, as a boon,
Three prayers unto the god should not be vain.
And she, though noble, yet shall perish too, —
Phaidra, — nor do I count her pain so dear
But that my enemies must pay to me
A retribution that shall make amends.
But — for the son of Theseus I descry
Approaching, having left the toilsome hunt,
Hippolytos — I straightway will depart.
And close behind, a merry attendant throng
Chant the resounding praise of Artemis.
He does not know that Hades’ gates swing wide
For him! He shall not see another day !1

As the haughty and beautiful young Hippolytos enters he is singing a hymn to Artemis, his invisible companion and protectress. This is taken up by the band of huntsmen, and finally Hippolytos repeats the refrain : —

Hippolytos. Come, follow, and sing us you follow
Artemis, dwelling in heaven,
Daughter of Zeus, who protects US !
Chorus. Lady, O lady most holy and pure,
daughter of Zeus,
Hail to thee, hail to thee, O thou virgin
Artemis, daughter of Leto and Zeus !
Loveliest art thou of maidens by far
Who within the heavens wide
Dwellest in thy paternal hall,
In the resplendent palace of Zeus !
Hipp. Hail to thee, O loveliest,
Loveliest of maids that dwell
In Olympos, Artemis!

Hippolytos is perhaps now first visible, and as he enters he approaches the statue of Artemis, holding the wreath, from which the present play takes its name of Hippolytos Stephanephoros, or the Garland-Bearer.

This garland, woven from the virgin mead,
O lady, I have shaped, and bring to thee,
Where neither shepherd dares to graze his flock,
Nor yet has come the scythe, but in the spring
The honey-bee flits o’er the virgin mead,
And Reverence keeps it fresh with river-dews.
They who, untaught, within their very souls
Have virtue, shown in all their acts alike,
May cull therefrom; the evil enter not.
But oh, dear lady, for thy golden hair
Receive a coronal from a reverent hand ;
For I, alone of mortals, have this right.
With thee I live, and answer thee in words,
Hearing thy voice, but seeing not thy face.
May I turn the goal of life as I began !

Any Greek, if he knew nothing of the legend of Phaidra and Hippolytos, even though the threats of Aphrodite were not still ringing in his ears, would feel that words so presumptuous as these must rouse the anger of Nemesis ; and as the prince turns away, his faithful old serving-man ventures to admonish him, though with evident timidity : —

Servant. O prince,—for only gods we hail as lords, —

Wouldst thou accept a counsel shrewd from me ?

Hippolytos. Ay, gladly; else I should not show me wise.

Serv. Dost thou, pray, know the custom fixed by men —

Hipp. (interrupting, haughtily). I know it not! Why dost thou question me ?

Serv. — To hate the proud and unapproachable ?

Hipp. And rightly. Who is haughty, and not detested ?

Serv. And men have pleasure in the courteous ?

Hipp. Surely, and profit too with little toil.

Serv. And dost thou deem this true of gods as well ?

Hipp. Ay, since our mortal nature follows theirs.

Serv. Why then dost thou not greet this mighty goddess ?

Hipp. Whom ? But be cautious lest thy lips may err!

Serv. Kypris, who stands beside the portal here.

Hipp. I, who am chaste, salute her from afar!

Serv. But she is mighty, and famed among mankind.

Hipp. No god, nor man, is dear alike to all.

Serv. May Heaven accord thee joy, — and fitting thoughts!

Hipp. No god delights me, worshiped in the night!

Serv. We ought to pay fit honors to the gods !

Hipp. Attendants, go, and passing to our home

Prepare the food : a bountiful repast After the chase is sweet; and you must rub The steeds, that I may yoke them to the car When I have eaten, and train them fittingly.

[As he enters the palace, mockingly, to the old slave.

— Thy Kypris now I hid a long farewell!

The devoted old man is left alone upon the stage, and straightway throws himself before the statue of Aphrodite, with these touching words. They come very near that virtue, humility, of which wise old Dr. Peabody used to tell us men had no conception before Christianity was preached.

And we, not imitating younger men,
But with the lowly heart befitting slaves,
Will make our prayer unto thy image here,
O Lady Kypris ! Grant thy pardon, pray,
If any one in youthful pride of heart
Speaks idle words, and do not seem to hear :
The gods should be more wise than humankind.

He now follows his master, and the stage is deserted. This closes the prologue, which technically includes all that precedes the regular entrance of the chorus. The latter are matrons of the city. They have heard through the royal washerwoman that the queen has taken to her bed, and they now come hastening to the palace, full of sympathy and curiosity. They march in and take their places during the following Parodos, or entering song.2


Trickling with the spray of ocean
Stands a rock, and from its crest
Leaping runs a hurrying streamlet,
Whence in pitchers men might dip.
There a woman, by me belovèd,
Plunging garments purple-dyed
Into the current, upon the rocky,
Sun-warmed ridges laid them down.
First through her I learned the story
Of the trouble of our queen :
How she lies, by illness wasted,
On her couch, and with delicate robes
Shrouds her auburn head in darkness.
Now for the third day, so are we told,
Biding her fast, she keeps her body
From Demeter’s bounty pure,
Which across her lips ambrosial
Passes not. In secret grief
Gladly she her bark would anchor
In the gloomy port of death.
By a god art thou possessed,
Lady, Hecate or Pan,
Or the Corybantes dread,
Or the Mother, mountain-born.
Artemis, who loves the chase,
For neglected sacrifice
Bids thee in atonement pine:
For across the lakes she roves,
Over lands and over seas,
On the watery eddies rides.
Is thy husband, nobly-born,
Ruler of Erechtheussons,
By a secret love beguiled
From thy bed within his halls ?
Has a mariner arrived,
Coming from the shores of Crete
Toward our hospitable port,
Bringing tidings for the queen,
And in grief for sorrows heard
Is she prostrate, body and soul ?
Often in our fretful woman-nature
Dwells a miserable, aimless longing,
Sprung from labor-pain and mad desire.
Through my body too this gust has darted;
But I called on Artemis in heaven,
Archer-goddess, aiding us in travail,
Who until the other gods responds to prayer.

