of Play and Source . .......Medea
is a tragedy that was first performed in Athens in 431 BC. The source for
the story was the myth about Jason's retrieval of the Golden Fleece with
the help of Medea's sorcery. (The myth is recounted in the introduction,
of the action takes place outside the house of Jason and Medea in Corinth,
Greece. Corinth is in southern Greece in the extreme northeastern part
of a large peninsula known as the Peloponnesus, Peloponnese.
Jason, Medea's Powerful Emotions
Medea:Sorceress with wondrous powers who falls desperately in love
with Jason after he arrives in Colchis, on the Black Sea, in quest of the
fabled Golden Fleece, a coat of golden wool sheared from a ram. She is
the daughter of the King of Aea in Colchis and granddaughter of the sun
Jason:Heroic but selfish and ambitious son of Aeson, King of Iolchos
in Thessaly, Greece. Renowned for his bravery in retrieving the Golden
Fleece, he seeks to capitalize on his fame by pledging to marry Glauce,
the daughter of Creon, King of Corinth, even though he has already been
married for several years to Medea and fathered
Creon:King of Corinth. He banishes Medea out
of fear that she will harm his daughter.
Princess Glauce:Daughter of Creon. She has no lines in the play but serves an
important purpose as the object of Medea's jealousy and wrath.
Nurse:Nanny to the two sons of Medea and Jason. She is loyal to Medea
and bemoans her ill treatment by Jason.
Two Sons of Medea and
these little boys are merely a presence in the play, their welfare is a
central issue in the play. Their only lines are shouts near the end of
the play when their mother is about to kill them.
Guardian:He watches over the children when they are at play.
Aegeus:King of Athens..He promises to
shelter Medea after she leaves Corinth..
Chorus of Women:.They
sympathize and commiserate with Medea while commenting on Jason's conduct
and Medea's plan to gain revenge against him.
informs Medea of the death of Creon and Glauce, describing in gruesome
detailat Medea's requestthe
agonies they experienced in their final moments.
Contribution to Drama .
with Sophocles and Aeschylus, Euripides (484-406 B.C.) was one of the three
greatest writers of tragedy in ancient Greece. He wrote more than ninety
plays, but only nineteen survive.
was something of a pariah, in part because he depicted gods unfavorably
and even questioned the existence of the traditional gods of Homeric myths.
His key contribution to literaturea major
one that endeared him to writers of later generationswas
that he developed characters whose downfall results from their own flaws
rather than from outside forces, such as fate. Euripides was a close friend
Socrates, one of the greatest philosophers
in history. Socrates rejected the overarching role of the Olympian deities
in Greek societyand perhaps the deities themselves.
He often spoke of a single god as the creator of the universe and, in this
respect, may have influenced Euripides.
Mythology Background .
Euripides staged Medea in 431 B.C., his audience was already familiar
with events that preceded the action of the play. Although these eventsinvolving
Jason's quest and retrieval of the fabled Golden Fleeceare
not part of the play, they affect its action. These events are as follows:
a young man of heroic qualities, inherits the throne of Iolchos in Thessaly,
Greece, from his father. However, Jasons scheming uncle, Pelias, seizes
the throne and refuses to yield it unless Jason retrieves for him the Golden
Fleece, a coat of golden wool sheared from a ram called Chrysomallus. The
fleece hangs on a tree in a grove in Aea, in the far-off land of Colchis,
on the Black Sea. Anyone could easily seize and run off with it save for
one thing: It is guarded by a dragon that never sleeps. With a crew of
hearty adventurers, Jason sails to Colchis, overcoming many perils on the
he arrives in Colchis, he meets Medea, the beautiful daughter of AeŽtes,
King of Aea. She falls desperately in love with Jason. Her father regards
the fleece as a boon that must forever remain in Colchis. However, he says
he will give it up if Jason can successfully complete seemingly impossible
tasksfirst, yoking fire-breathing bulls and
plowing a field and, second, defeating an army that springs to life from
dragons teath sown in the field. Medea, a powerful sorceress, says she
will enable Jason to perform the tasks if he takes her with him back to
Greece and marries her. He agrees. Then, with the help of Medea and her
magic, he yokes the bulls and vanquishes the army. Later, at the grove
where the fleece hangs, Medea again comes to Jasons aid by causing the
dragon to fall asleep, and Jason makes off with the great prize.
takes her brother, Apsyrtus, with her when she and Jason sail back to Greece.
