Greek Hero

Hippolyta

Hippolyta was a queen of the Amazons and the owner of a renowned girdle. She fought Heracles when the hero came to her kingdom to steal the girdle.

Hippolyta, Greek Hero (3x2)

Top Questions

  • Who were Hippolyta’s parents?

    Hippolyta was the daughter of Ares, the Greek god of war, and his Amazon consort Otrera.

  • How did Hippolyta die?

    In some versions of the myth, Hippolyta was killed by Heracles when he came to steal her girdle for his ninth labor. In other versions, Hippolyta was taken captive by the Athenian hero Theseus and died during a war between the Amazons and Athenians.

  • Did Hippolyta marry Theseus?

    It is unclear. In some traditions, Hippolyta was the name of the Amazon queen who married Theseus, while in others, his wife was named Antiope.

Overview

Hippolyta, daughter of Ares and Otrera, was a queen of the Amazons. She was best known for her girdle, which was said to signify her supremacy among the Amazons. Unfortunately, the hero and strongman Heracles was ordered to steal this girdle for his ninth labor. When Hippolyta and the other warlike Amazons resisted, Heracles fought and killed many of them before taking the girdle by force. 

In some versions of the myth, Hippolyta died at Heracles’ hands when the hero came for her girdle. But in other versions, she was carried off by Theseus, the king of Athens, which sparked a war between the Amazons and the Athenians.

Etymology

The etymology of the name “Hippolyta” is fairly straightforward. It is made up of two elements: the Greek noun hippos, meaning “horse,” and the verb lyō, meaning “loosen” or “unleash.” Hippolyta’s name is thus stereotypically Amazonian, reflecting the warriors’ association with horsemanship (or, perhaps more aptly, horsewomanship).

Pronunciation

  • English
    Greek
    HippolytaἹππολύτη
  • Phonetic
    IPA
    [hi-POL-i-tuh]/hɪˈpɒl ɪˌtə/

Alternate Names

Though the Amazon queen whose girdle was taken by Heracles was always called Hippolyta, ancient sources disagreed on the name of the woman carried off by Theseus.[1] In some texts, Theseus’ captive was Hippolyta (presumably the same Hippolyta from the Heracles myth), but most sources named a different Amazon, Antiope (perhaps Hippolyta’s sister).[2] Still other sources claimed that the Amazon carried off by Theseus was named Melanippe[3] or Glauce.[4]

Attributes

Hippolyta was a queen of the Amazons, a tribe of warrior women usually thought to live in the city of Themiscyra on the south coast of the Black Sea. Her signature attribute was her girdle, sometimes known as the “Girdle of Ares.” According to Apollodorus, Hippolyta had been awarded this special girdle “in token of her superiority to all the rest.”[5] It was ultimately stolen by Heracles for his ninth labor.

Joseph Kuhn-Régnier - Hippolyta

Illustration of Heracles stealing the girdle of Hippolyta, from Contes et légendes mythologiques by Joseph Kuhn-Régnier (1936).

Wikimedia CommonsPublic Domain

Family

Hippolyta was the daughter of Ares and the Amazon Otrera.[6] Her sisters may have included Antiope, Penthesilea, Melanippe, and Orithyia.

In some traditions, Hippolyta was taken captive by the Athenian Theseus after she lost her girdle to Heracles (though in other traditions it was Antiope, not Hippolyta, who was taken). Theseus soon fell in love with her and made her his wife. Together they had a son named Hippolytus (or Demophon, according to Pindar[7]).

According to the Roman scholar Servius, Hippolyta was also the mother of the Amazon Antiope.[8]

Family Tree

Mythology

The Ninth Labor of Heracles

Hippolyta’s girdle was the object of one of the Twelve Labors—tasks given to Heracles by the Mycenaean king Eurystheus. According to Apollodorus, Eurystheus’ daughter, Admete, wanted the girdle for herself.[9] Thus, Eurystheus sent Heracles to the land of the Amazons to fetch it for her.

There are a few different versions of the myth. Some authors simply report that Heracles killed Hippolyta and stole her girdle.[10] But others give a more detailed account. According to Apollodorus, Hippolyta was impressed by Heracles and was willing to give him the girdle without a fight. Indeed, she boarded Heracles’ ship in order to talk with the hero and hand over the prize. 

But Hera, who hated Heracles, could not let him accomplish the ninth labor so easily. She disguised herself as one of the Amazons and spread a rumor that Heracles was planning to carry off their queen. In response, the Amazons immediately charged Heracles’ ship. When Heracles saw them, he assumed Hippolyta had betrayed him, so he killed her, stripped the girdle from her body, and sailed away.[11]

Heracles and Amazons-Bateman Group-ca 530 bce

Amphora showing Heracles' battle with the Amazons. Attributed to the Bateman Group, ca. 530 BCE.

