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Hippolytus and the Marriage Debate

The ancient Greek play Hippolytus contains some interesting parallels to the modern gay marriage movement.  These parallels reside not only in the characters of the play but also in the similar social dynamics, allowing for a considerable amount of perspective not only on the personalities and forces driving the debate, but also on the possible outcomes of the overall conflict.

The first section of this post dissects the play into its various parts and the second section applies the play to its modern-day cast and parallel events.


DRAMATIS PERSONAE (Characters and Events)


The play begins with Aphrodite, the goddess of love, swearing vengeance on Hippolytus, and explaining in divine soliloquy why he must be destroyed and how she will bring it about. [1]  Her soliloquy reveals that Aphrodite despises Hippolytus because he worships the goddess Artemis, the hunter, above all the other Gods, and he has devoted himself to living out the virtues which Artemis most represents, most notably a life of sexual abstinence.  Because Aphrodite, being the goddess of love, embodies and exemplifies characteristics which seem to contradict those of Artemis, Hippolytus considers Aphrodite to be “the vilest of the Gods in Heaven.”  In revenge for such “disrespect,” Aphrodite creates an elaborate plan to destroy the devout but somewhat ignorant and unsuspecting Hippolytus.  She knows that Hippolytus is protected by other Gods, and that he is devout enough to be impervious to her wiles, so she lays a plan to destroy him indirectly.  She curses his step-mother, Phaedra, with a fierce passion of love for him, knowing that when Phaedra’s love is exposed, and Hippolytus is implicated, the enraged king, Theseus, the father of Hippolytus, and founder of Athens, will employ the unalterable curse of the great Poseidon to kill Hippolytus.  Aphrodite frankly admits that her plans will lead not only to the utter ruin of Hippolytus, but also to the utter ruin of Phaedra, and also to the defilement of that great Athenian rule of law, established by Theseus, himself, when in a deceived and blind rage he kills his son directly without a fair trial.  But Aphrodite considers all of this a small price to pay to reap her vengeance against Hippolytus.  “[Their] suffering does not weigh in the scale so much, that I should let my enemy go untouched.”  Thus we see the untoward philosophy of Aphrodite (not surprisingly despised by Hippolytus) that a mere show of disrespect now justifies her to seek revenge “at any cost.”  This soliloquy provides the context from which we may already begin to infer the moral of the play.


Hippolytus has dedicated himself to the goddess Artemis, the hunter, and to the utmost standard of virtue consistent with what she represents.  His complete dedication and strict discipline makes him appear to others as being arrogant and self-righteous, most particularly to the jealous goddess Aphrodite, who represents a morality quite the opposite of what Hippolytus has embraced.

The Servant (of Hippolytus)

The servant of Hippolytus recognizes the devotion of Hippolytus to one God and one moral view as a great danger.  He warns Hippolytus to be moderate in his worship of all the Gods, and wonders how Hippolytus does not know that he is breaking that “one rule that holds” among both Gods and men, namely, that “Men [and Gods] hate the haughty of heart who will not be the friend of every man [or God].” The Servant fears that Hippolytus’ singular and complete devotion to one God will bring the wrath of jealous Gods and men upon him, most particularly, the wrath of Aphrodite.

“the Social Conflict” Explained

Hippolytus responds to his servant by saying that he can only worship Aphrodite “from a long way off,” because she is “[a] God of nocturnal prowess [and] is not my God.”  Hippolytus takes it is a matter of fact that to honor all the Gods is to honor none of them at all (because they all contradict each other) so he concludes that “Men [must] make their choice: one man honors one God, and one another.”  To Hippolytus this outcome appears unavoidable, a fact to be acknowledged and accepted by those who desire to stand for something rather than for nothing at all in particular.  But the servant cares little about the truth or rationality of Hippolytus’ argument, and cares much more about another truth — namely, that  Gods and men are not rational but jealous beings; therefore the devoted servant still urges Hippolytus to at least pay lip service to Aphrodite, for he fears that when Aphrodite observes Hippolytus’ poorly veiled dislike of her, she will undertake to destroy him for his disrespect.

The Servant is keenly aware of the predominant morality of that time.  This morality is further reflected in another Greek play, The Phoenician Women, wherein equality is defined as “[That] which ties friends to friends, cities to cities, and allies to allies.  For equality is stable among men.  If not, the lesser hates the greater force, and so begins the day of enmity.”  This morality would either pretend, or compel, all forces to be equal, so that nothing is left of which one could be jealous. It panders to the jealous factions of society, by eliminating the object of their jealousy.  The Servant does not seem to care, as Hippoytus does, that such a morality is an empty morality that promotes mediocrity and indifference in everything.

