What’s in a Name? Part One: the Athenians

The names used for the Athenian aristocracy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream carry with them important connotative meanings…

Theseus

Mythic Duke/King of Athens; according to myth, the son of Aethra and a mixture of both Aegeus and Poseidon (don’t ask).  After many adventures, he led an expedition with Hercules to the land of the Amazons where he captured their queen …

Hippolyta

Mythic Queen of the Amazons; according to myth, the daughter of Ares (the god of war)–who had given her a girdle, the retrieval of which was one of Hercules’ labors.  When Theseus came to the land of the Amazons, she bore gifts to the ship as a sign of peace.  Theseus kept her from leaving, launching the war with the Amazons.  Once back in Athens, she bore him a son, Hippolytus.

Egeus

A Greek name, meaning “protection, shield” … fitting for the overprotective (ridiculously so) father of Hermia.

Lysander
An actual historical figure, Lysander was a Spartan commander in the fifth century BC.  His Greek name means “liberator” … interesting that Lysander liberates Hermia from her father’s rule.

Hermia

A Greek name, meaning “travel” … which fits because of her flight into the woods (it is also the feminine version of Hermes, the Greek god of travelers and Zeus’ messenger)

Helena

A Greek name, meaning “wicker, reed, shoot, torch, basket” … the name is interesting on two levels: torch–it is Helena who brings the Hermia and Lysander’s “flight plan” to Demetrius; reed–tall and thin, perfect for the “Maypole” of Helena

Demetrius
A Greek name, meaning a follower of Demeter, the goddess of the harvest (also the sanctity of marriage… which makes this the only IRONIC name in the batch… as he’s the only one whose love at the beginning of the play is different than at the end).

Philostrate

A reference to Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales‘ “The Knight’s Tale”: Philostrate is the name that Theseus’ nephew Arcite takes on when he becomes the Duke’s attendant… perfect for Theseus’ Master of the Revels

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