In Greek mythology, Phaedra (Phaidra) is the daughter of Minos, wife of Theseus and the mother of Demophon of Athens and Acamas. Phaedra's name derives from the Greek word φαιδρός (phaidros), which meant "bright".
Though married to Theseus, Phaedra fell in love with Hippolytus, Theseus' son born by either Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, or Antiope, her sister. Euripides placed this story twice on the Athenian stage, of which one version survives. According to some sources, Hippolytus had spurned Aphrodite to remain a steadfast and virginal 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. In revenge, Phaedra wrote Theseus a letter that claimed Hippolytus raped her. 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.
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.
Phaedra in literature
Phaedra's story appears in several major works of literature, including:
- Euripides, Hippolytus, a Greek play
- Phaedra, 1962 film based on Euripides' play
- Seneca the Younger, Phaedra, a Latin play
- Jean Racine, Phèdre (1677), a French play.
- Miguel de Unamuno, Fedra (1911), a Spanish play
- Eugene O'Neill, Desire Under the Elms (1924), an American play
- Robinson Jeffers, Cawdor (1928), an English long poem
- Algernon Charles Swinburne, Phaedra, an English lyrical drama
- Marguerite Yourcenar, "Phaedra" a short story from Fires (1957)
- Mary Renault, The Bull from the Sea (1962), an English novel
- Frank D. Gilroy, That Summer, That Fall (1967), retelling of Phaedra and Hippolytus
- Tony Harrison, Phaedra Britannica (1975), an English verse play.
- Per Olov Enquist, Till Fedra (1980), a Swedish play
- Matthew Maguire, Phaedra (1995), an English play
- Sarah Kane, Phaedra's Love (1996), an English play
- Susan Yankowitz, Phaedra in Delirium (1998)
- Frank McGuinness, Phaedra (Donmar Warehouse, 2006)
- Phaedra is a loose archetype for a fictional namesake, Phèdre nó Delaunay in Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy novels.
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