Hippolytus, on the other hand, does not seem to be aware, as the Servant is, that such a morality, although indifferent as to almost all else, is not so indifferent about one thing – by its nature it must despise and hate the morally devout, i.e those who devote themselves to any but the indifferent morality.  Because the Servant understands the dark side of the contemporary morality better than Hippolytus does, he warns Hippolytus that the jealous forces will reveal themselves and the day of enmity will begin, if he does not suppress his morality like everyone else.  Hippolytus is either blind to this, or elects to take the risk.  I believe that Hippolytus is blind to this reality, because he too much expects society to act as he would, to simply leave every man free to choose and pursue excellence in his own way, and because he expects Athenian law to protect every man’s choice from interference by jealous and oppressive outside forces.  Indeed Athens purported to provide such protection, but in this play a new age of morality is dawning in Athens, and because of the cunning and jealous Aphrodite, the laws of Athens will wrongfully condemn him for wrongs he did not commit.


Phaedra’s character is probably best described by her Nurse, who chastises her with the following words: “You find no constant pleasure anywhere, for when joy is upon you, suddenly, you’re foiled and cheated.  There’s no content for you in what you have, for you’re forever finding something dearer — some other thing, because you have it not.”  And when Phaedra is stricken with a love for Hippolytus she falls into a helpless, tired, frenzy, desiring death and constantly bemoaning her state, to which her Nurse replies, “It’s easier to bear an illness if you have some patience and the spirit of good breeding.  We all must suffer sometimes, we are mortal!”  But for all her torment and fickleness, Phaedra still exhibits at least a desire to remain loyal to her husband (Theseus the King) and to not corrupt his royal bed by lying with his son, Hippolytus.  She also expressed her desire to preserve her honorable name for the sake of her children and for Athens at large.  Thus, she clearly understands that acting on her passion would destroy her reputation, her family, the throne, and even the moorings of society itself.  But her passion is so overwhelming, and Hippolytus’ refusal of her so offensive, that she eventually turns her back on those overarching dynamics and adopts Aphrodite’s motto:  “[Their] suffering does not weigh in the scale so much, that I should let my enemy go untouched.”  She conspires with Aphrodite to destroy Hippolytus (whom she claimed to love), even at the cost of her own life to do so.

The Nurse

At first the Nurse is opposed to the idea that Phaedra should have, or act on, any secret love.  When the Nurse begins to suspect that Phaedra is tormented by a forbidden love, she warns Phaedra that, “Love must not touch the marrow of the soul.  Our affections must be breakable chains that we can cast them off or tighten them.”  The Nurse is suggesting that Phaedra’s passions should be subordinate to her mind, and subject to her will.  “The wise will bear me out on this,” she prophetically concludes.  Her advice also comports with the predominant morality of her day, namely, that “moderation in all things” is always the best policy.  And when she learns that Hippolytus is the object of Phaedra’s love, the Nurse is mortified, and she storms out of the room saying, “I’ll be rid of life somehow, I’ll die somehow! Farewell to all of you!  This is the end of me.”  But then, after reflecting on the situation, the Nurse completely changes her position.  She returns to Phaedra and gives a long discourse, the essence of which is that, “The tide of love, at its full surge, is not withstandable.  Upon the proud and fanatic heart she is a torturer with the brand of shame.  She wings her way through the air; she is in the sea, its foaming billows; from her everything that is, is born.  You’ve fallen into the great sea of love, and with your puny swimming would escape! (sarcastically)”  The Nurse is now suggesting the very opposite of what she had before, namely that Phaedra’s passions are irresistible, and that she would be a fool not to submit to them.  “The Gods have willed it so.  You are sick.  Then try to find some subtle means to turn your sickness into health again.”  The Nurse is now forsaking her former moderate position for a more extreme one.  She seems to think she is saving Phaedra somehow through this reckless plan, but in fact it destroys Phaedra, Hippolytus, and Theseus and the Athenian ideal for which he stands.

“the Internal Conflict”

But Phaedra is still focused on the ramifications of what the Nurse is proposing.  “This is the deadly thing which devastates well-ordered cities and the homes of men — that’s it, this art of oversubtle words.  It’s not the words ringing delight in the ear that one should speak, but those that have power to save their hearer’s honorable name. What you say is wicked! Hold your Tongue! I will not hear such shameful words!”  The Nurse answers, “O, they are shameful! But they are better than your noble-sounding sentiments.  What you want is not fine words, but the man!”  The Nurse’s appeal to her lust begins to weaken her well-reasoned resolve, and Phaedra then pleads with the Nurse, “For God’s sake, do not press me further…if you plead the cause of wrong so well I shall fall into the abyss from which I am now flying!  I am afraid [you are] too clever for my good.”  And so Phaedra finally caves into the Nurses temptations, tempts Hippolytus, is rejected, and then submits to Aphrodite’s blood-lust.

