The play Medea begins in turmoil and escalates until the tragic end. Medea tells the story of passion that transforms from love to hate. Consumed with a passionate rage, Medea seeks to avenge her husband Jason who has wronged her. Jason has left Medea and taken a new wife, the daughter of king Kreon and a Greek.
The play opens outside the house of Medea and Jason in Corinth. The Nurse tells the sorrows of Medea and how Jason has abandoned Medea after all she has done for him. The Nurse is afraid Medea will harm someone close to her. Medea’s heart is full of violence especially for Jason and the children. Medea is overwhelmed with grief that is manifesting as jealousy and rage.
The Tutor appears with Medea two young children who have been outside playing. Medea’s children are oblivious to the resentment their mother is beginning to feel toward them. The Nurse warns the children to stay out of their mother’s sight. The Tutor is the bearer of bad news. The Tutor has heard rumors that Medea and her children will be exiled from Corinth. The Nurse is sympathetic to Medea’s plight while the Tutor is blasé.
The Chorus of Corinthian women arrives to check on Medea. The Chorus hears Medea’s cries and curses from inside the house. The Chorus asks the Nurse to go see if Medea will come outside so they can console her.
A distraught Medea enters the courtyard and delivers a poignant speech on the sufferings and indignations of women in an oppressively man’s world. Medea points out to the Chorus being a woman is even worst for her because she is a foreigner without a family or a home. The Chorus sympathizes with Medea. Medea despises Jason for taking another wife, and condemns Jason, his new bride, and king Kreon. Medea makes the Chorus promise if she finds a way to revenge Jason, they will remain silent. The Chorus gives Medea a vow of silence agreeing Medea is right to seek revenge.
Medea has been blatantly lamenting her disgruntlements. Medea’s condemnations have come to the attention of king Kreon. King Kreon enters and exiles Medea and her children because he is afraid of Medea. Using her children, Medea appeals to king Kreon on a paternal level and asks for one more day for the sake of the children so she can get her affairs in order. King Kreon reluctantly agrees and allows Medea to stay in Corinth one more day convinced she could not do the evil he fears in one day.
The Chorus pities Medea but Medea assures them one day is all she needs to avenge Jason faithlessness. When considering how to kill her enemies, Medea rules out swords or fire because that would mean close contact with the victims and she may get caught giving her enemies a reason to laugh at her. Being humiliated is one of Medea greatest fears and motivates her to lash out to save face. Medea decides to use poison. A conniving manipulator Medea schemes to poison Jason, his new bride, and king Kreon. Medea is determined no one especially a man will mistreat her and live to tell about it.
Jason visits Medea. Similar to Kreon when he visited Medea, Jason immediately chastises Medea for her behavior and blames her for her own exile. Medea calls Jason a coward and reminds him of all she has done for him in the name of love. Medea is instrumental in assisting Jason in obtaining the Golden Fleece. Medea betrays her father, murders her brother, an exile from her homeland, and orchestrates the death of Pelias … all for a man who has snubbed her. Jason tries to convince Medea he married king Kreon daughter for her and their children sake. Marrying into prosperity will benefit them all. Jason argues Medea has benefited from their marriage more than he. Jason took Medea away from a barbaric, lawless land. Medea is very popular living among the Greeks. Medea’s cleverness is admired in Corinth whereas in Colchis cleverness is not revered. Also, the children need royal siblings to protect them. Medea and Jason continue to argue. Medea feels Jason should have been man enough to tell her he has taken a new bride. Jason believes Medea is too irrational to handle the news of his bride and her behavior now reflects he was correct in his assumption. Jason offers Medea contacts with his friends that will help her once she and the kids are exiled from Corinth. Fiercely pride Medea refuses to take anything from Jason who betrayed her.
By chance Medea’s friend king Aigeus of Athens visits. Medea envisions a safe haven for escape. Medea tells Aigeus of Jason’s treachery and her pending exile. Medea beseeches Aigeus for asylum in Athens. King Aigeus unaware of Medea’s murderous intentions offers Medea sanctuary in return for her offer of drugs that will end his childlessness. However, king Aigeus gives Medea one condition for sanctuary, Medea must come to Athens on her own will. Aigeus swears an oath to all the gods at Medea appeal that he will not turn her over to her enemies no matter what. Reassured Medea sets her scheme for vengeance in motion. Medea tells the Chorus of her plans.
