As part of my project on etiological myths in tragedy, I have been forced to spend far too much time thinking about the deus ex machina and divine interventions in tragedy. I keep reading in comments on the deus ex machina that this is a feature of Typical Euripides. (This Typical Euripides guy also likes etiology apparently.) But as I’ve been going over much of this material I find again and again that our ideas about how Euripides regularly ends his plays depend on shaky assumptions. This got me thinking about one of the more interesting cases where the divine intervention (and corresponding etiological bit) has been assumed for the end of the play but rarely, if ever, questioned: Euripides’ other Hippolytus play, Hippolytus Veiled.
The reconstruction of this play has never been particularly secure (see Hutchinson, “Euripides’ Other Hippolytos” ZPE 149, (2004), pp. 15-28 for the issues), but the divinity at the end usually is assumed on the basis of one particular fragment. We have a fragment of the Chorus (446 Kn = 20 in the Bude = 574 M = U in Barrett) where they address Hippolytus as a hero (the only use of this term in Euripides or Sophocles) and they refer to the honors he has been allotted.
ὦ μάκαρ, οἵας ἔλαχες τιμάς,
Ἱππόλυθ’ ἥρως, διὰ σωφροσύνην·
ἀρετῆς ἄλλη δύναμις μείζων·
ἦλθε γὰρ ἢ πρόσθ’ ἢ μετόπισθεν
τῆς εὐσεβίας χάρις ἐσθλή.
Blessed one, what honors you have won,
because of your good sense, Exalted Hippolytus;
Mortals have no other power
greater than excellence;
sooner or later fine reward
comes of piety.
Because of these two key words and the anapestic meter, scholars have been quick to locate this choral bit as the closing anapests which would follow a Euripidean deus speech which, again an assumption based on what we expect Typical Euripides to do, would be picking up some reference by the intervening god to the foundation of cult for Hippolytus. That is, we imagine, in essence, something like the Hippolytus play we have and then this choral passage fits on nicely (e.g. Kovacs: “almost certainly from the play’s final lines”).
But there are lots of reasons to question this sort of reasoning. Anapests like these can be used for entrances and exits, but also as transitions. So, for example, we have one such interlude, addressed to Hippolytus’ granddad Aegeus, in Euripides’ Medea (759-63).
ἀλλά σ’ ὁ Μαίας πομπαῖος ἄναξ
πελάσειε δόμοις ὧν τ’ ἐπίνοιαν
σπεύδεις κατέχων πράξειας, ἐπεὶ
Αἰγεῦ, παρ’ ἐμοὶ δεδόκησαι.
May Hermes, Maia’s son, patron of travelers, brin gyou safely to your house, and may you accomplish what you have set your heart on, Aegeus, since in my eyes you are a generous man. (trans. Kovacs)
Aeschylus uses the technique as well (cf. Taplin 1977, p. 225-6). If we postpone for a second the questions of τιμάς and ἥρως, then the other terms of the fragment could fit this transitional form well, perhaps even better than if they were spoken after Hippolytus’ death. The address ὦ μάκαρ is, although used of initiates in Bacchae (73, see Seaford ad loc.), also appropriate to brides or grooms in wedding songs (Troades 336, Helen 375). To use this of the marriage-hating Hippolytus is of course very ironic. So too the aphorism at the end looks forward and is perhaps similar to the chorus’ good will towards Aegeus in the Medea passage. If the stumbling block drawing the Hippolytus I fragment towards the end of the play is τιμάς, then it is certainly not the case that τιμή must look back to the cult honors of a sort predicted at the end of a play. Consider Electra 987-997, another choral interlude.
βασίλεια γύναι χθονὸς Ἀργείας,
καὶ τοῖν ἀγαθοῖν ξύγγονε κούροιν
Διός, οἳ φλογερὰν αἰθέρ’ ἐν ἄστροις
ναίουσι, βροτῶν ἐν ἁλὸς ῥοθίοις
τιμὰς σωτῆρας ἔχοντες·
χαῖρε, σεβίζω σ’ ἴσα καὶ μάκαρας
πλούτου μεγάλης τ’ εὐδαιμονίας.