This entrance-song and the subsequent similar choric odes serve here, and usually in Greek plays, as musical intermezzi, to separate the episodes or acts. Accordingly, the first episode now begins with the entrance of Phaidra, accompanied by her fussy old nurse and other attendants. They are announced just before they appear, in accordance with the almost invariable custom of the Attic drama. It will be noticed that the chorus, doubtless through their leader’s mouth, may take part in the dialogue in recitative.

The nurse is one of those characters of Euripides which seem peculiarly unsuited to the mask and buskin, the stiffness and dignity, of the old tragedy. They explain to us the influence of Euripides upon the later union of tragedy and comedy in the domestic melodramas of Menander and his school.3

Chorus. But there is the ancient nurse at the door,
Bringing our lady forth from the hall.
Darkly gathers the cloud on her brow.
What is it — my soul is desirous to learn —
That has wasted away
The pallid form of the princess ?

[Phaidra, lying upon a couch, is brought out of the palace by the nurse and attendants.

Nurse. Oh, the troubles of men and detestable ills!
Pray what shall I do for thee, what shall I not ?
See ! Here is the daylight, and here is the air,
And forth from the house already is brought
Thy invalid couch;
For hither to come was thy constant desire,
And soon to thy chamber thou ’lt hasten again,
For quickly thou ’rt wearied, and never content.
What is here cannot please thee, and what thou hast not
Thou accountest more dear!
A sickness is easier than to be nurse.
Thy trouble is simple ; for me are conjoined
The worry of mind and the labor of hands.
The existence of mortals is nothing but pain,
And there comes no release from labor !
But if there be aught else sweeter than life,
The darkness about us enshrouds us in gloom.
Hence passionate lovers of life we appear,
Because of the glamour about it on earth,
Through lack of assurance of living elsewhere,
And ignorance as to the world below.
We with idle tales are deluded !

The last seven lines are hardly in character from the lips of the nurse. The poet seems rather to have yielded to the temptation to speak for a moment, as it were, with his own voice. All his plays are adorned with similar philosophical and lyrical passages, and the severest criticism of them is that they are quite as effective when detached as in their place. Indeed, some of them almost seem expressly composed as effective and quotable commonplaces.

Phaidra. Uplift my body, and raise my head;
In every joint am I relaxed.
My attendants, grasp my shapely hands.
My head-dress is heavier than I can bear :
Remove it; spread over my shoulders my locks.

Paying apparently no attention to the vague consolations uttered by the nurse, the queen, a moment later, bursts out with excited words, which the nurse and chorus cannot understand, though the audience at once perceive that her thoughts are with Hippolytos in his favorite haunts : —

Phaidra. Ah me!
I would that from some refreshing spring
I might quaff a cup of water clear,
And under the shadow of poplar-trees
In the leafy mead might lie and rest!
Nurse. How thou speakest, my child !
Pray talk not thus in the midst of the throng,
Nor utter such words, upon madness borne!
Phaidra. To the mountains send me ! I go to the wood,
And among the pines where course the dogs,
Pressing close on the track of the dappled deer.
By the gods ! I am eager to cry to the hounds,
And about my blonde hair whirl and throw
The Thessalian lance, or to hold in hand
The keen-tipped spear.
Nurse. Why givest thou thought, my child, to this.
Or what hast thou to do with the hunt,
And why art thou longing for spring - fed streams ?
For close by the walls is a dewy slope,
Whence one might bring a draught for thee.
Phaidra, O Artemis, sea-washed Limna’s queen,
Where to coursers’ tramp the gymnasia resound,
I would I were now upon thy plain,
Curbing and guiding Venetian steeds !

The fresh breath of woodland life, which gives a peculiar charm to many parts of this play, is strongly felt in these outbursts of the languishing queen. The nurse is amazed at her wild words, and Phaidra finally expresses shame and regret, and relapses into silence. After a colloquy with the chorus, in which both confess their ignorance as to the queen’s mishap, the nurse again turns to her mistress, and importunes her to tell her secret grief. Finally, in desperation at her fixed desire for death, the old servant says : —

Yet though thou be more stubborn than the sea,
Bethink thee, if thou die, thou wilt betray
Thy offspring, who will share no father’s wealth ;
Nay, by the Amazonian warrior-queen,
Who bore him who shall be thy children’s lord,
A bastard, noble-souled, — thou knowest him well, —
Hippolytos !

At the name Phaidra utters a sharp cry of distress, and after long resistance confesses that she is madly in love with him. The nurse utters the wildest expressions of horror and despair, and the chorus follow with this excited strain: —

Thou hast heard our queen, who uttered
Her unheard-of grievous trouble !
May I perish, dearest lady,
Ere thou gainest thy desire!
O thou wretched in thy sorrows !
Oh the woes that wait on mortals !
Fatal griefs hast thou revealed.
What a time is this awaits thee !
Something strange befalls thy house.
Not obscure thy passion’s issue,
O unhappy child of Crete!

Then follows a long and noble speech by Phaidra, from which we find nothing to omit: —

Troizenian women, who inhabit here
The outmost court of Pelops’ land, ere this
In long nightwatches with far-roving thoughts
I have pondered how the life of men is ruined.
It seems to me that not unwittingly
We turn to evil, for good sense is found
In many ; but one ought to reason thus.
We realize and understand the right,
But tire in effort, some through indolence,
Some choosing other pleasures in the stead
Of duty ; and many pleasures life contains:
Idle conversing, ease, that pleasant ill,
And shame, — but that is twofold, one not base,
And one the curse of homes. If the fit time
Were clear, there would not be two named alike.
Since, therefore, I have learned to see this truth,
There is no drug could so enfeeble me
That I would yield from my intent again.
— And I will tell the process of my thoughts.
When passion smote me, I considered how
I might endure it best; and I began
To bide in silence and to hide nay hurt;
For in no tongue I trust, that understands
To criticise the thoughts of other men,
But countless evils in itself contains.
Next, I determined better to endure
My madness, conquering it by self-restraint.
And third, when by these means I still had failed
To master Kypris, dying seemed to me
Wisest; and no one shall oppose my plans :
For I would not do well unseen, nor have
A host of witnesses to evil deeds.
I knew the act, and even my desire,
Was infamous, and knew, too, that I was
That hated thing, a woman. May she die
In utter wretchedness who first disgraced
Her marriage-bed with strangers! This befell
With women first who sprang from lofty race ;
For when vile actions please the nobly-born,
The vulgar surely will account them good.
I hate the women, virtuous in name,
Who venture secretly on shameful deeds.
How can they ever, O Kypris, sea-born queen,
Endure to look their husbands in the face ?
Do they not shudder at their accomplice, Night,
Or lest their chamber-walls may cry aloud ?
This very thought, dear friends, is slaying me,
That I will not be found dishonoring
My husband, nor my children whom I bore ;
But may they flourish, frank of speech and free,
In glorious Athens, not through me disgraced.
The man, however bold, is made a slave,
Who knows of either parent’s evil deed:
And this alone endures as long as life
In him who has it, — conscience, just and pure.
Setting before them, as before a girl,
His mirror, Time exposes, when he may,
The wicked. May I not with them be found.

Surely this is a noble and heroic soul, struggling desperately against sensual passion, and eager to perish rather than fall. In order fully to realize the pathos of Phaidra’s situation, we must remember that the spectator knows, though she does not, that she is utterly helpless in the grasp of an irresistible and almost demoniacal power, which is using her merely to work out an ignoble revenge. What a contrast between such a woman and such a goddess!

Here the chorus interjects a couple of lines of commonplace, while the audience draw a free breath, and then the nurse, who meanwhile has recovered her courage, begins a speech which is thoroughly Euripidean in several ways. The poet has a fondness, like that of a clever pleader, not perhaps for making “ the worse appear the better reason,” but for showing how fair an appearance may be put even upon a desperately bad case. Of course the villainous logic of the old procuress did not win the approval of the Athenian auditor ; but it may well have beguiled from him a smile of pleasure at its ingenuity. It is like our poet, too, to adorn just this chief speech of his worst character with ingenious fancy and mythical allusion. This lavish use of poetic wealth in a bad cause reminds us of that long and beautiful farewell of Admetos to the wife whom his own cowardice dooms to death.

Chorus. Ah me, how fair is virtue everywhere,
And harvests good repute among mankind!
Nurse. My lady, thy calamity but now
Produced in me great terror suddenly ;
But now I see, ’t was weakness; and in men
The second thought is somehow wiser, too.
— For thou hast suffered naught untold, nor strange.
The anger of the goddess on thee falls.
Thou lovest, — is it strange ? — with many more
Of men; but wilt thou lose thy life for love ?
Wretched are they who love their neighbor, or
Who may hereafter, if their doom be death !
Invincible is Kypris, when she comes
With furious onset. Gently she pursues
The yielding one, but him of haughty soul
She seizes and abases utterly.
She floats in air, and rides upon the wave
Of ocean ; out of her all things are sprung,
For she it is implants and gives desire,
Whereof we all are children on the earth.
They who possess the books of elder men,
And with the Muses ever live themselves,
Know well that Zeus of old desired to wed
With Semele, and the fair-shining Dawn
Once snatched up Kephalos among the gods,
In her desire ; and yet they dwell in Heaven,
Nor do they shun the pathways of the gods ;
They love, submissive to calamity!
Thou wilt not yield ? On other terms, indeed,
With other gods for lords, thou shouldst have been
Begotten, since our ways delight thee not!
How many, thinkest thou, are wise enough
To see their marriage-bed betrayed, and seem
To see it not ? How many erring sons
Have fathers helped to win their loves ? The wise
Agree in this: disgrace must be concealed!
Life should not be too full of anxious toil. . . .
If thou hast more in thee of good than ill,
Why then thou dost, being human, wondrous well!
Nay, cease, dear child, from evil thoughts, and cease
From insolence, —for this is nothing less,
To wish to be more mighty than the gods.
Submit to love, — a god has willed it so.
Since ill thou art, control it as thou mayst;
For there are charms, and incantations too ;
A drug to cure thy trouble will appear.
Men would be slow indeed to find a way,
Did not we women spy devices out!

In the following conversation the nurse plainly avows her intention to reveal the truth to Hippolytos. Phaidra seems shocked at this, and bids her be silent; and yet she is tempted by the suggestion, and her consciousness of her own charms prevents her thinking it a hopeless one. Her words are : —

Proceed not, by the gods! Thou talkest well,
But shamefully; and passion so my soul
Has mastered, if thou speak dishonor fair,
I shall submit to that which now I flee !

The nurse reverts to her previous proposal, and pretends that she is going into the palace merely to secure

A lock of hair, or fragment of his robe,

such a personal token being indispensable to the love-charm which may free Phaidra from her passion. The queen more than half realizes that this is a subterfuge, for she expresses a dread

Lest thou say aught of me to Theseus’ son.

The nurse soothes her with vague words, and as she enters the palace, saying,

But the rest of what I plan
It will suffice to tell the friends within,

even the spectator is not quite sure what she will do.

The dramatic purpose of all this is clear. The nurse would not have gone to Hippolytos in defiance of a decisive prohibition from Phaidra. The queen is not wholly innocent; but her momentary wavering rouses our sympathy for her the more. The brief flash of hope in her eyes is the foreshadowing of still blacker despair.

