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In Greek mythology, Hippolytus was a son of Theseus and either Antiope or Hippolyte. He was identified with the Roman forest god Virbius.

Phaedra, Theseus' second wife, fell in love with Hippolytus. According to some sources, he had scorned Aphrodite to become a devotee of Artemis and Aphrodite made Phaedra fall in love with him as a punishment. He rejected her. Alternatively, Phaedra's nurse told Hippolytus of her love, and he swore he would not reveal her as a source of information--even after Phaedra killed herself and blamed his seduction of her in her suicide note. In revenge, Phaedra wrote Theseus a letter that claimed Hippolytus raped her. She then killed herself. Theseus believed her and, using one of the three curses he had received from Poseidon, Hippolytus' horses were frightened by a sea monster and ragged their rider to his death. Alternatively, after telling Theseus that Hippolytus had raped her, he killed his son and Phaedra committed suicide out of guilt for she had not intended for Hippolytus to die. Artemis later told Theseus the truth. In an alternate version, Phaedra simply told Theseus this and did not kill herself; Dionysus sent a wild bull which terrified Hippolytus' horses.

A cult grew up around Hippolytus, associated with the cult of Aphrodite. Girls who were about to be married offered locks of their hair to him. His cult believed Asclepius resurrected Hippolytus and he lived in a sacred forests near Aricia[?] in Latium.

Hippolytus, was a writer of the early Church. The mystery which enveloped the person and writings of Hippolytus, one of the most prolific ecclesiastical writers of early times, had some light thrown upon it for the first time about the middle of the 19th century by the discovery of the so-called Philosophumena (see below). Assuming this writing to be the work of Hippolytus, the information given in it as to the author and his times can be combined with other traditional dates to form a tolerably clear picture.


Hippolytus must have been born in the second half of the 2nd century, probably in Rome. Photius describes him in his Bibliotheca (cod. 121) as a disciple of Irenaeus, and from the context of this passage it is supposed that we may conclude that Hippolytus himself so styled himself. But this is not certain, and even if it were, it does not necessarily imply that Hippolytus enjoyed the personal teaching of the celebrated Gallic bishop; it may perhaps merely refer to that relation of his theological system to that of Irenaeus which can easily be traced in his writings. As a presbyter of the church at Rome under Bishop Zephyrinus (199-217), Hippolytus was distinguished for his learning and eloquence. It was at this time that Origen, then a young man, heard him preach (Hieron. Vir. ill. 61; cp. Euseb. H.E. vi. 14, 10). It was probably not long before questions of theology and church discipline brought him into direct conflict with Zephyrinus, or at any rate with his successor Calixtus I. He accused the bishop of favouring the Christological heresies of the Monarchians, and, further, of subverting the discipline of the Church by his lax action in receiving back into the Church those guilty of gross offences. The result was a schism, and for perhaps over ten years Hippolytus stood as bishop at the head of a separate church. Then came the persecution under Maximinus Thrax. Hippolytus and Pontius, who was then bishop, were transported in 235 to Sardinia, where it would seem that both of them died. From the so-called chronograph of the year 354 (Catalogus Liberianus) we learn that on August 13, probably in 236, the bodies of the exiles were interred in Rome and that of Hippolytus in the cemetery on the Via Tiburtina; So we must suppose that before his death the schismatic was received again into the bosom of the Church, and this is confirmed by the fact that his memory was henceforth celebrated in the Church as that of a holy martyr. Pope Damasus I dedicated to him one of his famous epigrams, and Prudentius (Peristephano II) drew a highly coloured picture of his gruesome death, the details of which are certainly purely legendary: the myth of Hippolytus the son of Theseus was transferred to the Christian martyr. Of the historical Hippolytus little remained in the memory of after ages. Neither Eusebius (H.E. Vi. 20, 2) nor Jerome (Vir. ill. 61) knew that the author so much read in the East and the Roman saint were one and the same person. The notice in the Chronicon Paschale preserves one slight reminiscence of the historical facts, namely, that Hippolytus's episcopal see was situated at Portus near Rome. In 1551 a marble statue of a seated man was found in the cemetery of the Via Tiburtina: on the sides of the seat were carved a paschal cycle, and on the back the titles of numerous writings. It was the statue of Hippolytus, a work at any rate of the 3rd century; at the time of Pius IX. It was placed in the Lateran Museum, a record in stone of a lost tradition.


