In his early years Theseus was among the youths sent by Athens as tribute to King Minos of Crete, to be sacrificed to the Minotaur. Theseus managed, however, to slay the Minotaur and to escape from the labyrinth with the help of Minos’ daughter Ariadne, who had fallen in love with him. They fled together from Crete, but Theseus left Ariadne behind on the island of Naxos.
Succeeding to the throne of Athens on his return from Crete, Theseus married the Amazon queen Antiope, by whom he had a son Hippolytus. Hippolytus, now a young man himself, has inherited the striking good looks of both his parents. In nature, however, he is a true Amazon, despising love, marriage, and settled life, and devoting himself to a vigorous outdoor life of hunting.
Later, Theseus killed Antiope in mysterious circumstances and married Phaedra, the sister of Ariadne. She bore him two sons. But then Theseus was persuaded by his close friend Pirithous to accompany him on a reckless expedition to abduct Proserpine, queen of the underworld. He has been absent now for four years. Phaedra, left alone with Hippolytus, has fallen passionately in love with her handsome stepson.