Medea’s scheme of murder is coming together. Medea has a safe haven once the murders are complete. As her scheme unfolds, Medea realizes she must also murder her own children to completely avenge Jason’s dishonor. Medea wants to hurt Jason deeply and she cannot risk anyone who does not love her children hurting them. The Chorus begs Medea to reconsider murdering her children. Medea says, ”No compromise is possible” (803).
Medea sends for Jason. Medea uses an assuaging attitude with Jason. Medea apologizes for her angry and tells Jason he is right to have married king Kreon’s daughter. Medea pretends to be submissive like Jason expects a good wife to be. After “kissing up” to Jason, Medea sends her children along with Jason and the Tutor to the bride with gifts of a poison woven dress and a golden diadem.
The Tutor returns with the children and tells Medea the royal princess will let the children stay in Corinth. The Tutor is baffled by Medea’s melancholy behavior. Medea exhibits tenderness and cold-heartedness as she cries and talks to her children preparing herself to murder them. When Medea’s children smile at her she considers relinquishing her murderous scheme. The fury Medea feels at being betrayed by Jason conquers her resolve. Medea is compelled to finish what has already been started.
Medea anxiously waits for news from the palace. The Messenger enters surprise Medea is hanging around. The Messenger tells Medea to run. The Messenger brings news that the royal princess and king Kreon are dead. Medea glories in the details as the Messenger tells her of the anguish deaths. Jason’s bride and king Kreon die an awful, torturous death with suffering as well. The golden diadem burst into flames sitting upon the royal princess head burning her body and the woven dress sloughs the flesh from her bones. As king Kreon cradles his daughter dead body the poison consumes him as the poisonous woven dress adhered to his flesh.
Jason returns looking for his children to protect them from the angry Corinthian mob after he finds out his new bride and father-in-law have been murdered by Medea. The Chorus tells Jason his children have been murdered by their mother’s hand. Jason is appalled and looks for Medea. Medea has hung around to gloat. Medea appears above the place in a chariot drawn by dragons provided by her grandfather, Helios, the sun god. The children bodies are on the chariot. Jason begs for the children’s bodies, but Medea cynically laughs at him refusing to give his the honor of burying the children dead bodies. Jason desperately wants to kiss his dead children and bury them, but Medea refuses to give him the satisfaction. Jason insults Medea by telling her a Greek woman would never do the things she has done. Medea and Jason blame each other for the children’s death. Medea prophesies Jason’s death. Medea and Jason argue violently as the play comes to an end. The Chorus closes the play reflecting on capricious nature of gods’ will. Medea succeeds in revenge and Jason is lonely and tormented. Jason has lost his financial security, his status, and children to carry on his name. Jason is left without distinction. and Medea’s revenge is achieved.
Themes and Motifs
Right Message, Wrong Messenger
Euripides’ Medea, was the first in a series of plays in which vivid, powerful women appeared on the Euripidean stage. It was produced in the year that the Peloponnesian War began, and sought to play on the low morale of the public to restore the female sex in positions of social influence and power. Throughout the centuries it has been regarded as one of the most powerful of the Greek tragedies, and also one in which the theme of women was more important than most. It is in this play that Euripides could either restore or condemn the female populace in society (Pelling).
Euripides questions many social norms of the period, but he uses a female such as Medea to convey his message. While Medea has no legal rights, she is the sorceress’ grandchild of the Sun God and therefore able to articulately explain her actions and passionately act on her plans. She is initially able to gain the sympathy and support of the Corinthian women for her plight by passionately pleading her case to the public at large. Medea’s passionate arguments fly in the face of the Greek tradition that only the male has the ability and right to lucid, rational argument. Jason although regarded as civilized by Greek society, is by contrast weak, compromised and cowardly. Medea also challenges ancient Greek society’s decree that the greatest glory for a woman was to bear children, provide sex and to fulfill the demands of her husband (Rassidakis 220-226). From the first compelling moments of this one-act play the audience is drawn into contradictions confronting Medea: to challenge injustice and betrayal or accommodate to it and the financial security and comfort it could bring (Pucci). Traditional behavior of women was a very important aspect of this play, and portraying Medea as both similar and different to fellow womankind allowed the audience to make judgment on the role of women as they knew it. Medea recurrently assaulted fundamental and sacred values and that gave the play much of its power and allowed Euripides to most persuasively portray her as an incarnation of disorder. Could any male audience possibly start to respect any woman that could crush basic human order? Euripides did not himself condemn Medea. Rather, he gave the audience a choice on whether to accept her character and actions. However by implication he is associating a breakdown in human order as being due to the wickedness in such a woman. Yet associating such a drastic event with women would imply that they had the power to be so destructive, and that was not an option of the times - especially when a war had just broken out, and unity was of great importance (McDermott).
