Hippolytus - Role of Greek Gods

The play Hippolytus by the Greek playwright Euripides is one
which explores classical Greek religion. Throughout the play, the
influence of the gods on the actions of the characters is evident,
especially when Aphrodite affects the actions of Phaedra. Also central
to the plot is the god-god interactions between Artemis and Aphrodite.

In this essay, I hope to provide answers to how the actions of

Hippolytus and Phaedra relate to the gods, whether or not the
characters concern themselves with the reaction of the gods to their
behavior, what the characters expect from the gods, how the gods treat
the humans, and whether or not the gods gain anything from making the
humans suffer.

Before we can discuss the play, however, a few terms need to be
defined. Most important would be the nature of the gods. They have
divine powers, but what exactly makes the Greek gods unique should be
explored. The Greek gods, since they are anthropomorphic, have many of
the same characteristics as humans. One characteristic of the gods
which is apparent is jealousy. Aphrodite seems to be jealous of

Artemis because Hippolytus worships Artemis as the greatest of all
gods, while he tends to shy away from worshipping Aphrodite (10-16).

This is important because it sets in motion the actions of the play
when Aphrodite decides to get revenge on Hippolytus. The divine
relationship between the gods is a bit different, however. Over the
course of the play, Artemis does not interfere in the actions of

Aphrodite, which shows that the gods, while divine, do have
restrictions; in this case, it shows the gods cannot interfere with
each other. (1328-1330) The gods are sometimes evil and revengeful,
though, as can seen by what Artemis has to say about Aphrodite: "I\'ll
wait till she loves a mortal next time, and with this hand - with
these unerring arrows I\'ll punish him." (1420-1422)

The relationship of mankind and the gods also needs to be
discussed. This relationship seems to be a sort of give-and-take
relationship, in part. The Greeks believed that if they gave to the
gods, through prayer and sacrifices, that the gods would help them
out. This is especially true of Hippolytus and his almost excessive
worship of Artemis. Also, Theseus praying to his father Poseidon is
another example of this, only Theseus actually gets what he prays for.
(887-890) Just because mankind worshipped the gods, however did not
mean that the gods had any sort of obligation to help out the humans.

Artemis did nothing to protect Hippolytus from being killed. But not
all relations between the gods and mankind were positive from the
humans\' standpoint. Since Aphrodite is angry with Hippolytus for not
worshipping her, she decides to punish him by making Phaedra love him,
then making it seem that he rapes her, when she actually hangs
herself, whether that is through her own actions or is the doing of

Aphrodite.

The thoughts and actions of Hippolytus and Phaedra certainly are
irrational at times. After all, a stepmother falling in love with her
stepson is unlikely, but probably even less acceptable. This is
directly related to the gods. What Aphrodite does to Phaedra certainly
causes her to do some strange things. For instance, first Phaedra
seems to go crazy, and then she decides to hide her new-found love for

Hippolytus from the nurse. Later, though, she decides to tell the
nurse, and when she finds that the nurse has told Hippolytus, decides
that the only logical course of action is to kill herself. This action
is certainly related to the gods because Aphrodite makes it look as if

Phaedra\'s suicide is really the fault of Hippolytus. Some of

Hippolytus\' actions are related to the gods as well. When Theseus
discovers that Phaedra is dead and decides to exile Hippolytus,

Hippolytus does object to his banishment, but eventually he stops
arguing with his father. At this point, he prays to the gods that he
be killed in exile if he is guilty of the death of Phaedra. It is also
possible he may be expecting Artemis to help him out, though she does
nothing until he is on the verge of death. The characters do worry
about how the gods react to them at times. Hippolytus does not seem to
concern himself much with how Aphrodite reacts to his behavior. At the
beginning of the play, the old man questions Hippolytus\' decision not
to worship Aphrodite, but Hippolytus really does not worry that he may
be making Aphrodite angry. He does care how Artemis reacts, however,
because he is