An online dramaturgical casebook.

Theseus and Hippolyta

 

 

Theseus battling Hippolyta and Deinomache.

 

You can find a great bio of Theseus here, including some information about his exploits with Hippolyta. There’s an equally great bio of Hippolyta here. Here’s the cliff notes version:

Aegeus, king of Athens, bedded Aethra, the princess of Troezen — but unbeknownst to him, Poseidon crept in and slept with Aethra as well. When Aegeus found out Aethra was pregnant, he hid his sandals and sword under a rock and told her that if the child was male, he could claim the sword and sandals from under the rock and come to Athens to be Aegeus’ heir. Theseus was born, and when he grew up, he claimed the sword and sandals and made for Athens. Along the way he killed a number of bandits and beasts who had been terrorizing the road.

After being recognized by Aegeus as Aethra’s son, and claimed as Aegeus’ heir, Theseus decided to volunteer to be sent to Crete as part of a sacrifice to the Minotaur. He entered King Minos’ labyrinth, killed the Minotaur, and escaped the maze with the help of Minos’ daughter Ariadne. Theseus and Ariadne escaped Crete, but Theseus abandoned her on Naxos (where she was wooed by Dionysus). Theseus forgot to change the sails of his ship from black to white, indicating his success; his father saw the black sails and, thinking his son was dead, threw himself into the sea (which we now call the Aegean).

Theseus tried to claim the throne of Athens and was defied by the nobles of Attica. After some battles, he returned to Troezen with his new bride, Phaedra. While in voluntary exile from Athens, he made war against the Amazons, capturing and bedding Hippolyta. Soon after, the Amazons attacked Athens, and Theseus led the defense to victory. (Some versions of the myth say that Theseus kidnapped Hippolyta and thus sparked the Amazonian attack on Athens.)

That’s about where we join the story, with Theseus in Athens, having recently defeated the Amazons. Interestingly, Phaedra is nowhere to be seen.

Myths differ about Hippolyta’s fate. Some versions say that when Theseus went back to Phaedra, she returned to the Amazons in a huff, leaving her son Hippolytus with Theseus. Other versions say that she appeared at the wedding of Theseus and Phaedra with Hippolytus in tow, to demand that Theseus stay with her — upon which the other wedding guests killed her. Yet another version has it that Heracles killed Hippolyta when he came to take her girdle as one of his twelve labors.

In either case, it’s notable that Hippolyta basically seems to show up in Greek myths to get conquered. Greeks had a lot of anxiety about powerful women, and Amazons were the essence of power: they could dominate men in both battle and bed. They were yet another threatening barbarian tribe — but their femininity made them even more frightening, because Greek women might see them as a model. Their legendary defeat at Athens served to establish Athens — male, civilized, ordered Athens — as a dominant power in the Greek world.

 

 

The Amazonomachy on the Mausoleum at Halicarnassos.

 

And for the profanity-laden version of the story of Theseus, check out Myths RETOLD.

UPDATED 10/15:

 

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2 responses

  1. Pingback: What’s in a name? « CMU's A Midsummer Night's Dream

  2. Pingback: Even more Theseus and Hippolyta « CMU's A Midsummer Night's Dream

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