Metropolitan Museum of ArtPublic Domain

In another version, the Amazons were unwilling to hand over the belt and forced Heracles into a war. Heracles got the better of the Amazons and took several of them captive. In the end, he was given the girdle as a ransom for the Amazon Melanippe.[12]

Theseus and the Attic War

According to some sources, Hippolyta was later carried off by Theseus, the Athenian hero most famous for killing the Minotaur. She was either given to Theseus by Heracles, who took her captive after stealing her girdle, or else was taken during a separate adventure. The Amazons then invaded the region of Attica, which Theseus ruled from the city of Athens, to recover their queen in what was sometimes known as the “Attic War.”[13]

Some sources who name Hippolyta as Theseus’ prisoner go on to say that it was Hippolyta who ultimately made peace between the Amazons and the Athenians.[14] Others say that Theseus eventually left Hippolyta to marry the Cretan princess Phaedra; this led Hippolyta to angrily attack Theseus, and he killed her in response.[15] But in most sources, it was Antiope, not Hippolyta, who was carried off by Theseus and sparked the Attic War.

View of the Acropolis Athens

The Athenian Acropolis, the most ancient site of the city of Athens, said to have been ruled in mythical times by Theseus.

Christophe MeneboeufCC BY-SA 3.0

In one final version of the myth, reported by Pausanias and ascribed to the people of Megara, it was Antiope who was carried off by Theseus, while Hippolyta (Antiope’s sister) led the Amazons against Athens to get her back. After most of the Amazons were killed in the war, Hippolyta escaped to Megara (a city to the northwest of Athens) with a handful of survivors. There, heartbroken over the loss of so many of her people and despairing of ever returning home, she died of grief and was buried by the people of Megara.[16]

Penthesilea: Another Version of the Death of Hippolyta?

In another myth—probably known in some form since the time of Homer—Penthesilea came to help the Trojans fight the Greeks before ultimately being killed by Achilles. But according to some sources, the reason Penthesilea came to Troy in the first place was that she had accidentally killed her sister Hippolyta while hunting: aiming her spear at a stag, Penthesilea missed and struck Hippolyta instead.[17] Whether this was the same Hippolyta who featured in the adventures of Heracles (and possibly Theseus) is unclear.

Worship

According to a local tradition, Hippolyta’s tomb (fashioned in the likeness of an Amazonian shield) was located in the Greek city of Megara.[18] This suggests that she received special honors or hero cult there (ancient tombs were often sites of this kind of worship).

Pop Culture

Hippolyta has featured in some modern adaptations of Greek mythology, including the 1990s television series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess. In DC’s Wonder Woman comics, Hippolyta is Wonder Woman’s aunt.

References

Notes

  1. Isocrates, Panathenaicus 193; Plutarch, Life of Theseus 27; Apollodorus, Epitome 1.16; Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 13.4, 557a.

  2. Plutarch, Life of Theseus 26, 28; Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History 4.28; Pausanias, Description of Greece 1.2.1, 1.41.7; Seneca, Phaedra 927ff; Apollodorus, Epitome 1.16; Hyginus, Fabulae 30.

  3. Apollodorus, Epitome 1.16.

  4. Scholia on Homer’s Iliad 3.189.

  5. Apollodorus, Library 2.5.9.

  6. Hyginus, Fabulae 30.

  7. Plutarch, Life of Theseus 28 (citing Pindar) = Pindar frag. 176 Snell.

  8. Servius on Virgil’s Aeneid 11.661.

  9. Apollodorus, Library 2.5.9.

  10. Euripides, Heracles 408ff; Hyginus, Fabulae 30; etc.

  11. Apollodorus, Library 2.5.9.

  12. Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 2.777ff, 966ff; Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History 4.16.

  13. On the Attic War, see Isocrates, Panegyricus 42, 68, 70, Areopagiticus 75, Panathenaicus 193; Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History 4.28; Plutarch, Life of Theseus 26–27; Pausanias, Description of Greece 1.2.1, 1.41.7, 2.32.9, 5.11.4, 5.11.7; etc.

  14. Plutarch, Life of Theseus 27.4.

  15. Apollodorus, Epitome 5.2; cf. 1.16–17.

  16. Pausanias, Description of Greece 1.41.7.

  17. Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History 2.46.5; Apollodorus, Epitome 5.1; Quintus of Smyrna, Posthomerica 1.22ff. In a different version of the myth, Penthesilea accidentally killed Hippolyta while trying to help her get revenge on Theseus, who had left her to marry Phaedra (Apollodorus, Epitome 5.2).

