In the Shadow of Phaedra. The Nurse on Stage between Euripides, Seneca and Marina Cvetaeva


  • Francesco Puccio Università degli Studi di Padova



In Euripides’ Crowned Hippolytus, a tragedy in which Phaedra does not openly declare her feelings for Theseus’ son, allowing herself to be consumed by pain, the protagonist, in a close dialogue with the Nurse, asks what the essence of love is for humans (τί τοῦθ’ ὃ δὴ λέγουσιν ἀνθρώπους ἐρᾶν, 347). And the answer seems almost a prophecy anticipating what is to come (ἥδιστον, ὦ παῖ, ταὐτὸν ἀλγεινόν θ’ ἅμα, 348; a very pleasant thing, daughter, but which is painful at the same time).1 Only in a second moment, Phaedra will really confide in her, pushing her, under the illusion that this could be useful, to break the promise not to tell Hippolytus anything. Thus, in Euripides’ text, the Nurse assumes an essential dramaturgical role, as it happens in Seneca’s Phaedra in which, however, the heroine, having put aside her silence, seeks an immediate remedy for her lovesickness by means of a revealing word. Also in this case the Nurse, far from being an ancillary character, plays a key role: although she does not reveal directly to Hippolytus that her stepmother is in love with him, since it will be Phaedra herself who will confess the truth to her beloved, she will become her accomplice in deceiving Theseus with the story of a rape that never happened. The aim of this contribution is to reflect on the character of the Nurse, both linguistically and scenically, in Euripides’ Crowned Hippolytus, Seneca’s Phaedra and, in the perspective of the story’s reception on the modern stage, in Marina Cvetaeva’s Phaedra (1928). The Russian poetess shows a Phaedra not unlike the classical models, mad with love, who nevertheless does not want to admit that she loves Hippolytus. But, what is particularly interesting in this tragedy, is the character of the Nurse who tries, through Phaedra’s passion, to experience those emotions that life denied her in youth, dividing herself between love for the queen and hatred for Hippolytus.

Keywords: Nurse; Euripides’ Crowned Hippolytus; Seneca’s Phaedra; Cvetaeva’s Phaedra; ancient drama






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