- Phaedra (Seneca)
"Phaedra", sometimes known as "Hippolytus" is a play by
Seneca the Younger, telling the story of Phaedra and her taboo love for her stepson Hippolytus. It is an adaptation of "Hippolytus" by Euripides; in Seneca's version, Phaedra is more sensual and shameless, deceiving her nurse in order to gain her as an accomplice.
Pierre Grimal, it seems that this work is the result of the "contamination" of several sources, including Sophocles(a lost tragedy), Lycophronand Ovid.
Jean Yeuwaintranslated the play into French, as "Hippolyte, tragédie tournée de Sénèque", taking several liberties with the original.
Plot summary by abbot De Marolles (1664)
Act 1. The young Hippolytus distributes responsibilities in the hunt to each of his people, marking out the places where they must go, and invokes the relief of Diana, goddess of the hunt (1). Phaedra confesses her burning love for Hippolytus to his wet-nurse, who tries in vain to dissuade her.(2). The chorus maintains that all things yield to love - the men of every country, whatever their age or condition, and even the very gods of heaven and hell, as well as all sorts of animals.
Act 2. The wet-nurse (of Phaedra) complains about the evil consequences of love, disease and impatience that results in this violent passion. Then suddenly Phaedra appears, dressed up like an Amazon or huntress to please Hippolytus (1). The wet-nurse strives skillfully to bend Hippolytus's will, to make it consent to the delights of love and to the softness of civil life: but Hippolytus is not at all willing to change his mood, and prefers by far his inclinations for the country life over all the pleasures of the human relations praised by the wet-nurse. (2). Phaedra and the wet-nurse attack his modesty by all sorts of artifices, but they cannot overcome it, and so resort to the slanders (3). The chorus pray to the gods, that beauty be as advantageous to Hippolytus that she was pernicious and fatal to many others and at the end we see the return of Theseus.
Act 3. Theseus, back from the underworld, finds his wife's wet-nurse before him and asks her what is the reason for the mourning in his house, but all she will say is that Phaedra has resolved to die. (1). Phaedra pretends that she prefers to die than to declare to Theseus the wrong that someone has done to him. As Theseus threatens the wet-nurse to make her acknowledge to him the truth of what has happened, she shows him the sword that Hippolytus had left (2). Theseus recognizes the sword, and they leave him to be consumed by anger, wishing his undeserving son dead (3). The chorus complains that the course of the heavens and of all else goes on with regulation, but that human affairs are not governed by justice, since the good are persecuted and the evil are rewarded.
Act 4. A messenger relates to Theseus how Hippolytus was pulled to pieces by his own horses, terrorized by a sea bull sent by Neptune in answer to Theseus's prayer (1). The chorus relates a narrative of the fickleness of good fortunes and the perils to which they are exposed, recommends the children's safety and deplores Hippolytus's death.
Act 5. Phaedra declares Hippolytus's innocence and retracts her confession of his crime, then she kills herself. Theseus regrets the death of his son, gives him the honour of a proper burial, and refuses this to his cruel step-mother.
* [http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/sen/sen.phaedra.shtml Original text of Phaedra in Latin]
*G. Runchina, Tecnica drammatica e retorica nelle Tragedie di Seneca, Cagliari, 1960.
*P. Grimal, Phædra, Paris, P.U.F., "Erasme", 1965.
*P. Grimal, « L'originalité de Sénèque dans la tragédie de Phèdre », Revue des Études latines, XLI (1963), p. 297-314.
*F. Dupont, Les monstres de Sénèque, Paris, Belin, 1995.
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