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Interim Readings > Euripides - The Medea

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Our next Interim Read is Euripides's tragedy, The Medea. (Why The Medea and not just Medea? I don't know, but every translation I have puts it that way.)

The Greeks were very familiar with the events of the myth that led up to the time of the play. Very briefly (and realizing that there are multiple versions of almost all the myths), Jason took his ship the Argo and his crew, the Argonauts, into the Black Sea to retrieve the Golden Fleece in order that he could gain the kingship of Iolcus. Medea, daughter of King Aeetes of Colchis, fell in love with him and agreed to help him if he would marry her and take him back to Greece with her. He agreed, and she did help him succeed in several supposedly impossible tasks with her special knowledge and potions. When he won the fleece and was escaping, her father was pursuing them; to deter him she killed her brother Absyrtus, and according to some versions dismembered him and threw his parts into the sea.

They returned to Greece after (some versions say) other adventures, but Jason's father refused to give up the throne of Iolcus; they caused his death and had to flee to Corinth, where they had two children, but for reasons discussed in the play Jason turned from Medea in order to marry Glauce, daughter of Creon, king of Corinth.

There are a variety of on-line versions of The Medea.

Here is a translation by Ian Johnson, not published but he does translations and posts them freely on the Internet.

Here is a prose version; since the original is in verse, I prefer reading verse translations, but prose is better than bad verse.

Here is an enotes study version with notes

Here is the Gutenberg translation by Murray, in rhyming verses though I don't think it's the best translation.

Here is a Greek version, but it has a fairly lengthy introduction which I haven't read so can't comment on.

None of these, frankly, are my preferred translations: I like the Rex Warner translation, though I can't find it quickly on the Internet. Lattimore has also done a translation; I usually like his work, though it is a bit more old fashioned than modern translations. There are probably other translations; feel free to recommend any you find particularly good.


message 2: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments I was surprised to see the David Kovacs translation available on the Perseus website. Kovacs is an acknowledged expert on Euripides, editing the greek text as well as providing new translations for the Loeb series. To read his Medea you have to go page by page through the manuscript, but it's not that long, and the translation is impeccable. (That doesn't mean it will be to your taste necessarily, but it is bound to be trustworthy. Not to mention it's FREE!)


message 3: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 28 comments This was the first time I've read The Medea, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm not at all versed in Greek history or plays, so I'm looking forward to hearing from those who are.


message 4: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments If anyone is interested in the prose translation Everyman mentioned in his post, here is the complete text at ebooks@Adelaide, the one at the Internet Classic Arcihve is incomplete, as many of their texts are (their server crashed at one point and they never fully recovered).


message 5: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Thanks to Thomas for the link to the Kovacs translation and to Nemo for the better link to the prose translation.

Any opening thoughts on the play yet?


message 6: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments I find the scene with Aegeus sort of puzzling. It seems to be there for the benefit of an Athenian audience, but harboring Medea after she slaughters her children doesn't seem like the sort of thing Athenians should be proud of. I know that it's part of the myth, so maybe Euripides felt obligated to include it, but it's such a cumbersome scene (Aristotle criticized it as "irrational") that I wonder what Euripides was trying to say. Were the Athenians indifferent to Medea's character or does it say something about Athens itself?


message 7: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Thomas wrote: "I find the scene with Aegeus sort of puzzling. It seems to be there for the benefit of an Athenian audience, but harboring Medea after she slaughters her children doesn't seem like the sort of thin..."

For one thing, Aegeus doesn't know when he makes his vow to harbor Medea that she has murdered her children, or even that she plans to. So he makes the unassailable vow to take her in, and fulfilling the vow to the gods has such power and authority that he will be stuck with her no matter what she has done.

As to why it's there, I have several possible thoughts.

One is to set up that Medea has a safe place to go even if she murders the children, which presumably would leave her freer to go through with the murders. If she had no safe haven, she might worry that Jason would get his satisfaction over her by murdering her, and she would never get to see him suffer, which was her whole reason for the killings. But if she can go safely to Athens and thumb her nose at him, that will mean that she, in her terms, "wins" over Jason as she can then watch him for years to come suffering over all the deaths she has caused.

Another might be to give her another person, one of high moral authority, to bewail her fate to who will sympathize with her and validate how badly she has been treated. After all, it wasn't that unusual for a Greek male to take another wife, and Jason's reasons have some logical merit to them, don't they? If it's just Medea and the all female chorus who are saying how terrible this is, her case can be diminished by the audience. But if the King of Athens, their city, validates that she has been wrongly treated, that Jason has "done her wrong," then they will presumably be more moved to think tha there are two valid sides to this situation.

Another might be to emphasize her wisdom and medical/magical (are they magical?) powers and increase her stature. I assume it would be unusual in that society for a king to ask a woman for advice on what an oracle means. But he does, and then she offers him the benefit of her drugs to sire the child he is otherwise unable to.