  18. Pausanias, Description of Greece 1.41.7.

Primary Sources

Greek

  • Euripides: Hippolytus, the titular character of the tragedy Hippolytus (428 BCE), is the son of Theseus and his Amazon wife (either Hippolyta or Antiope; she is unnamed in the play). There are also references to Heracles’ battle with Hippolyta in the Heracles (410s BCE).

  • Isocrates: The war between the Amazons and the Athenians is described in a handful of Isocrates’ speeches, including the Panegyricus, Areopagiticus, and Panathenaicus (all fourth century BCE). In the works of Isocrates, the Attic War is fought for Hippolyta, not Antiope.

  • Apollonius of Rhodes: There are allusions to Heracles’ war with Hippolyta and the Amazons in Book 1 of the Argonautica (third century BCE)

  • Diodorus of Sicily: Heracles’ encounter with Hippolyta and the Amazons is summarized in Book 4 of the Library of History (first century BCE).

  • Plutarch: The Attic War, which was fought for either Antiope or Hippolyta, is described in the Life of Theseus (first century CE).

  • Pausanias: There are references to different myths of Hippolyta in the Description of Greece (second century CE).

  • Apollodorus: There are a handful of references to Hippolyta in the Library and Epitome (first century BCE or first few centuries CE).

  • Quintus of Smyrna: Hippolyta is mentioned briefly in Book 1 of the Posthomerica (fourth century CE), where her accidental murder is given as the reason for Penthesilea’s arrival in Troy.

Roman

  • Seneca: There are references to Hippolyta and her war with Heracles in the tragedies Heracles Mad and Heracles on Mount Oeta (first century BCE/first century CE).

  • Hyginus: There are references to Hippolyta in the Fabulae, a mythological handbook from the first or second century CE.

Secondary Sources

  • Block, Josine H. The Early Amazons: Modern and Ancient Perspectives on a Persistent Myth. Leiden: Brill, 1995.

  • Devambez, Pierre and Aliki Kauffmann-Samaras. “Amazones.” In Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, Vol. 1, 586–653. Zurich: Artemis, 1981.

  • DuBois, Page. Centaurs and Amazons: Women and the Pre-History of the Great Chain of Being. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991.

  • Gantz, Timothy. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. 2 vols. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

  • Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. London: Penguin, 1955.

  • Harder, Ruth Elisabeth. “Hippolyte.” In Brill’s New Pauly, edited by Hubert Cancik, Helmuth Schneider, Christine F. Salazar, Manfred Landfester, and Francis G. Gentry. Published online 2006. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1574-9347_bnp_e514800.

  • Kerényi, Károly. The Heroes of the Greeks. London: Thames and Hudson, 1974.

  • Man, John. Searching for the Amazons: The Real Warrior Women of the Ancient World. New York: Pegasus Books, 2018.

  • Mayor, Adrienne. The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.

  • Ridgway, Brunilde Sismondo. “A Story of Five Amazons.” American Journal of Archaeology 78 (1974): 1–17. https://doi.org/10.2307/503751

  • Ridgway, Brunilde Sismondo. “The Amazon’s Belt: An Addendum to a Story of Five Amazons.” American Journal of Archaeology 80 (1976): 82. https://doi.org/10.2307/502944.

  • Rose, H. J. A Handbook of Greek Mythology. London: Methuen, 1929.

  • Smith, William. “Hippolyte.” In A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Spottiswoode and Company, 1873. Perseus Digital Library. Accessed August 25, 2021. https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0104%3Aalphabetic+letter%3DH%3Aentry+group%3D15%3Aentry%3Dhippolyte-bio-1.

  • Tyrrell, William Blake. Amazons: A Study in Athenian Mythmaking. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984.

  • Von Rothmer, Dietrich. Amazons in Greek Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957.

  • Wilde, Lyn Webster. A Brief History of the Amazons: Women Warriors in Myth and History. London: Robinson, 2017.

Citation

Kapach, Avi. “Hippolyta.” Mythopedia, November 18, 2022. https://mythopedia.com/topics/hippolyta.

Kapach, Avi. “Hippolyta.” Mythopedia, 18 Nov. 2022. https://mythopedia.com/topics/hippolyta. Accessed on 23 Nov. 2022.

Kapach, A. (2022, November 18). Hippolyta. Mythopedia. https://mythopedia.com/topics/hippolyta

Authors

  • Avi Kapach

    Avi Kapach is a writer, scholar, and educator who received his PhD in Classics from Brown University

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