CLA232H1 Lecture Notes - Richmond Lattimore, Metic, Diadem
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Euripides Medea adds a spin of horror to the story of Jason’s adventures. In the myth, after
retrieving the golden fleece Jason brings his foreign wife to settle in Corinth. There Jason falls in
love with the local princess, whose status in the city will bring Jason financial security. He
marries her without telling Medea. Medea takes revenge by killing the new bride and her father,
the King of Corinth. One variation of the myth says that Medea then accidentally kills her two
sons by Jason while trying to make them immortal. Euripides takes the myth into a new direction
by having Medea purposely stab her children to death in order to deprive Jason of all he loved
(as well as heirs that would carry on his name). In one of literature's most intensely emotional
scenes, Medea debates with herself whether to spare her children for her own love's sake or to
kill them in order to punish her husband completely. A chorus of Corinthian women sympathize
with Medea but attempt to dissuade her from acting on her anger. However, her need for revenge
overpowers her love for her children, and she ruthlessly kills them. Euripides introduced
psychological realism into ancient Greek drama through characters like Medea, whose motives
are confused, complex, and ultimately driven by passion.
Euripides's play takes place in Corinth, where Jason had settled with his Colchian wife Medea
after his adventure in pursuit of the Golden Fleece (in Greek mythology, a rare garment made
from the wool of a magical flying ram). The scene opens with a prologue spoken by Medea's
nurse. She summarizes what has led to her lady's current state of grief and rage: her husband
Jason has married the daughter of the local king, Creon. The nurse recounts how Medea aided
Jason in his exploits, even killing her own brother to help Jason escape. The nurse knows the
many moods that Medea is capable of and fears that her rage may settle on her two children by
Jason. When the attendant appears with the boys, the nurse warns him to keep them away from
their angry mother.
Next is heard Medea herself chanting a savage curse at her husband, the children, and the whole
family. The chorus of Corinthian women interpose comments of sympathy for the "sad wife"
with Medea's anguished cries and the nurse's fearful warnings. Finally, Medea herself appears to
plead for empathy from the chorus in a long monologue. At its end, Creon enters with more bad
news for Medea: because he fears Medea may harm his daughter, the new wife of Jason, he
banishes her from the land of Corinth. Medea hypocritically assures him she would not do such a
thing and in an extended duet of dialogue (or duologue), begs for just one day to find living
arrangements for her sons. Won over, Creon grants her wish, but threatens to kill her if she does
not depart the next day.
Now Medea considers how to obtain revenge upon Jason, for she abhors the thought of being a
laughing-stock in her loss. The chorus encourages her. Next Jason encounters Medea, with words
seemingly calculated to offend her. She reminds him that she saved his life, slew a dragon, left
her father's home and killed her brother Pelias, all for the love of him. Jason plays the sophist
("as for me, it seems I must be no bad speaker"), arguing petty points against her valid
complaint. His suggestion that he is marrying the princess so that Medea and her children may
live in comfort incenses the chorus so much that they defy discretion and accuse Jason of
sinning. To appease Medea, Jason merely offers her money; he refuses to help Medea convince
Creon to let her stay. Medea scornfully dismisses Jason. The chorus judiciously comments upon
the need to moderate passion, thus for the first time indirectly.
The next scene offers another perspective on Medea and underscores the importance of children
to a royal family. The ruler of a neighboring city, Aegeus, confides to Medea that he has just
visited the oracle to learn how he might reverse his childless life. In a marked shift of mood,
Medea calmly and professionally offers advice and promises to cast a potent spell to help him,
asking only for asylum in return. Upon learning of her distress, Aegeus offers her sanctuary in
his city with the caveat that she must find her own passage there as he does not want to incur the
anger of his allies, Creon and Jason.
With a means of escape well in hand, Medea unveils her evil plan for revenge. Not only will she
kill princess Creusa and her father Creon, but she will slay her own children, in order to destroy
Jason's life completely—because she cannot abide the thought of being mocked for her downfall,
and because she knows that the Corinthians will kill the children anyway, in retaliation for her
murder of Creusa and Creon. The chorus tries to dissuade her from including the children in her
murderous rampage, for her own safety and for the sake of respecting the law. When Medea
remains unmoved, the chorus warns her that no city would pollute itself with her presence. Thus
is introduced the theme of pollution, a concern that underlies the whole play. Jason returns at
Medea's bidding. She shrewdly begs his pardon for her angry words and shares with him her
"plan" to ply Creusa with gifts and then request that they be allowed to remain in Corinth. Jason
blesses his two children with the wish for long life, bringing unexpected tears to Medea who
masks her real reason for sadness with the explanation that she will miss them when she goes.
Thoroughly appeased, Jason departs with the sons and their attendant to deliver Medea's gifts, a
robe of gold and a diadem (crown) of gold. The chorus laments the forthcoming death of the
young bride and realizes that the two children are doomed as well.
The attendant returns with the simple news that the gifts have been delivered. He is surprised by
Medea's tears at this announcement. The appearance of the children causes Medea to dispute her
resolve, but she is overcome by her desire for revenge and bids the children leave her. The
chorus acclaims that it would be better never to have children at all than suffer the grief of losing
them. A messenger rushes in, warning Medea to flee. He recounts in gruesome detail how the
princess, at first irritated by the presence of Medea's children, gleefully dons the robe and crown
which almost instantly begin to eat her flesh. Embracing her, Creon becomes entangled in the
trap and they die together. The chorus, still in league with Medea against Jason, laments that
Medea has ''gone away to the house of Hades'' as the price of her marriage to Jason.
The children's screams are now heard, as they fruitlessly seek to escape their murderous mother.
The chorus now accuses Medea of having a heart of stone. Jason rushes in to save his children
from Medea, but the chorus informs him that he is too late. In the final scene Jason and Medea
hurl stinging reproaches at each other. Jason reminds her that she too suffers from her crime, but
Medea still claims that vengeance was worth the pain. In a final act of insult, she carries the
children's dead bodies away on her chariot drawn by dragons, refusing Jason even one last touch
Euripides medea adds a spin of horror to the story of jason"s adventures. In the myth, after retrieving the golden fleece jason brings his foreign wife to settle in corinth. There jason falls in love with the local princess, whose status in the city will bring jason financial security. Medea takes revenge by killing the new bride and her father, the king of corinth. One variation of the myth says that medea then accidentally kills her two sons by jason while trying to make them immortal. Euripides takes the myth into a new direction by having medea purposely stab her children to death in order to deprive jason of all he loved (as well as heirs that would carry on his name). In one of literature"s most intensely emotional scenes, medea debates with herself whether to spare her children for her own love"s sake or to kill them in order to punish her husband completely.