Medea and the Vision of Euripides
Critics have noted that unlike his illustrious predecessors who also specialized in Greek tragedy, Euripides bears a far greater sensibility towards the marginalized sections of society such that many of his prominent characters are seen to be either women or people belonging to the ‘lower classes’. This was in stark contrast to Greek dramatic tradition, which mainly focused on men of noble birth and the divine immortals. Apart from other aspects, it is this realism of Euripides that makes his plays shine forth in retrospective analysis, attributing to them a timeless universal quality.In Euripides’ treatment of the legend of Medea, one finds subtle subversions of the patriarchal ethos of his time, which at the same time are balanced through his dramatic innovations for the purpose of tragic ambivalence. As Richard Rutherford claims in his preface to the play, “It is probable that Euripides was the first to make Medea kill her own children deliberately”, which of course is the vital conflict in the play. While it is made clear that Medea’s need for revenge as a wronged woman is completely warranted, Euripides introduces the question whether such a situation could justify any means to achieve vindication. Thus, the feminist assertion is brought in conflict with the basic notion of motherhood associated with the female gender, as Rutherford elaborates: “What kind of a woman, even in such circumstances, could bring herself to kill her own infant children?” To further highlight the tragic aspect, Euripides makes it more than evident that Medea is fully aware of the horror of her deeds and yet proceeds as she does, instead of mitigating her crime as an action executed in a moment of insanity.Through Medea, Euripides portrays a strong-willed woman who would go to any length to preserve her honour and extract due revenge in spite of all the odds stacked against her; as in her own words: “Wrong a woman in love and nothing on earth has a heart more murderous”. For being a woman living in a patriarchal society in a foreign country, alienated from her own land, spurned by her husband and then banished from her state of residence, Medea has no external resources or influence to help her in her cause. Apart from the promise of asylum from Aegeus and the initial public sympathy, it is clear that Medea must rely on her own wits to realize her purpose. It is no wonder then that at the start of the play she is found to be wallowing in the throes of despair, self-pity and anguish.Right from the start, Euripides employs a unique technique to assert the tragic situation of Medea, which is then echoed at various occasions later in the play. The nurse initiates the play with a vain lament of the past to emphasize the tragedy of the present, while conveying the basic premise at the same time: “If only it had never gone to the land of Colchis, the ship Argo”. For after all, if this wasn’t the case, the tragic instances would never have occurred. Apart from everything else, numerous murders would have been prevented at the hands of Medea, such as those of her brother, Pelias; and in the course of the play, the murders of Creon, his daughter, and Medea’s own sons. Therefore, even before Medea’s actual intent is declared in the play, it is implicitly understood that she is a dangerous woman, well versed in witchcraft and unafraid of killing people to serve her purpose; as the nurse states: “No one making an enemy of her will win an easy victory”Oaths were deemed of great significance in Greek tradition, and thus, Jason’s rejection of the marriage oath serves to further highlight the injustice meted out to Medea. As a result, until Medea finally declares her murderous intent, Euripides continues to provide a rationale for her rage and direct sympathy towards her through the perspectives of the other characters and her interactions with them, including the chorus of Corinthian women. For again, public sympathy was held to be quite important in Greek society owing to its democratic customs of debate (agon) and justice. In fact, it is keeping in mind this tradition that Medea finally regains her composure and appears in public to make her appeal, which is seen to be a passionate observation of the female plight in a patriarchal world with statements such as: “Of all creatures that have life and reason we women are the most miserable of specimens…we must buy a husband, taking a master to play the tyrant with our bodies”. It is this objective treatment of gender notions that marks the genius of Euripides in the play, and after all, it is heartening to realize that a man writing in the fifth century BCE could possess such a heightened sense of awareness.Furthermore, through the tutor’s statement: “Is he so different from the rest of mankind?” and at latter occasions, through the chorus such as in the lines 410-430, Euripides provides incisive commentary on the patriarchal hypocrisy that made adultery seem almost acceptable for men. This sentiment is again echoed in the first agon scene between Jason and Medea where Jason’s audacity in his reasoning by virtue of being born a man is more than evident. However, though the chorus could be seen as symbolic of female solidarity, as they boldly claim, “No more shall we women endure the burden of ill-repute”, in support of Medea’s retaliation, even they refuse to accept her eventual heinous decision, thus underlining the paradox regarding women and motherhood as discussed before.Coming to the declaration itself: “I shall kill my own children; no one shall take them from me…to suffer the mockery of my enemies is something I will not tolerate”, it is needless to say that these statements reflect Medea’s psychological turmoil; and in the subsequent dialogue between her and the chorus, Euripides defines the rationale behind Medea’s actions: “But to kill your very own children – will you have the heart for that, lady? Yes; it is by doing this that I shall hurt my husband most”. In these statements, one finds the deranged reasoning of a woman scorned, stemming from an egotism that is fixated upon the notions of justice and honour. However, in this mode of rhetoric, one might derive that there is some pragmatic thinking behind Medea’s murder of her children, for as a woman born in a man’s world, where would she have dragged her children along in exile? What fate would they meet, and despite Jason’s assurance, could she really trust the man who had already betrayed her once? “They must be killed; there is no other way. And since they must, I will take their life, I who gave them life.” This tragic sentiment reflects a certain heroism and courage on Medea’s part, which is then once more juxtaposed against the notion of motherhood in her heartbreaking vacillation in her soliloquy, until she finally realizes that she is a woman guided by passion and remarks on the fate of her children: “You have lost this world, thanks to your father”.Then in the messenger’s detailed description of Creon and his daughter’s deaths, there is a visible devilish delight that overcomes Medea, for the messenger’s graphic monologue provides a cathartic sense of vindication for her. After all, through these murders she ends up having her revenge both on Jason and Creon, the men who were to be blamed for her predicament. Though from this point onwards, the public sentiment starts to sway towards Jason, there is a strong argument voiced by Medea herself that it was easy to blame her for her conduct, simply because the others being objective commentators, weren’t in her shoes. Also, it might be interesting to note the irony that while the chorus of women call upon the Sun god to prevent the murder of the children, he instead sends his chariot to help Medea in her getaway. Should this be seen as a mere whim of the gods congruent with Greek legends as voiced by Homer or Hesiod, or could this be interpreted as a subtle indication that the gods too agreed with Medea’s sense of justice? Again, the ambivalence of Euripides makes it difficult to take a definite stance but then, therein, lies the mark of great literature.Finally, in the climax, it is evident that Medea has indeed made Jason suffer to the highest degree such that she even denies him the burial of their children, all “to cause you (Jason) pain”. However, in the end, it is both vain and unfair to question Euripides’ motives behind the play. While his sensitivity towards the position of women is amply clear, it is somewhat unreasonable to claim that he intends Medea’s behaviour to be seen as the ideal of feminist retaliation, simply by virtue of his choice of her mode of revenge. Rather, Euripides’ purpose seems to lie in highlighting the tragedy of human behaviour or an aspect of it, through the portrayal of the inner conflict of an individual and the social reactions to it, to comment on the notions of justice and revenge. With regard to a specific feminist voice, Euripides rather chooses to delve into objective logic while commenting upon the prevailing circumstances of his time, as voiced by the chorus:“The rolling ages have much to tell of our side, much, as well, of men’s”Therefore, instead of pinpointing and dissecting Euripides’ intent, Medea must be treated simply as an individual work of literature, which encompasses the trivialities of the human condition into a timeless framework.