“the Trap”

Both the Nurse and Phaedra now see quite clearly the sheer desperation of their new plan, and that it will likely result in one of two sudden and bitter outcomes: 1) Hippolytus will compromise his virtue and his loyalty to his father, but Phaedra will have her secret desire, or 2) Hippolytus will keep his virtue and his loyalty to his father, and Phaedra will be exposed and dishonored.  Either would ultimately lead to the destruction of Hippolytus, as Aphrodite knew.  She need only convince Phaedra, through the Nurse, to force this predicament on Hippolytus, and her trap would be effectively set and ready for Hippolytus to unwittingly step into.  Only if Phaedra had stuck to her initial plan to honor society’s moral moorings could Aphrodite’s plans have been frustrated.  So it all depended upon the persuasive powers of the Nurse and the choices of Phaedra.  Why would the Nurse push her Mistress (and Hippolytus) into such a predicament, especially knowing the character of Hippolytus and the unlikely prospect of success?  The reason is quite clear — the Nurse felt that she was left with no other choice.  Phaedra had not eaten for three days when she finally told the Nurse her secret.  Phaedra was already, in the mind of the Nurse, upon her death bed.  The Nurse explains that “if there were not danger to your life, as now there is — or if you could be prudent, I never would have led you on so far, merely to please your fancy or your lust.  But now a great prize hangs on our endeavors, that’s the saving of a life — yours, Phaedra, there’s none who can blame us for our actions now.”  Thus the Nurse persuades Phaedra from her initial point of view that it is better to die honorably then to live shamefully, to the opinion that it is better to live a lie, but in any case to live, rather than to die.  In such a predicament, reasons the Nurse, extreme measures are called for, because “there’s none who can blame us.”  In the modern parlance, “desperate times call for desperate measures.”

“the Rejection”

When the Nurse reveals to Hippolytus the secret of Phaedra’s love for him, his reaction is so forceful that Phaedra can hear his cursing from down the hall.  “O Mother Earth!  O Sun and Open Sky!  What words I have heard from this accursed tongue!”  The Nurse cringes to hear it spoken so loudly, “Hush, someone may hear you!”  Hippolytus answers, “You cannot expect that I hear horror and stay silent!” The horrific thought was double-fold for Hippolytus: first, that he would corrupt his father’s bed, and second, that he would give up his oath of abstinence.  The Nurse had anticipated his extreme reaction, and so made him swear an oath to silence before she disclosed it to him.  Immediately the Nurse, sensing his desire to be free of his oath, pleads, “I beg of you, don’t speak of this!”  Hippolytus, perhaps hoping to shame her from holding him to his oath, answers “What is this?  Don’t you declare that you have done nothing wrong?”  (i.e. So why worry about revealing it?)  The Nurse answers, “Yes, but the story, son, is not for everyone.  You will not break your oath to me, surely you will not?”   To which Hippolytus answers, “Shall I, who cannot even hear such impurity and feel myself untouched…shall I turn sinner?…Woman, know this — it is my piety that saves you.  Had you not caught me off my guard and bound my lips with an oath, by heaven I would not refrain from telling this to my father.  But I’ll watch you close.  I have tasted of your infamy.  I’ll know it for the future.  Curses on you!”  But Hippolytus was still all too ignorant of the true depths of their infamy, for he did not anticipate the terrible depths of Phaedra’s instability and revenge.

“the Trap Is Sprung”

Phaedra reeled with anger at her Nurse.  “This is fine service you have rendered me, corrupted, damned seducer of your friends!  Did I not see your purpose, did I not say to you ‘Breathe not a word of this’ which now overwhelms me with shame?  But you, you did not hold back.  And therefore I must die and die dishonored.”  The Nurse reminds the fickle Phaedra, “I sought a remedy for your love’s sickness, and found,….not what I sought.  Had I succeeded, I had been a wise one.” (i.e. you knew the risks!)  To which Phaedra replies, “You have given me dishonorable advice…and brought dishonor too.  Away with you! For me and my concerns I will arrange all well.”  Phaedra had now conceived of her own plan, a third option, which arose in Hippolytus’ oath — what she called “this one single blessing in this unhappy business, one alone, that I can pass on to my children after me life with an uncontaminated name.” She knew that Hippolytus would keep his oath, and she sought to exploit that fact in a grand betrayal.  “On this day I [shall] shake off the burden of this life, and delight [Aphrodite] who destroys me.  Bitter will have been the love that conquers me, but in my death I shall at least bring sorrow upon another too, that his high heart may know no arrogant joy at my life’s shipwreck.”  She planned to kill herself and write a note explaining that she killed herself because Hippolytus raped her.  Thus, by her lie, she could die honorably in the eyes of the public, and also destroy the “high-hearted” Hippolytus, who she now rather blamed for her ruin in the place of Aphrodite.  Thus she joined the ranks of Aphrodite in a jealous rage of vengeance, and partook in Aphrodite’s art of seeking revenge “at any cost.”  Why she thought so little of Hippolytus, and believed that he would rejoice in her “life’s shipwreck,” is unclear, but her presumption is contradicted by Hippolytus’ subsequent acts of piety towards her.

“the Inevitable Destruction”

Aphrodite foresaw all that would occur to bring Phaedra’s love to light and to destroy Hippolytus.  She knew the temperament of the Nurse, and that, when faced with the prospect of Phaedra’s death she would betray her principles (allegedly to “save” Phaedra) and turn Phaedra towards a path of destruction.  She knew the temperament of Phaedra, that when Hippolytus would reject her love, Phaedra would create a lie and vengefully betray Hippolytus in a final attempt to preserve her public image and seek revenge.  All of this knowledge Aphrodite artfully combined to force Hippolytus, the only truly innocent, into an impossibly hopeless conflict, where no matter what Hippolytus might do, only Aphrodite could emerge the victor.