I don't know the answer, but those are some possibilities that occur to me.


message 8: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Another idea, related to no. 2 above, is that Aegeus is the only male figure to sympathize with Medea's plight. Otherwise, all female figures are on her side (the nurse, the Corinthian Women) and all the male figures against her (Jason, Creon, the Messenger). It makes this look like a pure male-female divide. By adding Aegeus into the mix, Euripides breaks that a bit.


message 9: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Everyman wrote: "One is to set up that Medea has a safe place to go even if she murders the children, which presumably would leave her freer to go through with the murders. If she had no safe haven, she might worry that Jason would get his satisfaction over her by murdering her, and she would never get to see him suffer, which was her whole reason for the killings."

Nice point. It seems that one of the themes of the play is exile, and Medea is perhaps the most "exiled" of them all. This is her fault, of course. She chose Jason, an outsider, over her own family and country in the most emphatic way. And in this play she does it again, but this time she chooses vengeance instead of love. Granted, her vengeance is a product of her love, and a consequence of Jason's betrayal, but her solution is again to destroy her home utterly and go into exile.


message 10: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Everyman wrote: "Another might be to emphasize her wisdom and medical/magical (are they magical?) powers and increase her stature. I assume it would be unusual in that society for a king to ask a woman for advice on what an oracle means. But he does, and then she offers him the benefit of her drugs to sire the child he is otherwise unable to. "

Yes, it highlights Medea as an extraordinary woman, doesn't it? I think of Clytemnestra and Cassandra, maybe the oracle at Delphi as similar figures.


message 11: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Thomas wrote: "Nice point. It seems that one of the themes of the play is exile, and Medea is perhaps the most "exiled" of them all. "

Yes. In both cases it's self-exile, and in both cases she commits murder of a family member in the process of exiling herself.


message 12: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Thomas wrote: "it highlights Medea as an extraordinary woman, doesn't it?"

One thing I find interesting is that while the 5thC Greek society was very restrictive as to women, basically restricting them to live within their homes and a very small circle around them (there is much scholarly debate as to whether women were permitted to attend the theater, though they did participate in religious rituals), the female protagonists of Greek drama tend often to be fairly independent woman acting in very un-Greek-female ways. Certainly Medea is this way. Antigone is also. And the women of Lysistrata. Among others you can name better than I can.

The point here being that Medea is a very non-traditional Greek wife. Perhaps this is because she is, after all, a foreigner and not Greek. And, pure speculation, is part of the reason Jason turns from her that he is tired of dealing with a non-traditional-Greek wife and just wants a quiet traditional marriage? I can't imagine that Medea was very much fun to live with!


message 13: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments One member sent me a message that a post she thought she had made here hadn't shown up, and wondered whether I had deleted it. I definitely didn't, but it makes me question whether other comments people have made have been "eaten" by Goodreads?

If you made a comment that didn't show up, please try again. I haven't deleted anything, and in the rare cases where I do (I think I have deleted at most two or three comments over the past several years) I always let the poster know. So please, if you lost a comment, try again!


message 14: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Everyman wrote: "The point here being that Medea is a very non-traditional Greek wife. Perhaps this is because she is, after all, a foreigner and not Greek. And, pure speculation, is part of the reason Jason turns from her that he is tired of dealing with a non-traditional-Greek wife and just wants a quiet traditional marriage?"

The quote that always crops up in regard to women in ancient Greek society is from Pericles' funeral oration:

On the other hand if I must say anything on the subject of female excellence to those of you who will now be in widowhood it will be all comprised in this brief exhortation. Great will be your glory in not falling short of your natural character; and greatest will be hers who is least talked of among the men for good or for bad. Thucydides, 2.45

It's probably just a coincidence, but Medea was produced in 431, the same year as the funeral oration.
The oration was delivered in the winter, at the end of the first year of the war. I'm not sure when the dramatic festival would have been -- do you know, Eman?


message 15: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Thomas wrote: "It's probably just a coincidence, but Medea was produced in 431, the same year as the funeral oration.
The oration was delivered in the winter, at the end of the first year of the war. I'm not sure when the dramatic festival would have been -- do you know, Eman? "


The City Dionysia (or if you want to be more formal, Dionysus Eleuthereus) was a spring festival, held in late March/early April. But the play would presumably have been written well before that.


message 16: by Adelle (last edited Jul 17, 2011 02:45PM) (new)

Adelle | 127 comments Thomas wrote: I find the scene with Aegeus sort of puzzling. It seems to be there for the benefit of an Athenian audience, but harboring Medea after she slaughters her children doesn't seem like the sort of thing Athenians should be proud of. I know that it's part of the myth, so maybe Euripides felt obligated to include it, but it's such a cumbersome scene (Aristotle criticized it as "irrational") that I wonder what Euripides was trying to say. Were the Athenians indifferent to Medea's character or does it say something about Athens itself?

