Hippolyta was the daughter of Ares, the Greek god of war, and his Amazon consort Otrera.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 Melanippe3 or Glauce.4
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.
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 Pindar7).
According to the Roman scholar Servius, Hippolyta was also the mother of the Amazon Antiope.8
#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
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.13
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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