Hippolytus and Virbius: Narratives on “Coming Back to Life” and Religious Discourse in Greco-Roman Literature


  • Katharina Waldner University of Erfurt


This paper concentrates on the plethora of stories about Hippolytus’s gruesome end and his coming back to life. I trace these stories through their many iterations from classical through Roman times, beginning with Euripides and moving on to the versions told by Pausanias, Virgil, and Ovid. Each telling of these tales provides a different way to think about the borders between life and death, as well as between gods, heroes, and mortals—and about politics, religion, and poetry. In relation to all these topics, the story about Hippolytus’s coming back to life was good to think with. For Euripides, Hippolytus provides an example of polis-related discourse in late fifth-century BCE Athens. In Hellenistic times, Hippolytus became attached to Italian mythology, probably already by Callimachus. Finally, the versions told by Virgil (Aeneid) and Ovid (Fasti and Metamorphoses) demonstrate sophisticated ways of dealing with the new phenomenon of apotheosis in Roman religion and its meaning for Augustan poetry. 

Author Biography

Katharina Waldner, University of Erfurt

Katharina Waldner is the chair of religious studies at the University of Erfurt, which she has held since 2009. She studied classics and archaeology at Zurich and Berlin (FU) and was previously an assistant professor in classics and religious studies at Berlin, Munich, and Erfurt. Her research fields include: ancient Greek religion, mystery cults and individuality, and early Christianity in its cultural contexts. She is coeditor of the forthcoming volume Burial Rituals, Ideas of Afterlife, and the Individual in the Hellenistic World and the Roman Empire (Stuttgart: Frank Steiner Verlag).





Section IV: Coming back to Life in Myth and Narrative