In Classical Greek mythology, Hippolyta, or Hippolyte (; Greek: Hippolyte) "was a daughter of Ares and Otrera, queen of the Amazons, and a sister of Antiope and Melanippe. She wore, as an emblem of her dignity, a girdle given to her by her father." Hippolyta figures prominently in the myths of both Heracles and Theseus. The myths about her are varied enough that they may therefore be about several different women. The name Hippolyta comes from Greek roots meaning "horse" and "let loose".
In the myth of Heracles, Hippolyta's girdle ( ) was the object of his ninth labour. He was sent to retrieve it for Admete, the daughter of King Eurystheus. Most versions of the myth indicate that Hippolyta was so impressed with Heracles that she gave him the girdle without argument, perhaps while visiting him on his ship. Then, according to Pseudo-Apollodorus, the goddess Hera, making herself appear as one of the Amazons, spread a rumour among them that Heracles and his crew were abducting their queen, so the Amazons attacked the ship. In the fray that followed, Heracles slew Hippolyta, stripped her of the belt, fought off the attackers, and sailed away.
In the myth of Theseus, the hero joined Heracles in his expedition, or went on a separate expedition later, and was actually the one who had the encounter with Hippolyta. Some versions say he abducted her, some that Heracles did the abducting but gave her to Theseus as spoils, and others say that she fell in love with Theseus and betrayed the Amazons by willingly leaving with him. In any case, she was taken to Athens where she was wed to Theseus. In some renditions the other Amazons became enraged at the marriage and attacked Athens. This was the Attic War, in which they were defeated by Athenian forces under Theseus or Heracles. In other renditions Theseus later put Hippolyta aside to marry Phaedra. So Hippolyta rallied her Amazons to attack the wedding ceremony. When the defenders closed the doors on the attackers, either Hippolyta was killed, Theseus directly killed her in the fight, she was accidentally killed by another Amazon, Molpadia, while fighting by Theseus' side, or was accidentally killed by her sister Penthesilea during this battle or in a separate incident. This killer was in turn slain by Theseus or Achilles. Some stories paint Theseus in a more favorable light, saying that Hippolyta was dead before he and Phaedra were wed, and this battle did not occur. Further complicating the narratives, a number of ancient writers say the Amazon in question was not Hippolyta at all, but her sister Antiope, Melanippe, or Glauce. Moreover, there are combined versions of the tale in which Heracles abducts and kills Hippolyta while Theseus, assisted by Sthenelus and Telamon, abducts and marries Antiope. There are also stories that Hippolyta or Antiope later bore Theseus a son, Hippolytus.
In William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hippolyta is engaged to Theseus, the duke of Athens. In Act I, Scene 1 she and he discuss their fast-approaching wedding, which will take place under the new moon in four days (I.i.2). Theseus declares to Hippolyta that, although he "wooed her with his sword," he will wed her "with pomp, with triumph, and with revelling" and promises to begin a celebration that will continue until the wedding (I.i.19).
The characterization of Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night's Dream (as well as that of Theseus), like many other mytho-historical characters found in Shakespeare's plays, is based on ancient biographical accounts found in Plutarch's work Parallel Lives. In The Life of Theseus, according to Plutarch, it was Hippolyta who concluded a four month long war between Athens and the Amazons with a peace treaty, resulting in the marriage between Theseus and Hippolyta. The dramatic representation of Hippolyta and Theseus in A Midsummer Night's Dream, however, is entirely a product of the playwright's imagination.
Chronological listing of classical literature sources for the Girdle of Hippolyte: