Phaedra (mythology)

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In Greek mythology, Phaedra /ˈfdrə, ˈfɛdrə/ (Ancient Greek: Φαίδρα, Phaidra) (or Fedra) was a Cretan princess. Phaedra's name derives from the Greek word φαιδρός (phaidros), which meant "bright".

Sarcophagus – death of Fedra, 2nd century, Santa Maria delle Vigne, Genoa
Phaedra with an attendant, probably her nurse, a fresco from Pompeii, 60–20 BC
Phaedra (1880) by Alexandre Cabanel


Phaedra was the daughter of Minos and Pasiphaë of Crete, and thus sister to Acacallis, Ariadne, Androgeus, Deucalion, Xenodice, Glaucus and Catreus and half-sister to the Minotaur. She was the wife of Theseus and the mother of Demophon of Athens and Acamas.


Married to Theseus, who had kidnapped her after abandoning her sister Ariadne (Ariadne had fallen in love with Theseus and therefore helped him survive the Minotaur by providing him a sword), Phaedra fell in love with Hippolytus, Theseus's son by another woman (born to either Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, or Antiope, her sister). Hippolytus rejected her.

In revenge, Phaedra wrote Theseus a letter that claimed Hippolytus had raped her. Theseus got angry and cursed Hippolytus with one of the three curses he had received from Poseidon. As a result, Hippolytus's horses were frightened by a sea monster and dragged their rider to his death.

In another version, after Phaedra told Theseus that Hippolytus had raped her, Theseus killed his son, and Phaedra then committed suicide out of guilt, for she had not intended Hippolytus to die. Artemis later told Theseus the truth.

In a third version, Phaedra told Theseus and did not kill herself; Dionysus then sent a wild bull which terrified Hippolytus's horses.

Euripides twice placed this story on the Athenian stage, of which one version survives.

According to some sources, Hippolytus had spurned Aphrodite to remain a steadfast and virginal devotee of Artemis, and Aphrodite made Phaedra fall in love with him as a punishment.[1]

In one version, Phaedra's nurse told Hippolytus of her love, and he swore he would not reveal her as a source of information.

Cultural impact[edit]

Phaedra has been the subject of many notable works in art, literature, music and film.

In art[edit]

  • Phaedra with attendant, probably her nurse, a fresco from Pompeii circa 60–20 BC
  • Figure 8 Phaedra, wall painting, early first century CE, Pompeii, now Antiquarium di Pompeii, Pompeii, inv. no. 20620, from M. SwetnamBurland, “Encountering Ovid’s Phaedra in House v.2.10-11, Pompeii,” in American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 119, No. 2 (2015), pg 219.[2]
  • Second century Roman Sarcophagus of Beatrice of Lorraine in the Camposanto in Pisa. This was the model for Nicola Pisano's work on the Pisa Baptistery in the mid-thirteenth century.
  • Alexandre Cabanel's Phaedra (1880)
  • Ewen Feuillâtre's Phaedra (2020)

In literature[edit]

Phaedra's story appears in many acclaimed works of literature, including:

  • Euripides, Hippolytus, Greek play
  • Ovid, Heroides IV
  • Seneca the Younger, Phaedra, Latin play
  • Jean Racine, Phèdre (1677), French play
  • Algernon Charles Swinburne, Phaedra (1866), English lyrical drama
  • Herman Bang, Fædra (1883), Danish novel.
  • Gabriele D'Annunzio, Fedra (1909), Italian play
  • Miguel de Unamuno, Fedra (1911), Spanish play
  • Eugene O'Neill, Desire Under the Elms (1924), American play
  • Marina Tsvetaeva, Fedra (1928), Russian play
  • Robinson Jeffers, Cawdor (1928), English long poem
  • Marguerite Yourcenar, "Phaedra", short story from Fires (1957)
  • Mary Renault, The Bull from the Sea (1962), English novel
  • Frank D. Gilroy, That Summer, That Fall (1967), retelling of Phaedra and Hippolytus
  • Tony Harrison, Phaedra Britannica (1975), English verse play
  • Salvador Espriu, Fedra (1978), Catalan play
  • Per Olov Enquist, Till Fedra (1980), Swedish play
  • Didier-Georges Gabily, Gibiers du temps (1994-1995), French contemporary play
  • Sarah Kane, Phaedra's Love (1996), Gate Theatre London
  • Charles L. Mee, True Love (2001), modernized adaptation of Euripides's Hippolytus and Racine's Phèdre
  • Frank McGuinness, Phaedra (Donmar Warehouse, 2006)
  • Ted Hughes, Phedre FSG, c1998, Drama/Classics, ISBN 978-0-374-52616-0

In music[edit]

Phaedra is also the subject of a number of musical works, including:

In film[edit]


  1. ^ The Athenians maintained a small shrine high on the south slope of the Acropolis devoted to Aphrodite 'for Hippolytus' (Karl Kerenyi, The Heroes of the Greeks, 1959:243).
  2. ^ Dupree, Abigail. Phaedra: Empathy for a Disloyal Wife in Roman Painting and Poetry. maint: location (link)
  3. ^ Fedra (Dramma mitologico dell'Antica Grecia) (1909) on IMDb
  4. ^ Phädra (TV 1967) on IMDb
  5. ^


External links[edit]

  • Media related to Phaedra at Wikimedia Commons