“Hippolytus” is an ancient Greek tragedy by Euripides (c. 480-406 BCE) that dates from fairly late in the playwright’s career, about 428 BCE. The title character, son of the king of Athens, Theseus, has taken a vow of chastity in honor of the goddess Artemis. However, his stepmother Phaedra has fallen in love with Hippolytus, and when her feelings become known to her stepson and he explodes in a misogynistic tirade, she hangs herself in shame. An enraged Theseus, under the misapprehension that his son has raped his wife, curses Hippolytus to death or exile. Condemned to exile, Hippolytus is mortally injured in a chariot accident. Artemis reveals to Theseus that Phaedra lied to him, not his son, and Theseus realizes Aphrodite was to blame. He curses the goddess and his son forgives him before dying.
The gods and sexual license play large roles in this play. Scholars believe the goddesses Aphrodite and Artemis, representing the battle between passion and chastity, appeared on stage during the play as statues. So Clevinger is reminded of this play by Yossarian’s sufferings from venereal disease.