Hippolytus | Study Guide


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Hippolytus | Parados | Summary



The Chorus of Women describes Phaedra and her plight: she appears sickly, lying on her bed, feverish, and she hasn't eaten in days. The Chorus wonders what could possibly be vexing the queen. "What can have made the queen so pale?" they ask. Has she been taken by madness brought on by Pan—a god of fertility—or Hecate who is a goddess of heaven, the earth, and sea? Has she not offered a sacrifice to Dictynna, a minor goddess of hunters aligned with Artemis? Has King Theseus taken a lover? Has she received tragic news about the king? The Chorus closes with thoughts on women: "unhappy is the compound of woman's nature; / the torturing misery of helplessness, / the helplessness of childbirth and its madness, / are linked to it forever."


The Parados, or stage entrance, is the first time the Chorus appears in an ancient Greek play. The format is made of strophes (turnings): in the first strophe, the Chorus crosses the stage from one side to the other, singing or speaking. In the antistrophe it returns to the opposite side of the stage. For the final section called the epode, the Chorus stands still to deliver the lines.

The Chorus provides commentary on the action of the play as well as reminding the audience of the moral and social issues being explored. The Chorus describes Phaedra's current emotional and psychological state to show the effects of Aphrodite's curse on the queen. She is grappling with her passionate feelings toward her stepson, which she knows are immoral and can never be acted upon or known. Phaedra appears crazed to the Chorus, and the possible reasons for her condition are all concerns an Athenian woman might have about her husband who is abroad. The Chorus of Women laments the trials of womanhood at the end of the Parados, specifically feeling helpless and enduring the pains of childbirth. The topic of women—their role, their status, their demeanor—will recur at different times in the play, and here the Chorus initiates the subject before the audience meets Phaedra.

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