On The Medea

Euripides’s The Medea was first performed at the City Dionysia in 431 BC, and it lost. He received third place, second to his rival, Sophocles.

The Backstory

Giaquinto, Corrado, 1703-1765; Medea
Medea by Corrado Giaquinto in the 1750s

As a child, Jason was educated and reared by the legendary centaur, Chiron, on Mount Pelion in Thessaly. As a boy he participated in the hunt for the Kalydonian boar, along with other ancient heroes. At the age of 20, Jason returned to Iolcus to claim his kingdom. On his way into the city, he lost a sandal. The ruler, Pelias, recalled a prophecy that stated he would die at the hands of a one-sandaled man. Thus Pelias decided to send Jason out on a possibly fatal expedition to bring the fabled Golden Fleece to Iolcus. Jason had Argo, the famous builder, build his boat of the same name, from which he derived the ‘Argonauts’. Upon his arrival in Kolchis, Jason was forced to undergo a series of struggles to retrieve the Golden Fleece. However, the daughter of the ruler of Kochis, Medea, a sorcerer, fell in love with Jason. With her magical assistance, they fled back to the Argo with the Golden Fleece, while Medea delayed the men of Kolchis, including in killing her own brother.

Upon return, Pelias refused to give up his throne. Again, using her magic, Medea convinces the daughters of Pelias that if they kill their father, by cutting him up and boiling him alive, that they would gain everlasting youth. This, after it was discovered Pelias had attempted to assassinate Jason’s father. However, Jason did not become king, and instead went to Corinth with Medea.

The Euripides play covers the timeframe in which Jason falls in love with Glauce, princess and daughter of Creon, instead of his current wife, Medea, a barbarian. In jealousy in the tragedy, Medea kills Glauce with a poisoned robe and crown, as well as her father, Creon, and Medea also kills her children she bore with Jason.

Appropriately, contemporary feminist critics point to The Medea as an example of the historic treatment of women. However, the tale is of revenge, not of justice, and it takes no modern political stance on “gender issues”. There are no heroes, and any movement which praises a filicidal mother as a hero is not worthy of serious consideration.

For this reading I used the Oliver Taplin translation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s