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The "Phaedra Complex"

Alfred A. Messer, MD
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1969;21(2):213-218. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1969.01740200085012.
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SEVERAL versions of the Phaedra legend exist. Perhaps the best known is Euripides' play, Hippolytus.1 Phaedra, a young Cretan woman, marries Theseus, King of Athens, a man much older than she. Theseus had previously been married to Antiope, who bore him a son, Hippolytus. Hippolytus spent his boyhood years in the village where Theseus himself had grown up. The lad grows into a stalwart athlete and hunter who scorns women. Then Theseus returns to the village bringing his new bride.

The young Phaedra finds herself strongly attracted to Hippolytus, her stepson. She tries to hide her love, but her nurse, a woman completely dedicated to Phaedra, tells the young man of Phaedra's attraction. Hippolytus is appalled. The thought of any woman's love, let alone his own stepmother's, sickens him. He curses Phaedra and strides away. Spurned by Hippolytus and ashamed of her desire, Phaedra commits suicide. She


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