The departure of the nurse closes the first episode. During the following Stasimon, or choric song, the queen is listening intently at the palace door, and the sound of angry words within finally causes her to bid the chorus be silent.

The song celebrates the terrible might of Eros, who should be worshiped as a greater god than Delphian Apollo or Olympian Zeus. The carrying off of Iole by Heracles, and the fate of Semele, burned to ashes by Zeus’ lightnings, are described as instances of the deadly power of passion.


Love, ah Love, whose eyes with longing
Overflow, who sweet delight
Bringest to the soul thou stormest,
Come not, prithee, sorrow-laden,
Nor too mighty, unto me !
Neither flaming fire is stronger,
Nor the splendor of the stars,
Than the shaft of Aphrodite,
Darted from the hands of Eros,
Who is child of Zeus supreme.
Vainly, vainly, by Alphēos,
And in Phoibos’ Pythian fane,
Hellas heaps the slaughtered oxen ;
Eros, of mankind the tyrant,
Holder of the key that locks
Aphrodite’s dearest chambers,
Is not honored in our prayers,
Though he comes as the destroyer,
Bringing uttermost disaster
Unto mortals, when he comes.
That Oichalian virgin girl,
Never wedded nor a bride,
Kypris hurried far away,
Like a frenzied Bacchanal;
In the midst of blood and smoke,
And with gory nuptial-rites,
On Alcmene’s son bestowed,
In her wedlock all unblest.
Thou, O holy walls of Thebes,
Well might tell, and Dirke’s rill,
How to mortals Kypris comes;
For with thunder wrapt in fire
Bacchos’ mother low she laid,
Wedded to a fearful fate.
Terribly she breathes on all;
Even as a bee she flies.

It has usually been supposed that the Greek chorus filed out from behind the scenes into an orchestra, lower than, and in front of, a stage upon which the actors appeared. This view was confirmed by the excavation of the Dionysiac theatre in Athens in 1862, although the stage now seen there certainly dates from a much later age than the fifth century. Recently, and especially since the theatre in Epidaurus has been excavated, the theory has been advanced that the actors and chorus appeared upon the same level. The question is quite unsettled, and our curiosity in regard to it is piqued by the opening of our second episode.

During the choric ode Phaidra has overheard something of the conversation inside the palace, and she finally cries out to the chorus : —

Be silent, women ! I am shamed forever !

There follows a brief conversation, in which the chorus respond in excited lyrical outbursts to the calmer recitative in which Phaidra tells what is happening.

Phaidra. I am ruined! Stand thou here beside the doors,
And hear the sound that falls within the house!
Chorus. Nay, thou ’rt at the portal! The words that are sent
From the palace concern thee :
But tell me, I pray, what evil befalls.

And a moment later, —

The outcry I heard, but could not tell clearly
Which way it had come.
The shouting was borne through the gates to thee.

It is clear that the chorus are not near the palace, nor do they think it proper to approach it.

A moment later the palace doors are thrown open, and Hippolytos, horrified at what he has just heard, rushes out into the free air, while the nurse clings frantically to him, begging him not to betray her secret. Phaidra is not noticed by them during the scene which follows, and she doubtless shrinks back to the right just as the palace door opens. If it remained open it may have screened her from Hippolytos’ sight. In any case, the spectator undoubtedly saw her, and watched the effect upon her of the young prince’s words.

Hipp. O mother earth, and glowing sun, what sound
Of words unutterable have I heard !
Nurse. Be silent, youth, ere some one hear thy shouts.
Hipp. Hearing such horrors, I cannot hold my peace!
Nurse. Yea, by thy shapely hand, I beg of thee !
Hipp. Thou shalt not clasp my hand, nor touch my robes!
Nurse. I implore thee at thy knees, destroy me not!
Hipp. What! If thy words were harmless, as thou say’st ?
Nurse. My tale, O son, was not to be revealed !
Hipp. Fair words are fairer uttered in the throng!
Nurse. O child, I pray, dishonor not thy oath!
Hipp. My tongue has sworn ; unsworn my mind remains !

This line has caused Euripides to be bitterly censured as immoral and Jesuitical ; but, apart from the unfairness of attributing to a dramatist the sentiments of his characters, Hippolytos only means that he has been tricked into a promise of silence, which he would not have given had he suspected that the nurse was about to make a wicked and traitorous proposal. He thinks himself still morally free to reveal to Theseus the true character of his wife. Whether this is a right view of his duty we will not argue. It should always be remembered in this connection that, when Phaidra has perished, he refrains from telling the truth, even to clear his own character, or to escape exile and death.

Nurse. What wilt thou do, O son ? Destroy thy friends ?

Hipp. I scorn the name! No base one is my friend!
Nurse. Forgive! To err is only human, child!

This is the last arrow in her quiver. Hippolytos now casts her from him altogether, and bursts out with a long tirade against women, into which he weaves an outrageously unjust version of Phaidra’s action and character. We quote the most important parts only : —

. . . Most blest his lot within whose home is set
As wife a harmless, silly nobody.
I hate a clever woman ! In my house
Be no one sager than befits her sex:
For Kypris oftener stirs up villainy
Within the clever; but the guileless wife
Is saved from folly by her slender wit.
No servant should approach the wife’s abode,
But speechless animals should dwell with her,
That she may have not one to whom to speak,
Nor ever hear from them an answering voice.
But now the wicked weave their plots within
For mischief, and their servants bear them forth:
Even as thou, O evil one, hast come
To proffer me my father’s sacred rights ! . . .
. . . And, woman, know, my reverence saves thy life.
Were I not, unawares, so bound by oaths,
I would have straightway told my father this.
— But now, while Theseus is in other lands,
I leave his halls, and we will hold our peace.
But coming with my father, I ’ll behold
How thou wilt face him, and thy mistress too! . . .