Not a spoiler; but long.

(view spoiler)


message 17: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 127 comments I had written to Everyman regarding my position on Medea. He asked me to try to support it.

Not a spoiler. But long.


(view spoiler)


message 18: by Adelle (last edited Jul 18, 2011 12:56PM) (new)

Adelle | 127 comments Thomas wrote: "Everyman wrote: "One is to set up that Medea has a safe place to go even if she murders the children, which presumably would leave her freer to go through with the murders. If she had no safe haven.. ." Thomas wrote: "Nice point. It seems that one of the themes of the play is exile, and Medea is perhaps the most "exiled" of them all. This is her fault, of course. She chose Jason, an outsider, over her own family and country in the most emphatic way. And in this play she does it again..... her solution is again to destroy her home utterly and go into exile."

Excellent observation.


I had noticed that the play began "The NURSE enters from the house." and that there are repeated, repeated references to homes and houses ("by the house with the double gates," "the entire house,"she turns toward the house," etc.), but that Medea herself doesn't enter the house until she enters to kill her sons ("With a cry MEDEA rushes into the house").

I very much appreciated providing me with the words "outsider" and "exile" to help me understand what I was feeling as I kept seeing homes and houses being mentioned.

EDIT: Now that I'm reading, I see that Medea was at times within the house. A house of sorrow. Still, it seems to me of importance how often home and house keep echoing thru the play.


message 19: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Interesting thoughts, Adelle!

You have me thinking about the importance of oaths. The play is in a sense about honor, and what constitutes honor. Obviously Jason and Medea have differing ideas about that. Jason insists that his royal marriage is not a betrayal of Medea, it is just a political alliance done for sound practical reasons. Jason says that she would understand this, if "the love question" didn't upset her. (The Greek is literally "if the bed did not nettle you.") Jason sees Medea as sexually obsessed, still in the thrall of Aphrodite.

But Medea doesn't buy this, and neither does the chorus. She has already betrayed her country and sacrificed her own family out of love for him, and she'd rather live as a refugee than see Jason compromise his bed for political gain. The honor of love is paramount for her.

So which form of honor will take precedence? In a basic, somewhat simplistic way, it is the honor of men versus the honor of women at play here. Both kinds of honor are important, both to men and women, I think, but what happens when one has to be chosen over the other?

Perhaps this underscores the importance of wedding vows? (My understanding is that there was no oath at an ancient Greek wedding. It may have spared Jason a spot of bother if there had been.)


message 20: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Everyman wrote: "The City Dionysia (or if you want to be more formal, Dionysus Eleuthereus) was a spring festival, held in late March/early April. But the play would presumably have been written well before that.
"


Thanks. It does seem a coincidence then... unless Medea is responsible for the "good or bad" qualification.


message 21: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments While I’m not a fan of cause-oriented criticism – feminist, Marxist, etc. – I did wonder a bit last night what a feminist criticism of Medea might entail. Some of the points would seem obvious: the marginalization of a woman’s interests, the male control and power issues, the use of woman as pawns in the male pursuit of their desires (first using Medea to conquer the Golden Fleece, then discarding her and using Glauce to secure the path to kingship), the courage of a woman in defying culture and custom to speak out against injustices done to her. But I wondered whether there might be some more subtle or sophisticated messages which feminism saw within the play. And I wondered whether there would be any attempt to justify her killing Glauce or her own children.

Searching (in Bing) for Euripides Medea feminist criticism the first link I came to was, at best, banal.

While not a feminist criticism, this next site does contend that “ the play is often seen as one of the first works of feminism, and Medea is seen as a feminist heroine. However, Euripides, rather than celebrating the strength and independence of Medea, may have been showing Athenian women how not to act. Medea is, after all, a barbarian from Colchis ("there is no Greek woman who would have dared such deeds"), and the play is more likely an admonition than a celebration.”

Even in the wiki.feministsf.net site I didn’t find much of value as to how feminists read the play or view the specifics of Medea’s acts (murdering your own children) as opposed to the more general principle of a woman exercising power and taking action against perceived injustice.

Has anybody else found any feminist criticism that might be informative?


message 22: by Everyman (last edited Jul 17, 2011 02:59PM) (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Edit: After looking again at the posts, it looks as though you may have used this not because of spoilers but because of the length of the posts. I have no problem with long posts, especially when they make points as well as you do. It's fine to just post them. (GR does, I think, have some length limitations, but they're pretty generous.)

Original post: BTW, Adelle, I appreciate your concern for respecting our No Spoilers policy, but for Interim Reads there's no such thing as spoilers, since the entire text is open for discussion from the start.