Hippolytus's voluminous writings, which for variety of subject can be compared with those of Origen, embrace the spheres of exegesis, homiletics, apologetics and polemic, chronography and ecclesiastical law. His works have unfortunately come down to us in such a fragmentary condition that it is difficult to obtain from them any very exact notion of his intellectual and literary importance. Of his exegetical works the best preserved are the Commentary on the Prophet Daniel and the Commentary on the Song of Songs. In spite of many instances of a want of taste in his typology, they are distinguished by a certain sobriety and sense of proportion in his exegesis. We are unable to form an opinion of Hippolytus as a preacher, for the Homilies on the Feast of Epiphany which go under his name are wrongly attributed to him. He wrote polemical words directed against the pagans, the Jews and heretics. The most important of these polemical treatises is the Refutation of all Heresies, which has come to be known by the inappropriate title of the Philosophumena. Of its ten books, the second and third are lost; Book i. was for a long time printed (with the title Philosopizumena) among the works of Origen; Books iv.-x. were found in 1842 by the Greek Minoides Mynas[?], without the name of the author, in a Armenian convent at Mount Athos. It is nowadays universally admitted that Hippolytus was the author, and that Books i. and iv.-x belong to the same work. The importance of the work has, however, been much overrated; a close examination of the sources for the exposition of the Gnostic system which is contained in it has proved that the information it gives is not always trustworthy. Of the dogmatic works, that on Christ and Antichrist survives in a complete state. Among other things it includes a vivid account of the events preceding the end of the world, and it was probably written at the time of the persecution under Septimius Severus, i.e. about 202. The influence of Hippolytus was felt chiefly through his works on chronographic and ecclesiastical law. His chronicle of the world, a compilation embracing the whole period from the creation of the world up to the year 234, formed a basis for many chronographical works both in the East and West. In the great compilations of ecclesiastical law which arose in the East since the 4th century much of the material was taken from the writings of Hippolytus; how much of this is genuinely his, how much of it worked over, and how much of it wrongly attributed to him, can no longer be determined beyond dispute even by the most learned investigation.


The edition of JA Fabricius, Hippolyti opera graece et latine (2 vols., Hamburg, 1716-1718, reprinted in Gallandi, Bibliotheca veterum patrum (vol. ii., 1766), and Migne, Cursus patrol. ser. Graeca, (vol. x.) is out of date. The preparation of a complete critical edition has been undertaken by the Prussian Academy of Sciences; The task is one of extraordinary difficulty, for the textual problems of the various writings are complex and confused: the Greek original is extant in a few cases only (the Commentary on Daniel, the Refutation, on Antichrist, parts of the Chronicle, and some fragments); for the rest we are dependent on fragments of translations, chiefly Slavonic, all of which are not even published.

Of the Academy's edition one volume was published at Berlin in 1897, containing the Commentaries on Daniel and on the Song of Songs, the treatise on Antichrist, and the Lesser Exegetical and Homiletic Works, edited by Georg Nathaniel Bonwetsch and Hans Athelis.

The Commentary on the Song of Songs has also been published by Bonwetsch (Leipzig, 1902) in a German translation based on a Russian translation by N. Marr of the Grusian (Georgian) text, and he added to it (Leipzig, 1904) a translation of various small exegetical pieces, which are preserved in a Georgian version only (The Blessing of Jacob, The Blessing of Moses, The Narrative of David and Goliath)--A great part of the original of the Chronicle has been published by Adolf Bauer (Leipzig, 1905) from the Codex Matritensis Graecus, 221. For the Refutation we are still dependent on the editions of Miller (Oxford, 1851), Duncker and Schneidewin (Göttingen, 1859), and Cruice (Paris, 1860). An English translation is to be found in the Ante-Nicene Christian Library (Edinburgh, 1868-1869).

See also:

  • Bunsen, Hippolytus and his Age (1852, 2nd ed., 1854; Ger. ed., 1853)
  • Döllinger, Hippolytus und Kallistus (Regensb. 1853; Eng. transl., Edinb., 1876)
  • Gerhard Ficker, Studien zur Hippolytfrage (Leipzig, 1893)
  • Hans Achelis, Hippolytstudien (Leipzig, 1897)
  • Karl Johannes Neumann, Hippolytus von Rom in seiner Stellung zu Staat und Welt, part i. (Leipzig, 1902)
  • Adhémar d'Ales, La Theologie de Saint Hippolyte (Paris, 1906). (G.K.)

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.

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