“Theseus’ Conviction of Hippolytus”

Theseus the King arrives home just after Phaedra’s suicide, and is taken to her body where he is then naturally caught up in a whirlwind of emotion.  While lamenting her loss he notices a tablet tied to her wrist, upon which is written the deadly missive about her rape and subsequent suicide.  He reads it and proclaims, “Citizens, Hippolytus has dared to rape my wife.  He has dishonored God’s holy sunlight.  Father Poseidon, once you gave to me three curses…Now with one of these, I pray, kill my son.  Suffer him not to escape, this very day, if you have promised truly!”  This is precisely what Aphrodite had planned.  She could not kill Hippolytus, because he was protected by other Gods, and too virtuous to tempt, but the power of Poseidon was great, and none could stop his curses.

When Hippolytus the Son arrives on the scene and finds Phaedra dead in his father’s arms, he too laments her death.  Theseus’ mind wreathes in disbelief to see Hippolytus “pretend” to mourn for his victim.  “If there were some token now, some mark to make the division clear between friend and friend, the true and the false!  All men should have two voices, on the just voice, and one as chance would have it.  In this way the treacherous scheming voice would be confuted by the just, and we should never be deceived.”  Finally Theseus says it straight, “I have found you out.” And then he warns all around him, “I tell you all, avoid such men as he.  They hunt their prey with holy-seeming words, but their designs are black and ugly.  By the dead’s testimony he’s clearly proved the vilest, falsest wretch!”  Amazing to think that Theseus, never suspecting such an outrageous conspiracy as Phaedra planned, would turn on his own son, and without investigation or trial, think that Hippolytus was only “pretending” and really a hypocrite and a preying vulture. 

“Hippolytus’ Defense”

Hippolytus decides to keep his oath and not to disclose the truth that he knows about Phaedra, so he appeals only to his own oath of innocence to stand in contradiction to Phaedra’s false oath of guilt.  “Your mind and intellect are subtle father, but here in this necessity I must speak.  First I shall take the argument you first urged so irrefutably and deadly.  You see the earth and air about you, father?  In all of that there lives no man more chaste than I , though you deny it.  It is my rule to honor the Gods first and then to have as friends only such men as do no sin, nor offer wicked service, nor will consent to sin to serve a friend as a return for kindness.  I am no railer at my companions.  Those who are my friends find me as much their friends when we are absent as when we are together.  There is one thing I have never done, the thing of which you think that you convict me, father, I am a virgin to this very day.”  To which his father replies, “Why, here’s a spell-binding magician for you!”  And Hippolytus inquires, not knowing it is already too late (for the curse has already been spoken), “What will you do?  You will not wait until time’s pointing finger proves me innocent?  I am near crying when I think that I am judged to be guilty and that it is you are are the judge.”

“Artemis’ Conviction of Theseus”

After the curse of Poseidon had had its effect, and Hippolytus is lying near his death, the goddess Artemis appears to Theseus and tells him the whole truth, “I have come here for this — to show you that your son’s heart was always just, so just that to preserve his virtue he endured to die.  That most hated goddess drove Phaedra with love’s sharp pricklings to desire your son.  She tried to overcome her love with the mind’s power, but at last…she fell by the nurse’s strategems.  But he, a just man, did not fall in with her counsels, and even when reviled by you refused to break the oath he had pledged.  She was his piety.  But your wife, fearing lest she be proved the sinner wrote a letter, a letter full of lies; and so she killed your son by treachery; but she convinced you.”  Theseus, now fully aware of his error, states “A god tripped up my judgment.”  As Hippolytus lay dying, Theseus inquires, “And so you leave me, my hands stained with murder.”  But Hippolytus leaves his father with a clear conscience, “No, for I free you from all guilt in this.”  His reply, “You will acquit me of blood guiltiness?  Dear Son, how noble you have proved to me!”  Finally, “Yes, pray father to heaven for such legitimate sons.”  (Hippolytus was an illegitimate child.)  Then Hippolytus dies.


DRAMATIS SYMBOLIS (Modern-day Cast and Events)

Aphrodite represents the Devious and Cunning, who is exploiting and leveraging the factions of society against each other for her own selfish purposes.

Hippolytus represents traditional marriage proponents who are not willing to let go of what they feel to be the unique and particularly beneficial attributes of traditional marriage just to avoid offending others who would take offense at the distinction.  Like Hippolytus, they would assert that “Men must make their choice,” and would therefore ask that nobody take offense when they make their choice and decide that traditional marriage is worthy of higher status and esteem in society than gay marriage.  To them the debate must be resolved by a side-by-side comparison of the two institutions and their respective benefits, not on some imputation of disrespect or injury that results from the mere offense of another.  Jealousy does not drive a free society, but the rationality of true liberty.  Certainly, and perhaps ignorantly (like Hippolytus), traditional marriage proponents would not expect others to accuse them of persecution, self-righteousness, bigotry, or hatred of others, simply for holding to their rational beliefs about the superior attributes of traditional marriage, or, at the very least, its worthiness of a distinct name and institution apart from gay marriage.           