Spoilers are an issue when we are reading works over a period of time, when points or incidents or facts that appear later in a book than the point currently under discussion would be spoilers. In which case we don't use the hide spoiler tool; we just don't talk about them at all until we get to the point in the reading where they come up.


message 23: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Adelle wrote: "As to why Aegeus harbored Medea after she murdered her children, it strikes me as something that Athenians would approve of/because they “should” approve of. Because of the oath. "

I agree with this. The oath was inviolate. And I agree with you that Medea's insisting on an oath and not a mere promise was both clever and a demonstration that she understood Greek culture.


message 24: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Adelle wrote: "Prior to the events described as current in this play, I would imagine that the Greeks, the Athenians, would have admired Medea. "

I wonder about that. It may well have been so, but OTOH Medea was a barbarian, and as such would pretty automatically have been seen by the Greeks as uncivilized and a lesser being. She disobeyed her father in helping Jason, not a virtue that Greek women or, especially, Greek men would have approved of. Jason showed honor (by the Greek point of view) in keeping her promise to bring her back to Greece to be his wife. And having done so, would the Greeks have believed that he had an obligation to stick with his barbarian wife when the chance arose to marry a young, presumably beautiful Greek woman who was also a king's daughter and would give rise to a kingship? I wonder.


message 25: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 127 comments Everyman wrote: "BTW, Adelle, I appreciate your concern for respecting our No Spoilers policy, but for Interim Reads there's no such thing as spoilers, since the entire text is open for discussion from the start. ..."

Truth to tell, I haven't mastered pithy. I thought by using the "hide spoiler" I could mitigate the unwieldliness of long posts. They seem to me a bit of a pain otherwise when I want to quickly scan back to read previous posts. Does that work for you? I shalldo as you direct.


message 26: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Adelle wrote: "OK, Everyman, I’ll try to back that position up a little.
"


Very interesting points!

Yes, "Medea didn’t just “forsake all others” and cleave to her husband. She was willing to kill them for the sake of Jason. Maybe she was crazy."

Or maybe not crazy, but just showing how irrational a barbarian woman could be. (Keeping in mind that the legendary Amazons came from the same Black sea area as Medea did.) Can such women be trusted? Are their values compatible with Greek values?

You write "it’s plain from the play that Medea HAD been dishonored....[excellent citations omitted for brevity]. I could go on, but all these references to the dishonor and betrayal of Medea are in just the first few pages. Were she a Greek man so dishonored, her avenging herself would be expected, admired, required.

That's an excellent point. But the problem as I see it is that a Greek man would have taken his revenge directly on the person causing the dishonor, wouldn't he? If Medea had killed Jason, that would very much fit with your point. But would a Greek man have taken his revenge on an enemy who dishonored him by attacking his new wife (who presumably had little if anything to say about it, marriages at the time being arranged by the males) or on her own children? Through her arts she could presumably have murdered Jason as well as she murdered Glauce. Having wormed her way by deceit back into his good graces, she could have had the children bring him a magnificent poisoned nightdress in which to bed his new wife to show how she had truly forgiven him and accepted the correctness of his decision. But while revenging her honor was, as you say, very Greek, I think perhaps the manner she chose to exercise her revenge would have been repugnant to the Greeks, not respected by them. So while I think you're probably right about the Greek audience respecting her right to revenge, I'm not sure they would have approved her manner of exacting revenge.

Would they really have made a heroine of an infanticide (unless, as with Agamemnon, it was ordered by the gods)?


message 27: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Adelle wrote: "I had noticed that the play began "The NURSE enters from the house." and that there are repeated, repeated references to homes and houses ("by the house with the double gates," "the entire house,"she turns toward the house," etc.), but that Medea herself doesn't enter the house until she enters to kill her sons ("With a cry MEDEA rushes into the house"). "

Very nice point.

Speaking of the language of the play, I notice that at least in the Coleridge translation Glauce is never mentioned by name. It is always "daughter of Creon" or some similar construction. I think this suggests that she does not matter as a person, but only in her role as the path to a throne.


message 28: by Nemo (last edited Mar 17, 2018 10:54PM) (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments By coincidence, I just finished Aristotle's Rhetoric before this and found a connection between the two. Medea's filicide could be rationalized, though not justified, using Aristotle's diagnosis of human emotions and motives. (Review posted on my blog).

This is my first introduction to Greek tragedy, and I'm intrigued. What to read next?


message 29: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Nemo wrote: "This is my first introduction to Greek tragedy, and I'm intrigued. What to read next?
"


Glad you found it intriguing! Almost every surviving Greek tragedy is worth reading, but Antigone remains one of my most beloved, with Electra not far behind.

(It's fascinating how many of Euripides's surviving plays center around female protagonists! I hadn't realized this until I looked at his entire ouvre before picking Medea for this Interim Read.)


message 30: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Everyman wrote: "Antigone remains one of my most beloved, with Electra not far behind."

