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Quote of the week – Phaedra

July 2, 2013

Words with too good a ring – those are what destroy men’s well-ordered cities and their home. We must not say things that delight the ears – but what will save our reputation.

(Euripides Hippolytus 486-489)

This quote is spoken by Phaedra shortly after her nurse has suggested she follow through in her passions for her stepson. The chorus in the preceding lines express their repugnance at the nurse’s suggestion.

I believe it is Euripides’ intention in this line to express Phaedra’s confused sense of mind. Phaedra, even in her lustful state, sees that the words the nurse pours into her ears are too good to be true; the words with a good ring that destroy cities and homes. If she were to follow through with her passion her reputation would be destroyed and she would suffer at her husbands hand. In the final section of the quotation it appears that Phaedra knows she must act logically and not surrender to the madness of Aphrodite. Though ultimately her desire becomes known through the nurse’s betrayal of her trust.

Quotes such as these progress the action within the drama and in turn entertain but they may also provide insight into societal attitudes. Phaedra expresses the importance of avoiding damage to a persons reputation. Adultery would damage the relationships of a man with other men (under Athenian law for example a man who seduces a woman could be killed by the husband). However, for a woman to be branded as adulterous could be more costly; for example divorce, the possibility of being sold into slavery or to be branded a social outcast.

Bibliography

Euripides Hippolytus in Medea and Other Plays Translated by J. Morwood Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

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