Posts Tagged ‘Ancient Greece’

I was struck by Phaedra’s docile nature, and her desire to die from her “sickness of desire” rather than act on it until her nurse conspired with her to concoct a love potion. Phaedra unwarily and heartily fought Aphrodite’s petty games until her nurses coquettish notions overtook her sensibilities. Despite her repressive behavior, Phaedra still fit the stereotype of the Greek portrayal of women in that she was weak, easily influenced, lacking proper moral judgment, and acted as a facile foil to the Nurse’s malevolent planning.

The double standards for men an women are impossible to overlook. First off, men were legally able to sleep around with whomever they chose — and a slave could never accuse a man of rape (thus they were used often for sexual release). But women, women who would be better off if they could never express themselves through speech, were not allowed to have extramarital relations. Additionally, according to this drama, feminine sexuality and desire was reprehensible to men. Men were allowed to have sexual relations so long as it did not make them appear effeminate, but women should stay in their house and not feel any desire except for their husband who really only looked at them as an inconvenient tool to bear children.

Finally, take into account that Phaedra was very likely a young woman, much much younger than Theseus. The text notes that she would likely have been near the age of Hippolytus. There is no doubt in my mind that this play enacted the tangible fear of the husband, that his attractive young wife would fall for his son. Especially as fathers would be faced with the Oedipus complex, feeling threatened already by their son’s transition from the world of boys to the world of men.

I was initially struck with the horror that Aphrodite was callous towards the fate of Phaedra in her plan for vengance against Hippolytus, but then I realized that as a goddess she might have foreseen Phaedra’s initial refusal to act on her new found sexual desire for her stepson.
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