The Servant represents the modern philosophical trend (political correctness) that fears giving offense to others to such an extent that it avoids, then discourages, and finally forbids, taking firm moral positions on important social questions.  Even the very implication that somebody could be more correct, more enlightened, more moral, or more worthy, is often perceived as a threat by the “social quiet” or” indifferent” philosophy.  This is because such a philosophy believes such questions are likely to lead to conflict, and therefore even the mere asking of such questions constitutes, in and of itself, a kind of “social injury,” because it is viewed as a risk not worth taking.  The Servant of Hippolytus was of this view.  He felt that Hippolytus should rather be neutral about moral things, so he could be a friend to all, rather than to take a firm moral stance.  In the Servant’s mind, it was not worth the risk involved to be morally devout because he knew that their society had Gods and people in it like Aphrodite and Phaedra, who would become jealous of Hippolytus’ moral devotions and coin those devotions as such a gross “disrespect” to them that they would be justified to destroy him for his “high-mindedness” or “bigotry.”  This philosophy does not seek to dispel jealousy, only the cause of jealousy, and thereby lifts jealousy up and endows it with power to destroy the object of its vice.

The Social Conflict represents the conflict between i) the modern philosophical trend that places special preeminence on the value of ‘social quiet,’ and ii) the traditional American philosophy that places special preeminence on the value of ‘social pursuit.’  The philosophy of  the Servant (and everyone else of that time) was that of social quiet, and stood in direct contradiction with Hippolytus’ philosophy of social pursuit.  The Servant was the proponent of the social quiet philosophy, which would place avoiding offense to others in priority far above that of pursuing any particular moral code.  Hippolytus was the proponent of the social pursuit philosophy, which would place the pursuit of a moral code in priority far above that of avoiding any mere offense to others.  Social pursuit would require thick skin and enough tolerance to “agree to disagree.”  Social quiet, on the other hand, would never require thick skin, or the exercise of true tolerance.  Instead social quiet only asks that people “pretend to agree” or “stand for everything” (which is to say, “stand for nothing”) and stay out of their way (which is to say, “don’t be exceptional”).  Ironically, it is social quiet which is the most destructive to society because social quiet adherents tend to view all social pursuit philosophies as a threat to ordered society, and thus, like Aphrodite and Phaedra, they unwittingly escalate the social conflict from the level of mere disagreement, debate, and compromise to the level of irreconcilable conflict where social quiet philosophy must absolutely prevail over all others.  They hate ambition and excellence and call it “self-righteousness” or “high-mindedness,” and they hate the comparison of opposing views and call it “bigotry.”  Thus it often proves itself the most self-righteous and high-minded of them all, by categorically and blindly condemning all social pursuit philosophies as guilty of the gravest and most intolerable of sins, viz. of disturbing the social quiet, while causing themselves more disruption to the more fundamental balance of society than any other, namely, by reducing so-called freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and freedom of religion to little more than an empty pretense with no moral qualities whatsoever.

Phaedra represents the the gay marriage movement at large.  Phaedra could not be faulted for the god-stricken love which she felt for Hippolytus, any more than the homosexual could be blamed for the same-sex attraction.  But the play and its unfortunate outcome would seem to suggest that Phaedra’s initial instinct to moderate her passions was her greatest virtue, and would have prevented the very evil which Aphrodite had hoped to accomplish through Phaedra.  With the Nurse as Aphrodite’s unwitting accomplice, however, Phaedra could not help but finally cave into to her flaming passions.  Yet for all this Phaedra could easily be forgiven, but for her final and most terrible act, when Phaedra reveals herself as a merciless, vengeful, and fickle murderess.  To save only the mere appearance of virtue (i.e. to escape the dishonor which she earned by soliciting Hippolytus) she knowingly and purposefully betrayed Hippolytus, an innocent man, to his death.  Thus she fully initiated herself into the ranks of her true destroyer, the devious and cunning Aphrodite, by seeking the destruction of Hippolytus merely because he was “high-minded” enough to reject her proposition.  The gay marriage movement is coming dangerously close to viewing proponents of traditional marriage in a similarly distorted and dangerous way, and reacting in a similarly merciless fashion by destroying the definition of traditional marriage rather than only creating a new gay marriage, and then by suppressing voices that would still speak out to defend it.

The Nurse represents the larger part of non-homosexual gay marriage proponents.  The Nurse could not be faulted for wanting to save Phaedra from self-destruction.  But her view on the matter was amazingly narrow and short-sighted.  She took no consideration for honest reputation, mindful moderation, and long-term solutions, except to admit that Phaedra’s contemplated suicide seemed to preclude them.  She did not try to persuade Phaedra to appeal to the other Gods for deliverance, or to any other number of less extreme and dangerous options.  Her promotion of the baser reaction to the already debased situation only led from one error to another, until Phaedra had finally committed the ultimate evil and murdered Hippolytus.  The gay marriage movement needs support, but not the kind of support that the Nurse provided.  The Nurse should have offered temperance, patience, forethought, consideration, and tolerance to support Phaedra through a more careful and well-reasoned plan to deal with what she was feeling in the long-term.  Thrusting Phaedra into a direct conflict with Hippolytus, and forcing Hippolytus and Phaedra into a hopelessly awkward and dangerous situation, was the wrong approach, and ultimately only served the interests of Aphrodite.  So too, must gay marriage proponents take a more moderate approach if they would avoid the unhappy consequences of a conflicted and destructive outcome for both traditional and gay marriage.  The gay marriage movement stepped into the excesses of the Nurse’s folly when it began to seek a unified definition for traditional and gay marriage rather than an additional co-existing marriage institution.  It continues to step into the excesses of folly by attempting to suppress speech in defense of traditional marriage and labeling it as “bigotry” and motivated by “hate.”

