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08 Athens, Theseus, and Hippolytus.pdf

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Simon Fraser University
HUM 102W
David Mirhady

HUM102W (Summer 2013) Unit 8 Cherry Fan Athens, Theseus, and Hippolytus "I pray that Love may never come to me With murderous intent in rhythms measureless and wild" Hippolytus 528-30 The human sex drive often compels us into idiotic behaviour - even Aphrodite suffers from it in Homeric Hymn 5 - so it's no wonder that figures arise, like Hippolytus, who wish to renounce sexuality altogether and thus escape its grip. Several goddesses, including Artemis, Athena, and Hestia, pursue this path successfully, but Hippolytus' desire as a male mortal to remain celibate is unparalleled in the Greek world, except perhaps for the widowed Orpheus (who ends up being torn apart by maenads for his trouble; see Hipp. 953, Ag. 1629). Like Dionysus and the madness (mania) brought about by his wine, the sex drive (eros) appears to be something that Greek men are supposed to accept, in moderation. In ritual, this acceptance is reflected in the observance of Aphrodite. Hippolytus' desire not only to remain celibate but to stand aloof from this observance - to devote himself entirely to the virgin goddess Artemis - creates a conflict. Aphrodite is not getting her share of honour from him, and she doesn't like it. The Myths of Athens Despite the huge importance of Athens historically and mythologically, in our course we are only getting a glimpse at the city through Euripides' Hippolytus. And it's not a very flattering glimpse: King Theseus, Athens' national hero, acts impetuously here, cursing his son before all the facts are clear and causing his death. In other plays Theseus is characterized as a gallant protector of those seeking asylum. Historically, he is credited with uniting the entire peninsula of Attica under Athens' rule in a process called synoikismos. The early myths of Athens emphasize its people's autochthony. Other Greek people's, like the Spartans, acknowledged that they had not always lived in their home, but the Athenians made this claim. In the Hippolytus we see references to early kings of Athens, such as Cecrops (34), Pandion (25), and Erechtheus (152, 1095). Cecrops is described as "two-natured"; he was half-man and half-snake. Pandion was also king of Megara, Athens' neighbour to the southwest. Homer mentions Erechtheus, who was honoured with an important temple on the acropolis, the Erechtheum: "And they that held Athens, the well-built citadel, the land of great-hearted Erechtheus, whom of old Athena, daughter of Zeus, fostered, when Earth, the giver of grain, had borne him; and she made him to dwell in Athens, in her own rich sanctuary, and there the youths of the Athenians, as the years roll on in their courses, seek to win his favour with sacrifices of bulls and rams; - these again had as leader Menestheus." Iliad 2.546-51 Page 1 of 4 HUM102W (Summer 2013) Unit 8 Cherry Fan Erechtheus was thus identified literally as a child of Earth herself. He was also identified with Poseidon, and in our play Poseidon likewise plays a role as the divine father of Theseus. The stories are admittedly inconsistent. There is no sense in trying to figure out any of these stories here. All three names, Erechtheus, Pandion, and Cecrops, are used synonymously to represent Athens. The background of the Hippolytus begins with Theseus, Athens' national hero. He is the son somehow both of Aegeus, a mortal (1284), and of Poseidon, a god (890, 1170, 1318-19). His mother Aethra is not mentioned by name in the play, but her father, Theseus' grandfather, Pittheus is (794-6). The story is that Aegeus found himself without a child and went to consult the oracle at Delphi. On the way home, he visited his friend Pittheus the king of Troezen, and told him the oracle's mysterious response, that he should not loosen the (wine)skin before reaching Athens. Pittheus understood the response - the skin referred to was the foreskin - and decided to induce Aegeus to sleep with his daughter Aethra. Realizing that Aethra was pregnant before leaving, Aegeus left her some tokens, including a knife, which she should give the child once grown so that he could recognize him. When Theseus grew up, Aethra gave him the tokens and he made his way to Athens. On his way there, Theseus met up with several brigands and so got to perform a set of labours comparable to Heracles'. He refers to them in the play as the source of his prestige: "If I am to be bested by you when you have done this to me, Isthmian Sinis shall no longer attest that I killed him but say it was an idle boast, and the Skironian rocks near the sea shall deny that I am a scourge to evil-doers." Hippolytus 978-80 Sinis he met at the isthmus of Corinth and Skiron at Megara. I
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