on February 17, 2004
I didn't read Medea when I was in school, but I have now read through this slim tragedy twice over the last month, and the more I think about it the more I find the story line and its captivating protagonist fascinating and current.
Before opening the play, my knowledge of Medea had been limited to the occasional reference to it in news reports involving infanticide -- not something that made me eager to read the original.
Though Medea does take the lives of her children in a twisted revenge plot, it would be a serious mistake to consider that unforgettable act the central part of the play. Instead, it is Medea's evolution that is most important.
Despite the fact that she gave up her life to follow Jason, Medea is revealed as a kind of proto-feminist early on in the story, a woman defined more by cleverness than by rage ... and yet never seeming merely cunning or calculating. Sadly, this kind of dominating and complex female character would be somewhat unusual by the standards of popular literature today; she must have been exceptionally remarkable in the day of Euripedes, the play's author.
The tragedy itself indicates this kind of reversal in several ways, ranging from the manner in which Creon reacts to Medea in their conversation near the end of the story to the way the chorus makes mention of streams flowing upwards in the mountains.
But for all its value, Medea does not stand on its own. Readers must know what ancient Greek audiences already knew: that Medea sacrificed everything, including her life in her home country, to help Jason win the treasured Golden Fleece and to mother his children. But soon she is abandoned in favor of a woman of more noble birth, which is where the play begins. This edition -- not the play itself -- loses a star for failing to explain that context in what could have been a very brief but invaluable introduction.
on July 17, 2003
The great screen writers and directors of the last century have nothing on Euripides when it comes to being an innovator of art. Euripides tore away the shackles of the "how to write a play" of his day--Aristotelian dramatic theory. In the process, modern Western drama was born. His play Medea is a prime example.
At first glance Medea does, in some respects, exemplify Aristotle's requirements for a tragedy. However, the play violates Aristotle's vision more than it corresponds to it. It does this through untraditional content and innovation.
In layout and movement of the plot, Medea closely matches the form of Aristotle's standard example of a tragedy--Sophocles's Oedipus Rex. Medea shares Oedipus's convention of beginning with the perspective of a mournful look back on the events that are about to be told.
Medea is highborn and descends from the lineage of the Gods. This in some ways fulfills Aristotle's requirement that the protagonist be exceptional. Likewise, both Medea and Oedipus depict what Aristotle would call "terrible and piteous events." However, this is where the similarity with Aristotle's ideal of the tragic ends.
The character of Medea is the main wrench that Euripides throws into Aristotle's description of tragedy. Aristotle's idea of the tragic hero demanded a change of experience and fortune that entails unmerited suffering on the part of the character and a fearful viewing of events on behalf of the audience. These things do not happen in Medea.
Medea has a history. She has killed spitefully and coldly in the past. She continues to do so throughout the play. She never even faces the threat of a fall from a high station because she secures sanctuary in Athens before she sets her revenge into motion (incidentally, one comes to feel like the psalmist who wrote: "I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a green tree in its native soil"--though in this case it is a wicked woman). Euripides uses Medea to make a commentary, not to bring about that lynch-pin of Aristotelian drama: catharsis.
Medea does not attempt to meet up with Aristotle's requirements. Instead, it is becomes new form of art--tragedy as social commentary. Euripides shows himself to be among the great artistic innovators in history by his transformation of a received dramatic form into something different but wholly effective in its own way.
Every time there is a horrific story in the news about a mother murdering her children, the classic tragedy "Medea" by Euripides is mentioned. However, a close reading of the actual play shows that the point Euripides is trying to make in this drama is not about infanticide, but rather about the way "foreigners" are treated in Greece (this is best seen in the odes of the Chorus of Corinthian Women). The other key component of the play is the psychology of Medea and the way in which she constructs events to help convince herself to do the unspeakable deed and kill the two sons she has borne Jason. There is a very real sense in which Jason is the true villain of the piece and I do not think there is a comparable example in the extant Greek tragedies remain wherein a major mythological hero is made to look as bad as Euripides does in this play.
Another important thing to remember in reading "Medea" is that the basic elements of the story were already known to the Athenian audience that would be watching the play. Consequently, when the fact that Medea is going to kill her children is not a surprise what becomes important are the motivations the playwright presents in telling this version of the story. The audience remembers the story of the Quest for the Golden Fleece and how Medea betrayed her family and her native land to help Jason. In some versions of the story Medea goes so far as to kill her brother, chop up his body, and throw it into the sea so their father, the King of Colchis, must stop his pursuit of the Argo to retrieve the body of his son. However, as a foreigner Medea is not allowed to a true wife to Jason, and when he has the opportunity to improve his fortune by marrying the princess of Corinth, Medea and everything she had done for him are quickly forgotten.
To add insult to injury, Jason assures Medea that his sons will be well treated at the court while the King of Corinth, worried that the sorceress will seek vengeance, banishes her from the land. After securing sanctuary in Athens (certainly an ironic choice given this is where the play is being performed), Medea constructs a rather complex plan. Having coated a cloak with poison, she has her children deliver it to the princess; not only will the princess die when she puts on the cloak (and her father along with her), the complicity of the children in the crime will give her an excuse to justify killing in order to literally save them from the wrath of the Corinthians.
This raises an interest questions: Could Medea have taken the children with her to her exile in Athens? On the one hand I want to answer that obviously, yes, she can; there is certainly room in her dragon-drawn chariot. But given her status as a foreigner, if Jason goes to Athens and demands the return of his children, would he not then have a claim that Medea could not contest? More importantly, is not Medea's ultimate vengeance on Jason that she will hurt him by taking away everything he holds dear, namely his children and his princess bride?