Electra by Sophocles or Euripides?


message 31: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Nemo wrote: "Everyman wrote: "Antigone remains one of my most beloved, with Electra not far behind."

Electra by Sophocles or Euripides?"


Euripides. But read both and compare their versions of the myth and how they treat it.


message 32: by Thomas (last edited Jul 17, 2011 08:46PM) (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Everyman wrote: "Or maybe not crazy, but just showing how irrational a barbarian woman could be. (Keeping in mind that the legendary Amazons came from the same Black sea area as Medea did.) Can such women be trusted? Are their values compatible with Greek values? "

The story of Medea, which an Athenian audience would have known, is that after she flees to Athens she ends up marrying Aegeus and bearing him a son named Medus. In Euripides' Medea, Aegeus is on his way to see Pittheus, king of Troezen, where he will go against the oracle's advice and "unloosen the wineskin." He gets drunk and impregnates the king's daughter, Aethra. Aethra gives birth to Theseus, who eventually returns to Athens as heir to the throne. Medea tries to kills him, but Aegeus finds out, saves Theseus, and sends Medea into exile again.

So I suppose the answer is no, such women cannot be trusted. Athenian men were not allowed to marry foreign women, and perhaps this played a part in how Medea was cast for an Athenian audience.


message 33: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Nemo wrote: "This is my first introduction to Greek tragedy, and I'm intrigued. What to read next? "

Since you're reading Aristotle, you should read Oedipus Tyrannus (Sophocles) in conjunction with the Poetics. Aeschylus and Euripides were masterful poets, but Sophocles was the master dramatist.


message 34: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 28 comments Thanks to everyone for your insights.
I found the sections in the beginning where Medea is bemoaning what it means to be a wife and mother wholly surprising. I had no idea anything like this existed in the classics.
"Oh,
Of all things upon earth that bleed and grow,
A herb most bruised is woman. We must pay
Our store of gold, hoarded for that one day,
To buy us some man's love; and lo, they bring
A master of our flesh! There comes the sting
Of the whole shame. And then the jeopardy,
For good or ill, what shall that master be;
Reject she cannot: and if he but stays
His suit, 'tis shame on all that woman's days.
So thrown amid new laws, new places, why,
'Tis magic she must have, or prophecy--
Home never taught her that--how best to guide
Toward peace this thing that sleepeth at her side.
And she who, labouring long, shall find some way
Whereby her lord may bear with her, nor fray
His yoke too fiercely, blessed is the breath
That woman draws! Else, let her pray for death.
Her lord, if he be wearied of the face
Withindoors, gets him forth; some merrier place
Will ease his heart: but she waits on, her whole
Vision enchainèd on a single soul.
And then, forsooth, 'tis they that face the call
Of war, while we sit sheltered, hid from all
Peril!--False mocking! Sooner would I stand
Three times to face their battles, shield in hand,
Than bear one child."

I find the comments above about Medea being an example of a barbarian woman not to be trusted interesting. What does it mean then that the play is named after her and tells mostly of her actions? I even see the play as almost sympathetic to her. The beginning starts with the Nurse telling the audience how Medea has been betrayed.

"Wherefore sore betrayed
Medea calleth up the oath they made,
They two, and wakes the claspèd hands again,
The troth surpassing speech, and cries amain
On God in heaven to mark the end, and how
Jason hath paid his debt."


message 35: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Kristen wrote: "Thanks to everyone for your insights.
I found the sections in the beginning where Medea is bemoaning what it means to be a wife and mother wholly surprising. I had no idea anything like this existed in the classics."


Almost everything exists in the classics! Wait until we get to the Republic -- it's been said that every significant issue of philosophy is raised in it.

But back to Medea. The speech you quoted is one of the most famous speeches in all of Greek tragedy, and is frequently anthologized. The (mostly if not entirely male -- we're not sure whether women generally attended the festival) Athenian audience would presumably have been quite unsettled by it.

The Greek male view of women was perhaps best represented in Jason's speech:

But you women are so idiotic—
you think if everything is fine in bed,
you have all you need, but if the sex is bad
then all the very best and finest things
you make your enemies. What mortals need
is some other way to get our children.
There should be no female sex. With that,
men would be rid of all their troubles.

Greek males viewed women as obsessed with sex, and as devious and scheming. They needed women to continue the race, but they didn't trust them, and would have preferred to be able to do entirely without them.

