Phaedra complex

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The Phaedra complex is primarily the sexual desire of a stepmother for her stepson,[1] though the term has been extended to cover difficult relationships between step-parents and step-children in general.[2]

Bataille used the same term in a very different sense to describe the morbid desire for a corpse.[3]


The complex takes its name from Greek mythology; Phaedra, the daughter of Minos and Pasiphaë, wife of Theseus, sister of Ariadne, and the mother of Demophon of Athens and Acamas, though married to Theseus, fell in love with Hippolytus, Theseus' son born by either Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, or Antiope, her sister.[4]

When he refused her advances, she falsely accused him of coming on to her, before killing herself in remorse after his subsequent death.[5]

Cultural analogues[edit]

Amata in the Aeneid has been seen as cognate to Phaedra in her love for her future son-in-law Turnus and her eventual suicide at the news of his death.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alfred Messer, 'The "Phaedra Complex"
  2. ^ W. Hicks, English for Journalists (2013) p. 153
  3. ^ J. M. Gilbert, "The Horror, the Horror" (2008) p. 66
  4. ^ Alfred Messer, 'The "Phaedra Complex"
  5. ^ H. Nettleship ed, A Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1894) p. 475
  6. ^ S. J. Harrison, Generic Enrichment in Vergil and Horace (2007) p. lxxvi-vii

Further reading[edit]

  • Alberto Moravia, The Lie (1966)
  • Mary Renault, The Bull from the Sea (1962)