In the final line of the play the Chorus laments: "Many things beyond expectation do the gods fulfill. That which was expected has not been accomplished; for that which was unexpected has god found the way. Such was the end of this story." This last line has also found its way into the conclusion of other dramas by Euripides ("Alcestis," "Bacchae" and "Andromache"), but I have always found it to fit the ending of "Medea" best, so I suspect that is where it originally came from and ended up being appended to those other plays sometime during the last several thousand years. However, the statement is rather disingenuous because one of the rather standard approaches in a play by Euripides is that his characters often deserve their fate. In a very real sense, Euripides provides justification for Medea's monstrous crime and his implicit argument to the Athenian audience is that the punishment fits the crime. However, Athenians would never give up their air of superiority; at least not until foreigners such as the Macedonians and the Romans conquered the self-professed cradle of democracy.
on June 17, 1999
This play is regarded by many as Euripedes' masterpiece and should be required reading of all educated people. It retells the tragic story of Medea, who had helped Jason in his quest, became his wife, gave him two sons, and feels betrayed since he is marrying the daughter of the ruler of Corinth (Jason has come to the conclusion that this is necessary to protect Medea and his sons since she is a barbarian). With horrible vengence, she kills the bride and the king and then kills her two sons. Euripedes depicts how much passion and vengence can overcome not only individuals, but those who strive to be rational. Men (and governments) can't ignore the influence of emotion, and even irrationality, on their decisions and actions, even when those actions may seem rational and just. Man has to remain flexible. The play also shows how emotions, anger, and unbridled fury can cause a person to do stupid and irrational acts. Euripedes is undoubtedly warning Athens with respect to the war that is going on with Sparta.
on July 17, 1997
This is one of those remarkable plays that feels like it was written just last week. Medea is the daughter of the evil King Aeetes in Colchis -- on the remote, eastern side of the Black Sea. She assists Jason in slaying the serpent that guarded the golden fleece, and fell deeply in love with him. (See Apollonius Rhodius' Argonautica for a fuller treatment of the love episode at Colchis). She even killed her brother, Absrytus, on their way back to Greece.
Medea has one problem, however. Aside from the fact she is a witch, she is a barbarian, a non-Greek. The Greeks used the word "barbaros" to refer to all people who weren't Greek, because if they didn't speak Greek, it just sounded like "bar bar bar" to the Greeks.
So after Jason and Medea settle in together back in Greece, his homeland, he decides that his interests (and Medea's) are better served if he marries the daughter of King Creon of Corinth. Medea gets jealous, poisons the woman, and then kills her two children in revenge.
Medea is an absolutely riveting character, whose tragic problems are those of all woman who have left their homes and families to follow men to foreign lands, only to be scorned by them in the end. The speeches of Jason and Medea are remarkable point-counterpoint presentations which reflect the deep influence of the sophists of Euripides' day. Medea sounds, at times, like a proto-feminist. She is one of the most enduring dramatic creations of all times, revealing with each line the remarkable genius of Euripides, the most modern of the three great Greek tragedians
on October 3, 2002
According to the introductory note in the Dover Thrift Edition, "Medea," the play by Euripedes, was first produced in 431 BC. After more than two millennia, this remains a powerfully written human tragedy. The Dover Thrift edition features an English translation by Rex Warner; this very effective translation manages to sound both classic and contemporary at the same time.
"Medea" tells a story involving the classical Greek hero Jason and Medea, by whom he has fathered two children. As the play opens, Jason has angered Medea by taking on another woman to be his wife. This conflict drives the drama forward. "Medea" is a gripping story about love, parenthood, politics, betrayal, anger, and revenge. There is a subtle but fascinating theme of ethnic tension as Medea and Jason clash. Finally, I believe that, after all these centuries, Euripedes' sociological and psychological insights remain compelling.
on January 31, 2000
'Medea' by Euripedes is a classic and powerful Greek tragedy that broke all the rules of that time period. Euripedes takes two great figures in Medea and Jason, and uses Iconoclastic techniques brilliantly to make Jason seem stupid and Medea seem like a murderer. It is especially interesting because of the story that you need to understand outside of the play. You will need to know who the gods are and how Medea and Jason got together. Medea is a powerful sorceress, which is a major point in this play. The imagery of the death scenes were VIVIDLY scripted and the gods, who are supposed to represent all that is good and rightous, are also mocked and bashed by Euripedes. Overall, Euripedes defied all and created a tragic masterpiece, I will definately recommend you to read this. Thank you.
on December 8, 2001
"Medea" is a classical work that many have heard of, but few have actually read. It is the story of the wife of Jason, leader of Argonauts, and her chilling plot of revenge against an unfaithful husband and his new child-bride. The play is short, concise, and powerfully unnerving. Whether this is a history of misogyny or a warning of the vengeance of a wronged woman is a matter better left to scholarly debate. Provocative, disturbing, and at times heartbreaking, this is a definite must-read for neo-Classicists and avid readers alike. Not to be missed.
on August 16, 2000
This book is small and very easy to read. Its about how a women is driven to exile, because of her barbaric personality-- she kills her husbands uncle because he will not relinquish the throne to her husband Jason-- and they are forced to live on an Island where she knows nobody and has no friends and nobody to love her, albeit her children. Jason leaves her and she is eventually pushed to horrific limits and exacts her revenge in a horrible way. A MUST READ ;-)
on July 21, 1998
I was given the story of "Medea" to read in my junior year of high school. I read ahead of the class because I found the story so drawing. I didn't put it down until I had finished. Then I read it again 4 more times. "Medea" showed the readers the length to which a woman would go through when scorned. I would love to see a movie made about it. It was the best I've ever read.