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Chapter 10: Artemis

Extremely important for an understanding of the nature and both Artemis and Aphrodite is the study of Euripides’ Hippolytus. A translation of crucial excerpts with critical interpretation is to be found in MLS (the Additional Reading in Chapter 10). This is one of Euripides7rsquo; best plays because of its masterful construction and its deceptively transparent simplicity, endlessly revealing intricate subtlety of thought and complexity of characterization. In the context of this and the previous chapter, Euripides’ profound and critical scrutiny of the antithetical Artemis and Aphrodite and their worship should be primary.

The Misogyny of Hippolytus. In Euripides’ play, after Hippolytus learns from the nurse of Phaedra's desire for him, he bursts out in a tirade against women as vile and evil (MLS, pp. 235), which has received a great deal of attention and interpretation, particularly today, because of its misogyny. Hippolytus’ hatred of women is to be understood, but not necessarily condoned, in the context of his character and the play. This chaste man has suffered the most traumatic shock of his young life. Sex with any woman for him is impossible. The sudden realization of the lust of Phaedra, the wife of his beloved father, strikes him as an abomination. His feelings are in some ways similar to the misogyny of another holy man, John the Baptist, in his outbursts against Salome and her mother Herodias. Hippolytus at least is in love with one woman, Artemis. Not the least of his psychological problems is his own illegitimacy.

Yet some see in Hippolytus’ outcry against women the expression of views generally held in Greek society, particularly in fifth century Athens, as though somehow Hippolytus himself were a typical ancient Greek male. It is abundantly clear from the play that he is anything but that. Aphrodite herself punishes him for his aberration and his father hates him for his religious fanaticism and cannot believe his virginal protestations; Theseus hastily convinces himself that Hippolytus raped Phaedra because he never could believe that his boy does not like women. Theseus is the archetype of the traditional, extrovert father who loves his wife and is disappointed by his son who has turned out to be an introvert, different from him in almost every way. If one were to pick an average Athenian (a dangerous, if not foolish game to play), it would be Theseus.

Misandry, Artemis, and the Amazons. Misandry, hatred of men, rather than misogyny, is a more immediate theme in connection with Artemis, where it manifests itself in the close religious bonds of her group, which excludes the male, as made evident in the stories of Actaeon and Callisto. In this connection the Amazons are relevant, important figures in the legends of Theseus, Heracles, and the Trojan war, who developed a society not unlike that of Artemis the huntress, which excluded men. The Amazons, however, were devoted to the pursuits of battle and determined to become invincible warriors. Their arête (“excellence”) was to be the same and in no way different from that of a male.

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