The Athenian queen Phaedra believes she is the most wretched woman. Her husband--who kidnapped her after killing his first wife--is away on a quest to the Underworld, and she believes that he is probably dead. Worse than that, Phaedra is consumed with passion for her stepson Hippolytus. She knows that she has been cursed by Venus, the goddess of love, to love shamefully. Yet Phaedra cannot control her passion, and rather than die, she confesses her love to Hippolytus. After he violently reacts, even threatening to kill her, Phaedra and her nurse concoct a tragic and disastrous lie that destroys the house of Theseus.
Seneca’s Phaedra is the ancient Roman retelling of the famous Greek myth. While Seneca’s text was probably inspired by Hippolytus by the Greek playwright Euripides, the Roman version--marked by its excessive passion leading to death and destruction--was the foundation for so many later versions, from French neoclassical to opera seria.
Phaedra guide sections