When the prince rushes from the stage (to the left, as to another land), Phaidra believes that he will probably tell Theseus this version of her sin, and is certain that he will soon return with his father, watching her from aloof with eyes full of contempt and hate, regarding her as a shameless wanton and accomplished hypocrite. We must enter, as far as we may, into her mingled feelings, — shame for her passion, indignation at Hippolytos’ injustice, despair of setting herself in any better light, —because here lies the explanation of what most critics think the fatal flaw in the play: Phaidra’s false accusation of her step-son. Long previously she had determined to put an end to her own life. Now the resolve is roused within her to avenge herself on the haughty young prince who has both disdained and slandered her. Her strongest motive, however, is the desire to leave her children a spotless name; and the poet has foreshadowed this in one of his finest passages. For ourselves, we find that her letter to her husband is adequately justified, — that is, of course, dramatically justified; in fact, is no more than what a Greek would expect a high-spirited princess to do under such provocation.

The nurse, who has bowed in silent submission to the torrent of his angry words, now rises slowly, and meets the eyes of her mistress. The nurse is the scape-goat of the drama, next to Aphrodite. She has been made odious in order to lift the burden of guilt from Phaidra. That she will be driven out in disgrace and heard of no more we may be sure ; and equally sure that she will first have full opportunity to put the best construction upon her own acts, and will take with her some share of our sympathy. That is part of the dignity of tragedy. Here are the words of her reply to Phaidra’s accusation, which closes with the lines

Accurst be thou, and all who eagerly
Do shameful service for unwilling friends.
Nurse. My lady, thou canst blame my act as wrong,
For pain has overpowered thy judgment now.
Yet I can answer, if thou wilt but hear.
I loved, who bred thee. I but sought a cure
For thy disease, — and found not what I would.
Had I succeeded, I were counted wise ;
For by success or failure we are judged.

After dismissing the nurse, Phaidra demands from the chorus a vow

To veil in silence what ye here have heard,

and withdraws into the palace, with the words : —

To Kypris, who destroys me, I will give
Delight, by bidding life farewell to-day,
And shall be overcome by bitter love.
But to that other I will prove a curse
In death, that he may in my misery learn
Not to be haughty. He shall share with me
This trouble, which may teach him self-re-

Here the episode closes, and we have reached the central point of the play. It is evident that Phaidra will be seen no more alive. While in these first two episodes she has been suffering and almost passive, her last words reveal to us that in the scenes to come she will exert, in death, a fatal influence at least over Hippolytos’ destiny. At this point the poet has set a lyric ode of great beauty, in which the first pair of strophes, elaborated on the theme “Would we could flee afar from all the horrors we foresee here,” relieve the thoughts of the listener, and the second pair recall his attention gradually more and more closely to the subject of the drama. In attempting to render the substance of such an ode in English, it is right to remind the reader that we have lost completely the Greek music, and that what we possess is only a bare libretto without the score.


Oh for some retreat afar sequestered!
May some god into a bird
Flitting mid the wingèd throng transform me !
Where the Adriatic’s wave
Breaks upon the shore I fain would hasten;
Or to the Erídanos,
Where into the purple tide,
Mourning over Phaethon,
Evermore the wretched, sisters
Drop their amber-gleaming tears.
Gladly would I seek the fertile shore-land
Of Hesperian minstrelsy,
Where the sea-lord over purple waters
Bars the way of mariners,
Setting there, to be upheld by Atlas,
Heaven’s holy boundary.
There ambrosial fountains flow
From the place where, Zeus abides,
And the sacred land of plenty
Gives delight unto the gods.
O thou white-winged Cretan vessel,
That across the ever-smiting
Briny billow of the ocean
Hither hast conveyed my queen,
From her home of royal splendor,
Wretched in her wedded bliss !For to both of evil omen
Surely, or at least to Crete,
Thou to glorious Athens flitted,
Where in live Munychian harbor
They unbound their twisted cables
And set foot upon the main.
Therefore is she broken-hearted,
Cursed with an unholy passion
By the might of Aphrodite.
Wholly overwhelmed by woe,
In the chamber of her nuptials,
Fitted to her snowy neck
She will hang the cord suspended,
Showing thus her reverence
For the god by men detested:
Eager most for reputation,
And releasing so her spirit
From the love that brought her pain.

The opening portion of the third episode is remarkably rapid and full of action. As in the second episode, the Stasimon is seemingly interrupted, in this case by a loud shout from a servant within the palace, — the stage being still deserted.

Servant [within). Halloa! Halloa!
Run hither, all who are about the house,
For here is hanging Theseus’ royal wife !
Chorus. Alas! The deed is done! She is no more,
The queen, who to the high-hung noose is bound!
Serv. (within). Will ye not hasten ? Some one bring a knife,
That we may loosen from her neck the bond !
Chor. What may we do ? Ought we to enter, friends,
And from the tight-drawn noose release the queen ?
Semi-chorus. Nay, why ? Are not the youthful servants there ?
In undue forwardness no safety lies.

(Here again it seems clear that the position of the chorus is such that they must remain inactive even at such a crisis, and this bit of discussion among them is a dramatic device to excuse their failure to approach the palace.)

Servant (within). Lay out and straighten the most wretched corpse.
A sad home-keeping for my lord is this !
Semi-chorus. The unhappy wife has perished, as I hear:
For they already lay her out as dead.

In their excitement the chorus have failed to notice and announce the approach of Theseus, who enters at this juncture, knowing nothing of the events of the day. To the Athenian auditor he was, no doubt, an unmistakable figure. Similarly, in the Alkestis, Heracles, entering with club and lion-skin, requires no mention of his name.

Theseus. What is this cry, O women, in the halls ?
The servants’ wail came to me heavily.
Nor does the palace open wide its gates,
And as a sacred envoy welcome me.
Has any change to aged Pittheus come ?
Advanced already is his life, and yet
By us lamented he would leave his home.