The Influence of Monotheism and Polytheism on Gender Roles
Throughout western history, enormous gender differences have been evident in both monotheistic and polytheistic cultures. Indeed, the patriarchal hierarchies in both social systems have emphasized the superiority of the male sex; however, greater stress is placed on the worthlessness of women in a monotheistic society. The fact that women in polytheistic worlds such as those found in The Odyssey and Medea are able to command more power than women in monotheistic civilizations such as those found in The Holy Bible and Beowulf suggests that the female image commanded greater respect and was more highly regarded in a polytheistic society. In many ways, this shift in mind-set can be attributed to the religious nature of the culture at that time. The emphasis placed on female inferiority in a monotheistic society can be seen even in a henotheistic culture. As henotheism is often viewed as a precursor of monotheism, it is beneficial to examine the conditions experienced by women in this type of society. “Genesis” describes a world based on a patriarchy: this is a civilization founded on the idea that the primary deity is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Women are rarely mentioned as having any power over the decisions of men, as they listen only to the word of YHWH, and YHWH speaks only to men. For example, Lot presents his daughters to the men of Sodom as mere property: his daughters have no verbal or physical power. Another instance is found in the account of the rape of Dinah by Shehchem. Whether Dinah is distressed by this event or wants to take action against the offender is unknown; however, it is clear that the retaliation against Hamor’s town is the work of Dinah’s brothers, who never mention that the motive is the actual rape. Dinah and her brothers are the children of Jacob, and thus are the chosen people. It seems that the presence of a single God (YHWH) and His focus on the advancement on the patriarchs leaves females out of the picture.The inferiority of women is only further emphasized in “Exodus”, which portrays a wholly monotheistic society. Though there are no actions described that involve women, it is evident from the sermon on Mount Sinai that YHWH views women not only as property, but more importantly, as unable to exert power. Women who are married are fed and clothed by their husbands (Exodus 21:10), and women who act as “sorceresses” are condemned to die (Exodus 22:18). By worshipping a single God (who is clearly male), the female gender is relegated to the class of loyal servants to their male counterparts. Even in later writings, one of the “Fathers of the Church” (Tertullian) claims that women are the “devil’s gateway” and promotes persecution of them under Christianity.Following the fundamentals of monotheistic Christianity, Beowulf’s warrior-driven society again portrays women who have no substantial actions in the story, and speak impassionedly only when they are fed lines. Indeed, it appears as if Welthow is merely another Hrothgar, in that she can only reiterate every feeling that Hrothgar has just spoken. Once again, the view of women as mere objects of hospitality can be derived from the traditional Christian view: God clearly praises male values in fighting, war and strength. The one female character in Beowulf who actually has authority and control is Grendel’s mother. Predictably, she is despised for these characteristics, although they would have been deemed acceptable had she been a man. In addition, Grendel’s mother (as well as all other females) “could not come with a man’s strength, fought with the power and courage men fight with, smashing their shining swords, their bloody, hammer-forged blades onto boar headed helmets, slashing and stabbing with the sharpest of points.” It is clear that society places women in an inferior position, believing that they are not suited for the same tasks as men. Success in battle is attributed to God – as is seen when Hrothgar thanks God for allowing Beowulf victory. God expects men, not women, to display these highly-regarded, warrior-like attributes.In contrast to the monotheistic societies, cultures that believe in multiple gods offer a more powerful, respected image of women. Although females in these ancient polytheistic cultures were still largely viewed as ill-intentioned creatures, their increased level of influence demanded recognition. For instance, the ancient Greek culture described by Homer deviates from that of a strict patriarchal society. Although prominence on the battlefield was still highly valued, the fact that women had an important role in shaping everyday life was acknowledged. One explanation for the shift in gender treatment is that the culture developed a reliance on the fact that multiple aspects of life were controlled by both male and female gods. These gods are clearly accorded gender-specific responsibilities, such as Ares, the god of war, and Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Interestingly, Athena also represents war, although not to the extent that Ares does. With this overlap in duties, it is no wonder that both gods were revered, which in turn required a re-evaluation of current gender classifications.In polytheistic societies, all gods must be worshiped, regardless of their gender. It was considered unwise to demean women, since any stranger could be a goddess in disguise. In addition, although women were still viewed as having evil intentions, it is evident that they had far more power and influence over others than ever before. From the creation of that “damnable race of women” in Hesoid’s Theogany to the wicked nature of Medea, women have always used their power for vile purposes. However, the Odyssey is filled with accounts of women with remarkable powers who are respected for their judgments. Penelope shares many characteristics with Odysseus – intelligence, quick thinking, and reasoning, to name a few – and yet society does not view her qualities with the level of disdain that is found in “Genesis” or Beowulf. In fact, Penelope is highly valued by both her family and Athena. Helen, although regarded as highly deceitful, has obviously been endowed with the ability to drug those who cross her, and she uses this skill to her advantage. Whether the female spirit of independence and willingness to take action is a desirable trait is not addressed, but it is certainly permissible, and a potent force in these Greek stories. It is not only mortal women who exhibit increased influence in a polytheistic society. As the most powerful goddess in the Odyssey, Athena, has the power not only to change the outcome of battles, but to influence Zeus’ decisions. In the interest of saving Odysseus, Athena persuades Zeus to bring Odysseus home. Other goddesses in the story, such as Circe and Calypso, are also described as having great powers. With female goddesses present in the culture, it was no longer acceptable to view women merely as male property, especially since the goddesses rivaled the gods in terms of power and authority. In Medea, there are far fewer mentions of the gods than are found in the Odyssey. Medea, however, is a sorceress, and it is obvious that she is not the obedient, loyal woman that was considered desirable in monotheistic societies. Indeed, in a monotheistic society Medea would have been condemned to die for a variety of reasons – most prominently because of her status as an enchantress. In Medea, however, she is looked upon with regard, mostly because she wields greater powers than Jason or Creon. When Medea takes her revenge by killing both of her children, as well as Creon and his daughter, Jason is disgusted by her actions, but never attributes her evil nature to her gender. Many parts of the Bible, on the other hand, refer to the innately evil nature of females. Although both monotheism and polytheism appear to breed a contemptuous attitude towards women, polytheism confers higher regard upon the female gender. This image of women is achieved in stories by giving them considerable power and the ability to make decisions. One of the major reasons for the difference in views is that polytheistic religions include deities of both genders. The reverence of female deities appears to alter the manner in which women are viewed. They are no longer perceived as helpless, loyal slaves to men, but rather take on an important role in society.
Medea and Divinity
Euripides portrays his character, Medea, through a combination of sometimes contrasting traits. She is female in gender yet is largely responsible for the glory achieved by her husband and has achieved Kleos, an honor usually reserved for men. She is both powerless in her relationship to Jason, and powerful in her accomplishments and wit. She is a foreigner, yet, through her marriage to Jason, she is a Greek. Finally, she is both mortal, and because of her grandfather, the sun god Helios, immortal. This relationship to the gods is highly present in Medea. Throughout the play, Medea is often presented, both by herself and others, as the agent of divine will.Euripides uses storm imagery to connect Medea’s rage and revenge to the will of Zeus. As both the “Keeper of Oaths” (170) and the God of Thunder, Zeus becomes representative of Medea’s rage. Describing Medea’s ominous situation, the Nurse frets over “add[ing] new [sorrows] to old… even before the present sky has cleared” (78 79). This metaphor simultaneously forebodes the inevitable trouble that spawns from Jason’s actions, Medea’s own darkening will, and Zeus’s anger. Like rain from the stormy sky of the Nurse’s metaphor, Jason’s violation of his marriage contract with Medea brings down the wrath of Zeus. The Nurse continues to foretell Medea’s revenge, describing how Medea “soon will put lighting / in that cloud of her cries that is rising” (106 107). Medea’s revenge, like Zeus’ lightning is both direct and immediate. Given only the space of one day, Medea implements her supernatural knowledge of dark magic and potions to destroy all that Jason holds dear. Medea recognizes her own role as the executor of Zeus’ will. As both a sign of the intense agony of her situation, and a reference to the god whose will she believes to be on her side, Medea wishes that, like when Zeus asexually bore Athena from his forehead, lightning would “split [her] own head open” (144). Medea’s statement demonstrates the lack of sustainability of the present situation and hints at the future violence that will follow from the emotions Jason’s actions have stirred. As the drama of the play progresses and Medea’s anger grows, she persists in relating her actions to Zeus. In “full force of the storm of hate” (278) that Jason’s actions have conjured, Medea begins to plot the eventual revenge that she will take on Jason. Describing the rage of hatred she feels in terms of a storm creates an unavoidable causal relationship between Jason’s actions and the inevitably tragic outcome that serves to separate Medea from guilt for her actions of revenge.While Medea is often described in terms of Zeus imagery, Zeus’ actual role in Medea’s revenge remains uncertain. Perhaps as a means to separate the patriarchal deity from directly condoning Medea’s disturbing actions (the murder of royalty, the destruction of her husband, and the slaughter of her children), Euripides leaves Zeus’ role intentionally ambiguous. Through the barrage of Zeus imagery surrounding Medea and her rage, it seems that Medea feels confident in the father deity’s support. While Zeus seems one of the most obvious deities to pray to after Jason violates his marital commitments, Medea does not actually ask for his support. Instead, Medea prays to both Themis, “the goddess of Promises” (169), and Hecate, the goddess of dark magic, for help. As the play progresses, further uncertainty is cast over what part Zeus takes in Medea’s revenge. When the Nurse references Zeus as the god “whom we believe” (170) to be the Keeper of Oaths, Euripides makes us question whether it is Zeus or Medea who is actually enforcing Jason’s oath. Medea does not ignore the powerful god entirely. In response to Jason’s curse on Medea for her actions, Medea states “Long would be the answer which I might have made to / these words of yours, if Zeus the father did not know / How I have treated you and what you did to me” (1351-1353). Medea seems confident that she is an agent of Zeus’ will. However she receives the most obvious divine aid through other deities.Much of our perception of the relationship between Medea’s actions and the gods is built through tricks of speech. Euripides’ uses these tricks to make us question what role Medea takes in fulfilling the gods’ will. During a conversation with Medea, the Nurse notes that “God indeed, when in anger, brings / greater ruin to great men’s houses” (128 130). Medea proceeds to kill Creon, his daughter and her own children, thus doing the gods’ bidding by destroying the once great house of Creon and bringing about the fall of her husband, Jason, by wiping out all he holds dear. Medea often uses such tricks of speech to present herself as an instrument of gods’ will. Ambiguously referring to either her own marriage with Jason or Jason’s marriage to Creon’s daughter, Medea warns Jason that “perhaps with the help of God – / [he has made] the kind of marriage [that he] will regret” (625-626). Eventually Medea, through her elaborate punishment, insures that Jason eventually regrets both. Medea issues such statements to foreshadow as well as to justify her eventual actions as in line with the will of the gods. Ultimately, the prophecy rings true as Helios directly aids Medea by presenting her with a chariot pulled by dragons. Medea again suggests her own ability to fulfill the gods’ will during her interactions with King Aegeus. Distraught at his and his wife’s inability to produce children, Aegeus travels through Corinth from having discussed his problem with the oracle. Medea, distraught over Jason, runs into him and wishes that he “with God’s help” (714) be able to bear children. Once again, Medea promises to act as an agent of the gods’ will by promising “I will end your childlessness, and I will make you able / to beget children” (717-718) using drugs. In exchange, she asks for asylum in his country. Eager to rectify his problem and become a father, Aegeus promises to allow Medea to remain in his country “for the sake of the gods / and then for the birth of children” (720-721). Aegeus recognizes that aiding Medea would, in fact, be a virtue in the eyes of the gods. However he refuses to directly transport her from the country for fear that he may “incur blame from [his] friends” (730), showing that he recognizes that there may at times be a split between the will of the people and that of the gods. The Chorus also seems to recognize this divide between the will of people and that of divinity. Medea murders Creon and his daughter as well as her and Jason’s children in order to avenge the dishonor she has suffered through Jason’s marriage to Creon’s daughter. The Chorus attempts to dissuade her from murdering her children. However, when it becomes apparent that Medea is resolute on her course of action, the Chorus adamantly protests that if she is punished for her actions “divine / blood may be shed by men” (1256 1257). Medea, as the granddaughter of Helios, is beyond simply being an agent of the gods’ will of divine blood. For her blood to be spilt by mortal men would disturb the natural order.Euripides makes us question the extent to which Medea has been divinized. In a very real sense, she shares immortal blood with her grandfather Helios. But she seems to have aspirations of, beyond simply acting as an executor of the gods’ will, acting as a god herself. During much of the play, she attempts to position herself on equal planes with other gods. At one point, she refers to Hecate, the goddess of dark magic, as her “partner” (397). Hecate’s magic allows Medea to take revenge on Creon and his daughter by causing a dress Medea gives to Creon’s daughter to catch on fire. This method of poison involves not only the magic poison of Hecate but the fire of Medea’s grandfather, Helios. Towards the end of the play, Medea begins to blur the line between deity and mortal. Traditionally, the establishment of religious ceremonies is limited to gods. However, having murdered her children as a final blow to Jason, Medea honors her children by establishing “a holy feast and sacrifice” (1382). Medea’s powers are certainly supernatural. Not only has her grip on dark magic earned her Kleos in the eyes of the Greeks, but she also successfully foretells Jason’s death. Most likely appearing on stage in an area traditionally reserved for gods, Medea claims that Jason will die anticlimactically by being “struck on the head by a piece of Argo’s timber” (1387). Nonetheless, it remains unresolved to what extent Medea’s divine blood makes her godly. In any scenario, the gods’ support of Medea is eventually validated as the gods continue to aid her. Faced with the uncomfortable situation of being trapped in the land of Corinth after having murdered the king and his daughter, Medea is told fatalistically by Jason that in order to escape the “royal vengeance” (1298) she must “hide herself beneath the earth, / or raise herself on wings into the height of air” (1296-1297). In a final sign of support for Medea, Helios sends a chariot pulled by dragons for her to make her escape.