Medea, of course, represents all of these issues in spades. She is extremely devious and dishonest, particularly when the (as she tells the Chorus) intentionally lies to Jason to get him to trust her. And as he notes in his speech, it is her sexual desire for him which made her come with him in the first place, abandoning (and destroying) her family. So the Greek male audience would, I think, have seen in her the epitome of what they feared in women. But for her to put the case so baldly in the speech you quote, to "rub the noses" of the men into what women have to suffer, must have been uncomfortable for the male audience.


message 36: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Thomas wrote: "Athenian men were not allowed to marry foreign women, and perhaps this played a part in how Medea was cast for an Athenian audience. "

It's true that after 450 (or 451) Athenian men were not allowed to marry foreigners. But this is complicated by the fact that a) the story of Medea is a historical myth which took place long before that law was passed, and b) Jason is not an Athenian, so the law wouldn't have applied to him in any case. So legally there was nothing wrong with his marriage to Medea. But for the Athenian audience, they would have watched in the context of their law, and would have seen in it I think the wisdom of their law -- look what can happen when you DO marry a foreigner! The play has many undercurrents, but this seems to me to have been one probable undercurrent.


message 37: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments If the aim of tragedy is to "arouse fear and pity", as Aristotle put it, Medea did just that. Fear in men and pity in women.


message 38: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 127 comments Kristen wrote: "Thanks to everyone for your insights.
I found the sections in the beginning where Medea is bemoaning what it means to be a wife and mother wholly surprising. I had no idea anything like this exis..."


I love that you posted that, Kristen. My translation is prose, and the passage is so much more moving in verse.

Perhaps men/women almost by default see the issue from differnt points of view. I, too, am sympathetic to Medea, and I find Jason to be utter despicable in this play.

Medea, you'll have noticed at the end of that speech, says "I ask only one thing of you: promise me silence. If I can find some some way, some cunning scheme of revenge against my husband for all that he has done to me...then please be silent."

She is, I presume, speaking to a chorus of Corinthian woman. About a man who is now married to one of their own (Kreon's daughter). Nonetheless the respond, ""Yes. I promise this. You will be right, Medea, in avenging yourself on your husband."


message 39: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 127 comments Everyman wrote: "Another idea, related to no. 2 above, is that Aegeus is the only male figure to sympathize with Medea's plight. Otherwise, all female figures are on her side (the nurse, the Corinthian Women) and ..."

Ah ha, Everyman. I've started re-reading (the play most definately deserves a 2nd reading), and this time 'round I noticed that the attendant, a male, ("old man"), also sympathizes with Medea.

"Poor lady!" "Poor, foolish lady..." He has overheard what Kreon has planned for Medea. At this point, Medea hasn't even killed anyone in Corinth. She's just a wife whose husband has deserted her, betrayed her, broken his vows to her, left her for the bed of another---one with more position in Corinth, presumably with more youth, most likely with greater power to advance Jason's future. The attendant has sympathy for Medea:

"I hope and pray it[Kreon's intent to exile Medea and the children] isn't truth."

"you see how Jason deserts his children for the pleasure of his new bride." If the attendant is to believed, then Jason didn't marry Kreon's daughter to somehow advance his first family. Far from it. He deserted them for his own selfish motives.


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Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Everyman and Thomas, which translation of Sophocles would you recommend?


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Kristen | 28 comments Everyman wrote: "Almost everything exists in the classics! Wait until we get to the Republic -- it's been said that every significant issue of philosophy is raised in it."

Good to know! :D
I'll have to read some more of the classics then. Are there any in particular you would recommend for someone like myself who is completely new to them?
I'm excited for our discussion of the Republic. I started reading it last week, because I figured philosophy deserves extra time for re-reading.


message 42: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 28 comments Everyman wrote: "Greek males viewed women as obsessed with sex, and as devious and scheming. They needed women to continue the race, but they didn't trust them, and would have preferred to be able to do entirely without them.

Medea, of course, represents all of these issues in spades. She is extremely devious and dishonest, particularly when the (as she tells the Chorus) intentionally lies to Jason to get him to trust her. And as he notes in his speech, it is her sexual desire for him which made her come with him in the first place, abandoning (and destroying) her family. So the Greek male audience would, I think, have seen in her the epitome of what they feared in women. But for her to put the case so baldly in the speech you quote, to "rub the noses" of the men into what women have to suffer, must have been uncomfortable for the male audience. "


Interesting. What do you suppose the Greeks based their views of women upon? Would it perhaps have anything to do with any of the gods they worshipped? And I wonder what motivated Euripides to include this speech that would've made the male audience uncomfortable as you have said. It surprises me that a man could have this kind of insight into what are usually the darkest parts of woman's thoughts.


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Adelle | 127 comments Thomas wrote: " You have me thinking about the importance of oaths. The play is in a sense about honor, and what constitutes honor. Obviously Jason and Medea have differing ideas about that. Jason insists that his royal marriage is not a betrayal of Medea, it is just a political alliance done for sound practical reasons. Jason says that she would understand this, if "the love question" didn't upset her.

Let me preface this by saying that I have started reading The Republic. And there's Socrates will his "dear illustrious friend" and his follow up questions, his "to avoid any misunderstanding" quiries.