The Internal Conflict represents the age-old question of will over matter and mind over passion.  Does a human being have a responsibility to temper its passions with reason?  Should it be acknowledged that not all feelings, inclinations, tendencies, or passions are good for individuals or societies?  Or should it instead be accepted that what is natural in humanity is also necessarily good and justifiably accepted by society?  What would be the result?  What is the standard for determining the level of approval with which the vagaries of human desire are to be met by society?  Which standards are more or less objective and which are more or less arbitrary?  Is it true that society must compromise some views to some degree in order to maintain some order in society?  And on what bases is that compromise just?

The Rejection represents the long history of rejection of the homosexual act, and its lifestyle, as an undesirable and harmful social practice or institution.  At first the gay lifestyle was handled by the gay community much as Phaedra was initially dealing with her forbidden passion — carefully kept under wraps, in word and deed, as clearly unacceptable in society.  At first, Phaedra, like society at large, was of the opinion that her passions were justifiably spurned by society, and perhaps such was the case with the gay community as well.  And at first the gay lifestyle was met with the same social and moral arguments against its practice and acceptance that were met by Phaedra initially.  But there arose those who, like the Nurse, reacted to the rejection with a firm conviction that acting out on these socially spurned feelings was justifiably necessary to save the suffering from the constant struggles, secrecy, scorn, and even fatality of their condition.  The present gay rights movement has reached the same conclusion that the Nurse reached, and is replying to its rejection by traditional marriage proponents in much the same way as the Nurse replied to the rejection of Hippolytus — “We have done nothing wrong.”  The question is how the gay rights movement will react if traditional marriage proponents continue to assert that indeed there is something wrong about the gay lifestyle.  Will the gay rights movement spring the same trap upon traditional marriage which Phaedra sprang upon Hippolytus, because she was angry at Hippolytus, and would not have him both be victor and live?

The Trap represents the series of events that set the trap for the utter destruction of the traditional definition of marriage.  The gay marriage proponents, like the Nurse, realized that gays could never be happy until their lifestyle enjoyed full equality with other lifestyles in the minds and opinions of society at large.  Suicide was a real and all too frequented option among gays as a way of dealing with their predicament.  Therefore, gay marriage proponents, like the Nurse, raised the stakes by a direct strike on the import of the unique attributes of traditional marriage, by demanding a redefinition of marriage that no longer recognizes those attributes as worthy of distinction, in order to equalize it with gay marriage.  If the redefinition were to succeed, then the gays would have accomplished an equalization, and would presumably be happy, but the traditional definition and all that it implied of marriage would be destroyed.  If the redefinition were to fail, then the gays would have been rejected once again and their shame only enhanced through the loss.  Such was the result for gay marriage at the polls.  But the gay marriage movement is now reacting as Phaedra did, and setting the judicial trap from which traditional marriage is not likely to escape.

The Trap Is Sprung represents the decision by the gay marriage movement to ask the courts to “redefine” marriage, rather than to make, or permit to be made, an additional institution called “gay marriage.”  The redefinition approach pits the survival of the traditional definition of marriage against the existence of gay marriage.  Without its own definition, traditional marriage and its unique attributes will become socially and legally null and void.  This decision reflects the extent of the gay marriage ambition, viz. not only to have legal rights to marry and have their own institution to stand or fall based on its own merits, but to be considered in all respects to be equal with traditional marriage, by destroying the prior recognition and reputation of traditional marriage.  This was Phaedra’s strategy.  The pursuit of a redefinition as opposed to recognition is a clear indication that the gay marriage movement is motivated by the social quiet philosophy.  This excess ambition is similar to Phaedra’s reaction to Hippolytus’ rejection of her proposition.  Phaedra could not be content to leave Hippolytus alone once he had “high-mindedly” rejected her proposal.  She could not bear the thought that he should live on in peace while her life goes on towards inevitable “shipwreck” (although there was no indication that her life must necessarily end in shipwreck).  So she elected instead, as her last act, to destroy the reputation of Hippolytus and lead others to believe he was to blame for her death, virtually guaranteeing his destruction.   The gay rights movement is blaming traditional marriage for its death at the polls, and is parading before the judges a long list of injuries allegedly caused by the traditional definition of marriage.  They avoid any discussion of the merits of traditional marriage.  They instinctively know that their only chance is to inflame the courts against the definition of traditional marriage just as Phaedra inflamed Theseus against Hippolytus, viz. by a parade of terrible injuries, even death, and then a false accusation.  This is the trap that has been sprung for traditional marriage by the gay marriage proponents.  And the courts seems to be playing the part of Theseus very well.  But the traditional definition of marriage is no more guilty for the injuries to gay marriage than Hippolytus was for Phaedra’s injuries.  The social quiet philosophy is the true culprit.  It makes victims of lesser forces and endows them with a right to be jealous and to insist on the pulling down of “higher forces.’

