Hippolytus is the son of Theseus and an Amazon queen (unnamed in the text, but other sources call her either Hipployte or Antiope). Devoted to the goddess Artemis, he chooses to lead a life of purity. His refusal of Aphrodite—a goddess he says is impure—has angered the goddess. After Theseus banishes Hippolytus for raping his stepmother Phaedra, a crime he didn't commit, he is nearly killed by the god Poseidon. As he lies dying, Hippolytus learns that the events were Aphrodite's doing and forgives his father before passing.
The Greek hero Theseus is the son of Aethra. His father is either Aegeus, king of Athens, or the sea god Poseidon. Theseus becomes distraught over the death of his wife Phaedra, who has accused Hippolytus, her stepson, of rape. The king banishes his son without trial and asks Poseidon to kill Hippolytus. When his son is near death, the goddess Artemis reveals the curse Aphrodite has laid on his house and explains that Phaedra lied. All Theseus can do is apologize to his dying son.
Phaedra is the victim of Aphrodite's vengeful plan against Hippolytus. She is ill over her feelings for her stepson. Despite efforts to fight her feelings and keep them secret, she confesses it to the nurse, whose plan to deal with the problem fails. Hippolytus's anger upon learning of Phaedra's feelings spurs the queen to advance Aphrodite's vengeance. Phaedra hangs herself to save her reputation and leaves a note accusing her stepson of raping her.
Worried about the queen, the nurse badgers Phaedra to reveal the cause of her distress. Phaedra relents and tells the nurse about her love for Hippolytus. The nurse understands how devastating this could be to the kingdom and herself. Sensing that this is the work of the goddess Aphrodite, she advises the queen to tell the truth, but Phaedra refuses. The nurse reveals the secret to Hippolytus in attempt to remedy the situation. Her actions set off tragic events: the deaths of Phaedra and Hippolytus.
Aphrodite is the daughter of Zeus and Dione. She is the Greek goddess of beauty, love, and fertility. Hippolytus's arrogant disdain for her and his worship of Artemis, one of the few gods who can resist Aphrodite's charm, has upset Aphrodite. She plots vengeance on Hippolytus by cursing his stepmother Phaedra to fall in love with him. Aphrodite knows that her plot will result in both Phaedra's and Hippolytus's death and boasts at how little she will have had to do to bring tragedy to Theseus's kingdom.
Artemis is the goddess that Hippolytus, a celebrated hunter, most reveres. She was a favored goddess among people who lived in rural areas. She visits Theseus's house to reveal to the king Aphrodite's vengeful plot and the false accusation of rape made by Phaedra against Hippolytus. And while Hippolytus lays on his deathbed, Artemis urges him to forgive Theseus, and he obeys.