Hippolytus (son of Theseus)

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The Death of Hippolytus, by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912).

In Greek mythology, Hippolytus (Greek: Ἱππόλυτος, Hippolytos "unleasher of horses")[1] was the son of Theseus and either Antiope or Hippolyta. He was identified with the Roman forest god Virbius.


The meaning of Hippolytus' name is ironically ambiguous. Ἱππό translates to "horse", and the element -λυτος (from λύω "loosen, destroy") suggests the adjective λυτός, -ή, -όν "which may be undone, destroyed." His name thereby takes on the prophetic meaning "destroyed by horses".[1]


The Death of Hippolytus, by Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne (1679–1731), Louvre.

The most common legend regarding Hippolytus states that he was killed after rejecting the advances of Phaedra, his stepmother, the second wife of Theseus. Spurned, Phaedra deceived Theseus saying that his son had raped her. Theseus, furious, used one of the three wishes given to him by Poseidon to curse Hippolytus. Poseidon sent a sea-monster—or, alternatively,[citation needed] Dionysus sent a wild bull—to terrorize Hippolytus's horses, who dragged their rider to his death.

Versions of this story appear in Euripides' play Hippolytus, Seneca the Younger's play Phaedra, Ovid's Metamorphoses and Heroides, and Jean Racine's Phèdre.

Phaedra's suicide[edit]

Euripides' version has Phaedra's nurse tell Hippolytus of Phaedra's love. Hippolytus swore that he would not reveal the nurse as a source of information – even after Phaedra killed herself and falsely accused him of raping her in a suicide note, which Theseus read.

Alternatively, it is stated[by whom?] that Phaedra simply killed herself out of guilt for Hippolytus’ death and that the goddess Artemis subsequently told Theseus the truth.

Hippolytus as Virbius[edit]

Diana returning to Aricia Hippolytus resuscitated by Aesculapius.

According to some sources, Hippolytus had scorned Aphrodite in order to become a devotee of Artemis, devoting himself to a chaste life in pursuit of hunting.[2] In retaliation, Aphrodite made Phaedra fall in love with him. Hippolytus’ rejection of Phaedra led to his death in a fall from a chariot.

As a result, a cult grew up around Hippolytus, associated with the cult of Aphrodite. His cult believed that Artemis asked Asclepius to resurrect the young man since he had vowed chastity to her.

He was brought to Latium, Italy, where he reigned under the name of Virbius or Virbio. After his resurrection, he married Aricia. According to another tradition, he lived in the sacred forests near Aricia in Latium. Girls who were about to be married offered locks of their hair to him as a sign of their virginity.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Aeneid - Virgil - Google Boeken. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2013-10-16.
  2. ^ Frazer, James. The Golden Bough (Chapter 1–2, particularly)

External links[edit]