Medea: Feminism in a Man’s World
Although Euripides was known for his propensity to challenge tradition and complacency, his Medea was quite controversial when it was introduced in 431 B.C. in Classical Greece (ca. 479-323 B.C. ). Athenian society, a man’s world by organization, had no place for women outside of the home. When a girl was young, she was ruled over by her father, and after he chose whom she would marry, her new master was her husband, and she “received much male advice on the subject of staying home and being quiet” (Bowra 85). Women basically shared an equal status with slaves in Athenian society, having no privileges and certainly no power other than that power held within the home over servants. The culture expected women to display great virtue and to fully submit to their husbands. Not only is Medea a woman, she is also a foreigner, placing her at an even lower status. Nevertheless, she exercises power over her husband as well as every other character whether female or male, and she does so using extreme violence. Written in what certainly could be called a male-dominated society and time, Euripides’ Medea is a feminist piece and Euripides’ himself, traditionally believed to be a misogynist, is quite the opposite.Athenian society was certainly a man’s world in which women were expected to run the household and to stay out of sight. Quite often, many marriages were arranged for religious, political, or economic purposes, and rarely for love. Many times husband and wife never met until the wedding. Once the marriage was final, the woman was basically limited to the wifely practices of managing the servants, weaving on a loom, and rearing the children. Medea’s negative feelings toward this are revealed when she exclaims, “A man, when he’s tired of the company in his home, goes out of the house and puts an end to his boredom…What they say of us is that we have a peaceful time living at home, while they do the fighting in war. How wrong they are! I would very much rather stand three times in the front of battle than bear one child” (Euripides 441. 246-49). This is not only the voice of Euripides mocking male selfishness and society’s lofty view of war, but also one clue to Medea’s dissatisfaction with the confines of her sex.Men, on the other hand, including married men, enjoyed every freedom, including complete sexual liberty (Flaceliere 66). The men of Athenian society were known for their extreme arrogance, as we see in a statement by Thomas Rosenmeyer, “It is told of Socrates– or Plato– that on rising every morning he gave thanks he was born a Greek and not a barbarian foreigner, a freeman and not a slave, a man and not a woman.” (Rosenmeyer 123) This is the exact attitude of superiority Euripides embodies in Jason, Medea’s Greek husband. We see this same smug outlook when Jason tries to convince Medea that he has done more for her than she for him by bringing her out of her barbaric homeland and into Greece. Jason represents the typical Greek male and typically, he would be more likely to play the part of the hero. However, Medea is not a typical work and Euripides was challenging convention. We are told that Euripides “loved Athens but loathed her arrogant exclusiveness, loathed her imperialist ambitions, loathed war.” (Rosenmeyer 152) For this reason, Euripides set himself to attack the vanity in Athenian society.Feminism can be difficult to define. One view which is specific to this particular work is that “women have the same capacities, whether good or evil, as men” (Durant 362). In the case of Medea, feminism has to do with power. Who exercised power in Athenian society? Certainly, men did. Who exercises power in Medea? When she is betrayed she does not lie down and give up, she fights the only way she knows how. If Medea’s response had been a half-hearted protest, no one would have listened. Modernist writer Flannery O’Connor, as part of her distortion theory, once said that “for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures” (qtd. in Lauter); Medea does just that. Because of her inferior position, her retaliation must be extreme. After the loss of her family and homeland, her husband, and now her new home, Medea is left with nothing but revenge. Her pride has been wounded, and she vows never to be humiliated again by Jason. The feminism in Euripides’ Medea has nothing to do with the equal social status of women, but rather the power gained after long being repressed. This power is not available to all women, only to Medea, who must obtain it through extreme acts.Medea gains control of the power through use of her many faculties. Medea is clever, charming, deeply in love with Jason and, most dangerously of all, she is oppressed. Because she is clever, she is feared, as is shown in King Kreon’s words to her, “I am afraid of you…You are a clever woman, versed in evil arts, and are angry at having lost your husband’s love” (Euripides 441. 280-84). Medea uses her womanly charm to acquire permission from King Aigeus for a place to live after she flees, and again to convince Jason that she is no longer angry but that she understands his decision to remarry and wants peace.Medea’s flaw is her excessive love for Jason. The muses, in the first lines of the play, state that her heart is “on fire with passionate love for Jason” (Euripides 435. 8). Because of this love she performs many terribly violent acts, including the murders of her two sons. In the introduction to Euripides on page 434, it speaks of one theme of Medea, “Euripides’ theme, like Homer’s, is violence, but this is the unspeakable violence of the oppressed, which is greater than the violence of the oppressor and which, because it has been long pent up, cannot be controlled” (Mack). Medea, as a woman in Athenian society, is oppressed by tradition and current opinion. Medea becomes the tragic hero through the combined effects of her cleverness, charm, uncontrollable love, and unwillingness to simply accept her fate as a woman.The traditional view of Euripides as a misogynist stems from the fact that some of Euripides characters, such as Medea, are vile murderesses who often excite detestation. Medea, herself, is willing to point out the wickedness of which her sex is capable, “And women, though most helpless in doing good deeds, are of every evil the cleverest of contrivers” (Euripides 444. 405-06). In addition, there is a shaky tradition that Euripides had an unhappy married life (Bates 119). If critics believed him to be a hater of women, it most likely was due to their own incomplete look at his female characters, for although he created vengeful and violent characters like Medea and Phaedra, other plays of his included gentle and upright women, such as Macaria and Iphigenia (Bates 119). Moreover, the fact that Euripides knows the faults of the female sex and exposes them quite realistically by no means is indicative of any sort of contempt for women. In fact, many agree that he, out of all playwrights of antiquity, best presented the case for women and supported “the dawning movement for their emancipation” (Durant 416). The former view of Euripides as a hater of women is based upon shortsighted thinking and has a weak foundation.Furthermore, Euripides excites much more sympathy for Medea than for the unfaithful Jason. The muses proclaim, “And poor Media is slighted, and cries aloud on the vows they made to each other, the right hands clasped in eternal promise. She calls upon the gods to witness what sort of return Jason has made to her love. She lies without food and gives herself up to suffering, wasting away every moment of the day in tears” (Euripides 436. 20-23). In addition to this description of her grief, the reader is already aware of the many sacrifices Medea has made for Jason, and the many bridges she has burned in order to be with him. Jason, on the other hand, is a truly unsympathetic character. He is weak, selfish, and rather childish in his explanations to and treatment of Medea. The reader cannot help but dislike Jason for this poor treatment, for his archetypal Greek maleness, and for his character in general. Even when Medea’s vengeful actions are extreme, one hardly feels sorry for Jason. Furthermore, Euripides uses Medea to communicate his own voice on the subject of the modernist writing styles. This occurs in Medea’s speech to King Kreon in lines 290-303 of the drama in which she speaks to him about the difficulties of being clever. Certainly Euripides would not have spoken a message of such personal importance through the mouth of a character whom he loathed.Euripides’ recognized the drama and power of female emotions and he used them, reflecting his creative genius (Bates 119). Medea’s first emotion, love, turns to jealousy and then to hate as the plot unfolds. Medea is not an ordinary woman of the time, she is superior, somewhat elevated. Her rage swells from stanza to stanza. The nurse expresses her fear that something terrible will happen, “Great people’s tempers are terrible, always having their own way, seldom checked, dangerous they shift from mood to mood” (Euripides 438. 119-21). Both Medea and her emotions are larger than life.Thus the tragic hero is no longer a king, but a woman who, because she finds no redress for her wrongs in society, is driven by her passion to violate that society’s most sacred laws in a rebellion against its typical representative, Jason, her husband. She is not just a woman and a foreigner, she is also a person of great intellectual power. Compared with her the credulous king and her complacent husband are children, and once her mind is made up, she moves them like pawns to their proper places in her barbaric game” (Mack 434).In the end, although Medea’s actions are vile, she is the victor.Furthermore, there are no consequences for Medea’s actions. She merely escapes in a chariot with the divine aid of her grandfather, Helios. This further upsets convention. This foreign woman who holds no status performs truly heinous acts against Jason, the symbol of a Greek ideal, and she merely flies away untouched, with help from a god no less. One may wonder at the meaning of this, especially if the one wondering is a fifth century Athenian male warrior who has just enough time between making his sacrifices to the gods and paying a visit to his concubine to catch a quick performance of Medea at the theater. The reason for the portrayal of the gods in this manner is due to Euripides’ late fifth century [B.C.] skepticism and also his questioning of “traditional religion and morality and criticism of contemporary society” (Marowski 104). This lack of order in the universe is unsettling to readers now, and no doubt it was quite disturbing to contemporary audiences.Euripides is an iconoclast who attacked the aforementioned Greek traditions of male-dominance, war and imperialism, the superiority of Greeks, and their religious practices. By creating a heroine who is both a woman and a foreigner, Euripides is challenging male-dominance and Greek superiority. Through the character Jason, an ideal of Greek heroism but in this case a truly unsympathetic character who is ultimately defeated by Medea, Euripides is challenging Greek ideals. By letting Medea escape, Euripides is throwing the errors of the Greek religious tradition in the face of the Greeks who believed in it. By championing the underdog, Medea, Euripides challenging the errors of Greek tradition.As I have argued, Euripides Medea was a powerful piece in which a woman exercised power over men, something which was, to say the least, unusual in Athenian society in 5th century B.C. While at the same time challenging other Greek traditions and ideals, such as the ideas of Greek superiority and belief in the gods, Euripides challenged the Greek ideal of male-dominance wherein women held no more rights than slaves. Due to early, inaccurate speculation, some critics and scholars believed the Euripides was a misogynist. However, when one looks more broadly it becomes clear that quite the opposite is true. Euripides often sides with the underdog, including women, in his strong disagreement with many of the traditions of Greece. Although he sometimes brings to life very dark and disturbing characteristics using women characters, he also paints pictures of virtue in other of his female characters. Euripides simply recognized the creative possibilities lurking within the female psyche, and he used them to create characters who may have shocked and infuriated audiences of the time, but who have remained eternally within the canon of great literature, and who remain long within the mind of the reader. By giving Medea, a woman among hordes of raging male egos and thousands of years of Greek tradition, the sympathy and power over every other character, Euripides forever speaks a powerful message about those beliefs with which he so strongly disagreed.Works CitedBates, William Nickerson. “Euripides: A Student of Human Nature.” Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism. Ed. Daniel G. Marowski. Detroit: GALE, 1998.Bowra, C.M. & The Editors of TIME-LIFE BOOKS. Classical Greece. New York: Time Incorporated, 1965.Durant, Will. The Life of Greece. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989.Euripides. “Medea.” Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. Ed. Maynard Mack. New York: Norton, 1997. 435-465.Flaceliere, Robert. Daily Life in Greece at the Time of Pericles. New York: Macmillan, 1967.Lauter, Paul. “Flannery O’Connor.” Heath Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Paul Lauter. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002. 2112-2113.Mack, Maynard. “Euripides.” Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. Ed. Maynard Mack. New York: Norton, 1997. 433-434.Marowski, Daniel G. “Medea.” Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism. Ed. Daniel G. Marowski. Detroit: GALE, 1998.Rosenmeyer, Thomas G. “The Masks of Tragedy: Essays on Six Greek Dramas.” Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism. Ed. Daniel G. Marowski. Detroit: GALE, 1998.
Formal Comparison of Euripides’ and Seneca’s Versions of ‘Medea’
Originally written by Euripides, Medea is an ancient Greek tragedy based upon the myth of Medea and Jason. After encountering Jason during his quest for the Golden Fleece, Medea falls in love and abandons her homeland to help him throughout his journey with her sorceress powers. The two become lovers and are sentenced to exile in Iolcus, eventually seeking asylum in Corinth. Their relationship suffers when Jason is unable to remain faithful to Medea in their marriage, thus causing her to seek revenge on him in unthinkable ways. Seneca’s Medea is the other one of two surviving ancient versions of this tragedy and contains stark differences to Euripides’ version although maintaining a similar plot. Euripides and Seneca each offer a unique interpretation of Medea’s process of plotting her revenge against Jason. This is best shown through Medea’s behavior at the beginning, her plea to King Creon of Corinth, and her disturbing decision to kill her children in both plays.
In Euripides’ Medea, Medea is portrayed as a devoted wife that is wronged by her husband Jason and so, in the act of retaliation, causes the deaths of his new bride, his father-in-law, and her own two children. However, her exact plans for revenge are not quite obvious at the beginning of the play. Before Medea comes out to speak to the chorus, the Nurse explains her situation and states, “Poor Medea, mournful and dishonored, / shrieks at his broken oaths, the promise sealed with his right hand” (p. 4). Here, Euripides begins to show Medea as being pitiful and in a constant weeping state because of Jason dishonoring her by abandoning their oath. She is heard from within the house, crying out “Aaaah! I’ve suffered so much, / worth oceans of weeping. O children, accursed, / may you die―with your father! Your mother is hateful” (p. 8). While it is clear that she is upset and hurt based on her moaning in the background, it only seems that she is acting out because of her inability to control her feelings about what she has been through. Euripides introduces the possibility of Medea harming those who have hurt her when the Nurse says, “I’m afraid she might be plotting something. / Her mind is fierce, and she will not endure ill treatment” (p. 4-5). Despite this statement, it is important to notice that the Nurse is merely vocalizing her fear that Medea may seek revenge, and that it is still unclear to the audience how far Medea is willing to go to hurt those who have wronged her. Medea is deeply hurt over Jason’s betrayal and complains at first, but then she uses her feelings of grief and pain to strategize the perfect plot to pay him back for his unfaithfulness. Her acts of reprisal are improvised and further developed as the play progresses.
On the contrary, Seneca’s Medea has clear motives from the start of the play as she is both passionate and determined to get revenge for Jason’s unfaithfulness. Right from the opening of Act 1, Medea is seen invoking maledictions upon Jason while imploring the blessings of various gods to give her the power she needs to fulfill her plans for vengeance. As she calls out to “powers of feuding vengeance,” she says, “Kill his new partner, kill his new father… For the groom, may something worse remain” (p. 44). Unlike Euripides’ Medea, Medea herself expresses her detestation for Jason, King Creon, and princess Creusa at the start of Seneca’s play. In addition, Seneca chooses to reveal that Medea intends on killing both Jason’s new wife and new father-in-law, but has a different route of revenge planned for Jason himself. Like Euripides, Seneca still doesn’t give away the fact that Medea will sacrifice her children as well as the others to fully destroy Jason’s life. Medea’s thirst for vengeance is further shown when she tells herself, “Medea, bare your rage for fighting, and prepare yourself to kill, work to a frenzy” (p. 46). This demonstrates how Medea is praying to the gods in order to motivate and prepare herself to commit crimes worse than the ones she committed for Jason’s sake. Seneca’s Medea shows herself as being more in control of her emotions because of her fiery desire for revenge, whereas Euripides’ Medea is more emotional and pitiful in the opening of the play. Furthermore, it can be inferred that Medea’s plans for punishing Jason and Creon are already matured from the start of Seneca’s play.
In both versions of the ancient tragedy, Medea is cleverly manipulative as she pleads to Creon to grant her one additional day in Corinth. He eventually gives in to her request, which is a significant element in both plays because it allows Medea the time she needs to carry out the crimes she has plotted during her final day. Seemingly consistent with her behavior throughout Euripides’ play, Medea behaves emotionally and pitifully in order to persuade Creon to let her have one more day in Corinth. Nevertheless, it is crucial to realize that in her dialogue with Creon, Medea knows exactly what she is doing with her language and is doing this on purpose. When Creon bluntly tells Medea that he fears her, she uses that fear to convince him with soothing words that she has no intent to hurt him: “Don’t worry, Creon. I don’t have it in me / to do wrong to a man with royal power” (p. 15). She utilizes strong language to make Creon feel more powerful than her because of his royal status, thus making it more likely for him to grant her the additional day. Medea even goes as far as to kneel before him and grasp his hand and knees in supplication, begging that he “Take pity on them. You yourself have children… I’m not worried about myself―I weep for their disaster” (p. 17). Knowing how dearly Creon loves his children, Medea appeals to him by citing her worries about her own two children. Consequently, Euripides’ Medea is effectively able to convince Creon to permit her one last day in Corinth, allowing him to believe that the sole purpose for this extra time is to make arrangements for her exile and her children’s asylum.
While Creon fears Medea in both versions of the play, Seneca’s Medea uses reason and appeal instead of putting on an emotional act to make Creon grant her an additional day in Corinth. In the dialogue between them, Medea’s goal is not to move Creon with her words but rather to be reasonable within her pleas so that he eventually must give in. She initially reasons with Creon to hear her case for sending her into exile with the same sources that brought her to Corinth in the first place, referring to Jason and the Argo. This plea is ineffective, so she declares her final request which is for Creon to have mercy on her sons who “have done no harm” (p. 58). He responds by telling her to leave, and that he will raise her sons with a father’s love. This response is not what Medea was looking for, so she again pleads for him to allow her a short delay so that she “may be a mother to [her] sons” (p. 59). Although Creon immediately suspects that she wants this extra time for a plot, Medea denies any possibility of this and asks for “a little time for tears” (p. 59). Her pleas prove to be successful as Creon delays her banishment for just one day. Like Euripides, Seneca has Medea appeal to Creon with an emphasis on love for her children, but Seneca’s Medea utilizes less of an inferiority act and instead continuously reasons with him until he has no choice but to give in.
Although Medea becomes torn over the choice of murdering her only two children, she ultimately decides that the sacrifice must be made to hurt Jason most greatly and effectively. Euripides and Seneca approach this difficult decision to kill her children in different ways. In Euripides’ version, Medea introduces the idea of killing her sons while explaining her revenge plot to the Chorus and even though they attempt to talk her out of it, she insists that it must be done to “wound my husband the most deeply” (p. 37). It can be inferred that Medea realizes the need for this brutal act in her previous conversation with Jason, where he states, “Men should really have some other method / for getting children. The whole female race / should not exist. It’s nothing but a nuisance” (p. 25). His statement is obnoxiously inaccurate, as Medea was at home raising their two sons in Corinth while Jason kept them all in the dark about his infidelity. As a result, Medea faces the realization that she must kill her children to “ruin Jason’s household” (p. 36). Instead of killing Jason along with everyone else, Medea finds it more efficient to ensure that he will lose his current children and his new bride, thereby ruining any chance of him ever fathering another child. Likewise to her behavior at the beginning of the play, Medea is still not fully able to control her emotions as she argues with her inner self about killing her children. She says, “Why should I, just to cause their father pain, / feel twice the pain myself by harming them? / … But wait―what’s wrong with me? What do I want? / To allow my enemies to … go unpunished?” (p. 46). As a mother with a genuine love for her children, Medea struggles to muster up the courage to kill her children but quickly changes her mind once she refocuses on her primary goal and purpose, which is to punish her greatest enemy, Jason.
In contrast, Seneca’s Medea realizes from conversing with Jason how much love he has for their children, which makes it easier for her to understand why she must kill them. Their conversation is different from that in Euripides because it gives her a subtle understanding of how Jason can best be attacked through his immense love for his sons. Seneca demonstrates Jason’s fatherly love for his children when Medea asks him to allow her to take their children with her when she leaves Corinth. He refuses her request immediately, stating that “My children are / the reason I live on, the thing that makes / me able to endure the pain / … I would more quickly sacrifice my soul / my body, life itself” (p. 74). This dialogue between Medea and Jason is especially significant because it shows Medea how deeply Jason loves his sons, which places him in a vulnerable position. She says to herself, “Is this how much / he loves his sons? That’s good. Then, he is caught” (p. 74), since she now recognizes that she can use his love for them to her advantage. Similarly to Euripides’ Medea, Seneca’s Medea becomes conflicted about her decision to kill her children because of her motherly instincts. Speaking to herself, she argues, “How can I shed / the blood of my children, my own flesh? / Anger and madness must not come to this!” (p. 92). However, Medea once again changes her mind when she realizes that if she must be torn away from her children due to exile, then Jason surely cannot have them either. As her anger builds up, she says, “To their mother they are / forever gone and lost, so they must be / gone and lost to their father as well” (p. 93). Regardless of how difficult a decision it is for a mother to kill her own two children, both Euripides’ and Seneca’s Medea can convince themselves that the deed must be done in order to guarantee the most gruesome revenge against Jason.
Despite their different stylistics of playwriting, Grecian Euripides and Roman Seneca are able to impressively portray the powerful shift of Medea’s feelings for Jason as his infidelity causes her love to turn into pure rage and fiery. Both playwrights elucidate Medea’s process for seeking revenge in distinctive ways, creating two versions of the same tale that can be interpreted differently. Nonetheless, neither Euripides or Seneca fail to prove to their audiences in the ancient tragedy of Medea that love and passion can ultimately drive anyone to commit the most unimaginable crimes.
Euripides. Medea. Translated by Diane Arnson Svarlien. Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing
Company, Inc., 2008.
Seneca. Medea. Translated by Frederick Ahl. Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1986.
Seneca’s Medea and the Divine: A Call for Support in a Time of Foreign Hatred
In a last, desperate attempt to gain support and exercise free will in a society that condemns her, Seneca’s Medea calls on the gods for help. Medea finds herself in a country with an oppressive government that despises foreigners, and her foreign identity makes her a target for hateful remarks from the chorus. They lament international travel and ask “what did [Jason’s voyage] gain? // A fleece of gold // and a fruit of evil” (363-364), and say that “No one has lost much // following the known road” (602-603). They share isolationist views and believe that the first international sailor was “far too audacious” (301), and that people should stay in their native countries and not explore the rest of the world. When discussing Jason’s marriage to Creusa, the chorus remarks that they “consign to silence // and darkness // any woman who runs from home, wedding-veiled for // an alien husband” (l113-115). Their hatred of immigrants extends into a hatred of Medea; not only do they see her as an evil witch, they specifically say that they wish she had stayed in her home country. The chorus is composed of the Corinthian people, and so their opinions represent the overall feelings of those people. When the entire population of Corus has turned on Medea for her immigrant status, calling on the gods allows her to find some support that she lacks in the country where she’s found refuge.
When Medea’s identity as a foreigner is threatened, she calls on her foreign heritage to give her strength when she is challenged. In calling for help from the gods, she repeatedly calls on her grandfather, the sun, and asks her “shining father, give me control // let me drive the coupled power of fire” (901-902). The rest of her family is gone: Jason “took // my father and the country that we ruled // away from me” (117-119), and so she finds herself turning to her godly ancestor because she can find family support in him. In referencing her divine origins, Medea also draws support from her home country: she tells herself to “take on your native mind // your Cossack mind, that hates all foreigners” (44-45). She is a refugee and is about to be exiled from her country of refuge; she has drifted for years in hope of finding something stable. She dreams of a place that accepted her as she was and that she was ripped from by a man who has betrayed her, and she relies on that place to ground her when the world is being torn up from under her feet. She “set out her evil potions in chaotic rows: arcane // secrets of her own experiments” (678-679), frantically using the magic of her home country to help her take her revenge. In referencing her past she calls on the magic and divinity of her home country, recalling her native culture and her remaining family in a way that establishes her strength.
With the loss of Jason, Medea finds herself robbed of the one person who may have understood her situation as a refugee. She and Jason have both fled a country in which they were no longer welcome; they’re described as refugees numerous times. Although they experience marginalized status in Corinth as immigrants, and Jason claims that he married Creusa because “she has the power needed to help // the suffering children of us refugees” (507-508), they would have been able to find support in each other during their exile. When Jason turns on Medea in favor of Creusa, she not only loses her husband and the father of her children, she also loses the one person in Corinth who understands her struggles as an immigrant and refugee, and with who she would have been able to share her worries about her foreigner status and find not only sympathy but understanding. There is a strong sense of community that comes from sharing marginalization and prejudice, and when part of that community turns away to side with the oppressor, the betrayal becomes twofold. When Jason abandons Medea, joining with the people who make their lives as immigrants so difficult, she is left with nowhere to turn. Her appeal to the divine allows her to rely on something that will not abandon her because she is foreign, and that will not leave her to support a xenophobic monarchy.
Medea’s rage, strong enough to call for “powers of feuding vengeance, snakes writhing // repulsively upon a single head // come to me now… kill his new partner, kill his new father // snap all the royal family’s living shoots” (15-18) and for her to declare that “I want the world to die with me” (426), is spurred by the double standards that she and Jason encounter. Both are foreigners, both experience discrimination because of this, and both have committed crimes, but while Jason is forgiven for his actions and welcomed into the very royal family that looks down on refugees, Medea is exiled. While Medea attempts to defend herself, and says that because Jason “gained by [her crimes]” (503), he is guilty by association, Creon retorts that “a case // can be made for Jason if we keep // you clear of it… his hands were clean” (268-269). He wants his future son-in-law to have a clean record and be able to lead Corinth as a morally solid leader, and if that means throwing Medea to the side and placing all guilt on her, he is willing to do it. Jason stands by his future-father-in-law and is equally willing to blame Medea for all of their shared crimes; when Medea tells that him that he is guilty of “whatever crime I did” (497), he completely rejects her and insists that he’s innocent. While Jason has been involved in all of Medea’s crimes, he is not held to the same standards as she is and is forgiven by the very same people who want to persecute Medea. She calls on the gods because of this extreme anger: not only do the rulers and people of Corinth hate her for her foreign identity, those same people are willing to forgive her husband for the exact same reasons they hate her.
Corinth’s oppressive monarchy seeks to control its people and quiet any voices of dissent, and Medea’s appeal to the gods is in direct defiance of this stifling system. When she expresses her anger with Creon he asks if she “wants to drag the two of us to banishment” (512-513), and later says that they’ve “talked too long… people will start to get suspicious” (526-527). The government they live under is one that instills incredible fear in its citizens, to the point where they feel they cannot even gather in public for long periods of time without being subject to persecution. Rather than let herself be smothered by this, especially as a member of this society who experiences prejudice and is therefore especially a target for aggressive action, Medea’s appeal to the divine is a direct act of defiance. When she calls on them she does so loudly, in a highly visible display of magical power, where she calls on multiple divinities and graphically describes what she wants to happen to her victims. She uses violent language when describing the magical materials she uses “these wreaths I wove with bloodstained hands // with nine snakes intertwined // these limbs from rebel Typhoeus who // shook Jupiter’s control” (771-772), and describes how she wants mythological creatures like the Hydra to descend upon the earth and do her bidding. Medea uses her magic, which comes from her divine ancestry, loudly and violently to the point of her sounding unhinged, in direct defiance of a government that wants to keep her silent as both a foreigner and a woman.