τὰς σὰς δὲ τύχας θεραπεύεσθαι
καιρός. <πότνι’,> ὦ βασίλεια.
Here the Chorus leader addresses Clytemnestra at her entrance, referring in particular to her brothers, the Dioscuri, and their catasterized status. That this reference to catasterism does, in a different play, occur in the mouth of the god at the end should caution us to assuming that any reference to future cult or metamorphosis or etymology naturally belongs at the end of the play. Here the reference to the future is packaged in an address to Clytemnestra. As for the key word ἥρως, it is true that we have no other examples of the word in extant Euripides. But before we go overloading the word with significance, it is worth noticing the habits of Aristophanes. Not only did he put on a play called “Heroes” (possibly 414-411, but quite uncertain), but in Acharnians, we have the address ὦ Λάμαχ’ ἥρως (578), in Wasps ὦ Λύκε δέσποτα, γείτων ἥρως (389), ὦ Κέκροψ ἥρως (438), ὦ δέσποθ’ ἥρως (823), and in Frogs, he has Aeschylus refer to Λάμαχος ἥρως (1039). As Dover notes (on Frogs 1039), being called a hero was not just for figures of the past. Dover mentions the parallel with Brasidas who, according to Thuc. 5.2.1, is given sacrifices and games ὡς ἥρωϊ. It may be that in this fragment of Hippolytus Veiled we have an example of the kind of thing that Aristophanes is mocking. Of greater consequence, the chorus in Euripides then is not reflecting upon Hippolytus’ imminent cult status, but rather addressing him with the respect due to the prince. (Note especially the term ἐσθλή, referring here to a good reward, but also the regular form of address elsewhere in tragedy for “noble” when used of individuals.) Finally, if the context for this choral interlude is related to marriage through the conventional makarismos address, then the word ἥρως is particularly pointed. It recalls, phonically, the word ἔρως, love.
While we cannot put this fragment into a firm location in the plot as guessed from other fragments, I would suggest that it may in fact be an address from towards the beginning of the play or, at least, one which is used simply to announce the presence or arrival of Hippolytus rather than retroactively look back after his death. At a minimum, this fragment is weak evidence for the existence of a divine intervention at the end of the play.
One final thought experiment. In the extent Hippolytus, the chorus at one point refers to Hippolytus as “the brightest star of Greece” (1120-1130).
οὐκέτι γὰρ καθαρὰν φρέν’ ἔχω, παρὰ δ’ ἐλπίδ’ ἃ λεύσσω,
ἐπεὶ τὸν Ἑλλανίας φανερώτατον ἀστέρ’ Ἀθήνας
εἴδομεν εἴδομεν ἐκ πατρὸς ὀργᾶς
ἄλλαν ἐπ’ αἶαν ἱέμενον.
ὦ ψάμαθοι πολιήτιδος ἀκτᾶς,
ὦ δρυμὸς ὄρεος, ὅθι κυνῶν
ὠκυπόδων μέτα θῆρας ἔναιρεν
Δίκτυνναν ἀμφὶ σεμνάν.
For my mind is no longer untroubled: beyond all expectation are the things I behold. We have seen Greece’s brightest star, have seen him go forth sped by his father’s wrath to another land. O sands of our city’s shore, O mountain thickets where with his swift hounds he slew the wild beasts in company with holy Dictynna! (trans. Kovacs)
If this were the fragmentary play and we had only these lines, then it would not take much effort to adduce Pausanias’ account of Hippolytus’ transformation into a star as evidence that this choral passage preserves information likely to be contained in a divine intervention of the end (provided we take on board all the above-mentioned assumptions about Typical Euripides and his addiction to the deus and to etiology). We might well think that this choral fragment, like the fragment from the first Hippolytus, belongs at the end of its play. We would, of course, be grossly mistaken.