In that spirit, do you believe that Jason really has a different idea about honor? Do you believe that Jason thinks it is honorable for him to break his vow to Medea. Yes, I'm firmly in Medea's camp, I'm there in front of those double gates with the chorus, sympathizing [especially at this point in the play] with Medea.

It seems to me that regardless of WHY Medea married Jason, that Jason (*with reasons of his own), with his right hand clasped firmly to hers, swore oaths to be faithful. Was he being deceitful when he swore those oaths? Do oaths not count if one's fingers are in effect crossed behind one's back? Do oaths made to foreigners not hold as valid? Or is an oath an oath?

Yes. Medea wanted Jason. "Her heart on fire with love for Jason." Such an attraction was doubtless also physical. Medea either admits as much or is mocking Jason's abilities between the sheets when she says to Jason that Kreon's daughter will be happy, "not in one way, but a thousand! With so splendid a man as you to share her bed..."

If we're talking of the reasons Medea and Jason married, Medea's strike me as valid. Love. Passion.

*I have to wonder about Jason's motives. Did he marry her only because she wouldn't help him get the Fleece/escape if she didn't help him?

She killed her brother to create a diversion to aid Jason. (Jason: "you killed your own brother at his fireside.") So Jason's known what kind of woman she is for years. Was he willing to marry such a woman simply for his own advantage? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I don't believe much of what Jason says, but towards the close of the play he says that he could have married a Greek woman, "yet I passed them over, and chose you instead."

I don't know what kind of man Euripides was, what kind of statements he was trying to make in his plays, but I wonder... Very early on in the play, (perhaps even from the knowledge the Athenians would have had of Jason and Medea), they knew that Medea had killed her brother (seemingly an innocent bystander) to aid Jason. Did that bother them? Or did they accept that as a good thing because it helped one of their own? Yet they are in horror when she kills the children. Are they being hypocritical? Is Euripides trying to make that point?


message 44: by Adelle (last edited Jul 18, 2011 02:08PM) (new)

Adelle | 127 comments I'm just musing as I go along.

Medea: "Oh, I have suffered
And suffered enough for all these tears!

I call destruction upon you, all of you,
Sons of a doomed mother, and the father too!
May ruin fall on the entire house!"


Perhaps a comment on curses/words spoken in anger.
The attendant has just taken the children into the house. Perhaps, in her despair and anger, and seeing the children, she utters that curse.

And because she HAS been wronged, the gods hear her. They grant her her curse. But gods, being who they are, (How did Shakespeare put it? "As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods, They kill us for their sport.")---the Greek gods perhaps perversely use Medea herself to bring to curse to fulfilment.

Had she not spoken those words in anger... events might have turned out quite differently.

EDIT. I forgot to add, that for the Athens audience, this was an ego-stroking scene. The Athenians, who espouse moderation.

"How much better off are the rest of us
Who've been taught to live equally with our neighbors!"

"It is the moderate thing that always sounds best to our ears; And indeed it is that moderate thing that is best in practice."

(I'm assuming that in Euripedes' time the Athenians were already touting moderation. Please correct me if I'm mistaken.)


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Adelle | 127 comments Since I used an "if only" scenario in that last post (If only she hadn't uttered that curse),

I bring forward, too, the "if only" scenario at the beginning of the play:

"If only"/

"Oh how I wish that famous ship, the Argo, had never made it's way...to the land of Colchis!

"How I wish the pine tree had never been felled...had never been hewn into oars for the heroes who went to fetch the Golden Fleece..."

"For then my mistress, Medea, would never have sailed to the towers...never beguiled the daughters of Pelias...never come to live in Corinth with her husband and children..."

Now, first, I think that is a tremendous amount of guilt for one pine tree to have to bear.

Second, there seems to be no concept at all of personal responsibility.


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Everyman | 7718 comments Adelle wrote: "I, too, am sympathetic to Medea, and I find Jason to be utter despicable in this play. "

One of the fascinating things about this, as about many, classics is how differently different ages view them.

Your response is very much the common response of modern readers.

I think, though, that the original audience, mostly Athenian males, probably would have reversed those opinions.

As to Medea, she was a foreigner, which pretty automatically meant that she was considered with suspicion as representing barbarian, as opposed to Greek, views. And she was (and is) very threatening to any male of a patriarchal mindset in having the level of hatred that would cause her to murder four people, two of them her own children, just to destroy the life of someone she thought had wronged her.

And to the Athenian audience, it would not have been so clear that Jason had wronged her. As Thomas noted, an Athenian couldn't marry a foreign woman, so the audience right off the bat would have considered her not a wife but a concubine. Jason was still, in their eyes, unmarried.