When Aeetes and his men follow, Medea kills and cuts up her brother and
strews his remains in the sea. Aeetes loses time retrieving the body parts,
and Jason and Medea escape but undergo many perilous adventures during
the voyage. While stopping in the land of the Phaeacians, they marry and
receive the protection of the Phaeacian king, Alcinous, from Aeetes, who
is still pursing them. Eventually, Aeetes gives up the chase, and Jason
and Medea return safely to Iolchos. There, they discover that Pelias has
murdered Jasons parents, and Medea concocts a scheme that enables Jason
to gain revenge; it results in the death of Pelias. Because it is no longer
safe for them to remain in Iolchos, Jason and Medea take up residence in
Corinth, Greece. There, during several years of apparently marital bliss,
Medea bears him two sons. Then the day comes when Medea learns that Jason
pledges to marry Glauce, the daughter of the King of Corinth, Creon. It
is at this point that Euripides begins his tale.
. Climax . .......The
climax of the play occurs when Medea kills her children and Jason arrives
to discover the blood from their corpses oozing out of the crack beneath
the front door. ..
. Themes . Revenge
Jason rejects Medea for Princess Glauce, Medea's thirst for venegeance
rules her, overcoming all of her other emotionseven
her love for her children. She kills them, as well as Princess Glauce and
Creon, to spite Jason.
Oppression of Women
treat women as mere objects in the Greece of the mythological Jason and
Medeaand in the Greece of the real-life Euripidesexpecting
women to do their will without complaint.
Human Conduct and Destiny
beingsnot fate, not the gods, not bad luckare
the authors of their own misfortunes. More so than any other playwright
or poet in ancient Athens, Euripides realized that men and women created
than own destinies. This was a controversial idea in his time, and his
critics excoriated him for it because they believed it was a sign that
he rejected the gods of Olympus. However, Euripides was merely presenting
life as it was. In this respect, he was an innovator far ahead of his time.
Children as Innocent Victims
commits an inexcusable offense against Medea when he rejects her to marry
Princess Glauce and thereby further his career. In retaliation, Medea commits
an even greater wrong by murdering her own children, along with the princess
and the king. Medeas sin is like that of a woman who aborts a child simply
because she has control over it and can dispose of it without impunity.
Greece can be just as barbaric as uncivilized Colchis. The Corinthians
regard Medea as crude and uncivilized, but Jason proves that he and his
fellow Greeksthough claiming that justice
and virtue are hallmarks of their societycan
be just as barbaric as uncultured outsiders for distant lands.
love for Jason is all consuming. So is her hatred for him after he abandons
her. In each case, she is willing to feed her powerful passion whatever
Medea is a powerful sorceress,
capable of working wondrous magic. Yet her magic is powerless against Jason's
infidelity and maltreatment of her. In desperation she resorts to the unspeakable
crime of murdering her own children.
Problem of the Chorus .
chorus of Corinthian women sympathizes with Medea throughout the play,
in large part because they well know that Medea is right when she says
that Greek males treat Greek females unjustly. However, these women time
and again express horror at Medea's plan to kill her children, for they
realize that Medea is going too far. Nevertheless, they remain silentin
compliance with Medea's expressed wishwhen
she announces her plan to kill the children and later carries it out. It
is hard to believe that this chorus of women would look the other way under
Why doesn't the chorus act to
prevent Medea from murdering her children?
feel any sympathy for Medea?
a psychological profile of Medea.
informative essay, explain what life was like for women in the male-dominated
society of Ancient Greece. Among the questions you might consider answering
are the following: Could a woman refuse to marry a man chosen for her?
Could she participate in commerce and politics? Could she participate in
the arts as a writer, an actor, a sculptor, or a musician? Was she entitled
to an education? Did the law protect a woman whose husband treated her
encounters Medea, he is returning from a visit to the oracle at Delphi.
Who was the oracle? What was the oracle's function in Greek society?
poet Ovid continued the story of Medea after she left Corinth. Compare
and contrast the Medea of Ovid with the Medea in Euripides' story.