Table of Contents
A daughter of the Greek god of war Ares and a Queen of the famous Amazon warrior women, Hippolyta is one of the most celebrated Greek heroines. But who exactly was this mythical figure and what are the myths that describe her?
Who is Hippolyta?
Hippolyta is at the center of several Greek myths, but these vary in certain regards that scholars aren’t certain if they refer to the same person.
It’s possible that the origins of these myths centered around separate heroines but were later attributed to the famous Hippolyta. Even her one most famous myth has multiple different renditions but that is quite normal for a mythological cycle as old as that of Ancient Greece.
Nevertheless, Hippolyta is well-known as the daughter of Ares and Otrera and a sister of Antiope and Melanippe. Her name translates as let loose and a horse, words which have largely positive connotations as the ancient Greeks revered horses as strong, precious, and almost holy animals.
Hippolyta is best known as a queen of the Amazons. This tribe of warrior women is believed to be based on the ancient Scythian people from north of the Black Sea – a horse-riding culture famous for its gender equality and fierce women warriors. In most Greek myths, however, the Amazons are a female-only society.
Hippolyta is arguably the second most famous queen of the Amazons, second only to Penthesilea (also cited as Hippolyta’s sister) who led the Amazons into the Trojan War.
Ninth of the Twelve Labors
The most famous myth of Hippolyta is that of Heracles’ Ninth Labor. In his mythological cycle, the demi-god hero Heracles is challenged to perform nine labors by King Eurystheus. The last of these was to acquire the magic girdle of Queen Hippolyta and deliver it to the daughter of Eurystheus, princess Admete.
The girdle was given to Hippolyta by her father, the god of war Ares, so this was expected to be a major challenge for Heracles. However, according to the more popular versions of the myth, Hippolyta was so impressed by Heracles that she gave him the girdle willingly. She was even said to have visited his ship to give him the girdle there personally.
Complications nevertheless ensued, however, courtesy of the goddess Hera. A wife of Zeus, Hera despised Heracles as he was a bastard son of Zeus and the human woman Alcmene. So, in an attempt to thwart Heracles’ Ninth Labor, Hera disguised herself as an Amazon just as Hippolyta was aboard Heracles’ ship and began spreading the rumor that Heracles was abducting their queen.
Outraged, the Amazons attacked the ship. Heracles perceived this as deception on Hippolyta’s part, killed her, took the girdle, fought off the Amazons, and sailed away.
Theseus and Hippolyta
Things become more complicated when we look at the myths of the hero Theseus. In some of these tales, Theseus joins Heracles on his adventures and is a part of his crew during his fight with the Amazons for the girdle. However, in other myths about Theseus, he sails separately to the land of the Amazons.
Some versions of this myth have Theseus abduct Hippolyta, but according to others, the queen falls in love with the hero and willing betrays the Amazons and leaves with him. In either case, she eventually makes her way to Athens with Theseus. This is what starts the Attic War as the Amazons were enraged by Hippolyta’s abduction/betrayal and go on to attack Athens.
After a long and bloody war, the Amazons were eventually defeated by the defenders of Athens led by Theseus (or Heracles, depending on the myth).
In yet another version of the myth, Theseus eventually leaves Hippolyta and marries Phaedra. Enraged, Hippolyta leads the Amazonian attack on Athens herself to ruin Theseus’ and Phaedra’s wedding. In that fight, Hippolyta is either killed by a random Athenian, by Theseus himself, by another Amazonian by accident, or by her own sister Penthesilea, again by accident.
All these endings exist in different myths – that’s how varying and convoluted the old Greek myths can get.
Symbolism of Hippolyta
Regardless of which myth we choose to read, Hippolyta is always regarded as a strong, proud, and tragic heroine. She is an excellent representation of her fellow Amazonian warriors as she’s both intelligent and benevolent but also quick to anger and full of vengeance when wronged.
And while all her varying myths end with her death, that’s largely because these are Greek myths and as the Amazonians were a mythical tribe of outsiders, they were usually viewed as enemies of the Greeks.
Importance of Hippolyta in Modern Culture
Hippolyta’s most famous and classic mention in literature and pop culture is her role in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Aside from that, however, she’s also been portrayed in countless others works of art, literature, poetry, and more.
Of her modern appearances, the most famous is in the DC comics as the mother of Princess Diana, a.k.a Wonder Woman. Played by Connie Nielsen, Hippolyta is an Amazonian queen, and she rules over the island of Themyscira, also known as Paradise Island.
Details of Hippolyta’s father and Diana’s father vary between the different comic book versions – in some Hippolyta is a daughter of Ares, in others, Diana is a daughter of Ares and of Hippolyta, and in others Diana is a daughter of Zeus and Hippolyta. Either way, the comic book version of Hippolyta is arguably very similar to that of Greek myths – she’s portrayed as a great, wise, strong, and benevolent leader to her people.
While playing only a background character in Greek mythology, Hippolyta is seen as strong female figure. She features in both the myths of Heracles and Theseus, and was known for her ownership of the Golden Girdle.