After some hesitation the chorus announce to him the true cause of the lamentations. Tearing off his chaplet and casting it away, he exclaims : —

Undo the fastenings, servants, of the gates,
And draw the bolts, that I this wretched sight May see. . . .

The palace doors are accordingly opened, and the queen is seen lying dead within. Here begins the Kommós, or lament for the dead, carried on by Theseus and the chorus in alternation. Iambic recitative is mingled with lyric measures. A specimen passage must suffice, as the action of the play waits meanwhile : —

Theseus ...... I behold, a sea of troubles,
So mighty I can never more escape,
Nor ride the billows of calamity.
Brief of days, unhappy woman,
In what words, or how, may I
Rightly tell thy wretched lot ?
For as a bird thou ’rt vanished from my hands,
Rushing to Hades with impetuous haste !
Wretched is our woe, alas!
Out of some far-distant source
Falls on me divine disaster,
Through the sins of one of old.

The reader will notice the familiar metaphor of Hamlet. The allusion to a bird is interesting, for in the bas-reliefs upon ancient Athenian tombstones we often see a bird held in the hands, perhaps as an emblem of the flitting soul. The last lines are like a faint, dying echo of that living belief in the working out of an ancestral curse, which adds so much of awe and horror to the Aeschylean drama.

The Kommós ends with these prophetic words from the chorus : —

For thy fate mine eyes with tears
Overflow; and I have shuddered
Long at sorrows yet to come !

Immediately afterward, Theseus, approaching his wife’s body, notices that she holds in her hand a sealed tablet. This he opens, while the chorus, in a flutter of excitement, now clearly foresee the trouble which is in store. Theseus, after some incoherent outcry at the dreadful news, declares : —

Hippolytos has dared assail my couch,
Not reverencing the awful eye of Zeus !
— But oh ! my sire Poseidon, since of old
Thou gavest me three wishes, now, for one,
Destroy my son ; and may he not escape
This day, if thou dost truly grant my prayers !
Chorus. Recall thy wish, O monarch, by the gods!
For thou wilt learn, thou errest. Mark my words!

The chorus is here, as usual, the mouthpiece of the average sentiment of a Hellenic community. The audience realize at once that Theseus will pay a bitter penalty for this over-hasty imprecation.

Theseus. Not so ! And I besides will exile him.
By one of these two fates shall he be struck.
Either Poseidon, hearkening to my prayer,
Will send him slain to Hades’ realm, or else,
Wandering as an outcast from this land,
On foreign earth he ’ll spend a wretched life.

Upon this, Hippolytos is seen approaching. The term “ tragic irony ” is almost too familiar for repetition ; but we must notice the contrast between the young prince’s tender words of sympathy, his assurance of his father’s love, and the curses we have just heard pronounced : —

Hearing thy outcry, father, I am come
In haste ; but yet the cause of thy lament
I know not, and would gladly learn from thee.

[Seeing Phaidra.

Oh ! what a fearful sight! I see thy wife
Lies dead, my father! This is wondrous strange.
She whom I left but now, who gazed upon
The sunshine but a little time ago !
Pray, what befell her ? How was she destroyed ?
. . . Thou ’rt silent ? Silence is not well in grief.
The heart that longs to know of all our haps
Is not less eager in our evil days.
From us who are thy friends, and more than friends,
It is not just to hide calamity.

The dialogue between father and son extends to more than two hundred lines, and would drag a little on a modern stage, though undoubtedly most pleasing to the Athenians.

Hippolytos faces his enraged father with unflinching courage : —

Herein, my sire, I marvel much at thee !
If I had been thy father, thou my son,
Instead of exile I had struck thee dead,
If thou hadst. dared lay hand upon my wife!

We can imagine the family likeness in the two men coming out more clearly as they glare at each other, with parted lips and flushed cheeks: so far away do such scenes carry our imagination from the stiff pomposities of mask and buskin !

The audience doubtless enjoyed a certain subtlety of argument in this scene, which reminds us, as is often true in Euripides’ dialogue, of the pleas in the law-courts. Thus Theseus : —

Since she is dead, thou trustest to escape ?
’T is this convicts thee most of all, thou wretch!
What oath, what reasoning, could be mightier
Than she, and clear thee from this charge ? Thou ’lt say
That she abhorred thee, that ’t, is natural
The bastard should be foe of lawful sons ?
She were a foolish trafficker in life,
To lose that dearest thing for hate of thee !
— Or say this folly is not found in men,
But only in women? Nay, I know young men
Are nowise more secure than women are,
When Kypris comes to stir the soul of youth.

We are sorry to give only a fragment of the prince’s reply, which is full of powerful appeals to Athenian feeling : —

... Of what thou wouldst convict me I am pure. My body yet is innocent of love ;
I know it not, except as told in tales,
Or seen in pictures, — nor do I desire
To gaze on them, but keep a virgin soul.
My virtue, it may be, wins not thy belief;
Then must thou show by what I was beguiled,
Her form, perchance, was of all womankind
The fairest ? Did I hope to rule thy house,
Winning a love that brought me dower besides ?
— I must have been a dolt, bereft of sense!
Or because power is pleasant ? To the wise
It is not so ! For undivided sway
Corrupts the Souls of those who find it sweet.
I would desire in the Hellenic games
To win the foremost; second in the state
To live a prosperous life, with noblest friends.
Thus action still is free ; and safety has
A charm more mighty than tyrannic power.
. . . But now, by Zeus, the god of oaths, and earth,
I swear to thee I never touched thy wife,
Nor wished it; no, nor ever thought of it!
Inglorious, nameless, homeless, may I perish,
Without a country wandering the earth,
May neither land nor wave receive my bones
In death, if I have been a sinful man!
If she in terror Hung her life away,
I know not. More I have no right to say.
She is held virtuous who was not so,
And we who are have little joy of it!

