The house of Dionysus, room 6.
One of the most important mosaics in the house represents the tragic story of Phaedra and Hippolytos mentioned by several ancient authors and immortalized by Euripides. Theseus, after killing the minotaur with the help of Ariadne, left Crete with her and her sister Phaedra. After abandoning Ariadne, Theseus married the Amazon Antiope who bore him a son named Hippolytos. After the death of Antiope, Theseus married Phaedra. Tormented by a secret love for her stepson, Phaedra finally gave in to her passion and, while her husband was away, sent Hippolytos a written message in which she expressed her sinful love. Hippolytos received the message when he was out hunting and was horrified at what he read. On Theseus’ return, Phaedra indignant with unrequited love and frightened at what Hippolytos might do, turned upon him the charge that she deserved. Theseus, outraged at this accusation, cursed his son and prayed to his father Neptune to punish him. Hippolytos left the town and while riding by the sea a wild bull sent by the god charged out of the water frightening his horses. He was thrown off the chariot and was killed on the rocks. After Hippolytos’ unjust death, the truth was revealed and Phaedra, stricken by remorse, killed herself.
The scene depicted on this mosaic is not one of action but one illustrating the calm tension just before the outburst of the tragedy. On the left, Hippolytos accompanied by his dog and naked but for a mantle and hunting boots, stands in an attitude of indecision. He looks almost embarrassed after reading Phaedra’s message contained in the diptych he holds in his right hand. Represented next to him is Phaedra seated on her throne waiting to hear the outcome of her action. The anguish of her passion is illustrated by Cupid flying to the right and lowering his burning torch towards her heart.
When discovered, the floor was in a rather precarious condition and had to be lifted and re-laid on a firmer foundation. It was during this operation that an extremely important discovery was made. It was found that the builders of the house, in order to level the ground on which the mosaic was to be laid, filled the depressions in the bedrock with rubbish. This consisted mainly of the ashes and other remains brought from the burnt down Archive building of Nea Paphos. To our good fortune, together with the ashes came a large number of clay sealings, i.e. the impressions of seals onto wet clay, that were attached to the documents once kept in the Archive. About 11,000 of these were revealed from under the mosaic and they include amongst others a large number of portraits of Ptolemaic kings and Roman emperors and representations of gods.
© 1998 Photo, text: W. A. Daszewski, D. Michaelidis. “Guide to the Paphos Mosaics”. Bank of Cyprus cultural foundation, 1998. P. 28—30.