The Inevitable Destruction represents the end result of a plan so well-laid that the attainment of its objective was virtually inevitable.  Aphrodite knew that Hippolytus was virtuous, but ignorant.  Aphrodite knew that Phaedra was well-intentioned, but weak.  Aphrodite knew that the compassionate but unjust Nurse would turn sides and persuade Phaedra to excess.  Aphrodite knew that Phaedra, if put in a corner, would lash out violently against Hippolytus.  Aphrodite knew that Theseus would react in the passion of the moment and condemn unjustly the innocent.  Aphrodite knew that Theseus had the power to destroy Hippolytus.  In short, Aphrodite knew more than all of the individual participants combined, and thus she could bring about a plan that embraced and employed them all unwittingly towards an act of destruction.  If we, as traditional or gay marriage proponents, would avoid being manipulated by powers wiser and greater than ourselves, even unto our own destruction, we must become wiser and greater than we presently are, see the bigger picture, and avoid the same mistakes that were made in the play Hippolytus.  Hippolytus must add wisdom and pro-activity to his devotion.  Phaedra must add constancy and resolve to her good instincts, and not act out so unjustly against those who disagree with her.  The Nurse must not so quickly justify extreme behavior, but keep a cool head in tough situations and strive to overcome, not succumb, to misfortune.  Theseus must allow the natural processes of justice to take its course in its own time and only after full investigation of the facts and realities of the situation.  All of these, or even only one of these, would prevent the fulfillment of Aphrodite’s destructive plans.  But so far it appears that each is acting its part very well.

Theseus represents the governments and judges of the nations.  Theseus was the founder of democratic Athens, and protector of its just laws.  Notwithstanding Theseus’ presumed enlightenment, when faced with an atrocity and deceived as to its true cause, Theseus succumbed to his passions and betrayed all that he stood for in a moment of blind rage.  Thus Theseus murdered his own innocent Hippolytus, because his emotions were provoked.

Theseus’ Conviction of Hippolytus represents the modern courts and their majority holdings with regard to the redefinition of marriage.  These rulings are the result of the courts’ present obsession with the injury allegedly caused to homosexuals by the existence of a traditional definition of marriage.  The courts are following the lead of the gay marriage proponents and are jumping right to an attack on the definition with only the thought of the alleged injury on their mind, and without engaging in a side-by-side comparison of the institutions and a thorough investigation of the facts of both sides.  The courts avoid the more objective approach because they are so overwhelmed with the profuse claims of injury and the even more passionate claims that traditional marriage is the immediate cause, that, consequently, they would never dare to become complicit in the injury by analyzing whether there really are any relevant and rational distinctions between the two that would justify the definition.  That would be like Theseus doubting his wife’s suicide letter while still holding her dead body in her arms.  (Although some dissenting judges do so.)  Thus, the courts are being effectively prejudiced into opinions unduly favorable to gay marriage, even to the mortal harm of traditional marriage.  So too was Theseus so overwhelmed with the sight of his beloved wife laying dead before him that he immediately cursed his innocent son Hippolytus without the benefit of trial or due consideration.  If Theseus had had his wits about him, he could have remembered all that Athens represented under his rule, and that his son Hippolytus had a peaceful and virtuous history.  If Theseus were true to his heritage he at least should have allowed an open mind to hear Hippolytus’ explanation, or, if still too impassioned to keep an open mind, to at least fulfill his duty as an officer of justice and order a trial so that the unbiased process of justice could reveal the truth of both sides in all their aspects.  Theseus and his agents should have marshaled all the facts, compared their knowledge of Phaedra’s character with that of Hippolytus, brought in both unbiased and biased witnesses to testify, and finally come to a more objective conclusion about what really happened to Phaedra.  Ironically, but not surprisingly, his conclusion would have been the precise opposite of his initial impassioned and biased conclusion.  Likewise, if the courts had their wits about them, they would engage in the objective and necessary comparison of the institutions and realize that there is a rational basis for distinguishing between a traditional and gay marriage, and that the alleged injury is really more a result of the homosexuals’ ‘social quiet’ philosophy which views all adverse judgment as harmful.  Thus, the courts would never redefine marriage and eliminate for one group what that group rationally values as a distinct institution just to favor an offended minority group who can be helped in other ways.  More reasonably the courts might allow the creation of a new form of marriage to permit homosexuals to explore the potential of their own institution with its own distinct attributes and characteristics, but a redefinition could only be viewed as the absolute destruction of one view for the benefit of another — a manifestly unjust outcome for a society that claims a culture of tolerance and freedom for all views.

Hippolytus’ Defense represents the primary resort of traditional marriage proponents against an impassioned populace and government — pure testimony of what is true.  Unfortunately, with a crying, dying, or dead victim in the minds of the judges, with all of those victims accusing traditional marriage to be the culprit, this defense will prove insufficient to overcome the initial emotional impact so masterfully played by the gay marriage proponents (just as it proved insufficient for Hippolytus).  Traditional marriage proponents must anticipate this continuing phenomenon and rally witnesses, facts, histories, and pro-active supporters to curb the initial tide of emotion that surrounds this debate and to bring the debate back to more objective standards of analysis.  If Theseus had been able to anticipate Phaedra’s accusations, he could have compelled the Nurse to expose the details of their plot, he could have explained the motives behind the plot, he could have appealed to Artemis to expose Aphrodite, or any other number of things that would have caused pause and forethought and prevented his sudden and rash demise.  So too must the traditional marriage proponents take a more insightful and proactive stance in their defense against the courts.

Artemis’ Conviction of Theseus represents the realization of truth as it descends upon the minds of the courts, governments, and participants of this debate, only after its worse effects have already been realized.  Then we will all say, as did Theseus, “An [Aphrodite] tripped up my judgment,” and pray for forgiveness from our “blood guiltiness.”


The Moral of the Story

For Christians: Hippolytus was devout in his beliefs, but ignorant of why and to what extent his society’s culture and beliefs would work against him.  Hippolytus seemed unconcerned with the initial signs that a serious conflict existed, and took no direct action to deal with the conflict, but just lived his virtuous life as though disconnected from the world around him.  He did not anticipate the the hate and scorn levied against him, because he did not understand its origin nor fathom its farthest extents and implications.  Hippolytus should have extended himself beyond a mere concern for his own personal virtue.  He should have been more proactive about making himself understood to those who misunderstood him.  He should have taken action to change those cultural beliefs and practices which would ultimately threaten his life.  Because Hippolytus failed to do so, he too became a victim of circumstances rather than a master of his circumstances.  His internal virtue alone was insufficient to sustain him in such a hostile environment; He need to extravert that virtue into an effective campaign of change and mutual understanding  in order to survive.

Related to Religious Freedom: Can the morality of ‘social pursuit’ coexist with a morality of ”social quiet’?  Do the proponents on each side of the marriage debate even realize that this is an underlying issue?  What of the inherent hypocrisy of the social quiet philosophy that fails to see that it is as devout as any other philosophy, except that its devotion is limited only to its universal antagonism of other devotions, all of which appear to it to be “disruptive” of social quiet?  Can religious freedom exist under such a philosophy?  The contemporaries of Hippolytus were of the social quiet mentality.  They misjudged and persecuted Hippolytus, even unto death, because they felt he was “haughty of heart” simply because he was unequivocally devoted to a particular moral point of view.  To the moderates of his time, this appeared to be, at first blush, a direct violation of their “one rule that holds” which is “to be a friend of every man,” because they knew that Hippolytus’ devout morality would inevitably lead him to judge and choose only those things he felt were best and most virtuous.  These moderates would prefer that Hippolytus embraced their morality, namely, to not be too devout to any morality, and to spare them the uncomfortable implications that some moralities might be better than others.  The social quiet philosophy limits religion to the extent that it might disrupt the social peace, even if only by the unavoidable implications that somebody else might be wrong or immoral.  The social pursuit philosophy, on the other hand, limits religion only to the extent that one belief would cause direct harm or injury (not pretended or mediate harm) to other beliefs.  It would appear that social pursuit philosophy is the only one that could support the concept of religious  freedom, as it is the only one that allows religion to actually act and be acted upon in society without fear of arbitrary interference.


[1] This “divine” soliloquy is not unlike the prologue found in the beginning of the story of Job.  In Job, the story also begins with divine personalities whose dialogue sets the framework for understanding the rest of the story.  The story begins with the Lord boasting to Satan of Job, asking “Is he not a perfect man?”  Satan responds by challenging the Lord to test Job, saying, “Have you not put a hedge around him…[and] blessed [all] the works of his hands?…But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”  This prologue sets the stage of the whole moral of the Job story, by suggesting that this life is less about justice than we might believe, and more about testing human virtue instead (a moral which the story of Hippolytus unwittingly supports).

[2] In his own era, Hippolytus’ behavior was viewed by his contemporaries (e.g. the other characters in the play) as quite extreme and arrogant.  But in subsequent eras, such behavior would have been viewed as the only true kind of morality.  The rise of the monotheistic religions, for example, such as Christianity, with the proposition that there was only one true God, clearly advanced the concept of complete and unequivocal devotion to one God and one morality.  But recent decades have seen the return of the morality of polytheism of mroality and it seems to be rising to a place of preeminence in society.  And even though every age has seen those people who would become immediately hateful and intolerant of those who believe differently than themselves, the moderate viewpoint is more inherently disposed to become jealous and violent against all other viewpoints, which appear to it to be unjustifiably extreme and self-righteous.  As the servant of Hippolytus, a moderate, frankly admitted, the “one rule that holds” in moderate communities is thus: “Men hate the haughty of heart who will not be the friend of every man.”  It is clear from the context of the play that “to be a friend of” means “not to take an opposing moral stance towards,” the violation of which brings one under the condemnation of being “haughty of heart.”