Phaedra as an Example of Enlightenment Values Essay

803 Words Feb 20th, 2013 4 Pages
Phaedra, originally part of the large body of Greek mythological works, has been adapted, modified and presented in new contexts in recent centuries. For example, following the original conception of this tragedy by Euripides, versions of it have appeared in Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, etc through the authorship of such great writers as Frencesco Bozza, Jean Racine, Miguel de Unamuno, etc. Eugene O’Neill’s incorporation of it as a subplot in his ‘Desire Under the Elms’ testify to the everlasting appeal of the story. This enduring appeal makes relevant its study in relation to enlightenment values.
It is especially relevant to read Phaedra’s life and events in the backdrop of values espoused by the Enlightenment. The Age of
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In hindsight, her maid Oenone proved to be a wise counsel, as she advised Phaedra against acting on her impulses and romantic feelings. (Disch, 1989)
In contrast, when we study Hippolytus’ decisions and the thought processes behind them, we can see how his personality is much more grounded and less given to impulse and imprudence. For example, Hippolytus is one of the rare characters in literature who takes up a vow of celibacy and remains a virgin through the course of his life. His virginity is borne of his piety. He is always conscious of the moral imperatives he has set for himself that even when he learns of Phaedra’s incestuous and adulterous desire for him, he commits himself and the Nurse to keep it a secret. As Hippolytus leaves the Nurse, “he insists that it is his piety that saves her, and that he will 'keep silent'.” (Chong-Gossard, 2004) Later, when Phaedra commits suicide after accusing Hippolytus of rape, he could easily have defended himself by exposing the facts, including that of Phaedra’s lust for him. But his decision to not pursue this course is due to his grounding in rationality as it is of piety and oath. In this sense, Hippolytus can be seen as a model character whose life highlights values of the Enlightenment. In other words, though concepts like honor and piety are not addressed directly in the Enlightenment era intellectual discourse, they can be derived and associated with reason (a prime Enlightenment value). In this context, it is

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