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The Death of Hippolytus , Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

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

Phaedra, Theseus' second wife, fell in love with Hippolytus. According to some sources, he had scorned Aphrodite to become a devotee of Artemis and Aphrodite made Phaedra fall in love with him as a punishment. He rejected her. Alternatively, Phaedra's nurse told Hippolytus of her love, and he swore he would not reveal her as a source of information--even after Phaedra killed herself and blamed his seduction of her in her suicide note. In revenge, Phaedra wrote Theseus a letter that claimed Hippolytus raped her. She then killed herself. Theseus believed her and, using one of the three curses he had received from Poseidon, Hippolytus' horses were frightened by a sea monster and ragged their rider to his death. Alternatively, after telling Theseus that Hippolytus had raped her, he killed his son and Phaedra committed suicide out of guilt for she had not intended for Hippolytus to die. Artemis later told Theseus the truth. In an alternate version, Phaedra simply told Theseus this and did not kill herself; Dionysus sent a wild bull which terrified Hippolytus' horses.

Death of Hippolytosm Jean-Baptiste Lemoine the elder, 1715, Seized during the French Revolution
Louvre, Accession number MR 2026, Department of Sculptures, Richelieu, ground floor, room 25

A cult grew up around Hippolytus, associated with the cult of Aphrodite. Girls who were about to be married offered locks of their hair to him. His cult believed that Artemis asked Asclepius to resurrect the young man since he had vowed chastity to the goddess. He was brought to Latium, Italy, where he reigned under the name of Virbio. After being resurrected, he married Aricia, or according to another tradition lived in a sacred forests near Aricia in Latium.

Death of Hippolytus, Nicolas Poussin

Hippolytus and Phaedra, Louvre

Hippolytus and Phaedra, Sarcophagus, Hermitage

Death of Hippolytus, Peter Paul Rubens

Hippolytus play (Euripides)

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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