In the tragedy Medea, Euripides fails to rehabilitate the female sex. He chooses a semi-divine, foreign sorceress to voice the appeals of ordinary Athenian wives. She is a woman capable of murder, manipulation and deception, and she has no sense of remorse. In choosing her, Euripides appears to be sending out mixed signals concerning women. Her concerns are those that apply to the majority of women at the time, and an audience would no doubt have understood these; yet Medea deals with them in a way that is abhorrent for a woman of fifth-century Athens (Easterling). She invokes both pathos and disgust, and, for a male audience, she would encourage distrust and continuing ‘imprisonment’ and lower social status for women. Although Euripides may well have believed in promoting womankind, it would have been difficult to put this idea across to the male audience of the day, and that may be why he is unable to make any significant advances in the Medea. He had the right message, but used the wrong messenger (Strauss 237-270).
Euripides’s Medea explores the tensions which existed between citizens and foreigners and Greece’s subsequent Xenophobia. In the play, Medea represents the non-citizen who completely lacked legal and social rights. Not only is she far from the comforts of her native land, but also, as both a woman and a foreigner, she is viewed as a “poor creature” (643), below the level of a human being.
As Doctor Gerry Lucas pointed out in his lecture, marriage was a citizen’s contract, meaning Medea had no legal hold on Jason and could not take any form of official recourse. The Nurse laments that “…she has discovered by her sufferings/ What it means to one not to have lost one’s own country” (643). The Nurse is making a deliberate comparison to Jason, who as a male citizen enjoyed legal protection and political activity. Medea, a female non-citizen, is left without a voice or support. Her lack of institutional support led to the necessity that she herself administer Jason’s punishment.
Jason most aptly expresses the Xenophobic snobbery inherent in such disparity between citizen and foreigner. As he explains to Medea the advantages of living in a ‘civilized’ culture he insists that “…instead of living among barbarians/ You inhabit a Greek land and understand our ways/ How to live by law instead of the sweet will of force” (653.) Such ethnocentric attitudes were both stemmed from and perpetuated by the lack of citizen’s rights. According to Wikipedia, women and foreigners were unable to vote and therefore could not create public policy that would help eradicate Ancient Greece’s sexism and xenophobia.
Euripides wrote Medea in 431 B.C. (640). Greek mythology shows us how Greeks, at that time, had firm beliefs on how women should behave themselves and the values they should hold. The perceived submissive behavior of women begins the very moment a wife arrives in her husband’s home (O’Higgins 104). A woman is supposed to provide heirs to the man (O’Higgins 104).
An Athenian perception pertaining to a “good woman” was that a woman be loyal to her husband and children (Sourvinou-Inwood 254). The most common characteristics of a good woman would be goodness, self-control and the fact that she was devoted to her husband and children (Sourvinou-Inwood 254). A good woman would reflect the culture’s established values and provide a look into the culture itself. A bad woman would be the opposite of the positive norm. In the beginning of Medea, she portrays herself as a good woman. She was devoted to Jason and loved him so much that she felt as though she could not survive without him. When the nurse is talking in the beginning she states that “poor Medea is slighted, and cries aloud on the vows they made to each other, the right hands clasped in eternal promise (643).” Even though the play begins as seeing Medea as a normal, possibly good woman, she has already shown signs of abnormality in her behavior for a woman at that time. Medea is already showing signs of hatefulness towards her children. “I hate you, children of a hateful mother (645).” Medea is already showing behavior that women would not dare show in this time.
Medea could be seen as a heroine for women who do not want to be confined to the role of the “producer of legitimate offspring (McDonald 303).” By killing her children, she separates herself independently from her husband and the general patriarchy (McDonald 304). Even though at this time, husband’s were expected to be with other women, Medea feels as though her family rights were violated. Medea was also different in this aspect. She didn’t believe that and felt vengeful. The ultimate punishment for Jason, was to violently take his heirs from him. Medea’s anger turned into aggressive action, which can make her into a symbol for women (McDonald 304).
Throughout the play, Medea was more or less an ordinary woman portrayed as a bad woman. However, she could be the victim of male power and just seemed very out of the ordinary for the role of females at this time (Sourvinou-Inwood 258). She ended up being a version of a very bad woman, by killing her son’s and wreaking havoc on Jason and male power (Sourvinou-Inwood 258).
The idea explored in this play possibly suggests that women like Medea “use the weapons of the weak, which are both deceitful and violent and hurt men where they are vulnerable to women (Sourvinou-Inwood 261).” The play suggests that normal philosophy is not perfect and easy and if things go wrong men also suffer.