Medea’s anger at her situation increases her desire to bring vengeance and violence down upon Jason. She declares that “I want him to live: to wander through // cities as yet unknown, his confidence // his livelihood destroyed, a refugee // frightened and with nowhere to call home” (20-24). While she’s content to bring death down upon Creusa and Creon, death isn’t enough for Jason: she wants to reduce him to the same state that she’s been reduced to, with no home, no family and an entire society of people bent on her misfortune. He too is a refugee, but as shown through Creon’s speech to Medea, he is not viewed with nearly the same contempt that she is, and Medea wishes to punish him for joining up with their persecutors by forcing him to undergo the same persecution and oppression, so that he may understand her pain and anger. Medea is only able to accomplish this through divine appeal; she lacks the power or strength to carry out any kind of revenge on her own, and so she must “derive the brightness… from my grandfather, Sol, the Sun itself” (206).
While in the end Medea’s path to revenge is to kill her sons, this form of revenge does resonate with her identity as a foreigner and her desire to make Jason understand her struggles. She claims for Jason “left father // murdered my brother, mutilated him” (277), and recalls with sadness how she took violent action against the family that tied her to her native country. She knows that killing their sons will have a similar effect on Jason, because doing so will destroy his lineage and his familial ties to his country. The connection is only solidified when she actually kills her sons, because she does so remembering her brother and remarking that “See, brother, I have drawn my sword for you” (969). Once again, not only does Medea show a desire to make Jason pay by ripping his lineage and his link to his home country away from him, she shows a desire to put him in the same situation he put her: she felt compelled to kill her brother because of him, therefore rendering her a refugee without a family, and so she will kill his sons and do the same for him. Using her brother’s death as motivation solidifies her use of her foreign identity to support her in a time when it’s being challenged; she references the family she killed to strengthen her will.
When Medea is on the verge of being exiled from her country and condemned for her violent magic, she reaffirms her divine heritage and foreign ancestry and uses it to strengthen, rather than weaken, her in the ultimate act of resistance. Not only does she use magic and the power of the gods to help her, she uses both to strengthen her identity in a time when it is being challenged and solidify her attempts towards resistance and revenge.
How far is it true to say that Medea loses her identity throughout Euripides’ Medea.Perhaps in order to address this title, it is necessary to look for a definition of ‘identity’. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as ‘individuality, personality… absolute sameness’. The question now becomes firstly does Medea the character change fundamentally in the course of the play, and secondly do all the aspects of her character remain constant. The answers to these questions lie in an analysis of Medea’s character and a comparison of the eponymous villain at the beginning and end of Euripides’ masterpiece.Definition of character can be said to lie partly in perceived social status. Primarily, Medea is a woman, and so falls into traditional Greek stereotypes of the ‘weaker sex’. Clearly this core characteristic of Medea cannot change in the course of the play. In the same way, she is irrevocably a witch both at the beginning and at the end of the play. She has been able to rejuvenate Aeson, half-brother of King Pelias of Iolcus, with magic herbs, and here is able to skilfully poison Glauce and Creon. Characters who weild magical powers in Greek Mythology usually set aside from society. Medea herself suggests magic isolates her in her long speech addressed to the chorus. The third and final unchangeable aspect of her character is that she is a foreigner. To the xenophobic ‘people’ of Corinth (who are both symbolised and represented by the chorus), Medea is a barbarian:’She learns through pain what blessings they enjoy who are not uprooted from their native land.’Medea is not part of the community, but rather a ‘frightening woman’ who should be avoided. Medea is defined by her different nationality, as well as her more obvious characteristics, and these certainly do not change in the course of ‘Medea.’When she married Jason and came to Corinth, Medea (presumably) assumed the nationality of a Corinthian. When Creon declares ‘I order you out of Corinth’, he attempts to deprive her of this part of herself. Medea’s response is fierce:’Oh! This is the cruel end of my accursed life.’Medea fights to retain her place in Corinth, but not out of love for it, but because she wants to topple its figurehead and his daughter. It could be true to say that Medea cares for her public appearance, as she works hard to earn the respect of the people around her; the Nurse declares ‘she has earned the citizen’s welcome’. Nevertheless, by the end of the play she has been cast out of the county and flees to safety. Her nationality changes, and presumably this part of her identity changes.Another integral part of Medea’s character is her identity as a mother. She rejects this part of herself to exact revenge on Jason for his destruction of their marriage. He has spurned Medea as a wife, and in return she destroys Jason as a father. Medea’s killing of her children is her most horrific crime in both modern and contemporary eyes; she ‘hates her sons’, and her crime seems all the worse for the breaking of this strong natural bond.Identity is, however, largely subjective, and so the perception of Medea in the eyes of other characters in the play must be taken into account. Jason himself understands Medea to change considerably in the course of the play. Initially Medea seems unreasonable, and Jason describes her as unwilling to ‘calm [her] raging temper’. She is unwilling to compromise, or do little more than hurl abuse at her husband, and beginning her tirade with the insult ‘you filthy coward!’. By their next meeting, Medea seems to have cooled her temper considerably, and now readopts the position of a traditional, submissive, and supportive wife. She admits ‘I was wrong’, and as a result Jason himself now takes up again his role of a ‘conventional’ husband. From his point of view, her character has improved considerably. However, ‘Medea’ ends with husband disunited even in grief, with Medea refusing to allow Jason to hold his murdered children’s bodies. Her character has performed a complete U-turn, and so in her husband’s eyes at least, Medea’s identity changes twice during the course of the play. However, the change is only apparent because of Medea’s cunning subterfuge; it is not evidence of a genuine change in her character.The other close members of Medea’s family, her children, are introduced by Euripides as mute figures to whom Medea is a threat;’Quick, now, children, hurry indoors; And don’t go … anywhere near her; … Her mood is cruel’Initially Medea seems to be a danger to her sons. However, it is impossible to know how they feel as they never voice their opinions. When presented with her children in anticipation of murdering them, Medea can be seen to burst frequently into tears. This can be seen to suggest that she is a loving mother. The horror of her later actions compel her offspring to words and cry out ‘Mother, don’t kill us!’. The children’s shock is at this point transferred to the audience when both the cruelty of the deed, and Medea’s startling reversal of maternal feeling are divulged to them. In her actions to her sons, and thus in their understanding of her, Medea is anything but consistent.Aegeus sees Medea from and outside standpoint. His sole appearance in the play shows him as a trustee and a good friend to Medea. The two confide in each other; he describes his quest for children, and she her husband’s infidelity. As far as can be extrapolated, Aegeus sees Medea as a constant. They meet and part on the best of cheery terms, and their wrangling conversation seems as full of jest a it is of deadly purpose. Aegeus is, however, aware of Medea’s darker side. It must be for this reason that he refuses to give her safe passage to Corinth, only protect her once she is there. They both appear powerful, and rational; Medea contrasting here with her later, and earlier, ranting and passionate speeches. This perhaps suggests that Medea has been driven to her distressed and treacherous state by the actions of Jason. However, it is important to recognise that in Greek Mythology the character of Medea has killed outside the circle of the play, and we are reminded of this by the nurse in the very first speech.Creon is the other King which Medea deals with. She changes his mind during her encounter with him: initially he flatly states’I’m not going back into my palace until I’ve put you safe outside my boundaries.’Sensible Creon admits to fearing Medea, and he is rightly wary of her. However, by the time he leaves, he has clearly been emotionally manipulated by her and his attitude towards her is sufficiently relaxed as to allow her to spend one more day in his city, to his cost. Thus in his scene, Creon’s attitude to Medea changes, but it is not therefore true to say that her identity changes. She is the same fearsome woman at the end of this scene, as her later actions show.The nurse is also rightly frightened of her mistress. She realises Medea’s deadly intentions, remarking ‘She’ll not relax her rage till it has found its victim.’ The nurse realises Medea’s true identity early, and her crimes seem more a realisation of deadly potential than a change in character. To her, Medea remains consistent.The tutor is also a very minor character. He advises Medea not to ‘bear [her] grief so hard’, and as she agrees we must assume he sees her as a welcome subject for such unfortunate words of wisdom. However, as Medea ignores him completely, the tutor could be forgiven for feeling a little hurt and misled. To him Medea is as errant woman, but although his is deceived on a microcosmic scale, this hardly counts as an interpretation of changing identity.The chorus perceive Medea as ‘a friend’ initially, but their attitude quickly causes them to describe her a s a ‘cursed, miserable woman’ to whom they no longer speak. At first, the chorus carry our sympathy as well as their own, but as Medea loses this through her crimes, it is possible to suggest that she loses her identity as a friend, and as a victim in their eyes. Her loss of our and the chorus’ friendship highlights her increasing isolation towards the end of the play.Perhaps the most telling interpretation of Medea’s character can be seen in her own understanding of herself and her actual personality. After the death of Glauce and Creon, she shows no regrets similar to those which made her weep earlier. To Jason at the end of the play she declares that ‘It is a waste of time to ask.’ She freezes her emotions in the course of ‘Medea’, and thus her emotions can be said to change. This vital part of her identity is often indicative of a much deeper and more fundamental inner change. Euripides could be suggesting that Medea is hardened by her crimes and by her experiences with Jason, and has by the end of the play lost all emotional connection she ever had with him, and as a result has become a much darker, shyer figure.Medea certainly starts her play in a different mood to that in which she finishes it:’sobbing and wailing, shouting shrill, pitiful accusations against her husband who has betrayed her.’This emotive description shows a grief-stricken Medea who is portrayed as being in great distress. It is not her, importantly, who is disloyal; at the start she retains her principle characteristics of loyalty, strength, and deep emotion. Even in this early stage here are signs also of Medea’s dangerous and unscrupulous desire for revenge:’Oh, may I see Jason and his bride ground to pieces in their shattered palace.’Medea’s venom is clear here. She is an ambiguous character; initially she is shown to be a fratricide., an object of pity betrayed by a cruel husband, and a terrifyingly calm and malicious contriver of Pelias’ death. She is, however, marked out by her uncertainties as the eponymous star of a great tragedy. None of the other characters possess qualities so open to interpretation.Medea retains this quality even at the end of the play. She is either an ‘unclean, abhorrent child-destroyer’, or the ‘insulted’ wife who merely responds to a ‘father’s treachery’: a man who breaks his sacred oath to her. By her actions in the conclusion of this play, Medea still possesses her viciousness and strength of will, but has turned her loyalty to hate. In this last respect, therefore, she has changed. The already dying embers of her faithfulness are completely black by the end of ‘Medea’. Here, at least, she is not ‘absolutely the same’.Parts of Medea’s identity can be said to change; she looses her compassion, her loyalty to her husband, and her national identity, becoming, instead of a victim, the perpetrator of a crime to foul to forget. In the eyes of her family she appears to change radically in the course of the play, but this is only evidence of her skill with deception and cunning. Most of her physical attributes remain the same; she is still woman, witch, and unorthodox. However, in the eyes of an audience (which are, in the end, all that count) Medea mutates from a pitiable weeping woman, to a cruel and twisted seeker of vengeance. Thus it could be true to say that Medea’s identity is redefined in the course of Euripides’ play.
