The story is taken from Classical mythology, by way of one of French literature's masterpieces, the Phèdre of Racine (1677). It is the story of Thésée, king of Athens, who has gone to the Underworld in a vain attempt to rescue a friend. Meanwhile, in Athens, his wife Phèdre has fallen in love with the king's son by a previous marriage, Hippolyte, who himself loves the young Aricie. Thésée returns only to discover the turmoil in his household, and Hippolyte is falsely accused of an attempt on Phèdre. Thésée curses his son and calls on the gods for revenge, which comes in the form of a monster which attacks Hippolyte. All think Hippolyte dead, and the queen, full of remorse, reveals the truth and kills herself. At this point the libretto diverges from Racine's account, for Hippolyte turns out to have been miraculously rescued by the gods, and he is returned to wed Aricie.