Medea refers to disease that her children caught from Jason. Disease stand for the Greek society.The Greek society was rule by laws that restraint the citizen to certain things. In Greek society, women wasn't allow to take thier revenge out on the husband.
Greek tragic playwright, Euripides was born in Athens circa 480 BCE. He is credited with authoring at least 80 plays, 19 of which have survived until modern times. Several of his tragedies feature very strong female characters, including The Trojan Women and Medea. He died at the court of the Macedonian king in 406 BCE. His work gained a greater popularity after his death than it had received during his lifetime (Crystal 317).
Medea was first produced in Athens in 431 BCE. The earliest works in which Medea first appeared, such as the Building of the Argo and the Journey of Jason to the Cochians by Ehpimenides of Crete are only fragments, but her story seems to be an old and popular one (Johnston 3). From at least the early fifth century B.C., Medea was seen as a complex figure. Medea exhibited an extraordinary range of behavior and was different from most other figures in Greek myth(Johnston 6). According to legislation passed, twenty years earlier, a foreign woman could not legally marry an Athenian male. Any children begotten through such a union would not be considered legitimate heirs in the eyes of the law (Vandiver 217-16). In the late fifth century, after Euripides production of Medea, everyone began to emphasize Medea’s role as a foreigner within the Greek Society (Johnston 8). Medea also began to challenge thoughts of what drove humans to inhuman behavior (Johnston 10).
Medea has moved to the forefront in the twentieth century. She forces us today to look into the depths of our own souls (Johnston 17). Even though Medea was first produced in 431 B.C. she is still shown today as a “barbarian woman” and shows us the crime of infanticide existed even in Euripides time period.
Medea is the princess of the Isle of Colchis(642). Medea is a sorceress, skilled in magic, and is renowned for her cleverness. Medea comes from a prestigious lineage; she is the daughter of king Aeetes and Idyia and the granddaughter of the sun god, Helios, and the niece of Circe who is also known as a sorceress. Medea admires and is a protégé of goddess Hecate, a patron of witchcraft.
Medea falls in love with a man named Jason when he reached the land of Colchis in pursuit of the Golden Fleece.(642) Medea falls in love with Jason, helps him steal the Golden Fleece from her own country and leaves with him.(642) She even kills her own brother to run away with Jason. They eventually marry, have children, and live in exile in Corinth.(643)
Medea learns that Jason plans to marry the King of Corinth’s daughter. (643) She learns he has intentions of marrying her and leaving Medea and the kids to fend for themselves.(647) Kreon, King of Corinth, hears of Medea’s anger and threats with Jason and the king’s daughter.(648) Kreon approaches Medea and sentences her and her children to exile from Corinth.(648)
Due to the drastic news of Medea's husband, she becomes furious and in her angered state plans for the demise of her husband, his new bride to be, and her father.(658) Medea first covers her base by finding a safe place to live in exile. (656) King Aigeus, King of Athens, agrees that if she can find her way to his doorstep she can stay forever and be safe in return for her helping him to produce a male heir with his wife.(656)
Now Medea plans the way to kill Jason’s bride to be and anyone who touches her.(658) She plans to poison two bridal gifts for Jason’s new bride and have the children hand deliver them to her.(659) Jason falls for the plan and takes the children to his bride to be where she receives her gifts and puts them on falling to her death.(664) A messenger tells Medea the fate of her children and Jason then finds Medea after finding out the dastardly deed she has done.(669) Medea escapes Corinth with her dead children on a dragon drawn chariot given to her by Helios, her grandfather to protect her from her enemies.(670) She escapes to live in Athens and Jason never sees his children again.(670)
Questions for Consideration
You might want to answer these in a blog response.
- What was the Golden Fleece?
- Is Jason a caring father/husband?
- Why would any mother kill her children?
- How is Medea a powerful women?
- Why does Jason wait until the end to express his love for his children?
- Why couldn't Jason see Medea's muderous intent?
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- O’Higgins, Dolores M., Sourvinou-Inwood, Christiane, Johnston, Sarah Iles, and McDonald, Marianne. Medea: Essays on Medea in Myth, Literature, Philosophy, and Art. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997.
- Rassidakis, Kristina. “The origins of love, hate, and retaliation in Euripides tragedy Medea: a psychodynamic approach.” Changes: International Journal of Psychology and Psychotherapy 15, 1997.
- Vandiver, Elizabeth. Greek Tragedy. The Teaching Company. Course # 217. Lectures 1-24.