In Euripides’ Medea, one could argue that Medea’s most tragic flaw is her emotions. Medea goes on a quest to seek revenge on her unfaithful husband Jason and her retaliation is her closure. Jason’s betrayal is the fuel for this revenge, and along the way Medea’s emotions overshadow her reasoning. Jason was Medea’s closest friend, comfort, and person she ever truly cared for, and when this is all taken away, Medea goes crazy. Her passion for Jason overrules her actions, and this is ultimately Medea’s downfall. The first example of Medea’s issue of dealing with her emotions is in the very beginning of the play when the Nurse speaks of Medea’s act of manipulation of Pelias’ daughters. The manipulation occurred when convincing them to kill their own father. This is the audience’s first taste of Medea’s malevolence, and it foreshadows the future events. Shirley Barlow’s article Stereotype and Reversal in Euripedes’ ‘Medea’ makes a connection to Medea’s past: “She has killed before and she will kill again without a second thought.” (Barlow 162). After the murder of Jason’s brother Pelias, Medea is betrayed by her husband Jason. Jason soon marries Creon’s daughter, and Medea’s passion for her marriage is demonstrated as the audience hears of her pickiness towards eating, her days spent sobbing, and not being able to lift up her face in such a state of despair. This despair soon turns to anger, as she starts to dislike her children and all things associated with Jason. She begins to have thoughts of seeking revenge, and the Nurse explains some of the rash acts Medea could be thinking about executing: “I’m petrified to think what thoughts she might be having now: a sharpened knife-blade thrust right through the liver—she could even strike the royal family, murder the bridegroom too, make this disaster worse.” (Gainor, Garner, and Puchner 140-141). The perspective of the Nurse is the first way for readers/audience to get the impression of the emotionally distraught state Medea is in, and the Nurse’s overview highlights the ways that Medea’s emotions control her daily interactions and routines.
Medea’s battle with her emotions is so strong, she describes her thoughts as suicidal. In lines 146-149, Medea’s overwhelming feelings take over: “Aaaah! May a fire-bolt from heaven come shoot through my skull! What do I gain by being alive? Oh, god. How I long for the comfort of death. I hate this life. How I wish I could leave it.”. Her plea for early death shows that Medea has hit rock-bottom without Jason. In Stereotype and Reversal in Euripedes’ ‘Medea’, Barlow explains the extremes that Medea was willing to go to: “…she is concerned at humiliation by her enemies, and determined to go to extreme lengths, including her own death if necessary, that her enemies may not laugh at her.” (Barlow 161). In Medea’s mind, Jason was the glue that held together her well-being, and not a single thing or word of advice from the people around her could even attempt to fix her broken heart. The chorus sings out to Zeus when hearing her cries, and the Nurse responds by informing them of how not a single thing can change Medea’s emotional imbalance.
Within moments, Medea’s deep sorrow is quickly turned into vengeful anger. Medea begs Creon to be able to stay with her children in the palace for one day more, in order to be able to find shelter and figure out her living arrangements. Creon agrees, and shortly after their conversation, Medea raves about her ability to manipulate: “…he granted me a single day to turn three enemies to three dead bodies: the father, and the bride, and my own husband.” (Gainor, Garner, and Puchner 148). Medea then initiates her plan, and associates her revenge plan to an act of courage, and also as something she must do in order to be well. Medea soon engages with Jason. Her emotions are quickly turned once again, and their conversation displays her anger and hurt that was caused by Jason’s actions. Medea calls him names, reminds him of all of the ways he had supported her, and of the ways he has been molded into a person with a bad reputation. Jason responds to the conversation in ways that validate his weaknesses and untrustworthiness.
In Medea’s next conversation, she talks with an old friend Aegeus, and her mood is once again changed quite quickly. In this scene, Medea is able to mask her emotions and speak with Aegeus in a much calmer demeanor. She asks to stay with him for shelter, and is able to mention her thoughts about Jason in a rational conversation. Medea is able to gather herself in crisis mode, and this show the audience just how willing she is to control her emotions if the circumstances are in accordance to her. Aegeus agrees to let Medea stay with him under the circumstances that Medea finds her own way to his home. Upon Aegeus’ departure, Medea reveals her future plans; which involve the manipulation and murder of all people in connection to Jason. Her emotions of passion, anger, and deep sorrow are so strong, that she desires to inflict pain on the princess in hopes that she will die a terrible death. She then goes on to explain how it brings her deep despair to precede to murder her own children, but admits that the act is necessary in order to ruin Jason and to not be humiliated by her enemies. Immediately following her expression of hatred she has toward Jason and anyone connected to him, Medea has an epiphany, and comes to the conclusion that she is indeed lonely. She comes to terms with knowing that in times of despair and desperation she does not have one person she can turn to. She again, has suicidal thoughts and reveals her regret of leaving her father’s home to be in a relationship with Jason. She is then asked by the chorus to halt her plan, and she responds explaining that there is no other plausible solution other than the murder of the princess and her children in order to hurt Jason emotionally in the worst ways possible.
In lines 1040-1075, Medea reveals her thoughts on the significance of the relationship between her and her two children. She does feel remorse about the fact that she will have to murder them, but again, her revenge on Jason triumphs. Medea’s selfishness specifically shines through on page 164 of Gainor, Garner, and Puchner’s text: “Oh, children, children, you two have a city and home, in which you’ll live forever parted from your mother. You’ll leave poor me behind.”. This is proof that Medea views even her children’s murder as the responsibility and cause of Jason’s actions. She tells the audience of how she will forever be living the rest of her life in sorrow, and views the killing as a sacrifice. She then for a moment has thoughts of hesitation, and has a split second of sanity. The sanity is soon followed by her usual egocentric thoughts, and Medea once again validates her revenge with the betrayal between her and Jason as the cause.
In the act of murdering her own children, it is arguably the most emotional Medea is in the entire play. The scene starts off with Medea’s conversation she has in lonesome: “My friends, it is decided; as soon as possible I must kill my children and leave this land before I give my enemies a chance to slaughter them with a hand that’s moved by hatred.” (Gainor, Garner, and Puchner 169). These lines imply that Medea believes that others have already plotted to kill her children, and in order for them to die with dignity, it is important that she is the first and only person to commit. She convinces herself that it is an act of bravery, and sees it as one of the only ways for her enemies to not view her as ‘weak’. She reminds herself to suppress her emotions of empathy and sympathy toward her children, and views herself as a woman “cursed by fortune.” (Gainor, Garner, and Puchner 169).
In conclusion of the play, Medea sits in a flying chariot upon Jason’s discovery of her murders. In Medea’s conversation with Jason, she repeatedly displays her abomination toward the past events that occurred in their relationship. She explains to him that his actions were to blame in these crimes, and has to make sure that he understands and learns the lesson she intended to teach him. She admits to him that no pain is too great if it means that he will be hurt worse, and even argues that Zeus will never justify the ‘innocence’ that Jason attempts to proclaim. She tells him that his dishonesty and unfaithfulness was the root of her acts of evil, and that he is to blame. Medea and Jason then continue in their argument, and the argument progresses into a shouting match. Medea and Jason both blame each other for the incidents that took place. Medea is ultimately left with what she intended to do from the beginning; to make sure that Jason is left emotionally distraught by the end of her revenge. She denies Jason the rights to bury the children properly, and this in turn leaves Jason even more emotionally shattered. In result, Jason prays to Zeus for recognition of the immense pain Medea has caused him, and at the very end, the chorus reveals that the gods had intended to ensure that Medea and Jason’s fate played out the way it did.
Throughout the play, Medea’s emotions are in no doubt human-like, but the ways her emotions were executed were what made them so heinous and outrageous. Her ability to manipulate her enemies into believing her lies is unnatural, and one could compare her manipulation to the skills of a present-day serial killer. Her emotions bounce from anxiety one minute, to feeling guilty for overturning her matronly values, to being satisfied committing her murders knowing how hurt Jason will be. Her emotions change so quickly depending on the circumstances of her situation, and her mental health is always put on the back burner if it is able to be validated in the conclusion of Jason’s revenge.
Barlow, Shirley A. “Stereotype and Reversal in Euripides’ ‘Medea’.” Greece & Rome, vol. 36, no. 2, 1989, pp. 158–171.
Gainor, J. Ellen, Garner Jr., Stanton, Martin Puchner. The Norton Anthology of Drama: Second Edition. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2014, pp. 135-174.