When Hippolytos asks if his father will not test his innocence by divination, Theseus confronts him with the tablet, as unanswerable proof of guilt. The youth is sorely tempted to break his vow.

Ye gods, why do I not unseal my lips,
Who am destroyed by you whom I revere ?
. . . Nay, for I should not even so persuade
Those whom I must, but break my oath in vain.

Hippolytos finally departs with all the dignity of a victor.

It must be so, it seems. Alas for me,
Who know, but yet may not reveal, the truth !
Daughter of Leto, dearest of the gods,
Comrade in chase and rest, an exiled man
Am I from glorious Athens ! Fare ye well,
Erechtheus’ land and town ! Troizenian plain,
How happily may youth be spent in thee !
Farewell ! I shall not hail nor see thee more !

So he passes forth, accompanied by a countless host of the youth of the land, into exile.

Even in this scene, confronting a heroic and kingly father, who pours upon him the bitterest scorn and rage, Hippolytos stands the preëminent and most beautiful figure of a drama that has not one weak or cowardly character in it. He is, in the highest sense, statuesque : full of exultant delight in life, yet courageous and steadfast in the presence of peril and agony; and the poet who created him was not unworthy to teach the youth of Hellas how to face life and death.

Self-satisfaction, almost self-worship, is his one danger, rather than sin. The Greek feeling was not that self-satisfaction was unfounded and wicked, deserving the punishment of Heaven, but only that it drew down the jealousy of gods, who would not permit men to enjoy like themselves. The mediæval ascetic warns us against pride and self-contentment because he has a low opinion of human nature, the Greek rather because of his ignoble conception of the gods.

As Hippolytos departs, the palace doors close upon Theseus and the dead queen, and the stage is again deserted.

The third choric song, or Stasimon, is long, perhaps in order that some time may have elapsed for the occurrence of the events described in the next scene. The chorus, or rather the poet, begins with a confession that the calamities of men sometimes shake our faith in the divine watchfulness. Then follows a prayer for moderate prosperity. The remaining strophes are a lament that the palace, the race-course, and the forest will know the stately young hero no more.

The fourth episode opens with the arrival of a messenger, Hippolytos’ attendant. Hearing his inquiries, Theseus comes forth, and to him is told, first briefly, then at great length, the tale of his son’s mishap. This is very generally regarded as the finest passage in the play. We reluctantly omit it, for lack of space, and because it is, of course, hardly a part of the action proper of the drama.4 Poseidon has fulfilled his promise. As Hippolytos, with his myriad attending train, drove his chariot along the beach road, —

Toward Argos and the Epidaurian land,

a mighty billow arose from the sea, and out of it appeared a terrible bull. This monster threw the horses into a panic, despite all Hippolytos’ strength and skill, and finally drove them crashing against a crag. The chariot was shattered, the bull and also the horses disappeared, and Hippolytos is now lying, mangled and just alive, upon the shore. And then the messenger lifts his head defiantly before the unrelenting king, and adds : —

I am a slave within thy house, O king!
But this at least I never can believe,
That he, thy son, was guilty ! Not although
The whole of womankind go hang themselves,
And with their letters fill the pines that grow
On Ida; for that he is noble I know!

Theseus neither grieves nor rejoices, if we except a momentary exultation in the certainty that Poseidon is indeed his father. He bids that his son be brought into his presence, and the messenger’s departure closes the fourth and last episode.

The fourth Stasimon is very brief ; merely a single lyric stanza, celebrating the universal power of Kypris and Eros.

Meanwhile, Theseus remains upon the stage, and the Exodos, or closing scene, opens with the apparition of Artemis.

I command thee, illustrious Aigeus’ son,
To give ear unto me !
I am Artemis, daughter of Leto, who speak.

The goddess sternly reveals to the king the whole truth, and declares that she herself and even Poseidon are wroth at his hasty action, and impious refusal to consult the oracles or in any way test the truth. She explains their failure to interfere in Hippolytos’ behalf in the following passage : —

Awful thy guilt! and yet
Forgiveness still may be within thy reach;
For Kypris willed that this should come to pass,
Sating her wrath. The way of gods is this :
Not one will interfere to thwart the wish
Of any, but we ever bold aloof.
Yet know full well, kad I not dreaded Zeus,
I never would have suffered this disgrace,
To let him perish who of mortal men
To me was dearest.

(Hardly an inspiring view of the supreme powers !)

Thy transgression, first,
By ignorance was freed of grievous guilt;
And then thy wife, by dying, had cut off
Inquiries which might satisfy thy mind.
And heaviest on thyself this evil falls,
A grief to me as well; for in the death
Of righteous men the gods have no delight,
But root the wicked out with child and house !

There is such a contrast between these last excellent sentiments and the actual events just chronicled, that we can hardly avoid hearing in them a tone of bitterest irony; and yet perhaps we should be mistaken. The growing gentleness of Artemis is possibly an indication that our drama is about to glide into that tone of calmer feeling and spirit of resignation in which tragedy ends. Even the wild scenes of the Oresteian trilogy close peacefully in the Eumenides.

Hippolytos is now brought in on the arms of two attendants. He is soiled and mangled, and apparently hardly able to see. He describes his sufferings, longs for death to end them, and declares himself the innocent victim of the sin of some one of his forefathers. As he sinks back exhausted, and closes his eyes, the voice of the maiden-goddess to whom his life has been devoted rings in his ears, uttering her sympathy for the beloved youth, whom his own chastity and faith to his plighted word have thus destroyed. The close of the drama we may perhaps give in full: —

Artemis. Poor wretch, to what disaster thou art bound!
Thy nobleness of soul has laid thee low!
Hippolytos (starting up again). O heavenly
breath of fragrance ! Even in woe
I feel thee, and my frame is grown more light.
The goddess Artemis is in this place !
Art. Poor soul, she is; most dear of gods to thee!
Hipp. Dost thou, O lady, see my misery ?
Art. I see, yet may mine eyes no tear let fall.
Hipp. Thou hast no huntsman nor attendant now.
Art. Yet thou art very dear to me in death.
Hipp. No one to guide thy steeds, or guard thy shrines.
Art. Ay, villainous Kypris has devised it so.
Hipp. Ah, now I know the power that ruined me!
Art. She grudged my honors, chafed that thou wert pure.
Hipp. Ay, she alone, I see, destroyed us three —
Art. — Thy father, and thyself, and third his spouse.
Hipp. I sorrow for my father’s grief as well.
Art. By superhuman craft was he deceived.
Hipp. How wretched art thou, father, in this woe!
Theseus. I am dead, my child ! Life has no charm for me!
Hipp. I mourn thine error more for thee than me.
Thes. Would I, my child, could perish in thy stead!
Hipp. Thy sire Poseidon gave thee bitter gifts.
Thes. Oh that my lips had never shaped the wish!
Hipp. What then ? Thou wouldst have slain me in thy wrath.
Thes. The gods had robbed me of my wiser thoughts.
Hipp. Oh that mankind might curse the powers above!
Art. Hold! for although to nether gloom thou pass,
Not unavenged the eager wrath divine
Of Kypris shall upon thy body fall,
Because of thy pure heart and piety ;
For I in recompense will slay that one
Of mortals who is found most dear to her,
By mine own hand, with these unerring shafts.
On thee, poor sufferer, to requite thy woes,
In the Troizenian town I will bestow
High honors. Maidens ere their wedding-day
Shall shear for thee their tresses; thou shalt reap
Through many an age the harvest of their tears.
Thy minstrel shall the grief of virgins be,
And Phaidra’s passion for thee never more
Shall into silence and oblivion fall.
Thou, son of venerable Aigeus, take
Into thine arms thy son, and clasp him close.
Unwilling thou hast slain him ; and to men
Error is natural when the gods so guide.
And I command thee not to hate thy sire,
Hippolytos ; for ’t was thy fate to die.
Farewell! I may not look upon a corpse,
Nor sear my eyes with agonies of death ;
And thou, I see, art near that final pang.
Hipp. Farewell to thee, departing, blessèd maid!
And painless end our long companionship.
At thy behest I strive not with my sire,
Even as before I hearkened to thy words.

[Artemis vanishes.

The darkness falls already on my eyes !
My father, clasp me and uplift my frame.
Thes. Alas! what dost thou to thy wretched sire!
Hipp. I am lost! The gates of Hades I behold!
Thes. And wilt thou leave my soul unpurified ?
Hipp. Not so, since I acquit, thee of my death.
Thes. What! Free from stain of blood thou leavest me ?
Hipp. — And call as witness on the archermaid.
Thes. Dearest, how noble thou dost seem to me!
Hipp. Farewell, a long farewell to thee, my sire !
Thes. Alas for thy most pure and reverent soul!
Hipp. Pray thou for lawful children like to me !
Thes. Desert me not, my child, but still be strong!
Hipp. My strength is spent, and I am dead, my father;
Make haste to cover with the robe my face.

[ Dies.

Thes. O glorious hounds of Athens, Pallas land,
Of what a man art thou bereft! Alas !
Kypris, thy deeds I shall remember long.
Chorus. On all in our city in common this grief
Unexpected befalls.
The fountain of many a tear it will prove ;
For the fame and well-earned lamentation endure
The longer for great men departed.

So calmly the drama closes. There was probably no curtain to fall between actors and spectators. The hody, followed by the grief-stricken king, is doubtless carried into the palace, while the chorus file out to the marching movement of these closing dactyls.

We have no sympathy with the carping critics, from Aristophanes to Schlegel, who shrilly complain that Euripides was not a second Sophocles. He has gloriously vindicated his right to be himself. This sketch attains its aim, if, following Symonds, Mahaffy, and Browning, it aids at all in showing Euripides to be a dramatic and lyric poet of the highest rank. We are reverently grateful to this rare and noble creative genius, who reveals to us a lovely ideal world, — ideal, and yet real; for we are conscious that we are but gazing into the magician’s mirror, wherein Periclean Athens beheld itself.

William Cranston Lawton.

  1. The original metre here, as in most of the recitative of Greek dramas, is the Alexandrine line of six iambic feet. Though the present rendering aims everywhere to turn line for line as closely as possible, it was thought best to substitute the ordinary English verse of ten syllables. The livelier recitative of four anapæsts, used, for example, by Phaidra and the nurse on their first entrance, has been imitated without intentional variation.
  2. The lines printed in italic type are in the original very irregular in length and metrical character, though most of these passages are prevailingly trochaic. Nearly all of them were undoubtedly sung. They include not only the choric songs proper, but occasional lyric stanzas, interspersed in the recitative, and assigned to actors as well as to chorus. No consistent attempt has been made here to imitate the original forms of these lines. We are unwilling to believe that even a Greek would have found in them any pleasing rhythmic movement, unless they were supplemented by music with well-marked regular time.
  3. The writer is convinced that the use of rhyme, in translation from the Greek tragedians, is a mistake. It will sometimes give us better verses, or at least win a way more easily to English ears; but it leads the translator, half unconsciously, further and further away from the precise meaning of the original; and it brings in a peculiarly modern element, illsuited to the spirit of the work. In the free version of the Hippolytos by Fitzgerald, the reader will find rhymed translations of all the choric odes. They are very beautiful, but they do not always resemble the original.
  4. On this whole question the reader should consult the delightful essays of J. A. Symonds, in his Studies of the Greek Poets.
  5. Schiller closes his translation of our poet’s Iphigenia at Aulis without giving the messenger’s account of the sacrifice, the culmination of the plot, because “ hier schliesst sich die dramatische Handlung.