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University of Toronto St. George
Victoria Wohl

Medea by Euripides Copyright Notice '1998-2002; '2002 by Gale Cengage. Gale is a division of Cengage Learning. Gale and Gale Cengage are trademarks used herein under license. For complete copyright information on these eNotes please visit: eNotes: Table of Contents 1. Medea: Introduction 2. Medea: Euripides Biography 3. Medea: Summary 4. Medea: Themes 5. Medea: Style 6. Medea: Historical Context 7. Medea: Critical Overview 8. Medea: Character Analysis Medea Other Characters 9. Medea: Essays and Criticism Modern Audience Versus Fifth-Century Greek Audience Eunpidean Drama, Myth, Theme, and Structure On Stage: Selected Theater Reviews from The New York Times 10. Medea: Compare and Contrast 11. Medea: Topics for Further Study 12. Medea: Media Adaptations 13. Medea: What Do I Read Next? 14. Medea: Bibliography and Further Reading 15. Medea: Pictures 16. Copyright Medea: Introduction Euripidess Medea (431 B.C.) adds a note of horror to the myth of Jason and Medea. 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 literatures most intensely emotional scenes, Medea debates with herself whether to spare her children for her own loves sake Medea 1 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. Although the tetralogy that included this play did not earn Euripides the coveted prize at the Dionysus festival in which it debuted, Medea has withstood the test of time to become one of the great tragedies of classical Greece. Medea: Euripides Biography Although historians can only piece together the biography of a man who lived before detailed biographical information was reliably recorded, certain "facts" about Euripidess life are generally accepted. Euripides was born around 480 B.C. to parents who were presumably affluent, considering that the playwright obtained a good education and owned a library of philosophical works. Euripides knew the philosopher Anaxagoras, entertained the Sophist Protagoras in his home, and could count on the philosopher Socrates attending his plays. Although no evidence exists that Euripides conversed with Socrates, the latters influence is apparent in the playwrights skepticism. Euripidess life was deeply affected by the Peloponnesian Wars, which ultimately ended the Golden Age of Athens; the scars of a life plagued by war are evident in the mood of pessimism and uncertainty that permeates his works of tragedy. Euripidess characters have more psychological depth than those found in the works of his dramatic predecessors, Aeschylus and Sophocles. Euripides broke with traditional theater and chose to examine the motivations of realistic humans instead of the acts of gods, heroes, and stock characters. He championed the underdog and challenged traditions through his radical ideas regarding the gods and society. Some called him an atheist, but he did not reject religion-he merely identified and denounced its shortcomings. A bust of Euripides In all, there are references to ninety-two plays by Euripides; of these, only nineteen are known to have survived the centuries. Most of these plays were more than likely altered as a result of the common practice of oral storytelling, in which tales were verbally passed from town to town, generation to generation. It was not until a century after their author created them that most of these works were actually written down. After his death, Euripidess plays enjoyed more popularity than they had during his lifetime. One measure of his Medea: Introduction 2 renown is that Aristophanes wrote three plays that lampoon Euripides. In the Frogs. Euripides is portrayed as a radical who taught the Athenians to "think, see, understand, suspect, question, everything," according to Edith Hamilton in her book The Greek Way. In his later years Euripides withdrew from public society and spent most of his time in a cave, working on his plays. The Peloponnesian Wars, in their final throes, were destroying the city and society which he so loved; Athens was collapsing. Finally, at age seventy Euripides left Athens for Macedonia, to help that citys king establish a cultural center to rival Athens. He died there in 406 B.C. Medea: Summary Euripidess 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 Medeas nurse. She summarizes what has led to her ladys 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 Medeas anguished cries and the nurses 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. Legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt as Medea 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 Medea: Euripides Biography 3 offend her. She reminds him that she saved his life, slew a dragon, left her fathers 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 Jasons life completelybecause 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 Medeas 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 an
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