Phaedra fell in love with Hippolytus, Theseus' son by his ex-wife, Hippolyte. According to some sources, he had scorned Aphrodite to become a devotee of Artemis and Aphrodite made Phaedra fall in love with him as a punishment. He rejected her. Alternatively, Phaedra's nurse told Hippolytus of her love, and he swore he would not reveal her as a source of information—even after Phaedra killed herself and blamed his seduction of her in her suicide note. In revenge, Phaedra wrote Theseus a letter that claimed Hippolytus raped her. She then killed herself. Theseus believed her and cursed Hippolytus with one of the three curses he had received from Poseidon. As a result, Hippolytus' horses were frightened by a sea monster and dragged their rider to his death.
The Death of Hippolytus , Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
Alternatively, after Phaedra told Theseus that Hippolytus had raped her, Theseus killed his son and Phaedra committed suicide out of guilt for she had not intended for Hippolytus to die. Artemis later told Theseus the truth. In a third version, Phaedra simply told Theseus this and did not kill herself; Dionysus sent a wild bull which terrified Hippolytus' horses.
Virgil, Aeneid VII.765; Ovid, Metamorphoses XV.497
The Phaedra story in literature
Phaedra's story appears in several major works of literature, including:
- Euripides, Hippolytus, a Greek play
- Seneca the Younger, Phaedra, a Latin play
- Jean Racine, Phèdre (1677), a French play
- Sarah Kane, Phaedra's Love (1996), an English play
Phaedra in Music
Phaedra is also the subject of a number of musical works, including:
- Phaedra, Benjamin Britten, 1976
- Phaedra, Tangerine Dream, 1974
- Some Velvet Morning, Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood
- Rebecca Armstrong, Cretan Women. Pasiphae, Ariadne, and Phaedra in Latin Poetry. Oxford Classical Monographs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-19-928403-2