Struggles of an Outsider: Medea and A Streetcar Named Desire
The struggle of the outsider is facilitated by their isolation and their inability to form significant bonds with others in their community. Whilst outsiders have the capacity to challenge their respective communities, their struggles inevitably lead to their moral corruption. Reflecting the patriarchal norms of ancient Athenian society, Euripides’s 431 B.C play Medea criticizes the effect of community pressure on an outsider’s moral ethos. Similarly, Tennessee William’s play A Streetcar Named Desire (1957) mirrors the collective consciousness of post-war America by demonstrating the mistreatment of outsiders by society. Although these plays come from different time periods, both composers acknowledge the struggles that outsiders universally face, and how society’s injustices ultimately lead to their downfall.
Societal gender norms can cause the isolation and condemnation of female outsiders who struggle to express their individuality. This is demonstrated in Euripides’s play Medea through the development of the titular character, who becomes isolated due to her struggle for female equality against the patriarchal Ancient Athenian society. Her subversion of gender roles is highlighted in Creon’s didactic imperative to Medea of “A woman of hot temper… is a less dangerous enemy than one quiet and clever. So out you go… no more arguing.” Here, the negative lexical chain of ‘temper’ and ‘dangerous enemy’ illustrates Medea’s struggles with society are due to her rejection of traditional female emasculation. This leads to societal condemnation against Medea’s struggle for justice, which is highlighted through Creon’s exclamation “Medea, scowling rage against your husband!” However, Medea’s rebellion against the patriarchy, and subsequent struggle as an outsider, leads to her obsessive hatred. This is evident through her declaration to Jason of “thus wretchedly your fate shall end this story,” which links the murder of her children to the struggle and maltreatment she has experienced as a result of Jason. Thus, Euripides reflects on the maltreatment of women in Ancient Athenian society through the character of Medea, and highlights how the struggle of an outsider can lead to immoral retributive acts.
Transposing the ideas of Euripides’s Medea, in William’s play A Streetcar Named Desire, the patriarchal standards that predominated New Orleans in the late 1940s were criticized. This is indicated through the characterization of Blanche, an Outsider who struggles to conform to her community, which consequently leads to the degradation of her individuality. Blanche’s hysterical tone in “I want to be near you, got to be with somebody, I can’t be alone” highlights her struggle to be accepted in society through conforming to the modes of male dependence that prevailed in William’s context. This can be further seen in Blanche’s statement of “You haven’t said a word about my appearance,” in which the emphasis on physical beauty reflects her desire to avoid the prospect of being an outsider by complying to the stereotypical role of femininity. Consequently, when Stanley rejects Blanche, she struggles to realize the female obligations of housewifery and subservience. Hence she becomes an outsider with the desire to escape reality, as seen through the exclamation in “I’ll tell you what I want. Magic! Yes, yes, magic!” Therefore, Blanche, much like Medea, struggles with the gender norms enforced by her patriarchal society, which have led to individual degradation. Thus, it is clear that gender roles have throughout have facilitated the struggle and isolation of females who chose to subvert societal standards.
In addition, the struggles of an outsider are often harsh enough to corrupt the individual and can catalyze moral bankruptcy. Euripides’ Medea highlights the corruptive nature of isolation as it ultimately leads Medea to commit filicide. This is highlighted in the sinister tone of “When I have carried out my purpose and achieved my wish,” which emphasizes the macabre nature of the plan to kill her children, which she initiated as a result of her outsider status. Furthermore, the personification of “the fiercest anger of all, the most incurable, is that which rages in the place of dearest love”, which creates pathos by emphasizing that the root of Medea’s struggle is the rejection of her love by society and her husband. Indeed, this challenges the Greek value of self-control, ‘sophryosyne’, illustrating how it is society that constrains individuals to moral conduct. Nonetheless, Medea’s immoral decision is still considered to be a violation of the natural law of Euripides’s milieu, as indicated in “I am of a different kind, dangerous to my enemies, loyal to my friends to such a life glory belongs.” The tri-colon highlights how Medea’s corrupt decision has been destructive to the societal structure that rejected her in the first place. Therefore, it is clear that the struggle of an outsider can lead to their moral corruption, and the downfall of society.
Similarly, William’s play A Streetcar Named Desire, highlights how the outsider’s struggle can also lead to corruption, and the desire to escape reality. Indeed, Blanche’s struggle to hold onto reality becomes tenuous throughout the play, due to her failure to adapt to the post-war society. This is seen in the use of statistical evidence in Blanche’s aphorism of “I know I fib a good deal. After all, a woman’s charm is fifty per cent illusion.” Her struggles as an outsider to maintain appearances gradually leads to the degradation of her mental stability, which is highlighted through the symbolism of light as truth in her statement of “I can’t stand a naked light bulb, any more than I can a rude remark.” However, unlike Medea, Blanche’s outsider status is not a violation of justice in William’s context but simply the collapse of her metal condition as evidenced in the fractured nature of her comment of “never for one moment since has there been any light that’s strong than this — kitchen — – candle.” Ultimately, Blanche’s destabilized mental struggles leads to her complete detachment from reality, as evidenced through her final irony in “Whoever you are – I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Therefore, it is clear that the struggle of an outsider can cause the corruption of the individual, subsequently leading to either unlawful actions or the downfall of their mental stability.
As illustrated above, a comparative study of Euripides ‘Medea’ and Williams ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ emphasizes how the societal gender roles facilitate the struggle and condemnation of outsiders who attempt to express their individuality. Furthermore, the rejection of individuals, such as Medea and Blanche, can also become so overwhelming that it eventually leads to their moral corruption and breakdown. Both Euripides and Williams acknowledge the struggle of the outsider as a universal issue that will continue to affect our society even today.
Medea’s Place in Greek Theater
Greek theatre, portrayed in Medea, emphasizes the characters and the plot through the structure of Greek theatre as well as bringing about a new moral and social portrayal of Greece. Originated in Athens around the 5th century BC, Greek theater, was performed in open air to honour the God Dionysus, God of ecstasy and wine. In a festival called “City Dionysia” tragedies and comedies were performed in the form of competition. Tragedies were those by which the themes of love, pride, loss, abuse of power and the relationships between men and gods were established. Whereas, Greek comedies were mainly satires that derided men in power for their pride and imprudence. Euripides, writer of Greek tragedies, was in competition with two other greek tragedians Sophocles and Aeschylus; Where Sophocles and Aeschylus followed the traditional form of Greek theatre, making the chorus the centre and showing great importance of the Gods and heroes, Euripides focused on the characters and satirizes Greek heroes.
“Medea” a play in which the protagonist is Medea, is a Greek tragedy written by Euripides. Themes of Love showcased by Medea’s love for Jason, pride by Medea’s reputation and urge for vengeance, abuse of power is shown by the murders done by Medea. However, “Medea” can also be considered a Greek comedy due to its portrayal of Jason, where he loses, due to his desire for power, not only his newly wedded wife, but also his offsprings. Euripides in contrast to Sophocles and Aeschylus, had blasphemous plays and was therefore not seen with much importance during his time. Moreover, he mocked the Athenian society of 431 BC by portraying a different role of women, one which is not encaged by marriage. For example, when Medea speaks “we women are the most wretched […] possessor of our body.” reflecting upon the dowry system of ancient Greece, and in contrast to the usual perspective of obedient women and men being the possessors, the verb “bought” represents that the one who purchases shall be the owner, i.e, the women who pay exorbitant amounts should be in power, and not vice versa. The dialogue uses possessive pronoun “our” to show the collective society and that women suffer the same miseries.
Greek theatre famous for its precise structure is made of prologue which serves as an introduction to the play, done by the ‘nurse’ and ‘tutor’ in “Medea” when they create an image of Medea, a scorned lover, for the viewers. Followed by the parados, which consists of the chorus that manifests the main idea of the play. In Medea the chorus opposes the idea of women’s inferiority, “For Phoebus[…]infamous than women.” highlighting the fact that the women in ancient greece whose emotions were ignored, now had a voice and men were “no less famous or infamous than women”. Furthermore, Euripides uses the phrase “time is old” in reference to his main idea of a modern Greek society. Then happens the first episode where the hero is first shown, this in “Medea” is when the transformation of her character takes place. Medea comes out cool and self possessed, whilst addressing the chorus “We women are the most wretched” she portrays herself not as a victim to her husband’s infidelity but showing that all women are victims. Furthermore she shows herself as a strong woman who seeks “revenge on Jason”, unlike the earlier helpless “poor Medea”. Thereafter, is the stamison, the crime committed by the protagonist is told here. This yet again shows Medea’s characterization who gets “double pleasure” from hearing of the death of Glauce and Creon from the Messenger. From a scorned wife Medea is transformed into a dominant woman through the use of her “skills”. The play ends with the exodus, the last thing said by the chorus, which concludes the play. In Medea the chorus sings “Many are the[…]of this story”, this shows that though Jason was the one who was going to become powerful, with a newly wedded and his pride at peak, is finished by Medea- left in misery without a wife, and childless. Additionally, Euripides is known for using “deus ex machina”, a plot device that introduces a character, mostly a God or Goddess, and abruptly that character provides a solution to the problem faced by the protagonist. For instance, in Medea Aegeus promises shelter to Medea because of which she successfully carries out her plan for revenge.
Euripides transforms Greek theatre and shows a totally different view of women in the Greek society. Alongside the Greek theatre’s structuralism, Euripides adds a new level intrigue and comedy in his plays while using also the deus ex machina. With the use of chorus and other characters present in the play, Greek theatre provides many different perspectives to view the protagonist. Thereafter, indulging the audience in the lives of the characters, making emphasis on the struggles of the protagonist and how they survive. Transforming the Greek theatre Euripides is successful in portraying lucidly different characters of Medea, making sure the spotlight is on the protagonist, who “wins” the fight through revenge, leaving Jason in desolation.
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