Marriage to the Greeks wasn't a matter of romance or love, as it is today. It was very much a contractual relationship. It had two main purposes: one, to unite two families for the mutual benefit of each, and two, to produce legitimate sons to carry on the patriarchal lineage. So I believe that they would have thought that Jason was completely in the right in this matter. His argument that this marriage to a king's daughter was good for them all would have made perfect sense to the audience. The household would have been significantly raised in status, which would have benefited the concubine and the children as well as Jason himself. And having royal children for brothers and sisters, even half-brothers and sister, would have been of benefit to his and Medea's children. And he would produce legitimate heirs, whereas without the marriage his legitimate line would die off. What about that, in the context of Athenian thinking, doesn't make perfect sense? It is only that Medea is a barbarian and doesn't understand civilized life that makes her so hostile to it.

This also explains why Jason believed Medea's change of heart. We today think that he was stupid, or ignorant, or clueless. But to him (and his audience, I think) since the marriage was so obviously beneficial to everyone, including Medea and their children, it would just have meant to him that she had thought it over and come to her senses and realized that it really was the right and good thing for him to do.

Of course, for modern thinking which views both marriage and women's rights in a totally different light, Jason is a scoundrel and jerk who deserves everything he got, and Medea is a strong and just woman who rightfully takes revenge on her brutal mistreatment.

It just shows, I think, how much things have changed and how differently different cultures view these enduring works!


message 47: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Adelle wrote: "Ah ha, Everyman. I've started re-reading (the play most definately deserves a 2nd reading), and this time 'round I noticed that the attendant, a male, ("old man"), also sympathizes with Medea. "

I can't identify the exact passage you're quoting in my text, but if I have the right section, the question is, what is it he sympathizes with? Is it Jason's taking a bride? Or is it Creon's decision to banish her (which Jason had, as far as I can tell, nothing to do with?) If Medea had accepted the situation gracefully, there would have been no problem. But she didn't. As Creon says, when she asks why she's being banished,

" I'm afraid of you.
I won't conceal the truth. There's a good chance
you might well instigate some fatal harm
against my daughter. Many things lead me
to this conclusion: you're a clever woman,
very experienced in evil ways;
you're grieving the loss of your husband's bed;
and from reports I hear you're making threats
to take revenge on Jason, on his bride,
and on her father. "

So already she has been making threats which have gotten to the ears of Creon, threats against him, his daughter, and Jason. So Creon, it seems to me, is perfectly justified in wanting her out of there. (As it turns out, he was absolutely right.)

I can understand the attendant's sympathy with Medea for being banished -- being banished out of Greek society and sent back to live as a barbarian is indeed a very bad thing, since civilization is only possible in Greece (in their view!) But is he sympathizing with her for Jason's decision to take a royal wife? That's not so clear to me.


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Everyman | 7718 comments Kristen wrote: "I'll have to read some more of the classics then. Are there any in particular you would recommend for someone like myself who is completely new to them? "

Well, stick around here for starters! [vbg] But you can't go wrong with any of the "major" classics. Homer is a good place to start, then more of the Greek tragedies, Virgil, Herodotus ...

I really like Clifton Fadiman's Lifetime Reading Plan. If you can, look for the original, not the New Lifetime Reading Plan co-authored by John Major after Fadiman's death, which I think was watered down for political correctness). You can usually find copies of the Lifetime Reading Plan (look for one published in the 60s or 70s) from second hand bookstores or on-line sources (such as alibris or abebooks). You don't have to follow it exactly, browse in and out of the works you find most appealing, but that's an excellent place, I think, to get a great overview of the major classic works and a brief introduction to each one.

The Teaching Company also has several survey courses in classics which are quite good, such as Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition or Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition.

Others here will surely have other excellent suggestions, too.


message 49: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Elizabeth Vandiver makes several very interesting points about Medea.

One is that Euripides for some reason downplays Medea's power as a sorceress. Her audience would have known that she was considered a sorceress, a dealer in magic, but Euripides doesn't make that central to her character. She does use a poisoned cloak, but it isn't said where she gets it, and in at least one other play (I forget which offhand) a poisoned cloak is used but is NOT made by the user but just obtained elsewhere. So the audience isn't told whether Medea made the cloak herself, or whether she got it elsewhere. Also, she doesn't kill her sons by magic or sorcery, but by directly killing them. And even at the end, it isn't her sorcery which allows her to escape, but the chariot is sent by her grandfather, helios. Why does Euripides choose to downplay her as a sorceress? I don't know.

Another point: in every known instance of the myth up to this play, the sons of Medea and Jason either aren't killed, or are killed either by accident or by the enraged mob of the townspeople. There's no known version of the myth where Medea kills them herself. Did Euripides make up this aspect? We can't prove it -- you can't prove that there was never another version now lost -- but if he did, it would certainly have been unexpected by and presumably particularly shocking to the audience, who wouldn't have been expecting it at all.


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Kristen | 28 comments thanks for the tip! interesting, Clifton was the senior editor of the children's magazine i used to read, Cricket. how funny!


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